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.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

In conversation with Jessica Bell, NDP candidate for University—Rosedale

MPP candidate discusses transit, mental health, student loans

In conversation with Jessica Bell, NDP 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. The candidate for the New Democratic Party (NDP) is Jessica Bell, the founding executive director for the transit advocacy group TTCriders. She spoke with fellow NDP candidates for provincial parliament at U of T last March about women in politics. In her interview with The Varsity, Bell discusses transit, mental health, and her party’s plan to convert provincial loans into grants.

Bell focuses on improving mental health facilities, assisting students who are unable to pay for their own education or loans, and improving TTC funding while also providing fare relief for students and low income individuals. Bell also goes into detail about the NDP’s plan for funding these programs by incorporating a progressive tax system.

The Varsity: What is the NDP’s plan to alleviate transit costs for students?

Jessica Bell: When I think about transit, there’s two issues that come to mind. One is the cost, the high cost of fares that have been going up faster than inflation for years; and the second piece is about service quality, because when service quality is poor, which it has been, students spend way more time commuting and way less time doing what they want to do with their life. Our plan is to properly invest in the TTC and all local transit systems across Ontario, so the TTC can improve service in all routes across the city and [have] the option to reduce fares. As the Executive Director of TTCriders, a transit advocacy organization campaigning for better service and lower fares, we found the TTC wasn’t able to provide fare relief properly because they didn’t have the funding to do it… It’s the most efficient transit system in North America [but] when we have approached them and said, ‘Hey, what about a discount pass for low income riders, or two hour fare transfers so we can get on and off without paying twice, or further discounts for students,’ their response has been ‘we don’t have the money.’ By investing in the TTC, the NDP is giving the TTC money to provide this kind of relief.  

TV: Mental health services are in very high demand, especially among students. What type of mental health services do you plan on providing, how can they help students specifically, and how much of your provincial budget do you plan on spending on them?  

JB: I remember going through university, and stress and anxiety is a daily part of being in university, especially around exam time. And then there’s that added stress of, in my case, putting myself through university, and there are a lot of people I know who need to have a part-time job as well as going to school, and then it’s just compounding. So we’ve got a few pieces to it. One, we find that a lot of the stresses that students face are often related to affordability… We’re looking at making housing more affordable in particular, and student debt much lower, which would provide some kind of ease for students, especially if they are having to work and go to school full-time. We are looking at making a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions because, as we’ve currently seen… mental health [care] is currently administered by up to 30 agencies and departments across Ontario. We’d want to amalgamate that.

We’re [also] looking at funding 2,600 more mental health workers, so that if someone is facing a mental health crisis or needs to seek support, there’d be a much shorter wait time… We’d expect up to 400 of them to be in high schools.

In addition to [reducing wait times], we’re looking at creating 30,000 new supportive housing units, so if people are struggling, there’s a place for them to go… We also have an opioid crisis in Ontario, and we want to declare it a public health emergency and take a harm reduction approach to tackling that, which would include safe injection sites.

TV: The NDP platform states that it will “take on student debt by converting loans to grants and creating thousands of student jobs.” Can you expand on this?

JB: Our plan to help students is a signature piece in our platform. We are looking at any new student loan — any new student OSAP provincial loan — [which] will be converted from a debt to a grant that doesn’t need to be paid back. We’re also looking at eliminating the [provincial] interest [on] all current student loans… I have a friend at the campaign office, she has $50,000 in student debt and she pays five per cent interest on that, which is ridiculous. It’s the government making money off of students, and you’re already pushed pretty tight when it comes to your finances… By helping make school so much cheaper, it pushes the idea that education is a human right… We’re [also] looking at creating 27,000 co-op positions, so students who are going through university or college can access a paid internship co-op position, so they can get that critical work experience and get their foot through the door in the career that’s important to them.

TV: You mentioned that the NDP plans to convert provincial loans into grants. Where will the funding for this come from?

