Chaos erupts at legislature amid protests against Ford government decision to cut size of city council

Protesters arrested, MPPs walk out from heated debate

Chaos erupts at legislature amid protests against Ford government decision to cut size of city council

The Ontario legislature descended into chaos on September 12 after members of the opposition and the public spoke out against Premier Doug Ford’s decision to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter, also known as the notwithstanding clause. This landmark decision comes after a Superior Court ruling struck down Bill 5 on September 10, which would have downsized Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 seats. The invocation of the notwithstanding clause by the government overrules the court decision, and allows Ford to continue with his plan to cut down city council. The provincial government is also appealing the Superior Court ruling.

Ford will be the first Ontario Premier to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the province’s legislative history. This section of the Charter allows the federal or provincial government to override certain sections of the Charter; in this case, Ford is using it to bypass the court ruling. Most instances of its enactment were in Québec as a form of protest.

Ford made the sudden announcement to use the notwithstanding clause hours after Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled against Bill 5. After he invoked the clause, Ford boasted of “not being shy” to pull such a move.

As a result of this bill, a single city councillor would be representing 120,000 residents in a riding — up from around 70,000–95,000 residents currently. Ford said that by doing this, he will be “saving taxpayer dollars.”

“By invoking the notwithstanding clause, he should expect the people to respond and that the people of Toronto are not going to take their rights being ignored very simply,” said Kate Schneider, a second-year Political Science student who showed up to protest the bill. “They’re not going to just let him override their rights.”

Most protesters were escorted out of the public gallery, and none remained after the first reading. Two protesters were arrested by security, one announcing that she was a “77-and-a-half-year-old woman.”

Members of the opposition criticized the arrest, calling it an attack against democracy.

ANN MARIE ELPA/THE VARSITY

Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), was especially critical of the premier’s motives, calling his move a vendetta against Toronto City Council and the people of Toronto.

“All this time to get back at, to get revenge on NDP city councillors that he didn’t like — that’s not what a Premier is supposed to do. And then to use this heavy hand, to use the notwithstanding clause to attack people’s charter-protected rights?” said Horwath later in a media scrum. “It’s a black eye on our province. It’s a shame that our premier is such a petty, vindictive human being, whose focus is on himself and his own quest to ‘show those folks in Toronto that he’s the boss of them.’”

Horwath also questioned Ford on why there was no mention of such an initiative in his 2018 provincial election campaign, claiming that he is “tramping over people’s right to override the initiative that he did not have the guts to run on.” She, like many other members of the opposition, were ejected from the chamber for disrupting the reading of the bill by banging on desks, coughing, and yelling words such as “democracy.”

Speaker of the House, Progressive Conservative (PC) MPP, Ted Arnott, Ford, and members of Ford’s cabinet left the chamber abruptly at around 10:50 am, reconvening roughly 20 minutes later.

When asked about the events that took place in the galleries, Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said, “I am fully supportive of our government’s decision to appeal the decision of the Superior Court, which we believe was wrongly decided, and so, we’re appealing that case. And because time is of the essence — there’s an election in the City of Toronto in a few short weeks — we have decided to use a tool that is a available, a legal tool that is available to the legislature.”

“We are using that tool to ensure that… the people of Toronto have rules they need and the clarity that they need for this election.”

Her father, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was a staunch advocate against the notwithstanding clause. When asked what she would say to her father, she replied, “With respect to my father, his views on the notwithstanding clause have been well documented. He is open to the opportunity to speak to those, and he was opposed to the notwithstanding clause when it was introduced — but he recognizes and said yesterday that it is a legal tool available for democratically-elected legislatures to use.”

Steve Clark, PC MPP for Leeds—Grenville, commented on the decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause, saying that “we came here with the mandate to reduce the cost and size of the government.” Clark said that constitutional experts have indicated that the government is “well within” its rights to invoke the clause.

When asked if six hours was enough time for a thoughtful, measured response to the judge’s decision, Clark responded, “Time is of the essence. We’ve got, on October 22, a municipal election. We need to be able to have some certainty around those 25 ridings and that’s why we’re reintroducing the bill.”

