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Published: Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:14:25 EDT

Last Build Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:14:25 EDT

Copyright: Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2013 ,

Trump suffers spectacular defeat, millions of Americans get to keep their health care

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 10:01:00 EDT

Against all odds, Obamacare has survived. And Donald Trump has suffered a spectacular failure that may haunt his presidency and his party for years. “Repeal and replace,” the Republican campaign mantra since 2010, turned Friday into a historic fall-on-your-face. Facing certain defeat at the hands of disenchanted Republicans, Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan abandoned their widely unpopular plan to replace Barack Obama’s health care law less than two hours before a scheduled afternoon vote. Trump responded with typical deflection — blaming the Democratic minority, which was united in opposition, and arguing that Democrats would be held responsible for what he claimed would be the eventual collapse of Obamacare. He suggested he would seek political advantage by allowing the system to “explode,” then return to the table when Democrats came begging. “Perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened today,” he said in the Oval Office. But it was hard to square his bravado with the stunning reality of what had just happened. A president with a reputation as a dealmaker, author of The Art of the Deal, going down to defeat on his first significant piece of legislation, a momentous one at that, because of a rebellion from a faction of his own party, on one of the party’s signature issues.The consequences may be far-reaching. The loss weakens Trump from the outset of his presidency, calling into question his self-vaunted negotiating skills and his sway over Republicans in Congress. It emboldens the Democratic opposition in Washington and in the growing “resistance” movement around the country. It severely undermines Ryan’s leadership. By Ryan’s own admission, it makes it harder for them to pass their next priority, a major tax reform package. And it means that every Republican will have to explain to voters back home why they could not manage, even with full party control of the presidency and Congress, to fulfil their signature “repeal and replace” pledge.More tangibly, and most importantly, it lets millions of people keep their health insurance.The bill, called the American Health Care Act, would have resulted in 24 million fewer people having coverage than will be covered under Obamacare, according to estimates from the independent Congressional Budget Office. The poor would have been especially hard hit; the bill amounted to a 25 per cent cut in funding for Medicaid, the government insurance program for low-income people.Democrats were jubilant. The result vindicated the wave of grassroots activism that has swept the country since Trump’s inauguration, demonstrating that liberals can achieve results even without control of either body of Congress. “We cannot forget: this victory happened because people in every corner of our country committed their time and energy to calling their representatives, showing up at town hall meetings, and making their voices heard,” Hillary Clinton, Trump’s vanquished opponent, said in a statement. The withdrawal of the bill came after hours of rare tension on Capitol Hill. The vote seemed up in the air until the very end, a reality-television moment for the showman president who presided over The Apprentice. This time, he was the one being dramatically spurned.With the vote looming in less than four hours, Ryan went to the White House to give Trump the bad news — they didn’t have the votes — and ask for direction. Trump decided the cost of proceeding was too high.If the outcome was an embarrassment for Trump, it was perhaps even more humiliating for Ryan, a conservative true believer who was the driving force behind the creation of the doomed plan. He acknowledged Friday that his caucus had not yet made the transition from an opposition party to a governing party. “I will not sugar-coat this: this is a disappointing day for us,” he said. “Obamacare is the law of the land, and it will [...]

Media Files:

