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18 ways Ontario’s budget will affect you

Julie Cazzin | posted Friday, Apr 28th, 2017

1. No increase to personal or corporate income taxes.

2. A cut of 25%, on average, to household electricity bills, starting this summer. Low-income Ontarians and those living in eligible rural, remote or on-reserve First Nation communities would receive even bigger cuts.

3. Tobacco taxes will go up by $10 per carton of 200 cigarettes over a three-year period. That works to an immediate increase of $2 per carton, effective 12:01 a.m. on Friday, April 28, 2017.

4. The introduction of the Ontario Seniors’ Public Transit Tax Credit for those 65 or older. This amounts to a refundable benefit of 15% of eligible public transit costs, providing an average annual benefit of $130.

5. Starting January 1, 2018, Ontario will launch OHIP+: Children and Youth Pharmacareproviding universal drug coverage to all children and youth aged 24 years and younger across the province, regardless of family income. There will be no deductible and no co-payment and the program includes coverage of 4,400 medicines and most cancer treatments.

6. Free average tuition for more than 210,000 Ontario students and lower costs for many more. Eligible students, including mature students and adult learners with annual family incomes of $50,000 or less, will receive enough in OSAP grants to coverage average tuition costs. That means that 80 per cent of students with annual family incomes below $90,000 will receive grants that equal or exceed the average cost of tuition and will not need to be repaid. (In the past, money in an RESP was taken into account when calculating the amount of OSAP grants and loans. Starting this September, that will no longer be the case, meaning the possibility for larger OSAP grants and loans—even for the kids whose families have saved some money in RESPs.)

7. Students with kids may also be able to receive OSAP funding for child care costs.

8. Increasing the minimum salary an individual needs to earn before they must start repaying OSAP from $25,000 to $35,000.

9. The limit on cash and liquid assets for single people receiving Ontario Works will be increased from $2,500 to $10,000. For couples, the limit is going from $5,000 to $15,000. For Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients, limits will be increased from $5,000 to $40,000 for single people, and from $7,500 to $50,000 for couples. These changes start January 2018.

10. Gifts of any amount will not reduce the amount of social assistance people receive if the funds are used to pay first and last month’s rent, purchase a principal residence or buy a vehicle, taking effect September 2017.

11. The income exemption for cash gifts will be increased from $6,000 to $10,000 for both Ontario Disability Support Programs (ODSP) recipients as well as Ontario Works recipients.

12. Increases to ODSP and Ontario Works benefits for recipients will be 2%. As of Sept. 1, 2017 for ODSP and Oct. 1 2017 for Ontario Works.

13. As of now, the elimination of the $30 Drive Clean emission test fee.

14. Updating the Land Transfer Tax (LTT) by doubling the maximum refund to $4,000 for qualifying first-time home buyers if you’re a Canadian or permanent citizen.

15. The introduction of a foreign buyers’ tax (the non-resident speculation tax) of 15% that would apply on the price of homes in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region bought by individuals who are not citizens or permanent residents of Canada— or by foreign corporations. As an example, a home that cost $1 million would mean an extra $150,000 due to the new tax, bringing the final cost of the home to $1,150,000.

16. Regulatory changes that will allow decisions by the investment industry self-regulatory organizations (SROs) to be filed with the court. This will improve the likelihood for individuals to actually collect the fines they’ve been awarded.

17. Clearer financial statements for those who are a part of Defined Contribution Pension Plans (DCPP). As well, employers who provide DCPP plans to employees will also be able to provide continued financial management of these plans throughout the de-accumulation phase of retirement rather than transferring the funds to a third-party (like to a bank account). The benefit? Lower investment costs—and tens of thousands of dollars saved—over a lifetime.

18. Replacing the provincial caregiver and infirm dependant tax credits with a new Ontario Caregiver Tax Credit (OCTC). Dependants would not be required to live with the caregiver to claim the new credit.

Free prescription drug coverage coming for Ontario youth and children

CHRISTINE CHUBB | posted Friday, Apr 28th, 2017

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Free prescription drug coverage is coming to Ontario for everyone age 24 and under — regardless of family income.

The new pharmacare plan, officially titled OHIP+: Children and Youth Pharmacare, was announced on Thursday as Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the provincial Liberal’s budget.

“On behalf of our premier, starting this January we will be expanding our universal health care by providing free drug care for everyone age 24 and under,” Sousa announced as he presented the budget.

According to the new plan, eligible Ontarians will be able to walk into any pharmacy across the province, show their OHIP card and pick up free medicine funded through the Ontario Drug Benefit Program.

The plan will cover 4,400 types of drugs.

As well, there will be no deductible and no co-payment.

Sousa said the plan will help students and “make life more affordable to Ontario families.”

“One way we can be a competitive and a compassionate society is to make sure that people who need medications get medication,” he said.

Souza added that the changing nature of the workplace means many Ontarians don’t have workplace benefits.

“For families with children requiring medication, for young people just entering the workforce who may be working on contract, causing real hardship for some,” he explained.

“We can do better than that. We must do better than that.”

The program will benefit around four million Ontarians and cost $465 million.

That price tag is expected to be funded by the growing economy. According to the Liberals, the GDP is expected to grow 2.6 per cent.

When asked if the province has the money for afford a plan of this size, Sousa was steadfast.

“We can afford it and that’s why we put it in our budget. Keep in mind that even with those who have plans — they still have co-pays and deductibles,” he said.

