Music, activities revive dying York social scene

Some York University students have been trying to revive the dull social scene on the near-empty campus, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 23.

On Wednesday, a day after CUPE Local 3903 rejected the deal offered by the school, a larger than normal flow of students streamed through the hallways. In the heart of the school, the sweet sound of music echoed through Vari Hall. Students listened while Nick Nibbs, 20, and members of his Red Nimbus pop band provided a little more than entertainment. It was musical therapy for his frustrated colleagues.

Nibbs, a second-year environmental studies student, refuses to allow the strike to dampen the band’s motivation to have a "musician jam" on campus. "We can come here and be as loud as we want because there’s no classes," he said. "I think people enjoy it."

While Nibbs and his crew kept warm inside, members of the Campus For Christ student club were pacing outside, many waving placards to advertise a debate dubbed "Does God Exist?" which is scheduled for next Thursday.

Kaitlyn Heming, 21, a second-year psychology student and one of the event’s organizers, said they are depending on international students living on campus to boost attendance at the debate. "We had this planned before the strike happened so we’re not going to change all our life plans," she said.

International students were hit the hardest because they got stuck on campus without direct family support and activities to pass the time.

Hamid Osman,York Federation of Students president, said the once-vibrant campus has lost much of its appeal because of the protracted labour dispute. The federation has been cancelling some events while others have been placed on hold. "With the strike being more than 70 days, students have become frustrated," Osman said. "Students don’t know when they will be going back to the classrooms."

  • The union representing striking York University workers made a counter-offer a day after Premier Dalton McGuinty brought in Reg Pearson, Ontario’s chief mediator, "to bang a few heads together" and resolve the 11-week impasse, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 23.

It’s the first move since talks collapsed on Jan. 9 and the University asked the province to conduct a ratification vote on its final offer.

"We’ve made a comprehensive settlement offer," Tyler Shipley, spokesperson for Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903, said last night. He would not go into specifics but said, "job security remains the key priority and so is the issue of funding for graduate students."

It’s the fifth "significant" counter-offer made by the union since the strike began, Shipley said. "As long as the University stays at the table, there’s no reason we should not be able to work out an agreement. I think there are positive signs," Shipley added.

Earlier in the day, Pearson, who shuttled between York University officials and the union, said he was confident of a resolution. "It’s really an early stage in terms of discussion with the folks here but I’m hopeful," said Pearson. "I’m the eternal optimist."

The two sides remained in different rooms at a Vaughan hotel for most of the day yesterday and did not come face to face. Pearson said he was trying to get a handle on the issues and "see if there is any flexibility. I’m basically going through a process of discussion but it will take a lot of time," he said after meeting both sides for the first time.

Pearson, who brings 32 years of negotiating experience to the table, said issues are always complex in a university setting. "It will require some frank dialogue. But the solution is clearly with the (two) parties. It’s up to them to make some tough decisions. My role is a voice of encouragement, and the catalyst," he said.

 Meanwhile, McGuinty’s refusal to legislate an end to the strike due to fear of a court challenge is just an "excuse", says Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory.

McGuinty is ruling out an early recall of the legislature to introduce back-to-work legislation to resolve the dispute because of a landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision.

Instead, the premier is hoping Pearson can get the University and the union to settle. But Tory – a lawyer familiar with the precedent-setting ruling between the province of British Columbia and unionized health services support workers, which curbs the ability to enforce back-to-work legislation – rejected McGuinty’s concern, saying the BC decision dealt with different circumstances.

Government officials are worried CUPE could successfully challenge any back-to-work bill in court thanks to the ruling, which suggested such measures are acceptable only in "cases of essential services, administration of the State, clear deadlock and national crisis."  

  • At a meeting of the University’s Senate yesterday, angry students in the audience shouted at President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and other [York] executive members, many angered by news that 5,000 students in four separate areas of study would return to the classroom on Monday, said The Globe and Mail Jan. 23.

Alex Bilyk, chief spokesperson for the University, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the Senate Executive had decided to resume classes in programs facing looming accreditation exams and organized internships.

One such program was the Faculty of Education’s Pre-Service Full-time Consecutive program. Students had previously been blocked by the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, which prevents students from attending classes or completing their practicum at institutions where the staff are on strike. Last week, the federation gave its blessing to reinstating the program, Bilyk said.

But at yesterday’s meeting Shoukri encountered loud criticisms for a perceived lack of effort in keeping both sides at the bargaining table. "I doubt there’s anyone in this room who wants to see this strike end more than me," he said. "I didn’t come here to preside over a divided organization."

