Beyond Borders

Hosted by the Hart House Debates & Dialogue Committee jointly with the Diaspora and Transnational Studies Union and Amnesty International UofT, “Beyond Borders” brings together a panel of experts who aim to bring the discussion on borders to a new depth. In this period of high political tension between diverse countries and communities, there is an increased prominence of borders in our mainstream conversations, with media bringing the discussion of national borders to the forefront of public attention.

Borders, a historical institution designed to help the state manage and control the nation, is deeply influential in the lives of many. While it may be a minor inconvenience for some as they cross into a new country or board a plane, they also have immense impacts on many other dimensions of the world. Their influence varies from the exclusion of refugees, to the intrusion on indigenous nations, to the consequences on global climate action. This discussion seeks to move beyond the political dimensions of borders and pushes the mainstream conceptualization of it beyond what it is now to gain a deeper understanding of their consequences on the current world and implications for the future.

Prior to the event, we invite you to consider these questions: What are the times in which you have faced problems at a border and from where does this problem stem from? Will others in your life face the same problems, or different? Internationally, which groups have the strongest or weakest borders, and for what reasons? And finally, do you believe that borders are necessary for forwarding the goals of communities?

=== Speakers ===

Dr. Usha George | Director of Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement | Leading SSHRC Insight Grant on Citizenship Experiences of Racialized Women project | Leading SSHRC Partnership Development Grant on Syrian Newcomers project | Leading Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada funded study on Entrepreneurial Behaviour of Newcomers to Ontario project

Dr. Stephen Scharper | Associate Professor at the School of the Environment and the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, and at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto Mississauga | Associate Faculty with the Toronto School of Theology | Leading scholar, researcher, and author in the areas of environmental ethics, worldviews and ecology, and the ethics of violence and non-violence

Mr. El-Farouk Khaki | Refugee and Immigration Lawyer | Lawyer at El-Farouk Khaki Law Office | Co-Founder and Coordinator Imam of El-Tawhid Juma Circle Unity Mosques

Moderated by Kevin Lewis O’Neill | Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies | Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at UTSG

=== Run of Show ===

6:30pm: Doors open

7:00pm: Opening remarks

7:15pm: Moderated panel discussion

8:15pm: Q&A Period

8:45pm: Closing remarks

=== Tickets and Tri-Campus Accessibility ===

Tickets are free.

Please note that in order to guarantee your spot, you must arrive by 7PM. Doors open at 6:30PM. This is to ensure as many people are able to participate in this important event as possible.

Given that we are hosting this event at the University of Toronto Downtown Campus (UTSG), all non-UTSG students have the opportunity to be reimbursed for their travel expenses. Please get in touch with us at if you are interested.

For other accessibility inquiries and requests, please contact

=== Additional Notes ===

For any additional queries, feel free to connect with us at

Participation in student government elections at U of T among lowest in Canada

2019 UTSU elections saw 4.2 per cent voter turnout

Participation in student government elections at U of T among lowest in Canada

As the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Annual General Meeting has now lost quorum two years in a row, and its voter turnout in the last general election was 4.2 per cent, it seems the UTSU is experiencing a pattern of low democratic participation. The 2019 spring general election saw three executive positions and 18 director positions go unfilled, and the resulting by-election saw a voter turnout of 2.9 per cent. The UTSU is the highest student government body at U of T, with responsibilities such as advocacy and lobbying university administration and local government.

Although low participation in student government elections isn’t something that’s unique to U of T, there is a question as to whether U of T is an outlier.

The spring 2018 UTSU election saw the highest voter turnout of the past four years at 25.3 per cent, in part due to the U-Pass referendum. Although the majority of those present abstained from voting in all executive elections, the referendum had a 97.6 per cent participation rate.


However, low voter turnout in student government elections does not seem to be the norm in all Canadian universities.

In the general elections for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), voter turnout averaged 25.2 per cent for 2013–2019, nearly double the average of the UTSU’s general elections from 2016–2019, which was 12.8 per cent.

