Friday, September 30, 2011

Oshawa military museum may have to sell tanks

Members of the Ontario Regiment Museum say they may have to sell some of their historic military vehicles to keep their doors open to the public.

The museum is fighting to survive and its volunteers are working hard to prevent it from being the second military history centre to close in the Greater Toronto Area in recent weeks. The locks were changed and the doors were closed to the public at the Canadian Air and Space Museum at Downsview Park last weekend.

The Ontario Regiment Museum, located in Oshawa, is a link to history dating back to the 1850s and has about 70 operational vehicles, including the Sherman, M60 Patton and M551 Sheridan tanks, as well as a variety of armoured personnel carriers and jeeps.

“It is a constant struggle to keep the doors open,” said museum spokesman

Terry Woods. “We are in danger of having to sell some our vehicles to stay open.”

He said it takes a lot of money to maintain all the tanks and heavy equipment, plus the cost of fuel.

“Nobody wants to sell their collection of items,” Woods said Wednesday. “It will be a great shame to have the collection pieced off.”

The museum is primarily supported through fundraising, including the $100 is costs to become a member and volunteer at the museum.

A fundraising event featuring a 1945 U.S.-made Sherman tank is planned for Saturday at the museum at 1000 Stevenson Rd. N., north of Rossland Rd. and on the south side of the Oshawa airport.

The Ontario Regiment is among the oldest continuously serving reserve regiments in Canada and is one of the senior armoured regiments in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.

The Ontario Regiment was officially formed from the nine independent rifle companies on Sept. 14, 1866.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Condo boom eating up office space

When Iain Dobson sees another condo or condo-hotel springing up on prime downtown land just steps from the subway, he becomes more convinced than ever that Toronto is risking its own future by trading off jobs for people.
Toronto is reaching a tipping point — a shortage of development-ready land for new office towers at the same time thousands of new financial services jobs are projected for downtown and more companies are looking to return to the city core from the suburbs, says Dobson.
The former commercial brokerage executive and co-author of a report for the Canadian Urban Institute warns that Toronto has allowed construction of so many condo towers on what were meant to be office building sites, there is only enough development-ready land for about 4 million square feet of new office space left in the downtown.
Even the old converted “brick-and-beam” buildings to the west and east of the core, now home to some 18 million square feet of commercial development, are close to being full, says Dobson.
“The area within 500 metres of the subway is prime get yourself to work and back again space and when it gets eaten up by a lot of residential development, you have to wonder where will the new offices go?,” says Dobson.
He points to buildings like the 70-storey Trump Tower and 65-storey Shangri-La Hotel, both hotel and condo developments on land once slated for offices. They are among twelve new highrise condos, with 5,707 new units, under construction in the downtown core right now.
One-third of all jobs in the GTA are office jobs, notes the report, The New Geography of Office Location and the Consequences of Business as Usual in the GTA.
Thirty years ago, 63 per cent of office space was located in the downtown financial district or directly along subway lines. But so many businesses have flocked to the suburbs, as of 2010, 54 per cent of office space was located in the road-dependent 905 regions.
That dramatic shift, thanks to plentiful land and cheap taxes, not only clogged major roads, it turned the core into a one-horse town dominated by the financial services sector.
“The 416 region has become the bedroom community for the 905 regions,” says Dobson.
There is some evidence that’s starting to shift as environmentally conscious companies such as Coke and Telus consolidate suburban operations in the core to ease long commutes and be close to where employees live.
But governments need to do more to ease commercial taxes, integrate transit to growth areas and review land use policies for any developable land within a five-minute walk of subways with a focus on office rather than more condo development.
Commercial realtors say they are managing to find sufficient office space for companies that are looking. Colliers International says, in fact, a number of financial district tenants are moving into new offices on the Railways Lands, which is freeing up hundreds of thousands of feet of prime space in the financial district.
Realtor Cushman & Wakefield notes that almost 4 million square feet of office space has come on stream downtown since 2009 and 5.2 million more is planned. It estimates that’s enough, given current demand, for about nine more years of growth.

These tiny GTA condos smaller than hotel rooms

Andrew la Fleur likes to boast that he owns the smallest condo in Toronto right now — a 301 square foot studio in the Regent Park redevelopment.
But he knows his bragging days are numbered.
Slated to open in spring 2013 is the newest small thing to hit Toronto’s exploding condominium market — a 270 square foot studio in Canderel Residential’s DNA project on King St. W.
“We may be reaching a breaking point,” says la Fleur, 31, looking around his tasteful but tiny condo he bought for $166,000 in the pre-construction phase a year ago and plans to rent out for $1,000 a month.
“It’s hard to know how the market is going to respond to super small condos. Hundreds of them exist on (blueprint) paper right now, but very few of them have actually been built yet. They have never existed in Toronto before.”
La Fleur’s bright, 12th floor unit stretches to a relatively palatial 389 square feet if you factor in the balcony and don’t mind having your dinner parties outdoors.
Year round.
It feels like a hotel room — although even they average 350 square feet — except for the dark laminate flooring and chic granite-clad kitchen. It’s closet-space challenged: There’s a stacked washer and dryer where you would expect to hang your clothes.
Call the place small, but “very functional,” says la Fleur, a downtown realtor. Just don’t call it a micro-condo, he says, the new buzzword in hot housing markets like London and Manhattan.
While Toronto has a ways to go to rival Tokyo where folks cram themselves into “capsules” as little as 96 square feet, these studios are a sign of the times.
In the past three years alone, unit sizes have dropped significantly, especially in the downtown area, as developers look to keep prices affordable — but profitable — in the face of the HST, as well as escalating land and building costs.
Ten years ago the average condo in the Greater Toronto Area was just over 1,000 square feet. By this spring, it had shrunk to 921 square feet, says condo research firm Urbanation.
Downtown, the average new unit is just 749 square feet.
At the same time, developers are trying to ease the optics of escalating prices by cramming two bedrooms into roughly the same footprint that used to have just one. That means everything — from kitchens to sleeping space — are getting tighter.
Blame the HST, escalating land costs and the increased costs of building, says Riz Dhanji, vice-president of sales and marketing for Canderel, which has a novel distinction in the Toronto condo market right now.
It is building both the smallest condo — two 270 square foot studios on King St. W. — and the biggest, the 11,370 square foot penthouse in its Aura development at College and Yonge Sts.
“We’re turning into a New York kind of city where units are getting smaller and the prices are getting more expensive,” he acknowledges. “It’s not that developers don’t want to build bigger units, it’s that people don’t want to pay the price.”
Builders warned the province that smaller units would be an inevitable outcome of adding the HST to new condo construction, Dhanji says.
In response, the Ontario government introduced the Ontario Enhanced New Housing rebate, which means the HST only applies to the portion of new condo sales above $400,000.
That has left developers struggling to keep as many condos as possible under $400,000, for fear buyers will turn to the resale market where the same tax doesn’t apply, Dhanji says.
The effect is now being felt as the first of those condos come on the market.
From 2008 to the end of 2010, the percentage of new one-bedroom condos in the GTA jumped to 58.6 per cent from 51.5 per cent while two bedrooms dropped to 32.8 per cent from 41.4 per cent, says Ben Myers, executive vice-president of Urbanation.
La Fleur is already happy with his little investment. A new one is for sale nearby for $200,000.
Its location close to transit, shopping and the bustling downtown office towers will make it perfect for a student or young professional. Not so much for empty nesting baby boomers.
“Downsizers can’t wrap their heads around anything less than 800 square feet. Their universal reaction is: ‘How can people live like this?’ I have closets that are bigger.”

Video: Condo investors making us a town of renters

Toronto Councillor Adam Vaughan can tell the minute he looks at a condo building in his downtown ward if it’s full of renters or home to owners.
“The bigger the building, the higher the rate of renters,” says Vaughan.
The optics can be even more obvious when he steps inside. Even newer buildings can have the feel of university dormitories with shabby lobbies and cheap carpeting meant to keep down maintenance costs for investors who own a unit or two but may live half a world away.
With Toronto’s condo market among the hottest in the world right now — almost 68,000 new units are now in the planning stages or under construction across the GTA — investors are cashing in big time on what looks like a sure bet compared to battered stock markets.
Some 45 to 60 per cent of all new condos planned for the GTA are being snapped up by investors, says market research group Urbanation. That number is believed to be closer to 80 per cent in the downtown core where 12 new highrises, with 5,707 new units, are creeping floor by floor into the Toronto skyline right now.
That frenzy of investor activity is now being seen — and felt — as developers try to keep condo prices down by building more, and smaller, units meant to maximize investments for people who will never have to live in studios smaller than hotel rooms.
The surge of investors is part of the reason new downtown units are now averaging just 749 square feet — about half the 1,440 square feet average being built in crowded Manhattan.
While there are growing concerns about where Toronto’s condo market is heading, the activity here comes as a shock to Jonathan Miller who monitors the U.S. as president and CEO of Manhattan-based Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants.
“If this isn’t a bubble, I don’t know what is,” says Miller. “This is going to end badly.
“You can’t have such a rapid influx of supply without this going too far. One thing I’ve learned is that builders will build until they can’t build anymore.”
Ben Myers disagrees. The editor and executive vice president of Urbanation has recently started tracking rental demand for those condos.
“This (condo building spree) is providing the city’s rental stock,” he says, adding that some 100,000 new people are flocking to the GTA each year.
“We are one of the only markets in the world that is catering to renters and first-time buyers by creating these smaller suites. In my view, this is absolutely the best approach. Great cities grow and expand, they have people walking around and you can only do that if you have a lot of people living downtown.”
While Vaughan has fought hard to see continued construction of larger and three-bedroom units that provide a better mix of residents, he finds older condo dwellers are gravitating to smaller buildings where the number of owner-occupants tends to be higher.
Developer Peter Cortellucci has seen what’s happening downtown and his Cortel Group made a conscious decision to head the other direction. Its five new condo towers planned for the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre at Highway 7 and Jane St. will feature bigger units and sales contracts discourage buyers just looking for units to rent out.
“We’re trying to create a sense of community and a neighbourhood where people actually live,” says Cortellucci, vice president of Cortel.
“We took a bit of a risk with large units and we’ve been quite successful so far. We wanted people to come in and say, ‘I could really live here.’ We didn’t want it to be too far a stretch from their homes.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How bad is parking in Toronto?

