Thursday, August 19, 2010

De-amalgamation, sort of Smitherman says community councils should make more decisions

Not de-amalgamation necessarily but de-amalgamation when necessary.
Candidate George Smitherman floated the idea of giving more power to community councils to make more local decisions during a mayoral debate Thursday.
The pitch described by Smitherman, the details of which he says he still needs to work out, would empower community councils to increase the delivery of services they feel is important to their unique section of Toronto.
“Instead of this one size fits all approach, I think we should favour an approach which gives discretion back to community councils to make a broader array of decisions even it means that the services in Etobicoke and North York might be slightly different,” Smitherman told the audience at a debate hosted by the Association of Jewish Seniors. “In Etobicoke they love leaf collection, in North York they love to catch the snow on the shovel before it hits the sidewalk.
“We can in a city as big and mature as Toronto allow for some flexibility in the level of service delivery.”
Citing the city’s push to have a uniform zoning bylaw, Smitherman said you can’t reduce the city to a one-size fits all approach.
“This city is moving towards a one-size fits all approach that rejects the very nature of the city,” he told reporters. “We like to talk about Toronto as a city of neighbourhoods, well part and parcel of that means we should allow community councils to have more, to actually have power. Instead of just being a debating society for issues that are resolved on the floor of full council. Otherwise, why have them?”
But although Smitherman described his proposal as a kind of de-amalgamation, he stopped short of calling for de-amalgamation of the city.
“I’m calling for de-amalgamation in a sense that we have created an environment of city-wide services, one size fits all,” he said. “Within the boundaries of the City of TOronto we have lots and lots of opportunities to push power back out to other areas.”

‘Go ahead take me to jail,’ Ford told police

Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford had six words for the Miami police officer who arrested him on drunk driving and marijuana possession charges 11 years ago.
“Go ahead,” he said, “take me to jail.”
That statement, recorded in a police report, marks the crux of an incident that will now follow Ford on the campaign trail.
With boxes checked yes for suspected “influence of drugs” and “influence of alcohol,” the report etches out the details of Ford’s arrest.
When Miami police pulled him over at 1:30 a.m. for driving without headlights, Ford got out of his car and threw his hands in the air.
“The def[endant] approached me and took all of his money and threw it to the ground,” Miami police officer Timothy Marks wrote in the arrest record.
“The def[endant] was acting nervous. When [he] spoke to me I could smell a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. His eyes were bloodshot.”
Marks also found “a marijuana joint cigarette” in the back pocket of Ford’s pants.
Ford was charged with driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. The marijuana charge was later dismissed, but Ford was convicted of impaired driving after pleading no contest to the charge.
Ford denied the marijuana charge altogether when confronted by a reporter Wednesday. He later admitted to it and scheduled a hasty news conference Thursday to respond to the reports.
Ford said he forgot about the pot because of a “more serious” incident that happened at the same time. He was referring to the impaired driving episode, but his version of the story does not include a DUI charge.
“What I remember is failing to provide a breath sample,” he said.
“When I think about those charges, the marijuana charge was dismissed. So when somebody discussed this with me the first thing that pops in my head was failing to provide a breath sample,” Ford said.
Ford later told reporters he had been drinking wine during a Valentine’s Day dinner with his wife.
“I admit, maybe I had, you know, a little bit . . . one, two glasses of wine or two.
“I can’t remember exactly what it was,” he said. “I wasn’t drunk.”
When pressed, Ford said he shared “a couple bottles” or “a couple of litres” of wine with his wife.
“[M]aybe I shouldn’t have been driving,” he said.
Reemberto Diaz, the lawyer who represented Ford, doesn’t remember the particulars of the case but said police have the authority to lay impaired-driving charges without a breath test.
“If you’re charged with a DUI it’s because you were under the influence,” Diaz said.
“You’ve seen someone drunk before, right? You don’t have to give that person a breath test to know that he’s drunk.
“A breath sample is just one of the things they can take into account.”
The driving-under-the-influence conviction was handled without Ford returning to the U.S. He paid a $500 fine and completed 50 hours of community service, which he said he fulfilled by coaching football.
Ford said he has been charged on two other occasions: for an assault during a hockey fight when he was 18 and an incident involving his wife that was dismissed.
With files from Lesley Ciarula Taylor

Monday, August 16, 2010

Police officer shot during training exercise

A police officer has been taken to hospital with serious injuries after he was accidentally shot during a training exercise in Etobicoke.
The incident took place at the Toronto Police College at 70 Birmingham St., east of Islington Ave.
EMS officials confirmed the officer, who had at least one gunshot wound to the leg, had been taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries just before 3 p.m.
“It was definitely an accidental shooting,” said police spokesman Const. Tony Vella. “It’s still unclear whether it was self-inflicted or not, but he is going to survive.”
Vella said the 33-year-old officer has been with the service for a while and is “definitely not a new recruit.” He could not say whether the wounded officer was a trainer or a trainee.
“Training is continuous,” Vella said, adding that police officers renew their firearms training every year.
“It’s a rare occasion and it’s certainly unfortunate,” he said.

The Minutes

Decisions made this week at Toronto city hall.
Mayoral pay debate postponed
The issue of whether the mayor of Toronto deserves a pay raise will be decided by David Miller’s successor.
The executive committee voted Monday to let the next council deal with the controversial subject.
In 2006, council asked an outside consultant to considers the salaries of both councillors, who make $99,620 annually, and the mayor, who makes $167,769 annually.
Last week, the Hay Group released its report, which cost taxpayers $50,000. The company declared the mayor deserved an additional $16,000 in pay, while councillors’ salaries should remain the same.
The idea was to have the issue settled before the fall election. And since every one of the leading mayoral candidates has indicated he or she would not take a pay increase, it seems the issue is dead in the water.
Ski hills saved
The executive committee has unanimously voted to keep the ski and snowboard slopes at Centennial Park and Earl Bales Park open this season.
A staff report had recommended closing the hills, which operate at a loss of about $600,000 annually, after attempts to attract a private bidder to run them failed.
City council had previously voted to cut the hills from the budget to save about $150,000 this year and $450,000 next season. A request for proposals was issued to find an outside company to run and manage the facilities.
On Monday, Councillor Janet Davis asked if the city wanted to create a situation where “only rich kids” get to enjoy snow sports.
Davis suggested the surprise 2009 surplus be used to cover costs from this year, and projected losses for 2011 be included in next year’s parks and recreation estimates.

Homebuyers shouldn’t expect hot deals as housing market cools: experts

Canadian sellers are facing more empty open houses and fewer bids on their homes, but experts say buyers shouldn’t expect to see a retreat from record-high home prices when July housing data is released Monday.
Home sales have fallen 25 per cent since reaching a peak at the beginning of the year as demand slows and more houses come onto the market.
But it will take much longer for sky-high home prices to fall and the market to enter buyer-friendly territory. And history is on the side of the seller.
“Over time, if you were to look at the last 40 years, it’s much more common to see sellers’ markets than buyers’ markets,” said Phil Soper, president of Royal LePage.
“It comes down to the different psychology that exists between buyers and sellers. Buyers are very quick to adjust to a down market and sellers are very slow to adjust to a down market. Sellers stubbornly hold onto their perception of what their home is worth, whereas buyers turn on a dime.”

