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It’s over: Britain files for divorce from the European Union

Jill Lawless, The Associated Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 29th, 2017

The United Kingdom filed for divorce from the European Union on Wednesday, overturning four decades of integration with its neighbours, demolishing the notion that EU expansion is inevitable and shaking the foundations of a bloc that is facing challenges to its identity and its place in the world.

Britain’s top envoy to the EU, Tim Barrow, hand-delivered a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk formally triggering a two-year countdown to the final split.

“Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people,” Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

For Britons who voted to leave the bloc in a referendum nine months ago, it was a time for celebration.

“In my opinion, this is the greatest moment in modern British history,” said Brendan Chilton, general secretary of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave. “We are finally beginning the process by which we leave the European Union, restore our Parliament and once again become a sovereign nation.”

For “remain” campaigners, it was time to fight for a divorce settlement that preserves what they see as key benefits of EU membership, including free trade in goods and services and the right to live and work anywhere in the bloc.

“The phoney war is over,” said Joe Carberry, co-director of the pro-EU pressure group, Open Britain. He said Britain had decided that it would leave the bloc, but “the issue of how we will leave, and the democratic checks and balances along the process of the negotiations, remains unresolved.”

For Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU’s executive Commission, Britain’s departure is “a failure and a tragedy.”

The loss of a major member is destabilizing for the EU, which is battling to contain a tide of nationalist and populist sentiment and faces unprecedented antipathy from the new resident of the White House.

It is even more tumultuous for Britain. For all the U.K. government’s confident talk of forging a close and friendly new relationship with its neighbours, it cannot be sure what it’s future relationship with the bloc will look like – whether businesses will freely be able to trade, students to study abroad or pensioners to retire with ease in other EU states. Those things have become part of life since the U.K. joined what was then called the European Economic Community in 1973.

It’s not even certain that the United Kingdom will survive the exit intact. Scotland’s parliament voted Tuesday to back First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a referendum on independence within two years. Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU in last year’s vote, and Sturgeon insists Scotland must not be “taken down a path that we do not want to go down without a choice.”

May insists “now is not the time” for a referendum, setting her on course for a showdown with the Edinburgh administration just when the U.K. government wants to devote all its energies to the EU talks.

The trigger for all the economic and constitutional uncertainty is Article 50, a previously obscure clause of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty that allows a member state to withdraw from the bloc. The two sides now have until March 2019 to agree on a divorce settlement and – if possible – establish a new relationship between Britain, the world’s fifth-largest economy, and the EU, a vast single market stretching over 27 countries and half a billion people.

Brexit Secretary David Davis — the man charged with leading Britain’s side in the talks – has called it “the most complicated negotiation in modern times, maybe the most complicated negotiation of all time.”

Tusk has said that within 48 hours he will respond with a draft negotiating guidelines for the remaining 27 member states to consider. Leaders of those nations will then meet on April 29 to finalize their negotiating platform before instructing the EU’s chief negotiator, French diplomat Michel Barnier.

Then Barnier will sit down with his British counterpart, Davis, who has said the first item on the agenda will probably be: “How we do this?”

As in many divorces, the first area of conflict is likely to be money. The EU wants Britain to pay a hefty bill – Juncker put it at around 50 billion euros (US$63 billion) – to cover pension liabilities for EU staff and other commitments the U.K. has agreed to.

British negotiators are sure to quibble over the size of the tab.

Davis said Monday that Britain will “meet our international obligations,” but added: “I don’t think we are going to be seeing that sort of money change hands.”

Juncker has said the EU will not try to punish Britain for leaving.

“I do not think we will get anywhere by clobbering the British, insulting them and driving too hard a bargain,” he said in a speech this month. But, he added, “There can be no cherry picking either. …. You are either in or out.”

Negotiations will soon hit a major contraction: Britain wants “frictionless” free trade, but says it will restore control of immigration, ending the right of EU citizens to live and work in Britain. The EU says Britain can’t have full access to the single market if it doesn’t accept free movement, one of the bloc’s key principles.

Both Britain and the EU say a top priority will be guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in Britain, and 1 million Britons living elsewhere in the bloc.

