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Rob Ford: Former chief of staff Mark Towhey on letting his boss go

Mark Towhey | posted Tuesday, Mar 22nd, 2016

He was the best of mayors and the worst of mayors. Rob Ford was larger than life, figuratively and literally. He was one of those rare people that you simply had to care about—you didn’t have a choice. That’s not to say you had to like him, though hundreds of thousands of people in Toronto and around the world loved him. At least as many hated him. But no one who ever met him didn’t care.

For thousands of people in Toronto, he was the only mayor, the only politician, the only important person who’d ever cared enough about them to return their phone call or come to their door and listen, often ending those conversations with: “I hate to be rude, but I gotta let you go, buddy.” There was always another call to answer. Another person to help.

For these thousands, the city of Toronto was not a great place to live. It was just the place they lived. The many things that make Toronto a great city did nothing for them. They didn’t visit the world-class art galleries or museums, attend the theatre or Michelin-rated restaurants. They didn’t use the 100 public libraries or the free city pools. They got up too early, worked too hard, earned too little, paid too much for rent, food, transportation and taxes, then collapsed into bed too late and slept too little.

When they awoke to find garbage strewn across their driveway, the city bus 20 minutes late, the potholes on their street still unfilled—and City Hall raising their taxes again—they boiled. They were legion, but they were unseen and unheard. No one cared. Until Rob Ford. He gave a damn.

Ford became their champion. He heard their cry. He gave voice to their concerns. He tilted at their most despised windmills. He never talked down to them, always treated them with respect and almost always agreed with them. He was their guy at City Hall. He didn’t always win, but he was always willing to go down fighting their fight.

When Ford ran for mayor in 2010, this legion was inspired with hope. Hope their lives might get just a little bit better. That the obstacles put in their way by government might become just a little bit smaller. They rallied around their champion and, to the wonder of all those who loved their galleries, museums and local theatre productions, they carried him to a landmark victory. He became their mayor. And he didn’t disappoint.

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In his first year in office, mayor Rob Ford eliminated a despised vehicle registration tax that raised money the city never needed: in every year since its introduction, the city’s operating surplus dwarfed its revenue. He made the TTC an essential service, ensuring no one would ever again lose money or work because of a strike. He outsourced garbage in as much of the city as he could, saving millions of taxpayer dollars and vastly improving customer service for those affected. He stood tall for the taxpayers and stared down the powerful city unions, rolling back crippling labour conditions that prevented city managers from improving service and controlling costs. He was the best mayor the city ever had.

Rob Ford was also the mayor who infuriated the political class. No political bagmen had helped fund his election victory, so he was beholden to no one. He eschewed the big-picture thinking most politicians revelled in. He didn’t debate at length how to “transform the public realm by animating the urban spaces in the city’s built form.” Instead, he insisted potholes be filled and the graffiti get cleaned up.

He wasn’t worried about Toronto’s much-vaunted Green Roofs Plan, he was worried about roofs that leaked in the winter. He didn’t care about funding expansions to world-famous museums, he wanted to help more people afford reasonable homes, or continue to afford the ones they had.

He scoffed at sacred cows and questioned the assumptions underlying an out-of-control city budget. Why hire public health nurses on a permanent basis to operate a temporary program? Why spend millions on bug-infested, crime-riddled social housing ghettos when it would be cheaper to give everyone who needed housing an allowance to pay for it themselves wherever they wanted to live?

Ford would shake his head and deride those on council who disagreed. As mayor, he enjoyed provoking them as much as they’d enjoyed provoking him when he was a suburban councillor from a distant ward. Their anger was both a mystery and an entertainment for him. He didn’t shrink from a scrap and was willing to take a beating. He excelled at “rope-a-dope” politics, happy to stand, back to the ropes, and suffer blow after blow until his opponents exhausted themselves. Then, he’d lean in and step over them when they fell down.

As he succumbed to his private demons, he continued to try and fulfil his public mandate, defined by him as individual constituent service on a mass scale. He kept showing up, even when he shouldn’t have, and became the nucleus of a decaying public circus hurtling toward critical mass. He became a running gag on American late-night TV: the mayor who smoked crack and had more than enough to eat at home. When those who could afford to travel met friends and family in distant lands, Rob Ford was the topic of conversation and it embarrassed them. He drew global attention to the city we love, but not for the reasons we’d hoped. He was the worst mayor the city ever had.

Those in the thousands who loved him may have loved him too long and forgiven him too much. Those in the thousands who hated him may have forgotten why they despised him and exposed their own flawed character as they triumphed in his collapse.