Soper expects to see sales decline dramatically from last July’s near-record activity, but predicts there will be little change in home prices when the Canadian Real Estate Association releases its monthly sales figures Monday.
Seasonally-adjusted home sales fell 8.2 per cent in June from the month before and shrunk 19.7 per cent compared to June 2009. However, the average Canadian home price sat at $342,662 compared to $326,689 in 2009.
“You would think prices would come down more rapidly given the drop in sales,” said Sal Guatieri, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets.
Guatieri expects to see as much as a 35 per cent year-over-year drop in July home sales. He projects monthly sales figures will be around 32,600 homes, which would represent the weakest July since 2001. However, he says price increases will weaken just slightly, and only because they were so high last year.
“It’s only in a so-called buyers’ market, where there are lot more listings on the market than sales, that buyers have some bargaining power and sellers are more willing to ease up on price, that we would see prices actually falling,” he said.
But Mark Weisleder, a real estate author and lawyer, says real estate agents are beginning to notice some discernable changes as the Canadian housing market cools off.
Buyers are not as rushed to make an offer and are becoming more aggressive in negotiations, while sellers are beginning to accept less than asking price for homes as interest wanes.
“(Agents) are going to open houses, sitting there for three hours, and two people come in at the most. Right now there doesn’t seem to be that level of stampede mentality to go see a house,” Weisleder said.
“I do believe there is a disconnect between some of the data that people are throwing out there every day in the numbers, and slowly you’re going to see prices come down.”
Many buyers hurried to close in late 2009 and the first half of this year ahead of the new harmonized sales tax in B.C. and Ontario, new mortgage requirements, and to take advantage of record-low interest rates.
That pulled ahead sales that might otherwise have occurred in the second half of 2010, increasing demand and leading to bidding wars in which buyers were willing to overpay to secure a property.
As home prices crept higher and consumers became more confident about an economic recovery, more sellers put their homes on the market, which increased inventory.
Now fewer buyers are shopping for homes just as more listings flood onto the market. That has shifted the housing balance away from the seller-friendly market into neutral territory, but it’s still shy of a buyers’ market.
Weisleder says the market isn’t poised to enter buyers’ territory any time soon, as historically low interest rates and a stable economy continue to make buying a Canadian home attractive.
“Because of the interest rates being so cheap to borrow money, prices may not fall too much because people can still afford (to borrow) probably more than they should,” he said.
“But it doesn’t mean the house is worth that much,” he said, adding that if rates go up it could be catastrophic for homeowners who have taken on more debt than they will be able to afford.
Meanwhile, sellers have become accustomed to fetching high home prices and want to hang onto their properties for as long as it takes to get those prices — although that window has stretched from a couple of weeks to a few months.
“No seller wants to jump the gun, so a lot of people are sitting on the fence and trying to hold on,” Weisleder said. “A lot of people are very upset they didn’t sell six months ago.”

Toronto's 'Clubland' no longer booming as condos move in

In its heyday it was home to the highest concentration of nightclubs in North America. On any given weekend more than 65,000 partygoers from across the GTA would cram into four blocks.
Bruce Willis used to party here. So did Dan Aykroyd. Remember when they were cool?
But things have changed in clubland. Condos, daycares and art students have been changing the face of an area once ruled by house music and fuelled by cranberry vodka shots.
At its peak, just five years ago, close to 90 nightclubs took over the eight square blocks north of Richmond, past Wellington, from Simcoe to Spadina Ave. Now, about 30 persist, with more going all the time. The latest, Home and Embassy nightclubs, are on chopping block at 117 Peter St. If all goes to plan, a 36-storey condo will spring up in their place.
The scantily clad and slick-haired have found new places to go.
“This used to be an international destination for nightlife,” said Mike Yen, 39, standing on the corner of Peter and Richmond Sts. — the heart of the city’s dwindling club district.
He said he moved downtown to be closer to the scene. “Now all you see are ‘For Lease’ signs and a homeless shelter.”
Local politicians and community groups have waged war on clubland in recent years, replacing drinking and dancing and DJs with condo living.
What’s new is how effective they’ve been.
A sign reading “Development Proposal” sits in the front window of 117 Peter St. — the corner of Peter and Richmond Sts.
The proposal, currently being fine-tuned and set to go in front of Community Council on Tuesday, will turn the warehouse into a condo that would house office space on the main floor. A small public plaza would sit out front.
City Councillor Adam Vaughan said the project will rehabilitate the north and south side of Richmond.
It also represents another nail in the coffin for clubland as we know it.
And it is another telltale sign of a downtown neighbourhood reinventing itself.
“The era of the big-box nightclub has come and gone,” said Vaughan, who’s been notoriously tough on nightclubs since elected in 2006.
“You’re now seeing, like on Ossington, Queen West and Parkdale, that the small boutique lounges with a more refined scene are what’s carrying the day,” he added.
Those who are still making the trip into the city’s core Friday and Saturday nights haven’t got the memo yet: This place just isn’t cool anymore.
For some, there’s the nostalgia.
“I saw the beginnings of the nightclub industry and I saw it grow,” said Yen, who started partying on Richmond at Twilight Zone, which later morphed into Whisky Saigon. “Sport stars, NFL stars, NBA stars. They all used to come out and there was a lot of hype in the area.”
“But (Vaughan) destroyed them,” he added.
For Vaughan’s part, it’s an accomplishment.
The councillor for Ward 20 has referred to the thousands of partygoers, most with no local ties, unleashed in the downtown core after last call as hooligans. Neighbors complained of being shaken from their sleep by blaring stereo-systems, or, strolling out of their homes Sunday morning to be greeted with a pile of sidewalk vomit.
With all this came drugs, brawls and guns, a problem for policing in the one-square-kilometer area.
Vaughan teamed up with enforcement agencies to make sure clubs were being monitored closely at the first sign of trouble, such as serving the underaged and overcrowding.
“It’s been tough slogging . . . but we got a hold of several clubs that were operating as close to criminal as possible,” he said, adding that there are still several clubs in the area, like Liberty Entertainment Group, who owns C-Loung, who follow the rules and make money doing it.
Yen is running for Vaughan’s council seat in October’s election. On his campaign platform? Reversing the damage done to clubland.
“Clubs are opening up in Richmond Hill and Oakville,” said Yen. “It used to be the people outside the city would come in and spend their money here.”
There is still a market for those who love to fist-pump. The Dirty Martini in Oakville is crammed every weekend. And clubs around Peter and Adelaide Sts. still get lineups on Friday and Saturday nights, with most coming from the 905.
“Keep the raves a-comin’ bring the ‘90s back fer real!,” posted Shawn Rice on a Facebook page dedicated to saving Toronto’s nightlife.
“Seriously!? What happened to the nice beats and awesome people?” replied April Stevens.
“You can’t just drive clubs out,” said Vaughan. “You have to replace them with something better.”
What have been replacing them are condos, encroaching from all sides of the Entertainment District for years.
Just down Richmond, OCAD has now taken over three buildings that will house classrooms for their students. And another condo building is partnering with the University. Student exhibitions will be held in the 8,000-square-foot foyer, creating a kind of urban living meets blossoming art scene.
“The area was a bit of a no man’s land for a number of years, especially late at night,” said Peter Caldwell, OCAD’s vice president of finance and administration, who also lives close by. “In my opinion it’s getting to the point where it’s more manageable.”
“There’s fewer and fewer disco balls in the middle of the room,” said Janice Soloman, executive director of the Entertainment District’s business improvement association.
A daycare has opened up at Duncan and Richmond Sts. High-tech businesses are setting up shop in the area. Construction on the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Festival Tower are underway, the new home for the film festival’s headquarters.
And a plan to make John St. into a “culture corridor,” with shops and markets, and an outdoor film site, is in the works.
“All of this together is making the Entertainment District more entertaining,” said Vaughan. “And not a place where hooligans and clubgoers on a Thursday or Friday night terrorize the city.”
But those who miss it disagree.
“Bruce Willis isn’t a hooligan,” said Yen. “I’m not a hooligan, either.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The big business of human smuggling

Each of the 490 Sri Lankans dumped on the B.C. coast by MV Sun Sea are worth up to $20,000 — a haul of almost $10 million — for smugglers or "snakeheads", a Liberal MP says.
"Snakeheads" routinely charge from $15,000 to $20,000 for the sea trip to Canada, said Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, who is a member of an immigration standing committee.
"I am concerned about the women and the children," he said Saturday.
"The women can be forced to work in the sex trade to repay their passage," Karygiannis said.
There were 90 women and 45 children on the boat.
"In many cases their families here pay for the trip," he said, adding others work in harsh conditions for low pay to give to the smugglers.
"We know there are human smugglers preying on these people in refugee camps," said Manjula Selvarajah, of the Canadian Tamil Congress, adding living conditions on the ship were terrible.
"This is awful and we have taken a strong stand against human smuggling," she said.
More than 90 Toronto Tamils have called their office with the names of 150 relatives who may be on the ship.
The migrants, who are expected to file refugee claims, are now undergoing health and background security checks at CFB Esquimalt.
Officers are screening for Tamil Tiger terrorists who may be hiding among the refugees.
Toronto immigration lawyers estimate it'll cost about $22 million in legal fees for refugee hearings and appeals for the claimants.
About 91% of Sri Lankan refugees are accepted by immigration and refugee boards (IRB) to stay in Canada, Lawyer Richard Kurland said.
"Most of this group will end up living in Canada legally," he said.
"The majority are accepted by the IRB as legitimate refugees." Public Security Minister Vic Toews has said.
He added that the government "must ensure that our refugee system is not hijacked by criminals or terrorists."
Meanwhile, the office of the UN high commissioner for refugees in Ottawa is encouraging Canadian authorities to receive and provide assistance for the Tamils.