Next time you’re circling the block in search of a parking spot, here’s something to cheer you up. Other cities have it much worse than Toronto.

Out of 20 cities around the world, this is the third-easiest place to park, following Los Angeles and Chicago, according to a survey by IBM released Wednesday.

It’s quite the reverse in New Delhi, Bangalore or Beijing, where motorists often give up looking for spaces all together and drive somewhere else.

The parking index IBM used is calculated from surveying 8,000 people on how long it takes to find a space, if they can even find a space, disagreements over the parking space, parking tickets received and parking tickets received for illegal parking.

It takes Torontonians 13 minutes on average to find a parking spot. For drivers in Nairobi it takes half an hour, well above the global average of 20 minutes. Thirteen per cent of drivers surveyed in the Kenyan capital have searched for a spot for over an hour.

Drivers are most likely to argue over a space in New Delhi, with 58 per cent of drivers there admitting to at least one fight. Globally, one-quarter of the respondents reported arguing about a parking space.

But not in gentle Toronto. Along with Montreal, Chicago and Los Angeles, only about 13 per cent of drivers here said they’ve fought over a spot.

The Toronto Parking Authority is proud of the result, which comes after city council voted against even considering privatizing the profitable system.

“It confirms that the parking in Toronto stacks up really well in the world,” said Ian Maher, of the Toronto Parking Authority.

In fact, our system ranks equal or better than both Chicago and Los Angeles, which is undergoing a reorganization of its disastrous paid-parking system, he said.

IBM spokesperson Jean-Francois Barsoum said a lengthy search for parking spots results in 30 per cent more traffic congestion. All that idling is bad news for the environment. A year-long study in Los Angeles found that cars searching for parking in a 15-block area used about 178,000 liters of gas and produced 730 tons of carbon dioxide in 2007.

Barsoum added that each city is dealing with its parking woes in different ways.

Shenzen, one of the worst cities to park in, has a system where illegally parked car motorists receive a text message giving them 10 minutes to move the car before getting a ticket.

Other cities are working to use data collected from electronic meters to let people know where parking spots are available, said Barsoum, possibly via a special app the provides parking rates and locations.

James: Best budget fix mixes fees, tax, cuts

No matter how you slice and dice Toronto’s budget, costs are rising faster than revenues; the city spends more than it collects.

Change is hard, but there are ways to permanently fix this “structural deficit” without inciting citizens to protests and demonstrations.

The formula? A small tax hike, reasonable fees, a few spending cuts, and a smidgen of help from the province.

By law, Ontario cities can’t borrow to run day-to-day operations, only for capital projects like building subways, roads and sewers. Toronto can’t run a deficit, like the province. It gets no share of income, sales or payroll taxes.

Since amalgamation, when the provincial Tories downloaded services without offsetting revenues, the city’s budget has been caught in this vice. But everything else about the city’s finances is tangled in political ideology and hot-button rhetoric that makes it difficult to navigate a solution.

Mayor Rob Ford’s solution is to cut taxes and starve the city of revenues, and to drastically reduce spending through service cuts. That’s a toxic twin, as evidenced by the protests and outcry around the current “core service review.”

There is a better way, one nearly impossible to achieve now that the debate has been poisoned by the mayor’s unnecessarily partisan and hidebound politics.

City manager Joe Pennachetti and staff have pleaded with mayors and city councillors since the David Miller days to address the fiscal gap with permanent solutions instead of one-time fixes.

Ford’s approach, in theory, eliminates the structural deficit, but the instruments he proposes are so blunt that even he backs off them as soon as the citizens realize the impact.

By definition, a permanent fix flows from property taxes or fees that recur each year; or spending cuts; or a new, ongoing revenue source such as provincial grants. A one-time fix is dipping into a depleting reserve fund; or getting a budget bailout; or using an unexpected jump in investment income or operating year-end surplus to balance the books.

Since amalgamation, city council has often used one-time fixes like the sale of hydro poles to itself to plug its budget holes. For the 2009 budget, for example, staff found $92 million from a fund few knew existed — called a “closed capital account” — essentially, money left over from construction projects.

Queen’s Park has started to take back some of the social services cost the Mike Harris government downloaded — $216 million worth this year, rising to $350 million by 2018.

But costs rise every year: $60 million in salary increases for city workers last year alone, plus benefits.

And property taxes have not kept up. In the 14 budgets approved since amalgamation in 1998, four saw property taxes frozen. Increases in the other 10 budgets ranged from 2.9 per cent in 2010 to 5 per cent in 2001. City residents may squirm at the truth, but Toronto’s homeowners have the lowest property tax rate in the GTA. Meanwhile, the majority of Torontonians tell pollsters they’re prepared to pay more taxes to save services.

These steps would fix Toronto’s budget:

• Keep the land transfer tax, now applied to home purchases. A city that is supposedly $774 million in the red cannot give back $274 million the tax yielded last year, as Ford plans. Miller did well in securing this new revenue source through provincial legislation. To give this back is to signal to citizens that Toronto does not have a budget problem.

• Give residents a clear, correct picture of the budget needs. So much obfuscation is guiding the current budget debate, it is near impossible to tell how much is needed to put the city on a sound fiscal footing.

For instance, you’ve been told Toronto is in unprecedented fiscal trouble, with a $774 million “opening pressure” or shortfall. Did you know that the “opening pressure” for 2010 was $821 million; and $759 million in 2006?

How did we survive? By using surplus, reserves, some service cuts, assessment growth, a property tax hike and provincial uploading of service costs.

If you removed all the uncertainties on the income side of the budget ledger — the investment incomes and surpluses and reserve funds — the city’s real structural deficit is estimated at anywhere from $145 million to $250 million. This is the real costs for which it has no funding source it chooses to tap.

• Freeze municipal staff salaries across the board, for one year, including a rollback of the police wage hikes the mayor boasts about. It is unconscionable to offer such increases, only to ask for a 10 per cent cut in services and reduce police staff by the hundreds.

A freeze stings. It can only be broached if the entire process is fair and credible — not in the current atmosphere where civic workers are ridiculed and diminished.

• Do an honest “core service review” devoid of the “gravy” rhetoric. Do it exhaustively, turning over every stone, and with the knowledge that the alternatives are the salary freezes and tax hikes no one relishes. This is a one-year job, not the quick-and-dirty review now bumbling along at city hall. And it would yield $50 million and leave few feeling a victim of municipal assault.

• Plan for annual 10-cent increases in transit fares, for a decade, providing a stable increase each year, starting at $30 million. It’s that or watch the TTC reduce staff by up to 1,000, packing more passengers onto buses that run less frequently, even as ridership spikes to all-time high. Absolute lunacy.

• Raise property taxes 5 per cent each year for five years, to fill the gap left by 14 years of low or no tax hikes. That nets the city $113 million in 2012; by year five, the annual take is compounded to $137.4 million.

There are other options, some that could be linked to one of the region’s greatest challenges, transportation. Metrolinx has a plan that costs $50 billion and only begins to address the needs over 25 to 30 years.

A one-cent sale tax in the Toronto region — approved by Queen’s Park — would raise approximately $450 million a year in Toronto alone. That could leverage billions for transit. Road tolls and parking charges could fill in the rest of the needs.

Polarizing politics, scare-mongering, false promises and ludicrous claims about our fiscal capacity doom the city and region to years of stunted growth. Citizens will eventually wake up to the truth, but, by then, we’d have lost a decade or two.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Toll talk silenced by city council

Toronto council slammed the brakes on talk of road tolls Tuesday.

A majority of councillors voted to kill calls from two councillors to have municipal officials study road tolls.

“I cannot support tolls,” insisted Mayor Rob Ford. “It hurts the economy; it hurts people that come to our city to work ... it causes congestion.”