JB: So we have a fully costed plan — it’s 98 pages. We are looking at that funding coming from general revenue, [which] is available because we’re looking at asking corporations and high income people to pay a little bit more. We’re looking at raising the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 13 per cent. We’re looking at increasing the personal tax rate for individuals earning $220,000 by one point, and by three points for those earning $300,000. So by creating a more fair and progressive tax system, we can provide these critical services that we need, such as making education more accessible and investing in mental health.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A university student’s guide to the 2018 Ontario election

Party-by-party breakdown on tuition, jobs, transit, and more

A university student’s guide to the 2018 Ontario election

A university student’s guide to the 2018 Ontario election

 


As Ontarians head to the polls, four major political parties vie for their votes: the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), the Progressive Conservative Party (PC), and the Green Party. The Varsity has looked through each party’s platform to see how they plan to address issues that affect students, from tuition to jobs to transit and more.

Voters choose one candidate from their riding to send to the Legislature as an MPP. The party that wins the most seats forms the Provincial Government. Incumbent Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne is competing with PC Party Leader Doug Ford, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner for the position of Premier, which leads the majority party and represents the Head of Provincial Government.

 

Tuition

BELINDA HOANG/THE VARSITY

While Schreiner and the Green Party do not specify a plan to address rising tuition fees and student loan debt, they do advocate for the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). If elected, Green MPPs would call for a $3.4 billion increase to the 2018-2019 budget for social assistance, and invest $6.4 billion per year by 2021-2022 to provide all Ontarians with the BIG that matches the low income cut-off.

In the 2017-18 academic year, Wynne’s Liberal government increased the number of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) grants by 235,000, bringing the total number of supported students with financial need to 435,000. The 2018 Ontario Budget draft aims to further expand OSAP loans and grants by increasing financial aid and assistance to more middle-income families to decrease the amount parents and guardians are expected to contribute.

Horwath and the NDP have pledged to replace loans with non-repayable grants for new post-secondary students eligible for OSAP. The NDP would also cancel interest on provincial student loans held by current or past students who still hold provincial loans.

Ford and the PC Party have not revealed any plans concerning tuition costs, but have stated that they would mandate that universities uphold free speech on campus and in classrooms. Ford has stated on the campaign trail that his party will “ensure publicly funded universities defend free speech for everybody.”

 

Health care and dental care

FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

The Green Party platform pushes for a $4.1 billion increase in funding for mental health care over four years, ultimately including mental health services in the Ontario Health Insurance Plan+. According to their website, the Party supports increased funding for culturally-sensitive mental health services.

After passing a policy introducing publicly-funded pharmacare — also known as prescription drug care — for health care recipients under 25, the Liberal platform states that, in addition to an $822 million investment in hospital care and infrastructure, they will also allocate funds to support and hire long-term care nurses. The budget also includes $2.1 billion to reform Ontario’s mental health system and infrastructure, and cover 80 per cent of specific drug and dental costs.

Horwath and the NDP have pledged to introduce dental care for all, bring in universal pharmacare for 125 commonly prescribed drugs, and provide complete coverage for self-administered cancer drugs and transition drugs. The NDP plans to meet growing hospital capacity needs by adding 2,000 hospital beds and investing at least $19 billion over 10 years in hospital capital expansion. In addition to preventing further layoffs of nurses and frontline health care workers, they would hire 4,500 new nurses, increase hospital funding, and ensure there is an adequate number of hospital staff. This would allow hospitals to remove arbitrary caps on the number of surgeries, lead to fewer surgery cancellations, cut wait times, and end hallway medicine. The NDP will also establish a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and hire 2,200 new mental health care workers.

The PC Party promises to spend $1.9 billion over the next decade on mental health and addiction support. Ford has also called for an end to hallway medicine and has pledged to add 15,000 new long-term care beds over the next five years, and 30,000 new beds over the next 10 years. A PC government would also invest $98 million a year to provide dental care to low-income seniors. Ford has also voiced opposition to safe-injection sites in Ontario.

 

Jobs

FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

The Green Party wants to relieve the financial stress on employers to ensure better wages for employees. The Party would increase the Employer Health Tax exemption from $450,000 to $1 million in payroll. To reduce the precarity many face in the workforce, the Greens argue that their BIG plan provides a social safety net to all Ontarians.