Survival strategies for the Ford era

We need to stick up for each other, whether with our time, words, or money

Survival strategies for the Ford era

As Ontario’s favourite Labels and Tags aristocrat sweeps into office, the future of our sweet settler province is starting to seem a little cloudy. We no longer have a kindly lesbian with a no-nonsense haircut representing us in Queen’s Park and, like, bleeding on stuff or doing whatever it is that female politicians do.

Instead, we elected her very antithesis — and now we need to deal with it. However, unlike white wealthy men stumbling into positions of power, this is easier said than done. Everyday, we’re inundated with a range of international issues that demand and deserve our attention. The fact that many of us get to choose what to care about or pay attention to is an incredible privilege.

Nevertheless, the constant onslaught can be a lot to carry.

Personally, the rotting trust fund club that is global politics smacks me in the sternum whenever I open my phone to a goddamn New York Times push alert. That alone gets tiring.

Now I open CBC — usually the home of classical music and soothing radio personalities — to distressing headlines from my home province, my home cities, my home schools. It’s a stark and startling change. How to cope?

1. Do something about it. If you care about health curriculum rollbacks, email the Education Minister. Thanks to bureaucracy, if there’s an issue, there’s a minister. So make your voice heard. Go to protests — heck, organize a protest. Sit on the lawn of Queen’s Park and just fart loudly for a few hours if it makes you feel better. But don’t sit still and complain. If you’re lucky enough to not be directly impacted by the Ford government’s new policies, care for those who are.

2. Okay, now you’ve done something. Keep doing the thing. Get others to do the thing with you.

3. Alright, you’re really doing the thing. So are your roommates and your mom and your chiropractor. Are you tired? Yes. Okay, I respect that. Go home! Make a big pot of pasta. Cover the pasta in something rich in cholesterol and low in nutrients. And have it with a glass of wine on the side and someone you love in front of you. Talk about something silly. Like farts. Can you tell I have a true weakness for scatalogical humour? Oops.

4. Another nice way to unwind? Queer Eye. Say what you will about the show, but there is something so precious and wholesome about its lovely cast that it makes everything seem a little lighter. Plus, with Jonathan van Ness around, you’re pretty much going to church.

5. Turn off the tech! I tend to roll my eyes at The Olds constantly bemoaning the rise of smartphones and the decline of ‘real, human interaction,’ but sometimes it’s nice to swipe over into airplane mode. You don’t need to dissociate entirely, but give yourself a few hours off the news cycle. The news will go on. Haven’t you heard? CTV never sleeps.

6. Do all the classic self-care ritual junk that has been floating around the internet like single use plastic on our oceans’ surfaces. Will a Korean face mask make Ontario Great Again? No, but it might clean out your pores. And honey, based on how stressed I’ve been lately, those boys are clogged!

7. Oh god, okay, I’m gonna have to hit you with another Wholesome Tidbit — but, exercise. I know, I know, I just mentioned heavy carbs. But balance! Yes, our bodies are just flesh vessels, but sometimes it’s nice to get the blood going. I am the kind of embarrassing person who lip syncs along to my music while on the treadmill and occasionally — okay, often — air drums. I also sometimes upper-body dance, which manifests in a strange abdominal wiggle. Do I get hit on at the gym? Rarely.

8. Sit in the park with someone you love, or could love, or might be falling in love with. Friends or otherwise, INTJ or ENTJ, sometimes we all need a little human connection.

9. I am earnest to a fault and can’t help myself with this one, but don’t lose heart! We’ve got a long road ahead, and speaking out can get tiring. Don’t try to do everything all the time. You’re only human and you only have so many hours in a day.

If you’re lucky enough to be ensconced in privilege and emerge intact from Ford’s rollbacks, congratulations! But that’s no free pass. We need to stick up for each other, whether it’s with our time, words, or money. Just remember to put your own oxygen mask on first, too.

