Students march to Queen’s Park in protest of OSAP cuts

Attendees split over support for Liberal MPPs present, cheered NDP speakers

Students march to Queen’s Park in protest of OSAP cuts

Students from schools across the GTA marched from City Hall to Queen’s Park on February 4 in protest of the provincial cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Similar protests also took place in Guelph, Ottawa, and the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

The march, hosted by Students for Ontario, March for our Education, and the Ontario Student Action Network, went north on University Avenue toward Queen’s Park, where organizers, student activists, and MPPs gathered to make speeches and rally the protesters.

One of the first speakers was Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario chairperson Nour Alideeb. She began by commending the many protesters for their efforts in pressuring the government on this issue.

Addressing the crowd, Alideeb said, “We are going to show them that OSAP cuts will not be tolerated, and we’re going to show them that our students, as individuals and as a collective, will not be silenced.”

She invited everyone in attendance to return to Queen’s Park on February 19 to welcome back the government when it is back in session.

“When I see you next, look around you. This group is going to double and it’s going to triple in size, because this government needs to remember that we are the students.”

First-year student activists for Students for Ontario, Le Nguyen and Tyler Riches, then got on stage to speak to the crowd.

“I am standing in front of you today as a proud female immigrant and the first person in my family to attend postsecondary education in Canada,” said Nguyen. “I, along with many, many low-income students in Ontario, receive free tuition thanks to the expansion of OSAP last year.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling my stories to get some pity looks. I’m telling my stories to show that students from disadvantaged backgrounds — like me — regardless of the barriers and struggles, we still have the strength and the determinism to study hard and contribute to the community, get accepted to one of the best institutions in the world, and ensure a better future for our children.”

Afterward, in an interview with The Varsity, Nguyen went into greater detail as to her motivations for attending and speaking at the march.

“Seeing the change from the Doug Ford government, seeing that students will no longer have free tuition, as well as student unions, student groups, and student newspapers being optional fees, I feel outraged because I feel that this is like a direct attack on students from minorities and students from low-income families,” she explained.

Riches dubbed the reaction to Ford’s cuts ‘the student movement.’

“We march for low-income students. We march for international students. We march for all students, and we march because education should not be gatekept by financial means. And we will not stop marching,” said Riches. “Make yourselves heard, and together, let’s show this Ontario government what ‘For the Students’ really means,” he proclaimed, to a chorus of cheers.

A number of MPPs from the New Democratic Party took to the stage to voice their support for Ontario students.

Marit Stiles, MPP for Davenport, spoke on the effects that the changes to OSAP might have on the student population.

“People are graduating with mountains of debt, and that means putting off important life milestones for years… Ontario’s economy suffers, while you put off buying a home or starting a family because all your income is going back to the government or the banks.”

While the remarks made by Stiles were met with cheers and applause, the crowd was split when members of the Liberal caucus went up to speak.

Marie-France Lalonde, MPP for Orleans, the first speaker from the Liberal Party, struggled to make herself heard over chants of “What’s disgusting? Union busting!”

Former Liberal MPP Yvan Baker tried to turn the attention back onto Ford, saying, “If we don’t stop Doug Ford, he will cut access to postsecondary education… So I congratulate you for being here. Let’s get out there. Let’s stop Doug Ford and let’s save OSAP.”

While his comments were met with cheers from parts of the crowd, booing and chanting persisted from others.

These chants were primarily led by members of Socialist Fightback, a Marxist organization with chapters in numerous Ontario universities. Marco La Grotta, an organizer and editor of the Fightback magazine, voiced his discontent with the Liberal Party on the issue of education.

“Well, the fact of the matter is that the increase in tuition, that happened under the Liberals. I mean, it’s skyrocketed over the last few years, the last few decades. And the Liberals were just as much responsible for that as the Tories are. So I honestly don’t believe that the Liberals are friends to students.”

La Grotta and Socialist Fightback were at the protest to stand in solidarity with working-class students and to encourage protesters to join a student strike. “What we really need is for a student strike, similar to what you saw in Québec in 2012. Really we need to use the leverage and power we have in order to force this government to back off.”