The Liberal government pledges to continue its current policies in its platform. Following the 2018 minimum wage hike to $14 an hour, as well as the planned investment of $124 million to develop youth employment, the Liberals would increase minimum wage to $15 an hour on January 1, 2019 and leave the corporate tax rate unchanged.

The NDP have pledged to create 27,000 new work-integrated-learning opportunities, such as paid co-ops, apprenticeships, and internships that allow students to graduate with real-life work experience while pursuing their post-secondary education. The NDP would also increase the minimum wage to $15 before indexing it to inflation.

According to the PC platform, their government would make Ontario “open for business” by focusing on policies that make it easier to start, grow, and invest in businesses. This would involve stabilizing hydro rates, cutting corporate income tax from 11.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent, and eliminating “stifling” regulations to spur job growth.

 

Affordable Housing

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

The Green Party would require 20 per cent of all new developments to be affordable housing. They would also increase the budget for shelters, social, co-op, and supportive housing by $200 million.

In the 2018 Ontario Budget, the Liberal government laid out plans to maintain provincial investments of more than $1 billion each year in affordable housing to target “four priority areas: youth, Indigenous peoples, chronic homelessness, and those who are homeless following transitions from provincially funded institutions and services.” This includes $3 million to develop a fund to encourage new cooperative housing.

The NDP have pledged to add 65,000 new affordable housing units over 10 years. They would also increase the percentage of affordable homes required and bring rental properties under regulation by overhauling the government’s inclusionary zoning regulations to ensure that they accomplish what they set out to do. Horwath’s party has also pledged to introduce legislation to make rentals more affordable, apply a Non-Resident Housing Speculation Tax, and fund Ontario’s one-third share for social housing repair costs.

Although few specifics have been made available, Ford has said he would preserve rent control for existing tenants across Ontario and increase the supply of affordable housing in the GTA while protecting the Greenbelt.

 

Transit

MALLIKA MAKKAR/THE VARSITY

The Green Party has pledged to implement a $1-1.5 billion per year increase for transit funding. They want the province to fund 50 per cent of the operating costs of municipal transit systems. Green MPPs would also push for a $2.17 billion increase over four years for the long-term development of municipal walking and cycling infrastructure.

In their platform, the Liberals have promised to invest $79 billion into various transit projects, including $11 billion to develop the groundwork for a high-speed rail between Toronto and Windsor. The remaining $68 billion would go toward integrating municipal services to allow for broader regional infrastructure.

The NDP have pledged to fund 50 per cent of municipal transit operating costs, build Hamilton’s Light Rail Transit and the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto, and implement two-way all-day GO rail service between Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto and year-round GO rail service between Toronto and Niagara.

The PCs would commit $5 billion more in funding for subways, relief lines, and a two-way GO Transit service to Niagara Falls. They would also take the proposed $1.3 billion Hamilton LRT Project to a vote.

 

Changes in taxation

Queen’s Park, home of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. HELENA NAJM/THE VARSITY

The Green Party has proposed numerous methods to increase funding. This includes implementing a 0.5 per cent increase on taxes for the largest corporations, and taxing the top one per cent of income earners by one per cent more. They would also introduce a housing speculation tax.

On top of preserving the 11.5 per cent corporate tax rate, the Liberal Party plans to maintain the tax rate for approximately 8.6 million people. Readjusted tax brackets would see 1.8 million people paying about $200 more and about 680,000 people paying $130 less. In addition, in line with gradual increases over the past two years, the Liberals propose another $4 per carton increase in cigarette taxation in 2019.

The NDP have pledged to return the corporate tax rate to 13 per cent, while maintaining the one per cent reduction for small businesses. The NDP will raise income taxes for Ontarians earning over $220,000 by one percentage point, and for those earning over $300,000 by two percentage points. In addition, the NDP will introduce a three per cent luxury tax for vehicles over $90,000.

