The UW Chevron

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Category: Thomas Little

Where is it safe to eat?

The Region of Waterloo performed health inspections on many restaurants in the UW Plaza this summer and the results are publicly available. But who really knows about these reports and do they really matter?

The inspections evaluate restaurants, bars, and even grocery stores (such as Farah’s Foods) on categories such as the presence of a certified food handler (usually an owner, manager, or supervisor, who has received training on the sanitary handling of foodstuffs), the separation of raw and cooked food (especially meat), and general cleanliness. For example, in 2012, the Pita Factory franchise in the Plaza was found to not be keeping cooked or re-heated food at a high enough temperature to ensure food safety, though this was corrected during the inspection.

Problems exposed by these inspections can be serious and lead to potential cases of food poisoning due to improperly handled or stored food, or a poorly-cleaned kitchen or restaurant area.

Luckily for those who wantto be informed about where they eat, inspections going back two years are published online by the Region of Waterloo. This gives some interesting insights. For example, infractions were much more common going back one or two years; in the earliest reports from 2012, a majority of restaurants had multiple infractions, some critical infractions (which represent problems or situations where food-borne illness is likely to arise).

In contrast, the reports from the summer of 2014 show few critical infractions in the Plaza, and many restaurants (including the Pita Factory franchise mentioned earlier) had no infractions whatsoever. This does not imply that there were no critical infractions — in fact, the Waterloo Sogo Restaurant had two: improper separation of raw and ready-to-eat or already-prepared foods in storage and storage of potentially hazardous food at too high of a temperature (that is, improper refrigeration or freezing of food). Critical infractions were additionally reported for Nuri Village, Al-Madina Restaurant, Lotus Barbecue House, Waterloo Star, Meet Point Restaurant, and Go Eat Chinese Restaurant, all for similar improper separation of raw and ready-to-eat or prepared food.

This information shows that while the fast food served at some plaza restaurants may be unhealthy, myths of food poisoning from certain notorious restaurants may be unfounded. However, if you believe that you have been made sick by food from a certain restaurant or if you believe that a restaurant or other food-related plaza business is operating under unsanitary conditions, you should report it to Region of Waterloo Public Health.

Public health inspection reports can be viewed at http://checkit.regionofwaterloo.ca/portal/Facility.

Construction delays leave students out in the cold

Author: Thomas Little

Construction delays at a new high-rise apartment complex in Waterloo has left up to 500 students searching for alternative accommodations.

The building is “One Columbia” (located at 1 Columbia Street West). It is owned by Schembri Property Management and it will be one of the tallest buildings in the Waterloo Region. That is, when it is completed. Unfortunately for students who had signed leases to move in this September, construction delays left hundreds of students with nowhere to stay for the start of the new term (for some, their first term away at university).

The situation, as well as Schembri’s alleged mishandling of it, has angered the prospective tenants; even though construction will be indefinitely delayed, students who chose to simply sign leases for other rental units have found themselves “locked in”, with Schembri withholding their rental deposits. Another complaint is that despite presumably knowing that construction would not be finished for the start of term, the prospective tenants were only notified at the beginning of September, giving them little time to react.

Schembri initially gave the lease-holders two options: either find temporary alternative accommodations or switch your lease to another Schembri property. After several days, Schembri also proposed a third option: stay in one of three hotels and take a shuttle bus to campus. This was a popular option, since as one student explained, “it was immediate and a guaranteed place to stay.” The lease transfer option proved unpopular, mostly because the option given was for 75 Columbia, which is unfurnished.

On Thursday the 4th, a meeting was held by Feds’ Off-Campus Housing service to discuss the options and advise students. But this has still left students frustrated and confused, and significantly, split into two main groups. Talk on a Facebook group for the 1 Columbia tenants indicated, as one student noted, that “a lot of people were so outraged by the delay that they signed new leases with Domus [or] KW4Rent”. They argue that Schembri, by not providing the accommodations agreed to at the time agreed to in the rental contract, has invalidated the rental agreement, and many would rather leave the situation behind than stay in a hotel waiting for the construction to finish. Despite this, Schembri has not offered to officially terminate the contracts and continues to hold deposits (of $1,450 per tenant).

As of the date of publication, Schembri’s website still lists 1 Columbia as “Ready for Occupancy September 2014”.

