After a year that saw a host of issues including rising rental costs, LRT service problems, and the ongoing pandemic, many are looking for changes to be made. Photo taken by William Eltherington.
Young Ottawans say their priorities for local politicians heading into an election year include addressing ballooning housing costs, LRT service disruptions, climate change and rising police budgets.
The Raging Twenties asked several students about what kinds of issues they are concerned about going into 2022. The election is set for Oct. 24.
University of Ottawa student Jenna Mitchell Dueck, who studies international development and globalization, said there are several issues that need to be addressed but climate change, affordable housing and police budgets are top of mind for her.
While she said she does not always pay attention to municipal politics, someone who stands for those issues would likely motivate her to vote.
She added issues like affordable housing can help address large-scale problems such as climate change.
“If it’s possible for people to actually live and have a place to stay that they can afford, that doesn’t take their entire paycheque, then climate change and other things can also be addressed, she said. “It’s all interrelated.”
Dueck added a lot of young people are concerned about how much money is going to Ottawa police.
Transit is “definitely an issue for students,” said Alexander Elinov, a third-year student at the University of Ottawa.
Combined with the transit issues in the city, he said the competitiveness of the urban rental market has forced students to live further outside the city.
The unreliability of the transit system has made others choose to walk instead.
“I do know friends that kind of have to ‘bite the bullet’ and have had to walk an hour or so,” he said.
Capital Coun. Shawn Menard said among the issues young people should be paying attention to prior to next year’s election are accountability at city hall, developer influence, transit and climate change.
“There are several areas where the council has fallen short,” he said. “We don’t see enough student affordable housing because we’re not holding developers to account and are allowing developers to influence municipal candidates during elections.”
Students should be more concerned over what developers are allowed to build in Ottawa which is driving up rents, he added.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest issues from the year is from the problems related to the LRT, which has reduced trust in the system.
On Wednesday, Menard introduced a motion to the transportation committee to study free transit to potentially help with affordability and encourage more to use the system.
“A lot of students have student debt and need an economical way to get around,” he said. “For students it would be a huge economic uplift.”
Menard, who has sparred with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson online and at some council meetings, said he is ready to see a change in leadership.
He said he has worked closely with Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who has also been an advocate for better transit accountability and has stated they are considering running for mayor.
Menard added he is waiting for Watson to announce whether he will seek re-election in 2022 before making any decisions regarding his own political future. “McKenney definitely reflects my values,” he said.
Santa takes a jolly stroll toward hosts Patricia Boal and Graham Richardson of Bell Media to take centre stage at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Rajpreet Sahota.
The Christmas Cheer Foundation hosted their annual breakfast fundraiser on Friday morning to raise money for local charities that provide community support services for young Ottawa residents in need.
The annual breakfast helps youth experiencing financial and mental health issues across Ottawa, which have been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bethany McNee received help from Youville Centre, one of the organizations supported by the foundation, when she graduated from their high school program as a teen mom in 2006.
“I started at the school when my daughter was six months. At the time I was in an abusive relationship and the counsellor I worked with there helped me build the courage to leave the relationship,” McNee said. “If it wasn’t for YouVille, I don’t think I ever would have graduated.”
Operation Come Home is another one of the charities that receives funding from the annual event. They offer multiple services including a drop-in center, food bank and mental health and substance use counseling.
“The average age of a homeless person is getting younger every year. We’ve seen more youth than we have before in spite of the pandemic,” said John Heckbert, the associate executive director at Operation Come Home, explaining that there has been an increase of those reporting economic and mental health stress during the pandemic.
Marieanne Simard, a 23-year-old Ottawa resident, visited Operation Come Home for mental health and addiction counselling in 2017.
“Operation Come Home have and still helps me with mental health, housing, food bank and others. They’ve been and still are a big support in helping me become the better person I am,” Simard said.
