U of T professors, alumni call on Gertler to “speak out” against Ford funding changes

Open letter asserts performance-tied funding serves ideological goals, not students

U of T professors, alumni call on Gertler to “speak out” against Ford funding changes

After the Ontario government announced in its 2019 budget that it would dramatically change the funding model for postsecondary education, a group of U of T professors and alumni wrote an open letter to President Meric Gertler on April 24 to express their concerns.

Among the changes in the provincial budget are plans to tie the amount of funding a school receives to how they are performing on a number of metrics, such as skills and job outcomes. Previously, funding was mainly tied to enrolment numbers.

In the open letter, the professors and alumni called on Gertler to refuse to participate in this new model, saying that the “proposed metrics do not in fact measure educational performance,” and their pursuit would only lead to “terrible incentives.”

The signees included professors Rachel Barney of philosophy and classics, James Allen of philosophy, Jennifer Nagel of philosophy, Sergio Tenenbaum of philosophy, and Jonathan Weisberg of philosophy, as well as alumni Stephen Chen and Terri Chu. 

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The letter cited graduation rates as an example of a damaging incentive, claiming that pressure to increase the number of postsecondary graduates would encourage universities to further privilege the admission of wealthy students, for whom finances would not interfere with graduation. Further, professors would be incentivized to pass all students, regardless of performance.

According to the signees, indicators such as this would “achieve the remarkable feat of making an Ontario university education at once less accessible and less meaningful.”

Furthermore, they assert that other proposed metrics do not correlate at all to education itself but rather to particular knowledge streams, which align with the government’s broader goals. In short, they say, “this is a radical attempt to realign what we teach and how we teach it on the basis of a political ideology.”

The letter acknowledges that the particular fogginess of the government’s plans make a “wait and see” approach palatable to institutional leaders, but it insists that this would be a “grave mistake.”

This is not business as usual, they write, and U of T should not collaborate with such a dangerous policy. They called on Gertler and his fellow academic leaders to “step up and speak out, and to refuse to collaborate in devising a regime that can only undermine the institutions [they] lead.”

Although the signees are sparse, the group expressed an intention to launch a grassroots advocacy campaign and an online petition to further share their message.

U of T response

According to U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church, Gertler has since sent a response to the professors reassuring them that the university, as it is renegotiating the Strategic Mandate Agreement that governs provincial funding, will attempt to shape the way “performance” is defined.

Church went on to say that each university determines the weight of each indicator measured in the new provincial funding system, and as such, the university can place emphasis on areas of strength.

According to the budget, by 2024, 60 per cent of all university funding would be dictated by their adherence to these objectives. Currently, only 1.4 per cent of university funding and 1.2 per cent of college funding is connected to performance outcomes.

The performance indicators remain unreleased by the provincial government.

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

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

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

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

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

Economic and fiscal outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commercialization opportunities

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

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

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

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

Federal government lowers student loan interest, establishes free grace period

Additional job opportunities, mental health leave support among other changes in 2019 federal budget

Federal government lowers student loan interest, establishes free grace period

The federal government is set to lower student loan interest rates and make the six-month grace period following graduation interest-free, according to its 2019 budget released March 19. The budget also provides financial support for students who are on parental leave, increases job placement availabilities for students, and provides additional funds to attract more foreign students to Canada.

Student loans

The federal government has reduced the floating student loan interest rate to the prime rate, from its current 2.5 per cent over prime. The fixed interest rate will be reduced to prime plus two per cent from the current prime plus five per cent. Most student loan recipients use the floating interest rate, which fluctuates, as opposed to the fixed interest rate, which remains constant for the duration of the loan. The prime rate refers to the annual interest rate that major financial institutions set.

These cuts are expected to cost the federal government $1.7 billion over the next five years. The budget predicts that the average student will consequently save approximately $2,000 over the period of their loan.

Currently, during the grace period, Ontario students who use the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) are not charged the one per cent over prime interest rates for the provincial portion of their loans, but the federal portion of loans begin accumulating interest immediately following graduation.

