Smitherman’s transportation plan: speed up subway construction, extend LRT

February 23rd, 2019

Mayoral candidate George Smitherman unveiled a transportation plan that would speed up the construction of the Spadina subway extension, extend light rail transit and do more tunneling underground, without imposing road tolls, if he is elected.

Mr. Smitherman called it an “integrated” plan that is divided into two phases, the first of which would finish the Spadina line in time for the PanAm Games in 2015, extend the Sheppard LRT, already underway, to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. He made the announcement at a fundraiser today in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Mr. Smitherman wants to extend the tunneled portion of the Eglinton LRT to Weston Road, where it can link up with an air-rail link. By 2020 he would build the Finch West LRT, connect the Sheppard subway to Downsview station, and turn the Scarborough RT into a subway. He also proposed extending the Bloor line to Sherway Gardens by 2020.

He said the way to afford the plan, which costs $7-billion more than is currently committed to transit, is to “contract with the private sector.”

“In this model, the public always owns the lines and pays for them over time,” he said.

He proposed setting up a “Transit Trust Fund” that would pay for the expansion and would be made up of the city’s share of the gas tax, dividends from Toronto Hydro, parking authority and development fees.

He also announced that if elected, seniors will ride for free between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which critics point out will result in revenue loss for the TTC.

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West End shootings linked: Police Chief

February 23rd, 2019

The two shootings that rocked Winnipeg’s West End this week, killing one teen and injuring three other children are linked after all, according to Winnipeg Police.

Chief Keith McCaskill appeared personally at the scheduled police news conference for a second day in a row to update the public on the investigation into the spree of gun violence.

Two men opened fire on a group of people sitting outside a home on Toronto Street Tuesday, killing 16 year old Kyle Earl and wounding a 13 year old boy. Another armed man pursued the attackers on foot and opened fire on Agnes Street; bullets struck two cars but no one was injured. Police said those shootings were likely gang related.

On Wednesday someone opened fire on a home on nearby Victor Street; two girls aged 8 and 10 were injured. Police arrested a 14 year old suspect in connection with that shooting but McCaskill told reporters Thursday the incident was not linked to the shooting on Toronto Street.

That story changed Friday when a 19 year old man was arrested: police say he had been present at the home that was shot up at 646 Toronto Street Tuesday, and is the one who chased and opened fire on the assailants. Police say the 19 year old also played some role in the Victor Street shooting the next day. McCaskill said the house where the little girls were hit was a backdrop to the shooting and not an intended target.

But in an indication, perhaps, of a neighbourhood gripped with fear of gangs and gun violence, a teenage girl living in the Victor Street house told Global News she feels she was targeted personally by the 14 year old boy arrested in connection with the shooting.

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Tories ‘deeply regret’ smear of India’s security force

February 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – Immigration Minister Jason Kenney apologized Friday for the "false aspersions" cast on Indian defence and security forces by Canadian consular officials who referred to India’s Border Security Force as a "notoriously violent" unit which attacked civilians and tortured criminals.

The relations-chilling comment – which has made headline news in India all week – was linked to reports that said visa applications by about half a dozen current and former defence, intelligence and security officials were rejected by Canadian officials in the last 18 months.

Kenney said the government "deeply regrets the recent incident in which letters drafted by public service officials during routine visa refusals to Indian nationals cast false aspersions on the legitimacy of work carried out by Indian defence and security institutions, which operate under the framework of democratic processes and the rule of law."

Kenney said a review of visa-screening policy was underway.

"Canada has the highest regard for India, its government institutions and processes," he added.

The dispute appears to have come to a head as a result of publicity by retired Border Security Force trooper Fateh Singh Pandher, whose visa-rejection letter described his former employer as a "notoriously violent paramilitary unit stationed in sensitive areas, attacking civilians and torturing suspected criminals."

The apology was reportedly accepted by India’s External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna.

"I think they have realized their mistakes," he was quoted as saying in local media. "We should consider the chapter closed."

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Spain’s downgrade fresh blow for Europe

February 23rd, 2019

NEW YORK — World equities slid and the euro fell on Friday after a downgrade of Spain’s credit rating sent a new chill through markets already worried about the European debt crisis.

The downgrade by Fitch Ratings ignited a new round of selling in equities that were already lower after lacklustre U.S. economic data injected a note of caution ahead of long holiday weekends in both the United States and the UK.

