Provincial government to repeal Bill 148, targeting minimum wage, workplace legislation

U of T under fire for membership in anti-Bill 148 lobby group

Provincial government to repeal Bill 148, targeting minimum wage, workplace legislation

Premier Doug Ford’s government introduced legislation on October 23 to repeal parts of Bill 148 — the law that raised Ontario’s minimum wage from $11.25 to $14 an hour and strengthened workplace laws related to paid sick leave, equal pay for equal work, and other workers’ rights.

The University of Toronto has come under fire from local labour unions for its membership in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), an independent, non-partisan business lobby group that has been a vocal supporter of repealing the bill. As a corporate member, U of T does not have voting rights but it can still influence the policy agenda.

Bill 148, titled the “Fairer Workplaces, Better Jobs Act 2017,” was introduced by the previous Liberal government in November 2017. The bill was set to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in January 2019, but Ford’s government has capped minimum wage at the current $14 an hour.

The OCC has taken a strong stance against the bill. The group cites claims of unintended price inflation on goods and services, as well as cutbacks on staffing and benefits by small businesses, among its grievances.

“In the months following its introduction, the Fair Jobs, Better Workplaces Act has had a visible impact on the Consumer Price Index, resulting in price increases for everyday consumer goods and services for every family in Ontario,” read an OCC press release from October 23.

Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the OCC, said in a statement that “as Ontario’s business advocate, our position has always been clear: Bill 148 was too much, too fast. The compounding labour reforms and unintended consequences came at too high a cost to Ontario’s economy.”

Labour unions respond

The Ford government’s plans to repeal parts of Bill 148 have been met with strong pushback. On October 23, Ontario Labour Minister Laurie Scott’s office was broken into and vandalized, and the words “Attack Workers We Fight Back $15” were spraypainted on the walls outside her office.

Labour unions have been especially vocal in their opposition to the seemingly imminent repeal of Bill 148. Emergency rallies were held across Ontario over the past week in response to Ford’s plans.

One rally was held in downtown Toronto on October 24 in front of the offices of the Ministry of Labour. Local labour groups, including the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and UFCW Local 175 and 633 were out in force. Groups held signs with messages of “$15 and fairness,” and cheers included “Hey Ford — Stop your hypocrisy! Fairness means democracy!”

The Varsity spoke to two U of T labour unions, CUPE 3261 and CUPE 3902, regarding the university’s position on the repeal of Bill 148. CUPE 3261 represents service workers, and CUPE 3902 represents sessional lecturers and teaching assistants.

“We are so very glad we were able to negotiate $15 an hour rate effective October 1, 2017 with the University of Toronto,” wrote Allan James, President of CUPE 3261, in an email. “We need a living wage, but $15 was a start. We don’t understand how anyone can afford to work in Toronto at this rate of pay.”

“It looks like [Ford] is listening to the Chamber of Commerce instead of trying to protect working people in Ontario,” James continued. “University of Toronto is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and should be advocating for equal pay for equal work.”

Members of CUPE 3902 also criticized the university’s membership in the OCC.

“As a [member] of the Chamber of Commerce, The University of Toronto is partially responsible for the lobbying of Big Business which led to this repeal,” read an email statement from Jess Taylor, Chair of CUPE 3902.

“As a leader in research, The University of Toronto should know gains for workers improve the economy, the city, and its culture. As an employer, The University of Toronto should protect its workers and should treat the people who are educating students with respect and dignity.”

“This is a grave disappointment,” Taylor said.

The university’s next steps

U of T increased its minimum wage to $15 in January to coincide with the anticipated raise mandated by Bill 148.

“Earlier this year, the University took a leadership role on this issue and increased the minimum rate of pay for most non-union casual employees to $15 an hour,” said Elizabeth Church, a U of T spokesperson. “The $15-an-hour wage is consistent with the rates of our unionized casual staff.”

The university has no plans to cap its minimum rate of pay.

Restoring the 1998 sex ed curriculum makes little sense in 2018

The Ontario PC government’s decision to scrap the 2015 curriculum undermines youth education on crucial topics like identity, consent, and the digital world

Restoring the 1998 sex ed curriculum makes little sense in 2018

Shortly after taking office over the summer, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced its decision to repeal the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum, replacing it with the previous 1998 curriculum, which was taught until 2014.

During his campaign, Ford had accused the previous Liberal government of creating a curriculum that reflects an “ideology” that turned schools into “social laboratories” and children into “test subjects.” Ford’s politicization of the sex ed curriculum as a central campaign issue panders to a vocal minority of social conservatives who have opposed the update since its inception in 2015.