End refugee free-for-all Build off-shore processing centre before allowing them into Canada

Great news for health care!
The Victoria General Hospital is reopening a whole ward that had been shut down. They’re even contemplating dusting off an extra emergency department. No more waiting lists in that B.C. city!
Just joking.
The VGH is indeed doing all of that, but it’s not for mere Canadians.
It’s for a ship of 490 Tamils from Sri Lanka who decided they’d like to move to Canada, but don’t want to bother asking us first, or waiting in line like everyone else.
Reports from the ship say there was an outbreak of tuberculosis.
It’s a safe bet the B.C. department of health didn’t set aside millions of dollars in their budget for that Third World disease.
No problem — just take it away from MRIs or cataract surgeries. No one will notice, and if they do, let’s just call them racist.
Question: If a Canadian waiting for surgery were to get on that boat, could he jump to the front of the health-care line, too? Or is that privilege only for non-citizens, non-taxpayers?
The ship, the MV Sun Sea, was not originally destined for Canada. We’re an awfully long journey from Sri Lanka, an island country just off the tip of India.
No, they were en route to Australia, but changed course when their captain decided Australia’s navy would intercept the ship and turn it away. Canada, internationally known as a soft touch with generous welfare and free health care, was the obvious alternative.
Question: If Australia’s left-wing Labour government is willing to defend its shores, why is our right-wing Conservative government unwilling to do so?
Our navy didn’t stop the Tamils. We escorted them in, like ushers at the theatre.
Sri Lanka is not a nice place to live, in part because of the 30-year civil war waged against it by the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist organization.
More than 80,000 people have been killed in that war, but in May 2009 the Sri Lankan army finally crushed the Tamil stronghold on the island and killed its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Still, terrorists continue to organize and fundraise, especially in Toronto where 200,000 Tamils live.
But with the war over, life in Sri Lanka has improved — so much so that the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees says the security situation there is “greatly improved,” and countries of the world should no longer presume someone fleeing Sri Lanka is a genuine refugee.
Question: Why are we pretending these Tamils are refugees, when even the bleeding hearts at the UN don’t?
Let’s ask Gurbax Singh Malhi, a Liberal MP who spoke at a Tamil Tiger rally on Parliament Hill last March, surrounded by the terrorist group’s flags and portraits of Prabhakaran.
“You’re here today for a great cause,” he said. “I am helping you guys, I’m behind you because you’re fighting for the right cause.”
Question: What cause was Malhi referring to? The terrorist war in Sri Lanka? Or the cause of 200,000 Toronto Tamils voting for Malhi’s party?
Let’s do what Australia does. They have a small island 2,600 km off the coast of Perth. It’s actually closer to other countries, like Indonesia.
Australia built an 800-bed holding centre on the island. It’s not a prison, but it’s not a resort either.
When ships full of gatecrashers are caught, they’re steered to Christmas Island, which is not considered Australian soil from an immigration point of view.
They wait there until their refugee claims are processed — and are kicked out if they’re bogus. No living it up in the big city, no disappearing into a 200,000 person diaspora.
Let’s build a Christmas Island. We can do it on one of our remote islands off the West Coast, maybe in the Queen Charlottes.
Food and medicine, immigration officials and CSIS — and no legal rights to anything more, not even to vote for Mr. Malhi.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cost of sky-high hockey rinks could soar

The view from a proposed “icescraper” hockey rink in the sky for the Lower Donlands would be spectacular but so would the price tag — the innovative design is likely to cost 10% over and above the current $88-million estimate.
“Items such as owner-approved design/site changes, cost escalations due to inflation, site servicing and required improvements to Commissioners St. and the Don Roadway, should be taken into account,” a city staff report on the proposed development says.
“These items could potentially increase the total budget by in the order of 10%.”
The city only has $34 million set aside for the project, says the report, which will go to executive committee on Monday.
The city had originally planned to build a ground-level “snowflake”, four-pad complex with nearly 400 surface parking spots at the site, in the heart of the $1.5 billion Lower Donlands waterfront development project.
But designers and architects involved with the project revolted, arguing such a building was inconsistent with the mixed-use, transit-friendly neighbourhood they were hoping to build.
With even that cheaper design estimated to cost $71.5 million, twice what was budgeted for the desperately needed recreation facility, the city went back to the drawing board and returned with the stacked design, which would put rinks one on top of each other in a glass-enclosed, eight-storey building.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said he wonders if the Lower Donlands site is the right spot for the complex at all, especially given the fact funding for so many projects on the waterfront has yet to be firmed up.
“There’s between $300- and $400-million for tearing down the Gardiner, there’s $600 million for (reconstructing) the mouth of the Don, and there’s close to $100 million for this,” he said. adding these costs are in addition to the $1.5 billion already committed to the Lower Donlands.

City Hall's theatre of the absurd: Levy

Sweetheart theatre leases that could cost taxpayers $6.1 million in lost rent will be on the menu at City Hall Thursday.
The deals — which, if approved at the final meeting of the term for the government management committee, will allow all four theatre companies to rent city facilities at a “nominal rate” of $2 per year for as long as 20 (!) years — come even as city officials claim they do not have $600,000 in the combined 2010-2011 operating budgets to keep two local ski hills open for the winter.
Eerily reminiscent of the recently signed 20-year deal with Tuggs Inc. for a monopoly on food and beverage concessions in the Eastern Beaches, all the theatre companies will be required to do is pay for the costs to operate (heat, hydro, etc.) the spaces in question over the next 10 to 20 years.
In the report to committee, the city’s director of real estate services, Joe Casali, and executive director of cultural services, Rita Davies, propose a below-market rent (BMR) lease agreement — at $2 per year — be struck with Opera Atelier for a total of 10 years (a five-year term plus a five-year option to extend) for the 3,168-square feet of space it occupies in St. Lawrence Hall on King St. E.
The report notes if a 10-year lease is granted, the city will be out a total of $221,042 in rent revenue.
The same city officials request the Canadian Stage Company be granted the $2-per-year rent deal for its 26 Berkeley St. facility — but this time for 20 years (a 10-year term plus an option to renew for another 10 years). The report says the previous lease expired on Dec. 31, 2007.
The report says this deal will result in $2.5 million in lost rent revenue over the 20-year period.
The same 20-year rent deal is proposed for Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, which occupies a city-owned facility at 165 Front St., and whose lease expired on April 29, 2006.
The report indicates the city will lose a whopping $3.1 million in rent over the next 20 years.
A second report asks that Clay and Paper Theatre be allowed to jump on the same BMR gravy train — without even the need for a standard proposal — for 3,000 square feet of space it plans to take over at 35 Strachan Ave.
That city building is located in the ward of deputy mayor and mayoralty candidate Joe Pantalone. If approved, the lease will cost the city $261,652 in foregone rent revenue.
All four companies received city-funded Toronto Arts Council grants as well last year. Opera Atelier got $56,500; Canadian Stage Company was given $810,725; Lorraine Kimsa got $295,900 and Clay and Paper Theatre was the recipient of $15,450.
Davies was on vacation Wednesday and Casali did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
However, when asked about the lengthy term (considering the standard BMR lease is five years), manager of cultural affairs Terry Nicholson said all four companies need a minimum of 10-year leases to be able to apply for federal funding for renovation or expansion projects.
He said while Lorraine Kimsa was “getting ready” to apply for federal money for what he thought were renovations, he conceded Canadian Stage Company and Opera Atelier had no such plans in the immediate future.
Asked why the rush when many of the leases have been in a holding pattern for years, Nicholson added the city has been reviewing the BMR policy and the companies have been “asking for renewals all the time.”
With all due respect to Nicholson, I suspect this is simply one more effort by Mayor David Miller’s outgoing lame-duck regime to shore up support from their arts buddies — before the NDPers, hopefully, dance off into the sunset.
It is shameful these kinds of sweetheart deals are being rammed through at the 11th hour.
That’s exactly why Coun. Doug Holyday, a member of the government management committee, will attempt to convince the committee to put over any such decisions until council’s next term.
“This regime has no right to tie a future council to this,” he said Wednesday. “There are a lot of lost opportunity dollars (involved) ... The city has got to get its priorities in line.”

