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Could the groundhog be right? Spring wave continues in GTA

CityNews | posted Thursday, Feb 23rd, 2017

Double-digits on the plus side in February? Yes, it is true.

The recent wave of mild weather continues in Toronto and the GTA on Thursday, and the temperature is poised to shatter a record that has stood for more than 30 years. The high is expected to hit 15 C, which would break the record of 14.9 C set at Pearson International Airport in 1984.

680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor said although the day will start cloudy, there will be some sunshine for the afternoon. Not to put a damper on your good mood, but there is a chance of showers or isolated thunderstorms accompanied by a gusty wind.

Rain continues on Friday as the temperature cools down to a high of 5 C. The above-seasonable weather makes a comeback on Saturday with a high of 10 C, although it will be windy and rainy.

The warmer weather comes on the heels on what felt like a balmy long weekend in Ontario, smashing weather records in the province.

On Saturday, Toronto set a record high for Feb. 18, with the mercury hitting 11.9 C at Pearson. The previous record for that day was set in 2011 at 10.8 C.

Earlier this month, Ontario’s Wiarton Willie and Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam both predicted an early spring. Could they be right? Only time will tell.

Several people infected with mumps frequented downtown bars

CityNews | posted Thursday, Feb 23rd, 2017

bar

Toronto Public Health (TPH) is investigating a mumps outbreak involving people who have gone to bars in the western part of the downtown core.

Officials said there have been 14 lab-confirmed cases involving people 18 to 35 years of age. But there’s still a number of people “under investigation,” and there will be more cases confirmed.

Health officials would not release a list of specific bars frequented by those infected, but said they were west of Yonge Street.

“There are many, many bars involved and it seems to be just related to that area,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of Health at TPH.

“It’s not the bars themselves where mumps are hanging out. It’s the individuals who attend the bars that have mumps and seem to be spreading it at the bars.”

Dubey said a major factor contributing to outbreaks is being in a crowded environment.

The mumps virus is found in saliva and sweat and is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing and coming into contact with a person’s saliva by sharing drinks or utensils or by kissing.

“When you’re in crowded conditions and you’re sharing things or coughing and sneezing, that may be a good source for mumps to spread,” Dubey said.

Health officials said the risk to the general public is low, but it’s important that the public knows mumps is circulating in Toronto.

“Mumps makes a comeback here and there in North America,” Dubey explained. “In the U.S. right now there are 27 states that have over 500 cases.

“In a five-year average, Toronto would expect to see four cases in a year. So, our numbers are quite elevated.”

Symptoms can last up to 10 days and include swelling and pain in one or more salivary glands, fever, headache, muscle aches and pains, fatigue and loss of appetite.

Dubey is encouraging people in the 18 to 35 age group to check and see if they have had two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“The good thing is that we have a vaccine for mumps,” she said. “So, if we can get some of our vaccination rates up, then we know that we can stop the spread of this infection.”

Uber’s latest crisis raises a key question: who does HR really work for?

Deborah Aarts | posted Wednesday, Feb 22nd, 2017

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On Sunday, engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing what she diplomatically dubbed her “strange” year working at Uber—a tenure that she says included, among other things, a) her manager propositioning her on her first day at work; and b) her repeated complaints about the incident ignored and dismissed by the company’s human resources department, under the aegis of not sullying the guy’s career for an “innocent mistake.”

The post spread quickly, enraging many high-profile commenters. The actress, author and new-media observer Felicia Day (2.94 million Twitter followers) dubbed Uber’s behaviour “Gross. Gross gross gross.” Uber backer and angel investor extraordinaire Jason Calacanis (284,000 Twitter followers) called it “obviously not acceptable.” And the public was ready to pounce: Just 24 hours after Fowler published her post, the Twitter hashtag #DeleteUber had generated almost 5 million more impressions than it did during the weekend of January 27, when masses of people started using it to protest the company’s response to a New York taxi strike and CEO Travis Kalanick’s (soon to be short-lived) participation in President Donald Trump’s tech advisory committee.

For his part, Travis Kalanick responded by calling the actions Fowler described as “abhorrent & against everything we believe in,” adding that any Uber employee condoning such behaviour would be fired. Kalanick went on to commission an “urgent” investigation into the allegations, to be headed by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and including, among others, Uber board member Arianna Huffington and the company’s chief HR officer Liane Hornsey (who has only been on the job for a few months).