Councillor Josh Matlow had wanted staff to study slapping tolls on out-of-town drivers using the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway.

Matlow’s motion lost in a 26-19 vote.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday wanted to study the idea of having a private company build toll lanes on the DVP. That motion lost in a 31-14 vote.

Councillor Doug Ford went against his brother the mayor and voted in support of Holyday’s idea.

Matlow, meanwhile, described his toll idea as an answer to Ford’s call for those opposed to cuts to come forward with alternative ideas.

Matlow rejected fears raised by some councillors that tolls would push traffic onto residential streets.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Canadian Air and Space Museum closes doors to visitors

TORONTO - Tibor Kiss and his family were among the last members of the public to visit the Canadian Air and Space Museum Saturday after a decision to close the doors ecxept to allow volunteers to pack up the artifacts.
“We heard that it was being closed down and it looks like we came just in time,” Kiss said as he took sons Ryan, 4, and Jason, 14-months on a tour. “I wanted to bring the family here before it shut down.”
The Kiss’ were among several families who showed up at Downsview Park on Saturday to view the thousands of pieces of national aviation artifacts that range from a full-size Avro Arrow replica, the Canadarm and a replica of Canada’s first
satellite, the Alouette 1.
More than 200 concerned museum members, who also act as volunteers, were at a meeting to decide their next move after being told by landlord Downsview Park they had six months to leave.
Museum chairman Ian McDougall said a lock for their door was changed and volunteers will be allowed into the museum only to pack.
The museum was behind on its rent by about $100,000 and had gone through several management changes.
He sent $22,000 in cheques to the museum’s landlord in early September but received the money back on Sept. 14, McDougall said.
“They are putting us out of business,” McDougall told members. “They are putting us in a position were we will be real lucky if we can succeed.”
He said the museum had to cancel several major upcoming fundraisers, shows and school tours.
“We were told our charity status is being looked at,” McDougall said. “From now on we only have access to the buiding to move and pack “
The museum has been in a Carl Hall Rd. building on the former Canadian Forces Base Downsview for about 14 years and has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Downsview Park, a Crown corporation, has plans to demolish all but the
façade of the building, and turn it into a skating rink complex. The park is undergoing changes including the development of a new sports facility, a sustainable community and a subway station.
Leonard Levy, 90, a World War II veteran who flew 32 missions on a Lancaster Bomber, was given a standing ovation by club members.
“We have to preserve our aviation history for the younger people to see,”Levy said. “We have to tell them our story.”
Business owner Sherry Draisey, who owns Good Vibrations Engineering in another unit of the building, said she was also given six months to leave.
“It is very upsetting and disappointing,” Draisey said. “We work in aerospace and moved here to be near the museum.”
Rick Shousha said he drove all-night from Montreal to deliver a hand-made model of the first airplane to fly over Toronto in 1911, the Bleriot X1.
“I drove all the way here to present them with the model,” Shousha said. “I wanted to give it to them before the place closed down.”
Downsview Park officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Air and space museum has six months to vacate their space

The Canadian Air and Space Museum has six months to vacate the space at Downsview Park they've called home since 1997, said the chair of the park's board of directors.
"The park has a 90 year old, 100,000 square foot building that's falling apart," David Soknacki said. "The windows are coming out. It's in a real state of disrepair. The park has an obligation to the public to preserve its heritage."
To preserve the building, engineers said $3 million must be invested immediately, with an additional $20 million to bring it up to code, he said.
"The park is about the future," Soknacki said. "I understand change is traumatic."
The museum was one of 10 Downsview Park tenants served with eviction notices Tuesday, Sept. 20, according to Soknacki. They have all been given six months' notice.
The building will be repurposed into a four-pad skating rink, Soknacki said, adding the goal is to have it open by September 2013.
"We understand the museum has artifacts that might be fragile and we said we will pay for the move, or store it at the park, when they decide what they want to do," he said. "We are open to proposals from the museum to determine where they want to go and they can move to another area of the park if they want to. But we don't know what direction they want to go in. All affected tenants have six months to vacate. The locks have been changed but they can still access the site and hold functions."
Ian McDougall, volunteer chair of the Canadian Air and Space Museum, said the charity has a backlog of $120,000 and was finally able to pay the monthly rent of $18,000 two months ago.
"Thousands upon thousands of people visit our site annually," he previously told The Mirror, adding he didn't know how long the museum has been in financial distress.
He said a cheque was given to Downsview Park Monday, Sept. 12 and returned two days later with a notice of eviction letter.
McDougall said it would be unlikely the museum would find a new location and this essentially signals the end of the organization.
The Canadian Air and Space Museum, formerly the Toronto Aerospace Museum, was housed in the original 1929 home of the de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. and also the original home of Canada's leading space technology company best known as SPAR, according to the museum's website. It also housed several artifacts and planes, including a replica Avro Arrow.

Air and Space Museum to become ice rink

It’s bad news for history buffs that could be good news for Toronto hockey players.
The Canadian Air and Space Museum is being kicked out of its Downsview Park home to make way for a four-pad ice rink.
Volunteers at the historic property were thrown into a state of panic on Tuesday when the museum was served an eviction notice and workers arrived to change the locks.
“I’m distraught. I’m ready to cry,” museum CEO Robert Cohen told the Star. “I can’t leave this place. I’m camping here. They’re gonna have to throw me out.”
The struggling museum owes property owner Downsview Park $100,000 in past due rent. Still, the eviction shocked volunteers, who say they were on the verge of turning things around after a bout of bad luck that included a failed fundraising campaign and mass management changes.
PHOTOS: Museum evicted
On Tuesday afternoon, they emptied the building of its artifacts — including a full-scale replica of the legendary Avro Arrow fighter jet — and prepared to vacate the property they have occupied for 12 years.
Staff members were under the impression they had to be out by the end of the day, but Downsview told the Star that tenants will have up to six months to vacate.
“I can’t comment on other people’s interpretations (of the notice),” said Downsview Park board chair David Soknacki. “We would welcome them in to have a discussion about their future.”
Soknacki said the change comes in part because the museum wasn’t drawing enough people to Downsview Park, the 672-acre site of a former military base that has been dubbed “Canada’s first national urban park.”
The new arena, which will be used for skating and hockey, is scheduled to open in September 2013.
The privately operated rink will run some city ice programs and offer 240 hours per year of community programs, which could prove to be good news for skaters and hockey players benched by Toronto’s ice shortage.
That doesn’t satisfy the volunteers. For them, the museum is a labour of love. They transformed it from a bare hanger into a warehouse filled with model airplanes ranging from the size of a fist to full-scale replicas.
The site itself is a part of history, built in 1929 as home to de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. — one of Canada’s most successful aircraft manufacturers.
Volunteers say there’s a hockey rink right down the street. “You could actually chip a golf ball at it,” said Campbell Young, 74, who has been volunteering at the museum for more than a decade.
“We were hoping things would turn around,” Young said. “If we can raise enough hell ... hopefully someone will skip in and at least give us a reprieve.”

U of T students get tour of Toronto’s sexual landscape

Toronto the Goody Two Shoes? Forget about it.
Despite its reputation for being prissy and morally uptight, Toronto has a rich – even dark – sexual history that’s getting dirtier by the day with anything goes strip clubs, pansexual nightclubs that cater to sexual appetites of all categories and an exploding swingers scene in the far-flung suburbs.
It started over a century ago.
From red-light districts on long-gone Henrietta Lane in the 1800s, to the brothels on Lombard Street, Toronto has an illustrious history of getting down and dirty.
University of Toronto course instructor Scott Rayter thinks it’s important for today’s youth to appreciate the city’s sexual history as well as its current sexual landscape. So he developed a sexual diversity class for first-year students in which students can choose to map key landmarks in Toronto’s sexual life – past and present. The tour illustrates larger issues such as the establishment of a gay neighborhood or the particular areas where prostitutes ply their trade.
The year-long course offers a sexy way for students think about loftier subjects like civic involvement and community identity by using neighborhoods and buildings as a guide.
A lot of these students weren’t born in Toronto, explains Rayter. So these spaces and the stories behind them are new. It’s a way to help them engage with the city.
The course sites the home of the Pink Triangle Press and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre as key to appreciated the city’s gay neighborhood. The course deals in part with the development and dismantling of a neighborhood. For decades the Church and Wellesley area was the epicenter of Canada’s gay community. “But many young people today don’t like that space. It’s interesting to think about why they are moving out and why they prefer integrated spaces,” says Rayter. “Younger gay people, they are asking, ‘Why do we even need gay bars anymore? Why should we even identify as anything?’”
Rayter acknowledges Toronto may not be the sexiest city in the world. Amsterdam has a notorious red light district. Cities in the Philippines attract sex tourists. Havana is a magnet for sex-thirsty cougars. But Toronto? Seriously. Can Toronto be sexy?
If you come here from New York or certain parts of Europe maybe not. Berlin and Amsterdam have a sexual identity. But so does Toronto, insists Rayter. He says the films of David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan – “lots of sex, all rather twisted and strange” could be a result of Toronto’s hot and cold, schizophrenic relationship with sex.
Rayter also doesn’t shy from the big question. Which city’s sexier – Montreal or Toronto? “If we’re going to play that game we’d lose,” says Rayter.
In the spirit of things the Star mapped out its own list of Toronto’s hot spots and erogenous zones. Some are still around. Many are gone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Canadian Air and Space Museum shut down in Toronto; boasts Avro Arrow replica

