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    An inflated land deal negotiated by the Toronto Parking Authority involving a seasoned lobbyist, a sign consultant and a city councillor should be investigated by police, the city’s audit committee heard Tuesday.

    “We have a situation here that just smells. It really smells,” Councillor Josh Matlow, a member of the committee said following the release of a 76-page investigative report from Toronto’s auditor general into a pending land transaction in North York.

    “I think it’s reasonable to ask, did anything untoward happen and should the police be engaged?”

    Auditor general Beverly Romeo-Beehler’s nearly 10-month investigation into an otherwise mundane-sounding land deal questioned both the process and the $12.2-million price that has been on hold since she intervened. Her report outlines obfuscation by parking authority executives, prodding by the local councillor looking to push the deal forward, and potential conflicts among hired lobbyists and consultants with prior connections to the land.

    Until now, the pending deal has been discussed in secret, behind closed doors.

    The auditor’s investigation was sparked late last year after Councillor John Filion, a member of the Toronto Parking Authority board, repeatedly asked to see due diligence on the deal.

    The Star has also traced the origins of the transaction, the history of the land and the people who have an interest in it.

    The site in question is a five-acre (two-hectare) grassy strip that runs along the south side of Finch Ave. W. between Arrow Rd. and an on-ramp for Hwy. 400.

    The proposed deal was connected to future plans for a Finch West light-rail line. In March 2016, as part of a much larger report, council approved the parking authority’s acquisition of the property at fair market value, to be used for city parking and bike-share programs.

    That report also allowed for the possibility of creating public space — a long-held dream of erecting North America’s largest flagpole, pushed by local Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West). The auditor’s report outlined that Mammoliti was involved in the land sale deliberations.

    Romeo-Beehler concluded that the “(Toronto Parking Authority)’s actions created unnecessary risk of overpaying an additional $2.63 million” and that executives failed to obtain the independent evaluation required to determine fair market value.

    “There was significant risk to the city and TPA’s reputation because of the lack of independence, transparency and judgment expected of the Toronto public service,” she wrote. “The lack of judgment in disclosing information to the lobbyist, not checking for conflicts of interest and not obtaining an independent sign valuation is concerning.”

    Those involved in the deal have been key players connected to the Arrow Rd. plot since at least 2009, when an application for a large digital billboard on the Finch-facing land was made by Allvision Canada on behalf of Frank De Luca, a real estate broker who had come to own the land years earlier.

    Public records show the land has been held by the company Katpa Holdings Inc. since 2000 and corporate records name De Luca as the president and sole director of that company.

    Much of the land south of Finch Ave. in that area is owned by the Prayer Palace, a controversial church.

    A 2007 Star investigation into the Prayer Palace’s business practices found Katpa Holdings appeared to be connected to the church, but De Luca said then that they were no longer involved in the land. De Luca could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.

    De Luca’s digital sign application on the property was pushed through against staff recommendations by Mammoliti at a meeting of the Etobicoke York community council in 2009, according to a recording of that meeting reviewed by the Star.

    At the same time, Mammoliti asked for city staff to assess the land for the feasibility of a proposal he was working on: a “monumental flagpole.”

    The 125-metre flagpole idea was also being advanced by the Emery Village Business Improvement Area (BIA), of which Mammoliti is a board member.

    In 2010, council directed city staff to negotiate the purchase of the land (council voted that the city should not be responsible for any costs related to the land acquisition).

    That plan fell apart after staff in the real estate services division determined the landowner’s asking price was “not realistic,” according to internal staff emails obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request.

    The auditor general’s report outlines what happened next.

    Starting in 2014, the BIA, through a hired lobbyist — who the Star confirmed is former North York city councillor Paul Sutherland — and Mammoliti approached the parking authority about the site and the possibility of reviving the flagpole project.

    While an independent appraisal ordered by the TPA valued the land at $7.5 million, De Luca, the landowner, said it was worth $17 million, the auditor found.

    The TPA told the auditor general it was Sutherland who returned with a deal for $12.2 million.

    The auditor detailed how the TPA asked a sign consultant who had done work for the agency to help determine the value of the digital sign already on the site and its impact on the land value.

    The Star has confirmed that the consultant was Blair Murdoch, former president of the advertising firm Allvision, who the auditor noted put together the original sign deal on the site for De Luca.

    Murdoch was never paid for his TPA work and told the auditor he did it as a “service.”

    The TPA and Murdoch also discussed the potential for a second sign to be built on the site — which the auditor wrote was unlikely to be approved but helped raise the TPA’s assessment of the deal’s value to the already agreed-upon $12.2-million price.

    When the auditor questioned how the TPA determined the value for the signs, she learned that vice-president of real estate and development Marie Casista prepared a spreadsheet and sent it to Murdoch, who then returned the same spreadsheet as though it was his own.

    Asked how she prepared the calculations, Casista told Romeo-Beehler she “did it on the back of an envelope.”

    “When asked for the envelope, she said that she did not keep the envelope,” the auditor wrote.

    The auditor general found the deal overall was worth $9.5 million. She wrote that had Filion not brought the purchase plan to her attention, the parking authority would have overpaid.

    Casista and parking authority president Lorne Persiko told the Star on Tuesday they would never have paid $12.2 million and that they had always planned to carry out the due diligence to obtain a fair market value on the deal, but they were “interrupted” by Filion and the auditor.

    The auditor general said there was no evidence that Toronto Parking Authority staff or their sign consultant were directly benefiting from the land deal.

    Murdoch told the Star he did not stand to gain financially from the deal and was not in a conflict.

    “The assignment with TPA had nothing to do with the property owner and I simply provided an opinion to TPA as part of my role as their sign consultant,” Murdoch wrote in an email.

    Sutherland told the Star by phone that he “did not ask” for the $12-million proposal. “It was sent to me,” he said, but he did not clarify by whom.

    The auditor general said Tuesday her findings would be appropriately referred to the city’s integrity commissioner as they relate to Mammoliti.

    Mammoliti, in an email to the Star, said even though he has vehemently disagreed with the light-rail plan, it is likely to go ahead and it is his duty as a councillor to secure public benefits.

    “Let me be clear: I would not have supported the acquisition of the property at a price that was not reflective of fair market value,” he wrote.

    He also challenged councillors Matlow and Filion to accuse him directly of something illegal so he could “sue their sorry asses for slander.”

    Speaking to reporters ahead of the audit committee meeting Tuesday, Mayor John Tory said he is “very concerned” by the contents of the report.

    Filion questioned why those involved seemed to go to “great trouble” to have the valuation match the purchase price desired by De Luca.

    “I have no explanation for why that would happen, but it’s very disturbing and I hope in time we do get to the bottom of that,” Filion said at the committee meeting.

    Jennifer Pagliaro can be reached at 416-869-4556 or . Jayme Poisson can be reached at 416-814-2725 or .

    With files from David Rider

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    The Ontario government is committing $85 million to finally clean up the mercury-contaminated Wabigoon River that has poisoned the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation and nearby Whitedog First Nation for generations.

    The “comprehensive remediation action plan” will also involve finding all contaminated sites that could be leaking mercury into the river.

    At Queen’s Park, Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray did not mince words.

    “If you ask me when would I like to have done this? Fifty years ago,” Murray said in an interview Tuesday. “I have never seen a case of such gross neglect. I am embarrassed as a Canadian that this ever happened and I can’t understand how people for 50 years sat in that environment office knowing this was going on as a minister and simply didn’t do anything about it,” he thundered.

    The province’s historic commitment follows a Star investigation that probed the impact of the poisoning and decades-long lack of action by government.

    And it comes after decades of activism by Grassy Narrows community members, from chiefs to mothers to youth. Most recently, “River Run” protests in Toronto have been led by the younger generations.

    Between 1962 and 1970, the paper plant in Dryden, Ont., then owned by Reed Paper, dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the river about 100 kilometres upstream from Grassy Narrows.

    The mercury, a potent neurotoxin, contaminated the fish, which poisoned the people of Grassy Narrows and nearby Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations.

    The mercury contamination still plagues these Indigenous communities in northern Ontario. Recent key findings by the Star, environmental group Earthroots and top scientists have shown high levels of mercury in soil, fish and river sediment — all strongly suggesting the site of the mill is still leaking mercury, about 50 years on.

    There is no suggestion that Domtar, the current pulp mill operator — several owners removed from Reed Paper — is responsible for any source of mercury.

    Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister said: “This river is the lifeblood of my people. For too long we have suffered from this preventable tragedy. May this be the beginning of a new era of hope for my people, and may justice flow at long last.”