In conversation with Greg Essensa, Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer

Essensa talks student engagement, first-past-the-post, safeguarding the ballot ahead of June elections

In conversation with Greg Essensa, Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer

Ontarians will head to the polls on June 7 to elect their representatives at Queen’s Park. In the three months until then, Elections Ontario will be hard at work organizing the ballots. Greg Essensa has been Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer since 2008, and he is the former Toronto Director of Elections and Registry Services. The Varsity spoke with Essensa about how the province was engaging younger generations to vote, and the issues that can prevent them from doing so.

The Varsity: A problem the province has had in the past is engaging students and young people to vote in elections. Do you have any concrete plans to address this issue?

Greg Essensa: This past September, we launched our e-registration application, and we were on all 50 college and university campuses across the province. The idea was to engage students, to let them know their rights, and to ensure that they are registered at the appropriate location.

We’re also educating students, because most students aren’t aware that under the Elections Act here in Ontario, they have the ability to pick their residence. If they’re, let’s say, a student that lives in Toronto but is going to Western, they have the opportunity to pick their riding in Western as their home riding for the election.

TV: This year, the provincial elections are during the summer, specifically in June, rather than in the fall, when most students have classes. Do you think this will encourage students to go vote if they aren’t in class at the time?

GE: I think it encourages students to go vote. One of the challenges we often have with fall elections are the students are engaged in their academic studies. If they have a term paper, if they have some examination that’s coming up, they get very engaged in their studies — which they should — sometimes voting becomes a secondary thought to them.

But in June, for most students,

schools are out, students are very engaged. It also allows them to participate in the democratic process. They can work for us, they can get engaged with political parties, and it allows them to become proactive civil society students and getting involved in that democratic process, in the means and the ways that they wish to.

TV: Ontario has for years debated moving from the current system of first-past-the-post to a mixed-member-proportional system. Even the University of Toronto Students’ Union has shifted to using ranked ballots. Does Elections Ontario swing one way, or support any kind of referendum movement to decide a shift or not?

GE: Our role at Elections Ontario is to be neutral and impartial, which means we don’t really engage in a public policy debate. Should the legislature examine a different means of voting, like they did in 2007, Elections Ontario’s role becomes primarily about educating the electorate on what those changes are.

Our role is to provide them what we would need, how it would be administered, are there costs implications, et cetera. Our role in public policy debates is to remain neutral, and to ensure that we are providing factual evidence and information to the various stakeholders who require it.

TV: In recent elections, both in Canada and across the world, accusations have been made regarding the validity of the elections process. What processes does Elections Ontario have to safeguard the elections?

GE: Fundamentally, our elections process in Canada has been very well regarded because of the fact that it’s very simple. When you come to a poll, we have a deputy returning officer, a poll clerk to ensure that there’s no one ‘stuffing the ballot box.’ We balance the process.

The beauty of the electoral process here in Ontario and in Canada is the fact that the confidence that electors have that once they drop their ballot in that box, they know that the ballot will be voted in a fair, transparent fashion, and that the result that I reported will reflect the will of the people. I think our job is to ensure that that integrity and that confidence in the electoral process is maintained.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

UTSC hosts Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development

Mitzie Hunter talks OSAP, transit improvements at student town hall

UTSC hosts Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) and Centennial College Students’ Association Incorporated (CCSAI) hosted a student town hall with Minister Mitzie Hunter on March 14 at the UTSC campus.

Hunter is the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development and the MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood. She is currently running for re-election as the Ontario Liberal candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood.

The town hall discussion focused on accessible tuition, which is highlighted in the recent provincial budget’s reformed OSAP program, as well as issues surrounding domestic and international tuition fees, experiential learning, and transit affordability for students.

Hunter reminisced on her days at UTSC as an undergraduate student. “It was on this campus that I found meaning and strength to that voice,” she said. “We would sit as students and debate for hours… It was on this campus, in this university, that my scope and definition of the world and my place in that was expanded.”
She also spoke about her work on OSAP reform. “Over 224,000 students, in fact, have access to free tuition through OSAP… Students are graduating with less financial burden than otherwise,” said Hunter.

Hunter said she was dedicated to making postsecondary education more accessible to students of all backgrounds, especially underrepresented groups.

“We’re very committed to that as a government, continuing to invest in the skills and in the talent of our people and making sure that Ontario is a province that is fair and inclusive for everyone,” she said.

