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Trent President and Vice-Chancellor Leo Groarke went for a paddle on the Morning of November 4th, 2022 while CUPE Educations Workers protested the Ford Government's invocation of the Notwithstanding Clause.

Editorial: Institutions and Leaders Continue to Fail Us

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
and
and
November 24, 2022
Editorial: Institutions and Leaders Continue to Fail Us
Trent President and Vice-Chancellor Leo Groarke went for a paddle on the Morning of November 4th, 2022 while CUPE Educations Workers protested the Ford Government's invocation of the Notwithstanding Clause.

November got off to a bit of a rocky start for people who value their Charter Rights. But thanks to an incredible display of solidarity between workers and unions, both public and private, the Ford Government was forced to put their tail between their legs and admit that their gross overstep in invoking Section 33 and ripping away the rights of workers in this province was a step too far, even for them. 

Throughout the two days of labour action, a familiar refrain was heard on the front lines of the protest—“an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” This was the feeling on the ground and amongst those who showed up. At this time we might do well to ask who exactly sees themselves as a part of this collective “us” and whose silence/inaction aligns them with the overstepping, Charter right-crushing government at Queen’s Park? 

MPP Dave Smith’s office was closed to foot traffic on the day of the protest and made sure to tell the Examiner that he had appointments elsewhere in the riding that day. Smith never did confirm to Arthur why he felt justified in voting to override his constituents’ rights to collective bargaining, leading us to quietly suspect the most nefarious, but also most likely, of justifications: he just doesn’t care. 

Smith did, however, find the time to retweet Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s propaganda videos on why kids needed to be in class multiple times over the course of the day. In proclaiming that the Government would “use every tool at our disposal to keep schools open,” Lecce revealed himself not only to be a liar, but an exceptionally bold and malicious denier of reality. 

Watching a Premier and his hapless Minister unceremoniously realize the enormity of their miscalculation on live television is a dizzying spectacle, especially as the cracks in the tough-guy facade slowly receded to reveal the scared, overwhelmed visage of an animal about to be run over by a truck. 

But back to Mr. Smith. We must be careful to remember that he is but a lowly back-bench MPP and Parliamentary Assistant, effectively a place-holder, whose main role it is to clap mindlessly when someone from the blue side says something and then vote accordingly. If we can hold this truth to be self-evident, and Smith takes every opportunity to ensure that we cannot reasonably believe otherwise, none of this can be shocking - despite how violently ignorant and inept it shows Smith to be. 

What is shocking, however, is that he is a Trent alumni…wait.

The same can be said of Ottawa’s favourite wine-soaked bathtub-beauty vlogger and noted single-parent of a half dozen youngsters: Michelle Ferreri. Crickets from her, unsurprisingly. To be fair this is, of course, ultimately a provincial matter. To be frank, it’s not as if Justin Trudeau said or did anything particularly noteworthy, besides apparently speak to Doug Ford as if he was a problem child who just threw a baseball through a window on purpose, for the third time in four years. 

Again, none of this is shocking behaviour. However, a look towards the representative bodies of Trent University is a little more worrisome, and just as indicative of a pattern of behaviour which underscores the utter lack of leadership shown through our major local, provincial, and federal institutions in the face of existential threats to our basic rights in this province.

On the morning of November 4th, President and Vice-Chancellor Leo Groarke posted a picture of himself kayaking with the caption “how to start the day,” on Instagram. Leo did this, presumably, because he has an image to uphold as a man who enjoys a paddle on a brisk Autumn morning. What the caption didn’t mention or acknowledge was that he didn’t have to arrange for child-care, nor was Leo particularly worried about whether he would be able to afford dinner that night after missing a day of work. I would go so far as to suggest that it’s code for the fact that he frankly doesn’t care that many of the staff and students at the institution he “leads” would have had some or all of these experiences due to the Ford government’s egregious attack on a fundamental tenet of democracy.  

The TCSA, whose recent Excaliburnt Out event revealed the Association’s keen interest in institutionally-sanctioned solidarity and “protest,” fell silent on the matter of whether they believed Ontarians should enjoy their Charter Rights. Instead, at a time of rampant student food insecurity and a growing housing crisis brought on by unchecked enrollment growth, inflation, OSAP cuts, stagnating wages, and unchecked increases to international student tuition, Trent’s main student government determined that smashing OPSEU pumpkins, whipping tomatoes, and shelling out for a photobooth around a bonfire while tagging @trentprezleo on Instagram is going to change the system. 

The TCSA, taking a page from Mr. Smith’s very thin book, did not respond to Arthur’s questions about Excaliburnt Out in time for publication.

Ultimately, this is more than what the TGSA has done, but frankly, it’s not worth going after a group of people who are basically volunteers, and whose annual budget represents about half the annual salary of the TCSA’s service manager. Could they do more? Absolutely. Should we expect them to? Well, that depends on how masochistic you think graduate students really are.  

We find ourselves in a position where faith in leaders and official institutions to advocate for the rights of workers, students, and marginalized communities is repeatedly shown to be misguided, and even naïve. Their silence and inaction, somehow always followed by or pre-empted by misguided actions, should remind us that the only real way to effectively bring about social change is by gathering our collective strength. In doing so, we can ensure that our labour, our tuition money, our voices, and our unwillingness to continue participating in a broken system which benefits only those who continue to ignore us, will call the people in power to account in ways that go beyond performative, game-show spectacles.

I’m going to be honest here and state for the record that I’m not holding my breath that a few chunks of pumpkin are going to catch Leo’s attention. In my experience, his basic means of engagement with student concerns is to gaslight, deny, and dismiss. Nor do I think it will reach the equally cold hearts and crooked minds of any other member of the Senior Administration or the Board of Governors. I just don’t see them thinking twice about bumping up international student tuition, and bragging to anyone they can corner for more than fifteen seconds about how much they have boosted enrollment, while refusing to increase student services or hire a corresponding number of permanent faculty. 

I’ve spent too much time around these people to be that naïve. I’ll take my pumpkin and tomatoes to go, thank you. Vegetables are too expensive. 

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