    Speaking outside the cabinet room moments after Premier Kathleen Wynne and her executive council approved the plan, Murray said the day Wynne appointed him minister three years ago, she said: “You’ve got to get this done and it better get done before the next election.”

    With voters headed to the polls on June 7, 2018, there is political pressure to tackle the cleanup.

    The major announcement came the day before environmentalist David Suzuki was scheduled to visit Grassy Narrows. He was expected to hear strong concerns from the First Nation over the government’s progress on its commitment to clean up the mercury.

    Murray hailed both Fobister for his commitment to the issue and the Star for its relentless coverage.

    “The Toronto Star, which is the journal of record, actually shone a light on it and didn’t give up. The Star was persistent and drove the agenda,” the minister said.

    “It just horrifies me that we actually allow these things to happen and it speaks to the systemic racism and the colonialism of our society,” he said, noting such dumping would never have been permitted in Toronto.

    The projected $85-million cost of the cleanup was pegged by top scientist John Rudd, who has experience with mercury cleanups in the U.S. and who initially recommended the Wabigoon be cleaned back in 1983. Despite the then environment minister making that recommendation, it was ignored by the government of the day, which chose to let the river clean itself naturally.

    The Star began its investigation into mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows last year with the story of retired mill worker Kas Glowacki, who said that in 1972 he was part of a group who “haphazardly” dumped drums filled with salt and mercury into a pit behind the mill.

    Late last year, near where Glowacki recalls the 1972 mercury dump happening, Star reporters and volunteers from Earthroots dug holes in a clearing behind the old mill and found significantly higher-than-normal levels of mercury — nearly 80 times the level expected to be found in soil from that region of the province.

    “We have all of the clearance and approvals from the Treasury Board,” Murray told the Star, adding that the fund will be managed by the province and Grassy Narrows and Whitedog,

    Chief Fobister said he hopes “this promise is fulfilled no matter who is in power.”

    “I am really happy that Ontario has finally made this historic commitment to fund the cleanup of our river,” he added. “Now we need to put the funds into a trust.”

    When asked if the $85-million commitment will survive future elections and governments, Murray told the Star the “joint governance” model of the fund, as well as language that can be added to remediation work contracts, “makes it very hard for someone in the future to mess with.”

    “We want to get contracts out the door as soon as we can. We have to start this work,” he said.

    Before this fund announcement, the province said it has spent $2.5 million for sampling and analysis work to determine the extent of the mercury contamination and which remediation options may be most appropriate for each contamination site. The province said it will be adding another $2.7 million this year to support that ongoing pre-cleanup work.

    “I’m feeling like this is a landmark day,” Murray said. “I was very proud of (the premier) today.”

    Physical symptoms of mercury poisoning include loss of muscle co-ordination and tunnel vision. Fetuses are particularly vulnerable to cognitive damage, according to recent research. A recent study by Japanese experts concluded that 90 per cent of people tested in Grassy Narrows and Whitedog have a symptom of mercury poisoning.

    “One of the most toxic things about mercury is it has held back the (communities) from the future they should have,” Murray said. “Let’s get on with it.”

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    OTTAWA—In a 7-2 ruling that has broad implications for freedom of expression, the reach of courts to protect intellectual property, and for the operations of Internet-based businesses, the country’s top court upheld a sweeping injunction against Google’s ability to display commercial content that was at the heart of a court battle.

    Google is barred from displaying anywhere in the world the websites of a company accused of counterfeiting a Canadian technology company’s products, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

    It ruled the worldwide search engine may not be the one causing the direct harm to a small B.C. tech company, but it was not a bystander. Rather Google is a key actor or player, said the court.

    Google, which controls 70-75 per cent of all global searches on the Internet, facilitated harm to Equustek Solutions Inc. because Google searches linked to the company’s competitor, which is accused of stealing its trade secrets. So the high court upheld the power of a Canadian superior court to make an order, even reaching beyond Canadian borders, to stop that harm.

    “When non-parties are so involved in the wrongful acts of others that they facilitate the harm, even if they themselves are not guilty of wrongdoing, they can be subject to interlocutory injunctions,” the court said.

    Where necessary, a Canadian court can grant an injunction to prohibit “conduct anywhere in the world,” the judges wrote. “The problem, in this case, is occurring online and globally. The Internet has no borders; its natural habitat is global.”

    The case drew interventions by 30 different advocates of free expression and intellectual property rights, as well as the attorneys general of Canada and Ontario.

    But the high court was unpersuaded that an injunction against Google would trample the rights of freedom of expression. Rather, it said there was a serious issue — theft of intellectual property — at stake, and that the courts have the authority to act to prevent irreparable harm until that issue was resolved.

    The only way to ensure that the injunction worked “was to have it apply where Google operates — globally,” Abella wrote.

    If the ban only operated in Canada alone or applied only to, purchasers everywhere could easily continue buying the allegedly counterfeit products, she said.

    Google had long argued that, first, it was not a party to the main dispute, and that a Canadian court doesn’t have that kind of broad jurisdiction. It said the Vancouver-based company alleging theft of its intellectual property should have obtained court orders in other countries to stop the website displays of its competitor. Google claimed its right to freedom of expression includes the right to make its own editorial decisions about what content to take down. It said the Canadian courts were violating that right.

    But a majority on the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld two lower B.C. court orders, rejected all of its arguments.

    “This is not an order to remove speech that, on its face, engages freedom of expression values; it is an order to de-index websites that are in violation of several court orders. We have not, to date, accepted that freedom of expression requires the facilitation of the unlawful sale of goods,” wrote Justice Rosalie Abella.

    The chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, and five other judges agreed with her: Michael Moldaver, Andromache Karakatsanis, Richard Wagner, Clement Gascon, and Russell Brown.

    In a sharp dissent, Justices Suzanne Cote and Malcolm Rowe disagreed, saying the case called for “judicial restraint.”

    The two dissenting judges said although the original injunction was meant to stop immediate harm to the Canadian company until the counterfeiting and trademark infringement claim could be determined by the courts, “the order against Google . . . is final in effect.” It said the counterfeit claim had not been tested in court, and it might never be if the injunction stood, because there’d be no incentive to bring the case to court if a company’s ability to operate could simply be shut down by injunction.

    The decision involves Equustek Solutions Inc., a Vancouver-based manufacturer that designed networking devices to allow complex industrial equipment made by one manufacturer to communicate with the equipment of another, a kind of inter-linking technology. Its distributor was a company called Datalink Technologies Gateways Inc., headed by a man named Morgan Jack.

    Equustek says Datalink began to re-label one of the products and passed it off as its own, and, on top of that, Datalink acquired confidential technology and began to manufacture its own products using Equustek’s intellectual property. Sued by Equustek, Datalink first denied the counterfeit accusation, before fleeing the province, and continuing to carry on business, selling products all over the world from an unknown location.

    The Canadian company asked Google to drop Datalink from its search engines, but the giant search engine company said it would only comply with a court order to remove specific web pages.

    Google complied with the initial injunction by de-indexing 345 web pages, but not Datalink’s websites — so Datalink just moved content to new pages within its websites. And Google had only blocked the searches on, not or its other country-search engines.

    The B.C. court then granted a broader order against Google displaying Datalinks websites from appearing in searches anywhere in the world, and Google challenged the order all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

    McCarthy Tetreault lawyer Barry Sookman, who acted for several groups representing publishers of literary and musical content, hailed the ruling as the “first global de-indexing order” that will be “extremely important” worldwide, because it gives a remedy against “gatekeepers” of information such as Google or Internet service providers.

    It will affect those who hold rights to intellectual property, trademarks, copyright and others who will be able to enforce their rights against owners of websites carrying on illegal activity who otherwise can’t be found, he said.

    “This decision will very likely have enormous implications around the world,” he said, saying it was a statement of general principles about the powers of the courts, and will influence decisions in other common law jurisdictions in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and elsewhere.

    Sookman projected it could be used to enforce orders against Google and other search engines who may be innocent third parties but are key to protecting the rights of others. In other words, court orders could be sought against Google or other search engines to safeguard an individual’s privacy rights, perhaps in the case of a major data breach where a corporation loses control over customers’ private information. He also pointed to the phenomenon of cyber-stalking, harassment or defamation cases where a person’s reputation is affected by global distribution of slanderous material.

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    The province is subsidizing rides on the Union Pearson Express (UPX) at much lower levels than it did last year, but it still costs the public about $11 every time a passenger boards the controversial air-rail link.

    According to figures that will be presented at the Metrolinx board on Wednesday, it cost the provincial government $62.8 millionto operate the train between Union Station and Pearson Airport during the fiscal year that ran from April 2016 to March 2017.