A look into the student groups protesting postsecondary changes

Weeks after the Ford government’s announcements, student groups continue to organize

A look into the student groups protesting postsecondary changes

From organizing province-wide protests to talks of a student strike, student groups and unions are mobilizing in response to the changes to postsecondary education funding announced by the Ford government last month. The Varsity took a look into what student groups are doing to protest the changes and what they hope to accomplish.

A majority of groups are rallying against the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which would give students the option to opt-out of “non-essential” incidental fees and levies. The changes also include sweeping alterations to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) all signed an open letter to the Ford government, along with 75 other student unions from across the country, condemning the changes to postsecondary education and specifically asking for the reversal of the SCI.

The UTSU launched its #UTSUwithU campaign last week in an effort to lobby government officials and university administrators, and the union has also confirmed that it has met with the university to discuss how U of T plans to respond to these changes.

In a statement released last week, the UTGSU committed to working with “coalition and campus partners to advocate for accessible post-secondary education for all students.”

The UTGSU executive, in an email to The Varsity, confirmed that it is also in talks with other student groups to organize meetings with U of T administrators.

The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) executive wrote to The Varsity, “We are working with our members, student unions, clubs, societies and associations across all three campuses to fight back against these cuts.”

APUS executives particularly expressed concerns regarding the cuts to OSAP and the SCI and their impact on marginalized students and student groups that provide “support, services and community.”

The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) confirmed that it is in discussions with other student groups on how to move forward and affirmed that OPIRG stands in solidarity with other levy groups.

“OPIRG is quite disturbed and condemns the [government’s] move to unilaterally invalidate and overrule the choices students have already made through democratic votes and processes to implement the levies currently in existence and the ways in which this provincial legislation now strips students [of] power to make their voices heard,” representatives wrote.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902 (CUPE 3902), the labour union that represents sessional lecturers and teaching assistants at U of T, has also established a presence at multiple rallies and protests since the Ford government’s announcement. Inviting members to sign a petition to reverse the cuts, CUPE 3902 is also encouraging members to write to their MPPs about these changes.

“We are looking into organizing townhalls and meetings with other leaders on campus and in Toronto so that we can continue to present a united front and to create a plan for loud, disruptive organizing that shows that Ontario residents do not accept these cuts and changes that will only saddle students and workers with more debt and worse working conditions.”

Students for Ontario, a group formed in response to the provincial government’s policy, organized a province-wide march on February 4 and has also provided resources to students on how to to contact their local MPP. The group also confirmed with The Varsity that it will continue to organize protests and marches, coordinating with other groups in the coming weeks and months.

On the topic of a student strike, Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) Chairperson Nour Alideeb said that “anything is possible,” but she wants to see any kind of movement come directly from the federation’s member student unions. Alideeb is currently examining the 2012 Québec student strike to identify potential unforeseen consequences of a similar strike in Ontario.

Alideeb also believes that the SCI will not be the end of the CFS–O, further saying that changes to the organization will depend on member unions and how those members wish to allocate funds.

Ford government yet to release results of Ontario-wide sexual violence survey conducted a year ago

Ministry cites privacy concerns for delay

Ford government yet to release results of Ontario-wide sexual violence survey conducted a year ago

In February 2018, over 20,000 U of T students completed Student Voices on Sexual Violence, an Ontario-wide survey about sexual violence sent by the provincial government to all postsecondary institutions. However, one year later the results have still not been released and the current Progressive Conservative (PC) government was unable to give a timeline on when the results can be expected.

With more than 160,000 students participating, the survey was created to help the province and universities benchmark and understand sexual violence.

It was developed in fall 2017 by the previous Liberal government’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, currently known under the PC government as the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU).

In an interview with The Globe and Mail in March 2018, Mitzie Hunter, the previous Liberal minister and current MPP for Scarborough—Guildwood, said that the results would be released to postsecondary institutions in summer 2018, and that certain portions of the report would be released to the public that fall.

After the Liberals lost the June 2018 provincial election to the PCs, MPP Merrilee Fullerton succeeded Hunter as the new Minister of TCU, taking over responsibility for the release of the data.

Government blames privacy concerns for delay

Fullerton’s office told The Varsity that the results of the survey have not been compiled due to concerns about the confidentiality of students.

When asked for the reasons behind the delay and for a release date, Fullerton’s media relations representative Tanya Blazina wrote that the survey vendor, identified as CCI Research on the survey’s website, is “continuing the process of compiling the data in a way that protects participant privacy.”