TORONTO - The Canadian Air and Space Museum — a repository of Canadian aviation history in north Toronto — has been shut down and will apparently be replaced by hockey rinks.
Museum chairman Ian McDougall says the landlord, Parc Downsview Park, was in the process of changing the locks on Tuesday afternoon.
McDougall says the museum was behind on its rent by about $120,000, but had begun generating more revenue and was in a position to begin making payments.
McDougall says the landlord didn't accept partial payment and ordered all back rent to be paid immediately or the museum would be closed.
Parc Downsview Park, a Crown Corporation that reports to Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose, could not be reached for comment.
McDougall says he doesn't know what will happen to the museum's displays, which include a full-size replica of the Avro Arrow and photos and artifacts documenting the history of de Havilland Canada.
"We have the only full-scale replica of the Avro Arrow, which took about 10 years for people to build," McDougall said. "The museum space is the original factory from which Tiger Moths, Beavers, Otters, Twin Otters and Mosquito bombers emerged."
McDougall said he finds it surprising that such an important part of Canada's aviation and industrial history would be taken and converted into hockey rinks.
"No one's told me that there's a shortage of hockey rinks in Canada — that's new to me," he said.
Coun. Maria Augimeri, who represents the Downsview area on Toronto city council, said Tuesday that she was shocked by the closure and appealed to Ottawa to help the museum.
"It shows that the federal government is so fixated on the bottom line it's even willing to throw the Avro Arrow to the curb for collection," Augimeri said.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How the Liberals lost Toronto

Carlo Colantonio is holding forth on his verandah, in one of those west-end Edwardian neighbourhoods where people spend a lot of time on their verandahs, chatting away, calling out to passing friends on the street.
“I think they’re gone and buried,” he says. “They had their time.”
He means the Liberal party, whose fortunes he’s followed from the same front porch for decades. Mostly, that has meant watching his Italian immigrant neighbours troop to the polls and elect Grits with the regularity of church bells. “Nobody votes Conservative here,” says Colantonio.
But these days, they don’t vote Liberal, either.
In this year’s federal election, upstart New Democrat Andrew Cash captured the riding of Davenport with 54 per cent of the ballots, including Colantonio’s. Nor, in Colantonio’s eyes, was this an aberration. He’s convinced the NDP will prevail here again in next month’s provincial election.
“I’ve called it every time,” he says. “The Liberals have no chance. Even my mother’s getting fed up, and she’s a card-carrying member.”
For a party that once blithely assumed governance was almost a dictate of nature, it’s been a stunning reversal.
As recently as the 2004 federal and 2007 provincial elections, the Liberals walked away with nearly every seat in the city. Not so earlier this year, when Toronto sent just six Liberals to Ottawa, behind nine Conservatives and eight New Democrats.
But this wasn’t the electoral equivalent of a century flood, or even just the result of two stunningly inept Liberal campaigns against Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
The how and why of the Liberal decline are so complex and compounding that they may not easily be reversed. Just about every political development has worked against the party, from the Tory wooing of immigrants and the inner-city ascension of the left, to the fading popularity of the Green party and the redrawing of provincial ridings so they align geographically with federal ones.
In the wake of that pressure, Liberal dominance has been eroding through a series of federal and provincial elections — a cautionary sign for Premier Dalton McGuinty even if the most recent polls still put the Liberals ahead in Toronto but trailing the Tories elsewhere.
The Liberal decline is amply evident in a series of maps on which the Star plotted the results of every federal and provincial campaign since 2003 by neighbourhood polling divisions.
What was once a sea of Liberal red, akin to old maps of the British Empire, has been turned into a frail patchwork of pink, the result of what looks like a pincer movement — the Conservatives gradually marching in from the surrounding suburbs, the NDP rising up in the core of the city.
In this year’s federal election, the Liberals managed to lose ridings in almost every conceivable way. They were clobbered in two-way races against both the Conservatives and the NDP. They came out on the losing end of three-way races, again to both Tories and New Democrats.
For Liberals, it’s an unfamiliar landscape, but one they’ll have to transform if they hope to retain the keys to Queen’s Park.
It used to be that Torontonians routinely sent Progressive Conservatives to Queen’s Park and Liberals to Ottawa, as if that particular alchemy would best serve the city, or at least hedge against unwelcome developments from either capital.
The federal and provincial wings of the parties were seen as more distinct entities, and they didn’t always like each other.
Back when the Big Blue Machine was running the province, Ontario PCs generally looked upon their federal counterparts as hapless amateurs whose fringe elements were always making public pronouncements that alarmed even the livestock.
In Liberal circles, the flow of condescension was reversed, so it was hard to speak of a single Liberal or Conservative brand, unified in outlook and mission.
It helped that federal and provincial ridings were geographically different. You might vote federally in York East but your provincial riding was Don Mills, stretching farther to the north.
That all changed when former Ontario premier Mike Harris redrafted the electoral map to align provincial and federal constituencies. Gone was the geographic half-step of party difference, the federal/provincial divide becoming increasingly blurred.
Prime Minister Harper certainly has not been shy in parading his avid support of both Ontario Progressive Conservative party leader Tim Hudak and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, although the latter connection may yet prove toxic for the Conservatives if Ford’s popularity continues its downward spiral amid drastic cuts to public services.
The dissolving of federal/provincial distinctions also aligns with the kind of world Mike Harris’s strategists always dreamed about, one of simpler electoral choices pitting left against right, with Liberals mostly spectating from the sidelines.
As it happens, the city’s electoral map does look like it’s headed in that direction, given the dual ascendance of Conservatives and New Democrats, although more so in the city’s core, which has lately been painted consistently orange.
“The downtown core has its own political esthetic, its own sense of what’s a good community, what’s a good government, and the Conservatives don’t fit into that,” says Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Ryerson University. “The NDP has a kind of urbanity about it, a commitment to cities as diverse and creative.”
That includes support for government services and investing in infrastructure, both of which appeal to downtown voters.
For Conservatives, though, a more suburban Toronto breakthrough has meant something else.
Tories used to fret that they could never form a majority government without Quebec, but if the 2004 and 2006 campaigns taught them anything, it was that they now couldn’t win outright without Toronto, and the key to unlocking that was the ethnic vote.
Hence the party’s 2007 conference document, “Ethnic Outreach: Building Bridges with Ethnic Communities and New Canadians,” which starts with the proposition that “new Canadians and minorities still don’t know/understand the Conservative Party.”
But not just any new Canadians. The Conservatives believed (wrongly in the case of Davenport) that older immigrant groups such as Italians were irretrievably lost to the Liberals.
The emphasis instead would be recent immigrants, particularly South Asians, in the belief that their fiscal conservatism and family values better meshed with the Conservative platform. They also targeted Jewish voters in ridings like Eglinton-Lawrence, highlighting their staunch support of Israel.
Such was the intensity of ethnic wooing that, inside the party, point man Jason Kenney was soon dubbed the “minister of curry.”
The recruitment of more South Asian and Indo-Chinese candidates came with no small bonus, since those communities have a legendary reputation for organizing, all but ensuring an increased turnout of favourable voters.
It paid off. In Greater Toronto, Conservatives walked away with 32 of 47 seats in 2011, dominating the immigrant-laden ridings of Mississauga and Brampton. Nine of those seats were in Toronto itself, in ridings where the average immigrant population was 49 per cent.
Davenport wasn’t among those victories, and it may be the result of changes in demographics and voting patterns that seem instead to have favoured the NDP in the city’s core.
Colantonio’s house may be just two blocks from the Corso Italia of St. Clair Ave. W., but the surrounding neighbourhoods, once dominated by Italian immigrants, are now home to an increasing number of other ethnic groups, principally Portuguese and Latino, and young, urban professionals lured by still-affordable housing close to the core.
“If you want a global village, it’s here, Davenport,” say Colantonio. “Most of the old people have gone. The people here are mostly professionals.”
As of 2006, the most recent census data, more of the riding’s labour force worked in business services alone (24 per cent) than construction and manufacturing combined.
The utter collapse of the Green party also seems to have benefited New Democrats in downtown constituencies. In Davenport, for instance, the Greens went from 10 per cent of the vote in 2007 to just 3 per cent last time out, with the departing voters — at least in that election — more likely to have returned to the New Democrats.
But Siemiatycki also suspects the NDP may have been aided, at least downtown, by another emerging force: tenants.
It was once axiomatic that renters were much less likely to vote than property owners, an aspect of voter turnout largely thought to favour the Conservatives and Liberals.
Yet when Siemiatycki looked at municipal voting during the two elections of mayor David Miller’s reign, wards with the highest percentage of tenants increasingly had the highest levels of overall voter turnout.
“Gone are the days when we just made the assumption that tenants aren’t engaged,” says Siemiatycki.
Long-term, this may even have consequences for the riding of Toronto Centre, which Liberal politicians at both the federal and provincial level have long viewed as a kind of national platform from which even loftier political careers can be launched. To wit: Bob Rae and George Smitherman.
All but surrounded by solidly NDP ridings, Toronto Centre has lately been home to a boom in highrise residential housing, much of it ultimately rental.
None of this, however, explains what happened in Scarborough-Rouge River during the last federal election.
It may be an area of relatively low family incomes, but home ownership amounts to a core value. Only 27 per cent of voters live in rented dwellings, roughly half the level of most Toronto constituencies.
It’s also one of the Dominion’s most immigrant-dominated ridings, at 68 per cent of the population, where roughly half the people speak a language other than French or English at home.
The Conservatives did make gains here. But it was the NDP’s Rathika Sitsabaiesan who put an end to 23 years of Liberal incumbency by racking up 41 per cent of the vote, becoming the country’s first Tamil MP.
It helped, of course, that Scarborough-Rouge River reputedly has the greatest concentration of Tamils outside of Asia and that Harper’s Ottawa had formally branded Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers a terrorist organization.
But something else might also have been at play, something that could yet help Liberal fortunes in other ridings.
In one of Malvern’s neighbourhood parks, there’s a small plaque. It tells about the man for whom it was renamed last year, Maj. Abbas Ali, late of the Pakistan Army, who immigrated to Canada in the 1960s and became involved in all sorts of community work.
He founded the Muslim Welfare Centre and Halal Meals on Wheels, abiding by his personal motto: “Service to humanity is service to Allah.”
The surrounding streets in Malvern and Morningside Heights are these days a sea of election signs, Liberal red and NDP orange vying for supremacy, with scarcely any Tory blue in sight.
None of which surprises 29-year old Sitsabaiesan. Yes, she’ll concede, the Tamil vote was crucial in her case, yet she also thinks her volunteer work in the community, particularly with young people, played a role, and that, too, has a lot to do with South Asian values.
“When I went to people’s doors, they knew me,” she says. “In general, people from the Eastern world — Asia, Indo-China — are fiscally conservative but very socially progressive, in the sense of being concerned about looking after the community.”
Could that emphasis on community and helping the disadvantaged also point to a path back from the wilderness for Liberals?
Siemiatycki thinks it might: “The more that Rob Ford is associated with what Conservative governments do, there will be negative spillover to Conservative candidates at other levels.”
Fears of “Ford Nation” and its electoral clout have rapidly given way to fierce opposition to, of late, the mayor’s plan to overturn 10 years of waterfront planning and replace it with ferris wheels, malls and monorails.
“The Ford factor is now negatively shaping people’s perception of Hudak,” says Siemiatycki, “and that’s creating space for the Liberals.”