In the Q&A session, students asked questions about the future of transit systems and infrastructure in Scarborough, investments in postsecondary education, accessible education for Indigenous people, experiential learning, and the rising costs of tuition fees.

Regarding transit systems, Hunter talked about the many projects that are both currently underway and planned – one of them being the Guildwood GO Station.

“It’s being completely redesigned, and we’re adding a third track… so that at the end of the day, we can introduce a GO Regional Express Rail, which means that we will have faster service across our system,” said Hunter.

She also mentioned the possibility of extending a transit system to the UTSC campus: “I am going to fight to expand the [Scarborough] RT from Kennedy station along Eglinton Morningside to the UTSC campus, so that students can get where they need to go faster and more comfortably.”

Hunter brought up her annual youth career fair program to reflect on the importance of experiential learning. She believes that “students as young as grade seven, as well as high school students, need to get a sense of who they want to be in the future.”

She also highlighted the importance of experiential learning outside of school, which she said can further contribute to students’ success in postsecondary education and the job market.

“Experiential learning is really helping to bring students closer to the jobs of the future, because it’s really about work-integrated learning, so while students are learning in school, they have an opportunity to have hands-on real-world experience, which actually enhances what they’re learning in the classroom,” said Hunter.

Hunter has also helped in creating a program called Career Kickstart to help students coming out of postsecondary to get their first job.

“Employers need to be more open to hiring students, so we’ve created a program to help bridge that,” she said. “We’ve invested in many different programs across the province that are helping students to get real hands on experience while they’re learning.”

When one student asked why the government is drawing funding from postsecondary institutions, which they said is leading to higher tuition costs, Hunter replied that contrary to popular belief, the government has actually increased investments in postsecondary education and will “continue to increase our support” for postsecondary education.

Hunter says that access has improved with the reformed OSAP program. The reformed program removes the age limit so that people can easily access postsecondary education at different stages in their lives. It also takes away the requirement that Indigenous students contribute $3,000 to the program.

North end of Queen’s Park to close for revitalization project

Popular shortcut from Vic, St. Mike’s to remain fenced off until October

North end of Queen’s Park to close for revitalization project

The north end of Queen’s Park will be closed from March to October as part of a revitalization project tackling the aging infrastructure and damaged green space in the park.

The Queen’s Park North Improvements plan comes after years of increased usage of the historic downtown park by the booming population of nearby residents and tourists alike. The current infrastructure of the park lacks reliable paths and consistent benches.

Queen’s Park North makes up the section of the park north of Wellesley Street. The north end of this section — from the central King Edward VII Plaza to the top of the circle — will be closed for the first phase of the revitalization until October. The south side of Queen’s Park North will be closed off from March 2019 to August 2019. The construction notice states that “a pedestrian access path will be provided,” but it is unclear whether that path will lead through or around the closed-off area.

The project began in 2014 with extensive community and stakeholder consultations. The city’s plan for upgrading the park’s usability is to create better infrastructure for moving through the space, adding seating, and improving access points to the park, particularly at the Hoskin Avenue entrance, which is also a vital connection to campus.

A permanent walkway encircling the park will be built, replacing the well-trodden dirt path currently there and making the park more accessible for jogging. Some of the existing dilapidated paths will be demolished in favour of a more structured system of main walkways in and through the park.

One major addition coming with the project is a new Queen’s Park Promenade, connecting the Highlanders Monument of Canada Plaza at the northernmost end of the park with the King Edward VII Plaza in the centre with a wide walkway lined with benches.

Another objective of the project is the revitalization of its trees and lawns. The large trees of the park are a unique quality in the middle of the city, and the city will be planting more trees to ensure that the “urban canopy” is protected. Ninety large canopy and 70 understorey deciduous trees will be added to the park, alongside new grass turf and spring flowering bulbs along some walkways.

“When walking through the park, I often notice how empty the physical space is. With few benches, statues, and trees, the park itself is not visually appealing,” said U of T student Karel Peters. “I think that green space, especially in large cities, is very important. It’s nice to know that parks are still valued. Hopefully the improvements will create a more inviting atmosphere.”