As mayoral election looms, Toronto is still a city divided

Walter Kic is a 60-year-old school bus driver, who lives with his wife in a pretty pale brick house on a leafy street in Etobicoke, with a flower garden out front, a good-sized backyard and two cars in the driveway.
Each morning on his way to work, Kic listens to the radio mainly for the traffic updates, but also for the news. He considers himself pretty well informed.
He knows his taxes have gone up and that Mayor David Miller suddenly discovered an extra $100 million in city coffers earlier this year.
He knows that city councillors have huge office budgets and that councillor Rob Ford gives his back.
He knows that ever since amalgamation, tax dollars flow downtown, while the suburbs sit ignored.
“Under Mayor David Miller, we pay more taxes and get less services,” he said. “It’s not the same as when we were our own city. Things got done then.”
It’s irrelevant if what Kic believes is actually true. He thinks it is. And so do tens of thousands of other voters who live in the inner suburbs.
City council is split on the issue. Suburban councillors bemoan what they say is blatant urban favouritism by the mayor’s office. Old-Toronto representatives say this is simply a (sub)urban myth.
The 1998 amalgamation brought urbanites and suburban dwellers together geographically, but Toronto is still very much a city divided. And on Oct. 25, when voters choose the next mayor, their decision will likely be rooted in where they live.
The proof is in the archetypal frontrunners.
On one end is businessman Rob Ford, a crusading fiscal conservative who believes in “traditional marriage.” He finds passionate support in neighbourhoods just like Kic’s.
On the other end is Liberal heavy-hitter George Smitherman: a married gay man living in a hip downtown condo, whose loyal base lives in the city core.
Moreover, there is little cross-over. Ford holds a solid majority of decided voters in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke, while Smitherman is polling far behind in each of those areas, said Jodi Shanoff, vice-president of Angus Reid, public opinion, and managing director.
The opposite is true for old Toronto.
In April, when the bike lanes issue hijacked election chatter, suburban voters kicked and screamed at the idea of adding routes along major arterial roads. Drivers were pitted against cyclists and the battle lines were drawn starkly along pre-amalgamation boundaries.
A culture war has been quietly simmering in the 416 for a decade. The victor will be decided in the fall.
Part of the debate is ideological. But part is a common feeling of unfairness. Walter Kic would say the bike lane issue is another example of needless cash being spent in old Toronto, while services like boulevard weeding are neglected in his neck of the woods. Meanwhile, the city keeps downtown in showroom state for the throngs of summer tourists.
So is Kic right?
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti thinks so. Mammoliti, who made the suburban plight a pillar of his failed mayoral bid, said his staff analyzed the numbers and there is no doubt the majority of city spending goes downtown.
“Everything from parks and recreation to the works department, and in particular culture, is gobbled up by (old) Toronto … and there’s just no room left for the suburbs,” said Mammoliti.
As far as parks go, it’s hard to tell. That city department is only now developing a proper post-amalgamation assessment of its assets — which is a big part of the problem.
How do you make things even when you don’t know what you’ve got?
At the moment, the actual breakdown shows old Toronto receives less funding per-person ($31) than both North York ($34) and Etobicoke/York ($40). But digest those numbers with a considerable amount of skepticism, cautions parks manager Brenda Patterson.
From the $640 million renovation of Union Station (the city is covering just under half), to the $500 million investment in the waterfront revitalization, to the $25 million Bloor Street beautification initiative, big money doesn’t seem to stray far from the CN Tower.
Budget chief and North York Councillor Shelley Carroll sees it a different way.
The majority of property tax revenue is generated in the high-density, high-value old Toronto neighbourhoods. And more than 40 per cent of all commercial and industrial tax revenue comes from the financial district.
“In fact, the downtown core is actually investing in the suburbs,” said Carroll.
When the province forced together the former cities of Etobicoke, York, North York, East York, Scarborough and Toronto, each came to the table with different needs.
“The discussions about amalgamation came as they were all dealing with the early ’90s recession. And so each was deferring things to balance their budget,” said Carroll.
North York, for example, was debt-free, but had put off years of water infrastructure maintenance. Scarborough had top-notch roads, but opted not to invest in public transit. Residents in tiny York paid low taxes, but the city could never afford a community centre.
The city is still playing catch-up, trying to level the field.
The tab for those fixes: The basement flooding mitigation program in North York will cost between $500 million and $1 billion. The city is directing $8 billion in provincial transit funding mainly to the suburbs and the York community centre will be around $30 million.
But there’s more.
Tired of hearing colleagues complain, Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher made a list of recent council initiatives that primarily benefit suburbia.
At the top of that list — which includes $120 million in tax forgiveness for Etobicoke’s WoodBine Live, a $171 million sports complex for Scarborough (the city promised to cover up to $37.5 million) and ongoing snow removal and leaf pickup services — is the multi-million-dollar investment in Toronto’s 13 priority neighborhoods, which are nearly all in the suburbs.
Decades ago, Toronto’s local government began building a safety network of programs and facilities for its poor. At the same time, suburban municipalities were directing few resources towards struggling communities, such as Lawrence Heights, Kingston-Galloway and Malvern.
Once again, city hall is left cleaning up a mess created in a pre-amalgamation world.
The problem for a mayoral candidate with quasi-incumbent status like deputy mayor Joe Pantalone is that suburban voters don’t connect their own households to this kind of spending.
While door-knocking in the 2006 election, Scarborough Councillor Norm Kelly heard the same complaint time and time again: We are being ignored.
He struggled to find an educated response. No one had ever looked into it before. So the next year, Kelly hired two University of Toronto students to conduct a comprehensive study of city resources.
Fair Share Scarborough examined 10 essential city services, such as children’s services, police and water.
“What they found is that for the most part, yes, Scarborough was in fact getting its fair share,” said Kelly.
But money is only part of the equation, said former Toronto budget chief David Soknacki. What the megacity did is create a complex bureaucracy. People now feel far removed from their local government.
“Part of the real attraction of someone like Councillor Ford is that no matter where you are in the city with a hole in your city housing unit, he will be there, sometimes with staff in tow to get it fixed. That’s a far cry from the procedure of calling 311,” said Soknacki.
And that’s exactly why Walter Kic says he plans to vote for Rob Ford this fall.
Kic knows that he can trust Ford with his money.
He knows that Ford wouldn’t give Nathan Phillips Square a makeover while potholes go unfixed in family neighbourhoods.
“Why Rob Ford?” asks Kic. “He’s the only one that makes sense when he talks.”
Comparing the Burbs                                                              

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

'Superhero' Ford vows to save hills

Rob Ford is strapping some ski pants over his superhero tights.
The tax-loathing councillor from Etobicoke whose website portrays him as a taxpayer-defending superhero says he wants to save Toronto’s two struggling ski hills from closure.
“Absolutely, they’re essential,” Ford told the Toronto Sun editorial board Tuesday.
City council voted to cut the Centennial Park and North York ski hills from the budget, for a savings of more than $500,000, and contract out the operations to the private sector.
But a Request for Proposals, an invitation to submit a bid on running the operation for the city at a profit, failed to turn up any interest in the two businesses.
City parks staff want to reissue the request, but unless city council decides to reopen the matter, the two hills could not open for the coming ski season.
Ford said recreation programs are one area he believes the city should invest in.
“It’s what I call smart spending,” said Ford, who has now declared himself the frontrunner in the Oct. 25 mayoral race with 35% support in his campaign polling.
The remarks sparked an incredulous response from some of Ford’s opponents.
“He believes in spending money now?” asked deputy mayor Joe Pantalone. “Has there been a revelation on the road to Damascus? Maybe there’s some hope for Rob Ford.”
Pantalone said Ford was “Mister Cut Everything, contract out, spend less and less,” and to now push for the hills is a contradiction.
George Smitherman was also having a hard time reconciling Ford’s position with his campaign themes.
“He can express all of the sympathy he wants for keeping Etobicoke Centennial Ski Hill and North York going but the missing ingredient is money,” Smitherman said.
“Councillor Ford has offered up so far in this campaign a program of revenue cuts and expenditure increases that lead to the inevitable conclusion that he’s got a secret list of cuts that are going to be necessary to bring these things into balance,” he said.
By Smitherman’s calculations, Ford’s promise to scrap the vehicle registration and land transfer taxes will mean $1 billion less in revenue for the city over four years. At the same time, he’s promised to hire more police and build expensive subways over streetcars, Smitherman said.
“He’s all show and no go on this stuff. Sooner or later he’s going to be held to account and that’s why I wish he hadn’t chickened out and debated me like he promised to,” Smitherman said, referring to a head to head radio debate Ford agreed to but has since put off until at least September.

Does Toronto have a bargain basement mayor?