The University of Alberta Students’ Union, which has been tracking its voter turnout since 2006, has an overall average of 21.8 per cent, and an average of 25 per cent from 2016–2019. University of Alberta (U of A) also tracks voter turnout by program, something that neither U of T or any other university does. This data shows that the highest voter turnout comes from the Faculté Saint-Jean, the French-language faculty, as well as the science and pharmacy faculties. 

The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Alma Mater Society saw an average of 22.1 per cent voter turnout from 2013–2019, excluding the 2015 and 2016 separated referendum elections. In 2015 and 2016, the general elections were separated from the referenda, leading to a significant drop in election participation. The 2015 and 2016 general elections saw voter turnouts of 12.9 and 12.5 per cent respectively. In 2017, participation jumped back up to 20.7 per cent as the general elections were combined once more with referenda.

In 2019, of seven Canadian universities, voter turnout in the SSMU general election exceeded by four times more than in the UTSU election, and over five times more in the general elections for the student societies of UBC, U of A, Carleton University, Dalhousie University, and Western University.

UTSU President Joshua Bowman affirmed that voter turnout at U of T is a problem, and that the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) is looking for solutions. “In my opinion, it’s not enough to simply ramp up engagement around election time,” wrote Bowman to The Varsity. “We’ve been trying to reach out to students throughout our term… We want students to know that their concerns are our priority, and not just when we’re asking for their participation in our elections.”

“I want to incentivize students to vote, period.”

Candidate Profiles for Scarborough–Rouge Park

Meet your candidates for UTSC’s MP

Candidate Profiles for Scarborough–Rouge Park

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTSC’s riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park.

Gary Anandasangaree, Liberal Party MP candidate

Gary Anandasangaree is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for  the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Outside of federal politics, Anandasangaree is a human rights lawyer and community activist.

In an interview with The Varsity, Anandasangaree discussed the importance of students in this election. “I feel that that U of T and [postsecondary education] is probably our most important stakeholder in the riding,” he said. He went on to point to rising postsecondary education costs as the top issue for students, emphasizing the party’s commitment to affordable education.

In particular, Anandasangaree pointed out the Ford government’s cuts to universities and colleges as “two steps forward, two steps back.” He referred to the burden that a reduction in provincial funding had on federal scholarships.

On pictures showing Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface, and the message it may send to racialized students, Anandasangaree said: “Justin Trudeau is a friend of mine. He is someone I deeply respect. He… made several mistakes on this front and I think he’s taken full ownership of it.”

Bobby Singh, Conservative MP candidate

Bobby Singh is the Conservative MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Singh is an entrepreneur with degrees from York University and U of T. At a federal candidates debate hosted by UTSC, Singh said his top policy priority if elected would be “reducing taxes and expenditures.”

Singh noted that certain areas of his riding are living at or below the poverty line and stated tax cuts would help address this challenge. With regard to the climate crisis, Singh acknowledged that “immediate… action is required.” However, he disagrees with carbon tax measures on the basis that they “unfairly penalize [local] companies.” Singh would rather see carbon absorption policy to address the climate crisis.

The Conservative candidate also called for greater inter-party cooperation. Singh has been involved in a number of organizations working to address issues such as accessibility and inclusivity in relation to education.

According to, at an event in Malvern, Singh criticized Trudeau’s wearing of brownface and blackface and said that he would “support a (national) anti-racism strategy, but not the one tabled by the Liberals.” The official Conservative Party platform does not feature the words “race” or “racism.”

The Varsity has reached out to Singh for comment.

Kingsley Kwok, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Kingsley Kwok is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Kwok is a registered respiratory therapist at Scarborough General Hospital and president of his union for health workers in his region.