“Initial projections underestimated the time this work would take.”

When pressed again for a release date, Blazina repeated that the project had underestimated the timeline.

According to the FAQ on the survey’s website, “CCI Research will conduct this survey in a manner that protects your identity… Results will only ever be reported in a format that preserves confidentiality.”

When CCI Research was asked by The Varsity to independently verify the government’s assessment about the survey’s progress, the company redirected all questions to Blazina.

When The Varsity asked Hunter about the delayed results, she noted that confidentiality was the utmost concern when developing the survey.

“I think [Fullerton] should explain what the risks are… There was thought given to confidentiality and the privacy of those [completing] the survey so that it would not be attributable to any individual,” she said.

“The survey has been completed by students for quite some time,” said Hunter. “It’s Minister Fullerton’s responsibility to make those results known to students and to the public.”

Increasing demands to release the data

Pressure has been mounting on the Ford government to release the survey results to universities and the public.

According to U of T Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh, the results of the survey currently remain unknown to schools and students alike.

“We have not received the data nor have any other universities,” she wrote to The Varsity.

Likewise, the Queen’s Journal, Queen’s University’s student paper, recently reported that Queen’s also has not received the results.

U of T group Silence is Violence, which recently released a 60-page report on sexual violence on campus, released a statement condemning the delay.

“The delay in releasing the data represents the PC government’s deprioritization of issues impacting women and other marginalized groups most affected by sexual trauma,” wrote Jessica Wright and Simran Dhunna, representatives of Silence is Violence.

Wright, a PhD candidate at U of T and researcher for Silence is Violence, believes that the survey’s results are necessary to create a safer campus.

“In order for [U of T] to act in accordance with Bill 132, which stipulates that they have [to] review their policies at least once every three years and then amend them as appropriate, and also [to] include student input in that process, we need to see the data from universities and colleges,” Wright told The Varsity. “We need to see what students said.”

What we know about the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary education

U of T stands to lose $88 million in expected revenue, describes little communication with province

What we know about the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary education

On January 17, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU) Merrilee Fullerton stood before a room full of media in the provincial offices east of Queen’s Park to announce that Ontario universities must cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent, provide “opt-out” options for incidental fees, and adhere to broad changes made to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Despite some clarifications made in an earlier Varsity interview with David Piccini — the Parliamentary Assistant to Fullerton — ambiguity remains about the specifics of the provincial mandate. The university has also not commented heavily on the issue.

Meanwhile, several protests organized by student unions and other groups have occurred across the province, with more to come. In these protests, thousands of students demanded answers about what these changes will mean for them.

Based on further interviews with the government and the university, The Varsity takes a look into what we know and what we don’t know about the cuts so far.

Domestic tuition cut by 10 per cent

Repeatedly described as “historic” by Piccini, the Ford government’s leading announcement is of a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition for the next academic year, which will also apply to graduate studies, including Master of Business Administration and Juris Doctor programs. The government has also mandated a tuition freeze for the following year.

Universities and colleges will have to absorb any losses in revenue, as the cut is unfunded by the provincial government.

In an interview with The Varsity, U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr said that these cuts will take $65 million off of the university’s base budget, or $88 million from its expected revenue, since the university had planned to continue raising tuition by three per cent.

In the second year, the changes will cost the university $113 million.

Regehr went on to say that the impact will vary depending on individual divisions, as some divisions rely more heavily on domestic tuition income, but also said that there will be university-wide adjustments as well.

“What we hope to do is find solutions that minimally impact students, staff and faculty, and programs,” said Regehr.

Regehr also confirmed that international tuition will not be affected by the cut, adding that the university plans to follow its already-published tuition framework.

Speaking to The Varsity, Piccini declared that such changes were what he and the Ford government were elected to do.

“I’ve been in meetings with… university presidents, administrators since day one. I’ve been out on campuses and have been in various universities. We’ve been here speaking to presidents as well. And they’ve all said, ‘We know a tightening of the belt is coming,’” said Piccini.

However, in the interview with Regehr, the provost said that neither she nor the university had held discussions with the provincial government on the changes to the university’s funding structure, and that, since then, the university has only received directives through the Council of Ontario Universities — with no word from the provincial government or Fullerton’s office.

