In defence of Ford’s minimum wage freeze

Why students should support the recently passed Bill 47

In defence of Ford’s minimum wage freeze

On November 21, Bill 47 was enshrined in provincial law. The much-maligned bill eliminates a bevy of provisions passed under the preceding government’s Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. The crux of the controversy surrounding the bill is that it freezes the minimum wage at a substantial $14 an hour, instead of the previously planned $15 an hour.

Many progressives, including students, have voiced their concern over the bill. But given the state of the economy following Kathleen Wynne’s tutelage, this freeze is Doug Ford’s best option and the right path forward for Ontario.

Legislation cannot overwrite the market

As pure as the intentions may be in advocating for higher wages vis-à-vis government mandates, it is not possible to legislate away poverty. Economic intrusions like artificial wage hikes always come prepackaged with unintended consequences.

At the end of the day, one individual’s wage is another person’s cost. Employment is the voluntary contract between those two individuals. The agreed upon wage is ordinarily set by basic market forces: supply and demand. Efforts by government to intervene in this contract cannot benefit the employee without affecting the employer.

As their costs of doing business increase, employers react. Industries such as food and entertainment lay off staff, cut their hours, or hike prices. As reported in the Financial Post, Ontario restaurants hiked prices in response to Wynne’s wage hike. Accordingly, in January, the province saw “food inflation [rise] to its highest annualized increase in nearly two years.”  

As also noted by BMO Capital Markets’ senior economist, Robert Kavcic, the restaurant price hikes were a direct result of the Liberal government’s policy. In the same period that saw the province’s minimum wage jump 21 per cent, Ontario’s restaurant prices grew at a faster rate than any other province in the country.

Restaurants weren’t the only industry to feel the economic ripples of Wynne’s progressive proclivities. The Canadian grocery conglomerate Metro estimated its costs incurred from the wage hike to exceed $40 million. As a result, the firm said that it plans on cutting staff hours, in addition to reducing the number of 24 hour stores in the GTA.

The service sector also felt the pinch of rising costs. In Collingwood, Little People’s Daycare closed its doors permanently, citing the steep and swift spike in minimum wage.

The hike hurts low-wage workers including students

A coterie of minimum-wage proponents argues that their preferred policy benefits university and college students by helping them pay off tuition loans. This too is a folly proposition. If the presumption is that you can simply give people more money with innocuous wage hikes, it could be argued that the minimum wage ought to just be $50.

An oft-cited claim is that $15 reflects what is considered to be a ‘living wage.’ However, this argument requires bifurcating economic policy from its indirect outcomes. As previously described, raising Ontario’s minimum wage to whatever politicians at Queen’s Park determined to be the ‘living wage’ increases the cost of living, arguably negating any positive results the wage hike bestowed.

The latest Ontario labour market report indicates that nine months following the wage hike, the youth unemployment rate in Ontario increased to a whopping 12.2 per cent. That’s a 15 per cent increase from a year ago when youth unemployment was already at 10.6 per cent.

The unemployment rate increased for the very same demographic minimum-wage proponents preen about supporting. Moreover, the minimum wage hike has also increased these now out-of-work university students’ cost of living, making cafés, restaurants, and groceries more costly.

In addition to affecting students and younger members of the workforce, the hike also priced people with certain disabilities out of jobs entirely. The previous Liberal government eliminated an exemption for sheltered workshops a place where people with mental or physical disabilities could find work.

Setting the minimum wage at $15 makes accepting a job that pays $14 illegal. Individuals who can’t compete for the higher wage effectively have their minimum wage reduced to zero. This was what happened at the sheltered workspaces, where people with disabilities were priced out of the job market.

There’s a reason electricians, plumbers, and other professionals don’t earn minimum wage. It’s called minimum wage because earning it requires minimum skill. I earned $15 an hour in my first job, and even that required laborious lifeguarding certifications.

If you want to help unskilled workers earning minimum wage increase their wages, the solution isn’t to blithely hijack the economy and inflate their wages. It’s to help them find better jobs. Unskilled labour was never meant to be the mainstay of the economy.

