Has Justin Trudeau mastered the art of the apology?

Canadians have been quick to forgive and forget Liberal controversies

Has Justin Trudeau mastered the art of the apology?

When pictures and videos of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau in brownface and blackface surfaced last month, the nation’s collective jaw dropped. Many Canadians were left feeling betrayed by a leader who has branded himself as an ally of marginalized people and a champion of diversity. It also seemed like the relatively tame campaign season was about to be turned on its head.

In the wake of Trudeau’s scandal, it may come as a surprise that support for the Liberal Party of Canada has remained relatively unchanged. The Liberal Party did not suffer any substantial loss of support in the polls, nor did any other party see meaningful gains following the publication of the images.

Our attention seems to have instead shifted rather quickly toward other aspects of the election. The lack of a substantial dip in Liberal support in the polls and the willingness of Canadians to forgive this issue leads to unanswered questions. Chiefly, why were we so quick to move on?

A possible explanation exists in a very simple concept: an apology. More specifically, the fact that Trudeau actually gave one. Although it is a rather low bar to set, we rarely hear politicians actually apologize for the things they do wrong, and this election is no exception.

Back in August, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer came under fire for refusing to apologize for a speech he gave in 2005 regarding his stance on same-sex marriage. We have become accustomed to watching leaders pivot their way out of apologizing instead of facing issues head on.

Enter Trudeau, who apologized the same night the initial image surfaced, and again the next day after additional images were brought to light. His apology, for all intents and purposes, was well-executed.

He pointed to his own privilege as a “massive blind spot,” acknowledged that the behaviour was unacceptable, and reinforced how sorry he was. Once again, a low bar. But the quick reaction gave the scandal little room to breathe and forced voters to make a snap decision about whether they believed him to be sincere.

Judging by the almost unmoving nature of the polls, perhaps Trudeau’s affinity for apologies has paid off. But it would be unwise to give any politician too much credit. There are many factors that contribute to party support in the lead-up to an election: party loyalty, the quality of local representation, inaccurate or unreliable polling data, et cetera.

The unchanging nature of the polls speaks not only to the effects of Trudeau’s apology but also to the already close nature of this race. It may have stopped the Liberals from hemorrhaging, but it cannot account for the entirety of the campaign.

While it may not account for the direction of the campaign as a whole, the Liberal leader’s apology does stand out, especially when compared to other kinds of leadership impacting the lives of students. Students don’t often see their own leaders apologize in such a straightforward manner. An adequate apology and acknowledgement of failure does not remedy what Trudeau did, but it does create the opportunity to engage with the issues of privilege that he pointed to. Leaders at U of T should take note of Trudeau’s conduct. Without acknowledgement of problems and causes, issues cannot even begin to be adequately addressed.

October 21 will reveal whether Trudeau and his party have done enough. U of T accounts for a large, diverse mass of potential voters, many of whom are living in a riding currently held by the Liberal Party’s Chrystia Freeland. If this issue remains at the top of the list for students, they will make it known on election day.

Julia Hookong-Taylor is a fifth-year Political Science student at St. Michael’s College.

For economic growth, students should vote Conservative

In four years, the Liberals have done little good for the Canadian economy, foreign relations

For economic growth, students should vote Conservative

The federal election is close, and surrounding discussion is focused more on politicians’ pasts than their party’s platform. Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau’s brownface and blackface incidents during his teaching years, and Liberal MP candidate Jaime Battiste’s past homophobic and sexist tweets are both setting the stage. No one seems to be interested in talking about the state of the Canadian economy.

However, voters — especially students — must take economic sustainability into consideration. Growth cannot be achieved if we allow economic policy to continue as it has these past four years. As Matthew Lau wrote in an opinion piece for the Financial Post, “if the most important issue to voters is the economy, then one thing is for certain: the Liberals deserve to lose.”

The Liberal government has been in power since 2015, and during these four years, it has done nothing but present Canadians with failed promises, broken pledges, and an immense deficit. Trudeau has shown his extreme amateurism with a 2015 promise of a balanced budget by 2019 — a promise which was broken after a string of yearly deficits. To rub salt in the wound, Trudeau used taxpayer money to pay for his $215,000 Bahamas vacation. What happened to budgeting? 