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ OSAP reconfigurations earlier this year eliminated the interest-free grace period for the provincial portion of student loans. This means that the statuses of the federal and provincial portions of OSAP loans have effectively swapped. Perhaps ironically, one of the stated reasons the Ontario government made changes to OSAP was to “align Ontario’s repayment terms with that of the federal government… to reduce complexity for students.”

The federal government is also set to implement interest- and payment-free leave for students using OSAP who are on temporary leave from university due to medical or parental reasons, including mental health leave. These can be used in six-month periods for up to 18 months total.

Additionally, the budget proposes increases in compensation to provinces and territories by $20 million over five years. This compensation will be used to supplement provincial student aid systems, like OSAP.

The federal government is also set to invest $15 million to support students with loans who have disabilities or are in “vulnerable financial or life situations.”

Other changes

Sweeping changes are in store for job- and volunteer-seekers. Initiatives to create 15,000 service placements, connect 90,000 young people with jobs, add 84,000 new work placements by 2023–2024, and provide five years of support to 1,000 entrepreneurs will cost the federal government a total of $1.2 billion.  

The federal government has also proposed an additional investment of $37.4 million over five years to expand parental leave coverage for postsecondary students and postdoctoral fellows. It also expands coverage from six months to 12. The budget notes that these expansions “will further improve equity and inclusion in research.”

Over five years, $147.9 million of the budget will also be used to develop a new International Education Strategy. Part of these funds will go toward developing “an outbound student mobility program” for students who pursue studies or work abroad, while the other part will “ensure that top-tier foreign students continue to choose Canada as their education destination of choice.”

University of Toronto President Meric Gertler praised the announced expansion of master’s and doctoral scholarship awards and mobility programs. “These investments in experiential learning are investments in Canada’s future,” he said.

“The investments are good news because they will drive economic growth by giving Canadians the skills they need to succeed. They will enhance the success of U of T graduates and others across the country who are entering the labour force.”

OSAP grace period remains but interest to begin accruing on day one, says MPP David Piccini to The Varsity

Ambiguity about how government would enforce opt-out fees

OSAP grace period remains but interest to begin accruing on day one, says MPP David Piccini to <i>The Varsity</i>

Following a surprise announcement from the Ontario government about dramatic changes to postsecondary education, MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities David Piccini spoke to The Varsity on the specifics of the announcements.

According to Piccini, the six month grace period — which allows students to begin repaying provincial student loans six months after graduation — will remain. However, interest will accrue on the loans immediately after graduation.

Piccini justified this decision by saying that it would align with the process of repaying federal government loans.

Confusion around whether government would enforce opt-out ancillary fees

Ambiguity remains around the determination of “essential” and “non-essential” student fees and how the government would enforce its execution.

The provincial mandate requires institutions to develop an opt-out system for ancillary fees, categorizing them as either “essential” or “non-essential.” In her announcement, Minister of Training, Universities and Colleges Merrilee Fullerton stressed that the opt-out option would only apply to fees not related to health and safety and that universities would have “leeway” in deciding classifications.

When asked what the government would do if universities decided not to deem any fee “non-essential,” Piccini said that universities will be able to develop these policies “at their discretion.”

“Universities are autonomous and we’ve outlined a policy to give students choice, and we certainly hope students will be given choice in this.”

However, Piccini also stated repeatedly during the interview with The Varsity that “There has to be an opt-out option.”

This story is developing, more to follow.

This is what U of T stakeholders have to say about Ford’s drastic postsecondary education changes

Takeaways: student groups concerned with lack of consultation, U of T to review budgets

This is what U of T stakeholders have to say about Ford’s drastic postsecondary education changes

Stakeholder groups at U of T are reacting to a surprise announcement made earlier today by Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton regarding cuts to postsecondary education.

