Op-ed: What students stand to lose with Bill 47

Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT on why we must resist the Ford government’s rollbacks of our labour rights

Op-ed: What students stand to lose with Bill 47

In November 2017, the Liberal government passed Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, a watershed moment in Ontario’s history. As a result, over 1.7 million minimum wage workers saw a direct pay increase from $11.60 to $14 per hour, with the $15 minimum wage to come this January. Millions more benefited indirectly from wage bumps.

Today, the Progressive Conservative government is turning back the clock on our rights with Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. On November 20, our MPPs will start the third reading of the bill.

The vote will proceed after only five hours of public consultation. Citing the two weeks of extensive consultations preceding Bill 148, Deena Ladd from the Workers’ Action Centre and the Ontario Federation of Labour called these consultations a “sham.”

Though Doug Ford prides himself on being “for the people,” Bill 47 would endanger millions of workers by repealing almost all of the provisions under Bill 148, including paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, fairer scheduling laws, and easier ways for certain sectors to unionize.

Why students should be concerned

Among those who stand to lose the most are students. As Ontario has the highest average tuition fees in the country, many of us have no choice but to compromise our studies by juggling multiple jobs to pay tuition, afford rent, and support our families.

Those of us working in academia, such as teaching assistants, also face precarity. Over 75 per cent of college faculty members are temporary contract workers. Ontario’s colleges and universities estimate that they pocket $336 million annually by paying these precariously employed faculty less than their permanent colleagues, who do the same work.

And it’s not just postsecondary students who depend on a better minimum wage and fairer working conditions. Two weeks ago, high school students protested Bill 47 to expose that Ontario is the only province in Canada where student workers under 18 earn a subminimum wage of $13.15 per hour compared to the adult rate of $14 per hour. Bill 47 would cancel the scheduled increase in the subminimum student wage, directly impacting students’ ability to save for postsecondary education at institutions like U of T.

Once in university, many of us take on precarious, low-paying jobs — often in the service and retail sectors — that expose us to a slew of poor working conditions. Students are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of Bill 47 due to our demanding school obligations and the structural barriers some of us face. This is especially true for racialized, women-identified, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, working-class, disabled, and international students.

If it passes, Bill 47 would deny us the right to 10 job-protected leave days, two of which are paid — a rollback that 77 per cent of Ontarians oppose. The bill would also repeal fairer scheduling provisions, such as being able to refuse last-minute shift changes without risking our jobs. Taking time off and having flexibility in scheduling is especially important for students who commute, live with mental or physical illness, and have caregiving responsibilities.

Moreover, many U of T students find work through temporary agencies. By repealing the Equal Pay for Equal Work provision, Bill 47 condemns students who are temporary workers — often racialized and international students — to be paid less than permanent workers for the same job. It also gives a green light to employers who violate employment standards by reducing the penalties for labour violations by 75 per cent.

Unfair labour laws such as those crafted by Ford have a body count. Just two weeks ago, a fourth temp worker died at a Fiera Foods-affiliated company that is notorious for having 191 health and safety violations. The same company claimed the lives of 17-year-old Ivan Golyashov and 23-year-old Amina Diaby, whose hijab got caught in a machine.

U of T’s complicity

Corporate elites continue to lobby against the very laws that are meant to prevent the deaths of young workers like Golyashov and Diaby. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has been spearheading these lobbying efforts, claiming that Bill 148 was “too much, too fast.”

As a member of the OCC, U of T cannot be absolved of its complicity in Ford’s pursuit to slash Bill 148. While Ryerson University, another member of the OCC, has attempted to distance itself from the organization, our university has remained silent.

Now would be a good time for U of T to come clean. To the administration: establish your stance on Bill 47, clarify your relationship with the OCC, and explain why you, as a public university, continue paying membership to a corporate lobbying group that actively undermines workers’ rights — and, by extension, our financial security and well-being as students.