One family’s struggle to find decent housing in Toronto

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 18:07:04 EDT

The two-bedroom basement apartment was never going to be the right fit for Steve Blake and his three sons.Low ceilings meant his eldest son, Jacob, 20, would regularly hit his head and by the time you crammed in a well-used couch, kitchen table, a fish tank, two toads, art supplies, video game consoles, a television and a pile of sneakers and shoes, Kaslo, 15, and Gaebrial, 12, also didn’t have a lot of room to move.“We have been a little under-housed for a long time. It is really hard to afford anything more in this city,” says Steve, 50, a contractor. “We never did have room to set up our racetrack” and toy cars, he says.Read more:Living in the city’s real estate bubble: Timson‘Salon’ to tackle Toronto housing crisisThe family also includes a hugely pregnant cat named Moon, though until a few weeks ago she didn’t take up much space. It wasn’t ideal, but it was home — at least until last week when they entered the shelter system. The Blake family is among the 235,000 people the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness estimates will experience homelessness at some point every year. Lower-income families, or single-parent families, often bounce from space to space. Once inside the shelter system, those families often stay three times longer than single people, according to Raising the Roof, a homelessness advocacy group. Steve rented the basement apartment two years ago, but says he only gave notice he was leaving because a friend said the family could move into a condo she owned if he would do renovations for a cut on the rent. She changed her mind just weeks before they were supposed to move, he says. The landlord, meanwhile, couldn’t let them stay because he needed the basement apartment for family.With nowhere to go they ended up in Toronto’s strained family shelter system and are now in a motel, the city’s solution to the need for extra beds. Steve has some savings and more money coming in, including benefits he is owed as a single dad, but in a city with limited rent controls and where the waitlist for affordable housing has topped 180,000, they fear their chances of finding a place that fits the entire family are slim. He also says he has bad credit, because juggling three kids —including one with special needs — and part-time work as a contractor, sometimes meant he fell behind on rent at a previous place. Toronto shelters will accept families headed by men, including Birkdale Residence, Red Door Family Shelter, Toronto Community Hostel and Family Residence, according to city staff. By Thursday, family shelters were at capacity and 503 of the 520 spots in motels that are available for families, like the one occupied by Steve and his sons, were taken.The entire shelter system, capable of holding about 4,700 people, including the spots in motels, was at 96 per cent capacity.The Blakes have been assigned a housing worker to help them search for a place and access any additional supports the city can provide.“It doesn’t sound too promising, but we will keep our fingers crossed,” says Steve.Before the move, Steve spent two fruitless weeks on Kijiji looking for an apartment. “We’re desperate right now. We’d take anything. We can’t find anybody to rent to us without doing a credit check . . . I mean, I’m a contractor, I’m a painter. I don’t have a steady job or employer. What they want is a steady employer, for a year.”They had to leave the couch on the curb and they gave away the toads. Moon is being cared for and they hope to bring her to their new home. Steve has sole custody and says he’s been caring for his three sons on his own for five years. Jacob, the eldest, demonstrates a keen interest in Canadian politics, and is in Toronto Film School, for video game design, where his work includes a game featuring U.S. President Donald Trump.Kaslo, the middle child, is in Grade 9, lov[...]

Media Files:

Rachel Dolezal faces uncertain future after race scandal

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 15:33:41 EDT

SPOKANE, WASH.—A woman who was once a black civil rights leader in Washington state, then lost her job after her parents exposed her as white, struggles to make a living these days.Rachel Dolezal said she has been unable to find steady work in the nearly two years since her background became public in media reports, and she is uncertain about her future.“I was presented as a con and a fraud and a liar,” Dolezal told The Associated Press this week. “I think some of the treatment was pretty cruel.”Read more: What Rachel Dolezal can teach us about the search for self-knowledgeRachel Dolezal and the neuroscience of cultural identityNow 40, she still identifies as black, despite being “Caucasian biologically,” she said. And she still has the darkened complexion and frizzy hair that allowed her for years to pass as a light-skinned black person.“People didn’t seem able to consider that maybe both were true,” she said. “OK, I was born to white parents, but maybe I had an authentic black identity.”Dolezal had blond hair and freckles while growing up near Troy, Mont., with religious parents. She said she began to change her perspective as a teenager, after her parents adopted four black children. Dolezal decided to become publicly black years later, after a divorce.The ruse worked for years until 2015, when her parents, with whom she has long feuded, told local reporters their daughter was born white but was presenting herself as a black activist in the Spokane region, an area with few minorities.The story became an international sensation, and Dolezal lost the various jobs by which she pieced together a modest living.Attacked by both black people and white people, she was fired as head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP and was kicked off a police ombudsman commission. She also lost her job teaching African studies at Eastern Washington University in nearby Cheney.Despite failing to find a job, Dolezal said, she must stay in the area because of a custody agreement involving one of her sons.She has sold some of her artwork and braids hair to earn money. But she said local colleges have refused to hire her, as have non-profit, government agencies and even grocery stores.She was worried she might become homeless in March, but friends bought some of her artwork, which provided enough money to pay the rent for a few months.Dolezal has written a book about her ordeal titled In Full Color. It’s scheduled to be published next week.Last year, she legally changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo, a West African moniker that means “gift from the gods.” She made the change in part to give herself a better chance of landing work from employers who might not be interested in hiring Rachel Dolezal, a name she still intends to use as her public persona.“Maybe if I applied with a new name, people would see me for the qualifications and expertise on my resume, and not toss my application in the trash based on my name,” she said.The local chapter of the NAACP declined to comment on Dolezal.“We moved on long ago,” the organization said in an email.Dolezal is the mother of two sons, ages 15 and 1, and also raised a stepbrother, who is now 21 and a college student.One of the reasons she wrote a book was to “settle the score.”“People might as well know the whole truth of my life story,’” she said. “My life is not a sound bite.”Race, she said, is a “social construct” used to pigeonhole people.“I unapologetically stand on the black side,” she said. “Blackness better defines who I am philosophically and socially than whiteness does.”It is hard for her to look toward the future, she said, when she is struggling to survive the present.“I want to provide for my kids,” she said. “I want to get back to activism. I’m no less committed to[...]