Premier Wynne talks minimum wage, mental health at Hart House

U of T visit part of town hall series before 2018 election

Premier Wynne talks minimum wage, mental health at Hart House

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Hart House on March 1, delivering a keynote address and participating in a moderated discussion hosted by the Hart House Debates & Dialogues Committee. The event was largely focused on student-related subjects.

The discussion and Q&A period with the audience, led by Debates & Dialogue Committee student chair Aceel Hawa, focused on the province’s minimum wage increase and issues of mental health.

During her address, Wynne emphasized the significance of publicly funded education, which she described as “the most important” government responsibility. “I’m in politics because I believe that there is inherent unfairness in our world — that’s a reality that we deal with,” she said. “I came into politics because of my deep commitment to publicly funded education.”

Wynne also spoke to the controversial decision to increase the minimum wage to $15 by January 2019. The change, she said, was balanced with a decrease in small business taxes from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent as well as youth hiring subsidies. She added that the minimum wage change is closer to providing a living wage for GTA workers and was instituted during an opportune time of economic growth.

Audience members expressed concern that the government had failed to deal with employers sidestepping the minimum wage increase by cutting worker benefits and breaks. In response, Wynne said the number of Ministry of Labour inspectors visiting businesses had been increased to ensure that improvements for workers would materialize.

“The vast majority of employers are following and complying with the law, but we’re very determined to make sure that happens,” said Wynne. “If we find that it’s not, we’ll move ahead with making more changes.”

Another topic addressed by Wynne during the Q&A session was mental health. She said that the government had a clear plan to put more money into support on campus and in the community. “You will see, as we move forward, we are going to make more investments to provide more practitioners, more places for people to go to find mental health supports.”

The Premier’s visit was part of a series of town hall-style events that have recently focused on issues relevant to postsecondary students. The province will take to the polls in a general election in June 2018.

Free pharmacare — if you’re younger than 25

Is the new OHIP+ program really a step in the right direction?

Free pharmacare — if you’re younger than 25

If you were to ask random passersby for examples of distinctly Canadian things, you would be sure to collect an eclectic mish-mash of responses. These would likely be topped by maple syrup and hockey, perhaps with an honourable mention of colourful money and the CN Tower. Among these answers would likely be our universal healthcare system.

Given that nearly all developed nations, with the noticeable exception of the US, have adopted some form of free, accessible, universal healthcare, it may be considered odd that Canadians take such pride in a system that is not unique to them.

Statistics Canada reported in its 2013 General Social Survey that our health care system was our second greatest source of national pride, tied with Canada’s armed forces, with 64 per cent of Canadians polled reporting being proud of it.

Yet, despite the lavish praise, Canada’s national health care system lacks what many systems in other developed countries have: a subsidized prescription drug program.

Approximately one in 10 Canadians are forced to forego prescribed medication due to financial difficulties. Such difficulties are one of the many issues that the Government of Ontario chose to tackle in its 2017 budget with the introduction of the new OHIP+ program.

Having come into effect on January 1 of this year, OHIP+ provides more than 4,400 medications — that were only partially covered by the existing Ontario Drug Benefit plan — free of charge to anyone under the age of 25 in Ontario with a health card number.

“Young people aged 19-24 are less likely to have access to prescription drug coverage or the financial means to pay out-of-pocket due to higher unemployment and lower incomes,” wrote David Jensen from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s Communications and Marketing Division. “The unemployment rate for youth (aged 15-24) in Ontario is almost three times higher than the unemployment rate for adults over the age of 25.”

Dr. Danielle Martin of U of T’s Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation and the university’s School of Public Policy and Governance sees OHIP+ as a step forward for the province.

“The introduction of OHIP+ is an amazing accomplishment for young people and their families in Ontario. Doctors often see families in our offices who cannot afford to pay for their prescription medicines, and sometimes those medicines are lifesaving or critical to a child or youth’s quality of life,” explained Martin.

Martin is one of the authors of the Pharmacare 2020 report, which calls for universal national coverage of some medications, and she has defended single-payer health care systems before the US Senate.

