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Photos show Doug Ford with Ryerson Students’ Union executive connected to credit card controversy

Ford recently criticized RSU on Twitter to justify changes to student fees framework

Photos show Doug Ford with Ryerson Students’ Union executive connected to credit card controversy

Photos have surfaced showing Premier Doug Ford with Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executive Edmund Sofo at an Ontario Progressive Conservatives Youth barbecue that Ford hosted at his home in August. This comes less than a day after the premier criticized the RSU for unexplained credit card purchases allegedly totalling $250,000, an issue first reported by The Eyeopener.

Ford levelled his criticisms in the wake of his government’s recently announced changes to postsecondary education, which includes an upheaval of the incidental fees framework to implement an opt-out option for student fees that are currently mandatory. Student unions such as the RSU are at risk of having their fees become opt-out.

After The Eyeopener revealed the controversial credit card statements on January 24, Ford tweeted in response that this was why he was “giving students the power to choose to pay for the campus services they actually use,” as opposed to paying for fees that are “wasted and abused.”

On Friday, Sofo abstained from voting in a motion to suspend RSU’s president and vice-president operations following the controversy over finances, as reported by The Eyeopener. 

The barbecue at Ford’s home was also attended by Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton and U of T professor Jordan Peterson.

Doug Ford, Jordan Peterson, Merrilee Fullerton, and Edmund Sofo (from left). Taken from Facebook.

Fullerton’s office is in charge of making the policies around the recent announcements, which also include a 10 per cent cut to tuition and cuts the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

Peterson has attracted controversy over the years for his stances on free speech and his opposition to respecting preferred gender pronouns.

U-Commute panel discussion criticizes public transit, calls for free services

Transportation funding and student fares among main concerns

U-Commute panel discussion criticizes public transit, calls for free services

TTC criticism, alternatives for transportation funding, and student transit were the topics of conversation at an October 20 panel regarding transit in Ontario. The panel included New Democratic Party MPP Cheri DiNovo of Parkdale—High Park, the Green Party of Ontario’s Transportation Critic Tim Grant, Dr. Ehab Diab of the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute, Suhali Barot of transit advocacy group TTCriders, and Moaz Ahmed of transit advocacy group CodeRedTO.The event was organized by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), in line with its U-Commute campaign with Ryerson University, George Brown College, and OCAD University

DiNovo said that the TTC should consider important changes, including providing its services for free. “Make it at least seniors free, people on social assistance free, people with disabilities of all sorts free, and that’s the very least. I think that the aim should be that everyone should travel for free. The service is a necessity, it is not a luxury.”

The TTC was recently named the best public transit agency in North America by the American Public Transportation Association, largely for its ambitious “five-year modernization plan” the strives to improve many aspects of the TTC, such as public safety, employee relations, financial stability, and public reputation.

Grant highlighted more of what he perceived to be shortcomings by the TTC, such as riders contributing 76 per cent of operating costs, “the highest in North America.” He also implied that its current troubles have been caused by ineffective spending on major transit projects in the last 30 years. Barot criticized the elevated cost of transit and explained that a low-income transit pass is “extremely important in a city where a third of the people make minimum wage.”

With regard to funding alternatives for provincial transportation projects, Grant opined that road tolls are a win-win for both public transit and drivers. On the contrary, DiNovo proposed a “progressive taxation” solution, which would mean taxing large corporations “a little bit more,” seeing as Toronto has “the lowest corporate tax rate of any jurisdiction in North America.” She also hinted that the cost of operating future transit systems could be handled by public-private partnerships.

Free or partially funded student transit was both endorsed by Grant and DiNovo. “The province can show real leadership here by providing a free transit for students, which would be ideal… The province can be somewhat of a facilitator, and if not free, at least pay 50 per cent of the cost of student transit,” said Grant.

DiNovo, who will not seek re-election next year, also stated the importance of student participation in getting cheap transit. “It really requires you to be active and noisy … there’s two elections coming up this year: there’s an election in June, provincial, there’s an election next fall in 2018 for the municipal. If you care about this issue, make sure you know where your candidates stand on it and their parties and make sure that you are there at the all-candidates meeting for [them] to answer questions about your transit.”

The panel was preceded by a presentation of the Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan by Metrolinx Director of Regional Planning Antoine Belaieff, which contained the planning decisions required to accommodate transportation growth for the next 25 years in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Belaieff mentioned the challenges currently facing the provincial transportation system, such as the fast-growing population of the GTHA areas and the backlog of investment in the project.

CFS responds to letter from 10 student unions calling for reform

UTSU one of ten signatories

CFS responds to letter from 10 student unions calling for reform

The National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) has told The Varsity that she will work with each of the 10 student unions that signed onto a letter calling for CFS reforms. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) was one of the signatories of the open letter, which was released Monday.

According to UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike, the UTSU and nine other student unions began work on the letter after the CFS National General Meeting in June.

Denike stated that the signatories of the letter “would like to require the CFS to post all of its important documents — including minutes and financial statement — online,” and to guarantee speaking rights for members who submit motions to a general meeting. Denike expressed support for reforming the process of leaving and joining the federation by introducing measures such as online voting for referendums.

When asked about the contents of the letter, CFS Chairperson Bilan Arte said that she has “taken seriously the issues raised and commit to working with these students’ unions and others to ensure their concerns are addressed.” She also noted that the CFS would follow up with all 10 of the students’ unions that signed the letter.

