Sunday, June 30, 2013

Miss CHIN International Bikini Pageant 2013

TORONTO - Sabrina DiBella was the big winner at the Miss CHIN International Bikini Pageant Saturday.

And she was stunned.

“I’m still a little shocked that my name was called but I’m thrilled,” DiBella said after beating out the other finalists at one of the most popular events of the CHIN International Picnic at Exhibition Place, traditionally held every Canada Day long weekend.

The 33-year-old from Toronto said she had been going to the picnic since she was little but only thought about competing in Miss CHIN after entering her first bikini competition last year and finishing as a runner-up.

“It was a great experience and whether I won or not wouldn’t have mattered but, right now, winning is a good feeling,” she said.

DiBella said she was eager to help market and support CHIN.

She works at ErinoakKids, a treatment and development centre for children with disabilities. DiBella works one-on-one with children with autisim.

“I love it,” she said of the demanding job.

Ky Williams was first runner-up and Jenn Willum second-runner up from a diverse group of competitors who reflected CHIN’s multicultural identity.

This year marks the 47th edition of the CHIN Picnic.

“My dad (Johnny) started it back in 1966 as a celebration, almost as a gift back to the city for being licensed as a multicultural broadcaster and it grew from a small little gathering amongst his friends,” explained Lenny Lombardi, president of CHIN Radio International.

“As more languages were added to CHIN Radio, he extended the invitation to different communities. It’s a cross-section of so many cultures and groups that come together to celebrate together through music, culture, song, dance and food. It’s something that we’re very proud of and after 47 years, it’s something that continues to work and thrive.”

Well over 100,000 people are expected to attend the picnic this year which continues with events Sunday and Monday.
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Saturday, June 29, 2013

How Toronto got the CN Tower

toronto cn tower
You would be hard pushed to name a building that has defined Toronto more than the CN Tower. Love it or loathe it, the massive concrete structure has dominated the city's skyline and provided a visual reference point for outsiders for almost a generation.
The tower itself is something of an oddity. Its practical use is as an AM, FM, UHF, and cell transmission tower, but a built-in observation deck, glass floor and rooftop fright-fest entice more than 1.5 million tourists a year up the dizzying exterior elevators.
Sydney has the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, New York has the Brooklyn Bridge, and Toronto has the CN Tower. The slender concrete column is an international icon that has made the city instantly recognizable. Few buildings are able to do that.
The CN Tower turned 37 this week - one step closer to middle age. Had things worked out just a little differently, Toronto would have got more than just a communications tower. This is the story of how Toronto's architectural wonder came to be.
toronto cn tower
The land now occupied by the CN Tower's hexagonal foundation was, in its original form, water. Almost everything south of Front Street is built on fill, dumped construction material dropped in to the lake over the last 100 years that gradually extended the shoreline south to its present position.
The new space gave Canadian National Railways room to build a tangle of sidings, roundhouses, and train sheds around the Union Station corridor. For much of its early life the reclaimed land south of Front Street was a sprawling industrial area of soot-stained concrete and surface parking. The Gardiner Expressway zipped past just to the south and silos dotted the lake shore.
toronto cn tower
toronto cn tower
It was in the 1960s, when Toronto's buildings began to head skyward, that things began to change. As Mies van der Rohe's Toronto-Dominon Centre then Commerce Court West each claimed the title as tallest in the city, TV and radio reception became patchy and viewers increasingly found episodes of Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie, and re-runs of The Andy Griffith Show were being blasted into static oblivion.
The solution was to build a transmission antenna tall enough to beat even the highest Bay Street bank tower. The project was also a good excuse to partake in a little building bravado by snatching the title of the tallest freestanding structure from Moscow's Ostankino Tower, also a TV and radio mast.
toronto cn tower
In fact, the tower itself was one of the few pieces of the larger Metro Centre project ever to be built. Had it been realized in its original form, Union Station would have been demolished and the Yonge line would have gained a Queens Quay spur through an expansive new retail and commercial district.
Early plans for the broadcasting tower were vaguely similar in appearance to Seattle's Space Needle and developers promised a large triangular reflecting pool surrounded by a 10-acre park at the base of the tower for skating and wading. A mall and beer garden would also be built, they said.
toronto cn tower
toronto cn tower
Metro Centre died when the provincial and federal government recommended Union Station be retained and CN and CP, the principal backers, subsequently pulled out. The earmarked land would, however, provide space for the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, CityPlace, and CN's new radio mast.
At the time CN and CP jointly owned CNCP Telecommunications, a company developed out of the company's old wire service businesses, so building a large concrete signal hub wasn't entirely unusual for the transportation company.
toronto cn tower
At 553 metres, the scale of the CN Tower was immense. 56 metric tonnes of soil was hauled out of the ground for the 17-metre foundation pit. The hexagonal structural core of the tower was surrounded by poured concrete shaped using a massive mold called a slipform.
Each new section was built on top of the last, aided by a crane perched on a 500-tonne platform on top of the rising column. 1,537 workers worked on the project 24 hours a day, five days a week, from official groundbreaking ceremony on February 6, 1973.
The tower always had its detractors. The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association warned that "sooner or later an aircraft is bound to strike it possibly killing people in the tower and on the ground as well as those in the aircraft." The Federation of Ontario Naturalists estimated 1,000 birds a day could be killed in foggy conditions during peak migration periods.
"We'll live to regret it if we let this monstrous dart go up," Alderman Elizabeth Eayrs told city council.
toronto cn towerIronically, improved reception actually had a negative impacted on some TV content. As a TV writer for in the Toronto Star predicted, the stronger signal killed the tradition of American networks releasing their new shows on Canadian television ahead of the U.S. premier in an attempt to discourage cross-border viewing.
The added range from the new CN transmitters made Canadian signals stronger than those that used to bleed over the border from New York, which would potentially allow Americans to easily tune in to Canadian stations and catch a sneaky glimpse of All In The Family.
Despite the outcries and accusations CN was building an "obtrusive monument to itself," the gigantic, $21 million construction project was allowed by council, but not before it had already reached 300 metres in height.
toronto cn towerBy August 1973 the concrete stump was the tallest structure in Toronto and in February 1974 it claimed the crown as the tallest in Canada, taking the mantle from the Inco Superstack, a giant chimney in Sudbury.
Just 18 months after the foundations were scooped out, work began on the seven-storey observation deck, revolving restaurant, and radome - the inflatable white donut-shaped object at the bottom of the main pod where much of the communications and other electronics are housed.
CHUM-FM, CBC Radio 2 (then CBC Stereo), CKFM, CHFI, and CHIN were the first stations to move their equipment in '73.
toronto cn towerUnlike the main support column, the pod was supported by a steel frame. Dizzying photos show metalworkers straddling massive I-beams with nothing between them and a 1,100-foot drop to the rail tracks below.
Above the top SkyPod, the top observation level, a Sikorsky helicopter named Olga was called in to complete the final step - hauling up the 102-metre antenna mast in pieces from the ground. The 42 sections were delivered in March 1975 and would be the last that contributed to the overall height of the CN Tower.
toronto cn tower
Disaster almost struck as Olga was being used to dismantle the crane and construction platform that was perched at the top of the concrete core. While removing the first piece of the boom, a sudden shift caused the supporting bolts to seize, effectively tethering the aircraft to the tower.

With fuel running low, steel workers had to burn off the stuck bolts to avoid a crash. The helicopter landed with 14 minutes of gas to spare.

