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Presto rollout to be complete across TTC in 2017

news staff | posted Thursday, Dec 22nd, 2016

All TTC buses, streetcars and subway stations across the city will have Presto by the end of next year as the plan to eliminate tokens and metropasses moves forward.

“It’s a huge change. It’s the biggest rollout we’ve every done,” Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said. “It’s the biggest transit system in the country so it’s a huge undertaking.”

The rollout was originally expected to be complete by the end of this year.

To make purchasing a Presto card easier for transit users, next year cards will be sold at Gateway Newstands.

Metrolinx says it is also finalizing a deal with major retail chains to sell Presto cards.



“Into next year, people will still be able to use cash, tickets, tokens and metropasses while we continue the rollout of Presto,” Heather Brown, senior communications specialist with the TTC, explained. “At the end state when we’re completely finished all of the subway entrances, Presto will replace all of our fare media today.”

Those looking to pay cash will still be able to going forward on buses and streetcars. Brown said there will also be a device at every subway entrance that will accept cash for single ride fares and where people can use cash to load their Presto cards.

About 1.4 million people already use Presto on GO Transit and seven other regional transit carriers, including Oakville, Mississauga, and Brampton. Presto allows users to tap on to transit vehicles with a smart card pre-loaded with credits. It also allows for easier fare integration across networks.

Currently, the TTC averages around 350,000 Presto card taps per week on streetcars and subways combined.

In 2017, Canadian economy will get its first taste of the Trump era

ANDY BLATCHFORD, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Dec 22nd, 2016


The Canadian economy exits 2016 with bruises from the still-tough adjustment to weak crude prices and scars from the devastating wildfires that singed the oil patch.

It enters 2017 with lingering challenges and a potential new obstacle that could attract more attention than the rest: the economic unknowns of a Donald Trump presidency.

While it remains to be seen what will become of the U.S. president-elect’s vows in areas like taxation, trade and investment, their implementation could have significant impacts for Canada.

Canadian policy-makers say they will closely follow developments after Trump takes office Jan. 20.

For now, decision-makers like federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau are reserving judgment on how changes would affect the country.

“Looking towards next year, the change in the U.S. will of course present us with a different economic environment – it’s too early to have a clear view of the impacts,” Morneau said in a recent interview.

“But what I can assure you … is that we’re working to understand the new administration’s economic policies and to present how we can work together with them to enhance their growth and our growth; because our view is that we do better if we are open to helping others.”

For example, Trump has vowed to drop the tax rate for top-income earners by six per cent and by three per cent for middle-income earners.

He promised to bring the U.S. corporate rate, one of the highest in the world, down to 15 per cent from 39 per cent. Such a cut would make the U.S. corporate rate far lower than the average effective rate in Canada, where it’s about 26 per cent when federal and provincial rates are combined.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked in a recent roundtable interview with The Canadian Press about the potential impact of Trump’s promised tax cuts on Canada’s efforts to bring in foreign investment dollars.

“Let’s not respond too much to hypotheticals,” Trudeau said.

“Obviously, you have to be thoughtful about potential paths, but I’m not going to react to an administration that’s not actually in place yet.”

Trudeau said while taxes are always a consideration, he argued that Canada is attractive to investors for other reasons, including its well-educated workforce, openness to immigration and stability.

University of Calgary tax-policy expert Jack Mintz has said Canada’s ability to lure business investment and top talent would be threatened if the U.S. moves ahead with Trump’s vows to significantly cut tax rates for U.S. corporations and for the highest income earners.

Trump has also made it clear he wants Buy American rules in his planned $1-trillion infrastructure program, which could leave out Canadian companies.

To add to the unknowns for Canada, Trump has called for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But some experts say the expectations of Trump’s business-friendly promises are poised to lift the U.S. economy, which would help Canada.

Dan North, a senior economist for financial services firm Euler Hermes North America, said U.S. business confidence has climbed since the election, in large part due to the prospect of corporate tax reductions. As a result, North said his company bumped up its 2017 U.S. growth projection to 2.4 per cent from 2.1 per cent.

“We have a fair amount of confidence that we’re looking at a pretty solid year in the U.S. next year, which of course should translate into higher demand for Canadian exports,” North said.

Former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge agreed in a recent interview that he expected faster post-election growth in the U.S. to be a positive for the Canadian economy over the short term.

Over the medium and longer term, however, Dodge thinks Canada could struggle in areas like trade, attracting investment and, in particular, tax competitiveness.