She made it clear, though, that this program is just the first step. “Covering prescription medicines for people up to age 25 is a critical step on the road to universal pharmacare in Canada, and it will make a big difference for a lot of people. Now we just need to close the gap between ages 25 and 65.”

Painting OHIP+ as the best step toward a universal pharmacare program is not the most accurate depiction. A recent Parliamentary Budget Officer report shows that introducing a fully universal program right off the bat would in fact be cheaper than OHIP+ in the long-term.

This has prompted some criticism of OHIP+. U of T’s Dr. Jessica Ross is among its critics, stating that “OHIP+ is a small step forward, but not a smart one” in an opinion piece published by the Toronto Star. Instead, Ross supports the adoption of free pharmacare for Ontarians of all ages.

There are also concerns about how the province will pay for OHIP+ — with a $465 million price tag, the expansion will not come cheap.

Despite being included in what the Liberal Party describes as a balanced budget, the $465 million figure is dubious, as a breakdown is not included in the budget document itself. This caused Ontario New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath to postulate that the expansion was a last-minute addition to the budget.

Regardless, the reception among some U of T students has been warm. “OHIP+ is a net positive for students everywhere,” said UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh. “We expect it to complement the UTSU plan, and we don’t foresee any negative impact.”

The more cynical among us may wonder about the timing of the expansion. It is not out of line to think that the introduction of OHIP+, in conjunction with the minimum wage hike and recently improved OSAP benefits, is a play by the Liberals to woo young voters before the upcoming provincial election this summer.

How effective is this move? Only time — and the ballot boxes — will tell.

OPSEU, CEC claim success with arbitration agreement following college strike

Agreement settles wage increase, academic freedom

OPSEU, CEC claim success with arbitration agreement following college strike

On December 20, one month after the Ontario government ended last fall’s college faculty strike with back-to-work legislation, the two sides have completed a binding arbitration agreement mandated in the legislation to settle all outstanding issues. Both the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which initiated the strike, and the College Employer Council (CEC) say they are satisfied with the conclusion of the agreement, which was brought together by arbitrator William Kaplan.

The main components of the Kaplan award, as the agreement is called, are a wage increase of 7.75 per cent over the course of four years, a payment of $900 to full-time staff and $450 to part-time staff to satisfy claims and grievances filed as a result of the strike, academic freedom in terms of curriculum and research, and a government-mandated task force to look into the lack of full-time positions and excess of contract-workers.

Both parties acknowledged the impact the strike and arbitration had on students, who lost five weeks of learning. Jonathan Singer, professor and president of the faculty union at Seneca College, said, “I’d like to express my tremendous thanks for the support that we received from union locals at the University of Toronto and also from college and university students province-wide.”

Both parties are claiming success through the arbitration after some of the more controversial matters were settled. OPSEU cited the establishment of academic freedom as a success; the CEC consider the retention of control over academic programming a win.

“We are happy to have gained academic freedom as a consequence of the strike,” Singer said.

Pat Kennedy, president of the faculty union at Algonquin College, agrees that the result is a success for OPSEU, but says he is “perplexed” as to why the CEC also viewed the agreement as a victory.

“They’re just trying to save face,” said Kennedy. “I have yet to hear any articulation from any management as to what they got [from the arbitration].”

Don Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer of the CEC and member of the bargaining team, said that although Kaplan awarded OPSEU the academic freedom it wanted, “he did not award… academic control. So the issue of programming, academic programming, remains in the hands of the institution.”

Looking forward, Singer said that they are “very hopeful that the province-wide task force… will be addressing issues of full-time versus part-time complement and academic governance at Ontario’s colleges.” The use of part-time faculty was a matter of contention during the strike that has yet to be solved.

“We wish that we had been negotiating with an employer who was willing to address issues at the bargaining table rather than one that was committed to stonewalling until the government legislated us back to work,” said Singer.

Sinclair says he is aware of the impact the arbitration agreement has on relations between the CEC and the faculty.

“I think it’s been a tough strike for everyone. I think with the award it will help put to rest some of the issues, and that we [will] all just move forward and try to [rebuild] our positive relationships,” Sinclair said.