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Wind takes down home under construction in Leslieville

CityNews | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

A house under construction in Leslieville was no match for the intense wind on Wednesday night.

Toronto Fire were called to the home on Leslie Street south of Queen Street East around 10:30 p.m.

The home was blown over by the wind and was leaning against the house next door.

No injuries were reported.

It’s unclear if there was any damage to the neighbouring home.

Wind gusts of around 50 km/h blew through the city on Wednesday, as a cold front moved into the area. Although the wind gusts slowed to 30 km/h on Thursday, the windchill made it feel like -16 in the morning.

Recycling bins can be seen on the street on March 2, 2017, after a windy night and morning. CITYNEWS/Bertram Dandy

Correction: An earlier version said three people were in the home.

Wynne to make announcement on Ontario hydro bills on Thursday

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

Ontario electricity ratepayers will learn Thursday how the Liberal government plans to reduce their bills.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is set to make the announcement in the morning, a day after the Toronto Star reported the plan is to cut consumer costs by another 17 per cent largely by financing the costs of electricity generation contracts over longer periods.

Opposition and energy critics say the move, akin to renegotiating a mortgage, is a “shell game” that will lead to more costs down the road.

The Liberal government faces no bigger political issue at the moment than hydro bills, which have about doubled in the last decade.

The Star reported the benefit from the plan would be more than $1.5 billion a year, reflected in decreased global adjustment costs.

The global adjustment, which accounts for up to 70 per cent of electricity rates, is the charge consumers pay for above-market rates paid to power providers in 20-year contracts meant to ensure a steady supply.

Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has estimated the global adjustment cost $50 billion between 2006 and 2015 and increased by 1,200 per cent between 2006 and 2013 – meanwhile, the average electricity market price dropped by 46 per cent.

The government will also shift the Ontario Electricity Support Program for low-income customers to the tax base, rather than being funded by other ratepayers, the Star reported.

Wynne has previously signalled that more savings will be coming for rural and northern ratepayers, who face significantly higher costs than urban customers, and the energy minister has suggested that changes are on the way for time-of-use pricing.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the reported plan would just shift costs from people’s hydro bills to tax bills.

“The money needs to come from somewhere,” he said. “Will this government come clean and acknowledge that in their leaked plan, taxes are going to go up? They’re simply playing a shell game.”

In response, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the government would be balancing its upcoming budget.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault played equally coy after question period, refusing to confirm or deny the Star’s report. But he did note that Ontario Power Generation did something similar to reduce nuclear refurbishment cost increases.

“It’s something that OPG has recognized that works, but for us in terms of our smoothing – or our rate mitigation plans, we’re not putting anything out there right now,” Thibeault said before heading into a cabinet meeting.

Energy consultant Tom Adams said in a blog post that the plan would create a “big new electricity debt” in order to make rates “appear” to decrease.

“In a nutshell, Wynne’s plan is to stretch out the recovery of current electricity generation costs over a longer time period than currently is the case,” he wrote.

It’s not clear whether the underlying contracts would be extended or if the Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation, which manages the debt of the former Ontario Hydro, would fund the difference, Adams wrote.

NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh said the reported plan wouldn’t address the root causes of problems within the electricity system, such as the high-paying, long-term contracts.

“When they talk about smoothing out payments … that means extending a bad contract and by extending it the interest payments are going to put more money in the hands of bankers,” he said.

The NDP on Monday presented its plan to lower hydro bills, and it included renegotiating power contracts they say have led to high costs and an oversupply of energy.

The government will also shift the Ontario Electricity Support Program for low-income customers to the tax base, rather than being funded by other ratepayers, the Star reported.

Wynne has previously signalled that more savings will be coming for rural and northern ratepayers, who face significantly higher costs than urban customers, and Thibeault has suggested that changes are on the way for time-of-use pricing.

GO Transit rail safety campaign aims to provoke

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Mar 2nd, 2017

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A bold new rail safety campaign by GO Transit is sparking some controversy.

With GO Transit increasing service, Metrolinx said they wanted to boost rail safety awareness.

