Reacting to the Ontario provincial election results

Four student perspectives reflect hopes and fears for the new Progressive Conservative majority government

Reacting to the Ontario provincial election results

The 2018 Ontario provincial election has produced a dramatic shift in the political orientation of the legislature, with the Progressive Conservatives (PC) forming a government for the first time in 15 years. Below, Comment contributors assess minimum wage policy, voter turnout, political uncertainty, and the need for change as they react to the election results.


Improved voter turnout shows hope for democracy

Last week’s election in Ontario drew out crowds from all sides of the issues, spelling disaster for the Liberals and ushering in a new era of PC government. While this may not have been a desired outcome for many, the vote was indicative of the current state of political dissatisfaction in Ontario, with voter turnout reaching a nearly 20 year high.

Voting is an essential part of participating in our democracy: it ensures that our governments are truly representative of those they are elected to serve. The increased voter turnout in both the 2015 federal election, and in this provincial election, are hopefully telling of increased political engagement in Canada. With more people making their way to the ballot box, our democracy becomes immeasurably stronger, by ensuring all voices are heard, and therefore increasing accountability and responsibility for candidates to work to reach voters and understand their constituencies.

Many issues were raised during this election, from buzzword topics like hallway medicine to the funding of transit systems. These topics seemed to resonate with voters, as they were compelled to have their voices heard by coming out to the polling stations. Let this election’s result be a warning to Canadian politicians: the voters want change, and their ballots reflect that.

Anastasia Pitcher is a second-year Life Sciences student at New College.

 

The PCs’ minimum wage policy will harm low-income Ontarians

As the PCs take office, any hope of future increases in minimum wage will be frozen until further notice. One of Doug Ford’s platform points was to freeze minimum wage at the current $14 per hour and implement a tax credit removing those earning less than $30,000 a year from the income tax rolls.

‘Tax cut’ was a buzzword used during the campaign in order to appeal to lower-income households. This contrasted with the Liberal and New Democratic Party (NDP) promises to increase minimum wage to $15 at the beginning of 2019. However, Ford’s proposition of a tax credit for minimum wage earners would only apply to provincial tax, while three-quarters of the tax rate for minimum wage workers is federal.

According to economist Sheila Block, in 2015, the average tax rate for Ontarians earning less than $30,000 a year accounted for only 0.9 per cent of their income. However, only 34 per cent of this category actually pay tax, and they pay $485 on average. It is clear that such a small tax cut under new PC policy is not in any way better than a $15 minimum wage increase. In a 37.5 hour work week, a one dollar increase in wages would reap $1,950 a year, before taxes.

The PC platform point of eliminating income taxes for minimum wage earners disguises the fact that those who rely on minimum wage including students will be on the losing end for at least the next four years. This is counterproductive, considering the many students who rely on minimum wage jobs in order to pay for their postsecondary education and living costs.

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

 

Ford’s lack of a fully-costed platform lends to an ambiguous future for Ontario

It seems that Doug Ford has discovered the ultimate trick to avoiding accountability: not having an election mandate to be held obligated to in the first place. The most concerning facet of Ford Nation’s ascension to government is that the people of Ontario are ultimately taking a gamble with their government, given the lack of realistic policy statements from the Premier-elect. Barring a smattering of tweet-like bullet points on the PC website, there is very little to refer to if one is seeking to predict how Ontario’s new government is going to govern — including no trace of the fully-costed platform that Ford had promised would be released by Elections Day.

Of course, there are the promises made at innumerable rallies and debates. Yet said promises run the gamut from the reasonable to the ridiculous: for instance, “mandating” free speech in university and banning cellphones in classrooms. And it is perhaps the former that are more troubling than the latter, as Ford has been almost completely mum on the issue of paying for what Global News calculated amounts to $5.76 billion in lost tax revenue and over $8 billion in new spending.

Ford’s vagueness and inexperience — having only served a single term on the Toronto City Council — are all the more glaring when considered in light of frequent insinuations by conservative pundits that Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “all style and no substance,” and that the Ontario NDP is made up of an unproven team of political rookies.

The incoming Premier’s affable spontaneity is surely a hit at his family’s annual Ford Fest, but uncertainty and improvisation is no way to run a government. In a time of increasing international political and economic volatility, it remains to be seen whether the tenuous political order in Ontario can afford an unpredictable Doug Ford.

Spencer Ki is a third-year Astrophysics and Mathematics student at Victoria College.

 

New leadership promises fresh ideas and balance

During the Ontario provincial election cycle, the Liberal Party were challenged by an overwhelming dissatisfaction against the policies they enacted over the past 15 years. Their growing unpopularity culminated in the loss of 48 seats and official party status in parliament.