Premier Doug Ford’s government announced that Ontario colleges and universities will have to slash domestic tuition by 10 per cent next academic year and freeze it for the following two years. In addition, there is now a mandate to create an online opt-out system for “non-essential” student fees, such as fees collected for student clubs, as well as cuts to the Ontario Student Assistant Program.

 

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T President Meric Gertler said, “We will do all we can to limit the impact of these changes on the U of T community.”

“We need to review our budgets to assess the full impact of these changes,” said Gertler. “We feel it’s important to remain firm in our long-standing access guarantee: That financial circumstances should not stand in the way of a qualified student entering or completing their degree.”

U of T’s statement did not mention how it would respond to the mandatory opt-out option for “non-essential” student fees.

According to Fullerton, universities and colleges will have some “leeway” over which groups will be deemed necessary.

— Meric Gertler, U of T President

 

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) — the largest student union at U of T — released a statement a few hours after the announcement criticizing the provincial government’s decisions.

“The UTSU is deeply concerned with the changes relating to non-tuition fees, or ‘ancillary fees’, which fund vital programs and services enriching the lives of students across the province… The risk of significant funding reductions, direct or indirect, would be grave and irrevocably change campus life.”

The UTSU added that it will be “working with campus partners and other stakeholders across the province” on this issue.

— The University of Toronto Students’ Union executive

 

President of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) Mala Kashyap expressed concerns about the impact of the announced changes in a statement to The Varsity. “Part-time and mature students are already often excluded from access to government and institutional funding. We are waiting for more details regarding the announced changes.”

It remains unclear whether or not the announced tuition cuts will affect part-time students.

— Mala Kashyap, Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students President

 

Haseeb Hassaan, President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), told The Varsity that ASSU was “disturbed” by the policy announcements.

“We implore UofT administrators and President Gertler to protect students unions who provide essential services to students. ASSU will work with other college societies, unions and clubs on campus and across the province to act.”

— Haseeb Hassaan, Arts and Science Students’ Union President

 

The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) quickly responded, calling the initiative a “transparent attempt to bankrupt students’ unions in the province.” The statement further emphasized that all proposed changes are detrimental to students and campus workers.

“Students were not consulted in this process. The Ford government is looking to dismantle public post-secondary education and is attempting to eliminate the opposition to do it.”

Sami Pritchard, the National Executive Representative for the CFSO, criticized the decision as a “cynical move” from the government to “undermine” organizations poised to fight cuts to postsecondary education.

“Students remain undeterred and will unite with workers in Ontario to protect quality, public post-secondary education and defend students’ right to independent democratic representation,” Pritchard said in a statement posted online.

— Canadian Federation of StudentsOntario

 

The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), which is an opt-out U of T-levy group, released a statement on Facebook earlier today, criticizing the Ford government’s plans.

OPIRG especially expressed concerns about the future of student group funding and the services that they provide. Though students can already opt out of services, the provincial government’s execution of this policy makes it difficult for such groups to advocate for certain causes and resources.

The only difference between how this is set up now, and how the PC’s want it to be set up is that we no longer have that month long period to show students why they should continue to fund organizations like OPIRG, Students for Barrier-free Access or LGBTOUT. We no longer get the opportunity to have discussions with students face to face about what we actually do.”

OPIRG is part of an international network of Public Interest Research Groups, 11 of which are in Ontario.

— Ontario Public Interest Research Group

 

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario President Fred Hahn slammed the government’s announcement as an “attack on student democracy on campuses.”

“These cuts were made without consultation with the University sector, and will have damaging impacts for students for a long time to come,” Hahn said in a statement posted on CUPE Ontario’s website. “Doug Ford’s insiders have attempted to cover up a devastating attack on students with a paper-thin discount on tuition that will cost students more in the long run.”

Hahn claimed that the government was “looking out for itself” with the decision to slash fees.

“Student democracy, through elections and referendums, should determine student fees, not government insiders,” Hahn said.

CUPE represents thousands of workers at U of T, including librarians, service workers, teaching assistants, exam invigilators, and student and postdoctoral course instructors.