The campaign began in January with the image of a vehicle parked on the railway tracks as a GO train barrels toward it. The caption below reads ‘Killer View’.

“We designed this campaign to provoke conversation, to make people pay attention to it, to get them thinking about rail safety,” Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikens explained.

“We want people to stop and think about what they’re doing because it can have deadly consequences. I know that it provokes people … that’s actually good.”

Over the past five years GO Transit has increased the number of trains across its system by 44 per cent. It’s annual ridership for both train and bus grew by nearly 20 million people – from 52 million to 70 million.

And that number continues to grow across the GTHA.

“Our ultimate goal is to save lives. We’re going to be bringing more and more service over the next few years … that’s why we’re doing this campaign ahead of more service coming,” Aikens explained.

Some of the emails received by Metrolinx called the campaign upsetting.

Aikens said they understand why some people might find the images disturbing — especially those who have learned first hand what it’s like to lose a loved one to this type of tragedy.

“I think people who have personal experience with someone perhaps dying as a result of being hit by a train, some sort of misfortune like this, I can understand why it provokes terrible, terrible memories,” she explained.

“Those images are to remind people that we don’t want them to be in the same position that you find yourself in. Their families are devastated by someone dying on tracks, our crew are devastated. We carry every one of these people with us forever.”

While some people are calling the new ads disturbing, others are praising the campaign for not sugar coating such an important issue.

“Brilliant campaign… It’s the ‘disturbing’ aspect that triggers the retention of the message. ‘Soft’ messages don’t stick,” Blair W Carrigan posted on Twitter.

“It’s graphic and it should be. It’s obviously working,” Valerie Ward wrote on Facebook.

“The fact that they have to create a picture like this to get their point across is what I find disturbing. Not the ad itself,” Susan MacDonald commented on Facebook.

Aikens said there are more images coming that some may find disturbing — including one involving a child.

CityNews got an exclusive sneak peek at some of the campaign’s next posters.

GO Transit Killer View Campaign poster

GO Transit Killer View Campaign poster

Toronto’s Alo tops 2017 Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 1st, 2017

Toronto’s Alo has topped the 2017 Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list while Vancouver eatery Kissa Tanto has been named the country’s best new restaurant.

Alo, which launched in 2015 with fine-dining tasting menus, made the jump from the seventh spot on last year’s list.

It’s the second time in recent months that chef Joel Watanabe’s Kissa Tanto, which features a blend of Italian and Japanese cuisines, has been called the hottest new restaurant in Canada. In the fall, enRoute magazine put Kissa Tanto — which means House of Plenty — atop its list of best new restaurants, while Alo placed second.

The annual list of top restaurants is determined by an 82-member panel of judges and printed in the Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants magazine. Other awards were also handed out by the publication on Tuesday night, including a lifetime achievement honour for Susur Lee.

The Hong Kong-born chef oversees Luckee, Lee, Lee Kitchen at Pearson International Airport, Bent and Fring’s in Toronto along with TungLok Heen in Singapore’s Hotel Michael. He’s been a judge on “Chopped Canada” and “MasterChef Asia” and was a finalist on “Top Chef Master” and tied with Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America.”

Charles-Antoine Crete of Montreal Plaza also got an award for most innovative chef, Claude Guerin of Maison Boulud at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montreal was named best pastry chef, and The Design Agency won for best restaurant design for Lena Restaurante in Toronto.

Here is the list of the top 10 ranked restaurants:

1. Alo – Toronto

2. Toque! – Montreal

3. Joe Beef – Montreal

4. Le Vin Papillon – Montreal

5. Edulis – Toronto

6. Hawksworth Restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia – Vancouver

7. Buca Osteria & Bar (Yorkville) – Toronto

8. Canoe – Toronto

9. Dandylion – Toronto

10. Pigeonhole – Calgary

Trudeau gets a shout-out in Trump speech

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 1st, 2017

The prime minister of Canada received a surprise shout-out during Donald Trump’s first speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, in an address Tuesday that carried more than one reference to the northern neighbour.