The election of the PC majority government brings forth an alternative leadership. It gives voice to the opposition whose views have otherwise failed to gain support under the Liberal administration. Although I am a consistent supporter of the left and center-left parties, I am open to ideas that the conservative right may bring to the fore ideas which may have been left behind when looking through the tunnel vision that defines our political spectrum.

The substance behind policies are frequently lost in the ideological and personal debates surrounding politics, leaving legislation to be interpreted into simplistic extremes. However, policy outcomes are complex. The radical shift brought about in the 2018 Ontario election will ideally compel more critical reflection and debate in citizens and politicians regarding legislation, which may have been pushed on or discarded without further thought.

With the newly formed Conservative government and strong NDP opposition acting like two knobs of an Etch A Sketch, hopefully, we can build a political system that prioritizes competition between ideas, balance between parties, and accountability toward the elected government.

Vaibhav Bhandari is a graduate student in the Biochemistry program.

NDP commitment to student issues hindered by possible lack of funding

Re: “In conversation with Jessica Bell, NDP candidate for University—Rosedale”

NDP commitment to student issues hindered by possible lack of funding

The New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate for UTSG’s riding, Jessica Bell, stresses her party’s commitment to issues such as accessible transit, housing, mental health services, and education, all of which make her a relatable and viable candidate.

Bell acknowledges the TTC’s high fares and the effects of poor service quality. She mentions the NDP’s plans to invest in the TTC and introduce discounted passes for students and low-income riders. While this plan is exciting, Bell does not discuss how much money the NDP plans to invest in the TTC and how this investment would accommodate the TTC’s estimated 850,000 riders.  

Bell responds to the demand for mental health services by saying that these stresses are often related to unaffordable housing and mental health support. She highlights the NDP’s plan to make housing more affordable and introduce 30,000 new supportive housing units. She also adds that the NDP is considering funding 2,600 more mental health workers for shorter wait times. These plans would admittedly help many postsecondary students. However, an NDP government might not have enough funds to put all of these plans into action after making up for the current provincial government’s deficit spending.

On education, Bell explains that the NDP is considering converting any new student loan to a grant, and eliminating government debt on all current loans. Funding would come from raising corporate taxes and personal taxes for higher income brackets, an act that would likely draw protest from voters. Bell also mentions that the NDP plans to create 27,000 co-op positions to ensure paid work experience for postsecondary students, but doesn’t explain how the NDP plans to create them.

Though all of Bell’s platforms address student concerns, there remains doubt regarding the NDP’s ability to finance all of its proposed plans, as the next provincial government will have to work hard to balance the books upset by the current Liberal government.

Zeahaa Rehman is a fourth-year student studying Linguistics and Professional Writing and Communication at UTM.

The fall of the Liberal centre puts students’ issues at a crossroads

Students must review the big issues that affect them, be informed, and vote on June 7, no matter the party

The fall of the Liberal centre puts students’ issues at a crossroads

After four controversial years of Liberal reign, a new government will emerge from the provincial election on June 7. Ontario is poised for big change — and not just because change is inherent to elections.

Kathleen Wynne, the well-qualified, perpetually unliked Liberal premier, has already conceded the election — telling voters to not worry about her being premier and to vote in as many Liberal candidates as possible, instead.  In a pessimistic call for strategic voting, the Toronto Star’s editorial board has urged Ontarians to vote for Andrea Horwath’s New Democratic Party (NDP) — to stop Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives (PC) from occupying the top post in Queen’s Park. Meanwhile, the Green Party remains a fringe option but reminds us of the necessity of a sustainable future.

The fall of the Liberal centre means that the future of students’ issues are at a crossroads between arguably the two most ideologically divergent parties. The party that wins will control an economy that will very seriously affect you over the next four years. Tuition, youth unemployment, housing, and transit are the big issues that should be on your mind as students, graduates, and future workers.

As of 2016, millennials outnumber baby boomers by 3.5 million in Canada, so student turnout at the polls could cause significant change for the future of Ontario. Do your part — review the big issues, as we describe them, and be informed when you take to the ballot box on June 7. If you understand what is at stake, you will know that you have no other option than to vote — whatever the party.

Tuition

Arguably the most concerning issue to students’ pockets is the rising cost of tuition and debt that accumulates from postsecondary education. In March, the Business Board of the university’s Governing Council approved widespread tuition fee increases, with three per cent raises for domestic Arts & Science, Architecture, Music, and Kinesiology & Physical Education faculties, and five per cent for the Engineering faculty.