How students can win

Unlike the university, we have not been idle. The U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness has started conversations with hundreds of students across campus. From petitioning at Sid Smith to handing out leaflets at Clubs Fair, we have heard from U of T students of all stripes: commuters who spend hundreds of dollars a month on transit, students raising young children, and classmates supporting their grandparents.

Among the thousands of students who have signed our petition, many are shocked to hear that the Ford government is attacking their future and those of their families.

Along the way, we have been debunking some myths. For instance, Bill 148 is not an “absolute job-killer” as Ford would have people believe. Since Bill 148, the average number of hours worked has increased, and 139,000 net jobs have been created in the province year-over-year.

While canvassing, we also uncovered the deception behind Ford’s new income tax cut for low-income workers, which leaves them with around $1,000 less in their pockets per year than if the $15 minimum wage came into effect. Under Ford’s plan, the minimum wage would be frozen at $14 until October 2020, after which it would be indexed to inflation. In other words, Ontarians would not see the $15 arrive until 2025.

The province-wide Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign has been organizing tirelessly for years to win Bill 148. Now that it’s under imminent threat, we will continue to organize against a government that is ruthlessly trying to turn back the clock on our labour rights. With the power of thousands of students behind us, we will win again.

On Tuesday, November 20, the Ontario Legislative Assembly will debate on Bill 47. Please join the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in Queen’s Park to pack the gallery and stand united against this regressive legislation. Arrive no later than 4:30 pm to get through security. You may also submit a customizable letter calling for the withdrawal of Bill 47 here, which will be sent to Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs: https://www.15andfairness.org/withdrawbill47.

Clement Cheng is a fourth-year Peace, Conflict and Justice, English, and Geography student at Victoria College. Simran Dhunna is a first-year student in the Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Mia Sanders is a second-year Women and Gender Studies and Diaspora & Transnational Studies student at Victoria College. They are members of the U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness.

Checking men out — of power

Analyzing women’s place in politics following scandals around U of T alumni Tony Clement and Jim Wilson

Checking men out — of power

Content warning: discussion of sexual violence.

This month, a series of scandals in the federal and provincial governments led to three high-profile resignations. On the federal level, MP Tony Clement resigned from the Conservative caucus after admitting that he had been blackmailed for sending sexually explicit messages and photographs.

On the provincial level, Andrew Kimber, one of Premier Doug Ford’s key aides, and Jim Wilson, a cabinet member, resigned from their positions after staffers accused them of sexual harassment. Wilson also resigned from the Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus. Incidentally, and embarrassingly for U of T, both Clement and Wilson are alumni who served as members of the university’s Governing Council.

An old and timeless narrative

These incidents reveal a serious problem: men in positions of power continue to engage in sexual misconduct and harassment against women. This is especially concerning given that that we elect such men to govern important affairs in our society, yet they lack the character and ethical compass to respect women.

The abuse of women by powerful men is, unfortunately, an old and timeless narrative. These controversies follow uncomfortably close to the resignation of former PC leader Patrick Brown — yet another U of T graduate — after he was accused of sexual assault last winter.

On the provincial level, the resignations of Kimber and Wilson are particularly harmful to a government so recently elected. Ford has had to suddenly reorganize his cabinet and supporting staff, which severely undermines confidence in the ability of the ministers to fulfil their duties and manage the province.

What is another blow to the integrity of the PCs is that Ford’s initial response was to concoct a false story and omit the real reasons behind Wilson’s departure. To hide important information from the public contradicts the premier’s favourite slogan, “for the people,” which calls for transparent and accountable government.

For a party that so recently gained power, blatantly lying to the public erodes civic trust. We, the citizens, have a right to know information that bears significance on how and by whom the province is being run.

Though these specific incidents all concern conservative figures, sexist harassment or violence by men in politics is by no means exclusive to one party. Under the previous Liberal government, former premier Kathleen Wynne revealed to the public that at least two Liberal MPPs had had allegations of sexual harassment made against them. Hence, this issue speaks more broadly to a culture of entitlement and misogyny in which powerful men are grounded.