“It’s an opportunity to come together as a community to see people in person [and] celebrate the Christmas season,” said Christmas Cheer board chair Jim McConnery explaining that the donations from the event will be going towards 22 food-related charities.
“As a group, we’re raising immaterial amount of money for charity. This is a great Ottawa tradition that we’ve had for so many years. It’s a special way for the community to come together,” he said.
The event was held virtually as well as in-person at the Shaw Centre. The event also featured performances by musicians Twin Flames, Steph La Rochelle, Natalie MacMaster and Ontario’s first poet laureate Randell Adjei.
Plaque commemorating the lives of the 14 women killed at École Polytechnique during the 1989 Montreal Massacre found outside the university. Photo by: Wikimedia Commons
Patrizia Gentile was a 19-year-old student at Montreal’s McGill University in 1989 when a shooter opened fire into a class of engineering students at École Polytechnique, targeting and killing 14 women. The experience solidified her as a feminist and academic against gender-based violence.
Today, as an associate professor who specializes in human rights, social justice, and women and gender studies at Carleton University, she continues to commemorate the 14 female students whose lives were cut short more than 30 years ago on Dec. 6, an event since known as the Montreal Massacre.
For Gentile, the anniversary is a day of remembrance. Over the years, she’s attended events in Montreal and Ottawa, from visiting the women’s monument at Minto Park to saying the names of the 14 women who were murdered. Through it all, she could not shake the feeling the tragedy left behind.
“It was like a tattoo … on our memory,” Gentile said. “It galvanized my own personal journey around my sexuality and being a feminist and made me more of a feminist.”
This year’s vigil will be broadcast virtually on the Women’s Event Network Facebook page at 6 p.m. Monday.
“My generation really did see this as a political moment, so I think for us Dec. 6 is not just ‘Let’s take a moment and think about violence,’” she said. “It is specifically about how this horrific massacre happened because people were identified as women.”
What strikes Gentile every year is the large number of women from younger generations who attend the memorials. She explained she is overcome with sadness when she sees the crowds because it solidifies that gender-based violence is still present in people’s everyday lives.
For 23-year-old Laura Stoyko, a software developer and University of Manitoba computer engineering graduate, the events that unfolded long before she was born still impact her life.
“To think that those women could have been me and my friends,” she said.
In 2019, Stoyko ran the University of Manitoba’s 30th anniversary memorial.
“It was just heartbreaking to think these women, all they wanted was to study, to be an engineer and to help the world,” she said. “Someone decided they weren’t going to be able to do that anymore.”
Stoyko said she still sees few women in the room at her work. Efforts to bring more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields must start at a young age and must address how children are socialized differently, she explained. As girls drop out of those fields, it closes the door on future studies and careers.
“A big part of it is outreach and showing what engineering actually is,” Stoyko said. “Once you’re in first-year engineering, women are more likely to stay until the end, so it’s not a problem of keeping them, it’s the problem of how we actually get them there.”
Referring to the impact gender-based violence has on Canadian women today, Gentile said not much has changed since the 1989 massacre. According to Statistics Canada, more than four in 10 women have experienced some form of psychological, physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner in their lifetime.
Gentile said 32 years of history shows the legal and political systems alone are not doing enough to solve gender-based violence. Canadians need to integrate the issue into daily conversations, she said, not just once a year.
“The impact is still seismic [and] violence is politicized,” Gentile said. “The impact has done nothing on the everyday […] epidemic of violence against women, femmes, trans women, non-conforming people is relentless.
Climate Action Carleton members at Friday’s Divestment Sit-In. Pictured from left to right: Andres Reyes, Sophie Price, Devan Sharma, Alex Zelenski, Steph Vienneau, Megan Williamson, Rebecca Chhom, Holden Heppler. Photo taken by Ella Milloy.
Students, faculty and community members converged on the Carleton University campus Friday to urge the school’s administration to divest from fossil fuels.