Foreign policy has also cost us under the Liberal government. The reality of Liberal foreign policies has been the exact opposite of their 2015 promises. Rather than restoring Canada’s credibility, the Liberals have chosen virtue-signalling over its real diplomacy, which has damaged Canada’s economic relationships.

Take the 2018 scandal between Chrystia Freeland, who is running for re-election as the University–Rosedale MP, and the Saudi Arabian government. As the foreign affairs minister, Freeland strongly criticized the arrests of human rights activists by the Saudi government, leading to the Saudis expelling the Canadian ambassador, withdrawing investments from Canada, and threatening to end Saudi-Canadian student exchange programs.

Canada is not a global superpower, and it is not a smart move to make other countries angry. It’s as if the Liberal Party truly believes Canada could become the world’s first moral superpower. It is time for the Canadian government to think of the economy rather than morals, but it seems Liberals would rather cherish morality in exchange for foreign investments.

The Conservative government may not have been the all-inclusive, welcoming paradise that the Liberals dream of. However, as Lau noted, Canada’s real GDP per capita growth was comparable to that of the US during Stephen Harper’s time in office. 

This was not the case under Trudeau: in the last four years, Canada’s GDP per capita increased by 2.7 per cent, versus the US’ 6.3 per cent — and the Americans have Donald Trump as their president. Not only is GDP growth per capita suffering, but Trudeau’s promises on budgeting and debt also seem to have vanished alongside his other pledges during his 2015 election campaign.

While it may be misleading to solely contribute a nation’s economic status to the actions of its political leaders, the impact of our government’s economic policies on the economy cannot be ignored. Government policies set the stage for positive economic growth.

It’s impossible to have a debt-free nation, but making a promise of a $9.5 billion in 2018, compared to the $19 billion reality is simply a nightmare. For the 2019 campaign, the Liberals are including $9.3 billion in new spending for 2020–2021, with the deficit rising to $27.4 billion. Given the current economic trends, a return to a balanced budget may not appear until at least 2040. On the other hand, Scheer promises to balance the budget in five years, which will surely relieve some of the national debt.

Lau addressed critics who point to the decline of oil prices in 2015 as the reason for subpar economic performance under the Liberals. However, when one considers that the price of oil started to recover in 2016, just as the Liberals took office, it becomes evident that external price fluctuations are not to blame.

The problem is not what the state of the economy was in 2015, but rather Trudeau’s horrific economic policies. While Liberals promise to “make life more affordable for Canadian families,” they are actually adding on to Canadian middle-class taxes. Just consider, as Lau did, the increased burden of the payroll tax, marginal income tax, and small business investment taxes under their administration.

Another concerning policy is the Liberals’ draw to deferred taxes. Lau pointed out that around $75 billion in these taxes were added, which points to future tax bills to be footed by the public.

Scheer has promised to erase the immense trade deficit and cut taxes, cancelling $1.5 billion in corporate handouts and subsidies. It is in Canada’s best interest to trust the Conservative’s promises to fix the Canadian tax problem and trade deficit rather than the Liberal pledge to add more debt to the already indebted country. With the Liberals in power, there is no going forward, only sinking deeper in piles of taxes, debt, and deficits.

With the surge of taxes, public debt, trade deficits, and slow GDP growth, even the Liberal party can agree that the economy hasn’t been at its best under its watch. Overspending, billions in corporate handouts and subsidies, using tax money for unrelated business, and creating billions in deficits and public debt with a stagnating growth rate of GDP per capita, all under the good name that the Liberals are the ‘more moral political party,’ perhaps it is time to think about whether Canada needs morality or diplomacy.

The Liberal party has created damage to Canada that has significantly affected Canadian society. It is by voting that we can show our concern and make our voices heard. The government has power over a nation, but it is society who gives power to the government of their choice. We can be part of the decision-making process and create changes within our community and country — if you do not make the decision for yourself, others will make it for you.

Everyone wants to be on the ‘good side’ when it comes to voting, but how are you to value the morality of the Liberal government when it has been handing out broken promises and lies during its four years of power? In the coming weeks, students must vote for the party that best understands their economic interests — vote Conservative.

Asal Arefi is a first-year Social Sciences student at University College.

