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Uber vs. taxi debate set to heat up City Hall

CityNews | posted Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Sparks are set to fly at Toronto City Hall on Tuesday as councillors have their say on the proposed new rules for Uber and taxi drivers.

In April, city staff unveiled a much-anticipated list of over 100 recommendations to try to create a level playing field between the ride-sharing service and the traditional taxi industry.

The list suggested different sets of rules for both taxis and vehicle-for-hire services, including background checks for Uber drivers and allowing taxis to offer discounts to people who use phone or Internet apps to get a cab.

The recommendations also include a $290 licensing fee for taxi drivers, which is a drop of 17 per cent from the current charge. Uber drivers would have to pay $10, plus a ‘per ride fee’ of 20 cents.

Related stories:

Uber will shut down in Toronto if council passes transportation regulations

Proposed vehicle-for-hire regulations reignite taxi industry, Uber war

Video: What could new taxi, Uber regulations mean for customers

The 17-day training requirement for cabbies would be eliminated and all vehicles would have to carry $2 million worth of liability insurance.

Taxi drivers argue that the proposed rules still give Uber an unfair advantage. Meanwhile, Uber has signalled that it could cease operations in Toronto if city council passes its proposed regulations.

The council meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. Click here to read the agenda.

Councillors are expected to vote on the regulations on Wednesday.

Raptors facing a much different challenge against Heat

CityNews | posted Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors had all of an hour to breathe and enjoy their substantial Game 7 accomplishment before turning their focus to the Miami Heat. The second round of the playoffs starts Tuesday, and head coach Dwane Casey gave his players until midnight Sunday to enjoy before looking forward.

A different type of transition team

The only thing quicker than the turnaround between series might be Goran Dragic in transition. The Heat have thrived in the open court since losing Chris Bosh to another blood clot (he’s not expected back for this series), and a large part of that has to do with freeing the speedy Dragic to push the tempo, surrounded by wings in single-big lineups.

“They got Joe (Johnson) and that makes a big difference, Luol (Deng) is playing extremely well, they’re playing a lot up tempo, Goran’s out in transition a lot more than he was earlier in the year,” Kyle Lowry said of the newer-look Heat. “It’s just a real different team. They’re playing hard, playing scrappy, but they’re really playing up tempo and trying to use their spacing to their advantage.”

Looking at season-long numbers doesn’t necessarily do the Heat’s attack justice. Even after the all-star break, when they lost Bosh, the Heat only ranked 18th in pace. That’s two spots lower than Indiana, and the two teams were similar in terms of fast-break points, too. The Heat push the issue in a different way. Whereas Indiana thrives off forcing turnovers and running from there, the Heat play more conservatively, instead pushing off of stops and in semi-transition, letting Dragic get into the teeth and causing chaos from initial breakdowns.

They’re comfortable setting up in the half court if immediate opportunities don’t present themselves, and from there things slow down – they’re a top-10 half-court offence, and they have the shot-makers to be effective there. But they’re dangerous on the run, and their uptick in 3-point shooting in the second half, when they hit 36.5 per cent from outside, is paramount to that. The Raptors were an above-average team defending in transition despite their woes guarding the 3-point line, and that will have to be a point of emphasis all season long.

“They’re an in-the-paint team, they’re getting downhill, they’re getting out in transition,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “So we’ve got to do a job getting back in transition and try to keep the ball out of the paint. It’s easier said than done, preparing for them is different than preparing for Indiana.”

The battle inside

Part of what allows the Heat’s defence to be successful despite a more conservative on-ball nature is the presence of Hassan Whiteside, the league’s leading shot-blocker.

(courtesy BasketballReference.com)

With such a major presence waiting in the paint, the Raptors may have to adjust their drive-oriented attack.

“I don’t know, ain’t no secret,” Lowry said. “Just get the ball over his hand. You have to be smart about the decisions you make, we’re definitely going to be conscious of where he is at all times but you can’t be afraid to make the right plays.”

The right plays could often involve Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas is one of the few bigs who can rebound with Whiteside, and he’s talented enough to score on him in the post or get him into foul trouble with his pump-fakes and up-and-unders. Maybe the biggest weapon Valanciunas provides, one he’s worked on tirelessly, is his ability to hit the mid-range jumper.

“JV might be shooting a few more jump shots than we normally would see because that’s just the shots Whiteside gives up,” Lowry said.