A far more effective solution is to empower individuals by helping them acquire skills that make them competitive for higher paying jobs. Furthermore, it is necessary to foster an environment where people can rise in the workforce. The onus is on government legislators to tackle tax and regulation burdens shackling businesses from potential growth. Ford’s Bill 47, in conjunction with his proposed tax cuts, puts Ontario on the path to achieving just that.

Harry Khachatrian is a fourth-year Electrical & Computer Engineering student in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

Ford’s campus free speech policy is not just beneficial — it’s essential

Only through free speech and the willingness to face opposing views can the university remain an institution of innovation

Ford’s campus free speech policy is not just beneficial — it’s essential

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has recently released a directive to postsecondary institutions requiring free-speech policies to be designed, implemented, and enforced across all campuses before September 2019. The premier has threatened provincial funding cuts for institutions who fail to deliver.  

Though Ford may be proving more and more to be the ‘Canadian Donald Trump’ as the days go by, especially after invoking the notwithstanding clause to override a judicial decision, he may have a point.

Over the recent year, right before the start of the spring election cycle, Ontario universities have sparked controversies in relation to the invitation of contentious guest speakers. For instance, Faith Goldy’s scheduled appearance as a speaker at Wilfrid Laurier University ultimately resulted in its president, Deborah MacLatchy, releasing a statement rejecting the values and ideas the speaker brought forward while reiterating the importance of freedom of expression after an outcry from campus students.

At the same university, a teaching assistant, Lindsay Sheppard showed a clip from TVOntario’s The Agenda, in which U of T Professor Jordan Peterson denounced the use of gender-neutral pronouns. This led to a disciplinary meeting with her superiors, which she secretly recorded.

At its best, Ford’s policy initiative upholds free speech without any repercussions. At its worst, the disarmament of the university administrators’ ability to restrict free speech, or allow for its restriction, is the price to pay in order to uphold the value of free speech on campuses.

Free speech is necessary because it ensures that our never- perfect ideas are always open to criticism. We are imperfect beings with imperfect knowledge. In order to improve ourselves and truly learn, we need to face what is unfamiliar.

Universities, as academic institutions, need to be extensions of the value of free speech. Professors and students alike need to be willing and able to accept a challenge to their own beliefs and this mandate ensures just that. If done correctly, Ford’s mandate will make university a place open to even the most offensive ideas, exposing our values and education to the criticism and development they deserve and need. Only when we are willing to accept criticism can we be sure that we remain an institution of innovation.

There has been an increasing trend of news articles describing younger generations as overly sensitive and fragile. While this is likely a blatantly overgeneralized and uneducated view, the very fact that people are seeing younger generations in this light is something to be noted. It is difficult for businesses, policy makers, and the general public to take young people seriously if we allow this belief to float around as a result of videos and articles highlighting the reality that some young people on campuses do not want to listen to the views of others on the grounds that such views are offensive.

The only way we students can build trust with the rest of society is if we show that the university environment is about open and critical discussion-making instead of insecurity from views that might challenge ours. Our ideas and research should be based on discovery and reasoning not blind groupthink.

When universities contest with anti-free speech forces, there are often grave consequences. On a small scale, we get the disruption that erupted at the Peterson rally by the Sidney Smith Building in 2016, leaving the student body angry and divided. History — through the 1970 Kent State protest, the 1976 Soweto Uprising, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests — shows that an assault on free speech can be fatal for students.

So what do we do when this mandate comes into action? We discuss it, argue about it, and criticize it. Even this policy that promotes free speech deserves its fair share of criticism.

Indeed, Ford’s mandate may be imperfect in its integrity — including the question of who defines and enforces ‘good’ free speech policy. Despite certain imperfections, a free speech policy is not only beneficial it’s necessary.

The policy’s imperfections are not grounds for trashing the policy entirely, but instead are grounds for improvements with the fundamental idea of free speech in mind. Ultimately, nothing comes before the freedom of expression.

Abeir Liton is a second-year Human Geography and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College.

Napas Thein is a second-year Public Policy and Political Science student at New College.

U of T professor named Ontario’s first Chief Scientist

Molly Shoichet will aid the Ontario government in science policy

U of T professor named Ontario’s first Chief Scientist

Earlier this month, U of T’s Molly Shoichet was appointed to the Government of Ontario’s newly created position of Chief Scientist. Currently a University Professor in Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and a director at the Institute for Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering, Shoichet will begin her new role in January.