“We felt that we don’t put a price on our kids and we wanted everyone to have the same benefits.”

The program will be the first of its kind in Canada and Sousa said he hopes the move encourages the federal government to look at a universal Pharmacare plan.

“I’m just very proud of our cabinet and our premier for looking at this in such a progressive way,” he explained.

Pharmacare will be implemented January 2018.

The Liberals had promised no new taxes on families, though they are increasing tobacco taxes by $10 per carton over the next three years and giving municipalities the power to introduce a hotel tax.

In addition to balancing the books this year, the government is now projecting balanced budgets through to 2019-20. Despite reaching balance, however, the province’s debt continues to grow.

It is projected to be $312 billion this year, growing to $336 billion in 2019-20. Interest on debt is the fourth largest spending area, at $11.6 billion.

Historically low interest rates helped the province get to balance, but interest on debt is still projected to be the fastest growing expenditure area, at an average 3.6 per cent from 2015 to 2020.

Nonetheless, the government paints a rosy economic outlook, projecting two per cent average GDP growth through to 2020, driven by exports and business investment.

On the infrastructure front, spending is growing from a promise last year of $160 billion over 12 years to $190 billion over 13 years. The additional $30 billion will go toward new hospital projects, school renewal and child care expansion.

Ontario will also move ahead with planning a high-speed rail corridor between Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Windsor, the government said in the budget. The project could cut in half the four-hour travel time from Toronto to Windsor.

Under the education banner, about $16 billion is earmarked over 10 years to build and improve schools at a time when the government is coming under fire for rural school closures. Another $200 million will go to creating 24,000 child care spaces and subsidizing 60 per cent of them.

Post-secondary graduates will now have to start repaying the provincial part of their student loans when they are earning a $35,000 salary, up from $25,000, which student groups applauded.

Seniors are also specifically targeted in the budget. A public transit tax credit for people 65 and older will see 15 per cent of eligible transit costs refunded with an average annual benefit of $130. That is estimated to cost the government about $10 million a year. The measure comes after the federal government announced it was eliminating a 15-per-cent tax credit for commuters who buy a transit pass.

There is also $11 million over three years for a seniors community grant program and another $8 million over three years for new community centres with seniors’ programming. The province has also earmarked $100 million over three years for a dementia strategy that will include helping patients and their caregivers find support and improve training for health-care workers.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was disappointed there was no new cash for affordable housing in the budget.

With files from The Canadian Press

Raptors blow 25 point lead, defeat Bucks to advance in NBA playoffs

The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Apr 28th, 2017

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan drives against Milwaukee Bucks' Greg Monroe during the first half of game 6 of an NBA first-round playoff series basketball game Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points as the Raptors held on to beat the Bucks 92-89, but not before watching their 25-point lead vanish in a fierce Milwaukee comeback.

The Raptors clinched the best-of-seven series 4-2 to advance to the conference semis, where they face defending champion Cleveland.

Kyle Lowry added 13 points, but he and DeRozan were the only Raptors to score in double figures. Serge Ibaka had 11 boards but just seven points before fouling out for Toronto.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and nine rebounds to lead a young Bucks team. Thon Maker, who played high school basketball in Orangeville, Ont., had five blocks.

The Raptors, who had never won a playoff series in less than the maximum number of games, dominated for much of the night and led by as many as 25 points midway through the third quarter. But the Bucks responded with a 15-3 run to cut Toronto’s lead to 74-61 heading into a nail-biting final frame.

Toronto, coming off back-to-back wins over Milwaukee, had gone five minutes without a field goal before Lowry’s long jumper early in the fourth. But the Bucks kept firm hold of the momentum, while the Raptors coughed up one ball after another, and when Kris Middleton drilled a three and drew a foul with 4:06 to play, it pulled the Bucks to within a point.

Jason Terry drilled a three on the Bucks’ next possession to put the Bucks ahead, while the ear-splitting Bradley Center crowd roared.

Cory Joseph’s three-pointer with 1:27 to play put Toronto up by three, then DeRozan drove to the hoop for a dunk with 49 seconds to play for a five-point cushion. Still, the Bucks weren’t backing down. Terry connected on a three to make it just a two-point game with 16 seconds left. But DeRozan scored two free throws, then Patrick Patterson intercepted Tony Snell’s inbounds pass to clinch the win, DeRozan spiking the ball victoriously.

All the pre-game talk was about closing this series in six games, both to avoid the Game 7 pressure the Raptors know way too well, and give themselves a breather before tipping off Monday against the resting Cavaliers in Cleveland.

The Raptors shot 46 per cent on the night, and made nine of their 22 three-point attempts. The Bucks shot 42 per cent.

The second-seeded Cavaliers, meanwhile, have been off since sweeping No. 7 Indiana on Sunday.

Fuelled by the fired-up crowd, the Bucks raced out to a six-point lead against the notoriously slow-starting Raptors. Casey made an early sub, inserting Jonas Valanciunas for Ibaka, and the Raptors settled into their game, outscoring the Bucks 24-14 the rest of the quarter. They took a 28-24 lead into the second.

The Raptors rode their wave of momentum into the second quarter, and took a 13-point lead on a basket by DeRozan with 29 seconds left in the half. Toronto took a 51-38 lead into the break.

Consecutive threes from Ibaka, Norman Powell and DeMarre Carroll put the Raptors up by 25 points with 5:16 to play in the third, but the Bucks fought back with a 15-3 run.