    Over the same period, 2.76 million people rode the service. With revenues from fares and other sources totaling $32.4 million, the government provided a subsidy of $30.4 million, or about $11 per rider.

    Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca called the new numbers “great news.”

    The subsidy is much lower than the $52.25 per ride it cost the government in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

    “I’m delighted to know that we’ve managed to drop the subsidy for the UP Express by 80 per cent year over year. I think that’s really critical,” the minister said.

    Although Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that operates the UPX, has cast doubt on whether it will be possible for the service to break even under its new fare structure, Del Duca said that remains the goal.

    “I think it’s trending the right way, but we definitely have more work to do,” said the minister, who is also the Liberal MPP for Vaughan.

    Michael Harris, transportation critic for the Ontario PC party, said the new lower subsidy number is nothing to celebrate.

    “Only the Liberals can pat themselves on the back for jacking the subsidy at the beginning and then reducing it down to $11,” he said.

    Harris, who is the MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga, argued that Metroolinx should never have ignored warnings that its original fares were too high and that it was a mistake to attempt operate the UPX as a “premium” rail line.

    The UPX entered service in June, 2015, and initially charged $27.90 for a trip between the airport and Union, or $19 with a Presto card. Travellers found the price too high and the service failed to attract enough riders.

    In March 2016 Metrolinx finally decided to slash the fares to $12, or $9 with a Presto fare card. Ridership has surged since.

    In its first 10 months of operation, a little more than 750,000 people rode the line, less than half the number that rode last year.

    Aside from additional fare revenue from increased ridership, the UPX has also cashed in on corporate sponsorships.

    Revenue from partners like CIBC and Deloitte, which paid for naming and advertising rights, and Mill Street Brewery and the Drake General Store, which rent space at Union Station, made up almost 28 per cent of the service’s revenue.

    The Metrolinx board is expected to approve a 3 per cent fare increase to the UPX on Wednesday. It will only affect fares that cost more than $5.65, and won’t apply to shorter trips on the line that don’t make the full trip from Union to the airport.

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    What do we know about Stephen Colbert’s surprise trip to Russia? He was there last week. He appeared on a Russian talk show and “announced” he was considering a run for president in 2020. And, as you may expect, it gave him even more opportunities to mock U.S. President Donald Trump.

    Amid allegations that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 presidential election, the Late Show host took his crew overseas to film in St. Petersburg. Colbert didn’t spill many details on Monday night’s show, except to say that the footage will be used in an upcoming week of shows all about his trip, which he called “fascinating.”

    Colbert, who arrived back in the United States on Sunday night, said the excursion took many months of planning; he and his crew shot 13-hour days and filmed about four or five segments. “The Russian people were lovely,” he said, adding that they visited “the most incredible locations.”

    Read more:Here is what Stephen Colbert really thinks of Donald Trump

    Naturally, Colbert also got in a few digs about Trump and the Russia investigation:

    — “You know who did know I was in Russia? Russian intelligence. Hardcore fans, evidently, followed me everywhere. Also got some attention from American intelligence. ... It’s important to keep your eye on a comedian while he’s in Russia doing jokes. I could be over there, I could be giving state secrets to the Russians. Oh, wait — someone’s already got that covered.”

    — “That’s me in front of St. Petersburg Winter Palace. Or as they call it, ‘Tsar-a-Lago.’”

    — Colbert showed a clip of his guest appearance on Russian late-night show “Evening Urgant,” where he said, “I’m here to announce that I am considering a run for president in 2020. And I thought it would be better to cut out the middleman and just tell the Russians myself.”

    — “Now to be clear, all I said in that little clip there was that I was considering a run. If I decide to run, obviously I’m not going to ask the Russians to help my campaign, OK? I would have my son-in-law ask them.”

    — “Like President Trump, I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any other tapes of what I did in Russia. I did not personally make any such recordings. But I’m pretty sure my crew did.”

    As a bonus, Colbert threw in some mockery about late-night TV:

    — “While I was in St. Petersburg, I was a guest on the Russian late-night talk show ‘Evening Urgant.’ It’s hosted by the very talented Ivan Urgant. Ivan, I presume, is Russian for Jimmy.”

    — “For those of you not familiar with late-night TV in Russia, it might seem a little foreign. Let me explain it to you. A white male host does some monologue jokes, then sits behind a desk to interview celebrities. It works over there somehow, I’m not sure.”

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    MONTREAL—Quebec’s health minister is blaming human error after a medical instrument 33 centimetres long was forgotten inside a woman who had a hysterectomy at a Montreal hospital last March.

    But Gaetan Barrette is urging patients to not lose confidence in the health system.

    Sylvie Dube tells Radio-Canada she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last October and underwent chemotherapy over the winter before the hysterectomy March 14.

    Dube complained of pain the day after the operation — not in the abdomen but in a shoulder. Her doctor and nurses at Notre-Dame Hospital told her it was normal a hysterectomy would cause pain elsewhere in her body.

    But the pain continued to increase in the following weeks and Dube was given anti-inflammatory medication.

    Discouraged, she went to the hospital’s emergency room on May 22 and was told a scan had found a metal plate. The medical report indicated a “flexible blade,” 33-centimetres long, had been left inside her abdomen during her surgery in March.

    The instrument was removed May 25.

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    Ontario is proposing banning the practice of double ending, in which a real estate agent represents both a buyer and a seller in a transaction.

    The province’s Liberal government announced a 16-point housing plan earlier this year, with centrepiece planks of a 15 per cent foreign buyer tax and expanded rent controls.

    Another plank was reviewing the rules for real estate agents to ensure consumers are fairly represented. The government has now published several proposals for changes to real estate agent rules and penalties, and is seeking public consultation on them.

    One of the proposals is to ban — with some limited exceptions — salespeople from representing both the buyer and seller or more than one potential buyer in a trade.

    Read more: More first-time home buyers putting purchases on hold after Ontario introduces new measures

    “The seller will want the highest possible price and most favourable terms they can get, and the buyer will want to pay the lowest price or negotiate the most favourable terms possible,” a government discussion paper says.

    “These competing interests may make it challenging for registrants involved in these types of transactions to meet their obligations to their clients or to be able to advocate effectively on behalf of either party.”

    Consumers have raised concerns that the financial incentives in double-ended deals might lead to agents engaging in unethical behaviour, the government says in its paper.

    “This divided loyalty and the associated risks may leave some consumers vulnerable even when written consent is obtained and the necessary disclosures ... have been made.”

    Currently, double ending is allowed if all of the clients the agent is representing give their consent to the arrangement in writing.

    Under the government’s proposed changes, different agents from the same brokerage could represent the buyer and the seller in a transaction. The “limited exceptions” to the double-ending ban would be if there is a private arrangement between family members or in a small market where there are very few agents.

    Read more: Where to turn when you have a problem with your real-estate agent

    Ontario says its proposed new model is similar to how British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Manitoba approach multiple representation in real estate deals. It is looking to those jurisdictions to learn best practices.

    The government is also considering increasing the maximum fine for salespeople and brokers who violate a code of ethics from $25,000 to $50,000 and $100,000 for brokerages.

    A second and broader phase of reviewing Ontario real estate rules will start in the spring of 2018.

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    As Justin Trudeau’s government approaches mid-mandate, he remains the most popular government leader in the country. But that says as much if not more about the lacklustre standing of the current set of premiers as about the staying power of the popularity of the prime minister.

    In three of the four larger provinces for instance, the incumbents face uncertain re-election prospects. And in British Columbia voters recently failed to make a definitive choice between the wannabe premiers on offer.

    Even as he leads a largely unloved first ministers’ pack Trudeau’s approval rating has steadily declined over his second year in office.

    Yet, in contrast with premiers such as Kathleen Wynne, Philippe Couillard and Rachel Notley, the prime minister has not until very recently had opposition rivals to be compared with.

    Most Canadians do not yet know what to make of incoming Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and none of the five NDP leadership contenders has so far made a big impression on the electorate.

    All of which is to say that the hits Trudeau and his party have taken over the past year have essentially been self-inflicted.

    Take the prime minister’s broken promise of a new voting system. Most Canadians do not wake up at night to fret about the first-past-the-post voting formula but they do care about whether their political leaders can be trusted to say what they mean and mean what they say.

    On that score, the episode was a defining moment for Trudeau. Going forward there will be a check-on-delivery asterisk attached to his commitments.

    On Tuesday, the prime minister again tried to dress up his decision to abandon the centrepiece of his electoral reform agenda as something other than a breach of his word — suggesting among other arguments that he was actually sticking to the fine print of his campaign promise.