However, because conservatives frequently allege that their ideology is grounded in the maintenance of family values and morality, incidents of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault reflect hypocrisy on the part of these politicians.

From punishment to rehabilitation

In the cases of Kimber, Wilson, Clement, and Brown, decisive and immediate action was taken against these men. It would seem that allegations of harassment or assault against women is treated as a serious matter. And yet one has to question how severe or lasting these consequences are.

Over the past year’s #MeToo movement, many women have come forward to speak out against the abuses that they suffered at the hands of powerful men, many of whom face some kind of punishment — for instance, the prosecution of Bill Cosby.

Yet many of these men are quickly rehabilitated. In January, Patrick Brown resigned as PC leader following a number of allegations of sexual misconduct. Just months later, in October, he was elected as mayor of Brampton.

Clement resigned from the caucus but retains his seat as an independent. Wilson resigned from his cabinet position and caucus, but not his seat, and had his resignation initially framed exclusively as a self-care issue. He was briefly approached with sympathy and well wishes from within the party and from the public.

Some men are not even punished to begin with: despite credible testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and widespread public outrage, Brett Kavanaugh was still appointed as a Supreme Court Justice in the US.

It is disillusioning that a man’s ill treatment of women is not enough to seriously impact public opinion — that he remains regarded as capable and worthy of holding positions of political power. It points to a societal disregard for women’s safety and well-being, and what we’re saying is that one’s treatment of women is not indicative of the constituency of one’s character.

Barriers to politics

Women already face significant barriers to working in politics. Despite making up half of the population, we are consistently underrepresented in government. Only seven of the 21 members of Ford’s cabinet are women.

Even when women are able to secure positions in politics, they are often met with mockery and disrespect. Consider that the allegation of sexual harassment against Kimber came from his female coworkers within the PC party.

Misogynistic rhetoric is to be frequently found in political debates, as was made clear in the public debates between Ford and Wynne as well as between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, where underhanded comments about the women’s appearances or temperaments abounded.

That women continue to be met with disrespect and have their boundaries violated by the men working with them is appalling, and only reinforces the gender barrier in politics.

As citizens, we have a right to a transparent and responsible government that takes incidents of gender-based harassment within its ranks seriously. We must hold these men in power accountable for their actions and ensure that women can safely access politics.

As students and youth at U of T, we are of a class that is currently making its way into the world as the leaders of tomorrow. It is up to us to craft a future that is grounded in transparent and ethical government and in fair and respectful treatment of women. It starts by not letting injustices like this slide by unnoticed and unaccounted for.

Meera Ulysses is a second-year Equity Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations student at New College. She is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.

The Explainer: How Ford’s free speech policy mandate will affect student groups

The Explainer: How Ford’s free speech policy mandate will affect student groups

As part of Premier Doug Ford’s recent free speech policy mandate, student groups and student unions of publicly funded universities and colleges in Ontario will need to create and follow a free speech policy or risk having their funding or recognition revoked.

According to the mandate, schools must create a free speech policy that meets the government’s minimum standards by January 1.

Part of the requirements are that “institutions consider official student groups’ compliance with the policy as condition for ongoing financial support or recognition, and encourage student unions to adopt policies that align with the free speech policy.”

The free speech policy

U of T’s policy on freedom of speech, which has been in effect since 1992, was endorsed by U of T President Meric Gertler in September in the wake of the provincial government’s announcement, but university administration is still waiting to receive specific details of the provincial legislation to see if the current policy needs to be altered.

Joshua Grondin, Vice-President University Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), is also monitoring the policy with the Office of the Vice-Provost Students to see what changes are made, if any.

“The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is actively working with publicly assisted universities and colleges as they draft their own policy,” wrote Stephanie Rea, Director of Communications to the Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, in an email. “Universities and colleges are able to consult with their communities on the specifics of their policy, so long as it is consistent with the minimum standard.”

Starting in September, colleges and universities will need to report annually to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, who will then evaluate each institution’s report and provide recommendations to the minister. If institutions do not comply with the free speech requirements, their operating grants may be reduced.