Media Files:

Putin meets far-right French candidate Le Pen, denies election interference

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 15:18:37 EDT

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin made his preferences in the French presidential election clear Friday by hosting far-right candidate Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin, but analysts are skeptical about Russia’s ability to sway the outcome of the vote.Embracing Le Pen is part of Russia’s efforts to reach out to nationalist and anti-globalist forces to build up its influence in the West and help overcome the strains in relations with the U.S. and the European Union.Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential vote has emboldened the Kremlin, even though the ongoing U.S. Congressional scrutiny of his campaign ties with Russia has all but dashed Moscow’s hopes for a quick detente. U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of hacking to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.During Friday’s meeting with National Front leader Le Pen, Putin insisted that Russia has no intention of meddling in the French election and only wants to have a dialogue with a variety of politicians. He praised Le Pen, saying she represents part of a “quickly developing spectrum of European political forces.”Read more: Official says trained Russian agent killed exiled Kremlin critic in UkraineEU trade chief decries populism, hopes Canada-EU trade deal will show merits of free tradeMarine Le Pen, French far-right presidential hopeful, heaps praise on TrumpLe Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-EU platform appeals to the Kremlin, which has postured as a defender of conservative national values against Western globalization. She also has called for strong security ties with Moscow to jointly combat radical Islamic groups, promised to work to repeal the EU sanctions on Moscow over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and pledged to recognize Crimea as part of Russia if she’s elected.“I long have spoken for Russia and France to restore their cultural, economic and strategic ties, especially now, when we face a serious terror threat,” Le Pen told Putin on Friday. The meeting was a surprise addition to her meeting with Russian lawmakers, which was announced earlier this week.A Russia-friendly approach to geopolitics runs in the Le Pen family. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front’s co-founder, his daughter Marine and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen have all made numerous visits to Moscow over the years.Le Pen herself has repeatedly visited Russia, and her party borrowed 9 million euros in 2014 from the small First Czech Russian Bank, but the bank’s license was later revoked.Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the prospect that Russian banks could offer Le Pen more loans to help fund her campaign.Polls show Le Pen as the likely winner of the first round of France’s presidential vote on April 23, but indicate that she would lose presidential runoff on May 7 to centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.Once considered the front-runner in the French race, conservative candidate François Fillon has fallen behind Le Pen and Macron after facing preliminary charges in a probe of taxpayer-funded jobs his wife and children received but allegedly never performed.Over the years, Putin has frequently met with Fillon, the French prime minister from 2007-2012. An unconfirmed report this week said Fillon was paid 50,000 euros ($54,000 U.S.) to arrange a meeting between Putin and a Lebanese magnate, a claim rejected by the Kremlin as “fake news.” Fillon also called it a “shameful lie.”Russian state-controlled television stations and other media have offered extensive, friendly coverage of Le Pen and Fillon while casting Macron in a more negative light, presenting him as a puppet of outgoing Socialist President François Hollande.Fillon on Thursday claimed that Hollande was manipulating the French justice system to discredit political rivals — a charge that Hollande vigorously denied.Dmitry Kis[...]

Media Files:

Owner of puppy shown in video forced to walk on its hind legs defends dog walker

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:47:00 EDT


The owner of the puppy, forced to walk on his hind legs in a video that sparked outrage online this week, calls the criticism of the dog walker “unfair and uncalled for.”

Julia Sakas, owner of nine-month-old Jerry Garcia, a cocker spaniel and miniature poodle mix, said she trusts Austin St-Jacques “to keep my puppy safe every day.”

“Austin has been an excellent addition to Jerry’s family — not only does he enjoy his daily walks with the Woof Pack while we are at work, Jerry has also learned so much from Austin about how to properly and safely walk on busy downtown Toronto streets,” she wrote in a letter to the Star.

“I have never had any concern about his safety while in Austin’s care, and that remains true today. In fact, I still recommend Austin to other dog owners, and will continue to do so regardless of the unfair accusations that are circling around on social media, which I certainly hope will be cleared up after what I have just stated.”

Last week, Aleksander Kupisz posted a video on Instagram that showed St-Jacques walking Jerry on his hind legs, in the area around Christie Pitts Park.

Kupisz said the dog was “terrified” and was “dragged” for about 50 metres.

The incident is being investigated by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. OSPCA spokesperson Melissa Kosowan said normally a dog would be walking on all four legs.