Fowler’s account depicts an HR department that failed—by will, or ignorance, or both—to act in the interest of employees (yes, plural: Fowler writes that she has learned her experience was not unique). The investigation is a good first step, but it will take more than that to correct the egregious flaw at the core of the issue.

As has been pointed out by several observers of Fowler’s claims over the past few days (to the genuine surprise of many) an HR department’s primary allegiance is to the company, not to its workers. Ruth Cornish, an HR consultant, told The Guardian in 2011 that HR departments are “purely there” to protect the interests of senior management. “I have seen cases where HR staff, deemed to be too employee-focused, are actually got rid of. I’ve been in HR for most of my career and while we were very much there to help initially, that has evolved to the other extreme.” Fellow industry veteran Shannon Ford told researchers at job-search website CareerBliss—a company whose surveys have revealed that only 7% of employees trust HR—“HR’s responsibility is to the company. I have been both an adversary and an advocate for the employees, but it is always for the good of the company.”

There are plenty of good HR departments that ably serve both mandates. But that’s a tricky balance to strike, requiring a skilled, nuanced approach that is very easy to abandon when a company is in as aggressive a growth mode as Uber has been. When an organization’s culture centres around unusually high expectations for performance at a blistering pace (like, say, a ride-sharing platform endeavouring to be the last player standing in a fiercely competitive new niche) a Machiavellian “the ends justify the means” stink can pervade even those departments meant to keep things in balance.

The HR reps at Uber likely thought they were acting in the best interest of the organization. Why? Because Fowler’s complaints were about an individual who had been delivering great work. It’s yet another example of companies excusing or overlooking bad behaviour when it’s done by star performers—a too-pervasive phenomenon that we Canadians will remember from the CBC’s inaction on complaints against disgraced radio host Jian Ghomeshi.

The irony, of course, is that this type of justification doesn’t protect the employer at all, in the end. Uber is now facing a massive PR crisis, an even more massive consumer backlash and—perhaps most worryingly, for its long-term viability—an increasingly entrenched reputation as a lousy place to work. (Remember: the company is headquartered in San Francisco, where the search for tech talent is like The Hunger Games.) Let this be a lesson to HR departments everywhere (and the executives to which they report): the company does not win when bad behaviour is brushed off. Nobody does.

Parent company of Tim Hortons to buy Popeyes restaurant chain

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Feb 22nd, 2017

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The parent company of Tim Hortons and Burger King is making a move to add fried chicken to its repertoire with an offer to buy Popeyes in a friendly deal.

Restaurant Brands International said Tuesday it will pay US$1.8 billion for the Louisiana-style fried chicken chain. That translates to US$79 per share in Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Inc., which trades on the Nasdaq composite.

“We’re really excited we’re adding another iconic and successful brand, one that has really rich Louisiana heritage that’s going to resonate with guests all around the world,” RBI CEO Daniel Schwartz said in an interview.

The deal doesn’t come as a surprise to analysts, said Will Slabaugh, managing director at Arkansas-based Stephens Inc.

“I think it was always hinted at that there might be more brands in the future,” he said, referencing RBI’s successful 2014 acquisition of Tim Hortons that led analysts to believe RBI could have a strong platform to roll in other quick-service restaurants.

However, there aren’t many chains that fit RBI’s criteria for acquisition. Slabaugh said the company is likely looking for chains that are attractive to consumers around the world – not just Americans.

Schwartz said RBI plans to accelerate Popeyes’ growth in the U.S. and beyond. The company currently has more than 2,600 restaurants, mostly in America, with 621 international locations.

“There is no reason that this brand can’t be multiple times its size in many, many years from now,” said Schwartz, adding that Popeyes is currently growing at a similar pace to Burger King when RBI first acquired that fast-food chain.

In 2010, Burger King was adding 173 net new restaurants globally per annum. Last year, that number grew to 735.

Schwartz credits that to RBI’s master franchisee joint venture growth model, which gives one or a group of franchisees the rights to expand the chain in a specific area. He said RBI would use the same model to grow Popeyes, whose footprint he says is underpenetrated compared to competitors like KFC.