At a candidate debate organized by UTSC, Kwok stated that his top policy priority upon election would be to “fight the climate crisis like we want to win.” Kwok criticized the Liberal government at a past debate for responding too slowly to the climate crisis. Kwok stated that his party’s approach to the climate crisis would include a carbon tax, while simultaneously creating new jobs.

Kwok also recognized the contributions students make to protesting political issues, citing specifically an 18-year-old student who was in critical condition after being shot by police at a protest in Hong Kong.

Kwok supports raising taxes for higher-income individuals and corporations so that government programs can remain intact. In order to advocate against funding cuts, Kwok was one of the creators of the Scarborough Health Coalition. Kwok claimed that “nothing is more important than health care,” and endorsed the NDP plan to implement a universal pharma care program.

The Varsity has reached out to Kwok for comment.

Jessica Hamilton, Green Party MP candidate

Jessica Hamilton is the Green Party MP candidate for the Scarborough–Rouge Park riding, where the UTSC campus is located. Hamilton works as a therapist for children diagnosed with autism.

In an interview with The Varsity, Hamilton said she decided to run for parliament after a disheartening experience with her local MP, which made her realize that “there was nobody actually looking out for us, there was nobody who could actually speak on behalf of us, and the status quo wasn’t working anymore.”

On student debt among postsecondary students, Hamilton referenced the Green Party’s plan to forgive federal debt for individuals who currently have student debt, and to move toward free tuition for postsecondary education.

On the issue of mental health, specifically within the UTSC campus, Hamilton expressed her intention of interacting with the Scarborough–Rouge Park community on a more personal level.

Hamilton also mentioned the Green Party’s plan to establish a mental health minister who would oversee how mental health solutions and preventative measures could be put into place at the provincial and municipal levels.

On the climate crisis, Hamilton mentioned the Green Party’s goal of moving into a clean economy through the elimination of fossil fuels and the investment in a clean energy grid.

With files from Kate Reeve and Kathryn Mannie.

Candidate Profiles for Mississauga–Erin Mills

Meet your candidates for UTM’s MP

Candidate Profiles for Mississauga–Erin Mills

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTM’s riding of Mississauga–Erin Mills.

Iqra Khalid, Liberal Party MP candidate

Iqra Khalid is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for the Mississauga–Erin Mills riding, where the UTM campus is located.

After her election in 2015, Khalid came to national attention in December 2016 for tabling Motion 103, which called for a condemnation of  “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” The motion was opposed by some Conservative MPs, who called it an attack on free speech and freedom of expression. Although the motion passed, it stirred debate online and caused protests and demonstrations throughout the country.

In August 2018, Khalid made national news again after giving a community service award to Amin El-Maoued, the public relations chief of Palestine House, who was accused of anti-Semitism. Though Khalid later apologized and rescinded the award, she was criticized again this September for meeting with El-Maoued at his home in Mississauga, prompting the Conservative Party to call on Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau to “fire” Khalid.

Most recently, Khalid spoke out in support of Trudeau after several photos and a video emerged of him wearing blackface and brownface. Khalid emphasized that the prime minister’s actions do not detract from his term in office. “I’ve seen him put his money where his mouth is. I’ve seen him really go above and beyond to make sure that he’s standing with vulnerable communities to really speak out against racism,” she said.

Hani Tawfilis, Conservative Party MP candidate

Hani Tawfilis is the Conservative candidate for Mississauga–Erin Mills, where the UTM campus is located. Tawfilis declined to attend a candidate debate at UTM, instead opting for a meet-and-greet with the UTM Campus Conservatives, according to

Tawfilis is a pharmacy store owner, licensed pharmacist, and according to the Conservative Party website, a spokesperson for the Coptic Orthodox Community.

The Varsity has reached out to Tawfilis for comment.

Salman Tariq, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Salman Tariq is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the Mississauga–Erin Mills riding, where the UTM campus is located. Outside of politics, Tariq connects international students to academic opportunities through his work as a consultant.

Tariq’s top priorities include lowering student debt, implementing universal pharma care, and creating more affordable housing and internet services.