“While it is great that people like Mr. Kupisz are keeping an eye out for animal rights and calling out abusers, in this case, he’s got the wrong guy,” Sakas wrote in the letter.

“I would simply like to state that I trust Austin St.-Jacques with ensuring Jerry’s health and safety when in his care,” Sakas added. “I feel that he has been treated unfairly on social media and wanted to let everyone know that Jerry is unharmed and that comments about Austin being a ‘dog abuser’ were unfair and uncalled for.”

Sakas didn’t comment further when contacted by the Star.

One of the other concerns raised by people on social media was about the three other dogs being walked off-leash on the sidewalk, in violation of city bylaws.

St-Jacques told the Star earlier that he saw no harm in dogs being walked off-leash.

“Cops give me thumbs up when they see me. They say, ‘hey that’s so cool.’ And bylaw officials — as long as you’re not too outrageous with it, the bylaw officials are nice with me.”

The City of Toronto requires a permit for a dog walker to walk between four and six dogs at any one time.

Austin St-Jacques with nine-month-old puppy Jerry Garcia after Jerry's bath. St-Jacques faced a backlash on social media for walking Jerry on his hind legs.

Media Files:

Wynne downplays falling popularity as former minister warns Liberals face election disaster

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:16:10 EDT

Premier Kathleen Wynne is downplaying polls that show her popularity in decline and a warning from former finance minister Greg Sorbara that the Liberals are in “grave danger” of losing the 2018 election.“There’s no secret there have always been people in the Liberal party who weren’t keen on me,” Wynne told reporters Friday after meeting with auto industry executives and union leaders.The premier said she hopes public opinion will improve once Ontarians feel the full effect of her promised 25 per cent cut to skyrocketing hydro rates this summer.“I know that the issue around electricity prices has been very, very hard for people,” said Wynne, who added she has no plans to step aside.“I made a commitment to the people of Ontario in 2014,” added the premier, who led the minority Liberals she inherited from her predecessor Dalton McGuinty to a majority in that provincial election and enjoyed solid approval ratings. “I’m doing that job and I’m going to continue to do that job.”Liberals are placing second to Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservatives in most polls and Wynne’s personal popularity is in the low double digits. The latest Angus Reid Institute survey has her at 12 per cent.Sorbara, a key architect of Liberal majorities under McGuinty, raised concerns this week about the party’s prospects for the provincial election next year and whether Wynne should step down.“The fact is this is going to be a very difficult campaign,” he said on TVO’s The Agenda.“The (poll) numbers today are the same and getting worse…the fact is the numbers do not lie and the ability to win the next election is in grave, grave doubt.”Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid came to Wynne’s rescue in a news conference, saying Ontario’s economy is the strongest in Canada and the jobless rate is at its lowest in years. “Energy rates became a lightning rod for all the discontent in the province and when you’re premier of a province and that’s happening you become a part of that lightning rod.”There is talk in the corridors of Queen’s Park about who might replace Wynne as leader if the hydro rate cut doesn’t lead to a bounce in the polls.At the meeting with auto industry types, Wynne said efforts continued to forge a comment front as the Trump administration pushes renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement – particularly with companies taking advantage of lower wages in Mexico.The aim is to protect the province’s auto industry, which accounts for 15 per cent of North American production. Don Walker, chief executive of auto parts giant Magna International, said it’s important to keep Mexico in NAFTA without punitive tariffs.“If you look at North America, the real competition in the automotive industry is China, is Europe, is Asia…having open access to low-cost labour in Mexico actually helps us be more competitive.”Unifor president Jerry Dias said nine of the last major auto assembly plants to be announced are for Mexico and it’s time to reverse that trend.“I’m not afraid of the renegotiation of NAFTA…all of the investment has been leaving Canada and going to Mexico. So there has to be an opportunity to start to turn that around.”Dias said he’s like to see more major components of autos built closer to the assembly plants where they are used, instead of crossing borders or shipping over long distances. [...]Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, March 2, 2017, the day the Liberal government unveiled its plan to cut hydro bills.