Shoichet will be responsible for advising Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on science-based policies. “As we tackle some of today’s biggest challenges, science plays an increasingly vital role in helping governments make informed decisions,” said Wynne in a press release.

The recruitment of a Chief Scientist is part of Ontario’s five-year Business Growth Initiative, which aims to accelerate Ontario’s knowledge-based economy through innovation; $650 million has been committed to the initiative.

Part of Shoichet’s role as Chief Scientist will be to help create science-based jobs and economic strategies for the province. Linked to this is Ontario’s plan to increase the number of students graduating from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines by 25 per cent over the next five years.

The decision to create a Chief Scientist position for Ontario was first announced by Wynne in June 2016. Part of the recruitment process involved an online consultation with both the scientific community and the public to determine the skills and qualifications a Chief Scientist should possess.

Among many other attributes, the feedback from the online consultation suggested that the Chief Scientist should have a strong academic record, familiarity with government policy, and an understanding of the Ontario research system.

“The [Chief Scientist] should… have an unwavering desire to see Ontario become a preeminent location for scientific research and innovation,” said one online respondent in a sentiment echoed by many who participated in the consultation.

Described by Minister of Research, Innovation, and Science Reza Moridi as “one of the top biomedical scientists in the country,” Shoichet certainly fits this description. Shoichet has both academic and industry-based experience with past positions held at Brown University, the matREGEN Corporation, CytoTherapeutics Incorporated, and others.

Shoichet’s research on tissue regeneration and drug delivery has earned her the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering and the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest honour. She is also the only person to be a Fellow of all three of Canada’s National Academies: the Canadian Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. At U of T, she holds the highest faculty distinction of University Professor, a title shared by less than two per cent of the university’s faculty.

“Scientists right here in Ontario are doing amazing research that is fundamental to our progress and prosperity,” said Wynne. “I look forward to her thought leadership and advice on how we can strengthen the research and innovation happening across our province.”

Provincial policy aims to increase number of STEM grads

University currently in talks with province over way forward

Provincial policy aims to increase number of STEM grads

The Ontario government has recently announced a new initiative to increase the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates in the province over the next five years. The project is part of a push to make the province an industry leader in the STEM fields. U of T is currently in talks with the province to see how it will be affected.

The plan is to increase the number of post-secondary STEM graduates “by 25 per cent over the next five years – boosting the number of STEM graduates from 40,000 to 50,000 per year,” according to Tanya Blazina, who works in the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.

“This major commitment will significantly expand the talent pool of well-trained and highly educated workers in Ontario,” Blazina said. “These workers will empower Ontario-based businesses to grow into global players, while also attracting successful and innovative businesses to the province.”

Blazina says that as of Fall 2017, all publicly funded Ontario universities and colleges will have signed an agreement on program plans and funded enrolment levels. Universities will also have signed an agreement concerning funded graduate spaces.

This initiative comes amidst a major expansion project by American tech giant Amazon. The company announced earlier this year that it was planning on building a second headquarters in North America, which Toronto has expressed major interest in.

U of T Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr told The Varsity that the university is “looking for more information and to try and understand what exactly the money will go to.” Regehr says they expect that it will go to additional student spots, in particular a possible student spot in professional master’s programs.

“U of T is already incredibly strong. We are a world leader in many areas and STEM is one of the ones that we’re a world leader,” she said. “We expect that we’ll just continue to be a world leader and increase our research and educational initiatives in this area.”

In order to make the province more attractive to tech companies, the government is hoping specifically to increase graduates is in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). To achieve this, $30 million will be invested to increase the “number of professional applied masters’ graduates in artificial intelligence,” according to a press release.

“Ontario will also partner with the Vector Institute to accelerate growth in the number of professional applied masters’ graduates in artificial intelligence. The goal is to graduate 1,000 applied masters students in AI-related fields per year, within five years.”

Vector Institute is a Toronto-based AI research organization affiliated with U of T. It was founded earlier this year in order to be Canada’s AI hub and to attract top talent from around the world.