    According to Trudeau, the opposition parties — had they paid more attention — would apparently have divined that he was only going through the motions of consulting Canadians on the way forward as his mind was already made up that a ranked ballot was the only acceptable destination.

    Watching the prime minister over the course of his end-of-sitting news conference dig himself a little bit deeper in a hole of his own making one could not but be struck by the singular political bipolarity of his government.

    On the one hand, Trudeau leads a team that deserves full credits for hitting the ground running in the wake of the American presidential election. Faced with the biggest shift in the tectonic plates of the Canada/U.S. relationship in decades, he and his government orchestrated a multi-faceted strategy that makes intelligent use of the talent pool at the country’s disposal.

    It is testimony to the professionalism that has so far gone into the federal approach to the Trump White House that six months in, Canada’s political leadership — provincial and federal — is mostly still singing from the same hymnbook. False notes so far have been the exception rather than the rule.

    On the other hand, the same government cannot seem to acquit itself of some of its most basic duties. Filling vacancies on agencies, boards, tribunals and courts to ensure that the machinery of government functions on all cylinders is the governance equivalent of tying one’s shoelaces. Yet, so far the Liberal government has mostly managed to trip over its shoelaces with crippling results for many of the institutions it oversees.

    That has been compounded — as in most notably but not exclusively the case of electoral reform — by talking points that insult the intelligence of anyone keeping track of the narrative.

    On too many policy issues, an unbridgeable gap between rhetoric and actual delivery is on the way to become a defining feature of Trudeau’s governance pattern.

    A word in closing on the shifting opposition landscape and the impact of recent leadership developments on the dynamics of the next campaign: Lost in the search for a significant post-leadership bump in Conservative fortunes in the wake of Andrew Scheer’s victory is the fact that he may the least polarizing flag-bearer to come out of the Canadian right in two decades.

    That is a strategic loss for Trudeau and a gift of sorts for the next NDP leader. It could be a lot harder in 2019 for the Liberals to spook New Democrat sympathizers into jumping ship to keep the Scheer-led Conservatives at bay than it was against the likes of Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and, of course Stephen Harper.

    Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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    Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage ($19 Canadian) law has cost the city jobs, according to a study that contradicted another new study published last week.

    A University of Washington team studying the law’s effects found that the law has boosted pay in low-wage jobs since it took effect in 2015, but that it also caused a 9 per cent reduction in hours worked, The Seattle Times reported. For an average low-wage Seattle worker, that’s a loss of about $125 per month, the study said.

    “If you’re a low-skilled worker with one of those jobs, $125 a month is a sizable amount of money,” said Mark Long, one of the authors. “It can be the difference between being able to pay your rent and not being able to pay your rent.”

    There would be about 5,000 more low-wage jobs in the city without the law, the study estimated.

    Seattle was one of the first U.S. cities to adopt a $15 minimum wage law, and its experience is being closely watched as other cities have followed suit and as advocates push for a higher federal minimum wage.

    The city’s law is raising the minimum to $15 for all businesses by 2021.

    In Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced last month the government’s plan to raise the hourly minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 within the next 18 months.

    The wage will rise to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018 — six months before what is expected to be a hotly contested Ontario election — and then to the $15 mark that labour groups have long demanded on Jan. 1, 2019.

    Read more:Ontario’s minimum wage jumping to $15 in 2019

    The current minimum wage in Seattle ranges from $11 to $15, and unemployment is at a historically low 2.6 per cent, thanks in part to the booming tech sector. Seattle has added about 40,000 jobs overall in the last few years.

    Last week, a review by University of California at Berkeley economists found the law raised pay without hurting jobs in the restaurant industry. An author of that report, Michael Reich, criticized the University of Washington team’s methodology.

    The University of Washington effort compared economic data from Seattle with economic data from other parts of Washington state — a statistical model referred to as “synthetic Seattle” — for which economic trend lines were previously similar to Seattle. By comparing the “synthetic Seattle” where no minimum wage increase took effect with Seattle itself, the researchers tried to figure out the minimum wage law’s effect on Seattle’s economy.

    But Reich took issue with how University of Washington team compiled its “synthetic Seattle.” It was based on areas that “do not at all resemble Seattle,” Reich warned in a letter to the city Monday.

    By contrast, the Berkeley study compared Seattle to a statistical model based on areas around the country — not just within the state — and was thus a “more representative” comparison, he said.

    The University of Washington report excludes “multi-site businesses,” such as large corporations, restaurants and retail stores that own their branches directly. Single-site businesses, though — which are counted in the report — could include franchise locations that are owned separately from their corporate headquarters.

    Reich said multi-site businesses employ a large percentage of Seattle’s low-paid workers. That meant workers who left single-site businesses to work at multi-site businesses were counted as job losses, not job gains in the UW study, he said.

    Jacob Vigdor, a public policy professor and one of the authors of the new report, stood by the team’s findings. He noted that his team’s study actually corroborated Berkeley’s conclusion, finding zero impact from the minimum-wage law on restaurant employment — when taking into account jobs at all wage levels within the restaurant industry.

    But for low-wage restaurant workers, the law cost them work hours, the new report said. If the minimum wage law hadn’t been in effect, those workers would have seen an 11 per cent increase in their hours, the report said.

    “When we perform the exact same analysis as the Berkeley team, we match their results, which is inconsistent with the notion that our methods create bias,” he said.

    With files from the Toronto Star

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    In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court reinstating part of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, Canadian advocacy groups are calling on Ottawa to suspend a bilateral pact that bans refugees from seeking asylum in Canada if they’ve entered the country from the United States.

    “We are shocked and disappointed that the Canadian government continues to hold to the view that the U.S. is a safe partner for refugee protection,” said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

    “That was not true before President Trump took office and it has become abundantly clear that his presidency is characterized by utter disregard for the safety and rights of refugees and migrants.”

    In a ruling Monday, America’s highest court gave the go-ahead for a 120-day ban on all refugee claimants entering the country who don’t have any “bona fide relationship” with an American individual or group.

    The court also granted a qualified permission for the White House to place a 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, if they do not have credible connections in the U.S. The partial ban is expected to take effect as soon as Thursday.

    Those with a “bona fide relationship,” the court noted, include foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. to live with or visit family, students at American universities, employees of U.S. companies or visiting scholars.

    On Tuesday, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees released a 52-page brief to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale outlining the flaws of the U.S. asylum system and immigration detention regime that fail to meet international and Canadian standards.

    “While the U.S. asylum system has long suffered from significant failings, these deficiencies have been exacerbated under the Trump administration,” said the briefing.

    “Since assuming office, President Trump has taken steps to implement a number of policies likely to significantly erode already deficient protections for asylum seekers.”

    Introduced in 2004, the Safe Third Country Agreement, with limited exceptions, limits refugees to making an asylum claim in the first of the two countries they arrive in, in order to avoid duplicate asylum claims that would clog both systems.

    However, the agreement does not apply to those who cross “irregularly” at unguarded points along the border, a situation critics say encourages desperate asylum-seekers to risk their lives getting into Canada.

    A spokesperson for Hussen said the government hasn't changed it's stance on the U.S.-Canada pact.

    “Canada has carefully analyzed recent developments in the United States, including with respect to the recent Executive Orders related to border . . . and determined that the U.S. remains a safe country for asylum claimants,” wrote Bernie Derible in an email to the Star, noting the UN Refugee Agency shares that assessment.

    Between the time Trump took office in January and the end of May, Canada received 15,170 asylum claimants, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. Among the 5,620 claimants who came by land, some 3,461 were intercepted by the RCMP crossing illegally.

    Although the number of irregular border-crossers dropped slightly in May to 742 from the peak of 887 in March, the U.S. court decision could trigger another wave of refugees seeking asylum in Canada through the porous land border.

    To date, there has been one reported death among asylum-seekers risking their lives to cross the border. Mavis Otuteye, a 57-year-old Ghanaian, was found dead near Emerson, Man., in late May en route to Toronto to see her only daughter. The cause of death was hypothermia.

    “This agreement encourages desperate people to take desperate measures which may put their safety and even their lives at risk,” said Loly Rico, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

    “From the perspectives of humanity, human rights and responsible border management, the Safe Third Country Agreement should be suspended. There has been no convincing explanation from the Canadian government as to why they will not take that step.”

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    U.S. President Donald Trump was at his desk in the Oval Office and on the phone with the new prime minister of Ireland on Tuesday when a journalist for an Irish news organization caught his eye.

    “Well, we have a lot of your Irish press watching us,” Trump said to the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, as several reporters looked on.

    Then, interrupting his conversation with Varadkar, Trump pointed at the journalist, Caitriona Perry, and gestured for her to come to him.

