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The Breakdown: The CFS–Ontario’s legal challenge against the Student Choice Initiative

Levy-funded student union claims Ford government is overstepping autonomy of student groups

The Breakdown: The CFS–Ontario’s legal challenge against the Student Choice Initiative

The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O), along with the York Federation of Students, launched a legal challenge against the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI) back in May. 

The SCI, originally announced in January by Merrilee Fullerton, the former Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), was part of a broad set of changes to postsecondary funding that requires universities to provide an opt-out option to students for non-essential incidental fees. 

Postsecondary institutions are required to implement the opt-out option for the upcoming fall semester or face a possible reduction in funding. U of T’s online opt-out system for non-essential incidental fees is live on ACORN, in compliance with the Ontario government’s guidelines.

In an email to The Varsity, Tanya Blazina, Team Lead, Issues Management and Media Relations for the MTCU, wrote, “as this matter is now before the courts, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

The legal challenge

“The government, particularly, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities doesn’t have the authority to impose a policy upon the memorandum of understanding between the student unions and the college and university administrations,” the National Executive Representative for the CFS–O, Kayla Weiler, said to the The Varsity in an interview.

Weiler also added that the collection and remittance of student society fees is determined democratically through student referenda and covered in the memorandum of understanding between the university administration and student associations.

Citing section seven of the Ontario College of Applied Arts and Technology Act, Weiler accused the provincial government of undermining the autonomy of student organizations through the SCI, which inhibits the ability of student governing bodies to collect fees. 

In addition, Weiler added that Fullerton misled students to believe that they would be able to save money by opting out of incidental fees, as the highest fees are still considered mandatory. 

At U of T, undergraduate Arts & Science students can opt-out of about 10 per cent of their total incidental fees, totalling around $50 to $70 depending on their college and campus.

What now?

In an interview with The Varsity, Nelson Wiseman, Director of the Canadian Studies Program and Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, expressed doubts about the CFS–O winning their legal challenge.

“My impression is that the students are going to lose this case.” 

However, Wiseman also added that the courts can make unexpected decisions, citing a judge in September that blocked Premier Doug Ford’s reduction of the Toronto City Council.

Multiple student organizations, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union and multiple college and student societies have also responded to the SCI by forming the ChooseUofT campaign at the St. George campus.

Opinion: Ontario budget’s climate change plan a mess of contradictions, inaction

Ford’s frivolous climate lawsuit will cost taxpayers $30 million while doing nothing for the environment

Opinion: Ontario budget’s climate change plan a mess of contradictions, inaction

The Ontario government’s frivolous $30 million lawsuit against the federal government over the carbon tax is a self-inflicted wound that the provincial 2019 budget, announced April 11, fails to address. Doug Ford’s government claims that the implementation of a carbon tax on Ontario would be ineffective, result in job losses, and be bad for business. However, he brought this tax on the province when he chose to scrap the cap and trade program, which aimed to hold industry directly accountable instead of putting the onus on consumers.

In lieu of clarification on the carbon tax or the binned cap and trade model, the budget vaguely outlines a performance-based emissions reduction program that it expects will circumvent implementation of the impending carbon tax. The program entails developing and setting emissions performance standards sector to sector and assessing reductions according to the previous output of facilities. This will be buttressed by the creation of an emissions reduction fund, meant to incentivize industries to adopt “cost-effective projects in various sectors, such as transportation,” with no mention of investments in renewable energy.

Ironically, the budget states that performance standards will be “tough but fair, cost-effective and flexible,” as if ‘tough’ and ‘flexible’ are not antonyms.

Initiatives like these may not result in substantial emissions reductions because preceding enforcement, industry can ramp up their emissions in order to be held to a lower bar — what they would have normally been producing — when the time comes to ostensibly reduce output.

Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner told The Varsity that the proposed plan mirrors the failing emissions reduction mechanism currently operating in Australia, which has a much larger budget of about $1.9 billion, compared to the $400 million “emissions reduction fund” proposed in the provincial budget.

Ford is fear mongering about job losses, when, in reality, Ontario has had a good year of job growth overall, and despite the carbon tax in British Columbia working for years. Whether Ford likes it or not, the federal government is within its rights to impose a federal tax according to the distribution of powers outlined in section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867. The taxpayer-funded money used to fight the carbon tax will be wasted in a frivolous lawsuit.

Lastly, it is worth noting the province has based its emissions targets on the federal government’s, which was grandfathered in from the Stephen Harper era and does not comply with the Paris Agreement. Their target of reducing emissions levels by 30 per cent compared to 2005 levels by 2030 is not nearly aggressive enough to curtail catastrophic repercussions, as forewarned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

As Schreiner said in his address to the press during the budget lockup, it is clear that “this budget cares about the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Provincial budget outlines $9.2 billion deficit, $16.5 billion net debt increase

Ford government’s first budget sees GDP growth slow, employment growth increase

Provincial budget outlines $9.2 billion deficit, $16.5 billion net debt increase

The Ontario 2019 budget, announced April 11 by Minister of Finance Victor Fedeli, outlines the government’s intention to reduce the provincial deficit and achieve a balanced budget by 2023–2024. The budget projects $154.2 billion in revenue and $163.4 billion in expenses in 2019–2020, exceeding estimated 2018–2019 expenses by approximately $900 million. Over the next five years, the budget projects a cumulative $821.3 billion in revenue and $841.1 billion in expenses, for a net $19.8 billion deficit over this period.