At a federal candidates debate held at UTM on October 2, Tariq elaborated on his promises related to student debt. According to, Tariq pledged that the NDP would get rid of interest on student loans and criticized the Liberals for not having done this already. In addition, Tariq promised that the NDP would create more grants for postsecondary students.

The Conservative candidate for the same riding, Hani Tawfilis, was absent from the debate, opting instead to attend a meet-and-greet organized by the UTM Campus Conservatives. Tariq responded to Tawfilis’ absence at the debate, writing to, “all people who put their name on the ballot should be available to speak to the constituents.”

The Varsity has reached out to Tariq for comment.

Remo Boscarino-Gaetano, Green Party MP candidate

Remo Boscarino-Gaetano is the Green Party MP candidate for the Mississauga–Erin Mills, riding, where the UTM campus is located. Currently an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, Boscarino-Gaetano identified the two most important issues facing students as being the climate crisis and the rising cost of living.

“I chose to run for the Green Party not only for its clear commitments on climate change, but also for its socially progressive values,” wrote Boscarino-Gaetano in an email to The Varsity.

The Green Party plans to make all postsecondary education free and forgive all student debt owed to the federal government. It also plans to remove the two per cent cap on increases in funding for Indigenous students. On the topic of student mental health, Boscarino-Gaetano wrote that he agrees that the federal government needs to do more.

Regarding the environment, Boscarino-Gaetano firmly believes that “universities should absolutely divest from fossil fuels,” and “[invest] in clean technology, as that is the clear path that the rest of the world is travelling and we cannot afford to get left behind.”

“I’m disgusted by the Ford government’s attacks on students,” wrote Boscarino-Gaetano, calling the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) “an affront to our rights as students.” He hopes that the SCI will be overturned in the ongoing court case.


Candidate profiles for University–Rosedale

Meet your candidates for UTSG’s MP

Candidate profiles for University–Rosedale

On the final day of voting, here are the federal candidates for UTSG’s riding of University–Rosedale.

Chrystia Freeland, Liberal MP candidate 

Chrystia Freeland is the Liberal candidate running for re-election as MP for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. She is the current minister of foreign affairs and is the former minister of international trade. Following a career in journalism, Freeland began pursuing politics in 2013.

“We are seeing in too many countries — where you have a group of people in the country who are left behind — that that creates an opportunity for irresponsible politicians to whip up a sort of angry nativist sentiment,” Freeland said in a recent interview with the CBC.

In recent years, students and young people have emerged as a significant force in advocating for the environment. U of T students have been critical of the government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline.

In response to such criticism, Freeland said, “We need to be a combination of ambitious about our goals, [and] pragmatic about how we’re going to get there.” She further noted that “unless a person is prepared to say we can stop using fossil fuel tomorrow, there is absolutely no reason to say we should not be using fossil fuels that come from Canada.”

The Varsity has reached out to Freeland for comment.

Helen-Claire Tingling, Conservative Party MP candidate

Helen-Claire Tingling is the Conservative MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. She has experience in both the private and public sectors, including as a consultant for the Ontario government. Tingling was slated to attend an all-candidates debate for the riding, but cancelled due to an illness.

In a self-published article, Tingling wrote, “I chose the [Conservative Party] because it recognizes that if we work hard, we should be able to buy a home, save for retirement, and care for our children and parents as they age.”

The Varsity has reached out to Tingling for comment.

Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda, New Democratic Party MP candidate

Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda is the New Democratic Party (NDP) MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where  the UTSG campus is located. Her background is in law, and she currently works at a legal clinic focusing on housing and worker’s rights.

At a debate earlier this month, Vajda said that her motivation for running in the election derives, in part, from her work at a legal clinic dealing with housing issues.

“The housing crisis is really affecting our community. Young people are having a hard time starting out and it’s not getting any better. We’re spending less and less on a national housing strategy.” To combat the housing crisis, the NDP’s plan involves building 500,000 rental units across Canada.