Fitch downgraded Spain’s credit rating to AA-plus, and said it expects the country’s adjustment to a lower debt level will materially reduce its rate of economic growth over the medium-term.

Fitch cited an inflexible labour market and a restructuring of of regional and local savings banks as hindrances to the pace of adjustment.

"This should exacerbate the tremendous volatility we’ve seen in global stocks as the world wrestles with the idea of a debt-based collapse," said Chip Hanlon, president of Delta Global Advisors in Huntington Beach, Calif.

"Adding to this is the fact that no one wants to be long over a holiday weekend."

Analysts at Brown Brothers Harrison said they do not expect this to be the last downgrade for Spain.

“Believe it or not, Moody’s still has Spain as a triple-A credit,” said Win Thin, senior currency strategist at the New York-based firm. “We don’t think that can last, and we stress again that we see multiple downgrades ahead for Spain. Indeed, Spain is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Greece and Portugal are small countries, but Spain is about five times their size with regards to GDP.”

The euro took the downgrade on the chin, giving up all Friday’s gains and is now flirting with US$1.23 level.

“We commend the ratings agencies in general for the impeccable timing of their announcements, coming today in holiday-thinned conditions as both U.S. and U.K. shut down ahead of Monday holidays,” Mr. Thin said. “In general, this should serve as a reminder that while the news stream out of Europe was generally quiet this week, the potential and risk is for more bad news to emerge from time to time and roil markets. Spain is coming increasingly into the crosshairs due to negative developments in its banking system, and the lines of contagion from Greece are growing."

The euro fell as low as US$1.2284, according to electronic trading platform, near a session of US$1.2281.

The euro also dropped versus the yen, and was last down 0.9 % at 111.59 yen.

The major U.S. stock indexes shed more than 1%, and U.S. Treasuries slightly extended gains, hitting session highs after the Fitch downgrade. Benchmark 10-year notes were last up 18/32 in price, yielding 3.30%.

Investors had been shunning risk even before the Fitch downgrade on Spain.

A Commerce Department report that U.S. consumer spending failed to rise in April after six straight months of gains, cast a cloud over the outlook for the consumer-driven U.S. economy. Traders were particularly cautious ahead of long holiday weekends in London and New York, and ready to step back and take profits after a strong equities rally on Thursday.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 119.94 points, or 1.17%, at 10,139.05. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was down 15.13 points, or 1.37%, at 1,087.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was down 32.14 points, or 1.41%, at 2,245.54.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq had each fallen more than 1% earlier in the day, though had pared losses sharply before the news on Spain sparked a new wave of selling.

In Toronto the S&P/TSX composite index deepened losses, falling 71.6 points to 11,677.5.

Technology bellwether Apple Inc AAPL.O managed to buck the downtrend, after Asian and European customers mobbed stores as the iPad tablet computer debuted outside the United States. Apple shares rose 1.5 %. Bank of America Merrill Lynch raised its price target on Apple by US$25 to US$325 and kept its "buy" rating.

But still pressuring global shares and the euro was concern of contagion from the Greece debt crisis. Despite the lack of major shocks from Spain, Portugal or Ireland, which all have heavy debt loads, investors were still loathe to add risky assets due to questions of how shakier sovereign credit would affect the economic recovery.

© Thomson Reuters 2010

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Lightning bolt knocks off piece of Winnipeg church

January 23rd, 2019

WINNIPEG – A lightning strike Friday morning knocked off a chunk of the stone bell tower atop Winnipeg’s stately Knox United Church, sending it crashing about 25 metres to the street below.

No one was injured, according to the fire department.

The boulder-like chunk, measuring more than one metre in diameter, slammed down onto the front steps of the church, then caromed into the street, narrowly missing vehicles.

The steps of the historic church were badly damaged.

There was no one inside Knox United at the time of the bizarre incident; however, a day care nearby was evacuated as a precaution.

"A spire came crashing down. Apparently it got hit by lightning and came crashing down," said Pastor Bill Millar of Knox United. "In the end, it’s a building . . . nobody was hurt."

Knox United is one of the city’s oldest places of worship and has been designated a Manitoba heritage site. It was constructed between 1914 and 1918.

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Hundreds of Guatemalans flee deadly volcano

January 23rd, 2019

Guatemala City – Hundreds of Guatemalans were in shelters Friday after a powerful eruption at the southern Pacaya volcano killed one person and forced the international airport to close.