— Fred Hahn, Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario President

 

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), echoed Hahn’s statement and described the government’s announcement as a “full frontal attack on democracy.”

“[The decision] turns legislature committee pre-budget hearings into a sham,” Thomas wrote on Twitter. “Ontario colleges and universities still have lowest per student funding in Canada. Student debt will not go down. No winners with today’s tuition cut announcement.”

OPSEU represents thousands of public sector employees in the province. The union represents Campus Police at U of T and research officers and associates at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

— Warren “Smokey” Thomas, Ontario Public Service Employees Union President

 

The Canadian University Press (CUP), a non-profit cooperative owned by student newspapers across the country, including The Varsity, said Thursday that student publications are “essential” services to people in postsecondary institutions, and expressed its disappointment in the announcement.

“Our members offer scrutiny to university and college administrations, ensuring that there is transparency in university governance,” CUP wrote. “However, most of our member papers rely on student fees to fund their work. Without access to this funding, Ontario student publications will not be able to operate.”

The organization also criticized the apparent lack of consultation with students as “further proof that the Ford government does not truly have the interests of students in mind.”

“This decision is a direct hit to institutional transparency, healthy democratic dialogues on campus, freedom of the press and the free speech that the Ford government claims so strongly to defend.”

— Canadian University Press executive

 

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union likewise released a statement against the changes, stating that it “will not stand for this and will continue to fight for you to ensure that this government’s unilateral decision-making does not go unchecked.”

“We want to make it clear, that a step to lowering tuition fees is certainly a step in the right direction, but this is not the case with this announcement,” the statement said.

— The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union executive

 

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA), which is affiliated with Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party, spoke out in favour of these cuts, citing the sharp spike in tuition under the previous Liberal government. 

“Unfortunately, undergraduate tuition for Ontario students has risen from an average of $5,000 to almost $9,000 since 2006. The previous Liberal government was unable to stop post-secondary education from becoming increasingly unaffordable. That is why OPCCA supports the Ontario PC Government’s action for the Affordability of Postsecondary Education in Ontario.” 

The OPCCA also spoke in favour of the reforms to OSAP, claiming that the government is now better equipped to assist low-income students. It also supports changes to student fees, claiming that they are often used to “fund third-party advocacy groups known for controversial agendas and financial mismanagement” like the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. The statement claims that these groups have been promoting radical causes, such as “abolishing capitalism and boycotting Canada’s ally Israel.”

The OPCCA, did, however, say that campus media, activities, and clubs are worthwhile, and that “when students are free to choose which school initiatives to fund, these student groups will be incentivized to show their value to students who might not otherwise get involved.”

— Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association

Ontario universities must slash tuition by 10 per cent, non-needs-based OSAP to be eliminated, government says

Non-essential non-tuition fees no longer mandatory, potentially affecting student unions, Hart House

Ontario universities must slash tuition by 10 per cent, non-needs-based OSAP to be eliminated, government says

In an unexpected move, the provincial government announced sweeping changes to domestic tuition, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and student levy fees on January 17. In her press conference, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton repeatedly stated that the government was “putting students first.”

Sweeping changes to OSAP

Fullerton announced changes to the six-month grace period on loans, an expansion of grants to low-income students, and decreases to the number of grants and loans provided to students with a household income of above $50,000 — stating that all Ontario students will still be eligible to apply for OSAP, but that the government will be focusing on helping lower-income students.

Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, and MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South David Piccini, who stood behind Fullerton as she announced these changes, spoke to The Varsity on the specifics of the announcement and echoed Fullerton’s sentiments.

According to Piccini, the six-month grace period, which allows students to begin repaying provincial student loans six months after graduation, will remain. However, interest will accrue on the loans immediately after graduation, a change from the former system, which delayed interest until after the six-month period.

Piccini justified this decision by saying that it would align with the process of repaying federal government loans.

The government will also be eliminating the non-needs-based portion of the Ontario Student Grant for recipients of OSAP, according to Fullerton’s press release, giving a larger portion of grants to low-income households.