Blending vintage and modern Toronto in Davisville Village

At a time when only a handful of independent cinemas remain in Toronto, it’s surprising to find a neighbourhood that has not one but two classic movie houses that are still screening films.
Within a couple of blocks of each other on Mount Pleasant Rd., the Regent and Mount Pleasant theatres, which opened in the late 1920s, continue to show films on their single screens — catering to a community with discerning tastes.
The theatres opened at a time when houses were being built in Davisville Village, a midtown neighbourhood that spans an area between Yonge St., Eglinton Ave., Bayview Ave. and the northern border of Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
The Mount Pleasant Theatre opened in 1928 as The Hudson and was given its current name 20 years later. The Regent’s history is more colourful. It began operating in 1927 as The Belsize Theatre, before closing in 1950 for renovations and reopening later that year bearing a new name, The Crest.
Four years later, it remade itself into a live theatre, showcasing new productions — both classical and original plays. Between 1954 and 1966, some of the most talented actors, writers and directors in Canada worked out of The Crest, including Donald Sutherland, Martha Henry, Robert Goulet and Jackie Burroughs.
In 1966, the theatre resumed showing movies, and in 1988 under new owners, it became The Regent.
The theatres fit in well on Mount Pleasant, known for its countless restaurants, cafés and bakeries (many of the French variety), specialty food shops, stores that cater to children — from books and games to clothes — and home decor and antique shops.
While Davisville Village has a trendy ambience, it’s also a neighbourhood that serves as a reminder of a simpler, more innocent time, which could be one reason why the theatres continue to attract movie-goers — that and the fact that they screen high-quality films.
There are several other examples of long-standing businesses in the area. Perhaps the oldest is LeFeuvre’s Chocolatier, which has been operating at the same location on Mount Pleasant since 1927, and makes its own chocolates and truffles.
Down the street, about halfway between the two theatres, is Penrose Fish and Chips, where lineups out the door can still be found after 61 years. It was established by Roly and Marion Johnston, and the family continues to run the business. Along with fish and chips, Penrose serves one of the best lemon meringue pies around, as well as old-fashioned soda pop.
A must-see for children of all ages is the magical Little Dollhouse Company, which opened in 1975, and is Canada’s oldest and largest dollhouse and miniature store.
Area residents aren’t limited to just one street for shopping and dining. Yonge is a bustling commercial strip, while Bayview has a good assortment of stores, restaurants and food shops, many serving a high-end clientele.
Standing out on the street is the bright pink sign adorning The Elegant Garage Sale. True to its name, this browsers’ paradise buys and sells antique and vintage furniture, china, silverware, jewellery, figurines and artwork.
It’s hard to imagine, but Davisville Village, now a flourishing residential and commercial area, was once home to wood and paper mills, as well as the Davis Pottery. Established in the 1840s, it became the area’s largest employer.
It was operated by John Davis, who arrived in Canada from England in 1840, who was one of the founders of Davisville Public School and was the village’s first postmaster. The building housing the post office is still standing on the northeast corner of Yonge and Davisville Ave.
Most of the homes in the neighbourhood were built in the 1920s and ’30s. There’s a large collection of semi-detached residences, but also detached houses in the English Cottage and Edwardian styles. Davisville Village also has stretches of condominium and apartment buildings, with condos concentrated along Balliol and Merton Sts., Eglinton and Mount Pleasant, and highrise apartments especially prevalent on Davisville east of Yonge.
In keeping with the neighbourhood’s urbanity, it’s not surprising that tennis is so popular among residents. Situated among a cluster of highrises on Balliol St., Toronto Tennis City is a year-round facility providing outdoor play from spring to fall, and indoor play in winter, when a white dome is erected — an unusual sight on a city street.
Six outdoor tennis courts are also available at June Rowlands Park, located at Mount Pleasant and Davisville, and home to the Davisville Tennis Club. In addition to the courts, the former Davisville Park has a baseball diamond, a playground, splash pad and lots of green space for recreation.
At the south end of Davisville Village, running from Bayview to Yonge, is Mount Pleasant Cemetery, which opened in 1876 and is a National Historic Site of Canada. It provides a peaceful place to walk, reflect and learn about the many famous Canadians who are buried there.

