NDP, Liberal candidates for University—Rosedale talk student issues at forum

Transit, affordable housing, mental health dominate debate

NDP, Liberal candidates for University—Rosedale talk student issues at forum

Ahead of the Ontario election, an All Candidates Forum was hosted at U of T by the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, the Graduate Students’ Union, and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students. The candidates for UTSG’s riding, University—Rosedale, were invited to debate student issues.

Jessica Bell of the New Democratic Party of Ontario (NDP) and Jo-Ann Davis of the Liberal Party of Ontario took the stage at U of T’s Centre for International Experience to address student concerns as they vie for leadership. Candidates from the Green Party and the Progressive Conservative Party were unable to attend.

Graduate and part-time students

Discussing support for graduate students, Davis focused on the Liberal Party’s plans to reduce costs of living, which include introducing stricter rent controls to create affordable housing. Bell echoed Davis’ comments on the affordability of living in Toronto, adding that lowering transit costs and implementing workplace reforms that include and protect students are equally important to improving the graduate student experience.

Bell also noted that the NDP has a “faculty renewal plan” to introduce more tenure-track positions for sessional instructors, many of whom teach at the graduate level.

The candidates were also asked about their party’s plans to respond to the Ontario Student Assistance Program’s new policy that rolled out this past September, which, while making more grants available for full-time students, did not increase financial assistance for part-time students. Both candidates appeared to be unaware of this exclusion.

However, Davis expressed her devotion to ensuring that “individuals have an opportunity in all stages of their life… to learn.” Bell concurred, highlighting the NDP’s plan to introduce universal child care, which may assist part-time students who are also parents.

Indigenous and minority groups on campus

The candidates were further pressed on how their party would ensure that Indigenous students and those from other minority groups have access to post-secondary education.

According to Bell, funding healthcare, addressing the drinking water crisis, and working to reduce overall poverty in Indigenous communities are important steps the NDP would take outside of the classroom. She believes these initiatives would work toward broadening Indigenous students’ academic prospects.

Davis, who has been a Toronto Catholic District School Board Trustee since 2010, believes the accessibility problem starts with academic streaming in secondary schools.

“Students that are coming from various ethnic communities as well as students who are living in poverty” are disproportionately streamed into non-academic programs, she said.

Sexual violence and mental health

“Survivors need to be listened to, believed, and supported,” stressed Bell, when asked about what her party would do to help victims of sexual violence.

She asserted the NDP’s commitment to investigating all reports of sexual assault, funding sexual assault clinics and health and safety programs in the workplace, and investing in 30,000 supportive housing units across Ontario.

Meanwhile, Davis applauded the Liberal Party’s existing Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, though she recognizes that sexual harassment in academia is “still an issue.”

On the topic of mental health, Davis said that her party is committed to ensuring that existing investments in mental health on campus are made more accessible to students.

Bell said that the NDP’s strategy to respond to the demand for greater mental health services involves the creation of a ministry for mental health and investments to add 2,600 mental health workers to the system.

Off-campus: transit, affordable housing, and $15 minimum wage

Bell, the founding Executive Director of TTCriders, an organization that advocates for improved TTC service, stood behind her party’s promise to invest in Ontario’s municipal transit systems. Bell hopes the investments will allow the TTC to lower fares and make accessibility upgrades.

Davis emphasized the importance of putting existing Liberal investments in transit to use, particularly in the downtown relief line, something she promises to work with City Council to improve should she be elected.

Affordable housing was recognized as another important student issue. Davis reiterated her enthusiasm for the work that the Liberals have done, citing Liberal MP Adam Vaughan’s recent successes in revamping public housing policy in the city.

Bell said that the NDP has pledged to create 60,000 affordable housing units in the province, as well as introduce inclusionary zoning and an out-of-province property speculation tax.

Finally, regarding workplace reforms, Bell and Davis both announced support for the increased $15 minimum wage, but also for closing loopholes that prevent students from earning the full wage.

In her closing remarks, Bell said that the NDP’s platform is full of “progressive, sensible, bold things that will help move Ontario forward, not backwards.”

Davis concluded by reflecting on why she is proud to be a part of the Ontario Liberal Party. “It’s not just because of the change that could happen,” she said, “it’s because of the change that has already happened.” She believes the Liberals have “shown that they’ve got vision and they’ve got the will to do things that aren’t always the most popular, but are the right things to do.”

Polls for the 42nd Ontario general election open on June 7.