Most articulated buses back in service, TTC says

CityNews | posted Friday, Apr 28th, 2017

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After pulling all 153 of its 60-foot articulated buses off the road due to safety concerns, the TTC said Friday most buses have returned to service.

Articulated buses were seen on Dufferin Street around 6 a.m.

“This is all about ensuring that the fleet is safe for our passengers, our employees, and also motorists and pedestrians and everyone we share the road with,” TTC spokesperson Brad Ross told Breakfast Television on Friday.

Ross later tweeted that 125 of the 153 buses had been fixed and were back in service.

Ross had issued a statement Thursday night, saying all 153 of the TTC buses had been grounded after one of the vehicles experienced an unexpected acceleration during routine maintenance late in the afternoon.

Ross added one of its drivers returning to the Malvern garage due to faulty doors experienced a similar full throttle acceleration but he managed to quickly regain control of the vehicle.

No injuries have been reported and no customers were aboard the buses at the time of the incident.

Ross says Nova, the bus manufacturer, has a software fix to correct the problem. There was a concern it would not be applied in time for Friday morning’s rush hour service. While some buses are slowly returning to service, customers can expect increased wait times as well as more crowding on the buses.

The 60-foot buses will be replaced by regular 40-foot buses on the following routes: 7 Bathurst, 29 Dufferin, 36 Finch West, 85 Sheppard East, 53 Steeles Express and 41 Keele.

not be applied in time for Friday morning’s rush hour service. While some buses are slowly returning to service, customers can expect increased wait times as well as more crowding on the buses.

The 60-foot buses will be replaced by regular 40-foot buses on the following routes: 7 Bathurst, 29 Dufferin, 36 Finch West, 85 Sheppard East, 53 Steeles Express and 41 Keele.

Ontario’s first balanced budget in decade promises billions in health care

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Apr 27th, 2017

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Ontario’s Liberal government is promising to inject billions of new dollars into health care in its first balanced budget in a decade, a fiscal plan designed to appeal to nearly everyone in the province ahead of an election next summer.

Crafted by a party in power since 2003 that has been faring poorly in recent polls, the $141-billion budget has measures targeted at both young and old, people who access the health care system and anyone who owns or rents a home and pays an electricity bill.

The centrepiece of the plan is a $465-million-a-year pharmacare program for children and youth, which would cover prescription medications to treat most acute and common chronic conditions for people under age 25, with no deductible or co-payment. It would start Jan. 1.

The plan will be most beneficial for youth who currently are not covered under private plans or the Ontario Drug Benefit program for social assistance recipients, but government officials weren’t able to say how many people that captures.

In total, the government is promising $11.5 billion in new spending on health care over three years, including money to address hospital overcrowding, funding for mental health and addiction services, cash for hospital construction projects and home care funding.

The budget also includes funds for new child care spaces, money to build schools, measures aimed at seniors and previously announced cuts to electricity bills and plans to cool the housing market.

Much of the projected spending, however, is spread out over multiple years, well past the June 2018 election. But Finance Minister Charles Sousa said his “socially progressive” budget is not a ploy for votes.

“These decisions that we’re making today are not based on election cycles, they’re based on long-term benefit for the people of Ontario,” he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the budget is not, in fact, structurally balanced, because of one-time asset  sale money – such as the sale of shares of Hydro One – and  accounting “tricks,” such as counting public pension surpluses as assets, against the advice of the province’s Auditor general.

“This budget is a patchwork attempt by a desperate government to fix the mess they’ve created before the next election,” he said.

“If they lose this next election this is spending they’ll never have to be accountable for.”

The price tag for the Liberals’ centrepiece pharmacare plan is not in the budget itself and was provided only verbally by staffers.

“Listen, that document is what, 296 pages long,” Sousa said when asked about the absence. “You can’t put everything in the document.”

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who just this week announced a New Democrat government would bring in universal pharmacare for people of all ages, said the Liberal plan seems last minute.

“I think it’s quite curious as well,” she said. “All I can think of is that they made it up on the back of a napkin before they got to today.”

The Liberals had promised no new taxes on families, though they are increasing tobacco taxes by $10 per carton over the next three years and giving municipalities the power to introduce a hotel tax.

In addition to balancing the books this year, the government is now projecting balanced budgets through to 2019-20. Despite reaching balance, however, the province’s debt continues to grow.

It is projected to be $312 billion this year, growing to $336 billion in 2019-20. Interest on debt is the fourth largest spending area, at $11.6 billion.

Historically low interest rates helped the province get to balance, but interest on debt is still projected to be the fastest growing expenditure area, at an average 3.6 per cent from 2015 to 2020.

Nonetheless, the government paints a rosy economic outlook, projecting two per cent average GDP growth through to 2020, driven by exports and business investment.

On the infrastructure front, spending is growing from a promise last year of $160 billion over 12 years to $190 million over 13 years. The additional $30 billion will go toward new hospital projects, school renewal and child care expansion.

Ontario will also move ahead with planning a high-speed rail corridor between Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Windsor, the government said in the budget. The project could cut travel times from Toronto to Windsor from the current four hours to two.

Under the education banner, about $16 billion is earmarked over 10 years to build and improve schools at a time when the government is coming under fire for rural school closures. Another $200 million will go to creating 24,000 child care spaces and subsidizing 60 per cent of them.