The Annex: B.hold, a ‘playful’ plan for west end

The old Loretto College School on Bathurst St. is an eyesore.
The bleak 1950s-era building, which takes up a significant portion of the east side of Bathurst just south of Bloor St., does nothing to engage with the bustling corridor just outside its doors.
Instead it offers an imposing wall of red and brown brick; in planning parlance, the school turns its back on the street.
But to Michoel Klugmann, whose company will be levelling the building to make way for B.streets Condos — a nine-storey midrise with 195 units — that faceless facade represented an opportunity to “attract eyeballs to the site.” (The defunct school will serve as the sales centre for B.streets, with sales slated to begin this fall.)
“We wanted people to know there’s an opportunity here and we figured we’ve got this great canvas,” says Klugmann, vice president of Lindvest Properties.
The developer’s creative team at L.A. Inc. tapped blogTO photo editor Tom Ryaboi to snap candid shots of neighbourhood residents going about their daily business. Those images have been used to create a large airbrushed mural that covers 25 metres of the school’s brick wall along Bathurst and wraps around the building’s north side.
The installation — featuring a kissing couple, a busker and a man enjoying coffee and a newspaper, among other representations — is intended to celebrate the diversity of people and culture in the Annex.
Pity it will be torn down to make way for the condo. “The art is transient; it only has a chance to make an impact for a while,” Klugmann acknowledges. “But it allows us to sell the units and allows new people to come and continue the story of the people who live here.
“We’re looking at it as planting a seed, and eventually others are going to do what the guys (in the mural) are doing and do it in real life,” he adds. “So instead of art imitating life, it’s life growing from art.”
B.streets Condos — a nod to Bathurst and Bloor — range from 380-square-foot studios to 1,250-square-foot three-bedroom suites, with prices from the mid-$200,000s to just shy of $1 million.
Klugmann notes there is an “unusually high” variety of suite designs for a building this size, with more than 50 different unit layouts. Most of the suites will have either a balcony or a terrace — or both in the case of the two-storey units at the top of the building.
Six townhouses will be at the base of the condo, facing the rear laneway. “They’re meant to animate the laneway,” Klugmann explains, noting this had been a special request from local Councillor Adam Vaughan. There will also be a passenger drop-off and second entrance at the back of the building.
B.streets will have 125 underground parking spots and about 7,500 square feet of retail space at street level.
Designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects, the B.streets building will feature irregular cubic modules that pop in and out of the facade, helping to break it up as it moves down Bathurst. The rear portion of the building steps down as it transitions toward the existing residential neighbourhood behind the condo.
“Typically you find midrise buildings are formal, ordered and structured,” says architect David Pontarini. “We wanted to be a bit more playful about it, a little more relaxed. So the building has got an irregular cornice line that follows the street at the base and kind of pulls in and out, and it gets even more articulated as you get above that — it kind of jumps up and down.
“There’s a lot of stepping and terracing that breaks the scale of the building down.”
The top portion of the condo has a cream colour, giving it a less heavy feeling, while the bottom four storeys are clad in grey brick. “We’ve got a really strong colour at the base of the building that’s grounding that base into the street and into the urban fabric,” Pontarini says. “Then as you get up it becomes a little lighter.”
The city’s go-to downtown condo design firm, Cecconi Simone, handled the interiors at B.streets. The motif is intended to complement the look of the building itself: a mix of contemporary and industrial-era design — kitchen-cabinet doors made with metal mesh and metallic tile backsplashes laid out in a brick-like pattern. Bathrooms will have small glossy tiles, with porcelain vessel sinks and stainless steel fixtures.
In terms of amenities, B.streets will have an outdoor patio at ground level, as well as a party room, lounge, fitness room, dining room, pet spa and hobby room — “a place where you can assemble your things; a workspace,” Klugmann says.
Location is obviously a big sell here, with a TTC station nearby and an eclectic mix of restaurants/bars, entertainment venues and independent shops along Bloor.
B.streets has been receiving “significant” interest from locals, Klugmann indicates. “They’re either renting and could never find a place to buy or they’re looking for a different way to have a home — lower maintenance.”
The Annex is among the city’s most iconic neighbourhoods but there hasn’t been much in the way of condo development in the area over the years, he says. “Opportunities haven’t arisen. It’s obviously not Yonge and Lake Shore (Boulevard).”
That said, he believes B.streets could help spur future projects. “There are many people who want to call (the Annex) home,” says Klugmann. “It’s time somebody took a look at it.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Get ready for more crowded TTC buses

The new year will be a return to the past for a record number of TTC riders who will be crammed tighter onto buses and left standing longer at the curb after the TTC board agreed to lower its service standards Friday.
City councillors on the transit commission will wait until December before deciding whether to implement a 10-cent fare hike that would fill the remaining $30 million shortfall in the system’s 2012 operating budget.
Meantime transit officials will search for savings elsewhere in the system.
At least one city councillor on the Toronto Transit Commission believes that it’s the province frustrated riders should hold to account for lower service levels and job losses.
Councillor Maria Augimeri lost her bid at Friday’s special commission meeting to defer cutting $70 million from the TTC and Wheel-Trans operating budget next year until after the provincial election.
Residents should be shouting to provincial election candidates in the street, she said.
“We have to make drastic steps to make the provincial government see what they did in the past was absolutely sinful to the people of Toronto. They ought to be paying at least 50 per cent of operating budgets as they did in the past. They ought to be paying 75 per cent of (TTC) capital” spending, Augimeri said.
“We’re coming to a peak of unsustainability in our city in ways we’ve never seen before.”
The TTC will begin notifying 251 non-union employees on Monday that their positions are being cut to help save about $14 million annually. Sixty other jobs were identified earlier. It will also offer a voluntary separation package. A further 171 operating positions will be eliminated by attrition to save another $14 million. With fewer buses on the street, fewer operators will be required, but no operators will be given notice, said TTC spokesman Brad Ross.
About 500 more jobs are expected to disappear as the TTC explores contracting-out opportunities in the maintenance and other areas to save $5 million to $7 million annually.
City Councillor Karen Stintz, who chairs the TTC board, stressed that no bus routes have been cut and the Blue Night bus network will remain intact.
But she wouldn’t guarantee that 800 dialysis patients won’t lose their Wheel-Trans service in January to save the system $5 million.
“We’re working very hard with not just the provincial government but with the Kidney Foundation (of Canada) to find ways that we can continue to service dialysis patients,” she said. But if no funding is found, “that’s a decision we’ll have to wrestle with in December.”
The TTC cuts will mean a return to pre-2008 loading standards — the average number of riders on a bus per hour that signals when a route is due more service. The TTC had reduced the average to 48 from 53.
Eve Flores, who rides the 34 Eglinton East bus every day for work and on most weekends, said she often has to watch two buses fill with riders before she can board her bus.
“This is not good,” she said after hearing her bus will likely become more crowded and her wait on the curb even lengthier. “The situation is already bad. We already wait such a long time.”
While in line for a bus at the Eglinton station, Cherry Vicente shook her head over the TTC board’s move.
“It is very crowded now,” she said, noting her bus is usually packed shoulder-to-shoulder with riders. “The driver just yells for us to move back behind the line.”
Regular rider Ron Sinnaeve wondered how getting more people on his bus would be possible.
“My true concern is about safety,” Sinnaeve said as he lined up for the 34 Eglinton East bus. “Riders need to have safe entry and safe exit and be safe in transit on the bus. Unless they guarantee buses get more seats, how can they (the TTC) guarantee our safety?”
Although further crowding is expected to drive away about 4 million riders, the TTC still expects to deliver about 3.3 million more rides next year — about 503 million in total.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ford support plummeting, poll suggests

Mayor Rob Ford’s handling of the 2012 budget has badly shaken Torontonians’ faith in him, according to a new opinion poll that finds his popular support dropping like a rock across the city.
The Forum Research survey of 1,046 Torontonians conducted Monday after the release of city manager Joe Pennachetti’s recommended budget cuts, pegs Ford’s support at 42 per cent — a big drop from 57 per cent on June 1, and 60 per cent in late February.
Lorne Bozinoff, the Forum president independently tracking Ford’s support each quarter, said the mayor’s “very low” numbers are only likely to sink.
“This drop in support has come without any cutbacks actually coming into effect, we’re only at the idea stage,” Bozinoff said. “This is a ceiling — I think it’s going to get a lot worse for him before it gets better.
“He campaigned on a gravy train, none was found and the reality of cuts to services that residents rely on, often daily, is setting in. That has shaken public confidence in his ability to handle the job of mayor.”
The poll also found no public appetite for the major KPMG-suggested cuts Pennachetti is forwarding to the executive committee Monday as part of Ford’s solution to fix Toronto’s finances.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘look at this, look at that,’” Bozinoff said. “Now, when people see cuts in black and white, all of these things are extremely unpopular.
“It’s also the process, I think — the mayor’s people haven’t been very good at building public support. It’s all, ‘My way or the highway.’”
Ford dismissed Pennachetti’s suggested cuts as “just scraping the surface.”
Half of Etobicoke-York respondents approve of “the job Ford is doing,” down from 58 per cent in June. In Scarborough, his support is 49 per cent (down from 59 per cent); 43 per cent in North York (down from 69 per cent) and only 30 per cent in Toronto-East York (down from 44).
Ford took office Dec. 1 on a wave of popularity fuelled by his “Stop the gravy train” mantra. By comparison, former mayor David Miller enjoyed an 82 per cent approval rating in May 2004, six months into his first term.
Ford remains more popular with older Torontonians than young, while his disproportionately weak appeal for women is eroding further, the poll suggests.
But the budget isn’t Ford’s only problem. Since the last poll, Bozinoff said, Ford and his brother Doug have “squandered a lot of political capital” with controversies over refusing to attend Pride celebrations, a public feud with author Margaret Atwood over the fate of libraries, and the like.
The automated telephone poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Here are respondents’ reactions to proposed budget cuts “in order to have a smaller increase in property taxes next year”:
   Some 84 per cent disapprove of cutting late-night TTC buses, ranging from 79 per cent in Scarborough to 88 per cent in the city’s core. “And that’s before the news broke Tuesday morning of major proposed transit cuts,” Bozinoff said.
   “Reducing the number of child care spaces” was opposed by 76 per cent. Pennachetti is recommending 2,000 subsidized spaces expire next year unless the province agrees to fund them.
   73 per cent disapproved of closing or selling Toronto Zoo. Pennachetti suggests gauging interest for the “sale, lease, operation or other arrangement.”
   There is less opposition — 66 per cent — to selling or closing Riverdale Farm and/or the zoos at High Park and Centre Island.
   70 per cent oppose reducing public library services and hours. Disapproval is highest in Toronto-East York (76 per cent) and lowest in Etobicoke-York (64 per cent). Some 79 per cent oppose closing branches.
   Selling some of the city’s 10 long-term care homes was opposed by 68 per cent. Pennachetti said that option requires further study.
   A halt to clearing snow left by plows across driveways got a thumb’s-down from 61 per cent. Opposition ranged from 50 per cent in the core — where residents don’t get the service — to 71 per cent in North York.
  77 per cent disapprove of eliminating or reducing dental care to the poor.
  Some 61 per cent oppose selling the city’s three performing arts theatres — the St. Lawrence Centre, the Sony Centre, and the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts. Pennachetti recommended soliciting interest in their “sale, lease, operation or other arrangement.”
   Selling “green P” and TTC parking lots was also rejected by 61 per cent. Pennachetti calls for a review of the sale or lease of the facilities.