Climate Action Carleton, a student-led sustainability organization, organized the afternoon rally to raise attention to its #DivestNow campaign, which the school’s board of governors was expected to discuss at its 3 p.m. meeting.
Steph Vienneau, a third-year environmental studies student who helped organize Friday’s event – which drew about 50 people, said it provided an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of divestment to the Carleton community.
“Divestment is a topic at the board of governor meeting today,” Vienneau said. “They will be discussing whether it is practical for Carleton and whether they want to pursue it. Our goal today is to show just how much support we have.”
The #DivestNow campaign calls on Carleton University and the University of Ottawa to divest the university’s endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry. It also demands that both universities disclose all financial holdings of their investment portfolios and reinvest the divested funds into sustainable alternatives.
Vienneau explained the #DivestNow campaign represents a way for Carleton to become a leader in the divestment conversation.
“I think the #DivestNow campaign matters a lot because an academic institution like Carleton has a lot of agency in what they do,” Vienneau said. “Making a statement like divesting from fossil fuels, like so many other universities have, sends a strong message to the government, to investors and to industries that fossil fuels are no longer tolerable.”
Student-led divestment initiatives have taken root at post-secondary institutions across Canada and around the world to encourage university and college administrations to sell stocks, bonds and other funds that are invested in the fossil fuel industry.
Several high-profile Canadian universities, such as the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia and Université Laval in Québec City, Que., have already announced their divestment plans.
Additionally, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) expressed its support of post-secondary institutions divesting from fossil fuels in an article published in October.
Climate Action Carleton is one of many student groups within the broader Divest Canada Coalition. Made up of 30 groups from institutions across Canada, the coalition works to get post-secondary administrations to recognize the threat of climate change and address that threat by divesting fully from the fossil fuel industry and investing in sustainable alternatives.
Angela Dittrich, a 22-year-old York University graduate student who is jointly studying law and environmental studies, is an active member of Fossil Free, a divestment group at York University.
Dittrich said working collaboratively with other divestment groups within the Divest Canada Coalition has been a rewarding experience.
“It’s been really powerful to be able to talk to other divestment campaigns and learn from them,” Dittrich said. “We get to talk to the groups that have secured divestment, see what worked for them and what didn’t and just talk about the struggles and the victories together.”
Mary Stuart, a 22-year-old environmental studies major at the University of Ottawa and member of Climate Justice uOttawa, said she believes young people have a huge role to play in holding institutions accountable.
“Young people have a huge stake in seeing real climate action be taken seriously because we’re worried about our future,” Stuart said. “Young people really want a better future in terms of achieving climate justice. Not only are they fighting the climate crisis but they’re re-imagining a society that supports the well-being of people in general.”
Stuart added the climate crisis presents an opportunity to critically examine the root causes of the issue, including colonialism and capitalism.
“There’s a real drive to reimagine the way that we live and the relationships we have with each other and the planet,” Stuart said.
Mira Liao Parkinson, a fourth year nursing student at the University of Ottawa, says “it doesn’t seem like nurses are a priority.” Photo by Adam Beauchemin.
Mira Liao Parkinson, a fourth-year nursing student at the University of Ottawa and a member of the university’s nursing students’ association, wanted to work in a field where she could put her scientific know-how to work helping people.
As Parkinson enters the last semester of her undergraduate career, she says she is excited to spend more time in a hospital to sharpen her skills and shed her student label.
But, her experiences as a student nurse have also left her with another feeling.
“It feels like I’m headed into this big storm,” said Parkinson.
“I knew, before the pandemic, about all the faults in the healthcare system,” Parkinson said. “Then, the pandemic happened, and it just really exposed all that, not only to us, but to everyone.”
Now in her final year of schooling, Parkinson is looking to break into the field of nursing at a tumultuous time.
“It’s really daunting, knowing that I’m going to graduate and then most likely, this pandemic will still be ongoing, and there will still be COVID patients,” Parkinson said.