Media Files:

Ontario's child support law faces constitutional challenge

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 05:00:00 EDT

A constitutional challenge scheduled to play out in a Brampton court on Friday hinges on two little words: “I Do.”The case involves a single mother who claims Ontario’s child support law discriminates against disabled children of unmarried parents.If a couple is divorced, a disabled child is eligible for support into adulthood. But if the parents were never married, support ends when the child is 18 or no longer in school full-time.“I am very excited this case is going forward,” said Robyn Coates, who has been fighting her son’s estranged father for continued child support for the past four years.“Initially, it was just for myself,” she said. “But when I see how many other women and their families could potentially benefit from this in terms of being able to provide the kind of quality of life I want to provide for my son, it’s very exciting.”Coates says her developmentally disabled son, Joshua, who is 22 but reads and writes at a Grade 2 level, will likely continue to live with her and require her financial support indefinitely.She believes his father, Wayne Watson, should continue to pay support, as he has been doing since Joshua was 4.If Coates and Watson had been married and divorced, he wouldn’t be off the hook because under the federal Divorce Act, disabled adult children are eligible for child support whether or not they are still in school.But Ontario’s Family Law Act, which covers child support for unmarried parents, makes no provision for adult disabled children.“If children of divorced parents can claim support for both education and disability beyond age 18, then children born to parents who were never married should enjoy the same rights,” Coates said.If the case succeeds, thousands of single parents and their adult disabled children would gain the right to claim child support in Ontario, says a lawyer acting on behalf of two groups with intervener status in the case, including Sherbourne Health Centre, which supports LGBTQ parents and children.Since same-sex marriage was not legal in Canada until 2003, disabled young adult children of LGBTQ parents also face discrimination under Ontario’s child support laws, the clinic argues.“The current legislative scheme sends the message that children of unmarried parents are less worthy of the non-custodial parent’s support,” says clinic lawyer Joanna Radbord, who is also representing Family Alliance Ontario, an organization that supports individuals with disabilities and their families. “The potential availability of limited public benefits for adults with disabilities does not extinguish the non-custodial parent’s obligation where a child is unable to withdraw from the custodial parent’s charge . . . by reason of disability, illness, coming out, gender transition, or other cause,” Radbord writes in her affidavit before the Ontario Court of Justice.As a result, Ontario’s child support law should be declared unconstitutional and replaced to reflect “the equality of all children,” writes Radbord.Coates currently receives about $800 a month from Watson to support Joshua. Although the parents never lived together or married, Watson has paid court-ordered child support of varying amounts since Joshua was 4.Watson, who married another woman after Joshua was born and is raising two other children with his wife, previously told the Star he has never missed a court-ordered support payment.But now that Joshua is no longer in school and is receiving provincial social assistance for adults with disabilities, Watson says his legal obligation has ended.“It is the legislature which has the ability to expand the class of people entitled to child support. It is not the role of the court to legislate,” says la[...]

Media Files:

It was shoddy journalism that cost Andrew Potter his job at McGill: Hébert

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 14:25:02 EDT

MONTREAL—It was shoddy journalism not a debatable take on Quebec society that cost former Ottawa Citizen editor Andrew Potter his ‘dream job” as head of McGill university’s prestigious Institute for the Study of Canada this week.He failed to let the facts get in the way of a good rant.Potter wanted to make the case that Quebec — contrary to its collective belief — suffers from a chronic deficit of solidarity. He had statistics that he believed demonstrated he was on to something.Maybe he was, maybe he was not: that was not the real point of the exercise.A public intellectual should stir the occasional hornet’s nest, even at the risk of painful stings.Like all good columnists Potter looked for a peg for his arguments. Piggybacking a story that already has a lot of traction is a sure shortcut to a large audience. It pays to pick one’s moment.One will, for instance, write about Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s learning curve as a political communicator around the time of the budget and not in the dead of summer.From Potter’s perspective the episode that saw hundreds of motorists left stranded on the Montreal section of a provincial highway for an entire night at the time of last week’s massive snowstorm fit the bill. It is not clear why he would have come to that conclusion.By all accounts those left stranded by the authorities on Highway 13 managed to avoid serious harm by going out of their way to help each other.As a Montrealer by adoption, I have never found the kindness of strangers to be in shorter supply in Quebec than in my Ontario birthplace. Last week’s storm was no exception.Absent any evidence to back up his core contention that the Highway 13 saga was a manifestation of widespread societal alienation, Potter fell back on sloppy generalizations about routine double-billing on Montreal restaurant bills (for tax evasion purposes) and ATM machines that spout out $50 bills by default.Those were demonstrably false. It begged the question of whether Potter was confusing Montreal with Absurdistan.Contrary to what is becoming popular belief in some media circles, Quebec’s political class did not rush to the barricades to denounce the column. The media dragged it there.The first to voice serious concerns about Potter’s arguments were journalists who had cause to know better. On social media, the Montreal Gazette’s veteran restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman was among those who led the charge.McGill University waded in to the fray with a tweet dissociating itself from Potter’s column.That should never have happened.But before concluding that political pressure forced the university to intervene, consider that McGill — a Montreal institution that more than most reflects Canada’s language duality — was also probably reacting to internal stresses among its staff.Judging from some of the letters-to-the-editor published this week, some of Potter’s academic colleagues were up in arms over his column.Universities should not be in the business of endorsing or repudiating the views of the academics they employ. But by the same token, nor should McGill have defended an indefensible column.Potter himself retracted part of it the next day. Any columnist working for a serious media organization would have had to do the same thing or else ended up having a public editor do it in his or her place.Alternative facts should not be the stuff that acts of journalistic courage or martyrdom are based on.At the end of a week from hell Potter is out of his job as director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada. It is not clear that he resigned of his own free will or under duress from his employer.But even if the university had gone on bended knees to beg him to stay on, Potter should[...]