Ford has vowed to lower the corporate tax rate to 10.5 per cent and to reduce the rate for the provincial middle-class tax bracket by 20 per cent. He has also stated that a PC government would eliminate income tax for workers earning minimum wage anyone making less than $28,000 a year while also freezing the minimum wage at $14.

Election day in Ontario is June 7.

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.

Jagmeet Singh, with love and courage

What the new leader of the federal NDP means for people of colour in Canada

Jagmeet Singh, with love and courage

When I first met Jagmeet Singh, I was reluctant. Upon prompting from a close friend, I had half-heartedly agreed to participate in a charity initiative led by Project Ramadan, a non-profit organization that provides food baskets to local families in need. My friend dangled an opportunity to meet Singh, who was expected to drop by the event to show his support, and I agreed out of politeness despite not really caring for the idea.

Though I hadn’t yet voted in any election apart from that of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, I considered myself a skeptic first and a liberal second. I was wary of politicians; everything they said seemed scripted, their every move calculated to secure votes. Jagmeet Singh did not seem like an exception.

At the time, Singh was still campaigning for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP). To my surprise, he kept his speech at the event short and simple, praising Project Ramadan for the initiative they had undertaken, lamenting the fact that despite federal budgeting, many families still went without food, and vowing to help combat this problem if elected.

Though I wasn’t on his team for the build, Singh approached our group afterwards. He greeted my volunteer group with a smile and a “hello,” and then he repeated the word in several languages. “Have I missed any?” he asked pleasantly. He inquired about what languages we spoke so that he could try his best to converse with us.

Despite my initial hesitation, Singh put me at ease; his actions seemed genuine and honest. Unfortunately, our meeting was too short for me to ask him about his policies in depth, and it slipped from my mind entirely until an incident that took place this fall.

On September 11, during an NDP rally in Brampton, Singh’s speech was interrupted by a racist heckler who accused him of supporting Shariah law and the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead of fighting back, Singh replied to her by telling her that he loved her, supported her, and believed in her rights — even as she continued to yell and invade his personal space.

The video of Singh’s response to the heckler went viral and was covered by national and international media. His “love and courage,” as he put it, was admirable to see — and it was something I wanted to see more of.

On September 30, 2017, I cast my ballot in favour of Singh in the NDP leadership poll. The next day, the federal NDP announced him as its next leader. Singh’s election was met with overwhelmingly positive reactions from visible minority Canadians and from prominent Sikh-Canadian social media personalities like Jus Reign and Babbulicious. There was joy at finally being represented in positions of power, and there hope because his win shows that minorities can overcome the numerous structural barriers set up against them.

To an extent, these reactions included disbelief. Singh’s win marks the first time a visible minority has headed a major Canadian political party at the federal level. Canada has come a long way since the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, in which the Canadian government forced a ship of Indian passengers — most of whom were Sikh — to return to India, despite both India and Canada being British subjects at the time. The Canadian government only fully apologized for this incident last year.

Of course, race relations in Canada still have a long way to go. On Singh’s first day as leader, Susan Bonner, host of CBC’s radio show The World at Six, tweeted a picture of Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and a fellow Sikh-Canadian, mistaking him for “Canada’s newest federal party leader.” She later clarified that she had meant to write that Navdeep Bains was only talking about the new NDP leader, but the damage had been done. The ‘all people of colour look the same’ rhetoric remains deeply ingrained in North American society.

Later that day, CBC correspondent Terry Milewski asked Singh about his opinion on the Air India bombing of 1985, and how posters of its alleged architect, fellow Sikh Talwinder Singh Parmar, occasionally pop up during celebrations of Vaisakhi, a religious festival in Hinduism and Sikhism. The questions were asked with no provocation by recent events and without any context; it seemed as if Singh was asked to weigh in simply because he is a Sikh and South-Asian.

Muslims and South Asians continue to face pervasive double standards. Instead of just being responsible for themselves, they are taken as representatives of their entire race or religion — and thus they are constantly expected to disavow and condemn any and all religious extremism, violence, and terrorism engineered by ‘Muslims’ or South Asians. The same cannot be said for their white counterparts. We would not ask white people to condemn the actions of George Zimmerman, Dylan Roof, and recent Las Vegas shooter Stephen Craig Paddock simply because they are of the same race.

