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Ontario teacher contract extensions come with 4 per cent raises

The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Apr 13th, 2017

Contract extensions agreed to by Ontario’s teachers and education workers come with more than $275 million in additional funding as well as four-per-cent raises.

All central education unions have now ratified agreements to extend their contracts to 2019 – past the next provincial election.

The deals were set to expire this August, and the two-year extensions mean the Liberal government won’t have to contend with contentious teacher bargaining ahead of the election.

High school, elementary, English Catholic and French teachers as well as support staff will get four per cent in salary increases over the two years.

They will also get a one-time payment for professional development, supplies and equipment equivalent to a 0.5-per-cent salary increase.

The deals come with $219 million in new funding for hiring, which the government says could support about 875 teachers and between 1,600 and 1,830 education workers.

Another $56 million is in the elementary deal to hire teachers and early childhood educators so class sizes can be reduced to a cap of 30 students in most full-day kindergarten classes next school year and down to 29 the following year.

There will also be another $3.5 million allocated to school boards for professional learning and about $800 million more for school boards with costs involved in keeping schools open late for community uses.

Legal pot bill could require logo, brand free packaging

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Apr 13th, 2017

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Growers on the cusp of Canada’s nascent marijuana industry are bracing for Thursday’s long-awaited Liberal legislation on legal pot, which sources say is expected to require the newly unshackled drug to be sold only in plain, brand-free packaging.

The prospect of plain packaging, which tobacco manufacturers are also opposing, has pot producers warning the federal government that they won’t be able to compete with the black market without some form of branding.

Health Minister Jane Philpott spoke to a Senate committee Wednesday about requiring plain packages for tobacco products – a measure that was also recommended by the federally appointed task force on marijuana.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Philpott would neither confirm nor deny that the new bill would require plain packaging for legal marijuana, offering only that there are indeed public health lessons to be drawn from the experience with tobacco.

Prior to the bill’s introduction, a number of prominent producers lobbied the government to resist the notion of plain pot packaging.

Seven companies– Tilray, Tweed, Mettrum, CannTrust, Green Organic Dutchman Holdings, RedeCan Pharm and Delta 9 Bio-Tech – wrote to Philpott and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to warn about the potential consequences.

“Without branding and in-store marketing collateral, it will be difficult to educate consumers about the products they are buying and help them differentiate between products,” they wrote.

“Brands also ensure accountability, encouraging producers and retailers to provide quality products and support in the new market.”

Members of the medical community will also be watching to see if Ottawa proceeds with a recommendation to limit sales to those over 18 – something Trudeau seemed to endorse last year when he described it as a reasonable compromise.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to say if he still feels that way, saying only it would “legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access” to cannabis in a careful way to keep it out of the hands of young people and to prevent criminals from profiting.

For its part, the Canadian Psychiatric Association has warned about the mental health implications of cannabis for young people, and recommended an age limit of 21, as well as quantity and potency limits for those under 25.

Early and regular cannabis use can affect memory, attention, intelligence and the ability to process thoughts, said CPA President Dr. Renuka Prasad, and exacerbate the risk of psychotic disorders and other mental health issues among those already vulnerable.

The driving purpose of the Liberal government’s plan is to address Canada’s “very high rates” of cannabis use among young people that are among the highest rates in the world, Philpott said.

Criminalizing cannabis has not deterred its use by young people, she added, noting other products including alcohol and tobacco are available with restrictions for legal consumption despite known harms.

Marijuana is a perfect example of the look-before-leaping approach the Liberals took to their 2015 campaign promises, Conservative MP and leadership candidate Erin O’Toole told The Canadian Press in an interview Wednesday.

He sided firmly with those provinces who want the federal government to pick up the tab for additional law enforcement costs sure to result from the new landscape.

“I think the federal government has an obligation because they started this move,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole said he would rather see a “hybrid” version of decriminalization that would allow police to ticket users, while retaining the ability to lay a criminal charge at their discretion.

He also disagreed with his running mate Kellie Leitch, who said Tuesday she would reverse Trudeau’s pot plan if she became leader and eventually prime minister.

“To suggest … after the horses are all out of the barn that we are going to get them all back in the barn, I also don’t think is a pragmatic policy statement.”

Liberal pot bill finally seeing light of day; provinces bracing for impact

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Apr 13th, 2017

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It’s nothing short of a sea change in public policy, one with profound implications for everything from Canadian culture and health to border security, road safety and even international relations: legalizing marijuana.

And it all starts today.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale will be among those at a noon news conference to talk about one of the most anticipated packages of legislation in recent memory.