The incident underlined the need for adequate safety features in large freestanding towers. In the event of a fire, the main 1,776-step staircase would be one only two safe exits from the main pod. To illustrate the dangers, on 27 August, 2000 the Ostankino Tower caught fire 458 metres above the ground, killing three people.
toronto cn towerTo combat these risks, the CN Tower is fitted with fire-proof materials and an extensive sprinkler system fed by a pair of 68,160-litre water tanks at the top of the main column. One elevator is powered by emergency generators and is designed to remain active in an emergency.
A fire house on the ground is capable of reaching the upper levels and, just to be safe, the kitchen in the restaurant doesn't use an open flame during cooking.
Naturally, the current owners are keen to stress there has never been a fire since the building opened to the public, but that doesn't mean it's never happened. On July 8, 1975, molten metal from a welder's torch dripped down an elevator shaft and ignited a patch of tar-based waterproofing, leading to two uncontrolled fires about 150-metres above the restaurant.
toronto cn tower
Four nearby workers scrambled to safety up a flight of stairs while others on the lower levels were able to descend. Chemical extinguishers put out the fire while the emergency services were assembling at the base of the tower but the damage was estimated at around $1,000. The four welders workers were treated for smoke inhalation and minor cuts.

The CN Tower was officially completed on April 2, 1975 and opened to the public on June 26. A variety of attractions have been added since: the highest wine cellar in the world, the incredibly unsettling glass floor, and most recently the terrifying EdgeWalk experience.

CN sold its stake in the tower in 1995, prompting a crisis about what CN should stand for now the railways were no longer involved. The new owners opted for the slightly clunky "Canada's National Tower," which is admittedly better than the Canada Lands Company Tower.
Maple Leafs fans hoped the new 16.7 million colour LED light display that adorns the elevator shafts and main pod could be used as a goal light during their heartbreaking and brief cup run this year. No dice, said management. It's Canada's tower - no corporations allowed.
Total cost: $63 million ($21 million in 1973)
Height: 553.33 metres (1,815 feet and 5 inches)
Weight: 117,910 metric tonnes (130,000 tons)
Concrete: 40,524 cubic metres (53,000 cubic yards)
Tensioned Steel: 998 kilometres (620 miles)
Reinforcing Steel: 4,535 metric tonnes (5,000 tons)
Structural Steel: 544.2 metric tonnes (600 tons)
Steps to the top: 1,776
Minutes for a full restaurant revolution: 72
toronto cn tower
Train sidings in the rough area of the CN Tower
toronto cn tower
Welder after the 1975 fire
toronto cn tower
The CN Tower's shadow falls on a surface lot in 1975
toronto cn tower
Parking lot at the foot of the CN Tower
toronto cn tower
The unfinished CN Tower from the Gardiner
toronto cn tower
The construction platform and crane
toronto cn tower
The pod in the early stages of construction
toronto cn towerConstruction from the railway lands
toronto cn tower
A model showing an early concept for the SkyDome
toronto cn tower
The CN Tower with GO trains on the Union corridor
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Friday, June 28, 2013

Get the dirt on Toronto condos using new review site

It could be one of the best, or worst, things to hit the Toronto condo market since websites like Yelp turned the tables on restaurant criticism.

A new crowdsourcing site,, officially launches Monday, with a mobile app for iPhone. It joins a number of other sites, like, that are trying to take word of mouth about condos in the city to an online level, which may be good news for consumers, but not so much for some developers.

So far, the fledgling site has comments on about 400 of the more than 1,300 registered buildings in Toronto — from buyers, renters and the equivalent of condo plane-spotters who just get a kick out of taking a look around and uttering an opinion.

“You’ve got developers and (real estate) agents who are always going to tell you how great their condos are, but a lot of consumers have a tough time discerning what is a good and what is a bad development,” says the site’s co-founder, Brandon G. Donnelly.

“They want to know about the quality of the development, how well is the building managed, what are the demographics and the vibe.”

Donnelly is unabashed in admitting the site is built on the model, where online users rank everything from restaurant meals to local businesses in a sort of collective protecting of the unsuspecting masses.

There are no guarantees, of course, that they really know what they are talking about, although some have become such regular, and well-regarded, critics, they’ve become minicelebrities of sorts. Donnelly is hoping a few of those will emerge here in Toronto over time.

“I hope our reviews will really be able to give a sense of who is in the buildings,” and whether it’s a platform for parties or a welcoming place for, say, the over-50 buyer.

In time, says Donnelly — a former architecture student who worked for more than three years in the commercial real estate industry — there will also be commenter profiles, as there are on the two-year-old, so that you’ll know just who’s talking, be it a twenty-something renter or a veteran condo buyer.

Buyers are all bound by a few common concerns: how high are the maintenance fees, how much noise will we hear from the units above and beside us, and what are the overall demographics of the building, says downtown realtor Mark Savel.

“Sites like this help you get a lot of raw content from people who actually rent or own in the building. It’s a good way to get a bit of insight.”

Many such sites have come and gone over the years, notes realtor and condo investment expert Brian Persaud, but none have really achieved the critical mass needed to be successful. As well, very few owners are really willing to dish the dirt on their own buildings for fear of driving prices down or being unable to sell if the building gets tainted, he added.

That’s why he prefers online forums at sites like and,which can contain some important condo tidbits.

Better yet, “I just like talking to people. I find word of mouth is the best.”

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Ford accuses Liberals of trying to force tax increase

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford accused the provincial Liberals Thursday of trying to force the city to hike taxes, keep the land transfer tax and bring back the car tax.

Ford fired a few more shots in his ongoing funding fight with Premier Kathleen Wynne including a claim Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s office gave no advance warning the $150 million in provincial funding was being cut.

The mayor has spent a week raging at Wynne’s government in a bid to stop the cut that starts with a $50 million blow to the city’s 2014 budget.

“Just as we’re closing in on our (fiscal) goals, the province pulls the rug out from under us,” Ford said in a press conference. “They’re trying to force us to keep the land transfer tax. They’re trying to force us to increase taxes. They’re trying to force us to bring back the vehicle registration tax.

“Why should Toronto be forced to keep the land transfer tax by the province? Why do we have to bring back the car tax?”

Ford said he won’t support bringing back the car tax — which he successfully campaigned on cutting — and still wants to cut the land transfer tax by 10% — around $34 million — in the 2014 budget.

Behind the scenes Thursday, the mayor’s office also fired back at Sousa’s claim he had tried to have a “discussion” with Ford about the funding cut but didn’t hear back.

A mayor’s office official speaking on background provided e-mails showing first contact between Ford’s chief of staff and Sousa’s chief of staff was on June 13.

On that day, Sousa’s chief of staff left a voicemail for Earl Provost, Ford’s chief of staff, and a phone message with a receptionist before e-mailing Sousa’s letter detailing the funding cut to Provost.

Provost responded minutes later confirming he would respond when he read the letter.

A provincial source speaking on background said Provost was left a voicemail the next day but they didn’t hear back from him.

Provost responded by e-mail June 19 with Ford’s letter and a request from the mayor for a face-to-face meeting with Sousa.

The two eventually met on June 24 where Ford was told in the meeting the funding cut was a done deal and a “decision from cabinet.”

Ford came out of the meeting fuming and accusing Sousa of blindsiding the city.

But Sousa said he “initiated the discussion at the start.”

“I made a call to the mayor’s office, saying you’re going to receive a letter, I think it’s important for us to have a discussion relative to what’s in this letter and the net benefit that you’re going to have as a city but it’s important for us to have that discussion,” Sousa said. “Correspondence was made between my office and his office. Frankly, it’s up to the mayor to ask his staff why that didn’t happen.”

City manager Joe Pennachetti will be bringing a report to city council next month showing the impact of the funding cut which will start with a $50 million reduction in 2014.