Singh has faced obvious racism and xenophobia throughout his career, and there is no indication that this will stop with his election. One only has to look to the comments section of any article he is mentioned in to come across racist remarks detailing why he will make a terrible leader, both for the NDP and for Canada.

Nonetheless, his election marks a turning point in Canadian history and a step in the right direction. I am hopeful that, like all the other barriers so far, Singh will overcome this. How? With love and courage.

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

Back to the drawing board

The New Democratic Party is in need of leadership reform

Back to the drawing board

Students following the ongoing US presidential election have surely been counting themselves lucky lucky to be in Canada — our system of government can seem downright regal in comparison. 

A fundamental difference between our systems is the number of viable parties Canadian voters can choose to support, and the consequent lack of polarization. With so much attention being paid to improving Canada’s electoral system, it’s easy to lose sight of the representative purpose of the parties themselves. The benefit of having more than two major parties is that voters can choose a candidate who represents their opinion more closely. It can be damaging to the entire system when ideologoical diversity is lost. 

If Canada only had two major parties, voters would be made to settle for candidates who barely represent their beliefs. Currently, Canada has three nationally viable parties: the right-wing Conservatives, centrist Liberals, and left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). This should, theoretically, provide voters with options that are roughly reflective of their political opinions. 

Unfortunately, the NDP’s drift — or arguably, lurch — to the centre, evident in the last election, threatens the crucial distinction separating them from the Liberal Party. For the health of Canada’s political climate, the NDP needs to reassert itself as a distinct, principled, progressive party. This challenge cannot be confronted by their current leader, Tom Mulcair.

During last fall’s election period, during which August polls projected that the NDP were poised to win, Mulcair — who had previously considered jobs with both the Liberals and Conservatives — announced that his party would advocate for austerity measures. Given that this stance is generally considered a conservative policy, many considered it a ploy to widen the party’s support among moderate voters.

This strategy backfired. The Liberals outflanked the NDP on the left, and the rest is history. Since then, there have been countless editorials asking why, if the NDP suddenly wants to be centrist, the party even exists as a separate entity from the Liberals. When a party is facing an existential crisis of this magnitude, something is clearly wrong with their strategy.

Because of Mulcair’s austerity gamble, Canadians are left with the misperception that the Liberal Party offers a truly progressive platform. Yet, the NDP remains to the left of the Liberals on almost all major issues — issues many U of T students hold dearly— such as raising corporate tax rates and programs aimed at reducing climate change. 

Tom Mulcair has lost his ability to articulate these positions because of his reputation as a political opportunist. The NDP needs a leader who can energize the left, has true progressive credentials, and will be able to provide a credible alternative to Prime Minister Trudeau. 

There are plenty of candidates who understand the needs of students more than either the Liberal Party or Mulcair currently do. Former Halifax MP Megan Leslie would be an ideal choice: alongside her popularity in Ottawa, she also served as the deputy leader of the party and received widespread acclaim as the opposition’s environmental critic. MPs Nathan Cullen and Niki Ashton are similarly qualified, and will likely compete for the leadership position in Edmonton if it becomes available.

The NDP platform is centred on issues that affect students disprportionately across the country, like economic inequality and climate change, and yet many responded to the sunny ways and anti-austerity of Justin Trudeau. It is unlikely that Tom Mulcair can make a credible case to represent them in 2019.

If the NDP wants to remain relevant, it will have to differentiate itself from the Liberals and demonstrate to Canadians the value of a principled, truly progressive party. The first step in that difficult process is the selection of a leader prepared to confront that challenge. 

If the NDP becomes too similar to the Liberals, it will hurt not only progressives, but the health of our political system. Drifting towards a two-party system harms everyone; we should be invested in the way the NDP grapples with their leadership issue in months to come.

Jack Fraser is a third-year student at Innis College studying international relations.