Vajda wrote to The Varsity, speaking on mental health at U of T: “I support students organizing for mental health support in recognition of the university-wide mental health crisis, and especially in light of the recent tragic death at the U of T campus. I support the call for accessible 24-hour counseling and a commitment to include students in all potential reforms around these issues.”

Repeating her party’s stance on cuts to postsecondary education, Vajda wrote, “[The NDP is] committed to working with our partners at the provincial level to expand access to grants and stabilize funding for internal college and university clubs and media.”

Tim Grant, Green Party MP candidate

Tim Grant is the Green Party MP candidate for the University–Rosedale riding, where the UTSG campus is located. Grant also ran as an MPP candidate in the 2018 provincial election for the same riding. The former chair of the Harbord Village Residents Association (HVRA) runs his campaign out of his office tucked away in the Korean Senior Citizens Society on Grace Street.

Grant’s priority for students is addressing housing affordability. “The students face the same problem that everyone faces, which is the lack of affordable housing anywhere in the city,” he said. He cited his time on the HVRA, where he regularly interacted with students.

In an interview with The Varsity, Grant also expressed concern about landlords taking advantage of student renters.

He also talked at length about his party’s universal basic income plan, as well its intention to make postsecondary education free.

“Providing universities with the support that compensates them for the loss of tuition income [from free tuition] also helps them become more independent institutions and not dependant on corporate dollars,” said Grant, who also condemned the Ford government’s postsecondary education reforms.

On the Green Party’s postsecondary education platform, Grant described the plan to incentivize universities and colleges to increase professor-student ratios, and reduce contract positions in favour of tenure positions.


Examining disinformation ahead of Canada’s federal election

U of T researchers observe potential election interference efforts on Twitter

Examining disinformation ahead  of Canada’s federal election

Earlier this summer, reports surfaced that possible automated pro-Trump Twitter accounts from the United States were using hashtags to interfere in Canada’s upcoming federal election.

These alleged bots — broadly defined as non-human actors created to mimic human behaviour online — can contribute to an already-existing problem of disinformation and ‘fake news.’

While Twitter has denied any large-scale disinformation campaigns, others have suggested that manipulation attempts are simply a reality of today’s social media landscape.

Amid the proliferation of false information online, how could one spot bots in their feed?


Perhaps the most infamous case of social media election interference is the Russian online disinformation campaign. According to the Mueller report, it is alleged to have contributed to the election of Donald Trump. However, as campaigning heats up for Canada’s federal election on October 21, U of T researchers have been looking into how automated social media accounts could be generating and spreading digital disinformation at home.

Dr. Alexei Abrahams, a research fellow at The Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, has assisted researcher Dr. Marc Owen Jones in exploring the contentious issue. By examining 34,000 tweets posted between September 3 and 5 of this year, Jones found that 15 per cent of the approximately 4,896 accounts using #TrudeauMustGo were linked to American far-right-wing politics. According to Jones, the behaviour of these accounts was consistent with that of political bots or orchestrated ‘trolls.’

In July, the National Observer reported on similar bot interference after #TrudeauMustGo became a trending topic on Canadian Twitter. In this instance, 31,600 tweets posted between July 16–17 were analyzed, with some accounts displaying “indicators of inauthentic activity.”

In an email to The Varsity, Abrahams confirmed that he and Jones were collecting data, but maintained that the “Canadian elections are not a major target for inauthentic, coordinated behavior.”

Abrahams discussed the potential consequences of disinformation online in a recent interview with CTV News. “You reach a place, when you’re exposed to so much misinformation, that you’re agnostic toward any sort of information,” he said.

“It ultimately leads to a sort of withdrawal from political life and from the activity of inquiring, because you just become frustrated and skeptical, then ultimately disenchanted.”