When this was brought up to Piccini, he said that The Varsity was “cherry-picking” this policy. “Do you think it’s feasible for our government, every time it introduces legislation, to go around the province on every single piece of draft legislation introduced? That’s unrealistic,” he said.

Piccini went on to say that he had received a “standing ovation” at events after bringing up postsecondary affordability, and that the 10 per cent domestic tuition slash was a result of conversations at events, on campuses, and “over a kitchen table.”

“So in summation, all of that has fed into this policy.”

OSAP interest rates, grants, loans

OSAP will also be undergoing dramatic changes, primarily centred around a push to provide more grants to students whose household income falls below a $50,000 threshold. To accommodate this change, the Ontario government will be shifting the program to provide more loans than grants.

Interest will also begin accruing from day one after graduation, where previously, interest did not accrue on provincial loans for a six-month grace period.

For students in second-entry programs or attending out-of-province institutions, the grant-to-loan ratio will now be a minimum 50 per cent loan.

When asked how these changes would help students, Piccini answered that the government needs to be “fiscally responsible” — later claiming that “you could pull up to university in a Ferrari” and still receive grants under the previous OSAP system. He returned with a question of his own, asking why the federal government does not have parity with Ontario in its grant-to-loan ratio.

Emphasizing that “the sustainability of the system” needs to be ensured, Piccini also said that preserving the “integrity of the structure” of OSAP requires balancing “our own immediate interests” with the interests of students like those “in rural Ontario, whose families earn $30,000 median income in [his] riding.”

Regehr, who underscored the university’s high spending on student assistance, said that the university will work to “try and limit the impact of these changes on our students.”

Last year, U of T spent $210 million, or eight per cent of its budget, on student aid — more than any other university in Ontario, according to Regehr.

The Student Choice Initiative: an “opt-out” from incidental fees

The last mandate from the provincial government, dubbed the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), is for Ontario universities to develop an “opt-out” system for incidental fees, which would either be labelled “essential” or “non-essential.”

Already included in the “essential” category are walksafe programs, counselling, athletics, academic support, and health and safety-related fees.

Fullerton also announced on February 1 that transit passes, such as the ones offered at UTM, will also be considered essential.

Piccini expressed his belief that the SCI is in no way analogous to taxes, saying that he could “make that analogy ad nauseam” to all issues.

Piccini said that to compare funds for “the quidditch club or [to] boycott and divest Israel… with taxes is laughable at best and worrisome at worst.”

Piccini also gave the example of subscription fees for media outlets like The Globe and Mail or the National Post as a reason for why campus media should not be considered essential.

He added that the fees being considered non-essential “have nothing to do with taxes and have nothing to do with the essential services that government provides,” going on to say that “we prescribe and force feed down new students’ throats things — and from people whom they didn’t elect, programs that they didn’t vote to support.”

On whether health and dental programs offered by student unions are considered “essential,” Piccini said that these will be ongoing discussions between the universities and the student unions.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union currently administers the health and dental plans for full-time UTSG and UTM students, though there is an existing opt-out option for these fees.

Piccini had also confirmed in a previous interview that universities will have final say on the decisions to be made about which fees are labelled “essential” or “non-essential.”

Regehr, however, says that the university is waiting for a clearer mandate from the provincial government.

“We just don’t know what that means and what kind of latitude is expected, and whether there are parameters around that, like [if] certain amounts have to be optional,” said the provost. “We just don’t know that.”

“We certainly support the kinds of activities that are funded by student fees. We think that those are important and really enhance the student experience.”

What do Ford’s reforms mean for campus journalism?

The opt-out model of student fees threatens more than just The Varsity

What do Ford’s reforms mean for campus journalism?

The Ford government’s postsecondary education reforms potentially foretell a precarious future for campus journalism. Premier Doug Ford recently sought to justify the government’s new opt-out model for “non-essential” student fees by pointing to the controversy unfolding at Ryerson University.

The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has allegedly racked up $250,000 in credit card debt. On Twitter, Ford linked to the CBC’s coverage of events and wrote: “I’ve heard from so many students who are tired of paying excessive fees, only to see them wasted and abused.” However, as other journalists have noted, in linking to the CBC’s article, Ford’s tweet overlooked a core component of the story: the news was first reported by The Eyeopener, Ryerson’s student newspaper.