However, the 2015 curriculum is a huge step toward helping all students navigate social norms in the twenty-first century. The repeal of this curriculum brings us backward by two decades: gay marriage was still seven years away from legalization in Canada, consent meant the absence of a ‘no’ rather than the presence of an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ and social media as we know it had yet to come into existence.

For U of T and other university students, many of the critical issues on campus reflect the sex ed battleground. For instance, the gender pronouns controversy in 2016 and the C grade assigned by Our Turn to U of T’s recent sexual violence policy demonstrate a systemic inability to sufficiently normalize sexual and gender diversity and consent among youth.

The Progressive Conservative government’s position does not reflect the best interests of youth — who themselves could not vote in the election. Youth, as future postsecondary students, workers, and members of society, stand to lose the ability to make informed, safe, and healthy decisions on campuses, in workplaces, and beyond.

Sexuality, gender, and consent

Unlike the 2015 curriculum, the 1998 curriculum makes no mention of different sexual orientations or gender identities. In the 2015 curriculum, Grade 3 students learn about same-sex relationships, Grade 6 students discuss assumed gender roles and the issue of homophobia, and Grade 8 students develop an understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Those opposed to the 2015 curriculum have claimed that elements of it, such as discussions about same-sex relationships, are not age-appropriate. The notion that same-sex relationships are less appropriate than the heterosexual ones discussed in the 1998 curriculum is, quite simply, homophobic.

All students should have the opportunity to learn information that may help them to improve their understanding of themselves and of others. Instead, the government’s move eliminates resources and support for students trying to figure out their sexuality or gender identity.

The 2015 curriculum also made strides toward helping LGBTQ+ youth feel both accepted and included. Although Canadian society has become more accepting of people who identify as LGBTQ+, LGBTQ+ students are still the targets of bullying and violence.

For this reason, learning to accept and respect these differences at a young age is crucial. Raising a generation of Ontarians who are more accepting has the potential to be lifesaving, since bullying contributes to the higher-than-average suicide rates among LGBTQ+ identifying people.

Like LGBTQ+ issues, consent also goes unmentioned in the 1998 curriculum. The 2015 curriculum, on the other hand, has students as early as Grade 2 learning that they have the right to say ‘no’ to activities with which they are uncomfortable. In Grade 8, students develop the understanding that consent is not automatically implied just because someone has agreed to other romantic behaviours in the past.

These lessons are necessary because they can help to prevent sexual abuse and because many adults still do not fully understand what constitutes consent. According to research conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, less than a third of Canadians fully understand consent: that it must be both positive — there must be clear indications that sexual activity is desired — and continuous — it must continue throughout the sexual encounter and can be revoked at any time.

Beyond sex: the digital world and comprehensive education

Opponents of the 2015 curriculum also overlook the fact that it teaches about topics beyond sex, including internet usage, bullying, body image, and mental and emotional health. Lessons about internet and technology safety are absent from the 1998 curriculum because many of today’s technologies did not exist at the time.

According to the 2015 curriculum, students in Grade 4 learn about cyberbullying, and how to retain privacy and vigilance when using the internet. In Grade 7, students are educated on the dangers of sexting. The understanding of these digital matters is crucial to society in 2018, and reverting back to a lesson plan created before grade school students were born places them at risk of not being able to adapt to the digital world.

Some opponents to the 2015 curriculum believe parents should be responsible for teaching their children sex ed. However, just because parents can teach their kids themselves does not mean they will, or that they will do so adequately. This leaves young people dealing with complex matters, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, without support.

Students will face many of the topics that have now been excluded from the curriculum, whether they are taught in class or not. They can easily access information whether from friends or the internet. Including these topics in a formal school setting provides a comprehensive and open way to learn and helps limit the misinformation and shame often attached to them.

Moving forward in September

Following fierce backlash from parents, community members, educators, and opposing political parties, the Ford administration appeared to be backpedaling. On July 16, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said gender, same-sex relationships, and internet safety would still be taught in the fall, despite not being included in the 1998 curriculum. She also said that educators would be returning to what was taught in 2014.

However, the curriculum used in 2014 was still the 1998 curriculum. As Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser points out, there is no third curriculum, different from either the 1998 or 2015 curricula, which includes these topics.

To muddy the waters further, teachers, as of the beginning of August, do not have access to the 1998 curriculum to organize their lesson plans for the upcoming school year, which is only weeks away. As of press time, the Ministry of Education’s website still features the 2015 curriculum. Furthermore, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association has not been given any instruction on how to proceed in the fall.