But nobody didn’t care.

Those of us who worked closely with him will always wonder “what could have been, if only?” We’ll never know. Like it or not, ready or not, we’ve got to let you go, buddy.

Mark Towhey is author of Mayor Rob Ford — Uncontrollable: How I Tried to Help the World’s Most Notorious Mayor. Towhey helped engineer Ford’s 2010 election win and took over as the mayor’s chief of staff in August 2012.

ISIS claims responsibility for Brussels attack that killed 31

Lorne Cook and John-Thor Dahlburg, The Associated Press | posted Tuesday, Mar 22nd, 2016

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the terror attack in Brussels Tuesday morning, killing at least 31 people and wounding dozens, as a European capital was again locked down amid heightened security threats.

The two airport blasts, at least one of which was blamed on a suicide bomber, left behind a chaotic scene of splattered blood in the departure lounge as windows were blown out, ceilings collapsed and travellers streamed out of the smoky building.

About an hour later, another bomb exploded on a rush-hour subway train near the European Union headquarters. Terrified passengers had to evacuate through darkened tunnels to safety.

At least one and possibly two Kalashnikovs were found in the departure lounge at the airport, according to a European security official in contact with Belgian police who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

It was not immediately clear whether the firearms were used in the attacks.

Security tightened across Europe

Belgium raised its terror alert to the highest level, diverting planes and trains and ordering people to stay where they were. Airports across Europe immediately tightened security.

Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium, on March 22, 2016. GETTY IMAGES/Anadolu Agency/Dursun Aydemir.
Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium, on March 22, 2016. GETTY IMAGES/Anadolu Agency/Dursun Aydemir.

European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. Abdeslam’s arrest on Friday heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved in the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris than originally thought, and that some are still on the loose.

Global Affairs Canada said the Canadian embassy in Brussels is “closely monitoring the situation” and trying to determine if any Canadians have been affected.

“What we feared has happened”

“What we feared has happened,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters. “In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks, and Michel said there was no immediate evidence linking key Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam to them. After his arrest Friday, Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.

“We are at war,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after a crisis meeting called by the French president. “We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war.”

European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. The arrest Friday of a key suspect in the November attacks in Paris heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved than originally thought, and that some are still on the loose.

“There was blood everywhere”

At Brussels’ Zaventem airport, the two explosions hit the departures area during the busy morning rush. Belgian Health Minister Maggie de Block told Belgian media that 11 people were killed and 81 injured.

Anthony Deloos, an airport worker for Swissport, which handles check-in and baggage services, said the first explosion took place near the Swissport counters where customers pay for overweight baggage. He and a colleague said the second blast hit near the Starbucks cafe.

“We heard a big explosion. It’s like when you’re in a party and suddenly your hearing goes out, from like a big noise,” Deloos said, adding that shredded paper floated through the air as a colleague told him to run.

“I jumped into a luggage chute to be safe,” he said.

Tom De Doncker, 21, check-in agent intern, was near the site of the second explosion.

“I saw a soldier pulling away a body,” he said. “It felt like I was hit too” from the concussion of the blast.

Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the first blast, told BFM television that the second, louder explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with victims’ blood.

“It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed,” he said. “There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere.”

“We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene,” he said.

“It was panic everywhere”

The bomb that went off an hour later on the subway train killed 20 people and injured more than 100, Brussels Mayor Yvan Majeur said.

NNear the entrance to the station, rescue workers set up a makeshift medical treatment centre in a pub. Dazed and shocked morning commuters streamed from the metro entrances as police tried to set up a security cordon.

The metro shut down after the attacks, as did the airport. More than 200 flights to Brussels were diverted or cancelled, according to flight tracking service Flightradar24.

Smoke rising from the Maalbeek underground, in Brussels, following a blast at the station close to the capital's European quarter on March 22, 2016. GETTY IMAGES/AFP/Seppe Knapen.
Smoke rising from the Maalbeek underground, in Brussels, following a blast at the station close to the capital’s European quarter on March 22, 2016. GETTY IMAGES/AFP/Seppe Knapen.

“The Metro was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion,” said Alexandre Brans, 32, wiping blood from his face. “It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the Metro.”

Francoise Ledune, a spokeswoman for the Brussels Metro, said on BFM television there appeared to have been just one explosion on the subway in a car that was stopped at Maelbeek. Spokesman Guy Sablon said 15 were killed and 55 injured in that attack.

“People were crying, shouting”

At the airport, passengers fled as quickly as they could.