“The Policy will not only protect free speech but ensure that hate speech, discrimination and other illegal forms of speech are not allowed on campus,” wrote Rea.

How will student groups be affected?

Student organizations are covered by U of T’s Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations.

“That policy includes provisions such as a commitment to ensuring that members’ voices and perspectives can be heard,” said university spokesperson Elizabeth Church.

“Student Organizations” include Student Societies and Campus Groups.

Student societies are defined by a compulsory non-academic incidental fee that U of T collects on their behalf and automatic membership upon registration and status in a particular division or program.

There are two types of student societies: Representative Student Committees, which includes the University of Toronto Students’ Union, Association of Part-time Students, Scarborough Students’ Union, and University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union; and Divisional and Faculty Student Societies, of which there are 38 in total, including the Arts and Science Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, and The Varsity.

Recognized campus groups are “voluntary organizations” created by members of the U of T community. There are over 1,100 campus groups recognized by the university.

U of T’s policy on student organizations uses a complaints-based process. If complaints are brought against a student society for not following the free speech policy, and the matter cannot be resolved internally, it would then be brought to the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS).

The CRCSS Panel is composed of five voting members and one non-voting member. The voting members include a chair and four student members drawn from a pool of appointees from each student society.

The CRCSS Panel would decide if any actions are required and if fees should be withheld.

The vice-president and provost ultimately decides whether to withhold fees and, depending on the situation, has the power to take immediate action without the recommendation of the CRCSS.

For recognized campus groups, the campus-specific Office of Student Life will look into complaints or charges against a campus organization after complaints have been made directly to the organization first. The complainants would appeal to the Office of the Vice-Provost Students.

Recognition or room-booking privileges may be withdrawn from a campus group if complaints made against it are found to be valid. Groups may reapply for recognition any time after the following September 30.

The UTSU’s response

At the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting on October 30, the UTSU voted in favour of “going on the record opposing Ford’s free speech policy” and “refusing to participate in its implementation as a students’ union.”

The motion was submitted by a member, and Grondin characterized it as “widely supported” by those in attendance.

In Grondin’s personal opinion, “this Policy is harmful for the wellbeing of marginalized students on our campus.”

“I believe the union owes it to members to be political and take a stand when it is needed, and this justifies action in my opinion,” Grondin said.

“I think students have a right to be safe on campus, learn in an atmosphere that doesn’t threaten or question their identities, and be in a space that is free from violence and the promotion of hateful ideology.”

Losing our autonomy is not in line with free speech absolutism

Re: “The Explainer: How Ford’s free speech policy mandate will affect student groups”

Losing our autonomy is not in line with free speech absolutism

Ontario universities receive a great deal of funding from the government of Ontario. Unfortunately for Doug Ford, however, that does not then require those universities to extol the ideologies of that government. That is, in fact, the antithesis to the purpose that universities exist to serve.

Furthermore, it is contrary to the traditional values of the conservative right for a government to impose itself on the activities of public institutions and the public in general. The flag-bearer of free speech himself, Jordan Peterson, is lauded by advocates of absolute freedom of speech for reeling against what he has termed “compelled speech.”

By creating a mandate which threatens to revoke funding for student groups which do not consistently abide by the terms of the new free speech policy, Ford’s government is about to implement, in essence, exactly the sort of compelled speech mandate which its Petersonian supporters so emphatically condemn.

There should be no reason that a place of learning and the pursuit of societal betterment should be forced to accept speakers whom they deem to be undermining this aim, or to give these individuals a platform that legitimizes such claims as if they were acceptable or reasonable.

This applies twofold to student associations, which can be places of refuge for students to come together under a collective set of principles or beliefs, and it is unclear as to what extent the provincial government will enforce the new policy.