Despite the criticisms, the letter affirms that the signatories remain committed to the CFS’s principles. A portion of the final paragraph of the letter reads, “We hope that our fellow members will work with us to create a fairer, more open Federation in which all students feel at home.”

Arte explained that the CFS encourages member participation, ensures that every submitted motion is held to debate, and that every delegate receives a copy of the minutes and financial information, adding that the CFS is working to get more documents online so that students may freely access them.

“While it’s important to review internal processes, students’ unions and the CFS also exist to fight for students,” said Arte, while citing the CFS’ involvement on campuses with regards to their campaign to eliminate tuition fees.

Meanwhile, other student groups are in the midst of a petition campaign — called You Decide UofT — in an attempt to have a referendum on the UTSU’s continued membership with the CFS. In response to the UTSU’s letter, You Decide UofT representative Jonathan Webb told The Varsity that the campaign is “neutral and has no reaction to the content of the letter,” but believes it will be a good discussion piece in the event they should be successful in having a referendum.

UTSU signs open letter to CFS with nine other member locals

Letter criticizes CFS structure, calls for reform

UTSU signs open letter to CFS with nine other member locals

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is one of the 10 signatories of an open letter to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) criticizing the federation’s structure and what they call a lack of transparency.

In addition to the UTSU, the signatories include the Carleton University Students’ Association, the Cape Breton University Students’ Association, the Ryerson Students’ Union, the Laurentian University Students’ General Association, the University of Regina Students’ Union, the Kwantlen Student Association, the Lakehead Students’ Union, the University of British Columbia Students’ Union Okanogan, and the OCAD Students’ Union.

The concerns that the letter highlights include the availability of the meeting minutes, bylaws, policies, and financial information; the “overly burdensome” defederation process, the power of the CFS staff, the “closed, exclusive nature of general meetings;” and the “lack of space for dissent and for constructive criticism.”

The 10 student associations plan to pass reform motions at the CFS Annual General Meeting in November. “Our motivation for these reforms comes from a desire to strengthen student organizations in Canada to be truly representative and to further reflect the will of our members,” reads a portion of the letter.

Despite the criticisms, the 10 member locals say that they remain committed to the CFS’s principles and support “the existence of a progressive student movement that advances the interests of all students.”

The UTSU had been a member of the CFS since 2003 and is listed under Local 98. Student activist unaffiliated with the UTSU executive have launched a petition campaign called You Decide UofT in an attempt to have a referendum on continued membership with the CFS.

This story is developing, more to come.

UTSU condemns RSU staff changes

Restructuring includes laying off two employees, hiring new general manager

UTSU condemns RSU staff changes

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has distanced itself from the neighbouring Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) following a restructuring of the RSU’s staff on December 1.

The controversial move involved laying off long-term executive director of communications and outreach (EDCO) Gilary Massa and her replacement, Dina Skvirsky, while she was on parental leave, in order to create a new position for a general manager.

The UTSU released a statement on January 14 in which they condemned the RSU’s treatment of Massa and Skvirsky, as well as their decision to hire Natasha Campagna to fill the general manager’s role.

“It is important for students’ unions to demonstrate a commitment to open and equitable hiring as part of our commitment to fighting oppression and promoting equity. It is the UTSU’s position that the RSU has acted in violation of the core values of equitability and hiring in restructuring their organization,” read a portion of the statement.

Andrea Bartlett, RSU president, explained that the “organization faced serious operational challenges,” which prompted the restructuring. Bartlett pointed to issues such as inadequate human resources training, lack of a formal system to track overtime, and an absence of an objective person to negotiate collective bargaining with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 1281, the union representing RSU staff.

“These issues costs [sic] the RSU thousands of dollars of student money each year,” she remarked.

According to Bartlett, an independent third-party conducted a staffing review, the results of which recommended changes such as hiring a non-unionized general manager and eliminating the position of EDCO.

“Reviewers found the position to be redundant as many of its functions were being done by other employees and work was simply being passed through the EDCO,” she stated.

The UTSU criticized these actions for perpetuating structural oppression, referring to the firing of Massa, who is “black, visibly Muslim and a new parent.”

“In a labour market demarcated by race and gender, the firing of these two women effects their further marginalization, especially in the absence of equitable and open hiring practices,” read the statement.

The statement further condemns the RSU’s hiring of “a political ally and close friend to fill their new general manager position.” While the statement acknowledged the temptation to hire people with whom organizations have existing relationships, the UTSU said that it is more often in the interests of students to hire people who can bring different experiences and perspectives to the table.

Bartlett said that the restructuring happened without regard to specifics and that it was about the position, not the employees who held them. “Fired/Terminated and Laid Off have two completely different meanings,” she argued. “It is also extremely important to understand that these two items are separate from one another; the elimination of a role, and the hiring of a non-unionized general manager. Unfortunately, the statement of the UTSU Executive demonstrates a lack of understanding of this fact.”

“I don’t think there’s a misunderstanding [on] the UTSU’s part,” said Ben Coleman, UTSU president. “The point we’re trying to make is that when you view things as positions and not as humans… and you don’t think about who those humans are and what their experiences might be and you don’t view it in the context of your hiring practices and whether those are equitable the end result of all of those actions, if you don’t think about them critically altogether is that you will start building your organization in an institutionally racist way.”

When asked about future collaborations with the RSU, Coleman responded that the UTSU would not want to collaborate on projects that are a “branding exercise” or that serve to elevate the executives.

“[Our] goal in this is to call them in and hopefully they can understand what our position is and maybe think about the ways they can change how [they’re] managing the organization, and manage it in a more equitable way.”