Davis’ relatability to U of T students challenged by Liberal spending habits

Re: “In conversation with Jo-Ann Davis, Liberal candidate for University—Rosedale”

Davis’ relatability to U of T students challenged by Liberal spending habits

As the Liberal MPP candidate for UTSG’s riding, Jo-Ann Davis’ inclusion of key platform points concerning education, mental health, and housing reform are strategic: they are issues that affect much of the student population, therefore making her as relatable as possible to a good chunk of her potential supporters.

Davis mentions that as an alum of U of T’s St. Michael’s College, she understands the hardships of student living. She says that one of the great impacts the Liberal Party has made for students in the University—Rosedale riding is the investment of $9 million to mental health supports. However, what should be questioned about this investment is what exactly the money is being put toward. With an investment of that size attached to something very important to the well-being of all students, making sure that all of it is being put to good use is crucial. For example, additional psychiatrists and mental health workers and shorter wait times at the Health & Wellness Centre would be ideal for students.

Davis also discussed investing in co-op programs for more than just the engineering and computer science students, which would cost $190 million over the next three years. As other postsecondary institutions ⏤ such as the University of Waterloo ⏤ already have these kinds of programs in place, this would allow students at U of T to be more competitive in the postgraduate job market.

Overall, Davis seems to be a candidate best suited for the University—Rosedale riding based not only on her personal history, but also on her relatability. Being a U of T alum, Davis would most likely be able to focus on the issues that she may have dealt with as a student. However, an overarching issue the Liberals have been struggling with is overspending deficits, which may hinder Davis considering the large amounts already invested in student care and development.

Areej Rodrigo is a fourth-year English, Professional Writing and Communications, and Theatre and Performance student at St. Michael’s College.

In conversation with Jo-Ann Davis, Liberal candidate for University—Rosedale

MPP candidate discusses job training, mental health, universal basic income

In conversation with Jo-Ann Davis, Liberal candidate for University—Rosedale

Ahead of the Ontario provincial elections on June 7, The Varsity sat down with the MPP candidates for UTSG’s riding, University—Rosedale. Jo-Ann Davis, who is currently a Trustee for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), is running with the Liberal Party of Ontario. Her major platform points involving student issues include education, mental health, and housing reform.

With regards to education, Davis hopes to incorporate further job training through co-ops and apprenticeships, as well as to bolster mental health services. Having recently been a tenant herself, one of her goals is to create a more equitable rent control system that fixes the power imbalance between tenants and landlords. In speaking with The Varsity, Davis emphasized the importance of speaking to multiple stakeholders and those “on the ground” in order to make sure policies benefit everyone.

 

The Varsity: Why are you running for office?

Jo-Ann Davis: I am currently the local TCDSB Trustee, so the story of why I’m campaigning started eight years ago when I decided to run for local trustee. I was doing it then because I thought I had a good combination of life skills and experience to bring to public office. So running for trustee gave me the opportunity to see if I really did have the skills but to do it in a way where I could still do my job at the time — I’m still a management consultant professionally. Over eight years, even though the trustee is largely a role of influence, I have been able to forge some great relationships with the local city councillors, MPs, and MPPs and have made real change on the ground and in governance. I realized even in that role [as trustee], that if you are willing to sit down with others, and especially in a powerful space, you can make great things happen and those are the kinds of things I’d love to do as MPP.

 

TV: Looking forward, how do you plan to incorporate your past experience in pushing for policies which would help university students, such as health care expansion and public transit?

JD: I actually graduated from St. Mike’s at U of T, although I often joke that I graduated from Hart House because I spent so much time there debating and with the theatre club.

I’m from Toronto. I went to U of T. I understand the difficulties of affordable housing; it’s a problem that’s been around for awhile.

Using both my elected experience and corporate hat, what I find is that you need to be able to work across stakeholder groups. One thing I learned in my corporate capacity is if you’re not talking to the people on the ground who are going to be impacted by what you’re going to do if you’re not talking to students then you’re not going to get a solution that works for folks. So one thing I’ve done in my capacity as TCDSB Trustee is really increase the student voice around that board table. It doesn’t only have to do with asking students what their problems are, but also what are their solutions.

Whether that is affordable housing, whether that is health care, unless you’re talking to the people who are impacted by that policy, I guarantee you that you’re not going to get the best policy you could.

 

TV: How would you translate that experience to working with a university institution and student demographic?

JD: I know there are always established student voices. Whether that’s the graduate student union or the part-time student union, there will be official student voices. But again what I’ve found in my experience is you don’t just want to be talking to the official voices because sometimes they can be a small, narrow view of what the issues are. So I would want to sort of be regularly bringing together not just the official student voices but also just grass roots student voice. And that can be done in all sorts of ways.