Editor’s Note (October 20, 12:01 pm): A previous version of this article made several references to a Financial Post opinion piece without sufficiently accrediting its author, Matthew Lau. This article has been revised to provide for sufficient accreditation. The Varsity regrets this error.

Corncoming puts the corn in cornmunity

Innovation, adaptation necessary to reignite campus spirit

Corncoming puts the corn in cornmunity

While it may have started as an inside joke at a St. George Round Table (SGRT) meeting in 2017, Corncoming — U of T’s corn-themed homecoming event— is once again set to take place on October 11. 

Unlike other Ontario universities, such as Western and Queen’s, U of T homecoming is not a significant part of student culture. 

University homecomings are a tradition that celebrates the founding of the university through alumni and student events, and often start with a parade, pep rally, and an opening football game. 

U of T homecoming lacks many of these elements. For many universities, homecoming isn’t just a football game, but a fun day where the student body can socialize and meet members of the community. However, at U of T, this event focuses on celebrating Varsity athletics rather than unifying students through a campus-wide social event. 

The SGRT Corncoming is one step closer to rectifying this missed opportunity for student engagement by providing students with opportunities for involvement in student societies through a day of interactive activities and events. 

“[The mystery] adds to the intrigue of the event,” University College Literary & Athletic Society President Danielle Stella told The Varsity.

On October 11, the event will open with a Fall Festival in Sir Daniel Wilson’s quad. According to Stella, the organizers are hoping to attract passersby, since the quad sees high foot traffic in between classes. After several other events, this year’s Corncoming will conclude with a Pub Night at East of Brunswick on Spadina. 

Corncoming has been a part of U of T’s meme culture since its inception in 2017, being frequently featured in the “uoft memes for true 🅱lue teens” Facebook page. The large and impassioned online response to the event indicates that there is space for U of T to grow. Students are looking for an opportunity to build a community centred around notions of campus pride. 

The event was noticeably missing last year, and Stella noted that the intrigue and longing for the event among students makes her happy.

The purpose of this year’s Corncoming is to promote student engagement, especially in response to the Student Choice Initiative, which gives students the choice to opt out of the non-essential incidental fees that provide student-led organizations with their funding.

Such changes have had an impact on the framework of activities and campus life this year. Stella is hoping that reintroducing student unions from every faculty and college can help students develop informed decisions for the winter term opt-out period.  

The event is more than just a matter of joining a club or socializing; it is an opportunity for everyone to find their place in our community.

With more than a thousand clubs, organizations, and societies across three campuses, Corncoming will hopefully bring us one step closer to reigniting student engagement.

Paul Jerard Layug is a first-year Life Sciences student at New College.

Op-ed: This election, youth must vote — whatever your politics

We have the numbers, so let's go make a difference

Op-ed: This election, youth must vote — whatever your politics

My name is Saeda Ali and I’m a volunteer with a non-partisan, non-profit organization called Future Majority at UTSC.

Future Majority is working to get students out to vote in the upcoming federal election to accelerate our values as young Canadians into the forefront of political decision-making. We are operating in more than 20 campuses, in 40 ridings, with over 600 volunteers.

I was inspired to volunteer with Future Majority at UTSC because I wanted to remind my peers that our concerns about our futures matter and need to be taken seriously by politicians. More often than not, young people underestimate the power of their vote. We fail to inform ourselves about how current policies impact us because many of us don’t believe that politicians listen to us.

When I found out that Millennials and Generation-Z — those aged 18–34 — now make up the largest voting bloc in Canada, I knew I had to get involved. Our vote can change the trajectory of the election and the political landscape of Canada.

While volunteering with Future Majority, I’ve been able to go around campus and speak to fellow students about the upcoming election. I have heard first-hand accounts of the issues that are impacting young Canadians. Three issues have repeatedly been brought up: the rising cost of education, unaffordable housing in the GTA, and the climate crisis.

With the recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, there is a heightened concern around the mountains of student debt students now face after graduation — which is especially worrisome considering it is more and more difficult to get a good job after graduating in order to pay off loans.

Trying to find a place to live — especially in the GTA — is increasingly unaffordable for young Canadians. This has forced many students to live at home or commute long distances to university — sometimes an hour-and-a-half each way!

