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City committee proposes new rules for short-term rentals

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 9th, 2017

The city’s Licensing and Standards Committee is proposing a new category and rules for short-term rentals in Toronto.

If approved by city council, anyone engaging in a short-term rental in their home would have to register with the City and any companies that help facilitate short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, would have to be licensed.

The new rules would also require that the home being rented be the principal residence of the owner. Anyone renting out their entire home would only be able to do so for a maximum of 180 nights per year.

Records of short-term rental activity would also need to be provided to the City upon request.

Companies such as Airbnb would be required to pay a one-time license application fee of $5,000 and a licensing fee of $1 for each night booked through the company.

The regulations will be debated next week by the Licensing and Standards Committee before going before the full City Council for final approval next month.

In a statement, Mayor John Tory says he wants to address the concerns of residents affected by commercial rentals while allowing for people to continue renting out their homes.

Click here to view the full report.

Family elated after girl with rare disorder gets funding for costly drug

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 9th, 2017

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It’s nothing short of a medical miracle; three-year-old Sophia Gall can now ride a bike and hop for the first time.

For months, Sophia’s parents were terrified because her miracle was in sight, but just out of reach.  It wasn’t long after she was born when her mother Julia Gall felt a nagging fear. Something was wrong.  Her daughter wasn’t reaching milestones the way she should.

Just after Sophia’s first birthday, those fears were confirmed. Sophia was diagnosed with Type 3 Spinal Muscular Atrophy, known as SMA, a rare degenerative disorder that destroys all of the body’s muscles.

Sophia couldn’t run the way other children could. She was weak and started falling more and more. Doctors told her parents she would likely be in a wheelchair within a year. Her father Alex Gall choked up at the memory.

“Just the idea that our baby girls is, you know, not going to walk,” he said.

Their only hope was the drug Spinraza — the only treatment for SMA — approved in the summer by Health Canada.

Testing promised remarkable success. Videos posted online showed children, who had been unable to sit up or walk, taking their first steps.

But Spinraza is not yet covered by Ontario or any other Canadian province because it has to go through a lengthy review process to determine cost effectiveness and benefit. That could take another year or more.

Paying for Spinraza themselves was impossible for Sophia’s parents; the drug costs US$750,000 in the first year and US$375,000 every year after that — for life.

In October, Sophia got her miracle. After months of lobbying, Alex’s health insurance agreed to pay for Spinraza, and she got her first injection.

 

Julia said there’s already a vast improvement after only two injections.

“It’s unbelievable the difference,” Julia said. “She’s happy; she’s not as frustrated; her confidence has skyrocketed.

“She always tells me, ‘Look what I can do, look what I can do. Can you do this mommy? Can you do this?’ Whereas before she would say, ‘Mommy, I’m broken,’ and she would cry all the time.”

But for other families who don’t have health care coverage, Spinraza is still out of reach.

Three-year-old Khloe Madgett from Peterborough, who has Type 2 SMA, is now in a wheelchair.

Her mother Jessica Madgett said she feels helpless watching as her daughter gets weaker by the day.

“Knowing there is a drug out there and I can’t get it for Khloe, I feel stressed,” Madgett said. “I can’t do anything as a parent and I feel I’m failing; I’m feeling hopeless.”

Biogen, the company that produces Spinraza, is offering the drug to Type 1 SMA patients, the most severe type, through its compassionate care program.

Khloe’s family knows the longer it takes for the drug to be funded by OHIP, the more SMA will take a toll on her body.

Expanded parental leave to come into effect by end of year, sources say

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 9th, 2017

File photo of a father feeding his baby. GETTY IMAGES/KIDSTOCK

OTTAWA — New mothers and fathers who are poised to go on parental leave before the end of the year will be able to spread federal benefits over a longer period of more time starting next month.

The federal government will today unveil the details of its long-promised changes to parental leave rules that will allow eligible new parents to take up to 18 months of employment insurance benefits after the birth of a child.

Sources say the new rules will take effect next month, but the exact date will be disclosed later today by Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

On that date, a new family caregiver benefit will also kick in, and eligible soon-to-be-mothers will be allowed to claim maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before the baby is due.