Automated disinformation

While much of the conversation around automated social media accounts and their contribution to new concerns surrounding ‘fake news’ involves the United States and the United Kingdom, there have been multiple documented cases of attempted election interference in Canada.

In 2017, university professors Fenwick McKelvey and Elizabeth Dubois released a study on the role of bots in the Canadian media landscape. The study found that Canada has not critically engaged with the role of bots in its democratic processes.

Citing the 2015 federal election campaign, McKelvey and Dubois illustrated how frequent automated tweets using the #cdnpoli hashtag amplified anti-Stephen Harper sentiment.

However, the researchers also highlighted the potential of bots for positive political engagement, including automated accounts created to increase government transparency.

More recently, Global Affairs Canada shared a report by Rapid Response Mechanism — a G7 response coordination group — outlining how “coordinated inauthentic [online] behaviour” was present during Alberta’s 2019 provincial election. While the report notes that the ‘inauthentic behaviour’ did not seriously interfere in the election, the existence of the coordinated disinformation has some questioning the power of bots in democratic processes.

Other reports have suggested that bot activity had amplified the tweets of now-Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, during his provincial election campaign last year.

How to spot and prevent disinformation

Dr. Brett Caraway, an assistant professor at U of T’s Institute of Communication, Culture, Information & Technology, discussed the pressing concerns of false reporting in democratic institutions in an interview with The Varsity.

“When you have bots or fake news outlets, any sort of party that is interested in influencing a political outcome in an election, it creates some very real level of confusion over facts,” he said. “And that’s the part that I think is so dangerous to a healthy thriving democracy.”

When asked how users could protect themselves from being exposed to or perpetuating disinformation, Caraway outlined several measures. Users should question anonymous sources, examine URLs for proper sourcing, identify the dates on articles, read beyond headlines, check multiple sources, and put in effort when reading and sharing content.

Broadly, however, he believes that the government should take more measures to promote media literacy because it is “just as important as learning to read and write at this stage.”

According to Caraway, media literacy education should focus on three components: how to find authoritative information, how to value different kinds of information, and how to meaningfully participate in political discourse online.

“All of us are in the position of being broadcasters today,” he said. “And being in that position of a broadcaster comes with responsibility and obligation to engage in ethical political discourse.”

Disclosure: Kaitlyn Simpson previously served as Volume 139 Managing Online Editor of The Varsity, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Varsity Publications Inc. 

No country for fake news

Canadian political news found “relatively clean” of misinformation, according to the Digital Democracy Project

No country for fake news

With ‘fake news’ and hyper-partisanship now seemingly the norm south of the border, experts closer to home studying the ebbs and flows of Canadian political streams are watching for signs of similar developments. As it turns out, the results are encouraging.

In the months running up to Canada’s October 21 federal election, researchers at the Digital Democracy Project have been observing how Canadians consume media and how such consumption interacts with their politics.

The project is managed by the Public Policy Forum — an independent think tank — and includes academics from universities across Canada.

U of T affiliated participants include the project’s Head of the Survey Analysis Team Dr. Peter Loewen, a professor at U of T’s Department of Political Science; Lead Survey Analyst Dr. Eric Merkley, a postdoctoral fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy; and Digital Democracy Fellow Stephanie MacLellan, who graduated with a Master of Global Affairs from the Munk School in 2016.

The findings of the project have been released as research memos, which are available for reading on its website. The Varsity highlighted its major findings below.

“Media, Knowledge and Misinformation”

In the project’s first memo, released on August 8, researchers surveyed Canadians and determined that the public is most likely to receive news from traditional, mainstream sources.

CBC News was the leading outlet, with 42 per cent of participants reportedly consuming CBC reporting in the past week, followed closely by televised CTV News in second place, at 41 per cent of participants.

This consumption of CBC and CTV reporting was uniform regardless of declared party affiliation, although Progressive Conservative (PC) Party supporters held a slight preference for CTV over the CBC.