As director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Matthew Teitelbaum earned $981,012.97 last year.
As president of George Brown College, Anne Sado was paid $351,152.71.
Meanwhile, as mayor of Toronto — who represents the country’s largest single voting base, North America’s fifth largest city, and the provincial capital — David Miller pulled in what is, by comparison, a measly $167,800.
The guy in charge of Toronto Water — a division of city hall — rakes in $222,576.79. Chief Bill Blair earns a salary of $309,491.19.
That’s not to mention the fact that Mississauga’s Hazel McCallion earns $185,137, including her pay as a member of Peel Region council. Or that the mayor of Montreal makes $192,235 annually.
For further perspective, on a per-person basis, Torontonians pay their mayor 7 cents each per year. Winnipeggers give theirs a quarter. Oshawa residents are big spenders with 96 cents.
In 2006, city council recommended that an outside consultant be asked to look at the salary of councillors and the mayor before the next term. On Monday, a report by the Hay Group, which recommended a $16,000 pay hike for Toronto’s mayor, was made public. It will be debated at the Aug. 16 executive committee meeting.
The leading mayoral candidates quickly dismissed the study, criticized the fact it was done in the first place and declared they had no interest in a raise.
But given the comparisons, why?
“Experience shows them that there’s always a backlash,” said Neil Thomlinson, chair of Ryerson University’s politics and public administration department.
“This is one of the things that’s just depressing. We’ve reached a stage in society when ordinary citizens just don’t accept the notion that democratic process has a price and if you want good people to run that process you have to be at least in some way competitive,” he said. “You can’t expect ordinary people to take humongous cuts in pay to go and do these jobs.”
The wage issue leads to two types of candidates running for office: those who are independently wealthy, such as a Rob Ford or Mel Lastman, or individuals who couldn’t earn as much somewhere else, he said.
“So I ask citizens: Is that what you want?”

Monday, August 9, 2010

G20 class-action suit claims $45-million in damages

Anna Mehler Paperny

It will take $45-million, lawyers claim, to make amends for what they characterize as a series of unlawful arrests and detentions during the G20 summit weekend in Toronto.
That’s the amount being claimed in damages from the Toronto Police Services Board and the Attorney-General of Canada in a class-action suit launched Friday. Police forces under the watch of Toronto police and the RCMP breached the “fundamental civil rights” of hundreds of Torontonians and visitors during that weekend, the suit alleges.
“The vast majority of the arrests and detentions over the course of the G20 weekend were unlawful and unjustified, as well as unconstitutional,” the statement of claim says.
Sherry Good did not originally intend to launch a suit or pursue legal action, she said Friday; she just spread her story online wherever she could. And a couple of lawyers picked it up and got in touch.
But the 51-year-old office administrator is now the face of the lawsuit.
“I’m just an ordinary person. I’m not an organizer. I’m not an activist,” she said.
Ms. Good was among hundreds of people penned for hours in the rain at the corner of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue on the Sunday evening of the summit weekend.
Police have said they saw extremist protesters using Black Bloc tactics and donning face masks amid the crowd of people at the corner that evening. They argue that penning in the entire crowd was the only way to maintain safety.
“What happened to me and hundreds of others was very wrong,” Ms. Good told a cluster of reporters standing outside Queen’s Park on Friday morning, near the designated protest zone where police and activists clashed over the G20 weekend.
After the kettling, Ms. Good said, she had trouble sleeping and working, and she had panic attacks in the days immediately following.
“I have lost my trust in the police,” she said. “It will take a long time to regain that trust.”
More than 1,000 people were arrested over several days in what has been called the largest mass arrest in Canadian history; of those, 263 were charged with something other than breach of peace.
More than 700 were charged with breach of peace and released, while 100 were arrested but released from the makeshift detention centre in an Eastern Avenue film studio without being charged.
It is these 800-plus people, as well as anyone else detained by police but never arrested, that lawyers Murray Klippenstein and Eric Gillespie are aiming to represent in their class-action suit. They say they’ve had stories pour in from people alleging police misconduct and unlawful arrest.
Mr. Gillespie has headed numerous high-profile class-action cases, including a successful suit on behalf of Port Colborne property owners who alleged emissions from a nearby Inco refinery had contaminated their soil.
He says this is the best way to ensure justice for people affected by policing during the G20.
The suit is not without precedent: A similar case in Washington, D.C., wrapped up last month with a judge awarding $13.7-million to people rounded up in mass arrests arising from a 2000 protest near the World Bank and International Monetary Fund offices. Fallout from that protest resulted in changes to police conduct at similar protests and rallies; lawyers for the plaintiffs pointed to the case as a vital way to protect First Amendment rights.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, who sits on the Toronto Police Services Board and whose downtown ward was the site of many of the G20-related arrests and encounters with police, said he can’t comment on the allegations. But he noted it’s odd that the Ontario Provincial Police, one of the forces involved in policing that weekend, were not named as defendants.
“That may be because we don’t know yet the full extent of the command structure,” he said.
Spokespeople for the Toronto police and the Attorney-General’s office said it’s too early to comment on the allegations made in the statement of claim; both noted they have not yet been served.
“They’ve just made an announcement, Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee told The Globe. “At this time I wouldn’t comment until I’ve seen their claim and the whole details.”

Tories commit cash to combat hate crimes at Toronto religious centres

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced almost $90,000 in government funding today for security infrastructure for six religious organizations
A group of religious centres in Toronto will receive government funding to help protect their communities against hate crimes.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced almost $90,000 in government funding today for security infrastructure for six religious organizations in the Toronto area.
Toews says he wants to ensure that vulnerable communities are able to protect themselves against hate-crime incidents.
The Security Infrastructure Pilot program was created in 2007 and is a $3-million, three-year program.
The program provides funding for security enhancements for not-for-profit centres, educational institutions and places of worship linked to a community with a history of being victimized by hate motivated-crime.
The eligible costs include such things as security assessments, security equipment and hardware and training costs.

Canada's 'addiction to rule-making'

Joseph Brean, National Post · Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010
If a skeptic was to wonder why Canadian authorities seem to respond to every tragedy by proposing intrusive new rules that can have impacts far beyond the problems they purport to be addressing, Frank Furedi has the answer: Canada has a cultural "addiction to rule-making."
It is a world leader in the "intrusification" of everyday life, says Mr. Furedi, a sociologist who likens the impulse to using rules like religion to bring solace from grief and fear.
"Every time a child dies, somebody will say — either the police or the coroner or a lawyer — that the lessons must be learned," said Mr. Furedi, a professor at the University of Kent and author of The Politics of Fear.
"We cannot just accept that this was a death. We've got to give that death meaning, and the way to give it meaning is to pass a law."
Consider the most recent evidence. A law that came into force this week in Ontario bans drivers younger than 22 from having any alcohol in their system. Another forces employers to provide antiharassment training for their staff and watch for signs of domestic violence.
And Ontario's acting chief coroner has responded to what he called a "slight surge" in the number of fatal drownings by announcing a comprehensive review looking for common factors, with an eye to more and better safety rules for beaches and pools.
Each initiative comes at least partly in response to a highly publicized death, such as the murder of a nurse by her doctor lover at the hospital where they both worked, a car crash that killed three young men, and the drowning of a young boy at a backyard pool party.
Mr. Furedi, who grew up and studied in Montreal, said he sees this impulse everywhere. In the U.K., it is mocked by tabloids as "Elf 'n' safety," a make-work project for "clipboard killjoys." But Prof. Furedi thinks it is especially strong in countries of immigrants, such as Canada and Australia, where political structures are newer and more malleable.
"Canadian political elites are confused about their roots and what they are all about," he said, which makes it easy to be seduced by the latest "cosmopolitan" social planning scheme cooked up by policy experts.
"If you leave it to so-called experts, often you are very unpleasantly surprised," he said. "What's really happening here is an attempt in a world where we are morally confused and disoriented, to gain meaning from individual tragedies."
He called it a throwback to medieval times, a belief that nothing happens without somebody causing it, that every natural phenomenon has a moral aspect. Modern safety regulations, like witchcraft or divine retribution, are based on a faulty premise about who is responsible for stuff happening, and what can be done about it. Like religion, they are an effort to bring meaning to a cruel and random universe.
"Backlash comes and goes," Prof. Furedi said. "But the intrusification of everyday life remains a very powerful imperative. We have not reached a limit."
He said the impulse crosses political lines, with the left-wing focus on political correctness matched by the right-wing preoccupation with the sexualization of children.
Much of this rule-creep is driven by the use and abuse of statistics, currently a hot topic in Canada, given the recent resignation of the head of Statistics Canada over the mandatory census scandal, and Treasury Board President Stockwell Day's explanation that Canada needs new prisons because of a spike in "unreported crime."
The review of drownings, for example, in response to 54 deaths since May as compared with 43 in the same period last year, recalls the recent panic in Toronto over pedestrian deaths. In that, a statistically insignificant spike in pedestrian deaths over a two-week period was whipped into a mass delusion, in which police blitzed downtown intersections ticketing jaywalkers, and even Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty weighed in with his fear that there might be "something new that's happening that wasn't there before."
All this, when the city's own manager of Traffic Safety for Transportation Service had data showing that this was clearly a "Poisson burst," a characteristic of random events, which by their nature will not be evenly spaced in time, and so therefore will sooner or later occur in bunches.
Ontario's workplace antiharassment training, while well intentioned, is awkward in practice. Witness one online tutorial offered to help employees comply with the legislation. It starts with a montage of news reports about hostage takings and workplace massacres set to an ominous soundtrack. Then, in a series of questions about harassment, it explains such inappropriate workplace behaviours as: using a "harsh" tone of voice, "suggesting revenge," shaking a fist or pointing a finger in someone's face, carrying a weapon to work, "displaying symbols associated with hostile or violent groups," hitting, shoving, scratching, grabbing, vandalism, rape, robbery and murder.
If this "training" was not already mandatory, it would be satire.
It came in response to, and was partly inspired by, the 2005 death of Lori Dupont, a nurse killed in a Windsor hospital by a doctor with whom she was romantically involved. It is particularly reflected in the new regulation that "employers who are aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence may occur in the workplace must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker at risk of physical injury."
This desire to wring lessons from tragedy also motivates the many laws named for children, often after an impassioned campaign by a grieving parent.
The alcohol law, for example, marks the successful conclusion of a campaign by Tim Mulcahy, whose son Tyler was killed, along with two friends, in a 2008 crash in Ontario cottage country that police blamed on alcohol and speed.
Prof. Furedi said this law is particularly illegitimate, because it purports to be about drinking and driving, but is really only about drinking, like health advice and social etiquette disguised as traffic law.
He recalled being a teenager in Montreal with a fake ID to get around age restrictions on buying alcohol. "I thought it was stupid, but it's a legitimate law to have," he said. This alcohol driving ban is different. He called it an attempt to modify behaviour opportunistically, like a sexual education course that is motivated by morality.
"They think their job is to save people from themselves," he said of politicians who promote rules designed to send social messages, and that this reveals their "contempt" for "people who cannot be relied on to manage their everyday existence."