However, the government isn’t expected to increase the actual value of employment insurance benefits for anyone who takes the extended parental leave. Instead, the Liberals will stick with their 2015 election promise: spreading 12 months’ worth of benefits over 18 months.

The change in leave rules will automatically give more the option of more time off for federally regulated workplaces, which include banks, transport companies, the public service and telecoms, and are likely to spur calls for changes to provincial labour laws to allow the other 92 per cent of Canadian workers access to similar leave.

Affected workplaces will have to decide how — or even if — to amend existing leave policies and collective agreements that spell out issues like salary top-ups.

As is, the federal parental leave program pays out benefits for up to 17 weeks for new mothers and allows parents to split an additional 35 weeks.

Under the changes first outlined in this year’s budget, new parents will decide when they apply for employment insurance benefits whether to take additional weeks off, which can be split between parents. Once either receives the first dollar of parental leave benefits, the choice is locked in.

Anyone on the 35 weeks of parental leave before the new measures officially come into effect won’t be able to switch and take off the extra time.

The Liberals budgeted $886 million over the next five years for the new measures, and $204.8 million a year after that.

All the parental leave changes won’t affect Quebec, which has its own parental leave program.

First taste of winter to hit GTA during evening commute

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 9th, 2017

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It is time to dig out the snowbrush and ice scraper, as the first snowfall of the season is expected to hit southern Ontario, including the GTA, on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Environment Canada issued a winter weather travel advisory for the region. The weather agency has also issued a snow squall watch for Caledon, Newmarket, Georgina, and northern York Region.

Thursday will start out like a pretty average November day but as the day goes on, the temperature will drop.

The agency said snow and rapidly-falling temperatures could affect road conditions late-afternoon and evening, when the rain changes to flurries.

“Rain is going to switch over to snow and then the temperatures are set to drop very quickly, leaving us at risk of untreated road surfaces to becoming very slick – and this all takes place during the evening commute,” said CityNews meteorologist Adam Stiles.

“This is our first taste of winter this season in the GTA and will likely catch a few people off guard who have not prepared for the rapidly-changing weather conditions.”

680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor said showers will start around 4 p.m. and then change over to flurries at 7 p.m. as the temperature hovers near the freezing mark. Flurries are expected to end before midnight, but the temperature will drop overnight bringing with it cold windchill values.

Thursday’s temperature is expected to hit a high of 9 C but will dip to a low of -7 C, feeling closer to -16 C with the wind.

Toronto police has the following tips for drivers, to help prepare them for the sudden change in weather:

  • Make sure your windshield washer is full
  • Get the latest information on current road and weather conditions
  • Clear the snow off your car
  • Check the tire tread and change your tires as necessary
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Reduce your speed

 

And don’t expect any relief from the cold on Friday. The forecast calls for a high of -3 C but it will feel more like -13 C by nightfall.

A few spots in north GTA could get a few centimetres of snow, while 10 to 15 centimetres could fall in the snow belt areas.

Things will slowly warm up on the weekend. Saturday’s high will be near 1 C, and it will be 6 C on Sunday.

 

Syringes found steps away from school playground in downtown Toronto

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 9th, 2017

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“The needles are over here!”

That was the surprising and concerning direction I received today from a group of elementary students from St. Michael’s Choir School. The parking lot beside their playground has been riddled with used syringes for months. They also directed me to the rock garden right beside the school’s front doors on Bond Street, where we found yet another syringe as students walked past to go for lunch.

We found more used needles in a nearby laneway and on the sidewalk. All just steps from The Works, Toronto’s first safe injection site. On Wednesday, it officially became a permanent fixture on Victoria Street, steps away from Yonge-Dundas Square, theatres, restaurants, the Eaton Centre and Ryerson University.

The safe injection site opened on an interim basis in August. Back in July, before the site opened, we spoke to Chane Beyene, an area parking lot attendant, about the influx of needles he was finding in his lot. He says he’s only seen a small decrease in the amount of people shooting up in his lot since the site opened in August, which is adjacent to St. Michael’s Choir School.

“People continue to come and use the area,” he says. “They don’t care, I tell them ‘Don’t use near the school yard.’ They don’t care.”

Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc, a big supporter of the sites, says the amount of discarded syringes out in the open means “that’s a sign people aren’t feeling comfortable going in [the safe injection sites] yet.”

Mihevc also says people who find the needles should contact Toronto Public Health. Sources tell CityNews that faculty at St. Michael’s have contacted the authorities about the needles around the school, and the syringes continue to be a health and safety concern.

Safe injection sites are meant to give people a space to use drugs safely, preventing overdoses and bringing street use inside. The Works’ manager Shaun Hopkins says the amount of needles around the site and near a school is concerning.

Starting Monday, Hopkins says they’ll be dispatching peer outreach workers to try and bring users off the street.

“Two peers will go out three times a week and they’ll go in this neighbourhood to find people who are using and help be that bridge back to us,” he explains.

Last week, around 130 people used The Works’ services, a record number, and one which the organizers say is expected to go up as the location expands its hours of operation.

Two more safe injection sites in Toronto have been approved by Health Canada. One, in South Riverdale, will open this November, while another, near Richmond and Bathurst streets, will open in December.

A fourth temporary site, currently operated by volunteers in Moss Park, started the process to become an official permanent site on Nov. 2.

As the City provides resources for those battling potentially deadly addictions, neighbouring residents and business owners are concerned whether enough resources are being put toward keeping the areas around the sites safe.

Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash tells CityNews “we’re monitoring both public safety and quality of life concerns for the general public and collecting data.”

 

Elevated express lanes? Big rig ban? Your solutions to TO’s traffic woes

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 8th, 2017

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Maybe The Jetsons were on to something. Flying cars may not be the solution to Toronto’s traffic woes in the immediate future, but when it comes to easing the frustrating level of congestion on our roads, commuters are willing to think outside the box.

Not everyone feels life-changing technological advancements are necessary. When we asked you for your solutions, many touted common sense ideas like abiding by the rules of the road and expanding public transit.

But there are dreamers out there envisioning everything from new tunnels, to elevated expressways and big rig bans during rush hour.

Here’s some of your ideas on how to do unclog our urban arteries.

 

Health spending in Canada forecast to hit $242B this year: report

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 8th, 2017

A model of a lung with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, left, is displayed with a healthy lung as Dr. Don Sin, Head of the Respiratory Division at St. Paul's Hospital, sits for a photograph in Vancouver, B.C., on Aug. 25, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A boost in economic conditions across the country has contributed to a slight uptick in health spending across Canada, according to a new report released Tuesday.

Figures from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) projected that health spending would reach $6,604 per capita by the end of 2017, representing an increase of $200 per person over 2016 levels.

Health care costs have been rising at an annual average pace of 3.2 per cent since 2010, and CIHI said the projected 2017 spike of nearly four per cent may be signalling an era of increased government spending on all areas from hospitals to prescription drugs.

Chris Kuchciak, manager of the CIHI’s Health Expenditures Department, said the growth rates Canada witnessed in recent years had marked a return to relative austerity compared to the previous decade when spending rates were rising between six and seven per cent each year. And that period had come after a period of fiscal restraint in the mid 1990s, he said.

Kuchciak said the 2017 increase may mark the beginning of a fresh cycle.

“What we’ll be monitoring in the future is are we going to see now more sustained, higher rates of growth,” he said. “Will history be repeating itself?”

Kuchciak said some of the previous modest increases were barely able to keep pace with rising inflation and population numbers.

In 2017, however, total health spending across Canada is forecast to rise to $242 billion and equal 11.5 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product, the report said.

Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador are projected to lead the way with provincial per-capita expenses totalling $7,378 and $7,329 respectively.

Kuchciak said Atlantic provinces typically have higher populations of seniors, which tend to drive up overall spending. He attributed Alberta’s rates to years of economic prosperity in which the province was able to sustain high wages for its doctors.

On the other end of the spectrum are Ontario, with expected per-capita rates of $6,367, and British Columbia, with an estimated $6,321 per capita.

The 2017 forecast said the breakdown of how health-care dollars will be spent has not changed much over the past 20 years.