In comparison, the explicitly right-wing news site Rebel Media was reportedly read by 22 per cent of PC supporters in the last week, while explicitly left-wing news site was read by 10 per cent of New Democratic Party (NDP) supporters in the past week.

“The Climate Change Conundrum”

The second research memo was published on August 29, and examined which issues matter most to Canadians.

A survey found that supporters of the Liberal Party were most likely to hold health care as the most important issue of the federal election. The economy and the environment were not far behind, taking the second and third place of importance, respectively.

In contrast, PC supporters were overwhelmingly likely to prioritize the economy, with immigration and refugee issues and taxes following. Finally, NDP supporters were most likely to prioritize the environment, with health care and the economy coming after.

“Polarization and its Discontents”

In the third research memo, published on September 12, the project tackled the issue of political polarization. The memo differentiates between two different types of polarization.

The first type, affective polarization, is defined as the dislike of an individual or party due to their membership in a group in opposition to one’s own. By contrast, ideological polarization is the dislike of an individual or party due to the policies they support, rather than their membership.

Researchers found evidence of affective polarization among the Canadian populace. However, the memo concluded that this polarization did not seem to arise from ‘echo chambers’ — environments where people encounter only views similar to their own — due to the fairly uniform media that Canadians consume as reported in the first memo.

“Talking Past Each Other on Immigration”

The fourth research memo from September 26 addressed the rise of populist nativist politics in the Western world and its effects on immigration issues.

While the memo noted the rise of the nativist People’s Party of Canada, it also reported that Canadians were unlikely to be zealous in their views on immigration, and that they are open to changing their opinions when addressed with facts.

In particular, the memo described two trials in which respondents were asked to report on their attitudes towards immigration. In one trial, a 2018 Conference Board of Canada report detailing the positive impact of immigration on the economy was given to respondents to read beforehand. Of the respondents who read the report, 63 per cent responded with positive attitudes toward immigration, compared to the 57 per cent of respondents who had not read the report.

“Fact-Checking, Blackface and the Media”

In the fifth research memo, published on October 3, researchers reported the public’s attitude toward fact-checking in journalism. It was found that 73 per cent of Canadians responded with a desire to see more fact-checking, with equal support among left-leaning and right-leaning voters.

The memo also covered the topic of Trudeau’s brownface and blackface scandal. Observations of social media trends found that despite widespread discourse on the day the scandal was reported, interest in the incident rapidly declined on both social and traditional media by the third day.

“Political Advertising on Facebook”

The most recent research memo, published on October 10, covered partisan expenditure on Facebook ads during the campaign period. Researchers found that the Liberal Party had spent slightly over $1 million on ads between September 11 and October 4, with the Conservative Party spending $640,000 and the NDP spending $230,000 during the same period.

Out of non-party actors, the right wing organisation Canada Proud spent the most during the same period, buying $123,000 worth of Facebook ads. For comparison, the second largest non-party spender was the anti-Conservative Party organisation North99, which spent $29,000 on Facebook ads during the period.

What comes next?

Following the conclusion of the federal election, the project is preparing to release a final, comprehensive report next March.

“A big part of the project has been gathering all kinds of data that we haven’t had a chance to report on week-to-week during the campaign — including YouTube and Reddit content as well as more comprehensive Facebook data,” wrote MacLellan to The Varsity. “The next few months will be spent analyzing those findings.”

In the meantime, the released research memos indicate that despite some concerns, ‘fake news’ is not a particularly Canadian problem. Project researchers still emphasize that it’s important to pay attention to what you pay attention to.

“One thing that I think is an important takeaway from our project is that some of what we think we know about the relationship between the media and citizens is the result of a lazy interpolation of trends in the United States to the Canadian context,” wrote Merkley to The Varsity.

“Orchestrated misinformation isn’t necessary for citizens to be misinformed about politics.”

Where do Canada’s federal parties stand on research funding?

Research funding has been on an upward trend, but problems remain

Where do Canada’s federal parties stand on research funding?