Since the spring of 2020, COVID-19 has laid bare problems in the nursing field. Across the country, hospitals are short-staffed and nurses are burning out from working exhausting overtime shifts.
As nurses leave the field en masse, nursing students are preparing to join a workforce in crisis.
Licensed practical nurses vacancies jumped by 140 per cent from 2019 to 2020.
Registered nurses and psychiatric nurses saw the largest total increase in vacancies in Canada from 2019 to 2021.
Melanie Cairns, a fourth-year nursing student at Winnipeg’s Université de Saint-Boniface, has had many great experiences learning in hospitals and interacting with patients. However, her experiences in the field haven’t all been positive.
“Especially in the last year, it hasn’t been what I thought it would be. I’ve seen a lot of stress, burnout, and a toxic work environment,” said Cairns, who added that nurses didn’t sign up for such long hours and so much overtime.
Carling Gosselin, a student nurse also in her fourth year at Université de Saint-Boniface, explained the loss of some practical learning experiences due to the pandemic has impacted the education of many student nurses.
“I honestly don’t feel prepared,” Gosselin said. “The pandemic hit when we were in our second year. Now that we’re in our fourth year, there are certain elements of the profession that I still wish I knew because I think that if there wasn’t a pandemic, I would probably be a little bit better off than I am right now.”
‘Nurses eat their young’
Parkinson explained the stress of feeling behind in learning is only exacerbated by the fact that hospitals often aren’t welcoming environments for inexperienced nurses.
“There’s this whole other label on us – we’re ‘the COVID babies’ and we’re disadvantaged,” Parkinson said. “The saying that ‘nurses eat their young’ – we get told that all the time.”
While turnover is common among Canadian nurses – according to Statistics Canada, in the spring of 2021 there were an estimated 22,400 vacant registered and psychiatric nursing positions across the country – a high rate of turnover can be seen especially among young nurses.
According to one study by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, close to 13 per cent of Ontario’s registered nurses between the ages of 26 and 35 indicated they were ‘very likely’ to leave the profession after the pandemic.
Roughly 13 per cent of Ontario registered nurses aged 26 to 35 say they are likely to leave the field after the pandemic.
Parkinson found hospital work environments differed depending on the age and experience of staff.
According to Parkinson, some hospital units had noticeably higher rates of turnover than others.
Jana Delorme, a nurse and instructor with Algonquin College, noted there’s a certain pressure for young nurses to get hands-on and practical experience with patients right out of school, which leads many young nurses to work in specific hospital units.
“Working with junior staff can be nerve racking,” said Delorme, who graduated from nursing school in 2018. “It does allow you to experience more. I think if you worked with all senior nurses, you may not get to see as much as a nurse and take care of as many different things.”
Carling Gosselin and Melanie Cairns, two student Nurses at Winnipeg’s Université de Saint-Boniface looked to classmates for support. Photo by Daena Coleman.
Student nurses have been handling stress in different ways and for many, it was a matter of finding support in each other.
“I think it’s really important to talk to other nursing students because as much as leaning on your friends is good, no one will quite understand the awkward balance that we have as nursing students,” Parkinson said. “And usually when you open up those conversations, you realize – I know it’s cheesy to say – but that you’re not alone.”
Parkinson said she also looks for support from the student association’s ‘beating burnout’ club – a mental-health and self-care club that organizes student events.
Nursing students often go through their program as a cohort. In Cairns’ experience, long days at school cause nursing classes to become tight-knit.
However, without the interaction of in-person classes, forming and maintaining connections with classmates wasn’t always easy or possible. “There’s definitely a lack of social support now compared to before.”
For Gosselin, it was difficult to lose even the small interactions with her classmates.
“I never really realized how important those 10 minutes before class were, or those little 15-minute breaks that just gave me that chance to connect with everybody,” Gosselin said.
‘Have you forgotten about us?’
Many issues in nursing were around before COVID-19.