The two sides also appear to disagree on how the talks will unfold. EU officials say the divorce terms must be settled before negotiators can turn to the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc. British officials want the two things discussed simultaneously.

May has suggested that if talks stall she could walk away, saying that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

That prospect alarms many British businesses. If Britain crashed out of the EU without a trade deal it would fall back onto World Trade Organization rules, meaning tariffs and other barriers to trade.

Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has warned that the British government has not done enough for the “real prospect” that talks may break down, ending in no deal and “mutually assured damage” to both Britain and the EU.

Even if talks go well, EU leaders say there is little chance a final agreement on relations between the two parties will be reached by 2019. Some say it could take a decade.

May insists that Britain is not turning its back on Europe. She says the U.K. wants “a new and equal partnership” with “our friends and allies in the EU.” She wants the U.K.’s exit to be “smooth and orderly.”

She will start to find out soon whether that is wishful thinking.

Carberry, from Open Britain, accused the government of offering an unrealistic picture of the costs of Brexit.

“They are saying everyone’s going to get free money and a free pony, basically,” he said. “The government is going to need to start being up front with people about the risks and outline more clearly how they are going to mitigate against those risks.”

But Labour Leave’s Chiltern predicted that soon “the chest-beating will stop and actually you’ll get down to cool, hard diplomacy and we’ll get a good deal.”

“It is in the interests of both parties to get this done as quickly as possible and as amicably as possible,” he said.

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this story.

Strike averted as Purolator, union reach tentative agreement

The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 29th, 2017

Purolator says it has reached a tentative contract agreement with Teamsters Canada ahead of Wednesday’s strike deadline.

The company says it is returning to normal operations and again accepting shipments after stopping them on Tuesday.

Purolator says it won’t reveal the specifics of the tentative agreement until union members review and vote on the contract.

Teamsters Canada had issued the 72-hour strike notice on Sunday after most of its more than 8,000 members at Purolator voted to reject the company’s final offer.

Purolator said it would try its best to deliver shipments already in its network in the event of a strike, but also warned of delays.

The strike deadline was 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

City council approves Scarborough subway alignment

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Mar 29th, 2017

City council has voted 26-18 to approve the alignment for the Scarborough subway extension.

Council also approved the underground bus terminal at Scarborough Town Centre, which will add $187 million to the already-considerable cost of the project.

The total projected cost for the one-stop extension has swelled by more than a billion dollars since 2013 to $3.35 billion, causing some councillors to argue for a retraction to the fully-funded LRT plan.

Mayor John Tory scoffed at the idea of further backtracking on what has became an epic debate that’s led to frustrating inaction.

Tory reiterated that the time for talk is over. “We absolutely must get on with building transit in Toronto,” he said from city hall. “The vast majority of people have made it clear to me — they want us to get on with building transit in Scarborough and the rest of the city.”

“Enough debates and votes have been held…this city is starved for additional public transportation,” he added.

Tory also said he would use “every ounce” of strength and determination to assure the city’s transit projects come to fruition.

More to come

Border Runners: A by-the-numbers look at refugees crossing into Canada

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Mar 28th, 2017

An aerial shot of Roxham Road, the last stop on the refugee railroad from New York State to Quebec. HDADIRONDACKS.COM

It’s day two of CityNews reporter Avery Haines’ trip to Plattsburgh, N.Y., to find asylum-seekers on a literal run for the Canadian border.

Those who cross that border on foot are called the Roxham Road Refugees, named after the road that skirts Champlain, N.Y., and then turns into Chemin Roxham on the Quebec side of the border. But just how many people are coming into Canada?

Here’s a by-the-numbers look.

For updates from Haines, check out the CityNews Facebook page.

RCMP interceptions
2017 (Two months, January and February): 1,134 asylum seekers crossed the Canadian border illegally

2016 (All 12 months): The CBC reported that the number was 2,464.

Asylum claims processed by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) offices

2017: 5,520
2016: 23,895
2015: 16,115
2014: 13,450
2013: 10,370
2012: 20,470
2011: 25,315

Source: Government of Canada

Canadian immigration targets

2017: 300,000

2016: Between 280,000 and 305,000

How many refugees?