Seniors are also specifically targeted in the budget. A public transit tax credit for people 65 and older will see 15 per cent of eligible transit costs refunded with an average annual benefit of $130. That is estimated to cost the government about $10 million  a year. The measure comes after the federal government announced it was eliminating a 15-per-cent tax credit for commuters who buy a transit pass.

There is also $11 million over three years for a seniors community grant program and another $8 million over three years for new community centres with seniors’ programming. The province has also earmarked $100 million over three years for a dementia strategy that will include helping patients and their caregivers find support and improve training for health-care workers.

Ontario announcing new spending in first balanced budget in a decade

Allison Jones and Jessica Smith Cross, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Apr 27th, 2017

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Ontario’s Liberal government will release its first balanced budget in a decade on Thursday, with a host of new spending measures focused on pocketbook issues it hopes will resonate with voters heading into an election year.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has in the past few years focused on big-picture plans for the province, such as tackling climate change, massive infrastructure spending and pension reform. But as her party and personal popularity have tanked in the polls, her message has shifted to that of fairness and everyday affordability.

She recently unveiled a “Fair Hydro Plan” and a “Fair Housing Plan” and in a speech Monday to announce details of a basic income pilot project, fairness was a theme she often returned to.

“In this time of turmoil, we must work harder than ever to build and preserve a fair society,” she said. “We must make sure that hard work is rewarded with a decent pay cheque. We must make sure that the opportunities available to our people and especially our young people not only endure, but grow.”

By eliminating the deficit, Ontario is in a position to do those things, she said.

“My plan builds on the action we have taken and the investments we have made over the past five years,” Wynne said. “It takes dead aim at the challenges that confront us in this new, uncertain world. It puts fairness at the heart of all we do and all we aspire to achieve for the people of Ontario.”

Wynne said her approach is not to “cut back on public services, reduce taxes, slash regulations on corporations and let the results trickle down.”

That wouldn’t help people who are struggling, Wynne said, adding that the three main elements to her plan are creating a “fair economy,” a “fair future for Ontario workers,” and education.

Ontario’s finance minister has already announced that the budget will contain new spending to benefit seniors, students, parents, caregivers and patients.

“I’m balancing the budget and I’m proud of that, but that’s not an end in itself,” Charles Sousa told The Canadian Press in a recent interview. “It’s what are we doing as a result of the balance.”

Sousa has announced the budget will include a public transit tax credit for seniors 65 years and older.

He has also promised a “booster shot” for health care, specifically funding to deal with the problem of overcrowded hospitals, which forces patients to be placed in hallways and other unconventional spaces.

On Tuesday, ministers also announced $20 million in funding to increase the available respite services for unpaid caregivers who help friends and family members.

The government is also launching an initiative to create 40,000 job training placements and internships over three years for students of all ages and recent graduates, as part of a $190-million Career Kick-Start Strategy.

In a recent speech, Sousa highlighted investments the government has made in the innovation sector, saying more of that can be expected in the budget as the government embraces, “new, potentially disruptive technologies.”

Sousa has said the budget will refer to the recent housing affordability measures the government announced. However, Sousa’s office said there is “no line in the budget” attributed to a newly announced 15-per-cent foreign buyer tax. It’s expected to be revenue neutral, as any money coming in should offset a decrease in revenue from land transfer tax.

No further such housing measures will be unveiled in the budget, Sousa said Wednesday, but there will be measures on social housing for low-income residents.

Additionally, $200 million will go toward creating 24,000 child care spaces and subsidies for families for about 60 per cent of those spots — as part of the government’s promise last year to create 100,000 more licensed spaces.

Cuts to hydro bills will add nearly $2 billion to the budget. An eight-per-cent rebate that took effect Jan. 1 is estimated to cost $1 billion a year, and more measures announced last month to help low-income and rural residents will cost taxpayers about $833 million a year.

Even with a balanced budget this year, Ontario will still have debt of more than $300 billion. In 2016-17, interest on debt was the province’s fourth-largest spending area, with $11.4 billion of interest on approximately $317 billion of debt.

The official opposition maintains the Liberals will only achieve “fake” balance in the budget as a political ploy ahead of the 2018 election. The Progressive Conservatives have even created a “Chef Charles Sousa” online caricature who talks about “cooking the books.”

PC Leader Patrick Brown said he believes the Liberals can only balance the budget by dramatically cutting services or raising taxes, or by using accounting “tricks.” He’s specifically watching out for two such tricks: counting public pension surpluses as assets, against the advice of the province’s Auditor general, and counting revenue from the partial sale of Hydro One against the deficit, when the money is intended for a separate trust for infrastructure projects.

“It’s Chef Sousa cooking the books to look good in an election year,” said Brown.

Ontario’s NDP also sees politics in the budget.

“The government’s had 14 years to address the problems that we’ve seen in this province, and they’re now scrambling at the last minute to save their own political skin, as opposed to really being concerned about the realities of life for Ontarians,” said Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh.

President Trump tells Mexico, Canada he won’t pull out of NAFTA

The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Apr 27th, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 15:  (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump walks after arriving on Marine One in his return to the White House on March 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump is returning after speaking at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee earlier today. (Photo by Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he will not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, just hours after administration officials said he was considering a draft executive order to do just that.

The White House made the surprise announcement in a read-out of calls between Trump, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” said the White House.

Trump said he believes “the end result will make all three countries stronger and better.”

