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Back-to-work legislation to end Ontario college strike delayed until Friday

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 17th, 2017

Ontario’s Liberal government is moving to introduce back-to-work legislation that would end a nearly five-week strike by college faculty, though opposition from the NDP means it may not happen quickly.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said unanimous support of the legislation would have meant students could return to class on Monday morning.

“We have said repeatedly that students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it is not fair,” she said in a statement. “We need to get them back to the classroom.”

But the NDP blocked a government attempt to table the bill by refusing unanimous consent to allow the Liberals to do so Thursday evening after the normally scheduled time period for introducing legislation.

Some 500,000 students have been out of class since the strike by 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians, began Oct. 15. It is now the longest strike in the colleges’ history in Ontario.

The legislature will now reconvene Friday, when it does not normally sit, and the Liberals will again try to introduce the legislation in the afternoon. If it is again blocked, they say they intend to sit through the weekend.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her party does not support any legislation that takes away workers’ rights.

“It looks like Kathleen Wynne wanted to use anti-worker back-to-work legislation all along,” Horwath said in a statement, criticizing the premier for what she called five weeks of inaction.

Horwath also wants students back in the classroom Monday, she said, but wants that to happen through a deal.

NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said the government has the tools to pass the legislation over the weekend.

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said with unanimous consent the legislation could have been introduced and sped through first, second and third readings Thursday night.

“We could have done it in 10 minutes and then students would know they’re back in the classroom on Monday,” she said. “It was very disappointing that the NDP decided to block it.”

The legislation would have to pass on Friday for the province’s 24 colleges to prepare for classes to resume Monday, Matthews said.

The College Employer Council, which represents the colleges, said it supports the introduction of back-to-work legislation as soon as possible.

The president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the striking faculty, said Thursday morning that he would not support any back-to-work legislation.

“From my perspective, if they do that, the labour movement has to oppose that,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “Labour rights are enshrined in law and to this point in time they’ve respected the collective bargaining process.”

Wynne had asked the colleges and the union to return to the bargaining table Thursday after workers voted to reject a contract offer, but within several hours the two sides reached an impasse when they could not agree to binding arbitration.

OPSEU had recommended the colleges’ contract proposal be rejected.

The colleges have said the offer included a 7.75 per cent salary increase over four years, improved benefits and measures to address concerns regarding part-time faculty, with language surrounding academic freedom remaining as the only major outstanding issue.

But the union said the offer contained “serious concessions” that were not agreed to, which would erode faculty rights and contribute to an unsustainable staffing model.

Under the proposed back-to-work legislation, the strike would end and all outstanding issues would be referred to binding mediation-arbitration.

Earlier Thursday, Matthews had sharp words for both the colleges and the union.

“I would say that both parties share the failure, and it is a failure,” she said. “Both parties need to recognize that their approach to this date has not resulted in any kind of success. They have to focus on students.”

Matthews also said that the semester can still be salvaged.

“We are approaching the time where we will start to see people with lost semesters but we are not there yet,” she said. “We need to get them back immediately so that the semester can be saved.”

The provincial government has ordered the colleges to create a fund – using savings from the strike – to help students who may be experiencing financial hardship because of the labour dispute. Matthews has estimated Ontario’s colleges have saved about $5 million so far.

Hu Zhengtao, an international student from China attending George Brown College to study business and marketing, said the labour disruption has thrown his plans to graduate in December and return home into serious doubt. He spoke with Matthews on Thursday to express his concern about the strike.

“Because of the strike I don’t know when I can finish my classes and graduate,” he said. “The school has nothing to say right now. … They say they’re planning but can’t say exactly what they’re going to do because they don’t know if the strike will keep going.”

Law firm Charney Lawyers filed a proposed class action against the 24 colleges Tuesday, saying 14 students have come forward to potentially stand as representative plaintiffs.

The notice of action alleges the colleges breached contracts with students by failing to provide vocational training and a full term of classes. It seeks full refunds for students who choose not to continue with their programs and refunds “equivalent to the value of the lost instruction” for students who do want to continue.

Concrete barriers and police: the new norm at Distillery Christmas market

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 17th, 2017

Concrete barricades protect the entrance to Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District (Tony Fera / CityNews)

The Distillery District Christmas Market opened Thursday and visitors will notice more than just a European feel to this popular holiday destination.

Security measures have been tweaked in the wake of recent attacks where vehicles have been used as weapons and driven through pedestrian areas.

Dozens of people have been killed in recent years in terrorist attacks where the assailants drove vehicles into crowds. In the most recent attack, eight people were killed on a New York City bike path.

The market’s creator says the extra precautions won’t impact the user experience.

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“The safety installations that we’ve put in place are really not that visible,” said Matthew Rosenblatt. “So, we hope that they certainly do act as a deterrent, but they’re not going to take away any of the market’s magic.”

Rosenblatt wouldn’t go into too many details but added that the concrete barricades at the entrances should prevent or at least slow down any vehicle.

“We think it’s a safe place. Toronto and Canada is one of the safest places in the world. We’ve done what we think is appropriate to protect the people here,” said Rosenblatt.