Shortly after the deal was rejected, an e-mail was sent to students to meet at a bar to "celebrate", according to Nicholas Ross, a 19-year-old York student who has teamed up with his mother to build a Facebook site and a blog urging a resolution to the strike. "It’s almost like some of the union members are starting to feel as if they’re fighting for a greater cause and everything, and I personally don’t see it," he said. "And I think the feeling among students is it’s a little bit delusional."

  • It doesn’t take a degree to know the math isn’t good for Premier Dalton McGuinty when it comes to the strike at York University, wrote Jim Coyle in the Toronto Star Jan. 23.

More than 50,000 students at York have been shut out of class for 11 weeks because a few thousand teaching assistants have decided 9.25 per cent raises over three years aren’t good enough.

Any way you add those figures, they leave a lot of frustrated students, about as many sets of furious parents and almost twice as many angry grandparents – many of whom scrimped and sacrificed for young people who are the pride, joy and promise of their families.

Politically speaking, that’s a bad equation. And the premier to whom little bad aroma has clung during his years in office might end up wearing this stinker long past the time the picket lines come down.

  • Should the province step in and end the York University strike?, asked The Toronto Sun Jan. 23.

19 per cent: No

81 per cent: Yes

  • The Ontario government is hiding behind "any excuse" to avoid legislating striking York University workers back on the job, Conservative Leader John Tory says, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 23.

Tory said yesterday that the most recent reason given by the Liberals – a Supreme Court ruling that limits the power of governments to legislate a return to work – does not apply in this case.

"For reasons totally beyond, (Premier Dalton McGuinty) seems willing to make up any excuse not to act in the case of York University," he said. "I think for him to keep on with one excuse after another as to why he can’t or shouldn’t or doesn’t want to act is a complete abdication of leadership on his part."

  • Business student Lyndon Koopmans is among the 5,000 lucky ones returning to class on Monday as thousands of other York University students continue to wait it out, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 23. "It is a step in the right direction," Koopmans said yesterday. "A lot of people are upset and frustrated about not going back to classes."

Koopmans, 18, of Guelph, is heading back because some of his teachers belong to the York University Faculty Association and will be in class on Monday.

Business student Sherry, who didn’t want her last name used, said even though she is returning to class, the University isn’t the same with a strike still going on. "It’s like a ghost town here," Sherry said. "I don’t know how much longer I can afford being here not doing anything."

Film theory student Alex Pylyshyn, 21, said he’ll have to take summer school to finish his classes. "I am losing my year because of this," Pylyshyn said. "If I can drop out and start again or even transfer to another school I will."

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said the University welcomed the return to class by faculty association members. "This is good news for the students affected," Bilyk said. "We are trying to get them back to classes as soon as possible."

He said the University is optimistic after a meeting with newly appointed provincial mediator Reg Pearson.

CUPE Local 3903 spokesperson Tyler Shipley said the University is dragging its feet. "We are pleased that the premier has appointed his top negotiator," Shipley said. "We have no intention of walking away from the bargaining table."

Students are being urged to visit York’s Web site at to see if they have classes, wrote the Sun.

  • Dart to York University in Toronto for failing to get its labour-management house in order, wrote the Simcoe Reformer Jan. 23 in its Dart & Laurels editorial. A strike by 3,340 teaching assistants that began Nov. 6 threatens to ruin the academic year of 50,000 students. Needless to say, high-school students everywhere in Ontario are striking York from their preferred list of postsecondary institutions.
  • A photo in the Toronto Star showed some CUPE members at York University cheering joyfully as they heard the news their members rejected the school’s offer Tuesday night, wrote The Sault Star Jan. 23 in an editorial. Thumbs down to this cheering crowd. You’d think they won the lottery. You’d think that 50,000 students didn’t have their lives turned upside down. You’d think the economy was doing so great that it makes sense to hold out for a better deal than one that includes an initial offer of a 9.25 per cent pay hike over three years.
    Oh well, there’s plenty of money if we just squeeze students, their parents and the taxpayers for a little more. The premier brought in a mediator to "bang some heads" and get a deal. It’s about time. If that doesn’t work, we strongly suggest he use legislation to end this ordeal. If not, the students will have every right to expect a refund for their tuition.
  • Dave Scharbach rents a room in a house in Toronto with about a dozen other York University students, wrote the Sault Star Jan. 23.

Scharbach said the atmosphere there has lately been one of frustration, as an 11-week strike by teaching assistants, graduate and contract faculty at the school drags on. "It’s a tough position – we don’t know whether or not to go home, everybody’s paying rent," and not inclined to give up their part-time jobs, said Scharbach.

