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Syringes found steps away from school playground in downtown Toronto

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 9th, 2017

“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.

King Street transit pilot project starts Sunday

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 8th, 2017

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The city is launching an ambitious pilot project this weekend targeting the dispiriting congestion on King Street.

The King Street Transit Pilot launches Sunday and will make the gridlocked stretch between Jarvis West and Bathurst Street into a transit-priority corridor for more than a year.

Drivers will only be able access the block on which their destination is located and will only be able to turn right on and off of King in the corridor. There is no parking on King Street during the pilot.

According to the TTC, the 504 is the busiest streetcar route in the city with 65,000 riders daily. To compare, 20,000 drivers use King every day.

The TTC said it will measure metrics and the impact the transit-priority corridor has on commuters.

There will be customer service ambassadors and police to ensure everything runs smoothly.

This project runs until Dec. 31, 2018

Here’s what drivers need to know:

  • Vehicles on King Street are not allowed to drive through the Bathurst Street intersection. Vehicles must turn left or right.
  • Vehicles on King Street are not allowed to drive through the Jarvis Street intersection. Vehicles must turn left or right.
  • Vehicles turning right onto King Street must turn into the streetcar lane. Vehicles turning right off of King Street must use the right turn lane.
  • Only TTC vehicles, emergency vehicles, road maintenance vehicles and bicycles can drive through intersections, as well as taxis between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
  • There is no on-street parking in the pilot area.
  • Left turns from intersections in the King Street pilot area are not allowed.
  • There will be access to driveways.
  • Vehicles travelling on north-south streets can still cross King Street.
  • At some intersections, there will be an advanced right turn green arrow.

 

For more information, visit the City of Toronto website.

City council votes to make Bloor bike lanes permanent

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 8th, 2017

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The Bloor bike lanes are here to stay after city council voted 35-6 in favour of making them permanent.

The 2.6-kilometre stretch of separated bike lanes run along Bloor Steer West between Shaw Street and Avenue Road.

The city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee recommended that council approve the lanes and Mayor Tory expressed his support on his Twitter account before voting in favour of maintaining the lanes.

A staff report last month found that cycling use has increased on Bloor Street by 49 per cent since June and, after making adjustments to signal timing, travel times for motorists have been cut in half.

Following the release of the report, Coun. Joe Cressy and Coun. Mike Layton, who championed the project, backed the findings.

“Making our streets safe for all must be a critical priority for us,” the councillors said in a joint statement. “If we want to build a 21st century city – a city that moves people safely – we must make the Bloor bike lane permanent. And the data is clear – bike lanes on Bloor Street work.”

The report found that Bloor is now the busiest bike lane in the city after Richmond and Adelaide.

 

Loblaw to merge Shoppers Optimum and PC Plus loyalty programs in February

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 8th, 2017

A Loblaws PC Plus and a Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum card are shown together in Toronto on Tuesday. Nov. 7. Loblaw Companies Ltd. (TSX:L) says it will merge Shoppers Optimum points and PC Plus points under the name PC Optimum starting in February. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

Customers at Shoppers Drug Mart or any of Loblaw Companies Ltd.’s grocery stores will soon use a new, unified loyalty program that replaces Optimum and PC Plus points.

Loblaw (TSX:L) will merge the two programs starting Feb. 1, 2018 under the name PC Optimum — a long-anticipated move that comes more than three years after the grocery giant acquired the pharmacy chain and its in-house Shopper Optimum system.

“We’re bringing the very best of Shoppers Optimum and PC Plus together,” said Uwe Stueckmann, senior vice president of marketing.

PC Optimum is “the future of loyalty programs for Loblaw companies,” he said, “harnessing both the power of PC Plus and Shoppers Optimum across the unified network of our stores coast to coast.”

Consumers can keep collecting points as usual until Feb. 1 next year when their Optimum and/or Plus points will move to the new program at equal value. If a collector has $100 worth of Optimum points, they will receive $100 worth of PC Optimum points, for example.

In Quebec, where Shoppers Drug Mart operates under the Pharmaprix name, the Pharmaprix Optimum program will end on Jan. 31, 2018 and members will have until May 2 that year to redeem their points or convert them at equal value to the new program.

