On March 9, 2020, six FES students in ENVS 1200 - Taking Action: Engaging People and the Environment, travelled to Queen’s Park on the invitation of Jessica Bell, the NDP critic on transportation issues. They were there to listen to the debate on a motion presented by Bell and NDP leader Andrea Horwath to withdraw the Ford Government’s pending cancellation of the discount that defer half of the cost of one fare when transit riders transfer from GO buses to the TTC. The invitation was prompted by the students writing a petition calling for the maintenance of the discounted fare, using themselves as examples of the high costs that some of them face as a result of traveling from their homes to York across different transit systems. Calling themselves Transit Troopers, the students developed the petition in the context of a group project on transit equity in the Toronto area.
The debate was an interesting lesson in parliamentary democracy. NDP members spoke passionately in favour of the motion and repeatedly pointed out that the cancellation of the discount would cost commuters an extra $720 per year. In addition to other expenses, this, they argued, was an unacceptable cost. The government members, on the other hand, spoke about their current and future plans to improve the transit system, but without speaking to the motion. This was in spite of NDP members and the Speaker of the House insisting they do so. Only about a dozen government members were present to debate the motion, but over sixty were available to reject it when it came time to vote, though Premier Ford and Transport Minister Mulroney were absent. The students spoke of the experience as follows: “We as a group got to witness the political process in the legislature first hand. It would be extremely beneficial for anyone to experience a political debate at least once. In being a part of a democracy, it is essential that we as citizens become engaged and active members of the political process and remain informed and aware of how decisions are made and impact our lives, or the lives of others.”
Professor Anders Sandberg, who teaches the course, states that a major part of ENVS 1200 is a group project that addresses some aspect of social equity and environmental sustainability and that then contemplates and takes some action. The Transit Troopers, he states, constitute a good example of a group of students who engages with an every-day activity that touches them personally and that allows them to take part in debates and make a difference. Similar group projects in this year’s class tackled the subject of student work, panic disorders in university students, campus waste, and food security. It is exciting to see students get involved and learn about and take part in local issues, Sandberg states. It prepares them to be informed citizens who can make a difference in society and in their personal lives.
Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Official Report of Debates (Hansard), No. 153, 9 March 2020, pp. 7561-7579. Accessed April 15, 2020 at https://www.ola.org/sites/default/files/node-files/hansard/document/pdf/2020/2020-03/09-MAR-2020_L153.pdf