Scharbach, a 23-year-old Sault Ste. Marie native, should be in the final semester of a four-year communications degree at York. Instead, he’s anxiously whiling away his time. Scharbach said as the strike gets longer he is increasingly concerned about his plans to graduate this year. Not to mention the summer internship he has his heart set on.

Despite the disappointment of Tuesday’s no vote, Scharbach said he hopes for a resolution soon, followed by a quick review of the fall material and a final exam, or a midterm in the case of a full-year course. Students could then do a condensed final semester and graduate on time. "In my opinion, that would be the best," he said.

A student rally will take place at Queen’s Park on Tuesday and Scharbach said he plans to be part of it. He said he recently e-mailed Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students, calling for a vote on what stance the student government should take in the labour dispute. "I don’t feel that they’re really representing the students," said Scharbach.

  • Several members of the York community gave interviews about the strike on radio and television Jan. 22:
    • Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students, spoke on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” and AM640 Radio.
    • An international student named Amina spoke about how the strike is affecting her on Hamilton’s CHAM Radio.
    • Nora Kharouba, spokesperson for, talked about the return of some students to class on CFRB Radio.
    • Nick Ross, York student whose mother Dagmar Kanzler set up an online group to protest the strike, spoke on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning”.
    • Phil An, York student, spoke on Brantford’s CKPC-FM Radio.
    • Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, spoke about the appointment of a new mediator on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning”, Global TV and “A” Channel news in Barrie and London, Ont.
    • Tyler Shipley spoke on Global TV.
    • Yolan Williams, president of the International Students Association at York, spoke about the impact of the strike on her members on CBC Newsworld.
    • Students Josh Singh Atwal and Rabeeah Chatni, spoke about the strike on CityTV.
    • York student Elizabete Rego spoke about the strike on CFMT-TV’s “Telejournal” Portuguese news.

York profs sign letter to governor general on parliamentary tradition

In light of the recent events, it has become clear that many Canadians are unfamiliar with some of the basic rules of our constitutional democracy, wrote a group of Canadian professors, including three from York, in the Toronto Star Jan. 23. In a recent Ipsos Reid poll, 51 per cent of participants mistakenly thought Canadians directly elect their prime minister, they wrote. We feel it is our duty, as constitutional scholars, to clarify the rules governing the appointment of government.

After a general election, the governor general of Canada normally asks the leader of the party that has gathered a majority of seats in the House of Commons to become the prime minister and to form a government. According to the principle of responsible government, the government must enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons in order to govern legitimately.

It is our opinion that in the event of a non-confidence vote or a request for dissolution of Parliament after only 13 sitting days of the House of Commons, the governor general would be well advised to call on the leader of the opposition to attempt to form a government.

The signatories from York were political scientist Barbara Cameron of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, and Bruce Ryder and Francois Tanguay-Renaud of Osgoode Hall Law School.

Donation rules require rebuilding

Mayoral and council candidates will insist they cannot be bought, but an examination of campaign donations to municipal election candidates in York Region by a York University professor could leave one thinking otherwise, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun Jan. 22 in an editorial that cites the study by political scientist Robert MacDermid of York’s Faculty of Arts.

They would be left thinking those who run our cities and towns are beholden to the business community first and foremost, and developers in particular, for donating the lion’s share of the money that helped them get elected. For those already left with the feeling developers have paved paradise and put up a parking lot – and a subdivision – on every old farm field, to learn they are the largest single contributors to election campaigns is hardly reassuring.

MacDermid’s research suggests developers as a group are able to identify candidates who are "pro-development" and funnel money their way. The result is donation totals that eclipse anything given by private citizens.

Almost living the dream

As Vancouver Canucks winger Mason Raymond and the rest of the NHL’s YoungStars take to the ice at this weekend’s all-star festivities, youngsters like Cody Hodgson can only dream of what might one day be, wrote The Vancouver Sun Jan. 23.

Hodgson, the Canucks’ first-round pick at the 2008 draft, dazzled the hockey-watching world at the world junior tournament in Ottawa earlier this month, racking up 16 points in six games to lead all tournament scorers.

The 18-year-old wonder on ice has also been setting scoresheets on fire for the Ontario Hockey League’s Brampton Battalion, having tucked away 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points, a single point out of the league’s top 10, just halfway through the season.

Off the ice, Hodgson tries to lead the normal life of an 18-year-old. (At least until he turns 19 on Feb. 18.) He was accepted into the business program at York University but attending Canucks camp made him miss the fall semester. And now that the University [teaching assistants and contract faculty are] on strike, he doesn’t know what he is going to do about school. But he figures there’s lots of time in the future to worry about that.