Susie Heath, Sousa’s press secretary, issued a statement ahead of Ford’s press conference that said cutting funding for social housing is Ford’s choice.

“Just as he has chosen not to benefit from land transfer or vehicle registration powers that he holds under the City of Toronto Act,” Heath stated.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sunrise Propane found guilty in blast that killed worker

TORONTO - That poor man didn't stand a chance to survive the Sunrise Propane explosion five years ago.

In her damning decision released Thursday, Justice Leslie Chapin found Sunrise Propane guilty of nine regulatory offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Environmental Protection Act, including failing to provide safety training and a safe working environment as well as ignoring numerous orders to clean up after the blast. They were acquitted on one count under the EPA.

Sunrise directors, Shay Ben-Moshe and his brother-in-law Valery Belahov, could face millions of dollars in fines for the violations.

Ignited by leaking propane vapour during an illegal truck-to-truck transfer, a deadly fireball lit up the sky at 3:47 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2008. Part-time Sunrise employee Parminder "Rocky" Singh Saini, a 25-year-old from India who came to study at Sheridan College just eight months before, was killed in the initial blast. It was also blamed for the fatal heart attack of district fire chief Bob Leek, 55, who rushed to the scene on his day off. More than 12,000 residents were evacuated and dozens of houses destroyed as metal debris and asbestos rained down from a series of explosions.

In her decision, the judge found Saini was never trained or properly supervised. The student had been hired to fill taxis with propane, yet was left alone, virtually in charge of a station where tankers were being filled.

"It is difficult to imagine a more dangerous workplace than a yard filled with propane where a leak could cause explosions given that there are so many possible sources of ignition available at any given time," Chapin wrote in her 135-page judgment.

"Given the evidence, the only rational inference I can draw is that Mr. Saini was not provided with sufficient information and instruction because of the way he reacted to the sound of the explosion," she continued. "Mr. Saini ran in the direction of the explosion instead of away from it."

Chapin also found Sunrise failed to properly oversee their truck drivers or update them on safety concerns. "In an inherently dangerous industry the defendants were required to take steps to ensure that their truck drivers were knowledgeable about the risks of handling propane and how to avoid them."

Sunrise's preventative maintenance system was "woefully inadequate" and she found it "shocking" that the company, in a densely-populated area, had no system in place to comply with regulatory requirements.

In the Downsview neighbourhood rocked by the fatal explosion, life has resumed its ordinary pace. Damaged homes have been rebuilt, shattered glass has been replaced, broken gravestones repaired. A nearby park has been named in honour of the fire chief.

News that Sunrise Propane has finally been convicted was met with satisfaction, but little surprise.

"Finding them guilty is great. It took people's lives and created so many headaches for residents. But what's going to happen now? Are these people going to be reimbursed?" asks Tony Di Santo, head of the Ancaster Ratepayers Association.

A sleepless Di Santo was watching TV on the sofa when he heard a huge boom and saw the giant fireball fill the northwest sky outside his back window. With his wife and 94-year-old mother, he joined his terrified neighbours in fleeing the neighbourhood. "I knew it was the propane right away," recalls the ratepayers association president, who has lived in the area since 1964. "It should never have been there with residential right across the street. We complained to our councillor in the area but nothing was done, unfortunately."

Resident Jeff Green, whose family's home suffered damage during the blast, wants nothing less than criminal charges as well as tougher inspections by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), which never enforced its 2007 order to stop its unsafe truck-to-truck propane transfers.

"This was 100% preventable," contends Green, whose family is also part of a class action lawsuit against Sunrise and TSSA. "Is any good going to come of this? Will the province now reexamine the need for stricter enforcement?"

Sunrise lawyer Leo Adler called the verdicts "disappointing" and said no decision has been made yet about a possible appeal.

The case returns to court July 23 to set a sentencing date.
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Time for Pride (and others) to pay their own way

TORONTO - I’ll see you at Pride this weekend in the Gay Village, a quick stroll from my place.

The Sunday parade is a gas, awash in high camp and low stress. Church St. will smell of sweat, pot, beer — and money. Sponsors include Viagra, Trojan condoms, Loblaws, TD Bank, Loblaws, Pizza Pizza ...

You’re on the list, too, whether you like it or not.

All levels of government sink your hard-earned cash into Pride Week, including the province with $350,000 and the city with $140,000.

Funny, but a poster on named “wbmmam” this week asked me what I meant by calling myself a libertarian. Good timing, wbmmam. Pride is a perfect example.

Pride Week celebrates a liberty — to be who you are or what you want to be, as long as it harms no one else. That is a libertarian creed: Small governments that fix roads, but don’t preach. Small taxes, too.

Which means be yourself, but don’t expect everyone to pay for the experience.

Pride is a wonderful thing. So is the Tweed tribute to Elvis. So is Pirate Days in the 1,000 Islands.

But should you foot the bill — even if you’re not a gay pirate in blue suede shoes?

“No,” says Gregory Thomas, national director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “It’s not what government is meant to do.

“We have politicians walking down the street, throwing rose petals and money at these events, yet air ambulance is a shambles and you’ve got people freezing in the snow waiting for a bus.”

City Hall and Queen’s Park spent a combined $16.8 million on what you might call leisure groups in our fair city the past year.

Taste of Little Italy, for instance, got $25 grand and Mayor Rob Ford still gets a slushie in the face.

Opera more to your taste? The Canadian Opera Company gets $1.3 million a year in city tax funds. The fat lady sings on your dime.

The National Ballet and the Toronto Symphony get about $1.1 million each, the film festival $800,000, Luminato $200,000, Caribana $494,000. Even the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art gets $135,980, good news if you’re sick of looking at your Tupperware.

I don’t want to sound like a hillbilly, but how many of us are opera, ballet or ceramic aficionados.

Yet, we all pay.

If opera and ballet cannot make a go of it — with all that Gucci, Chanel and Prada parading around the Four Seasons Centre lobby — they’re not trying hard enough.

No wonder when it’s much easier to recruit a suit to go get a big bite of tax pie. The greasiest lobbyist gets the squeak — which is no way to play with our money.

They’ll tell you that, hey, it’s peanuts in the big picture. Maybe, but it’s symptomatic of how loose governments are with our money generally.

According to a city list with teensy type and big dollars, we local ratepayers fund a menagerie of 838 other groups.

Just some of the “B”s: Bikes Without Borders ($16,800), Black Daddies Club ($50,000), Buddies in Bad Times Theatre ($119,200) and the Bulgarian Arts Collective ($4,000).

Worthy groups, I’m sure.

But should we all pay for them?

Should that money not go to governments’ prime directives, such as protect us, get us around and cleanse our water.

“Not to demean one person’s culture over another,” says Thomas, “but when you have government saying they need more tax revenue to provide basic transportation facilities, because everyone needs to get to work, then you see millions and millions given to specific recreational activities ... it just doesn’t make sense.”

No it doesn’t, not with a $250-billion provincial debt, $10.6 billion a year to service it, and transit woes galore.

If our dependent fests, troupes and artistes are worth their salt, they’ll find a way to pay their own freight.

For instance, my friend Jana just called from Oasis, the neighbourhood sex club. It will open a charity kissing booth on its Carlton St. lawn on Saturday.

Five bucks a smootch with a volunteer of either gender.

I hope Pride honchos steal the idea.

Pucker up. We’ll pay for that parade in no time.
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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Queen's Park won't say how much Ontario Place makeover will cost

The provincial government is refusing to say how much it will cost to create a park and waterfront trail as the first phase of the Ontario Place revitalization.

The plan, unveiled on Wednesday by Tourism Minister Michael Chan, is to convert just over seven acres of Ontario Place land into shoreline green space that will give people free access to a section of waterfront that has been closed to the public for 40 years.