Popeyes shares soared on the news, reaching a high of US$79.03 in early morning trading, a jump of about 19.5 per cent from Friday’s close. RBI stock also gained value, reaching a high of C$76.29 on the S&P/TSX composite, up nearly eight per cent.

The transaction will deliver immediate value to Popeyes shareholders, said CEO Cheryl Bachelder in a news release jointly issued with RBI.

The proposed takeover requires various approvals and support from more than half of Popeyes’ shareholders, but RBI expects the deal to close by early April. Popeyes’ management is expected to continue to operate the U.S. business.

RBI has its headquarters in Oakville, with more than 20,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and U.S. territories.

It’s unlikely this is the last major acquisition RBI will make, said Slabaugh, though he doesn’t expect any more announcements in the near future.

“Over time, I definitely expect them to acquire more brands.”

Schwartz said “it’s premature” to look beyond the current deal.

TTC to find out how much it’s losing from broken Presto readers

Kevin Misener | posted Wednesday, Feb 22nd, 2017

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The TTC has voted in favour of finding out exactly how much cash it’s losing from defective Presto card readers.

At any given time, the TTC estimates eight to nine per cent of Presto card readers don’t work — which means riders board for free.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong said the TTC is going to study exactly how much fare revenue the problems are costing.

“Presto is a lemon and we were forced to buy this lemon by the provincial government,” he said. “We’ve got to find out how much money we’re losing and try to recover that from either Presto or from Metrolinx or from the provincial government.”

Metrolinx said it has been rolling out software updates to try to make the Presto machines more reliable. Its goal is a 99-per-cent reliability rate.

Last fall, a Metrolinx audit found about 12 per cent of the readers on buses weren’t working. The failure rate was five per cent on streetcars.

“It’s not working properly and we’re losing money,” Minnan-Wong said. “It’s like running a business or a store where the cash register doesn’t work.”

Fog advisory issued for Toronto, Peel and Durham

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Feb 22nd, 2017

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Environment Canada issued a fog advisory for Toronto, Halton, Peel, York, and Durham early on Wednesday morning.

During the morning commute, near-zero visibility is expected. In some places, it’s already occurring.

Drivers and pedestrians are advised to take extra precautions.

680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor says that once the fog lifts, it will be a cloudy day in Toronto, with a high of 11 C. Parts of southwestern Ontario could be near 19 C, she said.

On Wednesday night, there’s a chance of showers, and the temperature will be steady around 11 C.

Etiquette lesson goes awry as woman sits on rider’s feet on TTC subway

NEWS STAFF | posted Tuesday, Feb 21st, 2017

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An etiquette lesson on board a TTC subway train took a turn for the bizarre over the weekend, with a woman sitting on another rider’s feet.

According to rider Jay Shylo, who filmed the aftermath of the incident, one man was sitting with his feet on another seat.

That’s when a woman asked him to move his feet. When he didn’t, she sat on him.

Shylo’s video begins with a young black man, wearing glasses and appearing to use a phone, telling a white woman to “get off me.”

She responds, “Sorry, I can’t.”

The woman continues to sit on the man, a stranger, despite repeated requests to move. Their verbal argument then escalates.

“Get your fat self of my [expletive] feet,” the man says. “You’re going to come sit down on other people? The [expletive is wrong with you?””

“Your fat self has got a big mouth,” the woman says.

“I know I have a big mouth and I’m [expletive] using it,” he says.

“And you’re fat too!” she interjects.

“I love my fat self,” he responds. “Thank you bitch.”

“Ok then we’re equal,” she says. At this point, she is still sitting on his feet. He asks why she hasn’t moved.

“I’m trying to explain to you that your feet shouldn’t be on the seat,” she says.

“Why does it matter to you?” he says.

“Do you own the subway? Let me ask you a serious question. Do you own the subway?” he says.

“No! Do you?” she responds.

“No,” he says.

“Then how can you do whatever you want?” she asks.

“Is there a rule on this train that says I can’t put my foot on the seat right now?” he asks.

“There’s lots of social rules,” she responds.

“Ok so I can take myself and just go like that?” he says, leaning forward and pushing the woman’s back with his shoulder. The woman, after sitting on the man for about a minute, then gets up. She walks to another seat and pushes the emergency alarm.