Valanciunas shot 47.2 per cent from outside of 10 feet on the season, hitting from as far out as 19 feet. It’s not the primary option, but it’s a means of exploiting the Heat’s drop-back pick-and-roll coverage or dragging Whiteside a little outside of the paint, a major victory if he obliges.

valanciunas(Courtesy AustinClemens.com)

An entirely new matchup

Due to injuries and a bit of roster turnover on both sides, the Heat and Raptors that square off Tuesday will be dissimilar to the teams that met four times during the year. Dragic, Deng, Whiteside, Wade and Johnson all missed at least one game against Toronto, Valanciunas missed the second meeting, and DeMarre Carroll is yet to see the Heat this season, a pretty major difference.

“I’ve guarded both of them,” Carroll said of his familiarity with Johnson and Wade. “Joe I know last year quite well from the Brooklyn series. We went toe-to-toe in that one. I know Joe. I’m probably more familiar with Joe, but it doesn’t matter.”

And all of those injuries are not to speak of the remarkable emergence of two second-round picks late in the year in Josh Richardson and Norman Powell. Both players should figure in to their respective rotations to open the series, playing important defensive roles.

“It will be fun for me. I think I played a total of six minutes against Miami. The first time, I think I guarded Wade like three times,” Powell said of one of the players he models his game after.

Carroll will probably draw the Johnson assignment more often than the Wade one, as the Raptors seem better staffed to chase Wade around in part because of Powell’s emergence.

Pearl Jammed up

Raptors-Heat Game 5 is scheduled for May 11, the same night Pearl Jam are scheduled to play at the Air Canada Centre. No matter – the concert will be moved to May 12 if and when the Raptors require the venue for a fifth battle.

Toronto library workers reach tentative agreement

CityNews | posted Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Toronto’s 2,220 library workers have reached a tentative agreement, the union said early Monday morning, and libraries will open as scheduled.

Employees could have walked off the job just after midnight, closing the city’s 100 public libraries.

However, just before 7 a.m., union president Maureen O’Reilly said a deal had been reached, and the Toronto Public Library Board and the Toronto Public Library Workers Union (Local 4948 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees) had a new four-year contract.

“This has been a difficult round of bargaining, but our bargaining committee has secured a deal which we believe addresses some of our concerns and allows Toronto’s library workers to continue to provide great services in the city’s 100 branches,” O’Reilly said in a statement.

The deal has not yet been ratified, and the terms have not been revealed.

One of the main stumbling blocks in the dispute had been the issue of part-time employees and stability for precarious workers.

“They’re struggling under the current working conditions, and we certainly need a way forward on those issues,” O’Reilly said during a rally at Nathan Phillip’s Square on Saturday.

Other demands include employment security and wage increases.

“A lot of the things that we’re asking for are things that have fallen way below the rate of inflation and haven’t been increased in 10 or 15 years,” she said.

But it’s not just the union that’s looking to reduce precarious work, former MP Andrew Cash is leading a campaign aimed at changing Canada’s labour laws.

“This is a struggle that goes far beyond just library workers,” he said. “It’s important that we realize that the fight library workers fight today, is a fight that sole and self-employed people are fighting too.”

Cash, the co-founder of the Urban Worker Project, said the national initiative will highlight the plight faced by employees who don’t have access to pension, benefits or job security.

“We want to raise the issue, make it one of the issues that public policy has to deal with,” he explained. “Whether we’re dealing with municipal, provincial or federal governments, we need to be looking through the lens of precarious work when we build out new public policy.”

The Urban Worker Project is expected to launch May 6 at Propeller Coffee in Toronto. Cash said this is the first of many events that will help to build the community needed to push for legislative change.

Toronto Raptors advance to second round of NBA Playoffs

CityNews | posted Monday, May 2nd, 2016

The Toronto Raptors defeated the Indiana Pacers 89-84 in Game 7 to advance to second round of NBA Playoffs.

DeMar DeRozan had 30 points as the Raptors won a Game 7 matchup for the first time in franchise history. The series win was just the second in Toronto’s 21-year franchise history.

The Pacers rallied from a 16 point deficit late in the fourth quarter to cut Toronto’s lead to three before the Raptors regained their composure to close out the victory.

Rookie Norman Powell had 13 points for Toronto, while Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry had 11 apiece.

Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

Toronto will play host to the Miami Heat in the East Conference Semi-finals on Tuesday night.

Backed by a raucous home crowd, the Raptors led almost the entire game, and took a 78-64 advantage into the fourth quarter.

Toronto went up by 16 points when Powell drilled a three-pointer and then swiped the ball away from Indiana on the next possession for a Joseph bucket. But in a roller-coaster series where no lead has been safe, the Pacers pulled to within three points with 2:36 to play when Monta Ellis drilled a three.

A pair of George free throws made it a three-point game with 53 seconds to play, but DeRozan grabbed a huge steal off George on the Pacers’ next possession and then calmly sunk two free throws with 6.5 seconds to play to secure the victory.