The bills – it appears there will be more than one – are expected to include measures to address issues surrounding the new legal landscape, including limits for legal possession, age restrictions for retailers, marketing rules and tougher penalties for selling to minors and impaired driving.

Sources tell The Canadian Press the bill will also include rules requiring producers to sell their marijuana in plain packaging, similar to restrictions the federal government is trying to impose on tobacco manufacturers.

The federal plan is also likely to include efforts to promote drug education, given the Liberal government’s stated goal of legalizing pot in order to make it less accessible to young people.

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said he expects to see fairly detailed legislation that’s going to take time to unpack, particularly when it comes to the impact on provincial governments, where issues like distribution and enforcement are front and centre.

“This is quite a large undertaking,” said Naqvi. “I think last time we legalized a product that was not legal was the end of prohibition in the 1930s.”

Last year, Ontario established a cannabis legalization secretariat – part of an effort to explore various options the federal legislation could present to prevent having to start from scratch once the bill is unveiled.

“We want to make sure that we are protecting the vulnerable and the youth, that we are promoting public health and road safety and that we are focusing on prevention and harm reduction,” Naqvi said.

“This is also multi-ministerial work because there are several ministries that are impacted.”

The federal government is also waiting on the result of a pilot project that’s been underway in a number of Canadian cities, exploring new technology for a more effective roadside test for enforcing impaired-driving rules.

Philpott declined this week to confirm nor deny that the new bill would require plain packaging, or to disclose any other details prior to the legislation’s public release.

A number of prominent producers, however, have been aggressively lobbying the government against the notion of plain packaging.

Seven companies – Tilray, Tweed, Mettrum, CannTrust, Green Organic Dutchman Holdings, RedeCan Pharm and Delta 9 Bio-Tech – wrote to Philpott, other ministers on the pot file and the prime minister to warn about the potential consequences.

“Without branding and in-store marketing collateral, it will be difficult to educate consumers about the products they are buying and help them differentiate between products,” they wrote.

“Brands also ensure accountability, encouraging producers and retailers to provide quality products and support in the new market.”

Members of the medical community will also be watching to see if Ottawa proceeds with a recommendation to limit sales to those 18 and over – something Trudeau seemed to endorse last year when he described it as a reasonable compromise.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to say if he still feels that way, saying only it would “legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access” to cannabis in a careful way to keep it out of the hands of young people and to prevent criminals from profiting.

For its part, the Canadian Psychiatric Association has warned about the mental health implications of cannabis for young people, and recommended an age limit of 21, as well as quantity and potency limits for those under 25.

Early and regular cannabis use can affect memory, attention, intelligence and the ability to process thoughts, said CPA President Dr. Renuka Prasad, and exacerbate the risk of psychotic disorders and other mental health issues among those already vulnerable.

The driving purpose of the Liberal government’s plan is to address Canada’s “very high rates” of cannabis use among young people that are among the highest rates in the world, Philpott said.

Criminalizing cannabis has not deterred its use by young people, she added, noting other products including alcohol and tobacco are available with restrictions for legal consumption despite known harms.

Marijuana is a perfect example of the look-before-leaping approach the Liberals took to their 2015 campaign promises, Conservative MP and leadership candidate Erin O’Toole said in an interview Wednesday.

O’Toole is siding firmly with those provinces who want the federal government to pick up the tab for additional law enforcement costs sure to result from the new landscape.

“I think the federal government has an obligation because they started this move.”

Gas prices soar by 6 cents at GTA pumps

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Apr 12th, 2017

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No, it’s not your imagination. Prices at the gas pumps in the GTA are up on Wednesday, way up.

As predicted by En-Pro, gas prices jumped by six cents at midnight, to an average price of 121.9 cents a litre.

Gas prices are now close to the highest level since September of 2014.

The price of crude oil has been on the rise in recent weeks with the cost of a barrel nearing US$54, amid tensions in the Middle East.

But, En-Pro gas expert Roger McKnight said greed is to blame for the rise in gas prices.

“This is a profit grab, led by Imperial Oil – Esso is the shepherd of pricing in southern Ontario. Whatever Esso does, everybody else follows,” McKnight said on Tuesday.

“Some people say this is the switch from winter gas to summer gas. I think that’s malarkey. First of all, we don’t live in a very hot climate, so you don’t really need summer versus winter gas.”

There are predictions that prices will hover around $1.20 a litre with summer on the horizon.

Dog reunited with Brampton owner after 556 days missing

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Apr 12th, 2017

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Cats come back so frequently there’s even a song about it. But the outlook can be less than optimistic when a dog goes missing.