    Read the latest news on U.S. President Donald Trump

    “And where are you from?” he said. “Go ahead. Come here, come here. Where are you from? We have all of this beautiful Irish press.”

    After she introduced herself, Trump told Varadkar, “She has a nice smile on her face so I bet she treats you well.”

    The exchange, which was captured on video and widely shared on social media, drew criticism about how Trump treats women and the message it sent about the attitude toward women as professionals in their fields.

    Elisa Lees Munoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, said on Wednesday that she had heard about the episode in passing.

    After a transcript of the exchange was read to her over the phone, she said: “Oh, Lord. I wish I could say this is a surprise.”

    She said such occurrences were not limited to Trump, adding that female journalists are frequently called out for their appearance, their hair and the way they dress.

    Comments like the president’s detract from a woman’s value as a professional, she said.

    “We absolutely do not see that happening with male reporters,” she said. “I don’t know what the solution to this is. It does need to be called out. It does need to stop.”

    Kris Macomber, an assistant professor of sociology at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, said in an email that Trump’s comments reflect “textbook paternalistic sexism,” which is often couched in a “‘playful’ tone, as if she should feel flattered.”

    “Donald Trump’s track record for sexist remarks is well documented, and this particular case fits right in line with his previous remarks,” she wrote. “He didn’t say those things for Perry’s sake; rather he said those things to show all the people in the room (and the cameras) that he’s the kind of man who flirts with women he considers attractive.”

    Most notably, a month before the election, a 2005 recording surfaced of Trump talking to television personality Billy Bush of Access Hollywood and speaking in extraordinarily vulgar terms about women.

    In 2013, President Barack Obama apologized to Kamala Harris, who was then the attorney general of California and is now one of its senators, after telling a group of wealthy donors that she was “the best-looking attorney general in the country.” The comment drew accusations of sexism, which the White House at the time quickly sought to quiet.

    Perry, the Washington correspondent for Raidio Teilifis Eireann, could not be reached to comment on Wednesday. On Twitter, she posted a video of the exchange and described it as a “bizarre moment.”

    RTE had an article on its webpage under the entertainment category with the headline “Trump call! RTE’s Caitriona has Presidential moment.”

    Perry told RTE she expected to shoot footage from outside the window of the White House during the president’s call but that reporters were invited inside.

    “One minute we were outside the window and the next minute I’m meeting the president of the United States,” she said. “When we went in he was already on the phone but I must have caught his eye and he called me over.”

    The White House did not respond to an email requesting comment.

    On Twitter, some users reacted with revulsion.

    Deb Curry wrote: “Please, don’t judge us by this man. My husband would never treat you like this in a workplace. So inappropriate.”

    Others defended the president and said he was complimenting Perry.

    Twitter user Mike Boyd wrote: “Our generation calls what POTUS did a simple act of dignity and kindness. When kindness is mistaken for being bizarre, it’s a sad commentary.”

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    A Rogers Centre spectator who threw a beer can onto the field during a Blue Jays’ playoff game last fall has been spared a criminal record, if he complies with terms of his 12-month probation.

    Justice Robert Bigelow told Old City Hall court on Wednesday that former journalist Ken Pagan has already lost his job and suffered public humiliation after narrowly missing Baltimore Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim with the tin on Oct. 4, 2016.

    Bigelow agreed with Pagan’s lawyer, Tyler Smith, that, “other than for a few seconds... [Pagan] has been a significantly contributing member of our society.”

    “He has suffered humiliation, harassment as a result of this incident,” the judge continued.

    Pagan’s voice gently trembled as he spoke of his love for baseball and apologized to the Blue Jays, Orioles, Kim, the city, and his family, friends and former colleagues.

    “I would first like to say how fortunate I am that nobody was injured in this incident and that the game was able to continue,” said Pagan, a former Postmedia sports copy editor, in a slightly trembling voice.

    “I do realize how lucky I am and the situation could have been worse,” said Pagan, who wore a white dress shirt and dark blue tie.

    “I have been a passionate baseball fan since getting hooked as an eight-year-old in the summer of 1983 and I am fully aware of the disgrace I brought to the game and the embarrassment this caused, particularly to the Toronto Blue Jays organization and the great fans of Toronto,” Pagan said.

    Court heard that Pagan lost his job as a result of the incident.

    Since then, he has delivered pizzas and worked as a janitor and has become a janitorial supervisor.

    Smith said that the publicity around the incident means Pagan may never get back into journalism.

    Pagan was given a conditional discharge, which means he will be spared a criminal record if he complies with his 12-month probation.

    The Crown had sought a criminal conviction, arguing it was needed to send a message of public deterrence.

    Under terms of his probation, Pagan must perform at least 10 hours of community service a month.

    He is also barred from attending any Major League Baseball games. The Blue Jays have already banned him from the Rogers Centre.

    The judge ordered Pagan to do 200 hours of community work, but noted that he has already done 100 hours this year.

    Court heard that Pagan is a longtime volunteer with youth in amateur sports. Smith argued that a criminal record could block Pagan from continuing as a sports volunteer.

    Pagan plead guilty last month to a charge of mischief under $5,000.

    Assistant Crown Attorney Rebecca Edward argued that a strong message and criminal conviction was needed to prevent similar incidents.

    “This is unsportmanslike and definitely non-Canadian,” Edward told court.

    “A lot of people were embarrassed by this behaviour... concerned that this reflected badly upon us,” Edward said.

    Pagan said he began drafting his apology the day after tossing the beer tin.

    “I am truly sorry and I am working to be the best person that I can be,” Pagan told court.

    In town for a game against the Blue Jays, Orioles outfielder Kim told reporters at the Rogers Centre through a translator that he has received and read the apology letter from Pagan.

    “I accept his apology. People make mistakes. I’m sure it’s not going to happen again,” he said.

    Because of the incident, the Jays’ stopped selling beer in tins for the remainder of last season.

    Smith suggested Pagan wasn’t the only one to blame in the incident.

    “Without a doubt, Mr. Pagan and many others that day were over-served,” Smith said.

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    Toronto police are trying to track down a man who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman on a city bus.

    Investigators say the incident occurred on Tuesday night as the woman was riding a Toronto Transit Commission bus on Dufferin Street near Eglinton Avenue West.

    It’s alleged the man stood beside her on the bus and sexually assaulted her.

    Police say the suspect got off the bus at Dufferin station and took the subway going east about 20 minutes later.

    The suspect is described as in his 20s, about five-foot-six with a slim build and a moustache.

    Police have released a security image of the man and are asking the public for assistance in identifying the suspect.

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    OTTAWA—With the Bank of Canada nearing its next policy decision, governor Stephen Poloz is reiterating the message that his 2015 interest-rate cuts appear to have done their job.

    Poloz said in an interview broadcast on business news channel CNBC that the Canadian economy enjoyed “surprisingly” strong growth in the first three months of 2017 and he expected the pace to stay above potential.

    The comments fed speculation about a Bank of Canada rate hike as early as its next scheduled announcement in two weeks. If the central bank increases its key rate, the big Canadian banks will raise their prime rates, driving up the cost of variable rate mortgages, other loans and lines of credit tied to the benchmark rate.

    Poloz credited the two rate cuts introduced by the bank in 2015 for helping the economy counteract the effects of the oil-price slump, which began in late 2014. The reductions also helped increase the speed of the adjustment, Poloz added.

    “It does look as though those cuts have done their job,” said Poloz, who was in Portugal on Wednesday to participate in a forum hosted by the European Central Bank.

    “But we’re just approaching a new interest rate decision so I don’t want to prejudge. But certainly we need to be at least considering that whole situation now that the capacity, excess capacity, is being used up steadily.”

    More “hawkish” statements in recent weeks by Poloz and the bank’s senior deputy governor, Carolyn Wilkins, have suggested the bank is moving closer to its first rate increase in nearly seven years.

    A softer-than-expected inflation report last Friday led some analysts to believe the bank might wait until the fall or later before introducing a rate increase.

    But economists interpreted Poloz’s latest remarks Wednesday as a signal the bank may even hike the benchmark as early as its next announcement on July 12.

    “He’s not going to give it away, but that’s a pretty solid signal that a July rate hike is very much on the table,” BMO chief economist Doug Porter wrote in a research note to clients.

    Porter added that Poloz’s comments also indicate the governor is “comfortable” with oil in its current range of USD$40 to USD$50 per barrel.

    Desjardins senior economist Jimmy Jean wrote: “This does not sound like a central banker who was profoundly shaken by the weaker-than-expected (consumer price index) numbers of last Friday.”

    The bank lowered its rate twice in 2015 to the very low level of 0.5 per cent to help offset the effects of the oil-price shock.