The president mentioned Justin Trudeau as he hailed the creation during the prime minister’s recent visit to Washington of a women’s business group — a project involving the president’s daughter Ivanka.

Trump’s speech was sprinkled with surprises.

The biggest of all, the one that will snare Americans’ attention, was his unexpected call for comprehensive immigration reform, a long-elusive goal of U.S. policy-makers that Trump appeared to have suddenly embraced.

Smaller ones involved references to Canada.

“With the help of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we have formed a council with our neighbours in Canada to help ensure that women entrepreneurs have access to the networks, markets and capital they need to start a business and live out their financial dreams,” Trump said in the prime-time address.

It’s the third time Trump mentioned the project in public remarks.

Trump appeared at the group’s initial meeting at the White House; raised it during a White House press conference as something he was proud of; and mentioned it again in his state-of-the-union-style speech Tuesday. The idea for the project came from Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford, who presented it to Ivanka’s husband, White House aide Jared Kushner.

Other elements of the speech that touched on Canadian interests included his promise to build the Keystone XL pipeline; his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and his call for a still-vaguely-defined border adjustment tax.

He also saluted Canada’s immigration system as something to emulate.

It came during Trump’s attention-grabbing remarks on immigration reform. In the speech, and in comments Trump made earlier in the day to TV network anchors, he appeared to signal an interest in seizing a Holy Grail for a generation of U.S. policy-makers: an immigration deal between Republicans, who want a tighter southern border — and Democrats who want legal status for the country’s millions of undocumented people.

“Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others, have a merit-based immigration system,” Trump said.

“I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals — to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws.

“If we are guided by the well-being of American citizens then I believe Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades.”

The speech made only a passing reference to the biggest unknown in Canada-U.S. relations: the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump blasted daily during his election campaign and now wants renegotiated.

Republicans on Capitol Hill appeared in the dark Tuesday on his intentions regarding NAFTA. Although lawmakers are supposed to be involved in the process, they said they hadn’t received direction from the White House yet.

The uncertainty is heightened by the fact that one key player in trade negotiations, the United States trade representative, could see his Senate confirmation stalled for months, amid partisan wrangling and concern about his past legal work for foreign governments.

“I don’t have any information about when, or what process will be used,” said Republican Mike Crapo, a member of the Senate Finance committee, which would have a key role in trade negotiations.

Policy-makers are already overwhelmed by Trump’s insistence on health reform, and tax reform — where he’s requested big changes, popular changes, and not offered much direction on the specifics and hard choices.

Now Trump appears poised to add immigration reform to the to-do list — in addition to paid parental leave which he also mentioned Tuesday. The Senate leadership sounded determined to put the onus on Trump to deliver specifics.

“We’re anxious to see what the president wants to do about immigration,” Senate leader Mitch McConnell told CNN.

“I’m anxious to take a look at what the president would recommend.”

People involved in Canada-U.S. relations might have picked up on other elements of the speech. Trump applauded the idea of joint public-private funding for a massive infrastructure spending project — which is a priority for the Trudeau government, although it remains controversial on the American left.

Trump also referred to his plan for regulation-slashing, which Canada might play a role in. The countries meet frequently through a regulatory co-operation body, and Treasury Board President Scott Brison offered to share some ideas during a trip last week to Washington.

No streetcar service on Queen Street this summer: TTC

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Mar 1st, 2017

TTC riders who take the 501 Queen streetcar have had their fair share of disruptions on the route, and now, they will face yet another challenge this summer.

For the first time in TTC history, there will be no streetcar service on Queen Street from May to September, TTC spokesman Stuart Green said. Instead, 65 buses will be in use.

The massive changes to the 501 route are due to TTC and road construction in the area.

About 43,000 people use the line every day.

“There are a number of projects this summer between the Neville Loop in the east and the Long Branch loop in the west. It made more sense to just replace the streetcars with buses, as opposed to having people get on and off different modes of transit,” Green said.

“It’s not a long-term solution. A streetcar holds [the same amount of passengers] as one-and-a-half worth buses. The longer articulated streetcars, it’s two buses. The newer Bombardier cars, it’s about three buses.”