The announcement came hours after administration officials said Trump was considering a draft executive order to withdraw the U.S. from the deal – though administration officials cautioned it was just one of a number of options being discussed by the president and his staff.

Some saw the threat as posturing by Trump to gain leverage over Mexico and Canada as he tries to negotiate changes to the deal. Trump railed against the decades-old trade deal during his campaign, describing it as a “disaster.”

Senior White House officials had spent recent days discussing steps that could be taken to start the process of renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA before the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, according to a person familiar with the president’s thinking.

But the person, along with an administration official, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, had said a number of options remained on the table, and stressed discussions are ongoing about the best way to proceed.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment on the order, which was first reported by Politico.

“The president has made addressing the problems of NAFTA a priority throughout the campaign, and once the president makes a decision about how he wants to address that, we’ll let you know,” he said.

The administration appeared to be divided Wednesday over how and when to proceed, as they balanced a newfound cautiousness with the desire to rack up accomplishments before Trump’s 100th day on the job.

Some were gunning for Trump to sign a draft order this week, while others were weighing the complications surrounding withdrawing from or renegotiating the deal without Congress fully onboard. The debate played out in the press Wednesday as some outlets quoted officials insisting the signing was imminent, while other officials dismissed the reports as “just a rumour.”

“My practice is to comment on things we’ve actually done or are doing as opposed to commenting on rumours,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters at an unrelated White House briefing Wednesday evening.

Trump could withdraw from NAFTA – but he would have to give six months’ notice. And it is unclear what would happen next. The law Congress passed to enact the trade pact might remain in place, forcing Trump to wrangle with lawmakers and raising questions about the president’s authority to raise tariffs on Mexican and Canadian imports.

The decision came days after the administration announced it would slap hefty tariffs on softwood lumber being imported from Canada. Trump has also been railing against changes in Canadian milk product pricing that he says are hurting the American dairy industry.

Trump told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he planned to either renegotiate or terminate NAFTA, which he and other critics blame for wiping out U.S. manufacturing jobs because it allowed companies to move factories to Mexico to take advantage of low-wage labour.

“I am very upset with NAFTA. I think NAFTA has been a catastrophic trade deal for the United States, trading agreement for the United States. It hurts us with Canada, and it hurts us with Mexico,” he said.

Another senior White House official declined to comment on “rumours” of specific actions. But that official said NAFTA has been a top priority for the president since day one and said the administration has been working on it since taking office. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s thinking.

The Trump administration last month submitted a vague set of guidelines to Congress for renegotiating NAFTA, disappointing those who were expecting Trump to demand a major overhaul.

In an eight-page draft letter to Congress, acting U.S. Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn wrote that the administration intended to start talking with Mexico and Canada about making changes to the pact, which took effect in 1994.

The letter spelled out few details and stuck with broad principles. But it appeared to keep much of the existing agreement in place, including private tribunals that allow companies to challenge national laws on the grounds that they inhibit trade – a provision that critics say allows companies to get around environmental and labour laws.

Reports Wednesday of the possible move drew objections from some in Congress, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“Withdrawing from #NAFTA would be a disaster for #Arizona jobs & economy,” he tweeted. “@POTUS shouldn’t abandon this vital trade agreement.”

Woman who had to be rescued from construction crane facing six charges

News staff, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Apr 27th, 2017

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A woman who had to be rescued in dramatic fashion after she became stuck atop a construction crane in downtown Toronto will face six charges, including mischief and interfering with property, police said.

She’ll spend the night in custody before being formally charged on Thursday morning.

Toronto police Detective Barry Radford said her actions put the lives of rescuers in jeopardy, and impacted the construction site near Yonge and Wellesley.

The woman’s perilous climb remained a mystery even to those tasked with retrieving her, with firefighters saying there was no indication why she scaled the crane in the middle of the night.

They believe, however, that she climbed up the crane, crawled out on to the end of it, and slid down a cable to the large pulley device where she got stranded.

“She has to tell me how she did it because she has to be our new training officer for high-angle (rescue) because it’s impressive,” said Rob Wonfor, who rappelled down the towering machinery with her.

“It was hard enough for me to go up with ropes and harnesses and she free-climbed that.”

Wonfor said he didn’t ask her for an explanation during the rescue because they needed to stay focused. But he noted the woman didn’t seem frightened and was “very calm.”

“She was a brave girl, she helped me when I got there,” he said.

A 22-year veteran of the fire service, Wonfor said the rescue was unusual in that people who climb cranes typically stay on the shaft, which was not the case Wednesday.

The woman had been perched on a gently swaying large pulley device called the block — measuring only about 15 centimetres by 60 centimetres — for at least four hours and was clinging to a steel cable when Wonfor reached her.

“It’s an outstanding success,” Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said of the operation. “We train for this, although we’ve never seen one like this before.”

Pegg said crews were called to the scene at a construction site on Wellesley Street near Yonge Street at about 4 a.m.

Wonfor and a police negotiator began climbing up the crane at about 6 a.m. and the firefighter rappelled down to the woman on the pulley device around 8 a.m., Pegg said.

The firefighter then carefully strapped himself to the woman and the pair were slowly lowered onto the ground about half an hour later.

The plan had initially been to lower the block onto a nearby parkette once the two were harnessed but Pegg said the crane operator indicated the block might swing and the moving cables could cause some pinching.

“She was brought down safely, she didn’t appear to be in any distress,” Pegg said. “This was a very technical, very complex rescue.”