    Poloz said the drop in oil prices set Canada’s economy back — causing the central bank to compensate by lowering interest rates — but that growth has rebounded with an “encouraging” pace in recent months.

    While he said he expects growth to moderate to a more normal level, he predicted it would remain “above potential.”

    Poloz, who participated in a panel with Bank of England governor Mark Carney, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, also said virtually every major area of the world seems to be gaining economic momentum — with the United States “way out in front.”

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    Vera Mol, a 17-year-old from the Netherlands, was standing on a 40-metre-high bridge on Spain’s northern coast, bracing for her first bungee jump.

    It was 8:30 p.m., and she was the last in a group of 13 teenagers to go, when the instructor gave a command.

    “No jump, it’s important, no jump,” he said in English, according to court documents. But Mol, apparently misunderstanding his pronunciation, heard, “Now jump.” She threw herself from the ledge — and plunged to her death. The harness she was wearing had not yet been secured to the bridge.

    This month, an appeals court in Cantabria, in northern Spain, upheld a ruling that the instructor for Aqua21 Aventura, the company that had organized the bungee jump in August 2015, could face criminal charges, including accidental homicide, should prosecutors decide to proceed with the case.

    The company appealed last year, arguing that the teenager had jumped prematurely, and that her death was an accident.

    In its ruling, the appeals court said that the instructor, who has not been publicly identified, had spoken in broken English, and it blamed his linguistic shortcomings in part for Mol’s death.

    The instructor should have said, “Don’t jump,” the court said. The ruling added that the instructor’s English had not been sufficient to instruct foreigners in “something as precarious as jumping into the void from an elevated point.”

    The court said the misunderstanding was the result of “the incorrect use and pronunciation of English,” noting that the instructor had acknowledged that he spoke the language only at a basic level.

    At the time of the accident, the local authorities for the village of Cabezon de la Sal in Cantabria, near where Mol died, told the newspaper El Pais that the bridge was “extremely risky,” that tour operators had no right to use it for bungee jumping, and that they had not known that such activities were taking place.

    In its ruling, issued on June 7 but made public only recently, the court also took the company to task for failing to determine whether the victim was underage and therefore also failing to get the necessary consent from Mol’s parents.

    The court also found that the company did not have the proper security measures in place and did not have a permit to allow bungee jumping from the spot where the teenager plunged to her death.

    The group of teenagers had waited “on the edge of the abyss,” the court said.

    Flowtrack, a company based in Belgium that organized the students’ trip to Spain and that hired Aqua21 Aventura to handle the excursion where the bungee jump took place, said the Spanish company had failed to abide by regulations.

    Reached by phone, Aqua21 Aventura said it had no comment. The man who answered, who declined to give his name, said it was “ridiculous that an international newspaper is interested in this story.”

    The first bungee jump using modern equipment took place on April 1, 1979, when a group of Oxford University students, who were members of the Dangerous Sports Club, jumped from the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, in the southwest of England.

    One of the students, David Kirke, wearing a top hat and tails, jumped with a glass of champagne in hand. The students were immediately arrested. But they helped to spread the activity globally, and eventually also jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

    Injuries from bungee jumping have included rope burn, dislocations, eye damage and trauma. Accidents can occur, among other things, if the cord is too long or the jumper is not properly secured.

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    Installing the Presto fare card system on the TTC is expected to cost the province 50 per cent more than originally estimated, with the budget ballooning to $385 million.

    The new figure, which was provided by the provincial transportation minister’s office and is expected to be discussed at a Metrolinx board meeting on Wednesday, is $130 million greater than a 2012 estimate of $255 million.

    The additional cost helps push the province’s total anticipated spending on Presto infrastructure across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and Ottawa to $916.2 million over roughly a decade.

    Asked in an interview why equipping the TTC with the fare card system has gone so far over budget, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said the original estimate was produced before Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency for the GTHA, had signed a formal agreement with the TTC for the Presto program.

    Over the course of hammering out the deal and implementing the program, Metrolinx discovered “some additional complexities” that led to increased costs, Del Duca said.

    “We’re always cognizant that we’re investing taxpayers’ dollars wisely and effectively,” said Del Duca, the Liberal MPP for Vaughan.

    “From my perspective, the most important thing is that we continue to deploy this successfully on the TTC, so that customers … have that reliability and that accessibility that they need to make their commute easier and more straightforward.”

    New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo, the party’s urban transit critic, called the cost overrun “shocking” and described Metrolinx as a “rogue agency” that racks up bills at the public’s expense while being opaque about its finances.

    “The concern is that they seem as if they answer to no one, except the Liberal cabinet,” said DiNovo, who represents Parkdale—High Park.

    She argued that “the books need to be opened for that agency.”

    “Ultimately, the buck stops at Steven Del Duca. And he needs to be held responsible for the errors of Metrolinx,” DiNovo said.

    As one example of the project’s unforeseen complexities, Del Duca stated that Metrolinx needed to deploy Presto readers on more of the TTC’s old-model “legacy” streetcars than expected, as a result of Bombardier’s failure to deliver a fleet of new vehicles on time.

    The TTC pushed back against that assertion Tuesday, with a spokesperson saying it’s the agency’s position that the majority of the costs Metrolinx has incurred were within the original scope of the project.

    The TTC and Metrolinx entered into a master agreement for Presto in November 2012. The system allows transit users to pay for their trips by tapping prepaid fare cards on readers located on transit vehicles and in stations.

    It will eventually replace older forms of payment on the TTC, and is currently available on 10 transit services within the GTHA, including the TTC, GO Transit, Mississauga’s MiWay, and the Union Pearson Express. It’s also used on Ottawa’s OC Transpo.

    Presto’s deployment on the TTC has not been totally smooth: card readers and other devices suffered persistent technical problems last year. Metrolinx says the issues have mostly been rectified.

    Michael Harris, transportation critic for the Progressive Conservatives, questioned how a system that cost so much could have so many significant problems.

    “We don’t even have a perfect system and we paid 50 per cent more, $130 million more. For what?” asked Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.

    “Only a project ultimately overseen by (Premier) Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals … could see a project go over by 50 per cent.”

    Despite the cost increases, Minister Del Duca described the Presto program as an operational success. He noted that more than 2.8 million people now use the fare card in all of its jurisdictions.

    He also stated that the reliability of Presto devices on the TTC has improved dramatically. As of last month, 97 per cent of card readers on the transit system were operable at any given time, just below Metrolinx’s target of at least 99 per cent.

    The TTC now has 5,000 Presto readers on buses and streetcars, and is installing automated Presto fare gates at all of its subway stations.

    Of 69 stations, 45 are equipped with Presto gates, with the remaining 24 slated for completion this year.

    The TTC has budgeted $44 million for its share of the Presto installation, which is separate from the Metrolinx costs. According to TTC spokesperson Heather Brown, so far the Toronto agency has spent $35 million of the total on project management, testing, engineering and design. It is spending an additional $50 million on the new fare gates to replace its subway turnstiles.

    Installation of Presto hardware is expected to be completed in 2018, and some time next year the TTC will begin phasing out other forms of payment. The agency has not set a firm date for when it will stop accepting tickets, tokens and passes.

    Numbers that will be presented at the Metrolinx board meeting are expected to show that as of March 31 of this year, the provincial agency had spent $327.1 million equipping the TTC with Presto, with a further $57.9 million budgeted for completing the project.

    According to Del Duca, in addition to the $385 million Metrolinx will spend on the TTC Presto program, the provincial agency will be spending a further $59 million on software features and Presto infrastructure upgrades across the GTHA and Ottawa to ensure the system “functions even better for our commuters.”

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    The three levels of governments will spend $1.25 billion over seven years to clean up Toronto’s Port Lands, considered one of North America’s largest under-used and under-developed urban areas.

    The funding will flood-proof the southeastern downtown area, making possible the long-sought after dream of transforming the polluted, industrial area into a mixed-use community surrounded by parks and green space.

    “This project will create a better quality of life for the people of Toronto,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said standing on a raised podium on Polson St. with the city skyline — and flooded Toronto Islands — as a backdrop.

    He was joined by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Mayor John Tory and Will Fleissig, CEO of Waterfront Toronto, the agency in charge of overseeing the renewal of the waterfront.

    The federal government is kicking in up to $384 million for the project. The province and city will each contribute more than $400 million.

    “By doing this work, we’re unlocking the potential of this amazing piece of land to build a community where people will live, where they’ll work, where they’ll shop, where they’ll play and where the land will be healthier,” Wynne said.