The climate crisis is the biggest issue brought up by U of T students. People are scared for their futures. The United Nations has given us less than 11 years to solve this problem. This means we need action, like, yesterday. Many students expressed concern that no political party is going to do enough to reduce our carbon footprint and promote sustainable business practices. Many U of T students want to see Canada become a world leader in preserving and protecting the environment for future generations. We can make sure that happens.

As a Political Science major, I have learned that one of the fundamental aspects of democracy is the right to vote. Canadians have the privilege of choosing their political representatives. In a world where not everyone is afforded this opportunity, the right to vote should not be taken lightly.

With schedules filled with lectures, tutorials, and extracurricular commitments, many students find that they simply can’t find time to go out of their way to find a polling station. Luckily, voting has become more accessible for students than ever before.

Students at all three U of T campuses have the option of voting on their campus from Saturday, October 5 to Wednesday, October 9. Students voting at on-campus polling stations have the option of voting for either candidates from their home riding or school riding, if they have the right documentation.

There will be 121 stations set up at 109 schools, making it easier than ever for students across the nation to vote. This is a huge increase from the 39 on-campus polling stations that were set up in the 2015 election.

If you are curious about how to vote you can visit the Go Vote! website— a microsite developed by Future Majority to educate young Canadians about the election.

Future Majority will be bringing attention to on-campus polling stations by hiring canvassers at UTM and UTSC during the on-campus polling week to literally walk thousands of students to the polls.

Future Majority is projected to walk 30,000 students directly to polls, coast-to-coast. This could have a significant impact on an election that is predicted to be tight.

This October, young Canadians have the power to send a message to every political party that we can no longer be ignored. If U of T students vote in high numbers, we can influence ridings across the entire GTA. We can ensure that no political party can win without the youth vote — they literally cannot ignore us!

By getting out to vote in high numbers, politicians will no longer get elected if they don’t promise to address the issues which matter to youth. Given the power that we now hold, this election is our opportunity to have our voices finally heard and create a Canada that addresses the concerns we have for our futures.

Saeda Ali is a second-year Political Science and International Development student at UTSC and a volunteer at Future Majority.

Integration of social media-motivated cultural movements into course content is long overdue

K-pop and #MeToo courses bring academia closer to contemporary issues and subjects, challenge the traditional canon

Integration of social media-motivated cultural movements into course content is long overdue

My favourite part of What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy is his scathing yet hilarious criticism of other artists and styles. The most poignant part is when Tolstoy draws a distinction between the increasingly absurd art of the “upper classes” and the art of the “masses,” for it reveals how culture is a power dynamic in itself. U of T’s introduction of two new courses motivated by mass media significantly deviates from academic tradition.

Culture can denote separate judgements on the quality of social practices and values. One is a historical purveyor, and the other is a body of features representing a society’s progress.

Although people are exposed to many cultures in modern life, there still remains a belief that some cultural features are more prestigious or developed than others. In a simple offhand remark about social media or reality television, there is an inherent act of discrimination against less “cultured” content and those who adhere to it, which may spiral to reinforce other prejudices.

This same attitude informs the content of our academic studies, guiding it toward certain subjects over others because they are supposedly more intelligent or insightful. These subjects often express male-dominated, upper-class driven, and Western traditions.

This makes U of T’s decision to offer two new courses which explore K-pop fandoms and the #MeToo movement significant, because these courses break with a Eurocentric tradition and recognize the impact of popular media movements on twenty-first century values and lifestyles.

Our contemporary world is marked by rapid changes in technological mediums which affect how we communicate and connect with others, in addition to providing a platform for cultural homogenization, globalization, and radicalization. There is nothing more relevant to our understanding of culture than the social reality in which we live.

These courses might not be impartial or apolitical, but the subjective experiences that students bring into the classroom present an opportunity for meaningful discussion — discussion that allows for different perspectives to be heard and new ones to arise.

Subjectivity is already an alternative tool for understanding that appears when a person reads-in modern or personal perspectives on historical events, makes assumptions and generalizations about other civilizations, and pieces together social conditions from a variety of partial sources.

Upon close consideration, it’s baffling why the inclusion of K-pop or the #MeToo movement took so long in the first place. There is no justification for people who believe that popular culture cannot positively contribute to classroom settings other than notions of cultural superiority.