The province shuttered a portion of Ontario Place in February 2012 due to dwindling attendance, the latter prompting the 41-year-old attraction to be deemed a financial drain on the cash-strapped Liberal government.

An advisory committee was subsequently set up and it made 18 recommendations on what to do with Ontario Place, one of which was the development of public green space.

But to the surprise of reporters, Chan, who heralded Wednesday’s announcement as a significant first step in Ontario Place’s revamp, would not disclose the Liberals’ budget or the projected cost of the project. He said such a disclosure would jeopardize the bidding process the province will enter into with developers.

“I am not going to disclose that,” said Chan. “The reason for that is it will be a bid (process). The bidder will tell us. I want to protect the integrity of the process and also get the best value. If I disclose the cost, then bidding will be according to that, and I want to get the best value for the park.”

The project will include the conversion of a parking lot located in an administrative part of Ontario Place that is currently off limits to the public.

Chan also balked at commenting on the next steps in Ontario Place’s revitalization, only to say he expects the urban park and waterfront trail to be completed in time for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am games, and the rest of Ontario Place to be revitalized by 2017.

When asked about a recommendations that calls for a portion of Ontario Place to be converted to a residential area, Chan said it’s possible, as long as it doesn’t create a concrete jungle of homes.
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Monday, June 24, 2013

TTC CEO wants to spend $300M on 60 more new streetcars

TORONTO - Toronto City Hall is on track for another streetcar fight.

TTC CEO Andy Byford revealed Monday he will ask to buy 60 new streetcars as part of his 2014 capital budget — that’s on top of the 204 streetcars, worth $1.2 billion, that have yet to hit the city’s streets.

Byford said the roughly $300-million streetcar purchase is needed to keep up with the TTC’s ridership growth.

“Things have moved on, the ridership is rising exponentially,” Byford said.

“We already predict that we will definitely ... before the end of this order need more streetcars.”

The new streetcars ordered in 2009 are set to start operating on Toronto streets next year starting with routes on Spadina Ave. and Bathurst St.

Byford’s request comes as the TTC spends around $800 million on modifications needed to let the new streetcars run on city streets and to build the Leslie Barns storage yard.

He acknowledged a request to buy even more streetcars will be a tough sell.

“We’re talking big bucks,” Byford said. “I may or may not be successful in that.” It isn’t clear how Mayor Rob Ford with his pro-subway, anti-streetcar stance will respond to the idea. On his radio show Sunday, Ford repeated his opposition to streetcars.

“I want to phase out streetcars, they’re antiquated, they’re dangerous,” Ford said Sunday.

TTC chair Karen Stintz said she hasn’t decided yet on whether she supports buying 60 new streetcars.

“We have increased ridership so we know we need to accommodate for that,” Stintz said. “Again it is a question of trade-offs and where is the best investment for the money that we are spending.”
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Toronto heading skyward in unprecedented condo boom

Toronto is a city of tall storeys.

We’re building more high-rise condominiums for more people for more money than any other metropolis in the western hemisphere.

Today’s count stands at a record 237-condo developments, most taller than 10 floors, heading skywards in an unprecedented GTA-wide boom.

That’s twice the number in New York City and helps put Toronto 10th on the global list of high-rise cities.

According to real estate research group Emporis, Toronto’s construction industry has never seen anything like it.

In October 2012, there were 15 highrise building sites more in Toronto than November 2011.

In New York City in the same period, construction of highrises decreased by just under a fifth, from 86 in September 2011 to 72 in October 2012.

Nowhere is this activity more evident than in the tight streets around the Rogers Centre that already are — or will become — one long condo canyon.

Building sites stand next to demolition sites. Holes in the ground one week become foundations the next. Each requires transit, water, hydro and sewage solutions to be worked into city services that are in many cases already stretched to the limit.

All in the shadows cast by completed towers housing thousands of people who have already swapped the traditional home in the suburbs for a lofty (pardon the pun) new space in the city.

These same people have to get to work.

According to the TTC, the King, Queen and Spadina street cars travel the busiest surface routes the TTC operates; they deliver upwards of 50,000 riders a day on all three routes.

That’s more passengers than the whole GO Transit system and will continue growing to meet the demand created by the highrise boom.

Below the surface, there is a single subway line running beneath the Yonge St. spine to handle ever-increasing amounts of commuters with no relief line in sight.

You have to ask if this frenetic building activity is creating a perfect storm of social dislocation for future generations of Torontonians to deal with.

Will the highrise problems we see today in places like Rexdale and Scarborough, Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park be the future once the newness has worn off downtown developments like CityPlace?

Critics say residential tower blocks with transient populations do not help to create communities. If the buildings do not work well, they rapidly turn into ghettoes.

It’s easy to confuse higher densities with greater liveliness as some City Hall proponents do in their ad hoc efforts to approve ever more condominiums in their wards.

Lloyd Alter teaches sustainable design at Ryerson University School of Interior Design and is appalled at seeing so many high-rise condominiums in the one tight, downtown space.

“Rising towers with tiny balconies and floor-to-ceiling glass hardly represents ideal living for mixed communities,” Alter told the Toronto Sun. “What we are seeing is too many people forced into a small piece of geography in buildings that are less than efficient managers of energy.

“Lazy builders and architects are getting away with it. City Hall should be doing more to ensure the quality of the built environment rather than leaving it to future generations to grapple with its poor planning legacy.

“The glass towers just aren’t efficient. They have to be heated in winter and run air conditioning in the summer with no flow-through fresh air. They are also not being built to last.”

It all gets down to questions of quality.

Few of Toronto’s condominiums show consideration of scale or proportion or try to make a meaningful relationship with their surroundings. Nor is there anything special about their detail.

Is there consistency or integrity in their overall concept? Do they create handsome new public spaces at their base?

Does their internal planning produce the best possible living or working spaces while at the same time being built to last?

In too many cases, the answer to all of the above would be a “no” rather than an emphatic “yes.”

One critic even doubts whether the design qualities we’re seeing will let the designs last for longer than the original occupant’s stay.

Ted Kesik, a University of Toronto professor of building science, predicts an average shelf life for today’s glass towers of a mere 15 to 20 years, provoking a massive future problem of how to retrofit them.

The final question hangs on market sustainability.

An overbuilt and overpriced condominium market of less than stellar quality is posing a risk to all Canadian households, banks and the economy in general, the Bank of Canada warned earlier this month.

It cites Toronto as a bubble waiting to burst.

“If the upcoming supply of units is not absorbed by demand as they are completed over the next 12 to 30 months, the supply-demand discrepancy would become more apparent, increasing the risk of an abrupt correction in prices and residential construction activity,” it says.

“Any correction in condominium prices could spread to other segments of the housing market as buyers and sellers adjust their expectations.”

Which is banker speak for too much supply will kill the market for everyone.

You and I call that a crash.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Kodak's Building 9 was once employee hub of Toronto complex

TORONTO - The massive Mount Dennis block, nicknamed Kodak Heights, used to sit at the top of Photography Dr.

From early photographs, which now lie in archives, the building complex appears majestic, housing thousands of Kodak employees in the early 1920s.

In 2013, the last remaining building became home to squatters, teenage graffiti artists, and the property of Metrolinx, the government organization that oversees public transportation in the GTA.

At one time, this abandoned building was a key and active component in Kodak’s international camera production and distribution.

Building 9 was constructed in the 1940s and served as an employees’ building, offering recreation and relaxation to Kodak’s constantly expanding staff.