Crack down on harassment, not protest

The ban on abortion facility protests, though well-intentioned, violates fundamental rights

Crack down on harassment, not protest

Last week, Attorney General of Ontario Yasir Naqvi announced the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act — a bill that, if passed, would no longer permit anti-abortion protests within a certain distance of abortion clinics, the homes of abortion providers, or pharmacies that sell pregnancy-terminating medications. The bill — partly motivated by an incident earlier in the year outside an abortion clinic in Ottawa, wherein a woman was spit on — would prevent any anti-abortion demonstrations within 50 metres of these facilities. The buffer zone could be expanded to up to 150 metres by ministerial order.

This idea has undeniably noble motives. It is crucial that women can access abortion services without being subjected to intimidation or harassment. There’s no question that being subjected to protesters may make a difficult situation even more difficult. However, disallowing all protests, without discriminating between those that are intimidating and those that are peaceful, is not the way forward.

The problem with this type of legislation is that it does not distinguish between protest that becomes violent and protest that remains civil. Although the government has every right, and indeed a strong responsibility, to protect women from harassment, the right to free assembly prohibits it from protecting women from protest itself.

No matter how unpopular a view may be, there should always be room within the law to express that view in a peaceful, non-intimidating, and non-harassing demonstration. There must be a legal basis for a citizen to stand in the public square with a sign or a placard or a chant and demonstrate peacefully. The despicable acts of a handful of fanatics do not justify collapsing this foundational democratic principle.

It is true that pro-life demonstrations can still be held outside the prescribed distance from abortion clinics and pharmacies. However, it doesn’t follow from this that the right to protest has not been seriously infringed: the right to protest needs to entail the right to protest effectively.

The last few months have seen several high-profile protests, including the Women’s March in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration and the protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Disruption of the institutions being protested was a central objective of these popular movements. The Women’s March blocked major streets and public spaces in numerous cities and towns worldwide. At Standing Rock, some protesters literally tied themselves to construction equipment, making their physical bodies an obstacle to the project they opposed.

Protesters need the capacity to disrupt and disturb. It would not have been right to relegate these protests to other locations, constraining them to where they would do the least damage and robbing them of their capacity for impact. Disruptiveness, as long as there is no violence, is not justification for stifling protest. Without the capacity to meaningfully disrupt, a protest has almost no purpose at all.

That being said, even without outright harassment, the presence of the protesters, from the perspective of a woman seeking an abortion, can make an already difficult situation even harder. Many women who get abortions are likely already subjected to an unjust amount of shame and fear, and there are enough obstacles preventing them from getting the care they may need. This is an undoubtedly important point. According to Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of the pro-choice advocacy group Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights, “Supporting reproductive rights requires governments to recognize the intersecting barriers individuals face when trying to access health care.” Prasad is right. We need to be sensitive to the challenges that women already face when trying to access reproductive care, and we need to be careful not to add another.

However, the possibility that a protest may prevent women from getting an abortion cannot be a reason to prevent a protest from taking place. We can’t prevent a protest because that protest is peacefully achieving its objective. As wrong as the ideology behind the protest may be, the fact that it might successfully do so cannot be a reason to make it illegal; the right to protest needs to apply equally to all points of view.

There is no ‘right to protest insofar as the government supports your position.’ There is no ‘right to protest as long as your protest doesn’t actually make a difference.’ The right to protest needs to be blind to content, ideology, and perspective. Fundamental rights don’t have normative qualifiers.

Women should not be harassed by protesters, and we should make sure that laws prohibiting harassment and intimidation effectively prevent that from happening. But the right to peaceful demonstration is sacred, and it cannot be forestalled because it might work, regardless of how destructive that result may be.

And that right cuts both ways. Pro-choice and women’s rights advocacy groups can provide women the support they need by lobbying for public information campaigns about reproductive health, pushing for more expansive sex education, and making contraception free and accessible. Just because people have the right to protest abortion doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, openly oppose their point of view.

Measures should be taken to protect women from harassment and intimidation by protesters. It seems only sensible that this issue should be addressed by tightening existent laws against harassment and intimidation by protesters, or creating new ones, rather than by infringing the right to protest.

Zach Rosen is a second-year student at Trinity College studying History and Philosophy. He is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.