Campus newspapers perform vital investigative and communicative roles, holding student organizations and university administrators accountable for their conduct. These campus institutions are also largely financially dependent on student fees, which, at public universities, are ultimately beholden to provincial policies.

As Editor-in-Chief Jack Denton wrote in his recent letter, “money from student fees comprises the majority of our revenue and we could not survive without it. The financial uncertainty of whether or not we would receive enough student fees in any given semester… would debilitate our operations.” In other words, the provincial government’s postsecondary policy reforms pose an “existential threat” to campus journalism as we know it.

Supporting strong campus journalism is neither a liberal nor a conservative value. It is, instead, a shared Canadian tradition that reflects our collective commitment to free press and engaged democracy. Student journalism is a vital component of U of T’s identity, as it is for academic institutions across Ontario. In addition to providing a robust exchange of ideas and information, The Varsity offers critical training for students who may shape the field of journalism.

Of course, the journalism we support must be thoughtful and productive. In response to Ford’s tweet about the Ryerson scandal, The Varsity published a photograph of the RSU executive Edmund Sofo and Ford posing together at an Ontario Progressive Conservatives Youth barbecue in August. The decision to publish the photograph was criticized by readers, who failed to see how the image was newsworthy in this context. In my opinion, this criticism is well-founded. The Varsity’s reporting seemed more akin to a political campaign response than appropriate journalism.

However, The Varsitys shortcoming in this respect doesn’t delegitimize its broader function in our community. Indeed, the existence of the public editor column, in which I am free to criticize the newspaper and its editorial decisions, demonstrates the seriousness with which The Varsity undertakes its mandate.

As the public editor, I typically look inward, holding The Varsity accountable to journalistic standards and mediating the relationship between readers and the newspaper. But, with the newspaper’s future jeopardized, I find myself in the unusual position of looking outward and examining the consequences of the Ford government’s political reforms on students’ capacity to produce high-quality journalism.

Relegating student journalism to a hodgepodge of volunteer efforts and social media commentary — which is one possible outcome of these reforms — would be a profound disservice to U of T. It would reduce the quality of the news conveyed, diminish our collective role in training future journalists, and denigrate a symbolic space in which we, as a community, can engage in thoughtful self-reflection about who we are, what we represent, and the values to which we aspire.

Morag McGreevey is The Varsity’s Public Editor and can be reached at publiceditor@thevarsity.ca.

A principled defence of voluntary student unionism

Opt-out option for incidental fees could improve political participation, democracy

A principled defence of voluntary student unionism

As part of its omnibus announcement on changes to the postsecondary education financial framework, the Progressive Conservative (PC) government announced that students would be able to opt out of university-defined “non-essential” fees that are placed on top of their tuition fees, starting from the 2019–2020 academic year.

Subsequently, several groups have indicated that the policy will seriously compromise the effectiveness of student organizations and services. In being funded by student fees, these groups rely on a broad pooling of payments from all enrolled students. The opt-out option, in their view, would not only mean a significant decrease in available funding, but unstable and fluctuating yearly budgets.

This presents us with an intriguing question: whether students should be able to choose to not pay for a non-tuition service. Despite what seems to be a universal fightback against it, there are advocates of the move, at least in principle, in the campus community. Some perceive that many of these services are useless and a waste of money, or that some funded organizations act in ways antithetical to their mandate.

A primary argument among advocates is a moral claim, wherein students, as the rightful custodians of their money, ought to be able to pay for what they choose. I do not buy this argument. It assumes a consumerist logic that everything ought to be treated like a market.

Student representation cannot be framed within this relationship. It relies on the collective pooling of resources to work toward the broader benefit of students as a whole. You give expecting someone to benefit, even if that person may not be you. In deciding to not contribute, you must follow by not gaining benefit from it, lest you behave hypocritically.

But since student organizations will likely be open to all, regardless of contribution, a student who opts out would still be able to use and benefit from that service. This potential free-rider scenario weakens the practicality of this first argument.

I am instead supportive of a second argument: that in facing the possibility of losing funds, student groups will make a greater attempt to align to student needs, thereby increasing accountability and democratic legitimacy. With this would come regular attempts to convince students of the merits of spending decisions.