Inside, clubs like the Kodak Heights Camera Club could be found. The club housed the majority of cameras released by Kodak throughout the years for employees to use and admire. On the cusp of the emerging digital age, Kodak was unable to keep up and compete with companies like Canon and Sony, and filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

The actual Mount Dennis location, or Kodak Heights, was officially closed down in 2005. Following almost immediately, the corporation demolished buildings one through eight. The last building was spared while the company sat in talks with different potential buyers.

Metrolinx bought the space in 2012 for $48 million, and had plans to make it the final destination point for their Light Rail Transit (LRT) line they’ll begin construction on soon. After talking to the community, however, the space is now up for re-evaluation in an attempt to retain the historical culture of Kodak Heights.

There are several plans in the works right now, all centering around how to restore the building and the best use for the building.

If Metrolinx decides to use it for LRT space, the landscape will change by 2016. If a muesum is erected, it will change by 2017.
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Friday, June 21, 2013

Toronto takes $150 million budget hit from Queen's Park cut

TORONTO - Finance Minister Charles Sousa should stop trying to claw back $150 million in provincial funding from Toronto’s budget, Mayor Rob Ford said Friday.

Ford demanded Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government reverse a decision to deliver a potentially crippling funding cut to the city over the next three years starting with a $50-million drop in the 2014 budget.

In a face-to-face meeting with Sousa set for Monday, Ford said he’ll be telling him bluntly: “I want the $50 million.”

Sousa advised the mayor’s office of the cut in a letter sent last week. City officials had been planning for that money staying in the budget until at least 2018 and pointed to a 2008 letter from the provincial finance ministry detailing the funding phase-out.

“This decision comes as a complete surprise to me and the city and we are very, very concerned,” Ford said at a press conference. “These are vital, vital funds that we need to continue helping our most vulnerable residents.”

The city allocates that funding to its social housing programs and would require a roughly 5% property tax hike or massive budget cuts to fill the hole.

“This money will have to come from cuts to vital programs. I am not increasing taxes over what I promised, 1.75% (in 2014),” Ford said. “It is going to come down to program cuts, unfortunately. It’s the province’s fault — the province hasn’t given us the money. Ask Premier Wynne why she’s doing this.”

The mayor had been gearing up to cut the Toronto land transfer tax by 10% this year. Ford said Friday he’s still cutting the tax and urged Wynne and Sousa to get their house in order.

“They’ve got to find efficiencies,” said Ford, who is still optimistic there will be a successful resolution to the money squabble. “They’re squandering billions of dollars up there ... they’ve got a spending problem not a revenue problem. We’ve put our house in order down here.”

Sousa didn’t show any signs of reversing the cut Friday and denied the province had committed to the funding back in 2008.

“They’re not being left in the lurch,” he said.

The city knew that the province would phase out the funding as it uploaded other costs to the net benefit of Toronto of more than $700 million, Sousa said.

In addition to taking on a greater share of social service and court security costs, the province is forgiving a $200-million loan to the city which has so far missed 16 scheduled repayments.

“There’s only one taxpayer and if the mayor feels that it’s appropriate for other levels of government to increases taxes so that he can say he didn’t, I’m not for that,” Sousa said.

But Councillor Paula Fletcher said Ford’s been sending a message from city hall that “we really don’t need any money” by cutting the car tax and looking at cutting the land transfer tax.

“We have given the impression that we’re not interested in funding,” Fletcher said. “I think that’s a bad impression to be giving — we need this money.”

Ford fired back he’s doing what voters want him to do.

“Taxpayers elected me to get rid of that $60 car tax, I did exactly that,” he said. “I’m doing what I was elected to do and that is reduce the size and cost of government and keep taxes low.”
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DSB awaits province OK to sell millions in property

TORONTO - Toronto public school board trustees have approved a three-year plan that could see them sell off millions in property.

They now have their fingers crossed hoping the province will approve it.

The Toronto District School Board approved the capital plan close to midnight Thursday but must now hope the provincial government lifts a capital funding freeze imposed last year.

Queen’s Park slapped the freeze on the Toronto board following cost overruns on school renovation and construction projects.

TDSB vice-chairman Shaun Chen said the board had hoped the freeze would have been lifted earlier when the current fiscal year’s capital budget had been balanced.

“I’m very hopeful we can move forward,” Chen said. “There is a lot of need in our system. We have schools that are busting at the seams and students need a safe and appropriate learning environment. That includes our facilities.”

Chen would not discuss specifics about the plan, which media reports indicate could raise as much as $162 million and apparently includes a list of 11 properties to be sold.

“The plan will see board generating revenues from property sales, would spend on key priority capital projects,” Chen confirmed.

The province must first approve the plan before it can proceed, but that won’t be the end of their work with the Ministry of Education, he said.

“Even with individual projects the ministry has to give approval to proceed on each of those projects,” Chen said. “They’re there every step of the way.”

Lauren Ramey, spokesman for Education Minister Liz Sandals, said the ministry has yet to receive the TDSB capital plan but expects it will be submitted “shortly.”

The ministry will also review a report submitted by a “special assistance team” appointed to help the board with its finances, she said.

“We’re hopeful the TDSB’s capital plan will address the conditions to lift the capital freeze,” Ramey said in an e-mail. “We’ve been clear that the freeze did not mean that the board should stop all accommodation and capital planning efforts and it did not apply to any projects already underway.”
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Toronto's plastic bag fee debate buried

Mayor Rob Ford helped hammer the “final nail in the coffin” of Toronto’s five-cent bag fee on Wednesday.

Ford made a surprise appearance at the public works committee to vote to bury the plastic bag debate indefinitely.

The mayor — an ex-officio member of all council committees — didn’t speak during the debate but did cast his vote on the winning side of the 5-2 vote to receive a report on plastic bag reduction strategies “for information.” That result keeps the issue away from council and almost entirely rules out any debate to bring back the bag fee or the ill-fated bag ban for at least a year.

“Torontonians pay enough in taxes, they don’t need to be nickel and dimed every time they go to the store to buy groceries or buy something,” Ford said in a press conference following the vote.

Ford led council in trashing the bag fee last June but at the same debate councillors also ended up voting to ban plastic bags. After a legal challenge, council ended up dropping the ban late last year.

“Today I cast my vote as mayor at the public works and infrastructure committee ... to make sure we put the final nail in the coffin of this plastic bag fee once and for all,” Ford said. “Folks, we have to remember, these (plastic) bags are 100% recyclable and reusable.”

Public works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong acknowledged the issue could be brought back to council with a two-thirds vote but suspected there was “debate fatigue” around plastic bags.

Councillor Janet Davis tried to get the committee to order city staff to consider a bag fee as part of the city’s long-term waste strategy.

“There is definitely a desire for this government to take proactive action on plastic bags,” Davis said.

A number of councillors lamented the fact the city has spent so much of its time debating plastic bags.

“This council has some sort of Freudian preoccupation with plastic bags,” said Councillor John Parker.

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti hoped the bag fee debate would return after the next election.

“We’ve beat the issue to death and it is something that should be raised in the next term of council,” Berardinetti said.

Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon questioned why council messed with the bag fee in the first place.

“The fee worked, it changed people’s behaviours for the better,” she said. “Why did we go down this weird, slippery slope?”
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Monday, June 17, 2013

St. Lawrence Market North redevelopment fight heats up

TORONTO - Get ready for a fight over the St. Lawrence Market North project at city council.

Councillor Doug Ford vowed Monday that he’ll to try to stop the $91-million redevelopment — up from the original $74.8-million price tag — next month.

“I will fight it at council,” Ford said.

Councillors on the government management committee voted 3-3 against stopping the project and were also deadlocked on whether to move ahead with the initiative.

The project update now goes on to city council without any recommendation.