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City Hall pipeline: Levy Seeking to jump from second banana to councillor, does an endorsement from a departing politician help?

What do councillors Mike Feldman, Michael Walker and Adam Giambrone have in common?
They are all retiring from office on Oct. 25.
They have also all endorsed their executive assistants as the best candidates to follow in their footsteps.
Which begs the question: Does being a right-hand man or woman to the Big Kahuna on council automatically qualify one to be the “heir apparent”?
Certainly in elections gone by, it didn’t hurt to have a ringing endorsement from an outgoing councillor — not to mention strong ties to the ward’s constituents.
But this year, the landscape is very different.
People are anxious for change, for fresh meat.
One wonders if being tied to a councillor is more a liability than benefit.
I dare say an endorsement by Giambrone — the controversial TTC chairman and former mayoralty candidate who was forced to drop out of the race amidst lurid tales of trysts with a variety of women — might be the “kiss of death.”
Kevin Beaulieu, 39 — the EA captured on camera reading the rest of Giambrone’s speech when he resigned from the mayor’s race — says not so.
He claims at the thousands of doors in Ward 18 on which he’s already knocked people want to talk “overwhelmingly” about local Davenport issues and bigger city issues — not his former boss.
Not one door has slammed in his face, he contends, when he mentions his association to Giambrone. He adds it’s too early in the race for people to be talking about the track record of the left-leaning cadre of councillors at Socialist Silly Hall.
Now Beaulieu is a likeable guy. And at least he actually lives in the ward.
But I find it hard to believe counting Giambrone and a cast of such council lightweights as Maria Augimeri, Shelley Carroll, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher and Gord Perks as his supporters will put him out in front of his nine opponents — even if this is an NDP-leaning ward.
Chris Sellors, who resigned in the spring to run to replace Walker in Ward 22, lives outside the ward.
But the 36-year-old says his experience working for the St. Paul’s councillor over the past 10 years more than makes up for that.
He agrees the public does not want to vote for an incumbent — they want fresh faces and new ideas — but “Michael Walker is a little different ... a lot of people still like him.”
He says he doesn’t have to distance himself from the councillor because a lot of people “respect him” for earning their trust over the years.
“I’m not Walker ... I’m my own man but I’ve learned from him,” Sellors said, insisting his knowledge of City Hall is also a “definite plus.”
I live in the ward and I think Sellors, who has a formidable opponent in publicity hound and school trustee Josh Matlow, is deluding himself if he thinks Walker is that well-respected. The 28-year councillor, best known for being council’s curmudgeonly contrarian, was well beyond his best-before date.
One can only hope Sellors has not learned how to use taxpayer dollars like Walker — who consistently spent virtually to the limit of his $53,000 office budget and used his expense account to donate to (buy votes from) community groups — while preaching restraint and ethical conduct.
Nancy Oomen, 54, who just a few days ago registered to run in Feldman’s Ward 10 seat against eight opponents — at least two of them strong campaigners — said the fact she doesn’t live in the ward doesn’t matter.
She says she’s been working there for 10 years and has a “reputation” for getting things done.
“I am extremely responsive to constituents,” she said, adding her already established strong relationships with city staff is a plus in her favour.
“She preserves the culture of the ward,” adds Feldman. “She is well-respected.”
Now I can’t speak for how responsive the retiring 81-year-old Feldman and his office have been to York Centre constituents as of late. But from my vantage point at Socialist Silly Hall, I suspect his office has been on auto-pilot for a long, long time handling a ward that hasn’t been all that demanding.
As much as I have a lot of time for the retiring councillor, I think he’s been largely warming his council seat this past term — something I believe will come back to haunt Oomen as she attempts to carry on the torch in Ward 10.

City Hall just doesn't get it $4.8 million contract awarded without going to tender

At a meeting Monday, members of the budget committee will be asked to approve just shy of a $5 million top-up to the $28 million construction contract for the revitalization of Nathan Phillips Square.
The good news is that taxpayers will not be on the hook — at least not yet — for any more than the $42 million in exorbitant costs already pegged to pretty up the square.
The bad news is that the extra $4.8 million in repairs and refurbishments will simply be handed to the same contractor — PCL Constructors Canada Inc. — that already won the $28 million bid without any investigation of competitive prices or a tender process.
This is the way business has come to be done at Socialist Silly Hall. It’s certainly not about to change in the dying days of a lame-duck regime, even as the leading contenders for mayor press for the need for competitive and open bids.
The $4.8 million in work includes $2.5 million in mechanical and structural improvements needed by the Toronto Parking Authority on the City Hall parking garage, $313,000 in repairs to a deteriorated concrete slab at the City Hall loading dock, and another $1.2 million — get this — to put in 385 bicycle parking spaces instead of the original 100 planned on the square.
Chief corporate officer Bruce Bowes said they’ve decided to “pony up” with the existing contractor to ensure the work is done more efficiently and avoid disruption.
Asked whether nearly $5 million in work is normally put out to tender, Bowes argued that the idea is to do things in the most “efficient way possible” and not have two contractors on the square disrupting it at the same time.
“As long as the pricing is right it makes more sense to get the work done with the same contractor,” he said. “We’re way ahead of the game doing it this way.”
Asked whether he knows for sure they’re getting the best price, he responded that what PCL is charging is “standard pricing in the industry” for the work.
He added that they’d already got a price for the 100 bike spaces and the “same pricing structure” was used for the expansion to 385.
Oh, my goodness.
Will this slipshod approach to pricing and awarding contracts ever end?
Besides, I find it particularly difficult to believe that City Hall has gotten the best deal for taxpayers considering Bowes and his department are the chief architects behind the $11.5-million Peter St. homeless shelter fiasco — the subject of a scathing report by the city’s auditor-general Jeff Griffiths.
According to his June report, the shelter has gone 110% over budget and is still not open 35 long months after the original building was purchased.
Speaking of which, Bowes said they’re “working diligently” to make sure the shelter opens on Aug. 16 but even that date is not guaranteed.
Audit chairman Doug Holyday said the city should have tendered the extra $5 million in work for the square to ensure city gets the best price.
“The city has to start doing what’s convenient for taxpayers,” he said.
Mayoralty candidate Rob Ford feels that sole source bidding is “completely out of control” at City Hall and there’s no reason why the extra work on the square should not go out for tender.
“Taxpayers will never know whether this guy (company) put any price on it if the city doesn’t get competitive bids,” he said, noting it definitely is “not the real world” at City Hall.
His opponent Rocco Rossi said he’s “shocked” that with all of the attention that has been put on the issue of ensuring open bids once again city officials are repeating the kinds of errors that led to the Peter St. disaster.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sunrise Propane was told to stop liquid gas transfers two years before fatal blast