TDSB calendar shocks 6-year-old's dad

TORONTO - This Toronto dad is just not ready to explain to his first-grade son about transgender people, prostitutes, AIDS or female genital mutilation.
So one can imagine his shock when he found these issues listed as special days of recognition in his son’s Toronto District School Board 2011-12 daily planner.
“I was looking through this thing and was shocked by the kind of days they are marking as ‘days of significance,’” he said.
The first one that jumped out at him, under a headline that said “equitable and inclusive,” was Nov. 19’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Then came Dec. 1’s World AIDS Day, followed by Dec. 17’s International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. There was also Feb. 7’s International Day of Zero-Tolerance on Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation and Feb. 12’s International Sexual and Reproductive Health Day.
“It’s just bizarre,” said the outraged dad. “He’s six. I want him to enjoy being six.”
What are those things doing in a young child’s school planner? This boy’s parents may have to tackle these issues far earlier than they planned.
Hoping his son didn’t notice, the dad said he pulled the pages from the book. “The school only goes to the fifth grade so they are not going to be able to say it was in there for the older kids either,” said the dad. “I just don’t get it because the kids in first grade can read.”
The school board is conducting an investigation into the concerns. Spokesman Shari Schwartz-Maltz said claims about the planner are “not consistent” with what is in most readers throughout the board. She said the board is contacting the school’s recently retired principal to determine what happened.
“They are not uniform,” Schwartz-Maltz said of the books, adding each school has input.
Could it be narrowed down to having been accidentally placed in the planners of one grade school?
This dad said he has talked to at least one other parent who has a planner with the same information.
The Days of Significance calendar is also available on the board’s website,
Perhaps another point to be made is why is there so much politically correct recognition of so many obscure celebrations that have nothing directly to do with what should be going on in the classroom?
Of course, there has been bending of the rules in TDSB schools before. Last June word came out accommodations were made at Valley Park Middle School on Overlea Blvd. to open up the cafeteria to an imam to lead some 400 Muslim students through Friday prayer sessions. Word came Tuesday there is a support rally planned for the school Saturday. You can imagine what names you would be called if you planned a rally opposing a non-secular school being used in this way.
These are supposed to be nonreligious public schools and yet there are many references to religious dates of significance — most around mainstream holidays in Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism, but there are many references to Wiccan and Pagan holidays too.
There are many sexuality references as well — including displaying the rainbow colours on the calendar page of the website with the headline “TDSB Celebrates LGBTQ Pride.” When you click on that it comes up saying “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer Pride Week, June 24–July 3, 2011.” It also highlights International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia May 17, Day of Pink April 13, and Days of Silence April 15.
Should the board be made to explain its criteria for what constitutes a day of significance and what doesn’t? And should these dates be included in the planner of kids in Grade 1?
One father who doesn’t think so says his six-year-old son will be introduced to all of this in due time. For now, he just wants him to have a few years before the “equitable and inclusive” educators have full reign.

Tories leading the pack: Poll

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives are ahead of the Liberals by nine points, according to a poll of decided voters.
The Abacus Data poll found that the PCs have the support of 41% of decided Ontario voters followed by the Liberals at 32% and the NDP at 20%.
While the PCs had the largest group of supporters, a check of undecided voters showed they had the lowest room for growth.
The Liberals — who had the second largest number of committed voters — and the NDP had the greatest potential to garner support from undecided voters, according to the poll.
“Instead of the traditional ballot question, where you ask voters who they would vote for if an election was held today, we asked respondents to rate their likelihood of voting for each party on a scale from zero to 10. The objective was to get a more nuanced understanding of voter intentions in the province especially since voter intentions seem to be very fluid,” said David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data.
“We found that among deciders voters, the PCs have a nine-point lead but there is a large pool of undecided voters (22%) that can change the dynamics of the campaign. Among these undecided voters, the Tories have the smallest room to grow which suggests the election is still up for grabs as voters figure out who they will end up voting for.”
The pole included 1,002 Canadians interviewed between Sept. 9 to 12 and is accurate within 3.2% — 19 times out of 20.

Toronto's wealthiest are the most indebted

The average Toronto household is carrying nearly $40,000 in debt on top of their mortgage, according to new statistics from Environics Analytics.
And the households carrying the largest debt are in Toronto’s toniest neighbourhoods, including the Bridle Path, Rosedale, Leaside and The Beach, where single-family homes are pushing past the $1-million mark.
“There’s always the question of how much is this wealth the illusion of wealth? The fact that these people live in expensive houses doesn’t necessarily mean that they are debt-free, said Peter Miron, senior research analyst for Environics Analytics.
Environics Analytics crunched numbers from surveys of financial behaviour and data from the The Bank of Canada, Statistics Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency, among others, to get at neighbourhood and Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) data.
Even once mortgages are taken out of the equation, residents of the Bridle Path, Rosedale and The Beach have higher levels of debt than households along the Danforth. In part, this reflects their ability to carry higher levels of debt because they earn more money.
But that kind of lifestyle can topple quickly in a financial downturn.
“If you’re expecting your $150,000 bonus to cover interest on the $3-million mansion, it’s a rude awakening when the markets fall,” says Morin.
He says 2008 and the summer of 2009 saw slowed growth in real estate values in areas like Rosedale as compared to the rest of the city.
Net worth in the CMA grew 9.6 per cent to $553,896 between 2007 and 2010, with Liberty Village, downtown Toronto along the Gardiner Expressway, and Vaughan recording the strongest growth.
Of that wealth, $297,060 is in real estate equity and $296,531 in assets like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, savings, chequing accounts, term deposits and RRSPs. On average Toronto households owe $39,694 in consumer debt on top of their mortgage.
Vancouverites owe just a bit less — $38,424, while Calgarians owe much more; $50,890.
Much of that increased wealth is due to rising real estate prices, says Morin.
Environics Analytics data also show a move out of the stock market and into savings and other conservative investments. Toronto investors increased bank deposits by 47.2 per cent.
According to Statistics Canada data released Tuesday, Canadian household net worth fell 0.3 per cent in the second quarter of 2011 -- a total of $21-billion -- as the increase in the value of residential real estate was more than offset by the latest decline in the value of household equity holdings.
Household debt also grew during the second quarter, a result of both higher mortgages and more consumer borrowing.
The Canadian household-debt-to-income-ratio has increased from 88.6 per cent in 1990 to 150.8 per cent in 2011.

Jewish prof forced to defend himself against anti-Semitism claims

A half-listening student, a hypersensitive campus and the speed at which gossip travels on the Internet conspired to create a very damaging game of broken telephone for one York University professor this week.
Cameron Johnston, who has been teaching at York for more than 30 years, has been forced to respond to allegations that he made anti-Semitic remarks in a lecture on Monday afternoon after a student misunderstood his comments and began sending emails to Jewish groups and the media.
Johnston was giving his introductory lecture to Social Sciences 1140: “Self, Culture and Society,” when he explained to the nearly 500 students that the course was going to focus on texts, not opinions, and despite what they may have heard elsewhere, everyone is not entitled to their opinion.
“All Jews should be sterilized” would be an example of an unacceptable and dangerous opinion, Johnston told the students.
He didn’t notice Sarah Grunfeld storm out. Grunfeld, a 22-year-old in her final year at York, understood Johnston’s example to be his personal opinion.
She contacted Oriyah Barzilay, the president of Hasbara at York — an Israel advocacy group on campus — who then sent a press release to media and other Jewish community groups calling for Johnston to be fired.
Blogs and Facebook groups picked it up, and in a few hours the allegations spread within the city’s Jewish community, albeit mostly online.
Sensitivities around anti-Semitism are particularly heightened at York, which has a large Jewish population and a history of toxic relations between supporters and critics of Israel on campus.
“I’m terribly upset,” Johnston said Tuesday. “I’m very proud of the fact that in the history of my teaching career I’ve stood for the best values of what constitutes a meaningful human community.”
Johnston, who is Jewish, said his religion likely influenced his choice of words, why he used “this example of a completely reprehensible opinion” with historical precedent.
During the Second World War, Nazi scientists experimented with mass sterilization on Jewish prisoners in concentration camps.
“I think it’s a very good thing that people are sensitive to this kind of remark, and I think it’s a very good thing that someone would respond immediately and deal with it if they thought that they heard an anti-Semitic comment,” Johnston said. “But in this case, it’s a misreading.”
The irony for Johnston is that he was trying to teach his students that ideas have consequences.
“So I’m pretty shocked to find the consequences — what I was talking about in lecture — is that I get seen as an example of prejudice.”
Grunfeld said Tuesday she may have misunderstood the context and intent of Johnston’s remarks, but that fact is insignificant.
“The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”
Grunfeld also expressed skepticism that Johnston was in fact Jewish.
Asked directly by a reporter whether she believes Johnston is lying, she was unclear.
“Whether he is or is not, no one will know,” she said. “. . . Maybe he thought because he is Jewish he can talk smack about other Jews.”
Sheldon Goodman, GTA co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which speaks on behalf of the city’s organized Jewish community, called the incident “a very unfortunate misunderstanding.”
“This event is an appropriate reminder that great caution must be exercised before concluding a statement or action is anti-Semitic,” he said.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who needs cable? I get 20 channels with an antenna