Typically, when switching curriculums, training and resources are offered to teachers so they can be better prepared to teach new material. This has not occurred. Teachers need to know what they will be legally required to teach come September, especially since newer teachers may be unfamiliar with the 1998 curriculum entirely.

This uncertainty demonstrates how the Progressive Conservative government is irresponsibly reversing a policy through an irresponsible process. Come September, a number of teachers do plan to supplement the topics outlined in the 1998 curriculum by continuing to teach their students about LGBTQ+ issues, consent, internet safety, and other contemporary issues. Nearly 30 school boards have released statements expressing such intent, while one board is refusing to teach the 1998 curriculum entirely.

While expressing concern about the government’s decision to repeal the 2015 curriculum, the President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Sam Hammond, said that he would support any teachers who choose to teach beyond the 1998 curriculum. However, since the teaching of social issues will no longer be a standardized requirement, some students will lose out.

The need for accountability and inclusion

The government has indicated that the 1998 curriculum will be taught until province-wide consultations lead to a new curriculum in the 2019–2020 year. The government claims there had not been enough consultation with parents during the development of the 2015 curriculum.

However, the curriculum underwent almost a decade of consultation, which, according to Fraser, included discussions with 2,700 teachers, 4,000 parents, and 700 students. Hammond described it as the “largest, most extensive consultation process” for curriculum development in Ontario.

The Progressive Conservative government has provided no details as to what topics they wish to include in the 2019–2020 curriculum. Premier Doug Ford has promised consultations that would involve discussions with parents in all 124 ridings.

Students must hold the social conservative pushback on education policy to account, lest regressive reforms to elementary and high school settings become the prelude to dangerous policy changes on university campuses — for instance, Ford’s campaign vow to make university funding conditional to ‘free speech.’ Students and teachers should continue to advocate for the 2015 curriculum, both in policy and practice.

When it comes to Ford’s consultation process, students must demand that the government be inclusive of all genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds so that the curriculum adequately addresses the needs of all students and is representative of all Ontarians. The Progressive Conservatives claim to be “for the people.” It’s time for them to prove that they are for the children, too.

 

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

Ontario bill targeting BDS movement voted down

Defeat of bill called "victory for the BDS movement" by campus organizers

Ontario bill targeting BDS movement voted down

A private member’s bill to restrict business relations with companies and entities supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement was introduced into Ontario Legislature on May 18 by Liberal MPP Mike Colle and Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak.

Under Bill 202, the Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act, “a public body shall not enter into a contract with a person or entity that supports or participates in the BDS movement,” and “no college or university shall support or participate in the BDS movement.”

Hudak called the BDS movement the “insidious new face of anti-Semitism.” He said, “If somebody said they weren’t going to buy from a business because the owners were gay, you would go crazy, but somehow because they’re Jewish or from Israel, oh, it’s free speech all of a sudden? Come on.”

While the BDS movement calls for a “boycott of Israeli companies, goods and services or of international companies involved in Israeli policies violating Palestinian human rights and international law,” it does not advocate for a boycott of businesses owned by Jewish people.

While in Israel on a trade mission, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne clarified that she is entirely opposed to the BDS movement, although she also stated that freedom of speech is “something we must vigorously defend.” The bill was defeated 39–18. with no support from the New Democratic Party caucus and solely Colle’s vote from the Liberal Party.

BDS activists on campus held a press conference at Harvest Noon, the café operated by the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), on the topic of the bill. The UTGSU is one of several student unions in the country that have endorsed the BDS movement.

“Bill 202 was an obscene attempt by out of touch politicians to criminalize and censor activists campaigning for Palestinians and their basic human rights,” said Omar Sirri, a member of the UTGSU’s ad-hoc BDS committee. “These rights are blatantly violated on a daily basis by vicious Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

Sirri applauded the defeat of the bill, calling it a “victory for the BDS movement.” He said, “MPPs voted down this bill because they realised these McCarthyist tactics violate our basic freedom of speech and expression, calling out Israel for its egregious violations of international law.”

Aidan Fishman, second year law student and co-founder of Israel-on-Campus believes that the authors of Bill 202 did not make an adequate attempt to secure its passage, and says he is concerned that the BDS movement promotes anti-semitism. “My hope going forward is that MPPs from all parties unite to oppose all forms of bigotry, including BDS, just as the federal House of Commons overwhelmingly voted to condemn BDS in February,” he said.

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, as well as the GSU, have voted to endorse BDS. The UTSU has not endorsed the movement.