Media Files:

Killing the transit tax credit catches riders off guard and could hurt the TTC

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 18:00:32 EDT

Is it a wise decision that will end an ineffective boutique tax policy, or a slap in the face to commuters that could discourage public transit ridership? No matter the answer, the federal government’s declaration last week that it plans to axe the tax credit for transit passes came as surprise to many riders.Metropass user Loretta Ryan said the news, which, which was announced as part of the Liberals’ 2017 budget, is “hard to take.” “It really does make a difference whether I’m going to get a pass or not,” said Ryan, an urban planner who shares a Metropass with her husband and estimates the family gets about $200 a year back through the policy. She said that if she’s not able to get the credit, she’ll have to reconsider whether to spend $146.25 a month on a pass. Her level of transit use barely justifies the expense, and it might be cheaper to buy tokens.“It’s also not very respectful of transit users to take this away,” she added.The credit was introduced by the Conservative government in 2006, and allowed residents to claim 15 per cent of the value of monthly and weekly transit passes. Users of Presto and other electronic fare cards were also eligible if they took at least 32 trips a month. The Liberals plan to phase it out on July 1.For adult TTC Metropass holders, the credit could be worth more than $260 a year. The impact for Presto users on GO Transit, where fares vary, is harder to quantify. Neither the TTC nor Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit, could say this week how many riders used the credit or what the impact of removing it will be. Both agencies plan to study the issue.Defending the decision to get rid of the policy, Finance Minister Bill Morneau told CBC’s Metro Morning Friday that it simply wasn’t working. “It was intended to increase public transit ridership, that was the goal. It’s actually not having that impact,” he said. The credit cost the government at least $170 million a year, and Morneau said a more effective use of money would be to invest in expanding public transit. The Liberal budget includes more than $25 billion for transit infrastructure across the country over the next decade. Morneau also noted that the tax credit is non-refundable, which means that only people who are net payers of federal income tax could benefit. About a third of Canadians don’t pay federal income taxes, and many are people who are supposed to benefit most from public transit: low-income earners, students, and seniors.The government says it has evidence to back up its case. One study that the minister’s office cited determined that the tax credit did contribute to a growth in public transit use, but only marginally. It found that the credit increased the share of commuters who used transit by between 0.25 and 1 percentage points nationwide, from 11.5 per cent to up to 12.5 per cent. The authors concluded that given its cost, it was an “expensive approach” to boosting transit use. Study co-author Nicholas Rivers, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Ottawa, said in an interview that compared to other factors that people consider when making transportation choices, such as frequency and quality of service and the cost of driving a car, a 15-per-cent reduction in transit costs isn’t a powerful driver.“It was a pretty small intervention, and as a result it had a small effect,” he said. Although its impact nationally was low, the credit had a more prominent effect in cities with robust transit systems. In Toronto the credit boosted transit use by 2.3 percentage points, well above the national average. If eliminating the credit depressed transit use by a similar amount[...]

Media Files:

Federal government spent tens of thousands on TVs

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 19:08:41 EDT


OTTAWA—Federal government spending on television sets is out of control, a Conservative MP says after he discovered departments spent tens of thousands of dollars on TVs, including almost $14,000 for a single unit at Indigenous Affairs.

Alberta MP Chris Warkentin says an average family can pick up a flat-screen television for $500 or less, adding he expects the government to institute improved spending practices for units often used for training and video conferencing.

Read more on the federal budget

Since the Liberals came to power in November 2015, overall amounts spent on TVs totalled $66,631 at Indigenous Affairs, $67,559 at Health Canada, $62,348 at Natural Resources and $1.29 million at National Defence, according to figures obtained by Warkentin through an order paper question.

“I am quite frankly shocked at the scope and the extent the Liberals have been spending in this area,” he said in an interview. “I would expect the government could find better ways to save money.”