The new building is slated to replace the existing one located on the north side of Front St. E. — across from the St. Lawrence Market.

City officials say it would house consolidated court services — which are presently in three different buildings — and offer a “significant improvement to a city landmark and tourist destination.”

Part of the jump in the proposed budget was attributed to a 250-space underground parking garage set to be built on the site.

“We’re going out and we’re spending (a) disproportionate amount of money downtown all the time,” Ford said after the vote.

He questioned why the city would spend “$100 million on courthouses? For what? We don’t need $100-million courthouses when I can’t even afford to put a park up in Etobicoke.

“(In) Etobicoke North we get crumbs, people out in Scarborough get crumbs.”

Ford lamented his belief that downtown councillors get millions in Section 37 money from developments.

“Distribute the money equally to all the boroughs not just downtown all the time,” he said.

Councillor Pam McConnell, whose ward includes the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, argued the city could end up saving money on the building — and likely “make money at the end of it.”

My community asked ‘What are we going to do with a 1967 building that no longer functions?’” McConnell said.

She stressed the project was already approved at the original price by council.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti blasted the “magical” project.

“I think we need to stop the bleeding,” Mammoliti said, before urging the committee to direct staff to take no further action on the project.

“This is bleeding, this has cut into a city artery … and we need to stop it now.”
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TTC operators face 500 assaults, threats a year

TORONTO - Assaults on TTC workers have dropped by more than 15% annually since 2009 but operators still face around 500 assaults and threats each year, the TTC’s court advocate says.

Stuart Budgell said the number of incidents have dropped from 600 a year to around 500 since he began working with assault victims four years ago.

He spoke with the Toronto Sun after news broke Monday of two men jailed for separate assaults on TTC operators.

In one case, Varatharajan Ponnampalam, 46, was sentenced to 120 days after pleading guilty to assault on a female TTC driver last year. The woman was hit four times with an umbrella by a man “acting in a disorderly manner” on the 102 Markham bus on June 8.

Before the attack, she asked him to “settle down.” After he refused, she asked him to leave the bus.

He struck the driver, leaving her with “some severe bruising on her hand,” said Budgell.

Ponnampalam entered his guilty plea five days later. He was also handed a year probation, with conditions forbidding him from riding on the victim’s bus.

In the second case, Anthony Savo-Sadaro, 43, was handed 25 days in jail and two years probation after pleading guilty June 10 to assault.

He grabbed a male bus driver’s arm on April 18 and “demanded to be driven to a nearby liquor store” while riding the 123 Shorncliffe bus.

“They’re fine, they’re back at work,” Budgell said of the two workers.

Budgell’s job is to provide support for victims through counselling and working with the Crown for sentences that “reflect the severity” of the assaults on drivers.

“We don’t really get to ban people from the TTC,” Budgell said. “Many of the judges feel that people need to use our services.”

Over half of all incidents involve spitting. Most assaults revolve around fare evasion, according to Budgell. A number of attackers are “intoxicated people.”

“They lash out at our operators,” he said.

While some workers dust themselves off, others never return to the wheel, Budgell said.

He recalled a 26-year-old female driver who was punched for “no reason” after only three weeks on the job. She suffered a broken eye socket and now works in another capacity at the TTC.

“This woman has never driven a bus again,” Budgell said. “She’s terrified of driving.”
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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ford juice incident no big deal: Witness

An eye witness says the incident in which a drink was thrown at Mayor Rob Ford in Little Italy on Saturday has been blown out of proportion.

Scarborough resident Melissa Dwyer said that the civic leader acted “like nothing ever happened” when a cup of juice was thrown at him during the Taste of Italy festival.

Dwyer, who was at Crawford Rd. and College St. to celebrate Father’s Day with her family, said the mayor talked to a woman who threw a cup of juice at him.

“You could tell he definitely felt a little sad inside, but that didn’t stop him from continuing with the rest of his day,” Dwyer said.

Both the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, joked about ordeal on their weekly talk show Sunday afternoon, calling it a “little shower.”

Dwyer said even when Ford and his assistant caught the woman, they weren’t angry and appeared calm.

“They caught her and asked her, ‘Why would you do this?’ but nobody got angry at her. Everyone was very pleasant about the entire situation,” Dwyer said.

She added that after his staff member alerted police officers, who were standing nearby, the mayor walked away and continued taking pictures with people who had gathered and formed a line around the block.

The crowd of people who witnessed what had occurred, and those who walked by afterwards, were impressed with how he handled the situation. Even some of the vendors who were working the event commented on it, Dwyer said.

Councillor Doug Ford told the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat Saturday that the people at the festival treated him, “like a friggen rockstar.”

Shannon Everett, 27, of Toronto, has been charged with assault. She is scheduled to appear in an Old City Hall courtroom on July 23.
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Former madam warns against legalizing brothels

A former madam warns that organized crime — not sex trade workers — will reap the benefits if Canada’s Supreme Court legalizes brothels.

Tania Fiolleau, a Vancouver-based former madam turned TV talk show host and activist, said she is concerned about the potential ramifications of legalizing brothels.

Canada’s top court finished a week of appeal hearings Friday which could result in a dramatic change to the country’s prostitution laws.

At issue is the constitutionality of three sections of the Criminal Code that ban brothels and deal with living off the avails of prostitution and soliciting. “(Crime syndicates) would rather have legalized brothels that are fronts,” Fiolleau said. “That’s what they like to do. It’s going to bring more crime into it because it’s a cash business.”

Fiolleau said in her experience, legalization will only increase the risk faced by prostitutes.

“They say the women can get tested (for sexually transmitted diseases) more regularly but the john doesn’t get tested,” she added. “Her tests come back clean then she has (unprotected sex) with a dirty trick and her tests are null and void.”

Fiolleau, host of Tania’s Truth Talk on Joy TV, said when she was involved in the business, her brothel was backed by the Russian mafia. The Asian and biker gangs are also heavily involved, she said.

Fiolleau is calling for the government to impose tougher laws, like those in Sweden, where strict penalties for Johns caught buying sex resulted in a dramatic decrease in prostitution.

“We have been pushing for that for years,” she said.

But Valerie Scott, a sex worker advocate, countered Fiolleau’s assertions are wrong. Scott, one of three women who brought forward the case which has lead to the Supreme Court appeal, said moving prostitution out of the shadows benefits everyone.

“When it’s brought above ground and into the light it makes it far more difficult for organized crime to operate,” she said.

Scott said studies have been done focusing on sex workers and sexually transmitted diseases. Sex workers practice safe sex because they have no emotional attachment to johns and don’t fear losing them.

“We can get guys to use condoms,” she said. “We’re not in love with them. Love is the biggest risk factors for STI.”

Scott said she is happy with how the arguments unfolded in court last week and anticipates it could take up to a year before a decision comes down.

“We’d rather they take their time and get it right,” she said.
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Friday, June 14, 2013

Toronto Police Chief, officers do their job with Project Traveller

TORONTO - So just what is it police may have picked up in this massive raid that had Chief Bill Blair so skillfully dodging reporter’s questions?
The notorious alleged crack video? Talk on wire taps about buying or selling the video?


The chief, brilliantly, would not answer either way.

In fact more than ten times, in ten different ways, the dogged reporters tried to trip up Chief Bill Blair to draw the link between Mayor Rob Ford and the Dixon Rd. raids.

Like Nick Wallenda on the high wire, the chief was cautious.

“I am not able to disclose any of the investigative methodologies that were employed in this case or to disclose any of the evidence that has (been) obtained,” said the chief about ten times. “The only place for the legal disclosure is in a court of law.”

What was that code for? Or was it just a chief laying out the facts?