Wonfor also said he was feeling fine, although fatigued after carrying heavy equipment on an already intense climb.

But the firefighter had no intention of resting, and noted he was heading to play in a hockey tournament for the remainder of the day.

Emergency crews rescue a woman from a crane near Yonge and Wellesley streets on April 26, 2017. CITYNEWS/Melanie Ng

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Various pie and tart shells recalled due to E. coli contamination

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Apr 26th, 2017

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Various brands of pie and tart shells are being recalled due to the presence of E. coli.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Tuesday the shells are produced by Edmonton-based Harlan Bakeries and were sold across Canada.

The Deep Dish Pie Shells, Sweetened Tart Shells and Tart Shells are sold under the Great Value, Apple Valley, Western Family and No Name brands.

The CFIA says the best-before dates on the affected shells range from Nov. 24, 2017 to Dec. 21, 2017.

Click here to see all the UPC codes.

The federal agency says there have been no confirmed illnesses associated with these products.

Food contaminated with E. coli O121 may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, mild to severe abdominal cramps and watery to bloody diarrhea.

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Are universities doing enough to support mental health?

Aaron Hutchins | posted Monday, Apr 24th, 2017

Student in library. (Sutichak/Shutterstock)

University isn’t meant to be easy, but it isn’t supposed to be this hard: since November 2016, the University of Guelph has lost four students to suicide.

After the fourth death, in mid-January, the school sent out another statement reminding staff and students about the counselling services available to them. For recent grad Connie Ly, it wasn’t enough. “I really just questioned how useful the services were, given that they were so overwhelmed already,” she says. Ly launched a petition on Change.org, since signed by 2,500 people, demanding to know how the university is spending government money allocated for mental health services, how those services have changed over the past five years, and specifically how it has improved the student-to-counsellor ratio. “The point wasn’t to point fingers at the school, but I felt nothing would happen if there wasn’t push from students,” Ly says.

As the taboo around talking about mental health crumbles, students are demanding more resources on campus, and many post-secondary education institutions are struggling to keep up. When Maclean’s surveyed more than 17,000 students at almost every campus across the country last year, 14 per cent said they were in poor mental health, 10 per cent rated their school’s mental health services as either poor or horrible, and 31 per cent said their mental health was affecting their ability to succeed. Meanwhile, when asked what kept them up at night, several members of the Maclean’s presidents advisory board said at a June 2016 meeting that the demand for mental health services was weighing on their minds.

“The demand is increasing—and we take those demands seriously—but we’re not funded as a mental health services provider,” explains Christopher Manfredi, vice-principal (academic) of McGill University. “We’re funded as an educational institution. Trying to find the resources within our budget is a big challenge for us.” The other problem is figuring out when to reach out and when to let go. “What’s the balance between support and spoon-feeding?” asks Ollivier Dyens, McGill’s deputy provost of student life and learning. “This is a very delicate balance, and I haven’t found it yet.”

MACU_GUIDE_DATA_JOURNALSIM_MENTAL HEALTH BAR CHART
Among other things, McGill is trying out an initiative where if, say, a student is often distracted in class or frequently absent, a professor can send an “expression of concern” to the dean of students, who is tasked with following up and offering help if it is needed.

The University of Calgary, meanwhile, tapped anti-stigma expert Andrew Szeto to head its Campus Mental Health Strategy, which tries to identify mental health problems early and, by partnering with resources already available in Calgary, make sure help is available 24-7.

“What if students need services at 1 a.m.?” asks Szeto. “They can call in to the same line for the campus wellness centre and they have options to be directed toward services at the Distress Centre (a 24-hour support line) or Wood’s Homes (a non-profit children’s mental health centre).”

But campuses in smaller cities and towns simply don’t have the same community services to draw upon. At Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., (pop: 5,500) most of the few psychologists associated with the school’s wellness centre are based 50 km away in Moncton, N.B., according to Shaelyn Sampson, the Jack.org chapter co-lead at the school. And it’s a visit they don’t make every day. “I know one [psychologist] comes in Wednesday afternoons from about 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” says Sampson, who gets an hour every month or two. Allot one hour per appointment, and exactly four students get seen each week by that counsellor.

Sampson runs educational events each semester with Jack.org, a youth advocacy group with chapters across Canada, to promote positive mental health and break down the stigma that stops people from even talking about their own mental health.

When Sampson’s anxiety and depression reached the breaking point two years ago and she called the centre, she waited a month to get in. This semester? “We’re seeing wait times of six weeks and up to three months,” she says. “When a student is in a rough spot and having severe mental health issues, you don’t necessarily have three months.”

Some don’t even call, thinking someone else might need help more, Sampson adds. “You shouldn’t have to reach that breaking point to feel that your reaching out is valid.”

Feeling Overwhelmed
The top 15 universities where students reported feeling overwhelmed on a daily or weekly basis. In addition, the top 15 areas of study across all of the surveyed universities where students said they felt overwhelmed at a minimum of once every week and sometimes on a daily basis.