Toronto police would only say they have met with market officials and developed a site safety plan.

Striking Ontario college faculty reject offer that would have ended job action

The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Nov 16th, 2017

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Ontario’s striking college faculty have voted not to accept an offer that would have ended the nearly five-week job action.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the 12,000 workers, had recommended the colleges’ contract proposal be rejected.

The strike, which involves college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians, began Oct. 15 and has left some 500,000 students out of class.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she will meet with college and union representatives today to discuss how the situation can immediately be resolved.

She says she is looking at all options, but she is hopeful the parties can reach an agreement.

“Students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it’s not fair,” Wynne said in a statement.

“This afternoon I will be meeting representatives of the College Employer Council (CEC) and OPSEU to discuss how we can resolve this situation immediately and get students back to class where they belong.  We are looking at all of our options, but I am hopeful that an agreement to return students to class immediately can be reached by the parties.”

Talks between the colleges and the union broke down on Nov. 4, prompting a request for the final offer vote.

Reporters Momin Qureshi and Amanda Ferguson are reporting live. See their tweets below.

Customers must pre-pay at Ontario Husky gas stations starting Thursday

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 16th, 2017

Customer pre-pays for gasoline at the pump

Starting Thursday, customers at Husky gas stations in Ontario will be required to pay before fuelling up, either in the store or at the pump.

Husky Energy says it believes requiring customers to pre-pay will minimize risks to gas station staff associated with fuel payments.

Spokesman Mel Duvall says this follows a successful pilot in Edmonton last year.

The program has been rolled out in the rest of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba over the past two months.

The Alberta government introduced mandatory pre-pay legislation last month in the wake of the deaths of five gas station workers in gas-and-dash incidents in the province over the last three years.

How Lyft plans to woo drivers from Uber

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 16th, 2017

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Ridesharing company Lyft announced this week it would launch in Toronto by the end of the year — the company’s first foray outside the United States since it launched in 2012.

Now, the push is on to lure drivers to the platform as the company prepares to battle Uber, established in Toronto since 2014.lyft-uber-comparison-toronto

“This is a good thing for consumers and for drivers,” said Sunil Johal, policy director at the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre. “It gives both of them more options in terms of either taking trips or operating rides and more competition is going to mean both Lyft and Uber are going to be competing for eyeballs on their apps.”

To that end, Lyft has offered its first 3,000 drivers a 25-per-cent bonus on all rides for the first three months, as well as a $200 bonus for referrals.lyft

Johal said the company will also likely offer heavily-subsidized rides and coupons to passengers at the start, as it tries to establish its brand.

Uber, meanwhile, will not only have to offer discounts, but it will have to counter the negative publicity from corporate scandals, attempts to evade regulators and its “fairly toxic” corporate culture too.

“That distinguishes the two right off the bat,” Johal said. “Uber for many people doesn’t necessarily bring about a positive impression anymore. Lyft has largely avoided that type of negative publicity to date.

“You’ll probably see a lot more warm and friendly marketing from Uber to try and show people it’s worth sticking with them rather than trying the new competitor. We know that by treating people better — whether that’s drivers, riders, or regulators — we make the entire Lyft experience better for everyone involved,” the company said.

And though Uber has a bigger share of the ride-sourcing market in the U.S. — 75 per cent compared to Lyft’s 22 per cent — its share has been dropping over the past 12 months or so.

Uber insists Lyft coming to Toronto is a good thing.

“At Uber, we welcome competition that encourages the use of more transportation alternatives,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “More options can help reduce congestion and pollution as consumers increasingly make the switch from driving their own car to using shared mobility services.”

But Johal said another ride-sharing company in the city could cause problems.

“This is certainly a continuation of bad news for existing cab companies,” he said. “They’re continuing to see their business model erode.

“There is a risk that people aren’t really talking about and that’s the average commuter in Toronto might actually just see more congestion on the street as we see more of these apps come to town.”

Loblaw closing 22 stores, launching home delivery ahead of ‘difficult year’

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 16th, 2017

A women carts out her groceries from a Loblaws in Toronto on May 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is closing 22 stores and launching home delivery in two major Canadian cities, ahead of what it believes will be a challenging new year.

The grocery and pharmacy giant has finalized a plan that will result in the closure of 22 unprofitable stores across a range of its banners and formats, said spokeswoman Catherine Thomas in an email, who declined to provide specific store locations. The store closures are expected to be mostly complete by the end of the first quarter next year.

“We are excited about our future. But given all of the headwinds, we expect 2018 will be a very difficult year,” said Galen G. Weston, Loblaw CEO, during a call with analysts following the company’s earnings report.

Canadian grocers face increasing pressure from several fronts, including discount and online retailers, and pending minimum wage increases in some provinces.

Loblaw has already made several moves in recent months that some analysts attribute, at least in part, to cost pressures. The company recently announced a new handling fee on its largest suppliers and announced last month that it was laying off 500 employees from its office operations. The company did not immediately answer whether that figure encompassed the job losses from the upcoming store closures.