Hospitals once again are expected to consume 28.3 per cent of health budgets across the country, followed by drugs at 16.4 per cent and physician services at 15.4 per cent. Kuchciak said these three areas have not shifted significantly since 1997.

All three, however, have experienced growth since 2016. Drug spending is expected to rise the fastest by an estimated 5.2 per cent this year.

The report, which did not include the cost of drugs dispensed in hospitals or funded through cancer agencies, found that those with drug costs of $10,000 or more accounted for about a third of overall drug spending last year despite only making up two per cent of the population.

Physician spending growth is forecast to increase 4.4 per cent in 2017 and spending on hospitals is estimated to rise by 2.9 per cent.

On an international basis, the report found Canada’s health spending has historically been on par with several other comparable countries.

Kuchciak conceded that Canada’s 2015 health costs of $5,681 per person was well above the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development average of $4,826 that year. He said, however, that Canada was on par with some other providers of universal health care at that time. France spent just four dollars less than Canada per capita that year, while Australia’s health budget was just $50 less than Canada’s per capita. No comparative data more recent than 2015 was available.

At that time, Kuchciak said health care costs in the U.S. were nearly double those in Canada at $11,916.

Jason Sutherland, an associate professor with the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, said the CIHI’s latest numbers clearly demonstrate that faults in Canada’s health system are unlikely to be caused by lack of funding.

He said Canada’s spending levels consistently rank between third and sixth place among OECD countries excluding the “outlier” of the U.S.

“We are not cheapskates in terms of our spending. We are among the most profligate spenders on health care there are,” Sutherland said. “I think the question is what value we wring out of that spending.”

Sutherland said costs will inevitably rise given the increasing price of new drug therapies as well as the growing demands of an aging population. The focus for health-care providers and policy-makers, he said, should be on cutting back on elective procedures or treatments with little to no known benefits.

Earlier this year, the CIHI teamed up with a coalition of clinicians to push back on that phenomenon.

The “Choosing Wisely” campaign is fuelled by a CIHI report that estimated up to 30 per cent of low-risk patients are undergoing needless medical tests. The campaign urges patients to reconsider the old adage that early testing is always best and to think more critically about what could actually make a difference to a treatment regime.

Union calls on striking Ontario college faculty to reject latest contract offer

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 8th, 2017

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The union representing striking Ontario college faculty called Tuesday for its members to reject their employers’ latest contract offer.

Talks between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the striking workers, and the College Employer Council, which represents the province’s 24 colleges, broke down Monday, with the council asking the Ontario Labour Relations Board to schedule a vote on their offer.

OPSEU’s president said the two sides had been “very, very close” to a deal before the council contacted the labour relations board.

“We’re at a bit of a loss as to understand why they have gone and taken really the extraordinary step of going to the (board) and looking for a vote,” Warren (Smokey) Thomas said at a news conference. “It’s caught everybody off guard.”

Sonia Del Missier, the chair of the colleges’ bargaining team, confirmed Tuesday evening that the labour board ordered the faculty vote to be held from Nov. 14 to Nov. 16.

She repeated council’s demand for OPSEU to suspend the strike in the leadup to the vote.

“We are still over a week away from the vote results being known and we again request that the strike be suspended for the sake of 500,000 students,” Del Missier said in an email statement. “The suspension will allow faculty and students to return to class and not lose another week of classes.”

She said the faculty vote is “another path to end the strike if bargaining is not successful.”

OPSEU has said there are no plans to suspend the labour disruption.

Ontario’s 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians have been on strike since Oct. 15.

The union’s main point of contention has been the level of input college instructors have into the way courses are taught and evaluated, said OPSEU bargaining team chair JP Hornick.

“Who is better placed to make decisions for our classrooms? Is it the faculty that are working with our students or the administrators who may not have even taught before and don’t know the subject matter?” Hornick asked.

The council’s final offer is step backward, Hornick said.

“(Their) offer contains concessions that undermined everything we had negotiated and agreed to,” Hornick said.

Del Missier said earlier this week that the council had addressed the union’s concerns about job security, wages and academic freedom.

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews has said the government wants to see students return to the classroom as quickly as possible.

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