Media culture is complex and integral to the structure of social events, just as much as topics with ‘greater academic worth.’ Opponents of these classes are no longer begging the question. They are finding new reasons to enforce hierarchies.

U of T must embrace the generational and technological differences that shape society without judgment, and adapt its curriculum so students can address issues of here and now, as will be done in the K-pop and #MeToo courses. To perpetuate a false perception of culture is, as Tolstoy would say, absolutely absurd.

Emily Hurmizi is a second-year Philosophy student at Victoria College.

Women’s empowerment must inform our vote next month

Liberals, NDP, and Greens do better than the Conservatives on abortion

Women’s empowerment must inform our vote next month

Content warning: discussions of sexual assault.

It’s 2019, and Canadians expect their government to take a strong stance on empowering women and girls. After all, in a society that is based on equal opportunity, it is only fair that women are treated equitably. This is the bare minimum that Canadians expect from their leaders. However, when it comes to policy, some parties exceed expectations. Others don’t even meet it. It is important to be aware of each party’s policies ahead of the federal election.

To start, the Liberal Party has engaged with women’s rights on both the domestic and international fronts. On the domestic side, the Liberals have made it very clear that they will not re-open the abortion debate and that the entire caucus supports a person’s right to choose. The party is particular in that it has applied feminism in its foreign policy as well.

For the past four years, Justin Trudeau’s government has been championing what it has dubbed the “Feminist International Assistance Policy.” Some initiatives include support of educational opportunities in areas where girls are less likely to go to school and increased economic independence among women.

Another initiative confronts humanitarian crises by focusing on factors that specifically affect women and girls. When it comes to the issue of forced displacement, women and girls at times also deal with the trauma of being sexually exploited or trafficked, in addition to the trauma of fleeing a war zone.

To combat this, the federal government has dedicated a portion of its humanitarian assistance to providing psychosocial support and sexual health services to women abroad. These initiatives are part of Trudeau’s record, however, there have not been any recent policy proposals on this issue during the current federal campaign.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) has adopted an intersectional view of feminism by taking into account the lived experiences of women. Party members often speak to the fact that Indigenous women are overrepresented in prisons in comparison to the rest of the population. On top of that, the NDP always brings the issue of socioeconomic class into the conversation.

In a statement released during Gender Equality Week last year, the NDP also expressed its concern over how older women are disproportionately trapped in poverty. Additionally, the NDP has also committed itself to a health care plan that fully covers contraceptives and abortion.

Apart from providing this coverage, the NDP has yet to outline any policy plans that would combat the concerns mentioned above.

In its platform, the Green Party has indicated a number of pro-women policies, such as access to safe abortion services, eliminating violence against women, girls, and gender-diverse people, and universal child care.

However, though the Greens maintain that the abortion debate has been closed in Canada, party leader Elizabeth May has also recently came out saying that she would not prevent another Green Party member from re-opening the debate. She later clarified that she would screen out candidates who move to re-open the debate. Such confusion is not new for May; she has previously been linked to controversial remarks about abortion. 

The Conservative Party has yet to provide any policy proposals, and leader Andrew Scheer hasn’t clarified some of his more problematic views. This May, a handful of Conservative MPs attended the March for Life anti-choice rally.

While Scheer has said that a Conservative government would not re-open the abortion debate, he nonetheless offered no serious repercussions for the MPs who attended the rally. There is doubt on whether Scheer is willing to discipline MPs who want to see this debate reopened.

This also leaves doubts as to how a Conservative government would promote international development in the area of reproductive health. Will Scheer simply watch as women and girls — and other people with active uteruses — in vulnerable areas continue to experience inadequate access to reproductive health care? One can only assume that would be the case.

While they want to give new tax credits to parents, the Conservative Party also lists the names of noteworthy conservative women in Canadian history on its website. The purpose of this page is to attack the party’s critics for making the assumption that the Conservative party is composed only of “old white men.”

Instead of putting out bold policy proposals that could advance feminism, the Conservatives have opted to prove its critics wrong by listing every noteworthy conservative women that once existed. If the Conservatives want to convince anyone that their party is inclusive, they should probably propose bold policies that would advance the rights of women in this country.