“It’s an enormous challenge, I think, for Ottawa,” he said.

“It is a very unfortunate problem that the minister of finance will have to deal with.”

In 2017, the central bank will remain focused on whether Canada’s disappointing export performance can show real signs of life, current governor Stephen Poloz said earlier this month, during his final news conference of 2016.

Poloz said the bank will also look for the economy to continue to adjust to the sting of low oil prices and for the expected pickup in U.S. growth.

When asked, he declined to discuss what new policies might be introduced in the U.S. and how they could affect Canada. He did, however, say that uncertainty among companies expanded during the election campaign and he believes that sentiment remains “undiminished.”

Still, after what Poloz called a “challenging year” in 2016, he sounded cautiously optimistic for 2017.

“We have enough confidence that we’re on track, but we need to continue to monitor that,” he said. “Of course, the economy and the world economy have shown the capacity to disappoint in the past.”

CRTC declares broadband internet a basic service, like telephone

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Dec 22nd, 2016


Canada’s telecom regulator has declared broadband internet access a basic service across the country, just like current landline telephone service.

But the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says it can’t make full access to ultra-high speed services a reality on its own, and will require business and government help.

The CRTC says the aim is to ensure service providers (ISPs) offer internet services at speeds of at least 50 megabits per second for downloading data, and 10 Mbps for uploads.

Currently, about 82 per cent of households and businesses receive that level of service. The CRTC wants that increased to 90 per cent by 2021 and to 100 per cent within 10 to 15 years.

ISPs will also be required to offer unlimited data options for fixed broadband services.

As well, the regulator says mobile wireless service should be made available to all households and businesses throughout Canada, as well as along all major Canadian roads.

“Access to broadband internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive,” said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.

“The availability of broadband internet, however, is an issue that can’t be solved by the CRTC alone.”

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Advocacy group OpenMedia, regularly one of the CRTC’s sharpest critics, was elated at Wednesday’s declaration.

“It’s a real game changer, especially for rural and under-served communities right across the country,” said OpenMedia spokesman David Christopher.

Telecom giant Rogers Inc. called the CRTC plan acceptable, pointing out that it already offers services at speeds of up to 20 times faster than the new target.

“While there are still many details to be worked out, we are encouraged by this reasonable plan to help increase access to Canadians in hard-to-reach areas of the country,” said Rogers senior vice president, regulatory, David Watt.

As part of the decision, telecom firms will have access to an escalating $750-million industry-sponsored fund over the next five years to invest in broadband infrastructure.

The first $100 million of that, to be spent within the next two years, will come from a fund that currently subsidizes telephone services in isolated regions.

In order to access the fund, telecom companies will have to guarantee a set price for service.

However, unlike the recent CRTC decision to cap the cost of basic TV services at $25 per month, the regulator isn’t proposing a cap on what ISPs can charge customers for basic broadband internet. Blais said the regulator would have to monitor pricing as new high-speed services are put in place.

The decision comes after an announcement last week by the federal government of a $500-million fund to build high-speed internet infrastructure in remote and rural communities.

Blais said industry players and all levels of government will have to take part in filling the service gaps that exist across the country — gaps which affect about two million people.

On the heels of the declaration, NDP finance critic Guy Caron called on the Trudeau Liberals to fast-track broadband development.

“The Liberal government must now work with industry to ensure we meet these important goals at high speed,” said Caron, whose rural riding suffers from a lack of internet service choices.

The CRTC also ruled Wednesday that within the next six months, ISPs must provide customers with contracts that spell out: the services being provided, usage limits, minimum monthly charges and the full cost of data overage charges.

“While there are still many details to be worked out, we are encouraged by this reasonable plan to help increase access to Canadians in hard to reach areas of our country,” said David Watt, senior vice-president, regulatory, at Rogers Communications, the parent company of this website.

“At Rogers, we already offer speeds twenty times faster than the new target and have unlimited plans everywhere we offer internet.”

There were roughly 12 million residential internet service subscribers in Canada in 2015, up 3.3 per cent from the previous year, along with 30 million wireless subscribers.

With a file from News Staff

Adoption up, euthanasia down at animal shelters across Canada, report finds

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Dec 22nd, 2016


Adoptions are up, euthanasia is down and the number of homeless pets in Canada’s animal shelters is lower, according to a report by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.

Overall, there were more than 82,000 cats and 35,000 dogs taken into Canadian shelters in 2015, according to a report released by the organization last week.

Barbara Cartwright, the CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, said the country’s shelter system has taken a more proactive approach to reducing numbers of homeless cats and dogs.