My main concern here is the degree of student apathy or dislike toward their representatives. The main benefit from this opt-out policy may be an increase in the average student’s sense of stake and interest in student politics. At this point, it should be clear that I am only speaking of elected student unions, because they claim to represent and advance the interests of all students.

This means that other fees, such as those for clubs, student media, and services should be exempt from the opt-out option. While these groups are in some sense democratic and service-based, they do not claim the same level of universality and authority as student politics.

The opt-out option of student union fees can be thought of as another democratic mechanism, much like slate elections and referendums. It is direct democracy at its purest: not just providing an option to reject spending allocations, but determining the amount of funding themselves.

It seems that, at least in theory, this would increase student union accountability. For these organizations, no dollar will be taken for granted. Instead, student representatives will have to justify all spending to the campus community.

This is given impetus by the recent scandal at Ryerson University, in which it alleged that up to $273,000 may have been spent by Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executives on improperly authorized purchases. At UTSG in 2017, the St. Michael’s College Student Union collapsed after similar financial decisions were made public. And let’s not forget our own University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) quarter-million dollar scandal from a few years ago.

With an opt-out option, it is unlikely that student unions will receive significant funding from its students next year. Instead, they will slowly need to gain back student trust and respect, to the point that students feel the organization is using its financial power to invest in positive and student interest-based programs.

A potential objection here is that such a process will result in total instability. For instance, it would be difficult for representative groups to implement long-term goals, since they will have little knowledge of what will come in the future. My response is that democracy itself is inherently unstable.

However, an increase in accountability is not my main concern. Student representatives at U of T seem to have sufficient accountability mechanisms in and of themselves. These include annual elections and various membership-approval requirements in different organizations.

But these mechanisms have become defective and inefficient from a lack of student involvement. This academic year the UTSU drew criticism as it failed to maintain quorum through to the end of its Annual General Meeting (AGM).

Meanwhile, after failing to meet its AGM quorum, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) will be required to hold a special meeting for its membership to approve its draft financial statements. The UTGSU’s General Council also recently voted to reduce the special meeting’s required quorum from 300 to 150 members. In other words, rather than find ways to increase participation, they’ve opted to simply cut the required level of participation.

Election turnouts have also been abysmal year after year. The only reason that a remarkable 25.3 per cent of students voted in last year’s UTSU executive election is because students were concerned about the simultaneous U-Pass referendum. In other words, a vote on a direct allocation of money saw much more student interest than in any other student election.

Student representative decisions have been confined to a small set of campus activists who, although well-intentioned, are not always able to understand and voice the concerns of all students. In this year’s UTSU AGM, several important decisions that impact over 50,000 students — the split with the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, the ban on slate campaigning, and the condemnation of the provincial free speech policy — were decided by less than 250 people.

Voting, although seemingly simple, can often be overlooked and forgotten due to the busyness of student schedules. But the opt-out option will be done through tuition, and is therefore unavoidable. Students, in enrolling for another semester, must make a conscious evaluation of how they believe student groups ought to work, and the power they themselves have in the opt-out.

My hope is that the opt-out option can give students an opportunity to think about what their respective unions do, and the potential influence they can exercise over them. This will work against student apathy, and encourage participation in other democratic mechanisms. The result may be a snowball effect that sees substantial democratic returns in the years to come.

Sam Routley is a fourth-year Political Science, Philosophy, and History student. He is The Varsitys UTSG Campus Politics Columnist.

Former BC Premier Christy Clark speaks at U of T on women in leadership

Clark: “‘Nice’ is not a necessary attribute for male leaders.”

Former BC Premier Christy Clark speaks at U of T on women in leadership

Former Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark spoke at Innis Town Hall on January 22 about issues facing women looking to rise to positions of leadership.

The event was hosted by the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and ran as a part of the Women in Leadership series of the David Peterson Public Leadership Program.

Clark held the office of premier for six and a half years — the longest-serving female premier in Canadian history.

She began her talk by highlighting one of her inspirations, Queen Elizabeth I. Clark praised the queen as a powerful example of women in leadership, calling her “massively successful.” When talking about the queen’s success, Clark refers specifically to the economic success during her tenure — even after inheriting a bankrupt state from her father, King Henry VIII.