“We’re restoring trust and accountability. We’re restoring the integrity of the OSAP system so that it’s there for those who need it.”

Tuition cuts

Ontario universities and colleges will have to slash domestic tuition by 10 per cent for the 2019–2020 academic year and freeze it for another year, Fullerton also announced.

“Tuition was never free,” she said.

In response to a question about how universities and colleges will be expected to make up for lost revenue, Fullerton said, “There are different ways they can adapt… They will be able to determine what they need to do.”

Based on the 2017–2018 intake numbers, current tuition fees, and current university-wide operating budget, The Varsity estimates that the proposed 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition would cost the university at least $43 million in income from undergraduates alone.

According to The Varsity’s estimates, the cut would be equivalent to about $10 million less than all OSAP loans awarded to first-year Arts & Science students in 2017.

Currently, most domestic first-year Arts & Science undergraduate student at U of T pays about $6,780 and would see an annual savings of $678, with savings potentially increasing depending on year and program of study.

A student entering deregulated programs, including Rotman Commerce and computer science, paid more than $12,500 this academic year, and may see a minimum saving of $1,250. Engineering students may see a minimum $1,500 reduction from their average $15,000 annual tuition. It is currently unclear whether or not these programs will be affected by the tuition cuts.

Piccini emphasized the benefits of tuition cuts to students, saying that most student unions and groups prioritize rising tuition costs when addressing concerns on postsecondary education.

“I think everyone’s going to benefit from a tuition decrease,” said Piccini. “My phone has been blowing up overnight from constituents and students in my riding who are very excited at the prospect of cheaper tuition.”

Official Opposition Critic for Colleges and Universities MPP Chris Glover told The Varsity that he had consulted with the Canadian Federation of Students after learning of the tuition cuts.

“Students are not going to benefit from this. Students are going to be the losers in this announcement.”

Opting out of student fees

Finally, the provincial government has also announced that most non-tuition student fees will no longer be mandatory. This would apply to “non-essential” groups and services, which appear to range from student handbooks to clubs. The services identified as “essential” by the government include walksafe programs, counselling, athletics, and academic support.

Institutions will be required to create an online opt-out system for non-essential fees. However, the distinction of what falls under “essential” and “non-essential” will apparently be made at the discretion of the institution.

When asked by The Varsity if the government had consulted with universities and students, Fullerton affirmed that it had but did not provide specifics regarding which groups.

“Students are adults and we are treating them as such by giving them the freedom to clearly see where their fees are currently being allocated,” said Fullerton. She added that institutions will adapt, and the government was trying to challenge them to innovate.

Fullerton clarified that it will be “up to the institutions” to decide the “essential categories for student fees and… fees that they will be able to opt out of.”

“There is leeway for the institutions to have a say in that.”

 

However, there is confusion around who has the ultimate say in determining what is “essential” and “non-essential,” as well as how the government would enforce its mandate.

Piccini said that universities will be able to develop these policies “at their discretion.”

“Universities are autonomous, and we’ve outlined a policy to give students choice, and we certainly hope students will be given choice in this.”

However, Piccini also said repeatedly during the interview with The Varsity that “there has to be an opt-out option.” He further added that, while these changes might not mean much to students in “downtown Toronto,” students he has seen struggle with paying for postsecondary education will greatly benefit.

The historic policy decision on mandatory fees could mean that certain student groups will lose a debilitating portion of their funding if students choose to opt out of fees.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2017–2018 audited financial statements shows that about 72 per cent of its $2.2 million revenue came from student fees. UTSG students currently pay around $200 per semester to the UTSU, although $171.54 of that is refundable, including the Health and Dental Plan.

Hart House also heavily relies on mandatory fees, as its 2017–2018 budget states that 52 per cent of its $17.7 million revenue comes from students. The typical full-time UTSG undergraduate student pays $86.38 per semester, while full-time UTM and UTSC undergraduate students pay $2.65.

— With files from Kevin Lu and Julie Shi

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.