As part of the province’s recovery plan, total annual revenue is estimated to grow at an average of three per cent, while expenditure will increase by an annual average of one percent. The 2023–2024 period is projected to have a “modest surplus” of $1.9 billion.

Economic and fiscal outlook

The government’s 2019–2020 plans will see net debt increase by $16.5 billion to $359.9 billion; accumulated deficit will increase by $9.3 billion to $230 billion. Ontario has the largest subnational debt in the world, for which the government will shell out $13.3 billion in interest payments in 2019–2020.

Current projected debt and deficit are greater than projections in the previous Liberal government’s budget, primarily owing to actual 2017–2018 figures being higher than previously estimated. Doug Ford’s government consequently inherited a $15 billion deficit, which it has since reduced to $11.7 billion.

The budget’s medium-term projections show that net debt will increase to $372.3 billion in 2020–2021 and $382.4 billion in 2021–2022. Accumulated deficit will rise to $235.8 billion and $240.4 billion in the same periods, respectively. This is also up from the previous budget’s 2020–2021 estimation of a $360.1 billion net debt and $212.3 billion deficit.

Owing to a “less supportive external environment,” Ontario’s economic growth is expected to slow, with real and nominal gross domestic product (GDP) growth projections down from last year’s projections. The 2019 budget projects a 1.4 per cent real GDP growth and a 3.4 per cent nominal GDP growth in 2019, compared to the previous budget’s 1.8 per cent and 3.9 per cent projections. Government planning assumptions partially rely on consultations with private sector economists; in February, U of T projected that Ontario’s real GDP would grow by two per cent in 2019.

Employment growth in 2019 is forecast to grow from a previous 1.1 per cent in the 2018 budget to 1.3 per cent. Job creation is one of the government’s core commitments and, to this end, the budget notes that 132,000 net new jobs have been created since June 2018.

Infrastructure expenditure is slated to total $14.7 billion in 2019–2020, with the bulk of this coming from $8.6 billion in the transportation sector; $351 million will go to postsecondary education and training infrastructure.

Postsecondary education expenses will drop from $12.1 billion in 2018–2019 to $11.4 billion in 2019–2020.

Commercialization opportunities

The budget also includes plans to strengthen the province’s intellectual property (IP) position and increase commercialization opportunities. The government will create an expert panel that will oversee the planning of a provincial IP framework particularly geared toward the postsecondary education sector.

In addition to the wealth of research it produces, U of T is also a leading university-based entrepreneurial hub, with over 500 research-based startups launched across its 10 accelerators and incubators over the past decade.

Details on this panel’s constitution and the processes that will be involved in creating its framework remain sparse. According to the budget, “this panel will potentially include representation from the postsecondary, industry, innovation, venture capital and investment, banking and finance sectors, as well as from medical research and intellectual property legal expertise.”

While the province does not currently have a framework for IP in place, the federal government launched its Intellectual Property Strategy in 2018 and U of T has its own Inventions Policy, which outlines the commercialization processes for U of T-associated research.

Ontario government releases long-awaited results of survey on sexual violence at university campuses

Government doubles funding to Women’s Campus Safety Grant, implements new reporting requirements for universities

Ontario government releases long-awaited results of survey on sexual violence at university campuses

Content warning: descriptions of sexual violence.

A high number of reported sexual harassment, non-consensual sexual experiences, and lack of knowledge around university support systems were sobering highlights from the results of a sexual violence survey released on March 19 by the provincial government.

The Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey was sent to over 746,000 full-time students in Ontario from February to March 2018 by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, now the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU).

The ministry had come under fire for the delay in releasing results, following reporting by The Varsity and the Queen’s Journal, Queen’s University’s student newspaper.

TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton acknowledged that the released results were not comprehensive because the government needed to “protect the privacy of the survey participants.” She said that the ministry will be consulting Ontario’s Information & Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish “on the release of additional survey results.”

In response to the released results, Fullerton announced that the provincial government plans to double investment in the Women’s Campus Safety Grant this year to $6 million. The annual grant funds campus initiatives including public education, drafting policy to prevent sexual violence, and improving security systems at universities.

The government will also require all publicly-assisted colleges and universities to review their sexual violence policies by September, create task forces to address sexual violence on campus, and draft an annual reports to their board of governors about measures taken in response to sexual violence on campus.

Survey results

A 37-page report summarizes the survey, which was administered by CCI Research Inc. and includes responses from 117,148 full-time university students of 441,499 invited, among other categories.