At the end of the day, the Liberals have set a high bar for how a federal government should empower women and girls. Both they and the NDP stand out for their unique and bold approaches to tackling this issue.

The Liberals are looking at empowering women and girls both at home and around the world. The New Democrats are committed to lifting up women by taking into account their lived experience. Their approach crosses lines by taking into account socioeconomic factors that could halt women’s success. The Greens, although marked by controversy at times, also seek to invest in women.

However, the same cannot be said of the other side of the spectrum. The Conservative Party in particular stands out for not addressing women’s rights in this election. Keeping in mind that women make up about half of the population, this is absolutely absurd. The bare minimum has not been met.

Aiman Akmal is a third-year International Relations student at Trinity College.

Disclosure: Akmal has been a member of the Ontario Young Liberals since 2015 and a member of the University of Toronto Young Liberals since 2017. 

Editor’s Note (September 30, 10:21 PM): This article has been updated to include a disclosure of the author’s political affiliations.

Editor’s Note (October 5, 5:00 PM): A previous version of this article indicated that the Green Party had not yet presented any specific policy proposals with regard to women’s empowerment. The article has been updated to reflect some of the Green Party’s proposals. The Varsity regrets this error.

Letter to the Editor: Clarification on the UTSU’s amendment to student union pay

Re: "UTSU Executive Committee to reverse decision to allow overtime pay"

Letter to the Editor: Clarification on the UTSU’s amendment to student union pay

It is extremely important that student union executives hold ourselves to the utmost degree of transparency and accountability to our membership. We are paid and elected by our members to execute what they ask of us. This, more often than not, requires us to work unconventional hours. 

On any given day, I can have a meeting in a different city with another student union, be on the phone with a parent at 3:00 am, or attend academic appeal sessions with students at 9:00 am. 

I am grateful to hold the position I do, and to be trusted by our membership to serve in the capacity that I am. 

In 2016, The Varsity published an article comparing student union executive salaries across Canada. According to The Varsity’s article, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU)’s executives are paid less than other student union executives who represent similar undergraduate populations. 

I wholeheartedly stand by the idea that executives need to be properly compensated for the time and emotional labour they put into their jobs. 

The UTSU pays its executive members $16 per hour. The Vice-President Professional Faculties is required to work a minimum of 10 hours. The Vice-Presidents Equity, External Affairs, University Affairs, and Student Life need to work a minimum of 25 hours. The President and Vice-President Operations need to work a minimum of 40 hours. 

All Executives are paid up until 40 hours, after which their pay is cut off and they can no longer be paid despite working 10 or more hours over that in any given week. 

The UTSU Executive Committee found that working more than 40 hours a week was difficult at the rate of pay of $16 per hour, where executives must sacrifice commitments to their academic pursuits, personal lives, and more. 

The amendments to the Remuneration Policy stipulated that rather than instituting the 40 hour per week cap, “any additional hours worked shall be compensated at the same hourly honorarium.” There is an important distinction between straight hours and overtime. Overtime is when a corporation pays its employees a different rate for hours worked above 44, usually time-and-a-half pay. 

The Varsity reported that the Executive Committee had approved overtime pay. This is false. 

At a meeting of the UTSU’s Executive Committee on August 19, 2019 the Executive Committee voted to approve amendments to the UTSU’s Remuneration Policy, which can be found on page 34 of the UTSU’s Policy Manual.

This amendment was approved at the August 24, 2019 meeting of the Board of Directors. After consultations with the UTSU’s membership and Board of Directors, the Executive Committee realized that although we followed the UTSU’s outlined governance structure — whereby items are passed at committee meetings and then approved by the Board of Directors, then approved at the Annual General Meeting every October — we should have followed a different process when it comes to allowing executives to claim more hours. When it comes to something as sensitive as pay for executives, we have realized that transparency and consultation are key. 

To all students who dedicate time to being involved at this level: your work is valuable. We can’t point a finger at institutions that offer unpaid internships, but turn our back when students ask to be compensated fairly. 

As a low-income student, I would never have been able to even entertain the thought of going to a postsecondary institution without Ontario Student Assistance Program. With recent cuts to the program, I can only imagine how difficult it is for students to continue their studies. 