Using this as a segue, Clark moved into one of the issues that plague women who wish to rise to leadership status, which she called the “‘nice and compliant’ versus ‘tough and confident’ paradox.”

According to Clark, this describes current societal pressures and expectations of women. Women who don’t conform are seen as “out of step with society’s expectations for what females should look like and how we should behave.”

“Navigating that very thin line between being tough enough to hold your own in male-dominated environments while at the same time remaining feminine enough to stay there,” is a unique experience for women, said Clark.

“‘Nice’ is not a necessary attribute for male leaders.”

Clark then began to describe her own experiences in office. She discussed the difficult transition after entering office following her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, who had resigned from office. Clark said that critics at the time were incredibly cynical of her potential.

The issue, Clark said, stemmed from the fact that she “had not had time to accumulate a strong record.”

Prior to becoming premier, Clark had served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly from 1996–2005, and throughout her tenure was appointed as the Minister of Children and Family Development and the Minister of Education.

As Minister of Education, Clark instituted various controversial changes to the education system, which were then overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Speaking on the lack of confidence that people had in her, Clark said, “I am not sure if I could have survived those first two years as an unelected premier without a few influential men to give me credibility in the eyes of my critics.”

Clark acknowledged that women requiring male allies to rise to power might be less than ideal. She said that women “have to deal with the reality we live in, not the reality we wish existed.” That reality being the “male-privileged” society we live in, according to Clark.

However, she is optimistic about the future. Once enough women rise to power, Clark believes that there will be more equality in terms of influencers. As a result, there will be a growth in women supporting women.

Clark believes that one highly progressive aspect of her government — an aspect that Clark admitted she did not highlight at the time — was that about half the caucus during her tenure were women, she said.

“We were well on our way to creating a world filled with female influencers.”

Clark then went on to outline some of the decisions she made in office that led to the exponential growth of the province’s economy during her tenure.

Clark said that one of her biggest achievements was her re-election with a plurality of votes — a monumental step for the longest-serving female premier.

During the question period, Clark was asked about her experiences as a new mother in office. Clark replied that she had had certain privileges, such as being able to have her child in the legislature with her, which allowed her to succeed. However, it was a difficult situation to handle one’s political career and parental obligations.

At the end of her speech, Clark addressed the women in the audience who had an interest in holding public office and leadership positions. She offered the following words of encouragement: “The world is not going to change for the better, unless we get into it. The world will only become a better place when there are more of us.”

UTSU in consultation with Ontario government on designing opt-out option for fees

Union intends to leverage rare lobbying position, some directors argue at cost of showing stronger support for students

UTSU in consultation with Ontario government on designing opt-out option for fees

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) presented a lobbying-based strategy for responding to the provincial government’s changes to postsecondary education in an emergency meeting held by its Board of Directors on January 24.

This is in response to Premier Doug Ford’s government announcement last week that it would give students the option of opting out of “non-essential” fees, cut free tuition for low-income students, and cut tuition by 10 per cent.

At the emergency board meeting, UTSU President Anne Boucher said that the union was one of the few across the province to be meeting with the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU), and was thus in a rare position to lobby the provincial government.

The UTSU’s strategy emphasizes making the most out of its unique position to be consulted by the MTCU, the ministry responsible for designing and announcing specifics for these policy changes. The UTSU itself is largely funded by incidental fees and is therefore in a risky position if its currently mandatory fees are deemed opt-out.

Boucher specified that representatives from the University of Waterloo, Western University, and perhaps only a few more universities have been in consultation with the MTCU, during a Varsity interview after the meeting.

These student union consultations come after The Varsity asked TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton at her January 17 press conference whether her office had met with student groups in developing these policy changes, to which she was unable to give a clear answer.

Who the UTSU is speaking to and what it is negotiating in favour of

In a question period, University College (UC) Director Lina Maragha asked Boucher about the direction that she is taking in lobbying and what the UTSU is trying to advocate for.

Boucher responded by saying that the UTSU was taking a “two-prong approach.”

The first priority is for the UTSU to concentrate on talks with the MTCU. The second priority is to speak with local MPPs. While they have limited influence on the legislative process, noted Boucher, the UTSU does wish to “see if there’s any way that they can help.”

Boucher said that the UTSU’s goal regarding the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) is to have students “see the same support that they had before the announcement, as much as possible.”