Student groups at Wilfrid Laurier University recently used the screen of free speech to justify an invitation to white nationalist Faith Goldy. Will a Jewish Students’ Association, for example, be reprimanded for disallowing the flow of opinions if they do not allow a Holocaust denier into its gatherings? It would certainly be inspiring if the University of Toronto Campus Conservatives invited a member of the NDP Socialist Caucus U of T Club to speak at their meetings, and vice versa.

The Ford government has no business, however, forcing this or similar scenarios to occur under threat of defunding.

Anna Osterberg is a first-year Master of Teaching student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

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.

Waging war

Ford’s drive to repeal Bill 148 is an assault on fair pay and work practices for Ontario workers, including students

Waging war

On October 2, Premier Doug Ford took to the floor of Queen’s Park to make an announcement: “We’re going to make sure we tell the world Ontario is open for business,” and in order to make the province “competitive around the world,” it is time to get rid of Bill 148. This decision is a massive coup by greedy employers and a blow to the rights of Ontario’s workers, including students.

Bill 148, also known as the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, was passed in November 2017 by the recently ousted Liberal government. Notably, it increased the minimum wage in Ontario to $14 per hour — with a further increase to $15 per hour set for January 2019.

The act established an ‘equal pay for equal work’ clause, by which part-time employees performing the same tasks as full-time employees would be paid the same wage. It also standardized the potential of a full 10 days of leave a year, whereas previously, some workplaces had no obligation to give their employees any leave. Finally, it gave workers the right to refuse last-minute shift changes without the risk of being fired.

The law is summarized on the Ontario government’s website: “Many workers struggle to support their families on part-time, contract or minimum-wage work, and many more don’t have access to time off due to illness.” It is specifically geared toward punishing predatory employers who exploit gaps in existing legislation and changes in the job market.

Students often take up part-time employment during the semester to pay their bills. Those who work in industries like retail and services — as a customer sales representative or barista, for example — stand to lose the most from the act being repealed.

Chris Buckley, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, explained that Bill 148 addressed “shamefully outdated labour and employment laws.” For example, before the introduction of Bill 148, workplaces with under 50 employees were able to refuse giving sick leave. They could also label some part-time employees as ‘independent contractors,’ exempting them from being paid as much as full-time employees.

The push for repeal has been led in part by the Retail Council of Canada (RCC). In a letter dated September 24, it argued that Bill 148 had directly led to the loss of over 46,000 jobs in Ontario’s retail and wholesale sector, with the biggest factor being the increase in the minimum wage from $11.40 to $14, forcing layoffs and increasing prices of goods.

The RCC has grossly mischaracterized this loss. The Ontario labour market has gained almost 83,000 jobs in the public sector since September 2017, despite a sharp decline in January this year. The retail industry lost only 14,500 jobs, of which over 5,000 came from the shuttering of retail giant Sears.

The RCC also said that the use of the two new days of paid leave is disproportionately higher than unpaid leave and thus shows that employees are misusing them. Its position is that, rather than amending the bill to address their concerns, the province should just start over with a repeal.

According to the RCC, worker’s rights were implemented too quickly, and the minimum wage was raised too fast for businesses to cope — a convenient stance that would let employers continue underpaying workers while stonewalling any meaningful replacement legislation.

It’s not just retail; the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released a statement on August 30 with a quote from its president and CEO, Rocco Rossi: “Premier Ford pledged to make Ontario ‘Open for Business’… this begins with the reversal of Bill 148.” The OCC released its statement within a day of the Ford government’s meeting with top Canadian banks.

This was no coincidence. By opening himself up to the advice of ‘experts,’ Ford was inviting big business interests and lobbying. While the Ford government has yet to introduce legislation to repeal Bill 148, it seems that the move to repeal it is almost a foregone conclusion.

The arguments for repealing this act are misleading. Part-time employment takes a natural dip in the summer. Before the implementation of two paid sick days with Bill 148, sick leave was rarely taken because employees could not afford to miss work, even for the benefit of their own health. The province is labelling this as a victory for Ontario’s economy, when it disenfranchises workers who were already being treated cynically by service and retail industries.