The report warns against interpretations of smaller data sets and comparing data between institutions; due to the voluntary nature of the report, each institution had a differing number of respondents.

Of 104,238 responses to five questions about knowledge of sexual violence supports at U of T, 61.7 per cent reported that they did not understand how to access supports related to sexual violence and did not understand the wider process for reporting incidents of sexual violence.

Out of 3,514 responses to eight questions, 42.4 per cent reported dissatisfaction with the U of T’s institutional response to sexual violence, which includes believing survivors of sexual violence and creating an environment where sexual violence is recognized as a problem.

In U of T students’ perception of consent, 89.6 per cent of 146,068 responses to seven questions demonstrated an understanding of consent as: revocable at any time, not measured by physical resistance, and required even when affected by decision-altering substances, among others — the remaining responses either took a neutral stance or disagreed with the above definitions.

U of T also had a high proportion of students who reported witnessing sexual violence including physical or verbal abuse, helping someone who was intoxicated, or informing university officials.

68.7 per cent of respondents reported being witnesses, with 67.3 per cent of those saying that they intervened in situations when incidents of sexual violence were witnessed.

4,628 respondents from U of T reported experiences of stalking and 12,293 reported instances of sexual harassment, including discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation and online and physical harassment.

3,602 out of 20,942 U of T students reported non-consensual sexual experiences, part of the 26,824 students from the broader university sector who reported instances of non-consensual sexual experiences.

New Democratic Party criticizes funding as insufficient

In response to a question asked during a press conference on the topic about whether the survey’s results warrant “greater action” than her announcements today, Fullerton said that the government’s plans are an “immediate response to an issue that has only just been reported back to [them],” but did not give further specifics about future plans.

Suze Morrison, a New Democratic Party MPP and the official opposition critic for women’s issues, lambasted the funding increase to the Women’s Campus Safety Grant as insufficient. She said that if the Ontario government was “serious about addressing the underlying systemic issues of… gender-based and sexual violence,” it would deliver on “promised funding to rape crisis centres across Ontario.”

The previous Liberal government had promised $14.8 million over three years to these centres as part of its gender-based violence strategy, but the current Progressive Conservative government has suspended plans for this funding.

Council of Ontario Universities welcomes data, U of T hopes to expand outreach

Sandy Welsh, leader of the Council of Ontario Universities’ Reference Group on Sexual Violence and Vice-Provost Students at U of T, was asked by The Varsity if her group would conduct follow-up or recurring surveys on sexual violence. Welsh deferred to the ministry, saying, “I cannot speak for what the ministry may do. I think it’s an important survey. We’re glad to have these results and look forward to any discussions in the future about other ways to survey.”

U of T Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre Director Angela Treglia spoke to The Varsity on the low proportion of students who felt that they understood the process for reporting instances of sexual violence.

“We have work to do to build and develop the awareness of the services that are available to people who’ve been affected by sexual violence on our campuses,” Treglia said. “We know and we want to get it right.”

The centre is a recent tri-campus development, having opened in 2017 with Treglia’s appointment as director. According the Treglia, the centre has held 200 workshops, reaching 8,000 participants at U of T, and continues to develop a system for supporting students so that “they have a place that they can go for confidential support and know that they’re not alone.”

On whether the initiatives announced by the ministry would be helpful to the centre, Treglia declined to comment. Treglia later went on to say that “we are striving and committed to creating a culture of care and a culture of consent on our campus.”


If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, you can call:

  • Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 (Toll Free), 1-866-863-7868 (TTY), and 416-863-0511 (Toronto)
  • Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse at 1-866-887-0015
  • Toronto Rape Crisis Centre: Multicultural Women Against Rape at 416-597-8808
  • Good2Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Gerstein Crisis Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030
  • Sexual Violence and Prevention Centre at: (416) 978-2266 and
    • UTSG: Gerstein Science Information Centre (Gerstein Library), Suite B139
    • UTM: Davis Building, Room 3094
    • UTSC: Environmental Science & Chemistry Building, EV141.

In Photos: Students gather in Queen’s Park to protest cuts to OSAP, university funding

The emergency rally was held on January 18

In Photos: Students gather in Queen’s Park to protest cuts to OSAP, university funding

Ontario government will cut university, college tuition by 10 per cent

Formal announcement, more details to come Thursday, international students not included

Ontario government will cut university, college tuition by 10 per cent

Beginning in the next academic year, students in postsecondary institutions across the province may be paying less in tuition fees.

According to a report from The Canadian Press, Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government will announce this Thursday that tuition fees for domestic students in Ontario will be slashed by 10 per cent.

This means that the average arts and science student in university would be able to save approximately $660, while a regular college student would save $340, according to the government.

The Progressive Conservatives will introduce a new tuition framework that will make the cuts effective by the 2019–2020 academic year. Tuition would then be frozen the following year.

International students are not covered by the plan.

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.