Ash blanketed the region as rocks and lava spewed for about four hours from the volcano 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, injuring dozens of people. Three children aged seven, nine and 10, were also missing in the area, officials said.

On Friday, the volcano was calm and shrouded in thick fog.

President Alvaro Colom late Thursday issued an emergency decree lasting at least 15 days for the three departments nearest the eruption, which began Wednesday night.

La Aurora International Airport was closed to ensure planes were not flying through the volcano’s hazardous ash cloud or landing on the ash-strewn runway, said spokeswoman Monica Monge. Incoming flights were being diverted to airports in other parts of the country, she told reporters.

Some 1,700 people were evacuated from the slopes of the volcano, which rises 2,552 meters (8,372 feet) above sea level in the tropical Central American nation. They were placed in shelters.

The burnt body of television journalist Anibal Archila was found near the volcano by a colleague, who said the reporter had been unable to escape the raining rocks and other projectiles thrown out in the eruption.

Within a 100-kilometer (62-mile) radius of the volcano, locals armed with brooms and shovels scrambled to remove sand and ash from the roofs and courtyards of their homes.

"We’ve only cleaned the backyard so far and we’ve already filled a large garbage bag," Isabel Estevez told AFP. She and her husband began cleaning the sediment dumped by the volcano, up to five centimeters (two inches) thick in some places.

The Education Ministry also suspended classes in the three departments affected by the emergency decree, which facilitates the allocation of resources and funding to the disaster response.

The head of the national seismological institute, Eddy Sanchez, warned that lava would continue to spew out at high altitudes.

There are 288 volcanoes in Guatemala, eight of which are active.

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Layoffs cut into wages, retirement income in Canada

January 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – More than half of the Canadians who found a job after a layoff have seen a decrease in their hourly wages, "significantly" affecting their retirement income, a new Statistics Canada report released Friday found.

The study found that Canadians who were laid off in the last two decades were about 60 per cent more likely to suffer a loss of earnings than to experience a gain. Between 2002 and 2006, about 42 per cent experienced a wage loss during that period compared with 26 per cent who experienced a gain, while about a third maintained the same earnings. The same figures were observed between 1993 to 1997.

The Statistics Canada study used data from its Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics from 1993 to 2007, analyzing the effects of layoffs after the economic recession in the early ’90s and the decline in the manufacturing sector in the 2000s.

Wage losses and gains were "generally substantial," the report said, with more than half of the changes in wage exceeding 20 per cent.

While the effects of layoffs during the recent recession remains to be seen, the study’s co-author, Diane Galarneau, said there are many similarities between in those two periods of negative job growth that may apply to this downturn.

"Whether we look at the consequences of the layoffs in the 1990s . . . or the year 2000, the consequences were similar in terms of wage loss, pension coverage and unionization."

The study said the wage losses show that layoffs can have "major negative consequences and affect workers’ standard of living" in the short term, but stresses the effects of losing pension plan coverages are even more significant.

"Employer-sponsored private pension plans are an important component of Canadians’ retirement income," Statistics Canada explained. It said a "sizable portion" of all laid-off workers – 20 per cent – lost their pensions by changing jobs.

The study also noted that laid-off workers were just as likely to be unionized before and after the layoff, suggesting that wage losses experienced by laid-off workers cannot be linked to a shift toward non-unionized positions. They noted, however, that unionized jobs are on average better paid and more likely to provide benefits such as insurance and pension plans.

Of the people who were permanently laid off between 2002 and 2006, about 85 per cent found a new job within a year, compared with about 80 per cent from 1993 to 1997.

The country’s layoff rate for full-time workers declined almost steadily during that same period, dropping to 2.4 per cent in 2007 from 5.5 per cent in the early ’90s.

"This low rate was observed despite the difficulties in the manufacturing sector during the 2000s," it wrote.

Factors including sex, age and education level were "significantly associated" with the probability of being laid off, the report said. In general, men have higher layoff rates than women, they said. Both in 1993 and 2007, men were one and a half times more likely to be laid off.

About 80 per cent of people who were laid off in 2007 were a result of a lack of work, 15 per cent was because their firm went out of business, while 5 per cent of the firms moved.

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Aga Khan to launch $300M Islamic centre in Toronto

January 23rd, 2019

TORONTO – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Aga Khan will break ground on Friday at the future site of a $300-million cultural centre for Ismaili Muslims.

By 2013, the seven-acre expanse in Toronto’s north end will be home to a world-class museum, a multi-purpose building and parklands.