Ford’s eagerness to accept lobbyists into Queen’s Park betrays how willing he is to deal with moneyed interests in even the early stages of his premiership. Furthermore, aiming to repeal Bill 148 shows his disregard for poverty-stricken and student workers and how the province is clueless, or at least willfully ignorant, about the state of Toronto’s job market.

The introduction of Bill 148 was a step toward fairer work practices in a province lagging behind in terms of workers’ rights. If Ford repeals the bill, the employees of Ontario will know that he does not have all of their best interests in mind.

William Cuddy is a fifth-year Political Science and History student at Victoria College.

Policy victories for students require more than single demonstrations

Examining the limitations of secondary student movements following the recent sex ed protests in Ontario high schools

Policy victories for students require more than single demonstrations

On September 21, 40,000 students from 100 Ontario schools walked out to challenge the decision of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government to scrap both the updated sex ed curriculum and Indigenous content in the curriculum.

This provokes important questions about how effective student activism is in terms of producing tangible impacts on education policy. It also highlights the significant challenges that secondary school activism faces due to a lack of advocacy structures to organize collective action.

Historically, student activism has had significant societal impact. Collective student action has led to significant changes to existing social structures. In the 1960s, student movements in the United States brought critical dialogues to the forefront and prompted university heads to resign, while in countries like Brazil, Czechoslovakia, and the more recent Arab Spring, students protested authoritarian regimes, often in the face of lethal violence, setting in motion paradigm shifts that eventually saw the regimes topple.

Even in Canada, tens of thousands of Québec students took to the streets in 2012 in response to proposed tuition hikes. Six years later, Québec tuition fees generally have remained low — about half that of the rest of Canada.

However, the caveat is that policy battles are not won in a single demonstration. Advocacy campaigns require resources, organization, and, perhaps most importantly, time. Many students have school, work, extracurricular, and personal commitments that prevent them from investing weeks, months, or years into student activism to see changes in legislation.

This is even truer for Ontario high school students. They lack the student government structures that their postsecondary counterparts enjoy — the student unions that receive millions of dollars each year via student levies to make the student voice heard and coordinate activism efforts.

Secondary student government is limited in comparison, with student councils focused on extracurricular activities and often dominated by unelected staff members or other non-student actors who control operations behind the scenes. School board student senates consisting of student council representatives from multiple high schools do not collect levies and often act as little more than advisory panels to school board officials. Even the student trustees these student senates elect to attend school board meetings do not have a binding vote on decisions, leaving their voices to be heard, but not necessarily acted upon.

Similarly, the Ontario Student Trustees Association, which represents about two million secondary and elementary students, has few resources to communicate its existence to the average Ontario student, let alone mobilize its constituents to collective action. It is not that students are apathetic as the stereotype suggests. Rather, they lack a proper place in the Ontario education system to participate in decision-making processes as stakeholders. This forces them to fight from the outside with resource-demanding tactics of public resistance.

What secondary students need to think about is how to cement a long-term political movement that will provide them with more advocacy options to supplement public demonstrations. These students need to also protest the fact that education administrators and provincial policymakers are refusing them official representation in their schools and school boards. They need student input on curriculum changes so that setbacks to critical issues like sex ed can be lessened or prevented in the future. Students also need control over decisions on their own extracurricular activities.

Student councils, student senates, and the Ontario Student Trustees Association need to be recognized as legitimate representative organizations, and the former two need to be rooted in sound policies that enshrine student democracy and decision-making capability. Ontario, as well as educators, administrators, and other education stakeholders, need to give students a place in consultations.

Moving forward, secondary students need to keep the momentum from Friday’s protest going by questioning education structures and how they can sustain the fight to the point where policy change can be a tangible and realistic goal.

But it is not only secondary students who need to take the initiative. Postsecondary students have a leadership role to play in the student movement and should offer support to students in other levels of education who may soon join their ranks. Coalitions can be formed between secondary and postsecondary student organizations to advocate for common goals. Resources can be extended to assist secondary students, not only in activism, but in building democratic organizations that empower the secondary student voice to overcome the limitations of existing structures.