 

Overwhelmed (by University) %
Mount Royal University 59.0
Victoria University 59.0
University of Winnipeg 58.9
McGill University 58.1
Ryerson University 56.7
Wilfred Laurier University 56.3
Memorial University of Newfoundland 55.5
Trent University 55.2
University of Ontario Institute of Technology 53.8
Mount Saint Vincent 53.5
York University 53.3
Queen’s University 52.9
Concordia University 51.8
University of Manitoba 51.1
St. Thomas University 51.0

 

Overwhelmed (by program area) %
Women and gender studies 67.9
Archaeology 66.7
Design 65.8
English 61.7
Drama 61.3
Architecture 61.0
Sociology 58.7
Art 58.7
Anthropology 57.3
Linguistics 56.4
Neuroscience 56.2
Philosophy 55.2
Psychology 55.1
Cognitive science 55.1
Law 54.9

Here’s why it’s only going to get harder to put down your phone

Diana Duong | posted Monday, Apr 24th, 2017

smartphone

When was the last time you checked your phone? Five minutes ago? Three? Less? How much time do you figure you spend looking at your phone each day? The answer might surprise you. Because even though it only takes a couple seconds to check an unread message or the outside temperature or the score of the baseball game, each of those checks add up. On average, we’re spending three hours a day on our phones, and picking them up about 100 times a day.

That’s what marketing and psychology professor Adam Alter discovered about himself when he downloaded Moment, an app that measures smartphone use. In his new book, Irresistible, he investigates the rise of our behavioural addiction to screens and how tech companies are continually tweaking their products, with every new update, to make it harder and harder for us to put them down. Here, Alter discusses what’s behind that nagging instinct to reach for our phones at all times.

What prompted you to start looking into how technology is keeping us hooked?

I noticed I was playing certain games over and over again, and I found it very hard to stop. I wondered if it was something about my personality so I started speaking to some other people and they said the same thing. I found interviews with people like Steve Jobs and other tech giants, who said things like, “I don’t allow my kids to use the tech devices at home that I’ve produced at work.” That inspired me to try to work out the extent to which the tech industry was aware of these issues.

Which games started all this?

I played 2048 over and over again for months, and before that I played Angry Birds forever. I also started playing this game called Flappy Bird.

The one made by a Vietnamese developer who deleted it soon after?

Exactly, his name is Dong Nguyen, and it’s so interesting what he did. He was doing so well; the ad revenue was overwhelming. But he had read so many reviews from people who said they couldn’t stop playing it, and it was affecting their lives adversely. He felt bad and deleted it completely. That doesn’t happen at all in the tech industry.

Adam Alter on smartphone addiction

Author of Irresistible, Adam Alter. Photo, John Fitzgerald.

What was the most surprising thing you found during your research?

The magnitude of some of these effects. One research paper found that 41 percent of us has had at least one behavioural addiction [an addiction that doesn’t involve eating, drinking, injecting or smoking] in the past 12 months. And the fact that, on average, we spend about three hours a day on phones.

That seems very high to me because we don’t have that much time in the day where we’re not working or eating or sleeping. This is time we could be spending exercising, having conversations, playing with our children, interacting with other people or animals, but we’re spending a lot of it interacting instead with a screen, which I think is very isolating, at least socially. Even if you are interacting with someone through a screen, the depth of that is much shallower than if you were interacting face-to-face.

You said that children are most likely to develop addictive behaviour with screens because they lack the self-control most adults have. Who else is vulnerable?

It’s really anybody. There are certainly some people who are more willing to take risks and who tend to develop addictions more readily than others. But there’s something very democratic about behavioural addictions, they affect such a large proportion of the population by some estimates, which suggests it’s not about individual factors, it’s really about the experiences themselves.

So it’s not entirely our fault then — these devices are designed to be addictive?

Exactly. These devices are designed to make it really easy for us to learn how to use them and become familiar with them. Once, when my son was four months old, he leaned over and swiped my phone screen and smiled at me. I found it so fascinating that this device was one of the first experiences where he could act in a purposeful way. The swiping gesture is just so fundamental, it’s so easy for everyone to master.

But it’s hard to imagine a future without screens. Where do we go from here? How do we break that cycle? I can’t imagine going back to phones without apps and Internet browsers.

I don’t think we should go backwards. I’m not suggesting we eschew our smartphones. I think that’s an extreme position. The reason we’re having these conversations in the first place is because these experiences are so positive. If phones and technology never gave us something positive, we wouldn’t develop these addictions in the first place.

What I would suggest instead is we find time in the day, maybe two or three hours, where we go tech-free. Spend time having face-to-face conversations, or spend time in nature. Go out and look at an ocean or a lake, spend time in a park or even forest. Basically, spend part of your day where, based on what you see alone, you shouldn’t be able to tell what year it is.

This is especially important as virtual reality tech becomes more mainstream and takes a real hold on our culture. That hasn’t happened yet, but experts, say within two to five years, it will take over.

What else do we need to keep ourselves in check? Are we looking at government regulation, or even ethicists at tech companies? Or are gadget curfews enough?

I don’t think it should all be on the consumer. That would be like if we went back in time, looked at the tobacco industry and said, “They should keep doing what they’re doing and we should all learn a bit more self-control.” That only treats the smaller part of the problem.

I know the idea of legislation is unpopular with consumers. But if this overuse of devices ends up becoming a burden on the health-care system, if it changes how generations interact and how our society functions at large, then I think there’s good reason to suggest maybe we do need regulation.

Given that tech companies are producing so many of these irresistible experiences, they should be encouraged with soft rules like a Hippocratic oath, much like doctors have. That you should “do no harm” with whatever tech you’re creating. The Hippocratic oath is never enforceable and it’s not a regulation, but it’s a nice guiding principle and I think it would encourage tech experts to answer a different set of questions that I think a lot of them aren’t even asking themselves right now.