A 2015 analysis found that Ontario has one of the least affordable tuition rates in the country for median-income families. This past academic year, Canadian full-time undergraduate programs cost students an average of $6,571, which increased by 3.1 per cent from the previous year. For students in Ontario studying business or the sciences, however, tuition fees exceeded this average, with fees for business programs topping out across Canada.

Provincial and federal policies have been implemented to offset the cost of postsecondary education, and to encourage students from lower-income families to pursue further education. As a result, student enrolment in postsecondary education has steadily increased since 2001, especially of students with lower parental incomes.

Federal and provincial financial assistance programs, like the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), mainly use family income to assess which students are eligible for grants. However, strict cutoffs for OSAP eligibility mean that many students cannot afford postsecondary education. In that case, students often take out high-interest loans and accumulate student debt. In 2017, the Ontario Student Grant (OSG) was formed to help students in such tricky situations by easing restrictions to financial assistance. However, the OSG was designed to cover the ‘average’ tuition costs of a student’s program, despite the fact that many programs cost significantly more. The government did not invest new funds into this initiative.

The rising cost of tuition is a central election issue. The NDP mapped out a 10-year plan to convert all student loans to grants and forgive interest on all provincial student loans. The Liberals will put new funds into the OSAP program, particularly in the form of grants, as opposed to simply shifting funds around. The Green Party aims to eventually guarantee fully public tuition for all. The PCs have not yet discussed their take on tuition costs.

Youth unemployment

Ontario is one of the worst provinces in Canada for young job-seekers. Many recent university graduates have difficulty securing work in their field of study following graduation. A 2014 Canadian Teachers’ Federation report, referenced by CBC News, states that more than 40 per cent of youth in Canada are unemployed, working fewer hours than they desire, or have given up on the job hunt entirely. Since previous work experience is greatly preferred by employers, many new graduates have difficulty getting their foot in the door. Challenges in finding work are even more pronounced for already marginalized young people, such as those who are racialized, LGBTQ+, disabled, or low-income.

Those who do find work are met with a changing employment landscape. Increasingly, people are being hired on short-term contracts or as temporary workers, leaving them with no job security and a great deal of stress. Additionally, these jobs often have irregular hours, low pay, and no benefits. ‘Side hustles’ are becoming increasingly common for millennials in order to make ends meet. These bleak prospects are of particular concern for new graduates, since many face large debts upon completing their studies. Students need more assurance that the time, energy, and funds invested into their degrees will not be for naught.

In their platforms, all of the parties express interest in creating new jobs in Ontario. The Liberal Party highlights its record of creating nearly one million new jobs since the recession, and plans to continue this success by attracting industry, investment, and innovation to the province. The PCs plan to create jobs by lowering business taxes, stabilizing hydro bills, and cutting red tape. The Green Party is interested in creating more green jobs. The NDP plans to create more opportunities for postsecondary students to gain real-world work experience while they complete their degrees. The NDP also plans to allow more workers to unionize to improve the current problem of precarious work.

Housing

The Varsity’s 2018 Winter Magazine highlighted a serious yet largely invisible issue: student homelessness. As the Parkdale rent strike demonstrated last year, affordable housing constitutes a crisis in Toronto. Even though a 2017 U of T report indicated that U of T needs 2,300 beds by 2020 to meet housing demands, the City of Toronto has largely opposed housing expansion projects — such as the proposed Spadina-Sussex building near campus.

A heated housing market and gentrification have culminated in skyrocketing rent and a lack of affordable housing, affecting vulnerable communities — including students — the hardest. Students are often left to pay more to access housing, with compounding debt on top of their tuition. In the GTA, 23 per cent of residents pay half their income on rent. A lack of supply and intense demand for housing has led to unreasonable rental rates. However, students must concern themselves not only as current tenants, but also as near-future homebuyers who will be affected by the next government for up to four years. The rate of Canadian renters is currently higher than the rate of homebuyers, meaning that home ownership is an obstacle for young graduates and workers.

Ontario is in desperate need for an increased supply in affordable housing. All parties agree that there must be change, and that people should be able to access the housing market without taking on unreasonable risks or burdens. The Liberals’ Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan (FHP) of April 2017 was intended to improve rental affordability for all units in the province. They hope to continue to extend the FHP, increase the supply of housing, and protect renters and real estate consumers, with a $1 billion investment in affordable housing. Following sharp criticism, Doug Ford backstepped from his housing development proposal in the protected Greenbelt area, and has instead pledged to increase housing supply and cut red tape. The NDP views housing as a human right and has promised 65,000 affordable homes over 10 years. The Green Party announced that its housing plan will prioritize seniors, youth, and families.