A great model that I love at St. Paul’s, which I would love to bring to University—Rosedale, is bringing together all the levels of government who represent you. Because in my experience, there are very few challenges facing us, whether that be affordable housing or transit or health care, that only one level of government can fix. So for example, with transit, while the Liberal government has made historic investments in transit in Toronto and across Ontario, given the split between the city and the province, we’re still not getting what we want. The Liberals put millions in the downtown relief line years ago and still nothing has happened and that’s because of the dynamic between the city and the province.

So I think rather than being in a situation where the person who can answer the question is outside the room, we need everybody around that same table working collaboratively in a public forum to be able to get at the solutions the community is giving us. Then we can be held accountable with people knowing what the challenges are and expecting us as elected representatives to support real solutions that are going to help people’s lives.

The Liberal Party is also investing in work experience with co-op programs. And not just for the traditional engineering students but students that are in arts and other programming where its traditionally been more difficult to find those co-ops and apprenticeship experience. And the Liberals have invested over $190 million over the next three years so that students can get more of those experiences. And that’s key.

I mean we all know especially when you’re starting your career, getting that leg in, the first question is always ‘What experience do you have?’ And so having these co-op and apprenticeship programs are helpful.

 

TV: What aspects of the Liberal party platform do you hope to incorporate within your riding for students, and which do you not?

JD: I think the Liberal Party is already impacting students right here in University—Rosedale. For instance, the annual $9 million in supports for mental health is huge. I know it from a secondary perspective but also I know in talking with university students that are on my team that it’s a real issue. And it’s frankly from elementary school right to university.

So I’m really pleased that the Liberal government is investing $9 million for mental health supports and that’s something that’s going to have a real impact right here in the riding. I also know in terms of the Indigenous friendships centres, $900,000 is going to the U of T centre specifically, and several million are supporting friendship centres across the province.

Rent control is obviously an enormous piece, and the Liberals came out with their 16-point rent control plan last year. But I have to say, as someone who was a tenant up until about a year and a half ago when I bought my first house, I think it’s pretty clear that while I’m thrilled rent-control now covers all accomodations in Toronto, there is still work to be done there. And there are still loopholes that landlords are getting around. I understand we need a stable and secure rental market both for landlords and tenants, but I think it’s clear that there’s still change on the ground that needs to happen.

 

TV: If the election doesn’t result in your favour, how do you plan to move forward?

JD: I did my first political canvas when I was six years old and I’ve been involved in civic engagement since then and have done tons of volunteering and community work. So regardless of the outcome, I’m not going to suddenly stop being civically engaged — it’s at the core of who I am and why I’m running for public office. But you can affect change in all sorts of ways, public office being one road but there are all sorts of pathways to improve society for the common good. So if I’m not successful on June 7th, no doubt I’ll find ways to support the public and make Toronto a better place.

 

TV: Is there anything else you would like to include that you feel we didn’t cover?

JD: I guess the one thing I didn’t touch on and what I’m so proud of being a part of the Liberal Party for is the basic income pilot. Because right now it seems to me that individuals who need the support of government — and you know we all do at one time or another — right now it’s a very punitive system. And with the basic income I think it allows everybody to have dignity as an individual and for it to not be a punitive measure for individuals to get support and to get the basic necessities of life.

We all need help, we all need public schools, we all need hospitals that work. In terms of lifting people out of poverty while giving them dignity, this is just the most marvelous accomplishment of the Liberal government. I can’t wait to see the results of the pilot and I hope that’s something that is rolled out more broadly because I think it’s a whole way of looking at the relationship between the individual and government that just turns it on its head.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Is Canadian science back?

The federal government has promised to improve transparency and funding of Canadian research; if done right, it could be a pivotal moment for scientists

Is Canadian science back?

In late 2015, Kirsty Duncan, Member of Parliament (MP) for the riding of Etobicoke North, was appointed Minister of Science in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

Duncan has no direct predecessor to emulate. The position was introduced by Brian Mulroney in 1990 and existed until 1995, when Jean Chrétien nixed it and added the new title of Minister of Industry to his cabinet. Stephen Harper reintroduced a Science and Technology portfolio to his cabinet, but demoted the person in this position to Minister of State, which is a lower cabinet rank. It was therefore a significant change when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Duncan with a full mandate. The move seemed to reflect the Liberal Part of Canada’s campaign promise to restore the voice and funding given to Canadian researchers and scientists.