The retailer is also doubling down on its e-commerce offerings, including launching home delivery with California-based Instacart in Toronto starting Dec. 6 and Vancouver starting January 2018.

Shoppers will order from local Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore or T&T locations via the Instacart website or app and the company will deliver the food.

“This is a premium service targeted at customers who are looking for the ultimate in convenience,” Weston said.

Deliveries will cost $3.99 for orders of $35 or more – that jumps to $5.99 for one-hour drop off – and $7.99 for orders under $35, said Nilam Ganenthiran, Instacart’s chief business officerCustomers will also pay a 7.5-per-cent service fee, said Thomas, adding prices will be higher online than in stores and shoppers will see different sales on Instacart than in physical locations. Shoppers won’t be able to order alcohol online, or earn or redeem PC Plus points through Instacart.

Loblaw, which said in 2016 it had no plans to launch home delivery due to lack of customer demand, plans to expand the program rapidly next year.

In the U.S., Instacart aims to serve 80 per cent of households, said Ganenthiran. It will aim to do the same in Canada, which would require a presence in about 20 to 25 cities, he said. That could include partnerships with other grocers in the future.

Canadians currently have few options for grocery deliveries, with companies like Grocery Gateway and select large chains offering the service in limited locations. Walmart, for example, announced in March it would start delivering groceries to customers living in certain parts of Toronto and the surrounding area.

Most grocers, including Loblaw and Walmart, have opted to focus heavily on in-store pick-up for online orders instead. Loblaw launched its click-and-collect offering in 2014 and now offers it at nearly 200 locations. Weston said the company remains very committed to the program and is opening a new location nearly daily.

However, Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods Market increased speculation that Canada’s grocers would have to step up on home delivery offerings.

Weston said that recent initiatives, including combining PC Plus and Shopper Optimum points into a harmonized loyalty program beginning in February, expanding click and collect and launching home delivery, are key ingredients in the company’s strategy “to compete and win in a rapidly changing and increasingly digital world.”

Loblaw reported that it more than doubled its third-quarter profit compared with a year ago as its results were boosted by the sale of its gas bar business.

The retailer said its profit attributable to common shareholders totalled $883 million or $2.24 per diluted share for the 16 weeks ended Oct. 7. That compared with a profit of $419 million or $1.03 per diluted share for the same period last year.

Revenue totalled $14.19 billion, up from $14.14 billion in the third quarter of 2016.

The results included a $432-million gain on the sale of the company’s gas station business to Brookfield Business Partners.

Overcrowded & underfunded: no relief for TTC bus riders in 2018

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 16th, 2017

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Overcrowding on TTC bus routes may continue to be a problem in the New Year, with no new funding for additional services included in the 2018 operating budget.

The $1.8 billion budget seeks a $37 million subsidy from the city, on top of more than half a billion dollars it already receives. The TTC says this increased subsidy will enable them to keep service at current levels without the need for a fare increase.

But it’s the service levels that have the TTCriders association expressing serious concern.

“We’re getting complaints from across the city about overcrowding because a quarter of surface routes are regularly overcrowded,” said Shelagh Pizey-Allen of TTCriders association.

The TTC has 50 regularly overcrowded surface routes, including both buses and streetcars.

Earlier this week a video surfaced showing a standoff on the Lansdowne bus route as a passenger blocked the path of a bus that was too crowded to board. Online comments suggested a bigger issue of overcrowding on surface routes, including buses.

Stuart Green of the transit commission points out the Lansdowne route is typically not over capacity, operating at 70 to 80 per cent on most days.

There are a number of bus routes aside from Lansdowne that have overcrowding concerns. The top 15 are below. The column that says “Actual crowding as percent of standard” refers to the capacity levels of these routes. Topping the list is the 129 McCowan, with buses at 123 per cent capacity on Saturday mornings.ttc-bus-service-status-1024x576

 

Green says the TTC does service adjustments every six weeks, with the ability to adjust individual routes as needed. “We can’t just buy more buses, we have nowhere to store them… we have to always balance the number of buses we have, the number of operators we have, with the budget,” says Green.

But the solution, claims Pizey-Allen, is simple. “The solution is for John Tory and city councillors to give more money to the TTC. We need better service. We need to end overcrowding. We want more affordable fares.”

Ontario college faculty strike vote results expected Thursday

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 16th, 2017

Striking college faculty hold a mass picket outside Humber College, Nov. 8, 2017. 680 NEWS/Carl Hantske

The results of a key vote that could end Ontario’s nearly five-week-old college faculty strike are expected Thursday.

College faculty have been voting online and by telephone on the final offer from Ontario’s 24 colleges since Tuesday.

Voting ends at 10 a.m. and the results of the balloting will be shared with both the College Employer Council, which bargains on behalf of the colleges, and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the 12,000 workers and then made public.

The union has recommended its members reject the offer.

The strike, which involves college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians, began Oct. 15 and has left some 500,000 students out of class.

Talks between the colleges and the union broke down on Nov. 4 prompting a request for the final offer vote.

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