I watched Hockey Night in Canada the other night in stunning high definition (HD) and I don’t pay a cent for cable or satellite. I’m one of a growing number of people who have gone back to the future and get their TV over the air with an antenna. The whole setup cost me about $175, or five months’ worth of basic cable. Not a bad price for about 20 channels of HD TV.
People of a certain age will look back on ‘rabbit ears’ without much enthusiasm. Over-the-air broadcasts in the days before cable was widely available were often like trying to make out what was going on inside a snow globe — when you could tune them in. But while today’s broadcasts still have distance limitations, they can deliver better picture and sound quality than cable or satellite.
According to rules set up by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, broadcasts in major centres must all be digital by Aug. 31. (The only broadcaster in the GTA that has not yet gone digital is TVO.) This puts us about two years behind the U.S., where major network broadcasts made this transition in 2009. The good news for those of us in the Golden Horseshoe is that with a good enough antenna you can pick up the American networks based in Buffalo as well.
If you go to YouTube and search for “install HD antenna” you’ll find plenty of videos that can help, and there are many ways to get the antenna onto your roof. I got a kit that lets you strap it to a chimney. Once the antenna is installed, you may need to tweak the direction a little with somebody inside the house watching the signal strength. (Most new HDTVs will have a built-in signal meter. Just check your manual.)
Here’s what I have learned:
1. Location
You know the old joke about the three most important things in business? Location, location and location. This is also true of over-the-air TV. I bought my antenna second-hand for $80 (the regular price was a little over $100) from a friend who’s neighbour has a very tall house, blocking the view to Lake Ontario. My friend could not reliably tune in many stations. But from my roof I can see the CN Tower and Lake Ontario, so I was pretty sure I’d be fine.
I live near Coxwell and Gerrard in Toronto, just north of the Beach. I was curious about reception, so I propped my second-hand antenna on a chair in the living room and plugged it into the TV. I got 16 channels, including ABC, CBS, Fox and PBS from the U.S., and CBC (English and French), CITY TV, CTV, CHCH, Global, OMNI (1 and 2) and Sun TV.
When I installed the antenna on my roof, the signal from the U.S. stations improved and I could also get more channels, including NBC and NBC Universal Sports, bringing the total to 20.
Daniel Tonks, who runs an over-the-air website and forum , sums it up this way: “If you’re not close to what you want to pick up, you’ll need as big of an antenna as you can get, and to put it as high as possible.”
The lesson is that the higher the better, because you’ll have a better line of sight to the CN Tower and/or Lake Ontario towards Buffalo.
2. Antenna size
Generally, bigger is better. If you’re only interested in the Canadian channels, you will need a smaller antenna than if you also want to pick up the U.S. signals. There’s a terrific website,, that will not only show you exactly how far you are from each of these, but also which direction each is in. An antenna will have a certain range, so this map will help you determine which model will work for you.
Some antennas, like mine, have different ranges for UHF, or Ultra High Frequency, and VHF, or Very High Frequency. HD TV can be sent over either one, but it just so happens that most stations in North America use UHF.
3. Get some good cable
The cable you’ll need will almost certainly be coaxial (coax) cable, the same stuff cable TV service comes on. Good quality cable will be well shielded, so other signals won’t interfere with your reception.
If you’re going to have a professional installation you won’t need to worry about the little screw-on end connectors. But you’ll save some money if you do it yourself, and I found that attaching them is not very difficult. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that show you how and the tools can be found at a good hardware store for less than $50. Just make sure the connectors are tight; you can lose a lot of signal through a loose connector.
Finally, make the cable as short as possible. If you remember your high-school physics you know that a signal will gradually degrade. It’s called attenuation. The longer the cable, the more signal loss. Mine is about 75 feet long and I’ve got no problems.
4. Ground the cable
An antenna should always be grounded in case of a lightning strike. A good professional installer should take care of this, but for home installers a grounding block should always be used. A good hardware store will have one. And it’s a good idea to have a surge protector that also has an input and output for coaxial cable.
5. Picture Quality
I was struck by the amazing picture quality. I didn’t expect that it would be better than digital cable. A friend of mine — who works in television — first noticed this during Hockey Night in Canada one weekend. He kept looking at the picture and saying “this looks better than mine,” in a somewhat irritated voice, since his television is larger.
The difference is compression. All TV signals are compressed, but cable and satellite signals are more compressed than over-the-air broadcasts. To use a gardening analogy, they are trying to move a lot of water through limited-size hose.
“In a perfect world, would the OTA signal be better?” says Hugh Thompson, who runs the popular television/broadcast website Digital Home. “Yes, because there is less compression.”
Cable and satellite companies usually give priority to some channels over others, so that a hockey game, for example, would be less compressed than a talk show. So depending on the TV, you’ll see the difference on some channels but not as easily on others.
6. Channel lineup
This setup may not work for dedicated sports fans because you won’t pick up TSN, Rogers SportsNet, etc. And during a heavy snowfall some U.S. stations — notably NBC and CBS — can be dicey. But it’s perfect for a casual TV watcher like me. I can watch all the network TV shows in beautiful HD while avoiding a monthly bill of $35, which saves about $420 each year.
Not bad for a $100 antenna, $75 in supplies and a couple hours with a ladder.

As TV goes digital, antenna sales boom

Digital only broadcasts replaced analog transmissions at the end of August in most parts of Canada. So,  people with older TVs and rely on rabbit ears,  must either buy a digital television, or a converter box to change the digital signals to analog.
So, what to do if you don't want to pay for cable, satellite or fiber-based television service? Depending on where you live, you can still get free over-the-air broadcasts.
Even better, these digital stations broadcast in wide screen high-definition quality, and in many cases, with multi-channel surround sound audio. Sales of antennas have spiked across the country, says Elliott Chun, communications manager for Future Shop. "Some people simply refuse to subscribe to cable, and since the [analog] cut-off the other week, we've seen a lot of customers coming in to buy an antenna."
Most newer televisions have a built-in ATSC tuner, therefore you just need an indoor or outdoor antenna to pick up reception. Chun says many stores have sold out, but sales associates are referring customers to their website to buy antennas.
Local stores are also selling many antennas. "Everything went bananas about two weeks ago when stations switched from analog to digital and sales are just as strong," recalls Jeff Bayly, owner and operator of the Ottawa-based OTA Canada (OTA stands for "over the air"). "We recently got shipment of 50 to 60 antennas and sold out right away, both in our storefront and online, but we've since brought in more inventory."
While Future Shop sells mostly indoor antennas, which might do the trick for some, OTA Canada focuses more on outdoor antennas for a roof or balcony, which results in much stronger reception; some antennas require power to amplify the signal for maximum reception.
Bayly, who switched from cable to OTA (over the air) broadcasts 18 months ago, has also written an iPhone app, OTAMap ($1.99) that lists all the HD OTA stations available and guides users on where to point the antenna (typically south, but there are exceptions).
"People don’t seem to realize what you can get over the air, especially if you're in Toronto and have access to more than 30 Canadian and American stations," explains Bayly.
Chun says some people who use a TV antenna pick up an Internet-connected box -- such as Apple TV, Boxxee Box or LG Smart TV Upgrader (all between $100 and $200) – to watch shows and movies not available via over-the-air broadcasts. "Or, if you're like my dad, you can stream many popular shows on websites for free," says Chun, who says his father can't get "60 Minutes" via his antenna so watches it on the web.
If you're considering an OTA set-up to replace or compliment your existing television service, here are some  pros and cons:
* Over-the-air HD broadcasts are free after the initial costs of an antenna (typically $40 to $150) and perhaps $40 for a chimney mount or $10 to $30 for an antenna mast.
* The video and audio quality of these "uncompressed" HD broadcasts are often better than what you'd get from cable or satellite. 
* Canadians will get U.S. commercials on American channels (great for viewing the Super Bowl ads).
* Some set-up is required, such as buying and placing an antenna to pick up a signal; a digital TV with integrated ATSC tuner is required to process the signal. Also, reception can be affected by obstacles (tall trees, buildings) and weather (fog, hard rain, snow), but should be better than satellite.
* Station selection is limited. You can probably get the major Canadian and perhaps American stations, but few specialty channels, if any. Compare that to the 500-odd stations you'll get from cable or satellite. If you don't live close to the U.S. border you probably won't be able to access the major American stations, such as ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX.
* While there are personal video recorders (PVRs), they're not as easy to use as ones integrated with cable or satellite service.