    The project will also be another step in restoring the Don River, “one of Toronto’s natural treasures,” she added. She noted the location of the news conference, on a helicopter pad next to a parking lot, was once Ontario’s largest wetland.

    But about 100 years ago, as the Don Valley became heavily industrialized, the river was re-routed to enter the lake into a concrete channel, Wynne said. The project will create a new mouth for the Don between the Ship Channel and Keating Channel.

    “Now, as part of this project, the mouth of the river will be turned back into a natural valley and I think that is awesome — to rip up a parking lot and create a wetland, to create a green space,” Wynne said.

    The three leaders all emphasized that the co-operation demonstrates what happens when different orders of government sit down and work together.

    Mayor John Tory said the project will prime the investment pump, lead to the creation of a new transit hub and allow for the building of new communities, including those with affordable housing units.

    The project will also mitigate the impact of climate change on the city, Tory added.

    “It took a long time to get here but we’re here doing something important,” he said.

    “While it’s not always popular to say so, Canada as a whole, not just Toronto, will benefit from the investment and the thousands of jobs which will come about because of today’s sensible, necessary investment.”

    John Wilson, who chaired a now-defunct city council advisory committee on the Don River, was all smiles after attending Wednesday’s announcement. He called it a culmination of decades of work.

    “I can retire happy now,” Wilson said. “The whole area has just been underappreciated, it’s been trashed, it’s been misused and abused and people like me, we love our waterfront, and we love our river. This is turning a corner.”

    The transformation will take a lot of work and investment but “for the future of our city, this is where the future of the city is.”

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    Privatizing Hydro One ranks as the biggest miscalculation of Kathleen Wynne’s time as premier.

    It violated fundamental axioms of politics — notably the perils of public opposition and public confusion.

    But — and this is important —it didn’t break the basic laws of the land.

    An ongoing court challenge, bankrolled by one of Ontario’s biggest unions, seeks to declare the privatization of Hydro One an act of misfeasance. CUPE argues the partial sale was wrongful, illegal conduct by an elected government favouring its financial friends.

    On its face, the court case seems doomed to fail, equal parts frivolous and foolish. It makes little sense legally, factually, politically, fiscally.

    CUPE’s underlying goal is not so much a courtroom triumph as a victory in the court of public opinion. In reality, publicity stunts make for good politics but bad law.

    After a few legal skirmishes this month, Justice P.J. Cavanagh will rule soon whether the case should proceed. It shouldn’t, because the real judgment belongs to voters in next summer’s Ontario election.

    As it did in the election of 2014.

    Oddly, the core of CUPE’s claim against the Liberal government is that Wynne lacked an electoral mandate to sell off part of Hydro One, and that it secretly lined the pockets of bankers along the way. It’s an argument that appeals to the dark suspicions people harbour about politicians today, but it is pure revisionist history.

    Voters must distinguish between paranoia and paying attention. The idea that Wynne’s Liberals never hinted at privatization is a provable fiction invented by the most vocal opponents of the plan — who inexplicably lost their tongue in the campaign of 2014.

    Three weeks before her Liberal minority government was defeated by the NDP that year, Wynne announced an outside panel of experts headed by then-TD Bank CEO Ed Clark to examine the ownership of government assets, notably Hydro One.

    “We own these assets, the people of Ontario. Selling them off . . . is bad news,” warned NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns at the time. “We aren’t supporting privatization.”

    But New Democrats concluded that there were more votes to be snatched from the Liberals by focusing on gas plant criminalization than hydro privatization. They miscalculated.

    Wynne won the election, but fell into the trap of brand confusion. Many voters felt betrayed by a politician whom they assumed was more or less of the left, but left them behind at the altar of privatization.

    Beyond the damage to her personal reputation, what really hurt Wynne was widespread confusion over Hydro One’s corporate brand: Most Ontarians conflate it with the old Ontario Hydro, which has a long and legendary history in the province as the face of publicly owned power. But that legacy Crown corporation was long ago carved up by the Tories as a precursor to privatization — split into Ontario Power Generation (OPG), which generates nuclear and hydro electricity; and Hydro One, essentially a transmission company that owns the wires, poles, and some local distribution companies.

    The biggest contradiction in this tangled tale of transmission wires is the opposition’s claim that privatization will raise prices. That’s like arguing that natural gas prices can be held hostage by privately owned Enbridge. Energy utilities are regulated by the Ontario Energy Board, which has the last word on prices.

    The Liberals sold off Hydro One despite internal polling showing a lack of public support, wrongly calculating that it would generate only passing opposition after the inattention of the last election. They were banking on the sale proceeds to meet a 2014 election promise to balance the budget by 2017 — which they did, but at great political cost.

    The NDP’s Andrea Horwath has made the most of the sale — reviving her own flagging leadership after the last election. Luckily for her, the party’s implausible promise to buy back all of Hydro One— paying far more for the shares than the province earned for them — has escaped attention until now, though she will surely be called to account for it on the campaign trail.

    Even the Progressive Conservatives, who first conjured up privatization of the venerable Ontario Hydro two decades ago, now earnestly claim to oppose the partial sale of Hydro One. It is a breathtaking about-face, considering that they wanted to unload hydro assets as recently as the 2011 election campaign.

    I’ve always argued against the privatization of Hydro One — but on public policy, not political grounds. Politics, however, has its own rhythm and rationale.

    Politicians take positions, make calculations, win elections, lose campaigns. Selling off Hydro One was wrong-headed but the truth is that Wynne won the last election after telling people she might do it. And as we are reminded after every election, voters, too, have the right to change their minds.

    That’s politics, for better or for worse. Best that lawyers and judges keep their distance.

    Martin Regg Cohn’s political column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. , Twitter: @reggcohn

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    It began with what seemed like any other tip called in to the Toronto Star’s 24-hour news desk.

    But the man on the line — his voice steady, at times upset but never once raised — would soon reveal he had made a desperate move.

    He was “at a breaking point.” He needed to be listened to. This is what it would take, he said.

    Over the phone, a woman’s desperate screams could be heard — “I have family!” she cried.

    It was clear this was unlike any other call into the newsroom.

    What unfolded beginning around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday was a daylight hostage-taking in an Eglinton West massage parlour tucked into an industrial area strip mall. Heavily armed members of Toronto police’s Emergency Task Force soon descended on the area, patrolling the area with guns and taking position on top of nearby buildings, according to witnesses.

    The more than hour-long negotiation — beginning first with a call to the Star, and ending with a Toronto police negotiator — would end shortly after noon with the safe rescue of a woman who was being held inside Studio 9 massage parlour, and the arrest of a burly man dressed all in black.

    Michael Storms, 35, was charged Wednesday with forcible confinement and uttering threats.

    The man on the phone had told the Star he had converted to Islam when he was 20, and also went by the name Muhammed Islam. The caller said his motivations for the kidnapping were related to years of being surveilled and monitored by the RCMP, and that he was desperate for it to stop.

    The RCMP did not return a request for comment to the Star by press time.

    In a 2014 article in the National Post, a Toronto man identified as Muhammed Islam was named as one of approximately 90 high-risk travellers whose passports were seized to prevent them from travelling to take part in extremist violence abroad.

    In a YouTube video posted in 2014, a man called Michael Storms identifies himself as Muhammed Islam and says he had a difficult childhood, grew up with family that were “very bad people” — “that was a my upbringing, crime and violence, drugs.”

    “I was never alone, but I felt lonely,” he says in the video.

    Throughout Wednesday’s incident, the man on the phone stressed that his actions were not motivated by terrorism and he staunchly did not support it.

    Below is an account of events on Wednesday, based on interviews with witnesses and police and a recording of more than an hour of the negotiations.

    The incident began inside Studio 9 spa, when a regular who staff knew as Mike walked in. Immediately, he began by giving instructions to the receptionist: cover the massage parlour windows with paper and duct tape, which he had brought in his bag.

    According to a woman who identified herself as Nyla, who did not want her last name used, she and another woman working inside the parlour were told they could leave, but the man prevented one woman from leaving. Nyla said the man she knew as Mike then told them the situation had nothing to do with them, but he needed someone to listen to him.

    Inside the Toronto Star newsroom, the phone rang in the Radio Room, the 24-hour news desk. Reporter Fakiha Baig took the call.

    Baig thought it was another call alerting the Star to a story idea, and listened as the man began speaking about how he was being surveilled.

    Then she heard a woman shouting.

    “I could hear her crying in the background, saying something like ‘why are you doing this,’ and asking for help,” Baig said after the incident.

    The caller, who identified himself as Michael, began telling Baig that he needed to do something drastic to be heard.

    “I’ve needed help for a long time, OK? And nobody will listen. The only way to do this is to create a situation. A crisis, OK? Which is what I’m doing. So I took a hostage. Are you listening to me?”