“In the past it was reactive, taking the animals in as fast as you can and turn them out as fast as you can,” Cartwright said.

The charity collected 2015 data by sending out surveys to 170 humane societies and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelters across the country and 89 of those responded.

Cartwright said this is a typical response rate. Usually 85 to 100 shelters report back each year.

“We are comfortable with year-over-year comparisons because it’s around the same number of respondents every year,” Cartwright said, adding they can correct for it by comparing rates.

But, the report said, the data represents “only a fraction of homeless companion animals in Canada.”

It doesn’t capture private shelters, rescue and foster groups and municipal animal shelters.

Still, it’s the only comprehensive study of the country’s animal shelter system, Cartwright said.

Things are slowly improving for the nation’s homeless cats, according to the report.

“While the proportion of stray dogs remained the same, the proportion of cats taken in as stray has been declining in recent years,” the report said.

The report cites “intake management” as one of the reasons for fewer cats in shelters.

“Rather than accepting any surrendered cat at any time, appointments are scheduled to take in surrendered cats when the shelter’s capacity permits in,” the report reads.

“It is now understood to be a better practice to allow healthy, unowned outdoor cats to remain in their home location where they are thriving.”

And, the report said, more than 90 per cent of shelters say they don’t allow an animal to leave its care without being spayed our neutered – more than 58,000 cats and dogs in 2015 – to help control the pet population.

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Adoption rates are up with 48 per cent of dogs and 57 per cent of cats adopted in 2015 – the highest level observed for cats in the two decades the charity has been collecting data.

Shelters are transferring pets to other shelters and rescue organizations as a way to increase adoption.

And “there is an increasing trend in the proportion of stray cats who are reclaimed,” the report said. “These observations inspire a sense of optimism that the message to provide identification for cats is reaching more of the public.”

There are fewer animals being killed at shelters.

Euthanasia rates for cats were down: 21 per cent of cats taken in were destroyed in 2015, down from 27 per cent the year before and 54 per cent in 2008.

Cartwright said there is appears to be a correlation to limiting the number of cats taken in with euthanasia rates.

“We see high euthanasia rates when a whole bunch of cats get together in a shelter, they get stressed and get diseases and they end up being euthanized,” she said.

Euthanasia rates for dogs increased slightly in 2015 from the year before to more than 10 per cent of dogs taken in.

Overall, 15,341 cats and 2,820 dogs were euthanized last year.

While the news is good, Cartwright said, much more needs to be done.

But cats can look to dogs for success.

“We definitely treat cats differently than dogs,” Cartwright said. “They tend to go to the vet less, they are very rarely microchipped, collared or identified in some way so they can get back home – they roam at large and it takes a while for owners, in general, to look for cats, compared to dogs.”

“We have a much looser ethic with cats and that needs to shift.”

Man arrested in Berlin Christmas market truck attack released

ttack released BY KIRSTEN GRIESHABER AND FRANK JORDANS, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, Dec 21st, 2016


German authorities are calling the truck attack on a crowded Christmas market an “act of terrorism” that had all the hallmarks of Islamic extremism – but many questions remained over who carried out the attack that killed 12 people and wounded nearly 50 in the heart of Berlin.

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday night released a man taken into custody in the vicinity of the crime on suspicion that he drove the vehicle in the attack Monday night, saying they hadn’t found evidence putting him in the truck at that time.

The man, a Pakistani citizen who came to Germany last year, had been picked up based upon a description of the man who jumped out of the truck and fled. But prosecutors said he had denied any involvement in the attack. Prosecutors also said no forensic evidence had been found proving that he was in the cab during the rampage, and no witnesses had followed him from the scene of the carnage to where he had been picked up.

Under German law, prosecutors have until the end of the calendar day following an arrest to seek a formal arrest warrant keeping a suspect in custody.

Federal Criminal Police Office chief Holger Muench and other officials had expressed doubt earlier that the man in custody was the truck’s driver. Muench also said police haven’t yet found a pistol believed used to kill a Polish truck driver who was supposed to be delivering steel beams with the truck used in the attack until it went missing.

Berlin police, meanwhile, urged people to remain “particularly vigilant” and to report “suspicious movements” to a special hotline.

“We may still have a dangerous criminal out there,” Berlin police chief Klaus Kandt said.

Germany’s top prosecutor, Peter Frank, told reporters the Monday night attack on the market outside the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was reminiscent of July’s deadly truck attack in Nice and appeared to follow instructions published by ISIS.