Justin Patrick is a first-year master’s student in Political Science.

Problematizing Ford’s anti-environmental agenda

The Ontario PC government’s regressive anti-green policies threaten significant costs to the economy and our university

Problematizing Ford’s anti-environmental agenda

Last week, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives tabled legislation to repeal the Green Energy Act, 2009, as a part of Premier Doug Ford’s campaign promise to decrease the cost of electricity on consumers. It is seen as a largely symbolic move, in the wake of the party’s recent announcement that 758 renewable energy projects authorized by the act will be cancelled immediately. Ford fails to consider the consequences of these regressive actions, which will likely end up hurting thousands of jobs while incurring more costs on consumers and small businesses.

There is no evidence that halting hundreds of renewable energy projects will decrease the price of electricity. Former Energy Minister George Smitherman says that green energy is not the sole reason for electricity rates more than doubling across the province over the past 10 years. Other energy projects, such as the rebuilding of the Pickering and Darlington nuclear plants, the construction of hydroelectric dams in Northern Ontario, and increased delivery fees, have all contributed to rising electricity prices.

Presiding Energy Minister Greg Rickford says the move will save provincial ratepayers $790 million. However, John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, calls it “preposterous” to act as though cancelling these relatively small-scale projects will result in savings for consumers as the government has yet to actually pay any of the companies. In reality, it will mean significant job losses in the industry and added costs to the small businesses invested in the sector.

While Ford claims that the act resulted in fewer manufacturing jobs, interim Liberal leader John Fraser is concerned that cancelling it will mean job losses for thousands of Ontarians that have been gainfully employed by the now-halted renewable energy projects. This concern is echoed by Gorman as well as New Democratic Party energy critic Peter Tabuns.

Rather than saving consumers money, this decision directly impacts small investors like farmers, school boards, municipalities, and First Nations groups who have retrofitted their properties with solar panels, for example, as well as the local installers, contractors, and engineers involved in the projects.

In addition, Gorman notes that the decision will likely lead to lawsuits, incurring more costs to small businesses and taxpayers. One such notable case concerns the White Pine Project, a wind farm in Prince Edward County that is just weeks away from completion, which the Tory government promises to put on the chopping block next week. The company behind the green energy project, wpd Canada, says the cancellation could cost more than $100 million and that they are considering legal action.

Ford’s hasty decision will result in job losses, billions of dollars wasted, and mistrust between businesses and the province. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner points out that the sudden cancellation of hundreds of contracts with no notice or due process sends a negative message to businesses, ultimately exposing Ontario to financial risk.

Despite successfully encouraging the development of Ontario’s green energy sector, the Green Energy Act is a flawed document that was implemented poorly. Most notably, the McGuinty government neglected the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) warnings that flooding the market in a time when renewable energy prices were dropping would potentially increase rates for consumers. The OPA advised the McGuinty government to develop the solar industry slowly in order to adjust to the declining prices of solar and other forms of renewable energy when the act was passed. Instead, there was a massive influx of contracts in the first two years. This resulted in $2.6 billion in additional spending for consumers. A 2011 report by the Auditor General claims that the government ignored the advice of the OPA because it chose “stability” for energy investors over the best interests of consumers.

Although Ford is not wrong in criticizing aspects of the Green Energy Act, the trend of hastily tabling regressive environmental policies will have significant social and economic costs.

For example, his scrapping of the cap and trade program means that universities like U of T will lose out on resourcespromised to them under its Greenhouse Gas Reduction program. UTM had received funding for a number of projects through the program, such as upgrades to air conditioning and ventilation systems and the installation of electric vehicle charging stations. Now, students will no longer see the benefits that these programs would have had on campus infrastructure or the long-term environmental and health benefits of renewable energy in general.

Madeleine Kelly is a fifth-year Ethics, Society, and Law and Environmental Studies student at New College.