Students Win Clubs Library

Author: Thomas Little

Last Monday, ordinary students went to their Federation’s General Meeting (GM) and voted on an idea years in the making: a Clubs Library located in the SLC, a proposal which would put the “life” back into “Student Life Centre”. Blocked by the Federation’s Board of Directors (see my article, Feds Shuts Down Debate, in the previous issue), the motion was successfully added “from the floor” (by an ordinary participant) of the GM, to a place near the end of the agenda. Despite many controversial motions which came before it, supporters waited for hours to have a chance to discuss and vote on it, leading to the motion passing. This victory for genuine student democracy is, as usual, not without its critics. Alexander Wray (1B Planning) was a noted opponent of the motion, later writing a vitriolic editorial in the Imprint (Federation Lost, in the latest issue), exclaiming his outrage at the “low democracy [sic] reached at this so-called general meeting of students” – an interesting claim from somebody who pledged support for a bylaw amendment which threatens to lock students out of their own GMs by requiring the permission of the Feds Board of Directors for items to make it onto the agenda.

Regardless of this, the plan will go forward, with the library to likely be outfitted and populated with books during the Spring term. According to Cat Mercer, president of WatSFiC (Waterloo Science Fiction and Fantasy Club):

“I think the library will offer clubs a place to share ideas and (yes, I know this is cheesy) build a community. We’re thinking things like book discussions and book openings could happen there. It’ll give people a place to house their materials and discuss them. So I’m excited.”

Feds Shuts Down Debate

Author: Thomas Little 

Anyone reading the agenda for the upcoming Feds General Meeting (see the editorial for details) may notice that it is a bit short — the newly-elected executives for 2014–2015 will be ratified for their positions, a new Feds Council seat will be created for a representative for the Stratford campus, and some routine items like a gradual increase in the Feds fee are in order. Yet, to a well-informed observer, the agenda betrays a shocking lack of respect for students and for democracy on the part of the Federation.

It would perhaps be best to start with what is not on the agenda. Earlier this month, a Facebook event was created to discuss a motion submitted to the Federation’s Board of Directors, who are responsible for approving all General Meeting (GM) agendas. This motion was simple: if it passed, it would cause the Federation of Students to set aside SLC 2139 for use as a Clubs Library room. The Facebook event immediately had a strong following, with over fifty people listed as “Going” (and presumably intending to vote for or against it). The Board of Directors refused to add this item to the agenda, depriving students of the opportunity to vote on it at all, or even to discuss it in the meeting. Another motion also blocked by the Board of Directors was intended to ban credit card vendors from operating in the SLC, especially in “Vendors Alley”.

Instead of these things, Feds has added another item to the agenda for the GM — a proposed bylaw change (essentially, a change to Feds’ internal rules) which would ban new agenda items from being proposed “from the floor” (by an ordinary participant in the meeting). This would close the only remaining opportunity for students to propose motions for a GM without Board approval, making the agenda for all future GMs entirely controlled by the Feds Board. As can be seen from the blocking of these two motions, this creates a silencing effect on genuine grassroots initiatives to change Feds policy which come from outside the formal structure of the organization — from students themselves whose only title in the organization is “Member”.

An argument for this bylaw change is that it would prevent “unpredictable” agenda items from being passed without the knowledge of members who might otherwise attend to vote against such items. This is a mindset that is still rooted in the old reality of years past, where GMs were poorly attended and mostly revolved around approving decisions already made by the Board and Council in a largely token show of membership consent. The last two GMs have been well-attended and the discussions and decisions made there have generated shockwaves online and in the campus media. GMs, simply put, are too big and too important now to be mere administrative exercises, with Feds following its own rules by holding them, but not allowing the members who attend to make serious decisions about their own Federation. Is this supposed to be a Federation of Bureaucrats, a Federation of Managers, a Federation of Staffers, or is it supposed to be a Federation of Students? If it is the latter, then discouraging students from making decisions on their own behalf is not only a bad move, but is directly going against the spirit of our Federation as a democratic organization.

Democracy found alive in Feds meeting

Author: Thomas Little

For those of you who did not go to the Feds meeting, or were not there for the full length, here’s a recap of the events that happened as faithfully recorded by Chevron writers present at the meeting. Any corrections
or disputes should be sent to our editorial email.