Small towns are big pro fodder says study co-authored by York prof

Sorry, Toronto, but smaller cities are more likely to produce elite athletes, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 23. That is according to research by York University Professor Joe Baker, of the Faculty of Health, who also investigated the effect of birthdates among top athletes.

A 2005 study in the Journal of Sport Sciences found that the optimal community size for the development of a professional athlete is greater than 1,000 but less than 500,000 – places where children enjoy more space and unstructured play compared to urban centres.

"Smaller cities present fewer safety concerns, better access to open spaces, and less competing sources of leisure time use by children," the study notes. "The (birthplace) effect could be mainly due to skill acquisition related to the quality and quantity of play and practice afforded by the physical environment of smaller cities."

As well, "there may also be greater diversity in player size and ability in small cities, since all the children from the neighbourhood gather to play together independent of age and ability." This environment may allow young athletes to better develop expertise in their sports.

The study’s lead author was Queen’s University sports psychologist Jean Cote, with Baker from York University credited as co-author along with Bruce Abernethy of the University of Hong Kong’s Institute of Human Performance and Dany J. MacDonald from Queen’s.

Teacher of the Week is a York grad

She’s fun, enthusiastic, and likes to get her students excited about learning, wrote the Dunnville Chronicle Jan. 23. A former graduate of Dunnville Secondary School, Jessica MacLeod (BEd ’04) is happy to be back at DSS as a teacher. It took her a while to get into teaching. Since her graduation from York’s Faculty of Education, MacLeod has taught at Cayuga Secondary School, Hagersville Secondary School, Pauline Johnson Collegiate & Vocational School, Dunnville Secondary School, and she has supply taught at various schools. She has taught many classes ranging from history to foods. MacLeod said she has enjoyed every class, as they have all been good experiences.

Osgoode grad at centre of Fiat-Chrysler plans

In the shadow of the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as US president, Chrysler and Fiat announced some history of its own, confirming a potential deal that would not only give Fiat 35 per cent of the ailing Detroit automaker for basically nothing, but would also put two Canadians at the forefront of Chrysler’s recovery efforts, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 22.

Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne (LLB ’83) was born in Italy, but grew up and went to university in Canada, received his MBA from the University of Windsor in the shadow of Detroit, his law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and is a member of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

The little dance show that could

Dances for a Small Stage attracts the biggest names in dance in Vancouver and Canada, wrote The Province (Vancouver) Jan. 19. The four-night event draws audiences that line up to get tickets and people who otherwise might not see dance. And it also gives great exposure to some of the best talent in the country.

Small Stage is the creation of Day Helesic (BFA Spec. Hons. ’93) and Julie-Anne Saroyan (BFA Spec. Hons. ’94), who are both co-artistic producers at MovEnt dance company. This run celebrates 20 performances of Small Stage over seven years.

There was a similar event back in Helesic and Saroyan’s native Ontario, where the two met in ballet class when they were five. They hooked up again at York University where they both studied dance and pooled their talents.

Is Danforth East the new Parkdale?

Sandwiched between an Ethiopian convenience store and a defunct Bulgarian social club, List Gallery’s now-sunny storefront at 1385 Danforth Ave. used to offer the streetscape little more than closed blinds, wrote the National Post Jan. 17. But beyond those blinds lay a working artists’ studio. In fact, the rest of the unit past the gallery’s rear wall still serves as shared studio space for artists Janine Miedzick, Jay Wilson (MFA ’08), Kelvin Britton and Svava Juliusson (MFA ’07), the Monarch Park resident who opened the gallery.

“We’ve been renting this unit as studio space for a couple of years,” says Juliusson, an East Coast transplant who met her studio mates while doing a master of fine arts degree in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 2006. “It’s a really reasonable deal for Toronto, and several of us already lived in the area.” When one artist decided to move out post-new baby, Juliusson took on a second share of the rent to create List.

Lawyer had heart for causes

For Osgoode grad Angus McKenzie (BARR ’53), a room full of people was an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up, wrote The London Free Press Jan. 21 in an obituary.

“He would introduce himself, chat you up and have your e-mail address. Before you knew it, not only would you be on a committee, but you would be chair without even realizing how that happened to you,” said McKenzie’s daughter Kate as she mourned the loss of her father.

The London lawyer and tireless community worker died Monday night, a few days after suffering a major stroke. He was 82. The son of a St. Thomas green grocer, McKenzie did his bachelor of arts degree at the University of Western Ontario and graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1953.

On air

  • Alan Middleton, marketing professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the difference between ceremonies for the US president and Canadian prime minsters on CBC Radio in Sudbury Jan. 22.
  • Joanne Duklas, York University registrar, spoke about fraudulent degrees on Global TV Jan. 22.