Raptors expect ‘dogfight’ with Bucks in Game 6 in Milwaukee

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Apr 27th, 2017

BROOKLYN, NY - FEBRUARY 5: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball during the game against the Brooklyn Nets on February 5, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Raptors coach Dwane Casey expects Game 6 in Milwaukee to be a 48-minute dogfight Thursday night as Toronto looks to close out its first-round playoff series against the young, athletic Bucks.

“Our No. 1 thing (Thursday) night is to go in with a warrior’s mentality,” he told reporters after practice Wednesday. “And not go in, get hit with a punch and say ‘OK, we’ve got Game 7.’ It’s going to be a 48-minute battle, war, however you want to describe it.”

Coming off 87-76 and 118-93 wins, third-seeded Toronto leads the sixth-seeded Bucks three games to two.

Defending champion Cleveland awaits the series winner. The second-seeded Cavaliers have been off since sweeping No. 7 Indiana on Sunday.

The Raptors are hoping to end a recent stretch of futility when it comes to closing out series in Game 6 on the road. They lost to Indiana and Miami last year in Game 6 before rallying to win Game 7. Three years ago, they dropped Game 6 against Brooklyn before being beaten by the Nets in Game 7.

The Raptors have acknowledged being taken aback by the vocal crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center for Game 3, which turned into a 104-77 blowout loss for the visitors.

Casey says the answer to a hostile crowd is to outwork the home side.

“You’ve got to play through the noise,” he said. “Like everything else in this league, you’ve got to play above the noise.

“It’s going to be loud. I thought the first game there, it kind of put us back on our heels a little bit, along with their play …. I thought we were playing in mud most of the game. So we’ve got to be mentally and physically prepared as we were in Game 4 there. I thought we were more ready for what was about to hit us.

“Again, it’s going to be loud and it’s going to be a dogfight for 48 minutes.”

All-star point guard Kyle Lowry exuded calm when he met reporters, holding the microphone in his hand like a talk-show host as he sat at the podium at the team’s training centre.

Rather than approach Game 6 as if it was a Game 7, Lowry said the Raptors just need to focus on one possession at a time Thursday.

“It’s very cliched, I understand that, but that’s really how you’ve got to take it.”

Centre Jonas Valanciunas said the team is prepared for the challenge.

“We’re still fixing some little things but we’re ready and we’re going there to win,” said the seven-foot Lithuanian.

Toronto has profited from dropping Valanciunas to the bench and starting the athletic Norman Powell in a smaller lineup the last two outings. Casey has deployed Valanciunas off the bench to counter the Bucks use of Greg Monroe.

Lowry had nothing but praise for both Valanciunas and Powell, calling them both true professionals for adapting to their new roles.

“He’s changed the series,” Lowry said of Powell whose ability to drive to the basket has opened up space for Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and other Raptors.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s fun to watch,” he added.

Lowry had little to say about the back stiffness that affected him during Game 5.

“My body’s fantastic right now,” he said dryly. “Thank you for asking.”

He was clear that he was not about to let a physical ailment keep him off the court.

“You dream of being in the playoffs as kid … The playoffs, in the NBA, there’s nothing like it,” he said.

Quick-thinking TTC worker saves life of man in distress

Faiza Amin | posted Thursday, Apr 27th, 2017

dundas-station-collector

Tense moments at Dundas subway station forced a suspension of service both ways on Wednesday morning, when a man reportedly jumped onto the track. Dozens of witnesses were on the northbound platform around 10:30 a.m. when the incident occurred, many praising a quick-thinking TTC employee who sprang into action.

The TTC tells CityNews a customer entered the station and immediately walked onto the northbound tracks. Within minutes, a station collector rushed to his side.

“He just kept talking to him, and said ‘breathe in breath out’ and ‘look me in my eye,’” said eyewitness Jeffrey Ribeiro. “Then he was like, ‘now say I am strong’, then he had everybody on the platform say it with him.”

Ribeiro captured the interaction between the two men in a touching video he later posted online. The footage appears to show the station collector seated on the platform comforting a man who was firmly holding onto him, while standing on the track.

“When he came up off the platform and came towards the TTC worker, the TTC worker gave him a great big hug,” Ribeiro recalls. “He’s like ‘where’s your cellphone, let me put my number in it.’”

The employee, who’s been with the transit system for 23 years, is being praised for how he handled and de-escalated the tense situation, hugging, comforting and befriending the man. The employee stayed with him even after emergency personnel arrived, spending over half an hour with him.

“The biggest positive action that we saw today was my employee going above and beyond his training and staying there with the customer to ensure he was safe, and everyone else was safe,” said Ellen Stassen, Group Station Manager with the TTC.

His colleagues also stepped in, cutting the power and suspending subway service in both directions.

With the TTC seeing two dozen suicides attempts and 12 deaths annually, employees are trained to look for any sign of distress. In all incidents, standard procedures will see trauma counseling offered to those workers.

Following the incident, the TTC worker went back to work, and finished his shift.

“This is the best ideal story that we can present and commend him for not only an act of safety, but an act of compassion, customer service,” said Stassen. “It goes beyond one area of recognition, and it speaks volumes of his colleagues as well.”

Social media posts have been pouring in, with those who witnessed the moment, calling for the employee to get recognition, not only from the TTC, but the city.

“People like this need to be recognized, and the TTC needs to recognize him for what he did,” said Ribeiro.

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