Collectors will then use a single card or app and continue to earn points on money spent at Shoppers. They’ll also be able to earn points through personalized offers and in-store promotions at all stores, and by using the President’s Choice Financial MasterCard.

The new program will have an easy to remember redemption system — with 10,000 points valued at $10, 20,000 points at $20 and so on to a maximum single transaction redemption of $500. Shoppers can use their reward money at any of Loblaw’s nearly 2,500 stores and the company’s websites.

Consumers will earn 50 per cent more points for almost every dollar spent at Shoppers Drug Mart locations to help account for the higher number of points needed for each redemption level. Under the current Optimum program, collectors earn 10 points for every $1 spent, but need 2,000 fewer points to buy $10 worth of goods, for example.

More than 19 million active members make up the base of the two current programs, with at least 50 per cent of members enrolled in both, said Jim Noteboom, senior vice-president of loyalty and consumer insights.

After Loblaw acquired Shoppers in 2014, Noteboom said consumers told the company they wanted one program rather than two separate ones because it would make their lives easier.

“Make it one program, that’s easy to understand and easy to earn, with points that are redeemable at all stores,” he said collectors told the company while it gathered research on its loyalty cards.

Analyst speculation about a points merger has heightened since August when CIBC (TSX:CM) and Loblaw’s PC Financial announced they would end their nearly 20-year relationship.

In its place, CIBC launched Simplii Financial — a no-fee direct banking brand — on Nov. 1. In the breakup, savings, chequing and mortgage accounts went with Simplii, while MasterCard credit cards and the PC Plus points program remained with PC Financial.

The change means PC Financial debit card holders no longer earn PC points when using those cards.

Both spokesmen said that the end of the company’s relationship with CIBC was unrelated to the decision to merge both programs, which has been in the works for a few years.

Ontario to spend millions on new seniors strategy

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Nov 8th, 2017

senior-long-term-care

Ontario plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next four years on a seniors health-care plan that will increase the number of long-term care beds in the province and hours of care provided by staff.

Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement on Tuesday laying out the government’s 20-point plan — called Aging with Confidence — to bolster services for seniors.

The province will spend $500 million over four years to create 5,000 new long-term care beds as part of the plan and is pledging to create 30,000 more over the next decade.

The government will also increase the hours of direct care residents in long-term care homes receive to four hours per day. The Ministry of Health could not say Tuesday how much it will spend to achieve that new care standard, saying its staff will need to consult care providers in the sector to arrive at a cost figure.

Wynne touted the plan as a way to keep Ontario seniors in their homes longer.

“Trying to navigate this phase of life can be a challenge,” she said. “And it is a navigation and so in order to remain independent and to stay healthy and connected there needs to be some level of support that’s provided.”

Wynne said the government will also spend $155 million over three years to keep seniors healthy including $17 million a year to provide a new “high dose” flu vaccine, starting in 2018. It will also spend $15 million over the next two years to provide more recreational resources and health-care support for buildings that already have clusters of seniors, she said.

“There’s not a single service that will work for everyone,” she said. “There’s not a single intervention that will work for everyone. There is a continuum of services and care and supports that we need. So, we’ve listened, we’ve heard that. Our plan will provide support in a wide array of areas.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government is only now spending to improve senior’s care in the province on the eve an election.

“Seniors and their families have been let down for 14 long years by Wynne and the Liberals, and with Wynne’s announcement on seniors care Tuesday, I wouldn’t blame them in the least if they believe they’ll be let down again,” Horwath said in a statement. “During their 14 years in power, the Liberals have amassed a wait list for seniors care that’s more than 32,000-people long.”

Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario secretary treasurer Candace Rennick said the province needs to increase it minimum care guarantees for seniors living in long-term care as the population ages and requires increasingly complex care.

“We are also concerned that the government has offered no timeline for it’s rollout and does not legislate a minimum standard of care,” Rennick said in a statement. “Without legislated care standards there is no guarantee that seniors will get the ongoing care they need and deserve.”

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