With the hours that are demanded of this position, I don’t have enough time to take up a part-time job to offset the shortcomings of what I am paid. But I understood that when I ran for the role. I hope that, in the coming months, we are able to create a solution that is both transparent and supportive to future students who choose to get involved. 

We need to create an incentive for students to get involved. We had an extremely low voter turnout in the previous elections, and we had many uncontested seats. 

While we’ve created a First Year Council, expanded our Equity Collectives, and are working to increase our outreach to membership, prospective UTSU Executives can’t help but look at the rate of pay and judge whether or not they are able to run. To this point, we are looking at ways to consult our membership to ensure students wishing to run in our elections are free to do so regardless of any financial barriers.

But why should students get involved if their work isn’t valued? Why are we pointing the finger at students when members of our administration make six figures a year

I want students to see themselves reflected in their elected representatives, and should they have the courage to leap into these positions, I want them to know that their time and work are valuable.

Joshua Bowman is a fifth-year Indigenous Studies and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College and current President of the UTSU.

If reconciliation and the climate crisis are to matter, U of T must divest from fossil fuels

U of T’s investments render its global leadership on the environment questionable

If reconciliation and the climate crisis are to matter, U of T must divest from fossil fuels

U of T holds a leading role in environmental sustainability practices. It has presented a number of initiatives which place students on the forefront of addressing the climate crisis.

The initiatives use knowledge and resources provided by the university to create a network that promotes sustainability practices and tackles climate issues globally.

However, some of U of T’s actions, most notably its investments in fossil fuel companies, are cause for calling this supposed leadership role into question.

This past July, President Meric Gertler attended a summit in Paris along with 47 other universities, who collectively comprise the U7+ Alliance. During the summit, the alliance voted unanimously to adopt six principles, ranging from efforts to “train and nurture responsible and active citizens who will contribute to society, from the local to the global level,” to “solve complex global issues through interdisciplinary research and learning.”

With its notable involvement in global summits and conferences, as well as the commitments made in the President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability’s 2019 annual report, it is clear that U of T is a global leader when it comes to environmental and sustainability efforts.

However, in many ways U of T is acting in conflict with its own principles and values in how it is using its resources. When our money is put into industries that directly contribute to the same problems we are looking to combat, it creates a disconnect between promises made by the U of T bureaucracies and the actual actions implemented by them.

U of T promises to “address environmental issues and challenges, including sustainability and climate change,” and yet, according to Toronto350, a campaign group which calls on the university to divest from fossil fuel industries, it is heavily invested in fossil fuel companies, with “a significant portion of our ~$1.5 billion endowment devoted to this unsustainable industry.”

While U of T promises to “share [our] best practices with each other and other institutions around the world,” Toronto350 shows that we are invested in stock holdings in the “200 fossil fuel companies around the world with the largest reserves of coal, oil, and gas.”

U of T promises to “promote inclusion and opportunity while fostering ‘evidence-based public debate’ to combat societal polarization,” yet it is investing in the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on sacred Indigenous land in Hawaii. There, dozens of protesters, including 33 Native Hawaiian elders, have been arrested and continue to face confrontation by the police.

Promises like the ones mentioned above — which comprise half of the core principles the U7+ Alliance voted to adopt — can be seen as great strides toward environmental stewardship and sustainability. But investments in fossil fuel companies and disregard for Indigenous land rights betrays our promises toward these goals.

As an institution that holds a marked role in the global academic community with regard to environmental sustainability, U of T must do more to take responsibility and divest from these unsustainable and unethical companies.

True leadership would mean holding ourselves accountable to the promises we have made as a collective alliance with other institutions around the world. We rally other countries to partake in these initiatives with us, yet at the same time we hold investments that do not reflect our supposed values and principles. By prioritizing profits made from such investments, we pose a threat to the very cause we claim to fight for.

While so many of our environmental initiatives are progressive, U of T cannot continue to present itself as a leader while hypocritically investing in harmful industries. Rather than continuing to invest in fossil fuels, U of T should shift its investments into the renewable energy sector. This would not only better reflect our status as a leading university in sustainability practices, but might influence other universities to adopt clean energy initiatives. U of T must sincerely commit itself to the sustainability movement to be a true global leader.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.