Amateur video shown on France’s i-Tele television showed passengers including a child running with a backpack dashing out of the terminal in different directions as they tugged luggage. Another image showed a security officer patrolling inside a hall with blown-out paneling and what appeared to be ceiling insulation covering the floor.

Marc Noel, 63, was about to board a Delta flight to Atlanta, to return to his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. A Belgian native, Noel says he was in an airport shop buying automobile magazines when the first explosion occurred 50 yards away.

“People were crying, shouting, children. It was a horrible experience,” he told AP. He said his decision to shop might have saved his life. “I would probably have been in that place when the bomb went off.”

With three runways in the shape of a “Z,” the airport connects Europe’s capital to 226 destinations around the world and handled nearly 23.5 million passengers in 2015.

Associated Press Writers Raf Casert in Brussels and Angela Charlton and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.

An answer to the question, ‘Is it better to walk or take the subway?’

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Mar 22nd, 2016

A map that shows walking times between TTC subway stations. Photo via Facebook/Pavlo Kalyta.

The subway is often late or broken down, which causes a lot of people in the city to be regularly frustrated with the TTC.

So, at times, walking to where you need to go makes sense.

Pavlo Kalyta, an assistant professor at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, has created a map of the subway system showing the walking distance between each TTC station.

For example, walking from Bloor-Yonge to St. George stations would take an able-bodied person around 13 minutes. Walking between Eglinton to Lawrence stations would be about 25 minutes, while strolling from Kennedy to Warden stations would take 43 minutes.

Kalyta told Metro News that he “created the map to help residents and tourists make healthier life choices.”

Ross told the newspaper that he took his walking times from the TTC ride guides.

Woman confronted for parking in handicap spot flips out

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Mar 22nd, 2016

A man confronted a woman who parked her vehicle in an wheelchair-accessible parking spot outside of a Toronto Tim Hortons on Monday and in exchange she threw all of her drinks at him.

The whole interaction was caught on video and you can see the man, Ryan Favro, waiting for the woman to return to her vehicle.

“So … why do you park in handicap spots?” asks Favro to the woman. “Are you handicapped?”

The woman responds with a quick “no” and turns to get into her Jeep.

“Well what makes you so special that you can park in a handicap spot?” Favro asks.

The rest of the interaction can be seen in the video below, including when she hurls two cups of coffee at the Favro.

When Internet naming contests go wrong

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Mar 22nd, 2016

It always sounds like a great idea.

According to the Independent, England’s National Environment Research Council decided to let the Internet name its new, £ 200 million research vessel.

Currently in second place? Henry Worsley, the British explorer who died in January near the end of his attempt to become the first person to cross the Antarctic unaided.

And if first place? Why, Boaty McBoatface, of course.

Apparently James Hand, a former BBC presenter, suggested the name. As things on the Internet tend to do, the idea took off.

Before the site crashed Sunday, the name had over 30,000 votes, 8,000 more than Worsley.

“I have apologized profusely,” Hands said. “The storm that’s been created – it’s got legs of its own.”

Truth is, it’s not the first time allowing the Internet to name something has gone wrong.

Back in 2007, Greenpeace held a contest to name a whale they were trying to prevent the Japanese from poaching. The winner? Mr. Splashy Pants.

In 2011, the City of Austin held a contest for a new name for its Solid Waste Services Department. The response was overwhelming, and the winner, by a large margin, was the “Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts.” Needless to say, the city stuck with the original moniker.

In 2012, Mountain Dew held a “Dub the Dew” contest for a new, green apple-flavoured drink. Names like Diabeetus, Fapple and Gushing Granny were among those suggested, and “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong” was in the lead when Pepsi Co shut down the contest.

And closer to home, in 2015, BC Ferries launched a social media campaign to name its new ferries. The organization subsequently had their high-paid management mocked in names like HMS Cantafford, The Queen of Poor Management, Coastal Extortion, Spirit of Lack of Oversight and Queen of the Overfunded. In the end, they went with Salish Orca, Salish Eagle and Salish Raven. Far less interesting than the Queen of the Overfunded.

Toronto police won’t respond to minor crashes starting Tuesday

Carl Hanstke | posted Tuesday, Mar 22nd, 2016

Toronto police are changing the way they respond to minor crashes, including those that result in injuries.

Starting Tuesday, police will no longer respond to minor collisions that have minor injuries or no injuries at all.

Last year, police responded to almost 64,000 collisions and almost 70 per cent of them were minor fender-benders.

Police say this move will allow officers to focus on more serious calls.