Some of the projects include track and sidewalk work west of Queen, replacing the bridge over Queen that connects the Eaton Centre to Hudson’s Bay, and various track work in the east.

“In the days gone by … we would have had three different partial closures of the Queen streetcar, which I think would have caused more disruption in total,” Mayor John Tory said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Tory acknowledged the temporary change will be disruptive but by doing it this way, all of the work will be done at one time.

While buses may be viewed as a test project – to see if they move people faster and improve traffic – Tory said the plan is still to have streetcars on the line. Buses cost more money to run and are not environment-friendly. He said officials will monitor how it works, but there are no plans to change streetcars to buses.

Tory echoed Green, saying streetcars carry more people than buses, and at least two buses would be needed to carry the same number of riders as one of the new streetcars, which have yet to be delivered by Bombardier.

 https://twitter.com/tonyfera1/status/837042104710885383

This service change is one in a series that have affected riders since last spring.

Starting Jan. 8 and for the rest of 2017, streetcars have been turning back at Roncesvalles Avenue, so that track and bridge work can be done on The Queensway, Lake Shore Boulevard and at Humber Loop. Streetcars are bypassing Humber Loop as well.

Last year, from May until early December, streetcars were diverted on Queen Street West between Bathurst Street and Spadina Avenue due to watermain work on Queen.

However, passengers have praised the buses that are currently in use along part of the 501 route. Their ability to weave in and out of traffic made for a faster commuter, some riders said.

The sheer volume of people that can fit on a streetcar is a huge advantage, Green said at the time, especially from an environmental perspective. Fewer vehicles also reduces gridlock.

In January, Green said that streetcars last a lot longer than buses do, which means the TTC replaces vehicles less frequently. As well, fewer vehicles are required, which means cheaper operating costs.

What you need to know if you take the 501

Although Green said Wednesday that travel times will be about the same on buses versus streetcars, he admits the schedule will change when the bus service kicks in on the entire line in May. He said riders, especially those who travel during off-peak hours and overnight, should check their schedule beforehand. The updated schedule is expected to be posted online in April.

The existing stops will remain in place and will only be relocated if there is TTC construction or road work.

One of the concerns for TTC riders is whether buses will be pulled from other bus routes to service the Queen line. Green said buses will be pulled off of existing streetcar routes where buses are being used. Below are the details:

  • 511 Bathurst will resume operation with streetcars for the summer
  • 503 Kingston Rd will also be operated with streetcars for the first half of the summer
  • 504 King supplemental buses will be replaced by streetcars

 

“This frees up a significant number of buses to be used on Queen,” Green said in an email. “In addition, TTC adjusts services on many routes during the summer and this frees up available buses for construction projects such as these.”

Another concern is whether there will be enough shuttle buses available in case of a subway shutdown. Green said the buses are generally pulled from less busy routes, but that buses may be pulled from 501 if needed.

“It is possible 501 buses might be used in that situation, but generally the buses are pulled from less busy routes.”

Is it time schools allowed cellphones in the classroom?

The Canadian Press and Michelle McQuigge | posted Tuesday, Feb 28th, 2017

Researchers and educators agree that cellphones have become fixtures in Canadian classrooms, but opinion remains divided on how best to address their presence. All agree that the presence of smartphones can be problematic if students are allowed to devote more attention to their screens than their studies. One research paper suggests the majority of schools are still treating cellphones as a scourge and banning the devices outright both in and out of class.

But that study and a growing number of boards say they’ve had more success once deciding to stop fighting the technological tide and find ways to incorporate cellphones into schools.

Canada’s largest school board reversed a four-year ban on cellphones and now lets teachers dictate what works best for their classrooms, while a board in Quebec has gone so far as to distribute tablets to all students in Grade 5 and up while maintaining a permissive smartphone policy.

Researchers say these approaches work best, but add it’s essential to have guidelines in place around the use of technology.

Thierry Karsenti, Canada Research Chair on Technologies in Education and professor at the University of Montreal, said students will find a way to bring phones into the classroom regardless of the rules.