“There is also the prominent and symbolic target of a Christmas market, and the modus operandi that mirrors at least past calls by jihadi terror organizations,” Frank said.

Still, he said authorities had not yet heard any claim of responsibility.

Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted the attack cannot change Germans’ way of life.

“Twelve people who were still among us yesterday, who were looking forward to Christmas, who had plans for the holidays, aren’t among us anymore,” she said in an emotional, nationally televised statement before heading to the scene of the attack in downtown Berlin. “A gruesome and ultimately incomprehensible act has robbed them of their lives.”

Later Merkel and German President Joachim Gauck attended a memorial service at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and laid white roses outside the church.

Witnesses saw only one man flee from the truck after it rammed into the crowded Christmas market Monday evening. It smashed through the market, going 200 to 260 feet before finally coming to a halt.

Six of those killed have been identified as Germans, and the man found shot and killed in the truck’s passenger seat was Polish. The other five people killed have not yet been identified, and 18 people are still suffering from serious injuries.

Merkel, who has been criticized for allowing in huge numbers of migrants last year, addressed head-on the possibility that an asylum-seeker was responsible for the carnage.

“I know that it would be particularly hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that a person committed this act who asked for protection and asylum in Germany,” Merkel said. “This would be particularly sickening for the many, many Germans who work to help refugees every day and for the many people who really need our help and are making an effort to integrate in our country.”

A spokesman for Berlin’s office for refugee affairs said police conducted a broad search overnight at a large shelter for asylum-seekers at the city’s now-defunct Tempelhof airport. Four men in their late 20s were questioned but nobody was arrested, Sascha Langenbach told The Associated Press.

The Polish owner of the truck said he feared the vehicle may have been hijacked. Ariel Zurawski said he last spoke with the driver, his cousin, around noon on Monday and the driver told him he was in Berlin and scheduled to unload Tuesday morning.

“They must have done something to my driver,” he told TVN24.

Germans have been increasingly wary since two attacks by asylum-seekers in the summer that were claimed by ISIS. Five people were wounded in an axe rampage on a train near Wuerzburg and 15 wounded in a bombing outside a bar in Ansbach, both in the southern state of Bavaria. Both attackers were killed.

Those attacks, and two others unrelated to Islamic extremism in the same weeklong period, contributed to tensions in Germany over the arrival last year of 890,000 migrants.

Far-right groups and a nationalist party seized on Monday night’s attack, blaming Merkel for what happened.

“Under the cloak of helping people Merkel has completely surrendered our domestic security,” Frauke Petry, the co-chairwoman of the Alternative for Germany party, wrote.

Manfred Weber, a member of Merkel’s conservative bloc and leader of the European Parliament’s biggest political group, cautioned against sweeping verdicts but said it was important to ensure that extremists didn’t enter the country.

The German government said Merkel spoke Tuesday with President Barack Obama, who expressed his condolences. In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the United States was ready to help in the investigation and response.

The attack came less than a month after the U.S. State Department warned that extremist groups including ISIS and al-Qaida were focusing “on the upcoming holiday season and associated events” in Europe.

ISIS and al-Qaida have both called on followers to use trucks in particular to attack crowds. On July 14, a truck plowed into Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice, killing 86 people. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack, which was carried out by a Tunisian living in France.

Associated Press writers David Rising and Geir Moulson in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Toronto Christmas Market heightens security on heels of Berlin attack

news staff | posted Wednesday, Dec 21st, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 6.30.52 AM

The Toronto Christmas Market at the Distillery District has heightened its security in light of an attack in Berlin, CityNews has learned.

A truck slammed into the market in downtown Berlin on Monday night, killing 12 people and injuring nearly 50.

“We are deeply saddened by what happened at the Christmas Market in Berlin,” Mathew Rosenblatt, of the Toronto Christmas Market, said in a statement.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and with the people of Germany.”

An officer told CityNews organizers contacted the Toronto Police Service at 51 Division immediately after the attack in Germany and expressed security concerns.

As a result, concrete barricades have been put up around the perimeter of the market and extra paid-duty police officers have been assigned to the event.

51 Division is also supplying extra uniformed police officers on street patrol.

“Our officers on the road are going to make a point of going by,” said Sgt. David Wallace. “And also our community response officers are going to attend tonight and do walk-throughs, looking for anything suspicious.”

Police have no reason to believe the market is under threat, he added.

“There hasn’t been any intel passed along to us, but [it’s] just to show a visible presence and make it known that we are making it safe,” Wallace said.