A pre-pandemic report from 2020 by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, reported 92.6 per cent of nurses were experiencing symptoms of burnout.
Likewise, per Statistics Canada, in April and May of 2019 nurses were already working between 5.8 to 6.6 hours of overtime per week. Still, many of Canada’s nursing issues have exacerbated over the course of the pandemic – nurses worked close to 10 overtime hours per week in April and May of 2020.
According to 2021 Statistics Canada data, 70 per cent of healthcare workers reported their mental health had worsened during the pandemic.
While some had been warning of this crisis long before the pandemic, Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said no one wanted to listen.
“The government was playing ostrich with their heads in the sand. They didn’t want to hear it – they didn’t want to acknowledge that the health human resource was building up into a crisis situation,” Silas said.
In the fall, the federation called on the federal government to fund greater workforce planning and provide additional support to hire, retain and recruit nurses.
“We’d written to the prime minister after the election, and we wrote to him last week. Today, we’re on social media saying ‘have you forgotten about us?’”
Silas also noted this isn’t the first time Canada has faced a nursing crisis. The federal government worked to tackle similar issues in the 1990s, and she hopes to see the same initiative taken today. Silas says she would like to see the return of government supported mentorship programs to help newly graduated nurses navigate their new careers.
“A lot of talk, but no action yet,” Silas said. “I’m hopeful that it will come to something.”
The Raging Twenties reached out to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos’s office Friday for comment on the federation’s demands. At the time of publication the Raging Twenties had not received a response.
For University of Ottawa student Parkinson, an end doesn’t seem in sight.
“There’s definitely a huge system change that needs to happen,” Parkinson said during a Zoom interview. “I don’t really see that happening in my lifetime.”
She noted that while the pandemic brought many of these issues to public attention – and in the process brought nurses plenty of praise – it has yet to transition into meaningful change.
“At the end of the day, we’re just people. And the reality is we’re not treated that well,” Parkinson said. “In the media they call us ‘a hero.’ But when it comes down to our paycheck, our benefits and our vacation, it doesn’t really reflect the public’s perception, which is really unfortunate.”
Photo illustration by Spencer Nafekh-Blanchette and Alyshia McCabe. Edited from image by iStock user Gerasimov174
Sam Adam-Johnston woke up one morning in June 2020, checked his Instagram and discovered he had been tagged in a growing online trend.
The brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police a week prior had prompted protests across the world. But the anger fuelling people to take to the streets also spread digitally, as many began uploading images of a black square with the hashtag #blackoutfriday to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I believe I had been tagged by my sister or somebody very close to me,” Adam-Johnston, 22, recalled in a recent phone interview. “With everything going on, at the height of the protest as well as COVID, there was this whole idea of wanting to participate in something but being fearful for public health at the same time.”
Adam-Johnston decided to stay home and join the Instagram campaign, tagging a few close friends in the process and requesting they follow suit. Soon after, he received a message from a friend informing him of the harm his post could cause.
“They told me that it was much more productive to spread actual information, instead of posting a simple black screen,” Adam-Johnston recalled.
“Initially, I thought posting it would be a very easy way to help out. But then I realized what posting that kind of content achieved … which was nothing, really.”
The realization prompted him to update his Instagram to warn people not to contribute to the #blackoutfriday challenge because it could interfere with algorithms providing actual resources, such as protest safety guides or required readings on the policing of Black lives.
Simply put, Adam-Johnston had been misled by a slacktivist campaign.
‘A project of reputation management’
Given social media’s ubiquitous presence in the lives of many young people, it has fast become the go-to place to highlight and build support online for a variety of causes. From racism and climate justice to Change.org petitions and the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, millions will simply click the “share” button or repeat a hashtag in hopes of affecting legitimate change and feeling good about themselves. But experts and advocates fear this may interfere with getting people to go beyond their keyboards and commit to fixing real-world problems.