Anna Mehler Paperny
The pre-dawn propane blast that ripped apart Toronto’s Downsview neighbourhood two years ago was caused by a technical operation the company had been warned to cease almost two years earlier.
A fire marshal’s report, finalized in July and obtained by The Globe, states it was a “tank-to-tank” transfer that caused the Sunrise Propane explosion that killed one man and caused extensive damage to the North York neighbourhood in August of 2008.
A hose failure on the discharge side of the tank meant liquid propane escaped, evaporated and came into contact with “a competent ignition source resulting in a vapour cloud explosion.
“Accordingly, this explosion and fire will be classified as accidental – mechanical failure.”
The report notes that Sunrise Propane, which was charged under the province’s environmental protection act in 2009, was warned in November 2006 to cease its tank-to-tank transfers, but did not.
The report also identifies numerous inadequacies in existing safety regulations, noting that “the current code/standards do not provide sufficient safety requirements addressing a situation involving a liquid propane leak.”
The explosion rocked the community, raining asbestos and charred metal and causing the evacuation of a 1.6-kilometre area.
It also took the life of 25-year-old Parminder Singh Saini, a Sunrise employee and Sheridan College student.

Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases in Downsview exploded in August, 2008.
A class action suit against Sunrise Propane and the property owner is in process.
Local councillor Maria Augimeri says the report is a “vindication” for residents whose lives were turned upside down by the explosion two years ago.
“It points a clear finger to the fact that there was inadequate oversight of the industry,” she said in an interview with The Globe.
But now, she says, it’s up to the province to fix that by tightening technical standards and safety statutes – and by giving local governments more power to regulate industrial operations within city limits.
The report itself would seem to support this move: It notes that the Sunrise facility met existing requirements used “to determine if the facility could be located in a heavily populated area,” but adds that maybe these regulations should be reexamined: “Consideration should be given towards factoring in the total combustible gas stored on site, adjacent land use and site congestion in the site approval criteria,” it reads.
“How many times does this need to happen? How many deaths do we need to look at before we change the law?” Ms. Augimeri said.
“Industry does not adequately regulate itself – when does it ever?”

Condo sales in Toronto drop for first time in 16 years

Steve Ladurantaye
Globe and Mail Update
New condo sales in Toronto decreased for the first time in 16 years in the second quarter, as the market cooled along with the broader housing market.
Sales of new condos have posted quarter-over-quarter sales gains since 1994, said Urbanation Inc, an information gathering company that tracks sales in the Toronto area. There were 4,991 sales in the second quarter, an eight per cent decline from the first quarter’s 5,415.
“Despite the quarter-over-quarter decrease, sales during the past four quarters were near record highs,” said Ben Myers, Urbanation’s executive vice-president. “When we consider the rapid sales pace of the six months prior to Q2/10, the new sales market is softening. Expect a slightly slower sales pace for the remaining two quarters of 2010.”
The amount of time units are sitting on the market has also increased, to 25 days in the second quarter from 22 days in the first quarter. There were 12,638 unsold units available at the end of the second quarter, an increase of 12 per cent over the same time last year.
The resale market held up far better, setting a new quarterly record of 5,076 sales, beating the previous high of 4,854 set in the third quarter of 2009. It’s an 18 per cent increase over the first quarter, and five per cent over a year ago.

HST cooling housing market: Realtors

Garry Marr, Financial Post · Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010
TORONTO -- Almost half of its real estate agents say the main reason for the cooling housing market is the harmonized sales tax, according to a survey from Royal LePage Real Estate Services.
The company conducted an online-only poll of its realtors at the end of July — almost a month after the HST went into affect in British Columbia and Ontario — and found that 43.9% of the 769 respondents in those provinces blamed the new tax for the downturn. The HST was considered a bigger threat than rising interest rates despite two recent quarter point hikes from the Bank of Canada.
The Canadian Real Estate Association said last month that sales in the second quarter of the year were down 13.3% from the first quarter, on a seasonally adjusted basis. June sales dropped 8.2% from May.
Price increases are also being affected with demand withering. CREA said the national average sales price rose just 4.9% from a year ago to $342,662 in June.
“We wanted to understand the impact HST has had since it was introduced, and what we found is that there is a need to better educate home buyers and sellers to ensure they understand when the HST is applicable,” said Phil Soper, chief executive of Royal LePage. “According to our realtors who work in B.C. and Ontario communities every day, misconceptions about the HST are having an effect on the market in both provinces.”
The HST applies to newly built homes with exemptions up to a certain amount in both provinces. But it does not apply to the purchase price of resale homes. It does apply to the fees for services and commissions associated with any real estate transaction. New homes represent less than 10% of business, says Royal LePage.
Agents indicated consumers don’t seem to understand how the tax works. When asked to provide examples of comments heard from buyers and sellers regarding the HST and its effect on the housing market, 46.7% of agents indicated that confusion about HST remains more than one month after its introduction.
“Among the most common responses to the survey’s open-ended questions were that many home buyers incorrectly believe HST applies to the sale price of resale properties,” says LePage.
Interest rates were only cited by 28.4% of agents as the biggest threat to the housing market. Overall, 86% of agents report the HST is affecting their business some way.
“While we predicted that the prospect of rising interest rates would put a damper on the housing market, our agents are finding that the HST is actually having the greater impact on buyer behaviour, at least in the short-term,” said Mr. Soper. “Our take-away from this survey is that we need to do more as an industry to educate consumers about the HST.”

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More signs the Toronto housing market is cooling off

Home sales in the Toronto market are cooling rapidly off in the second half of the year, with a 34 per cent drop in July compared to a year earlier.
This is the third consecutive month of falling sales, according to figures released by the Toronto Real Estate Board today.
In June, sales had dipped by 23 per cent. But this has been the steepest drop yet, with sales dipping to 6,564 in July compared with 9,967 a year earlier.
“The level of July sales remained below the expected long term trend. The market has become more balanced,” said TREB president Bill Johnston.
Total sales through the first seven months are still up by 12 per cent, thanks to record sales during the first half of the year.
The average price for July transactions was $420,482, representing a six per cent increase over last year.
Meanwhile, building permit figures for Toronto released by Statistics Canada today also show that developers are less bullish about the housing market moving forward.
Building permits in the Toronto area fell by 15.3 per cent in June over May thanks to a drop in residential building intentions in both the single detached and high rise segments. Non-residential buildings such as commercial and industrial projects showed an increase, but not enough to offset the drop in residential permits.