Addressing the opt-out option for non-tuition fees, Boucher said that the UTSU is aiming to “make recommendations to the [legislative] framework directly that would essentially safeguard our groups,” which include clubs on campus that directly affect student life.

Boucher noted that this seemed to be the UTSU’s best option to negotiate and compromise, as it would be unrealistic to ask the MTCU to reverse its position on OSAP and non-tuition fees entirely.

The UTSU had met once with the MTCU before the emergency board meeting, “and it’s one of many meetings to come,” said Boucher.

Aims to reach students with social media campaign

Boucher noted that, in focusing efforts on lobbying, the UTSU’s efforts have not been as visible to students, as there are obstacles to transparency regarding negotiations.

To combat this, Boucher said that the UTSU is initiating a social media campaign named “UTSU With You,” aimed at giving its membership updates on the negotiation process and a platform to share thoughts.

Boucher mentioned that the UTSU has been using stories it received in conversations with the government, and that “case studies are something that really speaks to them.”

Boucher also noted that Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin will be in consultation with U of T, as the university will “have some discretion over what this will look like.

She reiterated that the goal of Grondin’s talks will be to “make sure that the student fees and the student levies are protected through all of this.”

Opposition among directors

Boucher’s top-down approach was faced with opposition by directors favouring a greater focus on student engagement.

Directors took specific concern with the perceived weakness of the UTSU’s January 17 statement against the government’s announcements.

Maragha said that UC students visiting her during her office hours have felt a “disparity between their vocalized concerns with the OSAP’s cut and the UTSU’s response.” She specifically remembered a student calling the statement “robotic.”

In response, Boucher acknowledged that the wording of the statement had been “very diplomatic,” but said that this was a conscious choice “with reason, and not because we don’t care about the issue.”

Maragha followed up by saying that a more “aggressive approach” was important, because “the Ford administration did decide to… throw us under the bus.”

“I think it’s really important to consider their voices, and they’re not happy with the strength of our approach right now.”

Boucher responded by agreeing that the UTSU has to take students’ perceptions into consideration since, if the fees do become opt-out, the UTSU’s actions in the present may influence students’ choices to remain opted-in.

However, she said that the key question for the UTSU was, “Do we want to have the opportunity to make change, or do we want to seem supported?”

“It’s one thing to take more direct action, but if the effects of that is that we lose that seat, then sure, we’re placating people who are upset with us for not being as visible, but we lose that opportunity to make that change.”

Woodsworth College Director Octavia Andrade-Dixon also noted that “from being on the ground, the UTSU isn’t necessarily fully understood by students or even very popular,” and advocated for increased “direct engagement” to address that.

She recommended an active approach of reaching out to club executives to communicate progress on the UTSU’s advocacy, which Boucher supported.

UC Director Tyler Riches also noted from his interactions with UC students that the UTSU is “being perceived as passive,” and requested that the executives share progress on MTCU negotiations as soon as possible for wider dissemination.

Likely outcomes for the UTSU

A likely outcome of the MTCU consultations will be of the UTSU splitting its fees into several categories to become more “transparent” for students, which Boucher described as “one of the few common-ground points that we actually have with the government right now.”

Boucher told The Varsity that, in the best-case scenario resulting from consultations with the MTCU, the UTSU and campus groups may not have their fees and levies affected by the government’s opt-out options for students.

In this case, campus groups that “directly serve” students, such as those that are a part of Hart House, Student Life, and student societies, would also not be affected. However, external groups and other groups that “don’t directly serve” students would see their fees become optional for students to support.

In another scenario, Boucher said that only part of the UTSU’s fees and levies may become optional to students, while others would continue to be mandatory.

Grondin noted in the meeting that he thinks “it’s safe to assume that the part of our fee that could be most at-risk is the lobbying, advocacy type of campaigning work that we do.”

He advocated for directors to help with the UTSU’s archive project, which aims to document a “concrete list” of initiatives that the UTSU had previously lobbied for, in order to better communicate to students what advocacy work the UTSU does.

Finally, in the least-favourable scenario to the UTSU, students would be able to opt out of all fees broken down by the UTSU.

Parliamentary Assistant to the TCU minster David Piccini told The Varsity that the government plans to continue consultations with students.