Hope can dwindle as the days turn into weeks, and the weeks melt into months.

After nearly two years, Brampton resident Miriam Coronel considered the prospect of a reunion with her lost dog, Timmy, slim at best. The male Shih Tzu slipped out of the family house on September 26, 2015 and hadn’t been seen since.

“It was very sad,” she said. “Especially for my kids, they missed him a lot.”

Coronel says her son began posting flyers around the neighbourhood and knocking on doors. Sympathetic neighbour Patricia Conte helped them post photos of Timmy on social media, including a website dedicated to finding lost pets.

The dream of a reunion, once far-fetched, became a reality over the weekend when Timmy was returned home after 556 days.

Earlier this month, the dog ended up at the Caledon Animal Shelter, and on the weekend he was back joyfully lapping at their faces.

Timmy was dropped off at the shelter anonymously. He had I.D. ear markings, but they weren’t legible to staff. He also wasn’t micro-chipped, so tracking down Coronel would prove challenging.

That’s where the family’s online diligence paid off. Staff at the animal shelter were able to match the dog to a posting Conte placed for them on the website helpinglostpets.com.

The reunion was understandably emotional after such a long time apart.

“He saw his family and RAN to us and jumped and licked us like crazy,” Coronel posted on Facebook. “It was very emotional.”

She also had a message to other pet owners living through the nightmare of a lost animal.

“To anyone who has lost their pet don’t give up,” she said. “Be positive and make sure you keep calling and checking with animal shelters.”

What to do if you’ve lost your pet (Caledon Animal Shelter/helpinglostpets.com)

1: File a lost dog/cat report with the local shelter and the shelters/humane societies of nearby communities
2: Check with your neighbours and bring them flyers that have a recent picture of the pet and your contact information
3: Post flyers in the neighbourhood with pictures of pet and your contact information
4: Post on Kijiji and Craigslist under “lost” and make social media postings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Encourage your friends and family to share.
5: Register your pet with pictures on http://www.helpinglostpets.com/v2/OrgPet.aspx?oid=1161. It’s free. Check back regularly to see if he/she has been spotted.
6: Leave out a blanket or favourite toy from where they were last seen. Chances are a dog will return to where you last saw them – check back frequently.
7: Don’t give up hope. Remember, it took Timmy 556 days to find his way home.

Home opener festivities can’t awaken Blue Jays’ offence

Shi Davidi | posted Wednesday, Apr 12th, 2017

TORONTO – The typical home opener pomp and circumstance abounded Tuesday night, with extended pre-game introductions, a massive flag stretched across the outfield for O Canada, and a nifty little ceremonial first pitch from Tim Raines to Roberto Alomar, incoming Hall of Famer to current Cooperstowner.

A new banner celebrating the 2016 victories in the wild card and American League Division Series was hanging in the rafters. The Rogers Centre was jumping. Welcome back, baseball.

Still missing, however, is the Toronto Blue Jays offence, an increasingly worrying issue for which neither an off-day, nor a return home, nor a date with the gut-the-joint rebuilding Milwaukee Brewers could serve as a panacea. A 4-3 setback represented a fourth straight loss – not to mention a sixth straight home opener defeat – and a 1-6 mess now ranks as the worst opening to a season in franchise history.

Once again a lineup with the pedigree to be a difference-maker – even with Josh Donaldson sitting out as a precaution due to the tightness that developed in his right calf Sunday – was the prime culprit.

Yes, J.A. Happ wasn’t sharp in allowing four runs – including solo home runs to Keon Broxton in a two-run first and Domingo Santana in the fifth – but Kendrys Morales accounted for three of the Blue Jays’ five hits, with Troy Tulowitzki responsible for the other two, along with all three RBI.

The star shortstop has driven in nine of his team’s 23 runs, a stunning 39 per cent, with Morales behind him at six RBI, good for 26 per cent.

To dabble in understatement, that’s not a formula for winning.

“We’ve run into some good pitching, maybe haven’t had our best swings,” said Tulowitzki. “It’s still early. I’ve talked to guys not only on our team but my friends around the league and you want to find that comfort level when you step into the box. And you want to find the comfort level of your cage work and I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

“Hopefully that will come quicker but sometimes it takes some time.”

Wynne to meet with GTHA mayors to discuss housing affordability

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Apr 12th, 2017

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Premier Kathleen Wynne is meeting Wednesday with mayors in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to discuss housing affordability.

The meeting happens regularly, but this one will be dedicated to talking about issues around housing, “given the heightened concerns,” Wynne said in a statement.