    “Yes, sir, where are you exactly?” asked Baig, who had begun recording the call.

    Michael tells her exactly where he is, then goes on, insistent on explaining his motivations.

    “This is being done out of desperation,” Michael says. “Because I don’t know what to do, right? Nobody will listen, nobody will help me, right?”

    As more crying can be heard in the background, Baig realizes she needs to get someone else involved — “I’m not hanging up sir, can you give me one second?” she tells him.

    Baig leaves, rushing through the newsroom to tell Star editor Jennifer Quinn what is going on.

    Baig’s voice recorder, still running, then captures an exchange between Michael and a female voice, a woman he has been holding inside the parlour who he calls Hannah.

    “Hannah, I’ve told you what they’ve been doing to me buddy. Remember, when I was stressed out,” Michael tells her.

    “Everyone has problems!” the woman, hysterical, responds.

    “You don’t have these kinds of problems, though, Hannah, right?”

    “So why’d you take me with you?” she responds.

    “I don’t know. All I can say is I apologize … I can’t let you go.”

    Quinn has meanwhile dialed 911 and learned that police have already been contacted about the hostage. Officers are on their way to the scene, she is told.

    Overhearing the discussion about a hostage taking, Star editor Doug Cudmore offers to help. He joins Baig in the Radio Room, introduces himself to the caller, and begins what will become 45 minutes of conversation. Meanwhile Star staff liaised with police to have an officer join Cudmore at the Star newsroom.

    A police officer needed to come to the Star because Michael was open to speaking to one, but did not want to get off the phone with Cudmore and did not want to speak to an officer outside the massage parlour.

    In a calm and measured tone throughout, Cudmore reassures Michael that he’s listening, there to help and concerned for everyone’s safety.

    “I’m a little bit upset. Like I said, no one will listen to me. And I’ve tried, many times, to get help. I’ve gone to the hospital, I’ve talked to them about what’s been going on,” Michael tells Cudmore.

    “I’m really interested in hearing your story,” he responds. “And we do want to get you help. We don’t want you to get hurt.”

    “I don’t want to get hurt, I don’t want to hurt Hannah,” Michael says. “I really care about this woman. She’s one of those people who’s been super nice to me. I’m not joking. What’s going on really actually breaks my heart.”

    Michael then notices that police are arriving outside — “the cops are pulling up right now,” he says.

    “We just wanted to let them know, so nobody gets hurt. Do you have any weapons that they need to worry about?” Cudmore asks.

    “I do have weapons, yep,” Michael responds.

    “OK. Can you tell us what you have? Just because we don’t want anything to happen —,” Cudmore says.

    “Listen, all you need to know is that I am armed,” Michael interrupts.

    Police later said the man claimed to have scissors, but that did not appear to be the case and no weapons charge was laid.

    On the phone, Michael instructs Cudmore to tell police not to approach. Cudmore attempts to keep the caller calm, reminding him that he’s going to help.

    “I understand that you guys are going to be sympathetic and you’re going to try to help me. And I appreciate that and I want it. I do need it, ok? I’m at a breaking point,” Michael says.

    Cudmore invites Michael to tell him more about “what’s going on that’s making you feel this way.”

    “It’s the police. It’s CSIS. OK?” Michael alleged that RCMP surveillance had resulted in him losing his job and not being able to get an apartment. He claims he has been on the national security watchlist for 15 years, being followed and monitored — “believe me, they’ve been doing it.”

    “I need people to know that I’ve been targeted because I’m Muslim, right… They want to tell me that I’m a terrorist, or potential terrorist. I don’t support terrorism or any of that stuff,” Michael says.

    Staying calm, Cudmore remains on the phone with Michael, attempting to steer him towards topics that calm him.

    Michael, who occasionally starts to cry, occasionally tells the woman to stay close — “you know I’m not going to hurt you,” he tells her.

    Michael tells Cudmore he can see police outside, via the massage parlour’s security cameras.

    “Now there’s three, four of them? Well, there’s definitely way more than that. Another one’s coming up by the sign, he’s crouching down, looking out the door, using his little radio,” Michael says.

    The police presence is also being noticed throughout the neighbourhood.

    “I was outside when they came, I was doing some work and I saw a cop . . . just kind of tell me to get out of the way,” said Peter Mastrangelo, who works nearby at Premium Auto Sales Inc.

    Earlier, when he was arriving for work, he’d noticed that the parlour sign was not on, as usual, a white piece of paper was taped to the inside of the door saying it was temporarily closed.

    On the phone, Michael says he is concerned about police coming in “guns blazing… I don’t want Hannah to get hurt, K? I don’t want to get hurt, do you understand?”

    “I’m going to stay with you on the phone until there’s a cop here with me, does that work?” Cudmore asks.

    Then, a few minutes later, Cudmore gives an update.

    “They just told me that the police are on their way here to chat with you on the phone, so it’ll just be a minute or two until we can get them talking,” Cudmore says. “It looks like we’ve just had a police officer come in the newsroom here. Would you like him to come in and join?”

    Michael says yes, and Toronto police Sgt. Sean Thrush soon joins the conversation for what will become 25 minutes, before ultimately directing Michael to place a call to an ETF officer stationed outside the parlour.

    Thrush tells Michael that he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.

    “So you need to understand, I’m at the Toronto Star building right now, so I can’t see what you can see so I understand you’re telling me that there’s officers right now at the building?”

    “Yeah, they’re uh, they’re creeping around, I can see them on camera, right?” Michael responds.

    In a calm voice, Thrush tells Michael he is hearing his concerns.

    “Obviously you want some help, and I want to give you that help, but I need to know what it is I can do for you,” Thrush says.

    “Look man, I don’t know. When I say I need help, I need help, right? And jail’s not going to help me, even though I know I’m going there,” Michael says.

    Thrush asks if he has weapons.

    “I do have weapons. I do. But I won’t use them if you don’t threaten my life. Is that fair?”

    “That’s fair, and no one wants to threaten your life but you have to understand that we have a duty to your life and Hannah’s life, right?” Thrush responds.

    Thrush continues talking calmly, soon telling him he needs to contact a Toronto police sergeant who is on the scene, just outside the massage parlour, to continue the conversation.

    “So we’ll disconnect now, I’ll call him right now,” Michael says.

    “OK, thank you Michael,” Thrush responds.

    “OK. See ya,” Michael says.

    The call ends around noon.

    Toronto police spokesperson Const. Victor Kwong tweeted soon after that a rapport had been built with the man in crisis, that he had been apprehended, and that no one inside the massage parlour had been injured.

    “This was part Toronto Star — the person who dealt with the call — part the officers who attended Toronto Star and then part the negotiators who ended up showing up from Emergency Task Force,” Kwong said in an interview Wednesday.

    “We can’t pin this on one person’s help throughout the day. This one was a multitude of different people doing things well.”

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    A former senior city bureaucrat who had been managing files in the vacant Ward 44 has been appointed to that seat by a wide margin.

    Council chose Jim Hart, a local resident who was the general manager for the parks, recreation and forestry division before his retirement, to represent the Scarborough East area for the rest of the term at a special meeting Wednesday. He won with 67 per cent of the votes.

    The seat became vacant after the death of longtime-councillor Ron Moeser in April.

    After the vote, Hart said he was “overwhelmed” by the support from council, which included Mayor John Tory and all but two members of his executive, as well as several left-leaning councillors.

    “What I’m happy to see is the vote was widespread across council, members of council from every stripe voted for me, so that was really significant and I really appreciate that,” Hart said. “I can’t wait to get down here, back to the place I love to work.”

    Hart volunteered to help Moeser after he was diagnosed with cancer last year and had represented Ward 44 at public meetings and on planning issues in his absence. During his speech to council, Hart also noted he had the endorsement of Moeser’s widow, Heather, who submitted a letter to council to that effect.

    Hart told reporters the first order of business was a public meeting concerning the Port Union waterfront trail on Wednesday evening, which he planned to attend.

    He prevailed over 46 other candidates to win the seat, including David Soknacki, a former city councillor and mayoral candidate, who was considered to be competing with Hart for the job. Soknacki received nine votes, or 22 per cent of the vote.

    Soknacki gave a frank speech at council ahead of the vote, indicating he knew he had already lost his front-runner status.

    “At one time we had a very strong level of support and it wasn’t conditional, it wasn’t on waiting for a knock on the door, it wasn’t to wait to see if there was somebody else to come,” he said, adding he had no regrets about putting his name forward.

    Both Hart and Soknacki had promised to be stewards for the ward and to refrain from running in the 2018 general election.

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