Transit

Transit is a hot-button topic for U of T students in the upcoming Ontario election. The voter participation seen in the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) failed U-Pass referendum illustrates the crucial role that affordable transit plays for students.  In March, a total of 12,428 students turned out, with 35.4 per cent in favour and 65.6 per cent in opposition of the U-Pass. If approved, U-Pass would have provided undergraduate St. George students with a discounted TTC metropass, but with little option to opt-out.

Transit is not solely an issue for St. George students. Students at UTM and UTSC rely on GO Transit and the TTC to attend classes and also get around the GTA.

In the upcoming Ontario election, it is in the best interest of students who use transit to support candidates who prioritize low-cost and reliable transit. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s campaign promise to reduce GO Transit fares for PRESTO users is an example of such a policy. The Liberals also pledge to invest $79 billion for different public transit projects. The PC Party supports underground transit and has committed an additional $5 billion for transit infrastructure, including subways and relief lines in Toronto. Meanwhile, the NDP and Green Party promise to fund 50 per cent of the TTC’s operating costs.

U of T residents in the University—Rosedale electoral district can vote at Hart House from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm 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.

Green idealism praiseworthy, but ultimately falls short of political reality

Re: “In conversation with Tim Grant, Green Party candidate for University—Rosedale”

Green idealism praiseworthy, but ultimately falls short of political reality

The main takeaway from Tim Grant’s interview is his encouragement of voting for the Green Party, despite the apparent reality that they will not form government. Voting for parties whose agendas align with your concerns as students, particularly transit and affordable housing, allows for a per-vote subsidy. Funds are then allotted to parties to carry out their agendas over the next four years.

The Green Party’s central platform is to build a green middle class by further tolling highways to reduce traffic congestion, incentivizing use of subway transit, and increasing affordable housing within the downtown core. Given that gentrification is increasing the cost of living for students and youth, the party’s position on a guaranteed minimum income would prove beneficial. The party’s support for a Deputy Minister for mental health to coordinate between provincial agencies allows for further access to and funding for mental health services, which are lacking at U of T.

Although Grant argues that students in the riding would not benefit in the long term by voting strategically, the issue remains that the Green Party’s idealism is ill-suited for a political race driven by economics. Environmental laws, while of utmost importance, also stagnate development as projects become more cumbersome and more expensive. Tolling highways can only be effective if there is a substitute for those who depend on them. Secured annual income will only work if voters understand and accept that their taxes will increase.

By no means is this an attempt to discourage voting Green, for their values reflect my own, but these are just a few of the Green Party’s ideas, and, while commendable, they are unfeasible for an overtaxed and weary public. However, if you are willing to wait years to see tangible results from this party, vote Tim Grant.

Amaial Mullick is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science. 

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.

In conversation with Tim Grant, Green Party candidate for University—Rosedale

MPP candidate discusses transportation, affordable housing, mental health

In conversation with Tim Grant, Green Party 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. In the first part of this series, The Varsity spoke with Tim Grant, the candidate for the Green Party of Ontario. Grant discussed important topics affecting students, including transportation, affordable housing, and mental health services.

Grant supports his party’s platform to toll the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and the Gardiner Expressway, implement a guaranteed annual income, and establish a Deputy Minister for mental health to coordinate all 14 provincial agencies providing mental health services.

Grant ended by addressing why students should vote Green, despite the unlikelihood of the party forming a government. According to him, casting a ballot for the Green Party sends a message to other parties that these are the issues you care about. He points toward the per-vote subsidy as an incentive to vote for the party that “supports your values,” instead of voting strategically.


The Varsity: Let’s start with a conversation about your involvement in politics. Please introduce yourself.
Tim Grant: I’ve been in the neighbourhood for a long time. I was a U of T graduate from [the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education], and taught for some years. I’ve been the chair of the most active residents’ association in the city, just on the other side of Spadina [Avenue], for many years. And I’ve been the candidate twice in the old riding, called Trinity—Spadina. So I’ve been involved in political advocacy, especially environmental issues over the years, with social justice issues too. And international development has always been a big focus.


TV: What has been your involvement in the Green Party?
TG: When I started shifting from the [New Democratic Party] to the Greens about 10 years ago, I realized the Greens had a much stronger anti-poverty platform, and that’s actually what caught my attention. But I’ve also always had an interest in transportation, so I was relatively quickly asked to be the Transport Critic, and I’ve served in that role for about six or seven years now.