Matthew Flisfeder, associate professor of rhetoric and communications at the University of Winnipeg and author of the new book Algorithmic Desire: Toward a New Structuralist Theory of Social Media, defined slacktivism as a form of social, political or cultural activism found across the internet. Instead of going out and making material change, people engaging with slacktivist campaigns will make posts on social media platforms expressing their desire to act on a particular issue they feel requires attention.
Speaking during a Zoom interview, Flisfeder was quick to emphasize the “slacking” in slacktivism indicates the action taking place is mere rhetoric, concerning itself more with the appearance of doing something rather than actually affecting social, cultural or political transformation.
“People tend to want to appear as though they are acting towards change without actually doing the work to make change possible,” Flisfeder said. “A lot of the actions people are doing on social media across the board is a project of reputation management. What we’re doing when we’re posting online, to a certain extent, is managing our reputation and the way we are seen by others.”
When asked how slacktivism operates within the confines of Instagram, Flisfeder said “as a mostly visual medium, Instagram slacktivism relies on visual representation, as opposed to the representation in language and rhetoric you find on sites like Twitter and Facebook.”
Slacktivism blurs the line of creating real change
In early November, an Instagram page belonging to an organization called Plant A Tree Co. used the platform’s sticker feature to create a campaign that promised to plant a tree for every pet photo shared.
Soon after, the sticker had been reuploaded more than four million times. But did Plant A Tree Co. really have plans to plant more than four million trees? Clearly not – the organization claimed to have a partnership with a tree-planting organization called Trees for the Future, but Lindsay Cobb, a representative for Trees for the Future, was quick to deny any affiliation in an interview with CBC.
Additionally, Plant A Tree Co. stated on its website that to plant trees, it was selling necklaces, and one necklace would fund the planting of one tree. But in a questionable turn of events, the mention of the necklaces had been removed as soon as their sticker campaign gained traction on Instagram.
Nasha Choudhury, 27, works with Ottawa Biosphere Eco-City, a grassroots charity that seeks to engage people and organizations in sustainability efforts across Ottawa.
Choudhury said slacktivism blurs the line when it comes to creating real change.
“When you have groups that are out there who are posing as an actual charity when in fact they’re not, it just adds to the challenge of getting the engagement that you want.”
“In this virtual world that we live in, it’s really difficult for people to find the kinds of organizations that create the impact that they want to see,” Choudhury added. “There is just so much that people look at for a minute before moving onto the next thing.”
Ecology Ottawa’s Sana Badruddin, 30, said it feels hurtful to see slacktivist campaigns such as Plant A Tree Co.’s prosper over genuine charitable efforts, such as those of her organization.
“We have this extremely successful tree giveaway campaign within the city of Ottawa where we give out free trees to local residents who fill out a survey,” Badruddin said. “The whole point is to empower the citizens who get the trees and are tasked with planting [them].” Ecology Ottawa says it has distributed over 30,000 saplings across the city.
New approaches for spreading awareness
When it comes to slacktivism campaigns, though, Badruddin said the content is basically posted into oblivion because any random person can share a picture.
“It does kind of delegitimize our work because actual organizations try really hard to make sure people’s efforts are recognized when they take part in something,” Badruddin said. She entertained the idea that slacktivism might have some direct correlation with a lack of actual volunteering in Canada.
Although slacktivist campaigns continue to garner attention across various social media platforms, the question remains: Will the phenomenon ever be seen for what it is?
Badruddin is of the opinion that efforts to combat slacktivism must take place in the physical realm as opposed to the digital one, saying that “fighting social media with more social media is really weird. Ecology Ottawa is, at its core, a face-to-face organization … we use social media as a tool to create action and awareness, but you have to go about it in an intelligent way.”
Asked about his new approach to slacktivism, Adam-Johnston explained his rule of thumb when reposting content online.
“I try to stick to local issues that directly affect the people surrounding me,” he said. “When you can relate to the issue directly, because you grew up in the area or you know people impacted by it, spreading awareness feels much more validating.”