“Thank you,” the man says. “I shouldn’t be having to touch a lady. Get off me. You put yourself on me. I have all right to push you off me. You sat on me. You pushing [the alarm] is just disrupting every body else … You could have left me alone… Shut up! Just shut up!”

The woman is still criticizing the man she sat on.

“Why does it [expletive] matter to you? It doesn’t [expletive] matter,” he says.

“We’re a society! We all have to live together,” she says.

At this point, the man bangs on the glass window of the train.

“I don’t care! Is there an [expletive] rule, right here, that says I can’t put my feet right there?” he says. He adds that there are plenty of empty seats, he’s not stopping anyone from sitting, and that the woman was in another part of the car but moved to come speak to him.

“You started this. I didn’t. You had to come sit your [expletive] fat ass on my leg. So leave me the [expletive] alone. Now that you pressed [the alarm], you stopped the whole [expletive] train. For what?”

“That’s right. I did,” the woman says. “Because you pushed me.”

“You sat on me!” the man responds. “You put your body on me. I can push you off me.”

The woman argues that she was not sitting on him.

The man, visibly angry, then leaves the train, saying he doesn’t want to “spit in your [expletive] face.”

The video then ends.

According to the TTC website, there is a rule against putting your feet on the seat (bylaw 3.19 A). It comes with a $200 fine, though it is rarely enforced, a TTC spokesperson said.

We want to know, what’s the worst behaviour you’ve ever seen on the TTC? How did you deal with it?

Is Toronto real estate really in a bubble?

Julie Cazzin, MoneySense | posted Tuesday, Feb 21st, 2017

If you live in Toronto you realize you’re in the center of the Canadian real estate universe these days. While the last few months have seen Vancouver housing sales decrease and prices stabilize, Toronto’s real estate market has been catching fire. And of course, economists and bond rating agencies have noticed, too.

Just this week Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets wrote in a commentary, “The Toronto market—and the many cities around it—are in a bubble,”  meaning prices are becoming dangerously detached from good financial and economic fundamentals, mainly because people in Toronto believe there is so much demand that it will cause prices to keep rising strongly, thus encouraging more people to buy—and adding fuel to the growing bubble.

The facts appear strong. Prices in Greater Toronto have risen 22.6% in January from a year ago. And while price increases across Canada are expected to slow this year because of tighter restrictions from new federal home financing rules that aim to make it harder to get a mortgage, BMO’s Porter believes that Toronto and any city that is within commuting distance is in a dangerously overheated housing market.

But to temper the “bubble” prediction, you need only to read the FitchRatings 2017 Global Housing and Mortgage Outlook, which also came out this week. Here’s what it says about Vancouver, Toronto and the Canadian housing market in general:

  • That despite the continued rise in prices in overvalued markets such as Vancouver and Toronto, and their view that current home prices are unsustainable in the long run, they say “there is a heightened risk of a price correction in over-valued markets.” So a correction, yes. Housing bubble? Not quite.
  • FitchRatings expects mortgage rates to remain low for the first half of 2017. Any increase in rates should be modest, even if the U.S. Fed continues to raise rates. Inflation should remain a solid 2%.
  • Regarding mortgages, Fitch notes that while it’s too soon to determine the impact of new mortgage rules put in place last year, “We expect that it will result in fewer loans being made available to marginal borrowers, which could reduce loan growth. That said, we expect loan volumes to remain near historical highs as long as interest rates remain low, employment is stable, borrowers are able to qualify under the stricter mortgage rules, and the desire/demand for home ownership remains high.”
  • Forecasts for real GDP growth remain solid with an average annual 1.2% growth rate expected for 2016, and 1.9%  forecast for 2017 and 2018. The overall macro evaluation? Stable.

The bottom line: Housing price increases in 2016 exceeded Fitch forecasts, mainly because low interest rates outweighed home purchase affordability constraints. Even where prices are now out of line with income—mainly Vancouver and Toronto—”continued low rates and economic growth mean we expect more moderate rises rather than price declines.” And while Fitch sees the risk of a price fall in some overvalued markets, they certainly don’t see a bubble bursting.

So for Toronto, consolidation of prices and a more stable market with slight-to-no average annual increase in prices is what’s expected by Fitch. As to who will be right—Douglas Porter of BMO, or FitchRatings economists, well, we’ll have to wait until year end to see, won’t we?

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