Warkentin said indigenous people living in poverty in his riding would be outraged to learn Indigenous Affairs needed to spend thousands on a TV for bureaucrats.

“It is, quite frankly, the ministers who should be held responsible for these expenditures,” he said.

“If there’s a necessity for a monitor or a television in a particular location, there may be a defence for that, but I am not sure there is a defence to spend over $10,000 per unit.”

Most Canadians would be surprised tax dollars are going toward $14,000 TVs for government departments, added Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, noting the figure is substantially more than what the average person would spend.

“I’m not saying the government should not have any TVs,” he said. “The question is: why do they have so many? What are they using them for and are they getting the best value?”

Liberal officials however, cited historical order paper answers that showed the previous Conservative government spent almost $6.7 million on televisions between 2006-07 and 2013-14.

They said the Conservatives spent more than $1 million on TVs in 2009-10 and more than $1.1 million in 2010-11.

Spokespeople for ministers of the departments cited by Warkentin note there is a process in place to ensure standards for approving all expenses, adding the units are used for business purposes.

“All of the televisions that were purchased since Nov. 4, 2015, were for video conferencing purposes,” Indigenous Affairs said.

“The use of video conference allows the department to reduce travel costs.”

Jordan Owens, a press secretary for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, noted the Canadian Forces is replacing broken and obsolete equipment.

“Modern audio-visual equipment is an integral tool our military uses for situational awareness, public outreach, and morale and welfare support,” she said in a statement.

“The Department of National Defence has strict checks and balances in place to ensure that all purchases adhere to prudent stewardship of public funds.”

Alberta MP Chris Warkentin obtained figures on government spending on televisions through an order paper question.

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Toronto’s Dominion Public Building sells for $275M to Vancouver developer

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:03:22 EDT


The company behind the controversial expansion of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa has bought one of Toronto's heritage landmarks.

The Dominion Public Building at 1 Front St. W., was purchased by Larco Investments, a Vancouver-based developer for $275.1 million, Canada Lands Company confirmed on Thursday.

It also owns the Chateau Laurier.

But it is unclear what plans the developer has for Toronto's curved Beaux Arts building beside Union Station, which was declared surplus by the federal government and houses about 1,500 employees, including Canada Revenue Agency workers.

A Canada Lands spokeswoman referred questions about the building's future to Larco, which did not return the Star's call. BMO Capital Markets, which acted as agent for the sale, said the bank does not comment on client business.

Its heritage designation means that significant interior and exterior features of the five-storey, flat-roofed building will be protected.

Larco is owned by the Lalji family.

The company's holdings include retail, hotel, residential, office, and industrial properties, according to its website, which also lists it as the largest franchisee of full-service Marriott Hotels in Canada.

Its proposed redesign and expansion of the Ottawa Chateau Laurier announced last year was widely criticized. One social media commenter, quoted by the CBC, called it "the ugliest building downtown."

The Dominion Public building served as the government's first customs house, where imports and exports were administered and inspected. The first of two phases was built from 1929 to 1931. The west pavilion was added in 1934 and 1935.

It was touted for its "exceptional development potential" when advertised by BMO in January.

A developer who spoke with the Star at that time suggested that the 2-acre site could accommodate a skyscraper at least as tall as some nearby buildings that stand 55 and 65 storeys.

Barry Fenton, CEO of Lanterra Group, said the Dominion Public building could work as a hotel, residential or commercial property.

The Dominion Public Building on Front St., was purchased by Larco Investments, a Vancouver-based developer for $275.1 million.

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‘Salon’ to tackle Toronto housing crisis