DeRozan, who has struggled all series, came up big when it counted in his strongest game of the seven, and when he spun off a Pacers defender with two minutes left in the third quarter, the crowd roared its approval.

The Maple Leaf – laid out in a pattern of red and white T-shirts – provided the Air Canada Centre backdrop. And the crowd that included Drake, Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban, and Blue Jays Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Marcus Stroman, was electric, in full voice from the opening jump ball.

When Bismack Biyombo missed a free throw late in the third quarter, the fans stood and gave the Raptors big man a rousing cheer. He made the second one, with a smile.

Outside, thousands of Raptors fans braved the chilly weather to watch the game on the giant screen in Maple Leaf Square.

The Raptors’ only previous playoff series victory came way back in 2001, when they knocked off the New York Knicks in a five-game series. After last year’s four-game debacle at the hands of Washington, they’ve played under heavy expectations.

Winning a franchise-best 56 games in the regular season and earning the No. 2 seed for the first time only intensified the pressure.

“This is a great basketball market, the players have built up the expectations and done a great job of it and these are the consequences of it,” coach Dwane Casey said before tip-off. “I feel like our players have embraced it.

“We’ve earned the right to play in Game 7. We did it through 82 games. As a player the pressure is what you grow up thinking about. I’d rather have this pressure than not be here at all.”

The Raptors, who won Games 2, 3 and 5, dropped an ugly 101-83 decision in Indiana on Friday to force a seventh game.

The Raptors looked solid in the first quarter, and backed by 13 points from DeRozan, took a 28-23 lead into the second.

Powell pushed the pace for Toronto in the second with 10 points, including a pair of threes, and the Raptors went into the dressing room at halftime up 50-44.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

It’s tax deadline day – did you file?

CityNews | posted Monday, May 2nd, 2016

It’s tax deadline day in Canada, with Monday being the last day to file if you owe the government money.

Technically, the last day was April 30, but as that date fell on a Saturday, the deadline was extended until Monday.

For self-employed people who do not owe any money, the deadline is extended until June 15.

Missing the tax filing deadline triggers penalties on any amounts owed to the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as interest on the outstanding balance. The government charges five per cent of the balance owed, plus an addition one per cent for every month the return is late (to a maximum of 12 months).

Long-form census forms coming to a mailbox near you this week

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Call it the start of the government’s biggest big data push.

Monday marks the start of mailings from Statistics Canada of census surveys, including the return of the mandatory, long-form questionnaire that was replaced with a voluntary survey five years ago.

Statistics Canada says more than 15 million households will receive census letters over eight days, along with reminders to either fill the form out by hand or online, which half of Canadians did five years ago.

Every home will receive a short-form questionnaire. One in every four homes will receive the long-form census.

So far this year, about 1,700 Canadians have subscribed to an online reminder from Statistics Canada to fill out their form, which the agency says requires no registration or lengthy download processes. And census officials have visited more than 60 per cent of First Nations communities since the start of April to help residents fill out the questionnaire.

The census gives a statistical snapshot of the population once every five years, collecting demographic information on every man, woman and child living in the country, as well as Canadians living abroad on a military base, or part of an embassy.

For provincial coffers, the population estimates in the census determine how much per capita funding they will receive in transfers from the federal government.

For local governments and community groups, the demographic details in neighbourhoods help with decisions on where to place new schools, transit routes, seniors’ housing and emergency services.

For companies, the census data act as a much-needed complement to what’s become known as big data.

“Some people wonder, well, why do you even need a census when we have big data?” said Jan Kestle, president of Environics Analytics.

“When you combine the kind of data we now can collect with census data, you can really get a more integrated view of what consumers want both in terms of products and services and that’s also true in terms of what citizens want from government.”

It’s a massive undertaking that is estimated to cost $715 million for the seven-year period that it takes to prepare, collect, analyze and distribute results. The final cost isn’t known until two years after census day.

The previous Conservative government replaced the long-form census with the voluntary survey five years ago in a move that caught many by surprise and lit a political fuse over the depth of data Statistics Canada collected through regular population counts. The results from the 2011 count prevented comparisons to previous years, left out some small communities over quality concerns, and raised reliability questions around response rates of immigrants and aboriginals.

As one of its first acts in government, the Liberals brought back the mandatory, long-form questionnaire.

Kestle said there will remain gaps in the data collected five years ago, but the return of the long-form census this year should bridge many of them created by the one-time absence.

“To be realistic, of course there will be breaks (in data), but I think missing one (census) is not nearly as bad as if we hadn’t had it come back,” she said.

The long-form questionnaire will go out to one of every four households, instead of the one in every three that received the voluntary survey. Failure to fill out one of the forms could lead to a fine of $500, up to three months in jail, or both.

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