With $1.1 billion in research funding granted at U of T in 2013–2014 — 31 per cent of which came from federal agencies — there is no doubt that the university is a major player in Canadian research. It educates thousands of students hoping to participate in research each year. Many from the U of T community will be watching as the new federal government attempts to change the political climate surrounding research in Canada.

Money and ‘muzzling’

Under Stephen Harper’s government, scientists across Canada reported a variety of challenges related to the government and their work. A common grievance was the reduction in federal research funding to various  programs and facilities. In January 2014, CBC News reported that 2000 government scientists had been laid off within five years, and that research in climate change, water quality, and other areas had seen dramatic financial cutbacks. 

In recent years, Canadian researchers have also expressed concerns over political censorship in the publication of data. The Harper government was accused of preventing scientists employed by the federal government from sharing information that did not align with the goals of the administration. Public scientists’ interactions with the media were carefully controlled by government media managers.

In particular, climate change research conducted by government scientists allegedly did not reach the general public. Some groups, including the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, called these practices ‘scientific muzzling.’

The new government seems eager to distance itself from these criticisms and to prioritize transparent scientific research. When asked about the goals of the new Ministry of Science, Duncan said, “The goal is to return science to its rightful place and to return science to its rightful place in government. We have two ministers with science in the title, and it I think it shows the importance this government places on science.”

Duncan is a scientist first and isn’t afraid to admit that. She is a U of T geography and anthropology alumnus, holds a PhD in geography, and is known within the community for her research on historical epidemics. Her work focused on understanding the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, as the world worried about an outbreak of another global flu in the late 1990s. 

Duncan taught meteorology, climatology, and climate change at the University of Windsor from 1993 to 2000. Her research led to the publication of a book called Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist’s Search for a Killer Virus in 2003. She entered politics in 2008 and won her riding, even as the federal Liberal Party failed to win nationally.   

It is Duncan’s opinion that the government should not influence scientists’ communications with the public. “Scientists should be able to speak freely in an official capacity where they have direct responsibility or expertise, or scientific and technical matters related to their work. That’s what science is about. Scientists share their work; they have to be able to do that. Part of my mandate is to ensure that government scientists can talk freely about their work, that government science is made available to Canadians and that we have this evidence base to inform decision making,” she said. 

The Conservative Party of Canada maintains that its stance on science has been fair. Marilyn Gladu, MP for the riding of Sarnia-Lambton and Conservative Party of Canada science critic, said, “My view is that scientists are free to speak about their work, but they do not speak for the government on issues of science policy.”

Gladu also defended the Conservatives’ record on science. “Canadian Science never left the main stage while the Conservatives were in power. A lot of very positive things happened, in fact, like a Canadian research team finding a cure for Ebola, that just simply never got a lot of media attention,”she said.

The tension between government regulation and scientific expression was enough to prompt students to speak out about the right to free expression of scientific findings. At U of T, a group known as Students for the Right to Know was started in response to the alleged muzzling of scientists by the Harper government. The group, led by Emma Pask, continues to advocate for the freedom to disseminate scientific findings. 

Pask felt that awareness of the importance of transparency in research has increased. “More professors are presenting their work through alternative avenues, instead of having it written up by public relations representatives or journalists, as dictated by the mandates for government funded research [under Stephen Harper].” To ensure the free expression of their work, Pask said, “Academics are creating more direct ways of sharing their work by starting blogs and appearing on shows, such as TED Talks, to ensure the transparency that their work requires and to secure the proper communication of the scope of their research.”

These measures may no longer be necessary if the new government begins to dismantle the policies put in place by the Harper government, but the lengths researchers go to secure free expression of their findings is representative of how important transparency is to Canadian researchers. 

The ‘Gross Research Product’

The budget allocates an additional $30 million for NSERC and CIHR, and an additional $16 million for SSHRC. As well, an additional $19 million has been granted to the Research Support Fund, a fund “to support the indirect costs borne by post-secondary institutions in undertaking federally sponsored research.” The total increase in funding for research is $141 million in 2016-2017. In total, the final budgets will rise to $1.12 billion for NSERC, $1.03 billion for the CIHR, and $720 million for the SSHRC. Smaller increases were provided to other institutions, like Genome Canada and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

While more generous than previous budgets, an increase of $141 million dollars does not spread well over an entire country and is not likely to significantly improve the ability of researchers to obtain grants for their work

Canada’s research and development expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) remains significantly lower than those of many other top research countries. In 2013, Canada’s per capita GDP spent on research was 1.62 per cent; Israel’s was 4.21 per cent. France’s expenditure on research was 2.23 per cent of GDP in 2013. 