You have to read into it yourself what you think it all means. You can be sure there will be reporters at the court hearings of those who were charged in this operation.

The conundrum continues. It is, as they say, a riddle wrapped up in an enigma.

Meanwhile, the irritated mayor was more concise.

“You guys can’t get it through your thick skulls,” Ford angrily told reporters following him into an elevator at City Hall. “I’ve already answered all these questions. I have nothing to do with this.”

He didn’t call them maggots this time at least — although clearly media vans following him and reporters and camera people approaching him on his personal driveway is starting to look more like harassment than fostering accountability.

If he was concerned about what police were up to Thursday, he didn’t show it. In fact, had nothing but kudos for them.

“I congratulate the police on doing their work,” said Ford.

Congratulations are in order.

The bottom line is the city is safer today because of it.

After the Eaton Centre and Danzig St. massacres a year ago and the head-in-the-sand approach of “one idiot with a gun” there is nothing but praise for shutting down violent criminal enterprise from me.

It was incredible police work.

“Police shut down a stream of guns into the GTA which gangs use to build their criminal enterprise, to terrorize, wound and murder to protect their million dollar drug operations,” said crime specialist Ross McLean. “It was impressive and I think the chief and Toronto Police deserve congratulations.”
In fact I offered just that when talking to Blair after the news conference while teasing him on how adept he was in the news conference.

That was some fine footwork by the big guy.

“I kept bringing it back to the (bust)” Blair told me with a grin. “It was a very important operation.”
You better believe it.

More than $572,000 in cash seized, 40 guns, $3-million in drugs, 43 arrested and an alleged criminal organization, temporarily at least, shut down.

Think of the lives that may have been saved.

But who are we kidding? The only reason there was so much interest in this news conference is because people are hoping it’s another piece in the puzzle linking the mayor to some alleged crack video.

The dogged media peppered the chief.

They did their job.

He did his.

In doing it, Blair managed not to throw Ford to the blood-thirsty sharks if indeed there is a connection, but didn’t protect him from possible future revelations either.

In fact everything after this news conference was exactly where it was before it: Plenty of rumour, gossip and speculation but still, so far at least, no smoking pipe.

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Privatized trash pick-up winning complaints battle: Report

TORONTO - Toronto’s privatized trash collection has generated fewer complaints so far this year than its garbage pick-up performed by city workers.

A report going to the city’s public works committee next week finds double the average number complaints per week in the first quarter of the year in areas of the city collected by unionized city employees compared to areas where collection has been contracted out.

In the first three months of 2013, there were around 15 “daily service requests” per week in Districts 1 and 2 — the two areas of the city where collection has been privatized — while the complaints in Districts 3 and 4 were around 30 per week.

Mayor Rob Ford led city council in contracting out garbage collection in District 2 — the area west of Yonge St. and east of the Humber River — earlier this council term. While complaints spiked when the service switched from city employees to GFL — the company that won the bid — things now seem to be running smoothly, according to city staff.

The staff report does stress service is getting better across the city.

“Although these service request numbers for District 3 and 4 are higher than District 1 and 2 they are an improvement over last year’s average per day of 50 complaints,” the report notes.

Public works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong called the numbers “fantastic.”

He argued it shows privatizing garbage pick-up was the right thing to do.

“This report shows a clear win not only in terms of price but service performance exceeds that of the public sector,” Minnan-Wong said.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Toronto Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong walks out on Morgentaler tribute

TORONTO - Council had a moment of silence for Dr. Henry Morgentaler Tuesday.

But not all councillors were willing to mark the death of the abortion doctor who died last month at the age of 90. Denzil Minnan-Wong voiced his opposition to the recognition and stormed out of the council chamber before the moment of silence.

He argued Morgentaler is “not someone who should be recognized or celebrated.”

“He’s a person who contributes to the death of thousands of unborn babies,” Minnan-Wong said. “I’ve held that position you know for a long, long time and it was a matter of principle for me.”

Councillor Paula Fletcher called Minnan-Wong’s protest “one of the rudest moments in council’s history.”

“Stomping out and saying I can’t be here for a condolence motion is unheard of and it is just plain, downright rude,” she said.

The condolence motion for Morgentaler was put forward by Fletcher and Pam McConnell.

“Dr. Henry Morgentaler was a pioneer of reproductive freedom in Canada, and his courage and determination helped ensure every Canadian woman has the right to choose,” the motion stated.

“Beginning with his own practice and expanding across the country, Dr. Morgentaler challenged unjust laws that jeopardized women’s health and well-being, often at great personal risk.”

The motion asks the city clerk to convey city council’s “sincere sympathy” to Morgentaler’s family.

Fletcher said she brought the motion forward because Morgentaler is “a historic figure in the history of our country.”

“Like him or not he had a very important moment in Canadian history in legalizing abortion for women and in the cultural movement,” she said. “Councillor Minnan-Wong might not like it but the right to terminate a pregnancy is actually legal in our country.”

Minnan-Wong dismissed Fletcher’s criticism.

“Councillor Fletcher is a great supporter of free speech until someone says something she doesn’t agree with,” he said.

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Toronto Council votes to allow permanent residents to cast ballots, Province still must OK amendment

TORONTO - City council wants to give non-Canadian citizens the right to vote in Toronto municipal elections.

After a heated debate Tuesday, councillors voted 21 to 20 to ask the province to amend legislation to allow permanent residents the right to vote in local races.

While Mayor Rob Ford voted against the idea, Councillor Anthony Perruzza — the newest member of Ford’s executive committee — cast what turned out to be the deciding vote in favour of giving permanent residents a vote at the municipal level.

“I don’t support it,” Ford said following the council vote. “I just think we wasted six hours because I don’t believe the province is going to do anything with this.”

He predicted the Ontario government will put the request into the “circular filing cabinet” — a slang term for the trash bin.

“I think we have a good system,” Ford said. “It doesn’t make sense. How can someone that’s not a Canadian citizen vote?

“It doesn’t make any sense but that’s six hours gone,” he said with a shrug.

Councillors also approved asking the province to let the city consider introducing a ranked ballot voting system in the 2018 election.

Councillor Joe Mihevc said the vote represents an “expansion of how democracy functions in this city.”

“This is saying to Torontonians we are an inclusive city,” Mihevc said.

“I think it is going to shift the politics to make it more immigrant friendly and guess what, 46% of Torontonians were not born in this country never mind in this city and they are going to start to feel a greater sense of ownership of the political agenda here at City Hall.”

He lauded the possible switch to ranked ballot voting rather than the current first past the post system.

“To get elected as a city councillor or mayor you will now need to get more than 50% of the vote either on the first round or the second round of the balloting, providing the province of course agrees to that strategy,” Mihevc said.

He was optimistic the ideas will get approval from Queen’s Park.

“This particular premier has always, always said that she will listen to the voice of the city as it is expressed in council,” he said. “Council has expressed its will.”

Some councillors argued permanent residents should have the right to vote in municipal elections because they pay city taxes and deserve to have a say in the government that collects those taxes.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong unsuccessfully urged council not to extend the right to vote to permanent residents.

“I believe in Canadian citizenship,” he said. “I believe that it is important to be a citizen.

“I think that extending the right to vote to permanent residents discourages them not to apply for citizenship. It acts as a disincentive.

“It devalues, degrades and erodes what Canadian citizenship should mean,” Minnan-Wong said.
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Friday, June 7, 2013

Toronto council asked to oppose eating horse meat

TORONTO - Councillor Michelle Berardinetti wants council to stand up against slaughtering horses for human consumption and in favour of creating a place to drop off “unwanted babies.”

Berardinetti will ask councillors to support the two motions when they meet next week.