“A strong housing market is reflective of Ontario’s strong economy, but we know affordability is a real and growing concern,” she said. “Reducing the pressure felt by Ontarians, as well as providing more affordable options for people to choose from, is a priority for us and we’re serious about taking action.”

The average price of a detached house in Toronto has surpassed the $1.5-million mark.

Housing Minister Chris Ballard said he’s heard from various sectors about problems and proposed solutions, and he wants to make sure he hears from municipalities.

“We have been working on this file for a long time but it’s always good to sit down with the individuals and hear directly from them about what they think the issues are and what they think the solutions are,” he said.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa has said measures will be in his spring budget to address problems facing homebuyers, but Ballard hasn’t specified when a plan on rental issues will be introduced other than to say “very soon.”

Sousa said he wants to make sure anything he introduces doesn’t have “unintended consequences.”

“We’ve already started to address the supply side,” he said. “We’re making advancements with the growth plan or trying to get more supply into the mix, but the demand is tremendous and it’s a symptom of the growing economy of Ontario.”

He has recently floated a number of possible measures, including implementing a tax on foreign buyers, speculators or vacant homes.

Both the vacant homes tax and the foreign investment tax have been implemented in Vancouver, where sales volume has cooled considerably in recent months compared to year-ago levels.

Ontario already doubled the rebate on its land-transfer tax for first-time homebuyers to $4,000 – and simultaneously raised the same tax on homes that sell for more than $2 million – but the government has said it is considering more measures targeted at new buyers.

Malala Yousafzai to receive honorary Canadian citizenship Wednesday

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Apr 12th, 2017

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Hundreds of girls sat quivering with anticipation in their seats at a Toronto high school on a sunny fall morning, Oct. 22, 2014.

They were waiting to hear from Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who only 12 days earlier had won the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy on girls education, work that began when she was just 11 years old blogging about her experience going to school.

But it was the Taliban’s attempt to kill her for her advocacy that brought international attention to Yousafzai and her work, turning the teen into an enduring symbol for women the world over fighting for the right to an education.

Rona Ambrose, then a Conservative MP, invited Yousafzai to Toronto that day to mark the International Day of the Girl, an event now on the United Nations’ annual calendar thanks to Ambrose’s work as status of women minister in 2011.

But once Yousafzai accepted, planning began for a second event – granting her honorary Canadian citizenship, a promise the Conservative government made in their 2013 throne speech.

That afternoon, then-prime minister Stephen Harper, his wife Laureen, Ambrose and a star-studded line-up of other Canadian women were to gather and declare the activist only the sixth person to hold the designation of honorary Canadian citizen.

Ambrose was at the school already when shocking news came: a gunman had stormed Parliament Hill after leaving an honour guard – Cpl. Nathan Cirillo – dead at the nearby National War Memorial. Harper was locked inside the Conservative caucus room, and Yousafzai was at the Toronto airport with Laureen, locked down there as well.

The event was cancelled, leaving Ambrose and others foundering to explain to the girls what had happened. Efforts to reschedule for the next day were quashed, too – Yousafzai was too prominent a potential target, Ambrose said organizers were told.

It was a moment replete with irony for Ambrose: a woman targeted by Islamic militants in her own country then ends up silenced by an extremist-inspired attack in Canada.

“This irony didn’t escape me,” Ambrose said in an interview.

“The fact that this kind of Islamic extremism, (which) takes the shape of anti-girl, anti-women rights in every possible way … also arrived that day.”

It would take more than two more years for the government to get a chance to finally make good on the award: Yousafzai will attend her honorary citizenship ceremony today on Parliament Hill before addressing the House of Commons.

The groundwork to make the now 19-year-old an honorary citizen began several months after she was shot in the fall of 2012.

It was a political initiative tied into the Conservatives’ foreign aid focus on maternal, newborn and child health, said Rachel Curran, Harper’s former director of policy.

“It was just really a sense that this young woman is doing really important work, it’s going to be increasingly important, we want to highlight it in Canada and highlight it internationally as well,” Curran said in an interview.

“‘How can we bestow one of our greatest honours on her?’ We landed on that because it was the most significant thing we could do to draw attention to her work.”

The other five honorary citizens are the Dalai Lama, the Aga Khan, Nelson Mandela, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

What binds them all together is that they are leaders who have played iconic roles in world history, said Chris Alexander, the former Conservative immigration minister who oversaw the technical process behind getting Yousafzai citizenship.

“Malala is both a symbol of the setbacks and the daunting barriers that girls can face,” he said.

“But also of the ability of strong people to overcome them.”

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