Kennedy Stewart, MP for the riding of Burnaby South and New Democratic Party science critic, thought more should be done to improve research in Canada. “Stephen Harper and the Conservatives undermined scientific research in Canada by reducing funding, firing and muzzling government scientists, and eliminating key tools such as the long form census. As a result, our global reputation took a severe hit and we dropped on most key comparative tables concerning scientific output and innovation,” he said. 

He added that the increases in research funding under the Liberals failed to meet his ideals: “In a recent letter to the new science minister I asked Dr. Duncan to increase funding to our tri-councils by $1.5 billion over the next four years and to tie these increases to inflation to [guarantee] adequate funding over the long term. While a good start, the recent Liberal budget fell short of these goals.”

While researchers would like greater funding, governments are understandably constrained by their budgets. The scarcity of government funding begs the question: should governments prioritize research that is likely to be economically productive? 

Duncan said that the 2016 budget delivers on a mandate to increase funding for “fundamental” science, rather than just research for commercial gain. “Under the framework of the previous government, [researchers] felt that funds were being tied, that there had to be a commercialization aspect to their research to get funding. The example I’ll give is with SSHRC. Between 2000 and 2006, there was 0% tied funding. In 2006, it was 9%. Today it stands at 37%. We heard repeatedly that [increases in research funding] should be unfettered, and [these increases are] unfettered money,” she explained.

Dr. Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice president of research and innovation, noted that U of T researchers enter into funding agreements that guarantee their ability to publish their results and therefore have not been subject to censorship by the government. He hopes for Duncan and the Liberals to implement improvements to the process of applying for funding, which can sometimes be burdensome. 

“Right now… in order [for researchers] to maintain their research programs, their labs, and their support, their graduate students, post docs and so on have to write multiple applications for the same project to different organizations,” he explained. Goel wants this process to come under the Ministry of Science review that was also announced in the 2016 budget. He also wishes that the government can improve access to funding for new scholars and increase international collaborations.

Dr. Edward Andrew, professor emeritus of the U of T political science department is in favour of research for the sake of research. “My view is that governments should be strong supporters of research, even if it is not economically productive,” he said.

He warned of what can happen if governments fail to support research, regardless of their potential payoff. Andrew predicted, “The alternative to government funding is that all research will be funded and controlled by capitalist corporations. To avoid researchers becoming lackeys of corporations or governments, a multiplicity of patrons or funding agencies is essential.”

Meanwhile, funding agencies have been struggling in recent years. In 2013, both the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science and the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy were shut down due to a lack of funding.

While research funding rarely improves the national bottom-line immediately, research should not be undervalued. Rock-solid research is needed to maintain Canada’s position on the global stage. National research and development strengthens our medical care and often leads to new ways to make complicated procedures more effective and cost-efficient.

The National Research Council (NRC) funds a number of medical technologies that improve the way our federally-funded physicians conduct life-saving procedures. Government funding of globally-renowned Canadian health non-profits, like Grand Challenges Canada, also saves thousands of lives abroad. The Defence Research and Development Canada agency conducts important research on how to improve military technology.

While these investments may not pay off immediately, it’s important that a global leader like Canada takes the necessary risk of investing in research, regardless of the outcome.

Goel echoed these sentiments: “Government[s]… can fund fundamental research without having to make the case that it’s going to be economically productive.” Furthermore, he made it clear that governments have a role in funding research for the “social good.”

“[Governments fund] research for which no single entity on its own, particularly a private sector organization, would necessarily invest in because it’s so fundamental [that] it doesn’t lead directly to products and commercialization,” continued Goel. “So, [the] particularly important role for government[s] is to fund the research that nobody else or nowhere else in society would be funded.”

Goel also said that the importance of research in the humanities should not be forgotten or ignored. “I think another part of this [that is] really important for the university is research in humanities and in the social sciences, [which] quite often [are] not directly related to economic activity in the way that people think about it.” noted Goel. In particular, he drew attention to the role the social sciences have in national security. “It is fundamental to our society and understanding social forces within society. Understanding why, for example, people might get radicalized… If we took an economic lens, [that research] might not get funded, [which] can often end up being the most important for us as a society.”

While it is clear that the Liberal government is attempting to improve the Canadian research climate, it remains to be seen whether the measures they have proposed will be enough to realize substantial change. Duncan seems to be hopeful. She concluded, “I just hope that science is back, and that there is respect for science and scientists and the important work they do.”

Correction (April 5th, 2016): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the 2016 federal budget allocations for research. The Varsity regrets the errors.