The museum – to be devoted entirely to Islamic art – will be the first of its kind.

Farid Damji, a member of the Ismaili Council for Canada, said the Aga Khan chose to build the centre in Toronto because of its "cosmopolitan cultural outlook."

Almost half of Canada’s 70,000 Ismailis live in Toronto.

The Aga Khan Museum will be a white-stone building with a low dome by prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki. Directly south, the larger Ismaili Centre Toronto by Mumbai-based architect Charles Correa will strike a similar, modern pose, with a multi-faceted glass roof and a limestone exterior. It will contain meeting rooms, a prayer room, youth lounge and a library. Surrounding these buildings will be a network of geometric ponds, fountains, gardens and pathways.

A billionaire, intellectual, diplomat and tycoon, Shah Karim al-Hussayni – the Aga Khan IV – is revered by Ismaili Muslims as a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad.

He is perhaps best known for his vast array of philanthropic projects, and as chair of the private Aga Khan Development Network, the Aga Khan directs about 70,000 employees at hundreds of institutions on four continents.

Once a trusted friend of the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, the Aga Khan has a soft spot for Canada, which he has called "the most pluralistic country on the face of the Earth" and "a beacon to the world."

His project in Toronto will complete a trio of architectural projects in the country, including the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, B.C., and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa, inaugurated by Harper and the Aga Khan in 2008.

Ismailism – a branch of Shia Islam – first prospered during the 10th to 12th centuries. Today, the group counts an estimated 15 million members around the globe and is comprised of at least three distinct sects.

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Court backs tenants but payment in doubt

January 23rd, 2019

After winning their two-year legal fight, low-income former tenants of an East Vancouver apartment building doubt they’ll ever get the landlord to pay the 170,000 in damages he owes them.

Tenants at 2131 Pandora St. were given only a few hours to move out after heavy rains caused floods in mid-October 2007.

On Wednesday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge upheld the Residential Tenancy Branch decision last year to compensate 36 tenants.

The three-storey woodframe building is owned by landlord Gurdyal Sahota, who also owns a number of Downtown Eastside hotels, such as the Astoria, Balmoral and Cobalt.

“I would like them to do the right thing and pay us what they owe us,” said Roberta Dixon, a Pandora tenant for 10 years, who had water leaking into her suite for six of them.

Dixon lost all her belongings when she had to evacuate the building.

“It was a disaster,” said her longtime roommate Frank Sowers.

The leak started with a hole in the ceiling the size of a finger, he said.

“At the end, it was coming through the chandeliers.”

They’re both now living in a B.C. Housing complex.

“They should be man enough to pay their debts,” said Sowers.

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The tenants’ lawyer, Sarah Khan of the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the judge found Sahota showed

reckless disregard” for the tenants.

“It’s the largest damage award that has been ordered for a group of tenants in these circumstances,” said Khan, speaking Thursday at the centre’s Vancouver office.

“This sends a really good, loud-and-clear message to landlords to take care of their buildings and not let them fall into such a state of disrepair.”

Sahota’s lawyer, Derek Creighton, said he’s disappointed with the ruling and doesn’t yet know if it will be appealed.

“They haven’t advised me as to whether they intend to appeal it,” he said.

“The Sahotas will abide by the orders of the lower court, if they don’t appeal.”

Sahota is currently suing an insurance company for nonpayment of the repair costs, estimated at $1 million. The building remains closed.

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Huntsville to become securityville as G8 Summit approaches

December 23rd, 2018

HUNTSVILLE, Ont. – In less than a month, the picturesque town of Huntsville, most known for its towering pine trees and idyllic lakes, will be transformed into a high-security zone protected by an unwelcoming metal fence and guarded by soldiers and Mounties.

For the 19,000 year-round residents, the preparations for next month’s G8 Summit have been two years in the making, but the impact it will have on their lives has only begun.

Valerie Alles lives on the hill directly above the posh century-old Deerhurst Resort where the G8 meetings will be held June 25-26.

As one of the hundreds of residents living near the summit zone, Alles and her husband will be forced to wear ID passes at all times and go through security checkpoints when they leave or enter their home that week.

"The summit is only two days so it doesn’t really justify all this security stuff," said Alles, enjoying a day at one of the beaches on Peninsula Lake, where Deerhurst is situated. "The soldiers are already camping out in town and security has stopped me a few times on my way home. My friends have seen the military apparently practicing drills on their property. In the end, I hope Huntsville gets some exposure from all of this."