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:58:16 EDT

During the Age of Enlightenment, “salons” were inspired social gatherings, where people could discuss the issues of the day, amuse and educate themselves. On Wednesday, a salon with similar aims will be hosted in Toronto, only this time the issue of the day is the housing crisis in the city.“If you want change on any topic, you need to organize around it and get other people interested in creating the change you want to see,” said salon organizer Phil Mendonça-Vieira, 29. “I hope people leave the room feeling informed, pissed off and ready to do something about it.”Read more: ‘The home we bought more than 30 years ago for $178K, now has a million-dollar price tag’Mendonça-Vieira and co-organizer Shaker Jamal, 30 — “two immigrants and not-so-young urban professionals” — started to host quarterly salons at a local bar and channel the “active energy that you can feel bubbling on social media but hasn’t become a political priority for anyone.” They hope to shine a light on Toronto’s most critical issues but chose to start with housing since it affects so many people in their circles. “If you’re not middle class, or are a millennial, you are especially affected by this,” said Mendonça-Vieira. “Not only do we have job insecurity but also crazy housing insecurity. We can’t build stable links to our communities. We are one eviction away from having to leave the city. It impacts (this generation) disproportionately.” BetterTO will walk through Toronto’s housing crisis at the salon with guest panellists “so everyone can leave with a coherent picture of what’s happening,” which will be followed by discussion and drinks. Urban planner Sean Galbraith and University of Toronto’s Emily Paradis, a senior research associate and project manager of the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, are two confirmed speakers at the inaugural salon, with other guests to be announced. “Development in Toronto has fundamentally changed . . . we need to spread the pain and density around,” said Galbraith, who has worked in the private sector for the past 16 years. “Things have gotten so bad that it’s possible that the pendulum needs to swing very far in the other direction.“I don’t know that there’s going to be the political will to actually impose that kind of damage.” Paradi, who has been an activist and researcher in this field for over 25 years, said thinking about housing as a right, not simply a market commodity, is an attitudinal change in conversation that’s been a long time coming. “You guys have really gotten screwed,” she said of young Torontonians. “There’s been no new (federal or provincial) development of social and public housing for 25 years and also pretty much no new development of rental housing.“There’s an amazing sense of betrayal as people are arriving in a job and housing market that essentially has nothing to offer them.”Organizers hope the salon will allow participants to leave with a “coherent picture” of the issues discussed so that they may start coming up with solutions to improve conditions for all. Ideally, BetterTO plans to host salons on a range of issues that are affecting citizens, from the state of police to affordable child care. “I personally have a passion and a growing hate for the housing issue,” said Mendonça-Vieira, “but we are open to getting other people and issues into the program.”Their first event takes place Wednes[...]

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London attacker was cheerful, joking the night before rampage

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 07:27:00 EDT

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Long before his short stints in jail turned into years behind bars, Khalid Masood was known as Adrian Elms, with a reputation for drinking and an unpredictable temper.At least twice he was convicted of violent crimes, well before he stabbed a police officer to death Wednesday in London with a motion that one horrified witness described as “playing a drum on your back with two knives.”But as he checked out of his hotel to head toward London for his deadly rampage, the manager said he was struck by his guest’s friendly manner.Within hours, Masood drove his rented SUV across the crowded Westminster Bridge, leaving a trail of dead and wounded. Then he jumped out and attacked Constable Keith Palmer, an officer guarding Parliament, stabbing him to death before being shot to death by police.In all, he killed four people and left more than two dozen hospitalized.Masood, who at 52 is considerably older than most extremists who carry out bloodshed in the West, had an arrest record dating to 1983. The violence came later, first in 2000 when he slashed a man across the face in a pub parking lot in a racially charged argument after drinking four pints, according to a newspaper account.The victim, Piers Mott, was scarred for life, said his widow, Heather.Masood’s last conviction was in 2003, also involving a knife attack. It’s not clear when he took the name Masood, suggesting a conversion to Islam.Read more: What we know about the victims of the London attackMan, 75, dies in hospital becoming fourth victim in London attack as Daesh claims responsibilityTrump’s son blasted for criticizing London mayorMP Tobias Ellwood hailed as hero for helping dying officer in U.K. attackHeather Mott said Masood appeared to come out of jail “even worse.” She said she got chills when she learned the identity of the London attacker.“What a pity they didn’t realize he was a nutter,” she said.Police are combing through “massive amounts of computer data” and have contacted 3,500 witnesses as they look for clues as to why the British-born man launched the deadly attack.“Clearly that’s a main line of our investigation is what led him to be radicalized: Was it through influences in our community, influences from overseas or through online propaganda? Our investigations and our arrests will help in that, but the public appeal will make a big difference if people come forward with more information,” said Britain’s top counterterrorism officer, Mark Rowley.A security official who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation confirmed that Masood had spent time in Saudi Arabia but said investigators were still trying to determine how long he stayed and what he was doing.Prime Minister Theresa May said Masood was “investigated in relation to concerns about violent extremism” years ago. But she called him “a peripheral figure.”Daesh, also known as ISIS, described Masood as “a soldier,” claiming responsibility for the attack. Rowley said police are investigating whether he “acted totally alone inspired by terrorist propaganda, or if others have encouraged, supported or directed him.”People made arrests across the country as they investigate whether anyone else helped Masood prepare his attack. Six people were released without charge Friday night, leaving four in custody on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts.Detectives have searched 21 properties in London, Brighton, Wales, Manchester and the central English city of Birmingham in one of Britain’s bigg[...]

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