A survey of more than 4,000 high school students found that 79.3 percent of respondents owned a cellphone. Participants indicated that the phones did not figure strongly in their formal education, with 88.4 per cent reporting that the devices were banned either in class or at school altogether.

Karsenti said the majority of schools he’s studied persist in fruitless bans against smartphones, edicts that students will inevitably ignore. Only 12.9 percent of survey respondents said they had never sent texts in class, 55.7 percent said they felt it was acceptable to send or read text during lessons, and 90.7 percent said they had seen classmates doing just that. Another 64.2 percent reported seeing their peers accessing Facebook on their phones while in class.

But Karsenti said schools with more flexible policies got better results, he said, adding the best ones set firm boundaries that helped educate students on when it may or may not be appropriate to use their cells.

Students responded, he said, by taking those lessons to heart.

“They were becoming themselves more responsible in those schools where cells were allowed with specific rules because schools help them become more responsible,” Karsenti said in a telephone interview. “Otherwise who’s going to help them become more responsible?”

One school Karsenti studied allowed students to use their phones as they wished outside of class, but insisted they keep the devices in plain sight and face-down on their desks during class time.

Such an approach strikes the right balance, he said, since it still gives teachers the flexibility to tap into the technology for their lessons while limiting distractions among students.

Some organizations, like the Eastern Townships School Board in Quebec, have made technology an integral part of the classroom experience.

Spokeswoman Sharon Priest said the board began issuing iPads to students in 2013 with the full expectation that they would be used both at home and at school.

Today, all board students from Grade 5 and up have been issued either an iPad or a Chromebook. Priest said the technology that looms so large in most students’ home lives should be incorporated into the educational experience, adding the devices also help empower teachers.

“They allowed us the creativity in the classroom to support … lifelong learning and different competencies,” Priest said of the tablets, which can be used for everything from research to video streaming.

The board has a permissive policy around cellphones, she said, allowing teachers to dictate what works best for their classroom.

The same approach is now in effect at the Toronto District School Board, which banned cellphones for four years before reversing course in 2011.

Spokesman Ryan Bird said the board came to recognize that enforcing an outright ban was next to impossible, while also acknowledging that to curb technology use would be to place limits on educational opportunities as well.

“I think it was more an acknowledgement that there’s an important role for technology to play in the classroom,” he said. “And that’s where we are now. In general, the board encourages the use of technology in the classroom where appropriate.”

Not all instructors are keen to embrace mobile technology in the classroom, however.

At a Halifax middle school, one teacher’s effort to promote healthy living among her students resulted in a school-wide experiment meant to help detach students from their screens and revive the art of conversation. Sean MacDonald, principal at Herring Cove Junior High, said the school’s previously flexible policies were tightened up for a week to bar cellphone use in class, during recess or at lunch.

He said the week-long experiment is meant to gauge impacts on students’ studies and social lives, adding the school is also soliciting feedback from parents on cellphone use at home. MacDonald said early feedback suggests students too can be flexible on cellphone use, adding some who felt they couldn’t live without their devices have noted some upsides to going without.

“Many of our students have reported…that they’re enjoying the opportunity to have more conversations with their friends as opposed to sitting down and everybody staring at their phones,” he said. “And teachers have definitely noticed less distractions in the classrooms.”

MacDonald said the school will analyze feedback from the experiment and use it to adjust its permanent cellphone policies for the next academic year.

New app hopes to help families, kids eat healthier foods: researcher

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Feb 28th, 2017

The makers of a new app are hoping it will help get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

A team of researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax launched the app called “Froogie” to help families track their daily food intake based on Canada’s Food Guide.

Lead researcher Sara Kirk says her team got the idea for the app while looking into creating supportive environments to prevent chronic disease, like diabetes and heart disease.

She says a number of families had expressed how hard it can be to eat healthy foods with such busy lifestyles.

Kirk says the app is designed to be simple enough so that children of all ages can use it, while making it a fun and engaging experience.

Funding for the project was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

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