“We can’t keep up with the current rate of collisions that are increasing year over year, with the sheer number of vehicles that are coming into the city, and the sheer number of pedestrians that are using our roadways,” Const. Clint Stibbe told 680 NEWS on Tuesday.

Drivers involved in minor crashes will have to go to a collision reporting centre.

However, officers will still respond if the minor collision involved involves criminal offences, drugs or alcohol, or pedestrians and cyclists.

Black Lives Matter demonstration continues at Toronto police HQ

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Mar 22nd, 2016

A Black Lives Matter demonstration, calling for more police transparency, is continuing at Toronto police headquarters on Tuesday morning.

“This is a positive and peaceful action that we’re hosting,” organizer Yusra Khogali said on Tuesday. About 40 demonstrators remained outside police headquarters around 5:30 a.m.

“Yet yesterday they raided us as if we were criminals … the police are interacting with the Black community as they always do.”

The initially peaceful protest began at Nathan Phillips Square on Sunday, with demonstrators camping out in tents.

The protest moved to police headquarters on College Street on Monday. That’s when Toronto police officers moved to break up the demonstration, taking down tents and putting out a fire around 9 p.m.

One demonstrator, Loveleen Kang, said Toronto Fire had allowed them to have a small fire.

The actions of Toronto police have drawn criticism, especially because Monday was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. During the protest, Police Chief Mark Saunders was speaking at an event about the elimination of racism. He was not at the demonstration.

Demonstrators said the police actions were violent and posted photos and video on Twitter. Toronto police also tweeted about the demonstration, saying they had to remove the tents and fire for safety reasons.

In a written statement, police told CityNews that they facilitate “peaceful disputes and protests. The law however, prohibits open fires and tents. Officers removed the tents and facilitated the extinguishing of the fire after repeated requests were refused.”

As for video showing officers dragging protesters, police said they were obstructing police.

“To enforce the law, we had to move those who were obstructing police,” a police spokesperson said.

Members of Black Lives Matter were calling not only for more police transparency but also for the city to reverse changes to Afrofest. The two-day festival was recently reduced to one day.

Demonstrators want to know the name, or names, of the officer or officers who killed Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby, and charges against the officers involved in Loku’s death. Earlier this month, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) ruled that the officer used “justifiable force” in the July 2015 shooting.

Loku, 45, was holding a hammer when he was killed.

They are also protesting the recent police shooting of Alex Wettlaufer. The SIU told CityNews three officers are believed to have discharged their firearms in the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old man in a North York park on March 13.

Black Lives Matter is also asking for a full review of the SIU.

Federal budget 2016: Building the case for cash

John Geddes | posted Monday, Mar 21st, 2016

Justin Trudeau operates a crane while touring a crane operator training facility on August 27, 2015 in Oakville, Ont. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Many Canadian political junkies think they know the moment most worth remembering from Canada 2020’s policy conference in Ottawa back in 2014. It was at the Liberal-linked think tank’s confab that fall that Justin Trudeau made news by dismissing Canada’s contribution of fighter jets to the combat mission in Iraq as a case of Conservatives “trying to whip out our CF-18s and show how big they are.” But only in the wonkiest of policy-wonk circles does anyone remember how, later that same day from the same stage, David Dodge made the case for governments fearlessly plunging into debt to pay for public infrastructure.

Yet it’s the former Bank of Canada governor’s dry remarks, not the future prime minister’s highly quotable crack, that echo now. As Trudeau’s government prepares to table its first budget on March 22, Dodge’s case for borrowing to build stuff has long since taken on the status of conventional wisdom. After all, his distinctive rasp is as close to the voice of God as exists in Canadian public policy debates. Along with once running the central bank, he was a key Finance Department official behind the last Liberal government’s celebrated elimination of deficits back in the 1990s.

So Dodge, who these days advises clients of the law firm Bennett Jones, made spilling red ink to fund public works sound to Liberals not just respectable, but shrewdly strategic. Rock-bottom interest rates, he said, make this “a very opportune time” for governments to borrow, particularly to pay for assets like new highways and faster telecommunications networks, which promise “a durable improvement in the standard of living.” Leap ahead to the 2015 election, and Trudeau followed that advice with his surprise promise—arguably the single most successful part of his platform—to run big deficits mainly to fund infrastructure.

That pledge remains central to Liberal planning as Finance Minister Bill Morneau puts the finishing touches on his first fiscal blueprint. Exactly how the infrastructure splurge will be greeted next week, however, is a subject of deep concern among Liberal advisers. They worry the multi-billion-dollar program will be seen as merely a reprise of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s 2009 response to recession—a quick, politically expedient and costly injection of stimulus. The Liberals contend that their version will be the start of a far more momentous project: a long-term retooling of the Canadian economy for sustained growth that will deliver rising middle-class incomes.