The couple has been told they can’t have any visitors during the summit. Alles’ husband, a logger who carries fuel and chainsaws for his job, has also been warned he will be bodychecked each time he passes through one of the many barricades set up along a stretch of Highway 60 leading to the couple’s home. He’s still deciding whether he can afford to take the week off to avoid the inconvenience altogether.

An estimated 10,000 security personnel, including members from the Canadian Forces, RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, and private security guards, were expected to be in Huntsville, located approximately 250 kilometres north of Toronto.

Leaders from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States will join Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the two days of meetings aimed at tackling foreign policies on a number of topics including: labour and trade, poverty, health and the environment.

The security detail for some of the dignitaries are anticipated to be up to 50 vehicles in length.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced a $930-million price tag for security at the back-to-back summits: the G8 Summit and immediately following, the G20 Summit in downtown Toronto.

Ottawa initially estimated security costs at $179 million.

Although no specifics were released about where the money will go, the majority, $450 million, has been pegged for the RCMP. The summits will be the largest security event ever in Canada, even surpassing what was required for the recent 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

Most of the security and police officers will be staying at White’s Pit, a 24-hectare quarry that has been filled with rows and rows of portable trailers. Cement trucks and crews can be seen working away in the fenced-off area.

Undoubtedly, one of the major security features at the summit will be a $3.9-million fence that is being built around 324-hectares at the Deerhurst Resort. The three-metre high fence, about eight-kilometres long, will cut through the resort’s manicured golf course and into the surrounding Muskoka bush.

It’s yet to be completed but can be seen as far away as nearby Highway 60.

Last weekend, the official G8 Centre, the location where the meetings will take place, was opened at the luxury resort.

For the past few months, there has been a steady stream of construction trucks around Deerhurst as workers ready for the summit. Roads are being repaved, even the rocks along the side of the highway are being hosed down to a pristine condition.

Huntsville resident Ron Schut thinks all the preparation is much hoopla about nothing.

"We’re spending a lot of money for this," he said, walking to his pickup truck. "In the end, the taxpayers are going to have to pay for it. That’s politics."

Schut, who lives about 15 minutes from the town centre, said he and his wife will look after their grandchildren during the summit. School bus service in the area has been cancelled and teachers have told parents not to drive in their kids.

The family plans on stocking up on groceries and staying indoors, waiting for the crowds to leave town.

On Main Street in downtown Huntsville, Helen Luvison said her husband Lou said naysayers have been few and far between. The majority of the townsfolk want to showcase the reasons behind the Muskoka region’s motto: "Once Discovered, Never Forgotten."

"We’re all really proud of Huntsville and what we have to offer," she said. "We all know something like this will never happen again."

One of the ways the couple is readying for the summit is by nailing plywood to the windows of their IDA drugstore to prepare for the protesters expected to come into town.

"We bought it (the wood) because we know no one is going to come fix our windows at 3 a.m.," said Luvison, who has owned the store for 23 years. "We don’t anticipate any trouble. It’s just a precaution."

She said she’s going to have to bring all the flower boxes that dot the front of her store inside, and plans on extending working hours past 6 p.m.

The Luvisons are also stocking up their drug inventory, joking sunscreen and bug spray will likely be the big sellers.

Jeremy McClung, a pastor at the Muskoka Community Church, said the anticipation has definitely been building.

Soldiers can be seen walking around town in their fatigues and the other day, McClung said, he and his son saw two black military helicopters fly overhead in a practice formation.

"To me, this is going to be the most exciting thing to ever happen to Huntsville," he said, enjoying some famous Muskoka ice cream.

Mayor Claude Doughty said there have been few complaints about the anticipated crowds. Huntsville usually sees about an additional 100,000 people pass through town during the peak cottage season of July and August.

"The people who are apprehensive probably plan to holiday somewhere else, the people who aren’t, are here and looking forward to the event," he said. "Huntsville is made up of a lot of people who have a lot of self reliance. They’re not intimidated by crowds."

Doughty said the good news for the leaders is that black fly season should be over by the time they arrive.

"There are very few black flies. I have yet to see my first this year," he said. "The black flies are vastly overrated and they aren’t going to be a problem at all on those manicured grounds around Deerhurst. But the leaders should definitely bring sunscreen. The sun always shines in Huntsville."

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