The hubbub of election season sees parties and candidates promoting and revamping policies and agendas, but there’s one policy discussion that has yet to materialize — government funding for fundamental science research.

The platforms of the Conservative Party, Liberal Party, and New Democratic Party (NDP) all have sparse information on science research, though the Green Party has provided a detailed strategy on funding.

Science research funding is lower than it was 10 years ago. The three main agencies that finance most of Canada’s federal research — the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR); and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) — have substantially decreased the amount of funding they’re willing to give, with the approval rate of grant applications by these agencies dropping to as low as 13 per cent.

Since winning the last federal election in 2015, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau appointed Dr. Kirsty Duncan as the chief scientific officer. Duncan commissioned an expert panel to carry out the fundamental science review, surveying the current landscape of science research in Canada.

In a 2015 mandate letter to the minister of science, Trudeau committed to the creation of more opportunities for students in STEM and business programs, enhanced research funding across the board, and strengthened recognition of the importance of fundamental research in discovery. According to the federal government, these mandates have been fulfilled.

However, the Canadian Association of University Teachers has contended that federal research funding has not been optimally allocated. The Liberals allotted $900 million to science research from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, but the association maintains that it did not make a substantial impact on the larger science community. It wrote that the amount was only shared between 13 postsecondary institutes and their researchers.

Voters might expect a more coherent plan for research funding developed by each of the main parties. In the absence of a clear commitment to science research funding from the Liberals, the NDP, and the Conservatives, The Varsity reached out to party representatives.

Different parties’ pledges to research funding

According to a spokesperson from the Liberal Party, the party plans on providing $354.7 million over five years, and $90.1 million per year ongoing, to the CIHR. It also plans to invest $265 million in the SSHRC.

A spokesperson for the NDP wrote that they will work with universities and health professionals to make sure that public research on critical health issues continues to flourish, and will invest in public agriculture research.

A representative from the Green Party referred to its in-depth funding strategy, which mentions that it plans on incorporating conclusions of the Fundamental Science Review and increasing funding to postsecondary institutions and universities for science research.

The Conservatives did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

U of T professor highlights reticence on science funding

A major issue for voters is that none of the parties seem to want to talk about science research funding in-depth, according to an op-ed to the Toronto Star written by Dr. David Naylor, a former U of T President, and Dr. Mark Lautens, a professor at U of T’s Department of Chemistry.

Lautens underscored the importance of federal research investment in an interview with The Varsity. He noted that it enables scientists to improve the public’s quality of life by developing disease therapies, finding solutions to environmental issues, and bettering waste reduction. He noted that funding also provides research opportunities to better train the country’s future researchers.

Lautens has supported the rebound of federal funding since cuts in the mid-2000s, but he still believes that “a lot more needs to be done.” He highlighted the low rates of CIHR grant approval for medical research funding as a critical area of improvement.

What’s at stake for students?

Farah Qaiser, a Master’s student in molecular genetics at U of T and a head spokesperson for #VoteScience, a national nonpartisan effort to advocate for science in the upcoming election, explained how voters can learn more about the parties’ positions on supporting research.

In an email to The Varsity, Qaiser advocated for voters to reach out to their candidates as soon as possible to ask where they stand on science issues that matter to their electorate — such as funding research or better supporting the “next generation of scientists.”

She recommended voters to do so by reaching out to candidates in-person, calling, emailing, or using the #VoteScience campaign’s email form.

To learn more, Qaiser further recommended students check CBC’s non-partisan science and environmental policy debate between federal candidates, as well as the conclusions of a survey sent to the federal parties to determine their environmental policies.

The Evidence for Democracy advocacy group, along with members of the #VoteScience campaign, have also published results of a questionnaire sent to the federal parties about their positions on science policy.

The Liberals, NDP, and Greens submitted responses to the survey. According to Evidence for Democracy, the Conservatives “declined to participate due to time constraints.”