Their preferred framing continues the marketing of the Liberal government as ambitious and forward-thinking. Taking the focus off what’s ailing the Canadian economy right now also has the advantage of easing pressure on Morneau to somehow deliver a short-term cure. It’s not at all clear what that prescription would be. In a way, Harper’s challenge in early 2009 was far more straightforward. That winter, the recession brought on by the U.S. financial market collapse was hitting Canada hard. The Conference Board of Canada’s 2009 winter forecast had the economies of Canada’s four biggest provinces—Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia—all shrinking. Big spending seemed obvious.

The board’s 2016 winter forecast presents a more complicated outlook. It sees only Alberta’s economy shrinking this year. Even Saskatchewan and Newfoundand and Labrador, the two other provinces slammed directly by the oil price plunge, are projected to grow a bit. Marie-Christine Bernard, the economist in charge of the board’s provincial forecasts, points to Ontario’s expected gross domestic product growth of 2.4 per cent for 2016 as “a good result,” and B.C.’s country-leading 2.7 per cent as “solid growth.” In Manitoba, Bernard notes, hydro development is keeping the economy expanding, while Nova Scotia benefits from new shipbuilding projects.

Beyond those significant province-by-province differences, there’s been a subtle relaxing, in recent weeks, of the wider sense of urgency about Canada’s economy. In early January, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz painted a grim picture, predicting it might take three to five years for Canada to recover from the oil price shock, an adjustment he warned would be “difficult and painful for individuals.” By early this month, though, Poloz decided to leave interest rates unchanged, and the central bank said financial market volatility “appears to be abating.” Also in the first week of March, Statistics Canada reported a stronger-than-expected bounce in exports for January, as Canadian firms finally seemed to be taking advantage of the low loonie to boost sales into a fairly healthy U.S. market.

Still, private sector forecasters are not declaring an end to anxiety. CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes says Morneau will deliver his rookie budget into an economy hungry for government spending. “Yes, we’ve seen some better data. Yes, the Bank of Canada seemed to suggest the risks are kind of balanced,” Mendes says. “Yes, there have been some upside surprises recently, but they were set against very low expectations.” He says the 2016 outlook remains “weak to modest.”

That’s assuming sizable stimulus from Ottawa, spending built into the CIBC’s projections. Back in the fall election campaign, the Liberals promised to hold annual deficits to no more than $10 billion. They abandoned that ceiling as the economy stayed sluggish. Last month, Morneau said the government was on track to post an $18.4-billion deficit in 2016-17, but that didn’t include any of the fresh spending he’ll announce on budget day. Mendes expects a $35-billion federal deficit for the coming year, and doesn’t regard that as remotely troubling. He points to Canada’s low level of government debt by international standards. “We’re starting from a very favourable point compared to countries like the U.S., Japan,” he says, “and they have no trouble coming to debt markets and still borrowing.”

Still, polls show many Canadians remain uneasy about deficits, and the Liberals will have to justify much bigger ones than they proposed in the campaign, even though most of the country isn’t in recession. So they are stressing long-term goals like more social housing, green infrastructure like public transit, and clean energy. But where will money flow first and fastest? Mendes says the basic choices are creating jobs where the oil sector has shed them, especially Alberta and Saskatchewan, and investing where export-driven growth potential is most promising, notably Ontario and Quebec. Leaning decisively either way would invite a political firestorm around regional favouritism. “You may see it evenly distributed,” says Mendes.

While Morneau will want credit for the infrastructure plan, he’ll also try not to let it hog the budget spotlight. The Liberals’ promised new Canada Child Benefit (CCB)could vie for top billing. The CCB will replace a raft of existing payments to parents, including the Tories’ signature monthly Universal Child Care Benefit and the income-tested Canada Child Tax Benefit. In his election platform, Trudeau promised nine out of 10 families will get more than they do now under the streamlined, tax-free CCB—an average of $2,500 extra a year from Ottawa for the typical family of four. That’s enough to pretty much guarantee a positive reception from voices on the left, like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which says the CCB will “drive down poverty among children and their parents.”

In fact, the CCB might well end up looking more impressively thought-out as social policy reform than anything about the infrastructure spending will as economic policy. Morneau has already signalled that the Liberal plan needs more work. He only recently named Dominic Barton, global managing director of the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., to head a new advisory council on economic growth. If Dodge helped create the climate for the Trudeau government’s first budget, Barton has a chance to be the deep thinker who influences their next one.


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