Fire forces east-end residents from their apartment building

news staff | posted Wednesday, Dec 21st, 2016


Several people in an east-end apartment building were forced out of their homes in the middle of the night because of a fire.

The fire began on Gilder Drive, near Midland and Eglinton avenues, around 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Residents took shelter on a TTC bus.

No injuries have been reported. There’s no word yet on the cause of the fire or the cost of the damage.



Deadly Mexico fireworks blast hit market packed for holidays


Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 6.26.01 AM

The San Pablito fireworks market was especially well stocked for the holidays and bustling with hundreds of shoppers when a powerful chain-reaction explosion ripped through its stalls, killing at least 29 people and leaving dozens more badly burned.

The third such blast to ravage the market on the northern outskirts of Mexico’s capital since 2005 sent up a towering plume of smoke that was lit up by a staccato of bangs and flashes of light. Once the smoke cleared, the open-air bazaar was reduced to a stark expanse of ash, rubble and the charred metal of fireworks stands, casting a pall over the country’s Christmas season.

Mexico State health officials said 72 people were being treated for injuries from Tuesday’s explosion, including for severe burns, in some cases over 90 per cent of their bodies. Ten children were among the hospitalized. Authorities have not yet said what may have caused the explosions which took place in Mexico State, which rings the capital.

Survivor Crescencia Francisco Garcia said she was in the middle of the grid of stalls when the thunderous explosions began. She froze, reflexively looked up at the sky and then took off running through the smoke once she realized everyone was doing so. As she ran she saw people with burns and cuts, and lots of blood.

“Everything was catching fire. Everything was exploding,” Francisco said. “The stones were flying, pieces of brick, everything was flying.”

Mexico State Gov. Eruviel Avila reported Tuesday night that in addition to the 26 people who perished at the market, three more victims died later in hospitals.

“We are going to identify who is responsible,” Avila said.

Sirens wailed and a heavy scent of gunpowder lingered in the air well after the thunderous explosions at the market, which were widely seen in a dramatic video. The smoking, burned out shells of vehicles ringed the perimeter, and first responders and local residents wearing blue masks over their mouths combed through the ash and debris. Firefighters hosed down still-smouldering hotspots.

Tultepec Mayor Armando Portuguez Fuentes said the market was especially well stocked because demand for noisy firecrackers and rockets soars this time of year.

“We are obviously in the high season,” Portuguez said. “There was more product than usual because we are a few days away from Christmas, a few days away from New Year’s, and those are the days when the products made here are consumed the most.”

Cesar Ornelas of Atizapan de Zaragoza was only 10 minutes into shopping with his son and his father when he heard the first explosions. He tried to run, but something knocked him to the ground from behind. He tried several times to get up, unsuccessfully, and ultimately his 15-year-old son Francisco had to drag him out.

“We didn’t look back,” said Ornelas, who suffered light burns and a large bruise over his left kidney. His white tank top had a fist-size burn on the chest. “We heard how the explosion was kind of going off bit by bit.”

Nearly four hours later, he and Francisco limped gingerly out of the market area. Francisco said paramedics told him his leg was likely fractured by flying debris. Ornelas said his 67-year-old father, Ernesto, had run in a different direction and sought refuge in a nearby home. All the father’s clothing was burned, and his face and arm were bloodied. An ambulance had spirited him to a hospital, but Ornelas wasn’t sure where it was or how serious his injuries were.

“My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this accident and my wishes for a quick recovery for the injured,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said via Twitter.

A similar fire engulfed the San Pablito Market in 2005, touching off a chain of explosions that levelled hundreds of stalls just ahead of Mexico’s Independence Day. A year later a similar incident at the same market also destroyed hundreds of stands.

Portuguez, the Tultepec mayor, said the manufacture and sale of fireworks is a key part of the local economy. He added that it is regulated by law and under the “constant supervision” of the Defence Department, which oversees firearms and explosives.

“This is part of the activity of our town. It is what gives us identity,” Portuguez said. “We know it is high-risk, we regret this greatly, but unfortunately many people’s livelihoods depend on this activity.”

Deadly fireworks explosions have occurred with some regularity in Mexico: In 2002, a blast at a market in the Gulf coast city of Veracruz killed 29; in 1999, 63 people died when an explosion of illegally stored fireworks destroyed part of the city of Celaya; and in 1988, a fireworks blast in Mexico City’s La Merced market killed at least 68.

Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman reported from Tultepec, Mexico, and Peter Orsi reported from Mexico City.

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