The motion regarding babies asks councillors to urge the province to work with Toronto Public Health to create a program within a hospital that would “facilitate the acceptance of unwanted babies with anonymity for the parents and where the child is immediately taken into the care of the appropriate child welfare agency.”

Berardinetti is asking for the program to be based upon a similar program in Edmonton called “Angel Cradles.”

“There is a clear need for a safe haven drop-off facility for unwanted babies within the City of Toronto,” Berardinetti writes in her motion. “In the Cities of Edmonton and Vancouver, hospital facilities have been designated to receive unwanted babies anonymously.

“In establishing such a facility within the City of Toronto, there would be the creation of a safe, anonymous and effective alternative for mothers who have delivered a child but who are unable or unwilling to care for the baby.”

In an interview this week, Berardinetti said she doesn’t understand why Toronto hasn’t done this program already.

“I think it is a great idea. If it is going to save one baby, it’s great,” she said. “You always hear about these young women that throw their baby in the garbage or throw them in a bush or the latest one, the woman who threw her baby in the clothing bin.”

The motion regarding horses asks council to endorse the federal Private Member’s Bill C-322 which would ban the import or export of horses for slaughter or human consumption.

“That’s not the type of meat we should be eating,” Berardinetti said.

In her motion, Berardinetti argues there “is no effective means of determining whether or not a horse sent to slaughter has received dangerous or prohibited substances.”

“To both protect the human food chain and in recognition of the role horses have and do occupy in our society their sale for slaughter and human consumption should be banned,” she writes.

Both motions will need two-thirds of council support for an immediate debate next week.
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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

David Miller and WWF Canada have a history

TORONTO - I still remember that cold, raw day in November of 2008 when then mayor David Miller summoned the press to an odoriferous transfer station to announce his five-cent plastic bag fee.

Using scavenging seagulls and a mountain of waste as a backdrop (don’t get me started), the enviro-mayor stood cheek by jowl with officials from Loblaws and other major grocery chains, acting as if he had just saved the planet from imminent global warming.

The subject of the photo-op that day was to tell us he had reached a so-called compromise with the big grocery chains. Instead of mandating them to rebate consumers 10 cents for each refillable bag brought into stores, Miller agreed to allow them to impose a five-cent fee on consumers for every plastic bag purchased.

My goodness, Loblaws’ Galen Weston Jr. and his confreres in the grocery industry were only too happy to comply. As it became obvious, this was a real cash cow for the grocery business. While consumers considered it a bag tax, the city would not see any of the proceeds.

The retail industry was expected to hand over a portion of the fees collected to environmental causes. But it also quickly became clear that the city was not in any position to do much more than propose such donations occur.

In a 2010 feature, I revealed that Loblaws opted to give $1 million each year for three years to the World Wildlife Fund Canada starting in ’09.

Note I said World Wildlife Fund Canada, the organization Miller will head starting in September.

I calculated conservatively that Loblaws was raking in at least $10.7 million in profits a year from the bag sales alone.

Fast forward to Tuesday, when WWF chairman Roger Dickhout announced Miller’s hiring, effective Sept. 3, noting his record of environmental accomplishments as mayor and his leadership as chairman of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

(Of course, Dickhout did not mention Miller’s disgraceful use of precious city money to prop up his environmental agenda, even though that was probably one of the last things the city’s nearly depleted reserve funds should have subsidized. What about fixing our roads? Or balancing the books? Not sexy enough for Mr. Enviro-Mayor.)

Based on WWF employee earnings reported to the Canada Revenue Agency for last year, Miller could be making in the range of $250,000 to $299,000 — or more.

A review of the WWF website shows that Alexandra Schmidt Weston — Galen Jr.’s wife — sits on the board of directors.

I said when he left office it would only be a matter of time before Miller parlayed his shameless use of the taxpayer purse on environmental causes into an enviro career for himself.

Clearly being a lawyer isn’t really his cup of tea.

The Loblaws-WWF connection aside, I was virtually the only media person who reported in ’09 that Miller was funnelling $140,000 from the cash-strapped budget to fund the C40 office based in London, England — even as he handed citizens a 4% tax hike. No one from the left-wing media bothered to cover this obscene abuse of taxpayer funds. It didn’t fit with their agenda.

But the worst was yet to come.

In early 2011 — after Miller had stepped down — city manager Joe Pennachetti reluctantly conceded that virtually every penny of the $158 million — Yes $158 million! — plunked into the enviro mayor’s less-than-transparent Climate Change Fund had been spent.

Miller couldn’t have cared less that he created said fund in November ’07 — using some of the proceeds of the city’s $900-million-plus Toronto Hydro note — barely a month after council passed the land-transfer and personal vehicle taxes.

Instead of using the money to pay down the debt, Miller and his climate change cabal on council threw the cash at energy retrofit, solar and wind installation loans, tree plantings and a long list of green grants.

I’m betting that to this day the city’s enviro-crats have no clue how many of these grants and loans were put to good use.

As for the plastic bag fee, it and plans to ban the plastic bag completely were abandoned last November in the wake of two lawsuits. The issue comes back to public works committee later this month. Can’t wait.
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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Protesters rally to demand Toronto Mayor Rob Ford resign

TORONTO - Several hundred people gathered outside Toronto City Hall Saturday afternoon to call on Mayor Rob Ford to resign.

They used slogans, placards and chalk messages scribbled on the concrete of Nathan Phillips Square to make their point and some just yelled.

But the demonstration, which was announced on a Facebook page that suggested over 4,000 planned to attend, lacked expected numbers.

There were no official speakers and nary an organizer could be found for comment. Two protestors who did speak were left to scream their messages while standing atop a garbage bin because there were no microphones.

John Veillette, 18, bellowed that Ford has “done nothing but dishonour this city with scandal,” and that “we have the right to tell Ford: you’re f---ing fired!”

When it was pointed out to Veillette that an actual video of the mayor doing drugs has yet to surface, he remained adamant Ford must vamoose.

“You’re right, we don’t have proof but a lot of us are hear for other reasons. It’s about the ... crappy leadership he has shown,” said Veillette, citing Ford’s lack of comment on the alleged video as an example of a bad municipal helmsman.

Since reports surfaced mid-May of a video that allegedly shows Ford smoking crack, city hall has been continually embroiled in controversy — it’s been fodder for U.S. late night talk show hosts, American  website Gawker raised $200,000 to buy the alleged video from drug dealers (they’ve disappeared), five of Ford’s senior staffers have resigned; one was fired, and two arrests have been made in connection with the murder of a Anthony Smith, who posed with Ford in a photo published along with the news story of the video.

Despite all that, a Forum Research poll released last week showed the mayor’s approval rating is still around 42% — near the 44% approval rating he had earlier this month and the 43% approval rating the mayor commanded last month.

And Toronto residents appear to be split on whether they believe the mayor when he denied that he uses crack cocaine.

And an Ipsos Reid poll conducted for CTV and CP24 shows that 49% of Toronto residents believe Ford’s denial, while 51% do not.

“Honestly, people want to see him go,” said anti-Ford demonstrator Antonin Monqueau, a familiar Occupy Toronto organizer who goes by the pseudonym Antonin Smith. “The bigger question is, what is (Ford) doing posing with a gentleman involved in a gun crime?”

Maria Majda, a 62-year-old Ford supporter, dared ride her scooter through the crowd. She ended up in a heated exchange with an anti-Ford demonstrator after insisting Ford has “done a very good job for this city,” and that it is hypocritical to criticize him for a possible addiction when the Ontario Liberals have wasted hundreds of millions on cancelled gas plants.

“Then you’re in the wrong place!” the demonstrator responded.
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