The meeting was chaired by David Collins (Federation of Students, President), with Sean Hunt (Senator-at-Large) advising. The agenda was: approval of the agenda, approval of the minutes from previous meetings, elections to the Feds Board of Directors, approval of the auditors’ report, review of Feds’ financial statement, a motion to modify the voting system used in Feds elections, a motion to reduce the Feds fee, and a motion to initiate a referendum to defund the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG). Read the rest of this entry »

New organization helps students deal with landlords, employers

Author: Thomas Little

A new organization has appeared in the com m unity that will be useful to some students: the Kitchener-Waterloo Solidarity Network. The solidarity network model, which has appeared throughout North America, originated in Seattle with Seattle Solidarity (“SeaSol”) and is based around the principle of people in the community helping each other get justice for stolen wages and rent deposits or other unfair actions by bosses and landlords. Solidarity networks work with the individual or group to help them figure out a strategy for dealing with the boss or landlord, often using picketing and informational leafleting to put pressure on them. Read the rest of this entry »

CSIS: A Smart Career Choice?

Author: Thomas Little

Fall term has brought a lot of new faces to UW. If you’ve been in the SLC in the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed a few significant ones if you could fight past the crowds – professionally-dressed people on banners emblazoned with “WANTED: IT PROFESSIONALS” and “CSIS. SMART CAREER CHOICE.” This may not seem like much. The SLC has been subject to blatant advertising before. But what is CSIS? Perhaps a tech startup or a manufacturing company?

CSIS recruitment banner

September 26, 2013: One of two CSIS banners hanging in the SLC.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tuition is Too Damn High

Author: Thomas Little

The Ontario government sets a cap on how much universities can increase tuition per year. If it did not, universities would be free to demand whatever they wanted for tuition, with disastrous consequences for students. Before this year, the cap was five percent. For the 2013-2014 academic year, the cap has been lowered to three percent, which gives students a bit more financial breathing room. It seems the UW Board of Governors did not get the memo. On June 4, it raised tuition retroactively by roughly 3%, that is after students in the Spring/Summer term had already paid their fees. Two out of three student representatives voted against the increase, the sole exception being Sean Hunt. This took students by surprise and shocked and outraged most. Our campus media being what it is, no one had reported on the Board of Governors meeting, nor had anyone reported on the tuition increase itself until Imprint writers were tipped off about the anti-tuition protest which happened on June 11.

Senteced to Debt

June 11, 2013 – Students protesting the summer tuition hike sent a message
outside convocation about the impact of rising tuition.

Even then, the Imprint article (“Mid-term tuition increase sparks controversy”) put forward the same line as the CBC (“Retroactive tuition hike upsets U of W students”) and the Record (“UW students angry over retroactive fee increases”) articles, quoting Sean Hunt (Senator-at-Large) and Adam Garcia (Feds VP Education) extensively and creating a “narrative” for the situation that students are only upset about the timing, not the increase itself. This is something these papers can be comfortable with: a minor quibble with the administration’s conduct, easily fixed by them promising not to do it again. It is also a narrative that Feds and the administration are comfortable with.

Yet is it a narrative that most students are comfortable with? The majority of students we talked to complained not just about the bad timing, but about the increase itself – that the extra burden was unwelcome and difficult to deal with, regardless of the timing. Many students complained about the high cost of tuition regardless of the increase. This is not something Feds, the Imprint, or the administration are comfortable with because they all maintain the firm position that there is no option but to accept fee increases, and the only concession to students is that we be notified about them beforehand. Arguments for a tuition freeze or even for lower tuition fees are dismissed as “impractical” and “unrealistic.” Yet what could be more realistic when our fellow students in every other Canadian province get an education for a much lower cost?

Spring tuition protest

June 11, 2013 – Students gathered in the Arts Quad to protest the mid-term tuition hike.

To hopefully answer these questions, an information session held on June 20 in the SLC Great Hall aimed at exploring the issue, with a diverse panel of representatives from the Graduate Student Association (GSA), Feds (Adam Garcia), an international graduate student, and an international undergraduate student (to discuss the heightened impact on international students). Both Adam Garcia and the GSA representatives were quick to defend the administration at all costs and to make it clear that they were not prepared to meaningfully oppose the administration, despite Feds officially criticizing the tuition hike.

After this info session, I and other students angry about the tuition hike worked for days passing around a petition demanding that the administration reverse the fee. We had conversations with hundreds of people and they complained about the high cost, yet had few answers about how to deal with it. If we want to actually do something about these fee increases, we need student organizations that are prepared to do something about the issue and student media that will give us a real picture of the situation and what students think, not what it wants them to think.

This article appeared in Volume 1, Issue 1 of The Chevron on 5 September 2013.