TV: The Green Party would like to toll the DVP and the Gardiner. How do you see that helping the TTC?
TG: The important thing is that the Toronto City Council voted for road tolls on the DVP and the Gardiner. These were two highways that Mike Harris, [a former Ontario premier], had downloaded onto Toronto 20 years ago. We’ve been paying $100 million a year — more than any other city has to pay for provincial highways. The relatively modest tolls that Toronto is looking at would’ve raised $350 million for the TTC.  I felt that, as Transport Critic, road tolls work. They reduce traffic congestion. Generally, better transit is funded in those areas where you have tolls. Then 20–30 per cent of drivers will switch, because they didn’t want to drive anyway. They would get to take better transit. Eventually, we’ll all breathe cleaner air. But it’s a small example for us on finding new sources of revenue.


TV: Students at U of T are heavily influenced by transit, as we have a large commuter population. As transportation critic, and as the candidate in our riding, what do you think is good reform of the transit system overall?
TG: Toronto has great transit. The problem is that people outside of downtown don’t have great transit. We have to have an adult conversation with the other parties about pricing, and restricting car use, especially in transit corridors. But that’s a conversation that the other parties unfortunately aren’t interested in. You won’t see anything in their platforms about traffic congestion, and yet most people take buses and streetcars, not subways. And they’re stuck in traffic because of all the single occupancy cars clogging the roads.

 

TV: How do you think government can reconcile the divide between the transit needs of people inside and outside of the downtown core?
TG: We are opposed to the one stop Scarborough subway. We think that two [light rail] lines would have been better. It is an injustice to the people of Scarborough to have Rob Ford, the former mayor, and Kathleen Wynne railroad this through. Transit funding has been a political football. And when you have Doug Ford saying “Subway! Subway! Subway!”, it doesn’t make any sense. You have to have a downtown level of density for subways to work, you have to build up transit use. You don’t go from zero to a hundred in one breath.


TV: Let’s dive into the affordable housing crisis. As students in the downtown area, we especially feel the heat. Rent has increased rapidly. How would you address this?
TG: We’ve argued that 20 per cent of all new units have to be affordable, and available for people with special needs. The 20 per cent is important because it would bring 30,000 new units every year. The question is who is going to pay? Is it going to be Toronto community housing, is it going to be co-op housing? We think it’s time to have the rich and poor in the same elevators. Let’s not build public housing for the poor over here and warehouse them in substandard building, which is what we generally do. Let’s in fact have mixed communities. We advocate for people to have break up houses, and basement apartments.


TV: What I understand about affordable housing is that it’s available for people of certain income levels. As students, would we benefit?
TG: In downtown communities, we have a mix of needs. Students make up one group. We advocate that development represents communities. If you’re going to build student housing, you should have grad housing too. Part of our conditions are insisting that new developments have an affordable component. But, more importantly, we, both federally and provincially, have been advocating for a guaranteed minimum income… This is especially important for young people who face precarious job markets. Without guaranteed annual income people don’t have the supports needed to go to school, or to start a business. We think its critical to provide social stability.


TV: Your conservative opponents might say that guaranteed annual income is not feasible, or that it does not align with the economic prospects of the province.
TG: The irony is, that both left and right economists have been saying that this would replace 80 per cent of federal and provincial social assistance. Most economists say it’s probably not going to cost any more. You don’t want to force people onto social assistance. Guaranteed income removes the social stigma, and encourages people to get into the job market. This makes a better social fabric where we don’t ghettoize the poor.


TV: Let’s move on to mental health and services. The Greens want to increase funding for services, so in places where the system does not work, how do you think increasing funding as a blanket solution is going to work?
TG: The problem is that there are 14 different provincial agencies who have a piece of the mental health pie, and no one is coordinating. So we’ve been arguing for a Deputy Minister for mental health in order to create the coordination so we don’t have all these overlapping services that cost more than they should. Funding mental health services across the board gives people more access to mental health services. The more access they have, the more they function within society. Less often they are going to show up in hospitals in crisis. Funding mental health for all manners of people will cost more, but it’s about a more healthy society.


TV: Why should students in our riding vote for you?
TG: Whether it’s merging school boards, or stopping funding of the discriminatory system, or whether it’s that you think we need new sources of revenue for transit, voting Green even if you’re not sure that we would win is doing two things. Firstly, you are sending a message to the other parties that they need to focus on these issues as well. Secondly, there’s a per-vote subsidy now, which means the party you vote for gets money. It follows your party for the next four years, now that corporations and unions can’t donate. Voting strategically does not help you support your values.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.