Alleged cash-for-gold murder plot probed

By Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
TORONTO - The cash-for-gold competition between two Toronto businesses is heating up as gold prices soar, but jeweller Jack Berkovits says he never thought he would see a rival's employee charged with trying to have him killed.
Berkovits tells a bizarre tale involving a man he thought was a customer informing him he was hired "to blow your brains out," and even the alleged conspirator is an unlikely figure — a 71-year-old woman.
It's been a frightening experience for Berkovits, even though for him it almost defies credulity.
"It's not my understanding that it's common nature for people to go and kill for their boss," he said in a phone interview from Miami, where he is travelling.
Though Berkovits said the competition between his company, Omni Jewelcrafters, and the Jewellery Buyer — right across the street — has been more aggressive of late, the current situation for him began two weeks ago, when meeting with a customer.
Berkovits and the man sat down at a coffee shop — the customer didn't want to meet in the store — and made small talk for a while before the man said he thought Berkovits was a nice person and he couldn't "do it."
Berkovits said he asked what he meant, and when the man said he couldn't kill Berkovits, the stunned jeweller asked why the man would want to kill him.
"Because I was hired to blow your brains out," he recalled the man saying.
Police allege Maria Konstan, 71, an employee of the Jewellery Buyer, hired the would-be hitman. Television viewers in the Toronto area are well-acquainted with the pervasive "Harold the Jewellery Buyer" commercials featuring an eclectic cast of characters and low production values.
Konstan faces two counts each of threatening death or bodily harm and counselling to commit an indictable offence, as well as one count of threatening to damage property. Her case is due to return to court Aug. 20.
Harold "The Jewellery Buyer" Gerstel has not been charged in the case and did not return a call seeking comment.
Konstan used to come into Omni Jewelcrafters for coffee — the jewelry store is part coffee shop — and was friendly, Berkovits said.
"She seemed pleasant enough, and then when the war broke out ... she was very militant from that day on," he said.
"Cursing at my employees, standing in front of our store blocking access to our store — she became (Gerstel's) cheerleader."
The "war" Berkovits refers to started about 15 months ago, when he began advertising that he too was in the cash-for-gold business, he said. Omni Jewelcrafters had been buying jewelry from the public for 35 years, but until recently Berkovits found it in poor taste to advertise that.
"The buying of jewelry generally (was) a transaction that used to be done with people who needed money desperately," he said.
"When gold increased as it has over the last several years, a lot of very, very reputable people who are not desperate started selling their jewelry and it became less of a stigma."
Gold is up 9.4 per cent over last year to $1,199.30 an ounce and last year it was up 24 per cent.
The cash-for-gold business provides a great "counterbalance" for jewellers, Berkovits said. When times are good people buy jewelry. When times are tough they want to sell jewelry for cash, he said.
Combine that with the price of gold and the fact that it's an easy business to set up, it's no wonder so many are getting into it, Berkovits said.
"You're seeing jewelry retailers putting out signs all over the world that we now buy gold," he said.
Gerstel used to be one of two or three cash-for-gold retailers in Toronto, and now that there are dozens if not hundreds of others his competitive tactics have become more aggressive, Berkovits said.
He hired people to stand on each corner at the intersection near their shops wearing Harold the Jewellery Buyer sandwich boards and sometimes they would even park themselves directly in front of Omni Jewelcrafters, blocking the entrance, Berkovits alleged.
Relations between the two prominent members in the area's Orthodox Jewish community weren't always so strained, Berkovits said.
"We've known each other for many, many years," he said.
"I actually gave him tips on how to advertise ... He used to come to me and ask me for tips. I taught him the business."

Ford gets endorsement from anti-Pride pastor

Rob Ford's director of communications confirmed Wednesday morning that the mayoral candidate personally believes in the traditional, heterosexual view of marriage.
The confirmation came on the heels of an endorsement of Ford by Wendell Brereton, a candidate for city councillor for ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Rob Ford's campaign team later tweeted a messaging saying that Brereton had Ford's full support as well, but the tweet was quickly deleted. 
Brereton, who identified himself as a Christian fundamentalist, is a pastor at Glorious Church-Faith Temple in Toronto and a former member of the Ontario Provincial Police.
He originally entered this year's municipal election as a candidate for mayor, but later withdrew and focused his sights on a councillor's seat.
On his website, the pastor states: "My kind of Toronto doesn't parade immorality and call it pride."
During a media scrum in front of City Hall, Ford refused to answer questions about his personal belief regarding gay marriage, but did say he endorses Brereton's platform.
When asked if that includes Brereton's views on gay marriage, Ford wavered.
"This is about saving taxpayer's money and this is why I want Wendell Brereton part of my team," he told reporters.
After Ford and Brereton retreated into City Hall, Ford's director of communications, Adrienne Batra, clarified Ford's stance on gay marriage, saying that the Etobicoke North councillor has clearly acknowledged his belief in a traditional, heterosexual definition of marriage.
"You tell me how that impacts municipal policy and how it impacts accountability to the taxpayers of Toronto? It absolutely doesn't," she told reporters.
When asked if funding for city events like Toronto's Pride Parade , Batra said that Ford doesn't believe city taxpayers should be funding any parades.

Civil liberties group wonders why G20 protester not granted bail

By JENNY YUEN, Toronto Sun
Six weeks behind bars and counting.
Erik Lankin, the 23-year-old Kitchener First Nations activist and the last of 17 people charged with serious crimes during the G20 weekend, is still stuck at Maplehurst detention centre in Milton after being arrested on July 24 on conspiracy charges and denied bail last month, his supporters say.
But that’s basically all they’re saying.
“I’m not giving any comment,” Lankin’s fiancee Niki Thorne, whose home was raided by police during the G20, said Wednesday. “The lawyer has asked that people close to Erik not speak to the media for now.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is worried that because of stringent court-imposed conditions and publication bans that prisoners are being treated unfairly. This week the association wrote to the Chief Justice of Canada and the head of Ontario’s justices of the peace for more transparency during the court process.
“The law is quite clear on why and when there should be a publication ban and you always have to balance the right of the public to information versus the interest of justice, whether it’s privacy interests of the offenders or the inability of a fair this case it seems that the balancing was done quickly and we’re not sure if the same test was applied,” said Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for the CCLA.
“They have to be treated no more harshly than any other defender in the same circumstance. For vandalism, to be held for six weeks and bail denied raises some concerns.”
Ministry of the Attorney General spokesman Jenn Bell said the issue of Lankin’s bail was determined by the justice of the peace who presided at his bail hearing.
His next scheduled court date is Aug. 23 at 11:30 a.m. at Finch Ave. W. court.
“As there is a publication ban in place we are unable to provide any further information,” Bell said.
Lankin is part of a Kitchener-Waterloo group called AW@L, that protests war, tar sands and champions the rights of indigenous people.
“Everyone would really like him to be released and there’s no reason for him to be held because all of the other 17 who were arrested on conspiracy charges — some much more serious accusations have already been released on bail,” said AW@L member Rachel Avery. “We are very hopeful. He’s been doing fairly well...The conditions in the detention centre have been well-documented as being very cold, sensory depravation with the lights being on throughout the night and minimal food and water.”
The CCLA is baffled as to why Lankin remains in custody.
“We don’t know why he’s deemed to be a danger to the public or a risk of not showing up to his next trial date, so it’s unclear to us what the evidence was to get to that ruling. We’re all operating on a dark stage,” Des Rosiers said.
We can’t “prevent the public from knowing what’s going on when there is a legitimate public interest in understanding what’s going on in the aftermath of the G20,” she said.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Real mayors talk about road tolls: Editorial

In Toronto’s hotly-contested mayoralty race, the elephant in the room is gridlock.
We have it. Bad. The Toronto Board of Trade estimates traffic congestion costs the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas $6 billion annually.
The average Toronto transit commuter, or motorist, takes 80 minutes daily to get to and from work — 24 minutes longer than in Los Angeles.
It’s getting worse. Every year.
We’ve heard much talk in this campaign about building subways. Unfortunately, there’s no subway fairy to fund them and they cost about $300 million per km to build.
We’re all for the next mayor cutting waste at City Hall.
But there isn’t enough waste to tackle gridlock, build new roads, fix the ones we have and properly fund public transit.
Mayoralty candidate Sarah Thomson has raised the discussion we need to have.
She’s suggested paying for subways by toll roads and kudos to her for having the courage to talk about it.
Problem is, her math is flawed and she’s limited the idea to roads in Toronto like the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.
That won’t work. It will just wall off Toronto from the Golden Horseshoe.
The solutions to gridlock have to be developed region-wide. That’s where Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with overseeing the development of a new, integrated regional transportation network, must show leadership.
Finding the money to fund new highways, roads and public transit can come from many sources — tolls, a dedicated gas or sales tax, congestion charges.
To succeed, the money raised has to go to dedicated projects that will relieve gridlock.
It can’t be sent down the rabbit hole of general government revenues, leaving the public furious they’re paying for the same roads twice — once through taxes, and again through tolls.
The conventional wisdom is even talking about road tolls is a campaign killer.
We don’t believe that’s true for a real leader.
Americans care at least as much as we do about paying high taxes. During the 2008 presidential election, 32 referendums were held across the U.S., asking voters in dozens of communities to approve new revenue tools for public transit. Three quarters passed, often with two-thirds of the vote.
In Los Angeles County, 67% of voters approved a sales tax increase to fund mass transit, including subway expansion.
The specific revenue tool isn’t the issue. What we need are politicians with the courage to lay out our options honestly.
Promising more subways is easy. But without adequate funding from senior levels of government and with no alternative way to raise money — the status quo today — they’re just subways to nowhere.
What we know is if we don’t do anything, gridlock will get worse and a decade from now we’ll be facing the same choices — at much greater costs.
The time to start this discussion is now.