2017: 40,000 protected persons and refugees (included in 300,000 immigration target)

2016: 55,800 (included in 280,000 to 305,000 immigration target)

Who can make an asylum claim in Canada?

Individuals can make an asylum claim in Canada at a port of entry or at an inland CBSA or IRCC office. CBSA or IRCC officials will determine if an individual is eligible to make a claim. Factors determining an individual’s eligibility to make a refugee claim include whether the claimant has committed a serious crime, made a previous claim in Canada, or received protection in another country. (Government of Canada)

Illegal crossings into Canada

People who are intercepted by the RCMP or local law enforcement after crossing the border illegally are brought to the nearest CBSA port of entry or inland CBSA or IRCC office (whichever is closest), where an immigration officer will conduct an immigration examination, including considering whether detention is warranted

Hockey Canada to make smaller rinks mandatory for kids’ games

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press and News Staff | posted Tuesday, Mar 28th, 2017

Hockey Canada says it will make it mandatory that children getting their first introduction to the game play on reduced-size ice surfaces instead of full-sized rinks.

The organization which governs amateur hockey has been recommending half-ice, or cross-ice, for its initiation programs for five and six-year-olds for over three decades.

A number of provincial amateur hockey bodies already require rinks be partitioned into smaller surfaces for games for their youngest players.

But Paul Carson, Hockey Canada’s vice-president of membership development, said there are still holdouts where beginners play their games on full-sized rinks.

“We know statistically when you’re in a smaller playing area it increases the number of puck touches, it increases the number of battles for loose pucks, it increases the number of shots on goal, it increases the number of passes and pass receptions,” said Carson as he explained how smaller ice surfaces improve skills development.

“We’ve coined the phrase, ‘Decrease the space, increase the pace.’ It does make all players better.”

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews told CityNews he grew up playing on smaller ice and it helped him prepare for the tight, quick plays in the NHL.

“For a kid growing up, I don’t think it really makes sense to be playing a full ice. You’re so small … the game now, today, there’s no space. Everything’s kind of in tight so, for me that’s what I grew up playing on so I think it definitely helped me out with just stick handling in tight and quicker plays … just trying to process the game faster,” he said.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock also supports the decision.

“It’s a great announcement. It should have happened a long time ago … I think it’s obviously real important for the development of hockey and we have to continue to grow the grass roots hockey in our nation, supporting the kids, get good coaching and though Hockey Canada give them good mandates to help the kids out so I think it’s a great thing,” he explained.

The mandatory policy will take effect for the 2017-2018 season.

Not everyone agrees reduced size is the best way to foster skill. Some online forums and blogs argue there are kids who are ready for full ice and that it’s wrong to hold them back. They argue it’s important to learn icing and offsides.

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association, which recently mandated smaller surfaces for beginners for the 2016-2017 season, acknowledged on its website that some parents may want full ice because they want their child to “play like professionals do” and experience “real hockey.”

But the site also includes a link to a video showing adult hockey players on a rink with enlarged dimensions and giant nets to demonstrate what the experience of full-size ice looks like for kids.

Wayne Wong, an Edmonton dad who volunteers as a coach for initiation hockey, said many kids start the season just learning to balance on skates. They progress quickly to stopping and turning, he said, but games are played on a divided surface across the width of the rink.

Wong, whose own son is four and just started playing, said he used the word “games” loosely, in quotes.

“I can’t imagine having kids play the full ice if it’s a game format,” he continued.

“Especially if they tried to make them go from one end to the other, it would be a lot of skating.”

Carson said Hockey Canada watched game videos of little players on full-sized rinks, which he described as one breakaway after another by the strongest player on each team.

“The entire shift is puck control by two players and eight other players skating up and down the ice following the play, and maybe even at some point deciding, ‘I might as well wait down here. It’s going to come back eventually,”’ Carson said.

Special boards and bumpers have been developed that allow for quick and easy division of a regular-sized rink into two half-ice surfaces or three cross-ice rinks.

But Carson said Hockey Canada isn’t going to be fussy on how rinks are divided. Two-by-fours are an option, he said, or parents can stand at the sides and push pucks back in.

Carson, who is 60, said he himself learned to play cross-ice as a child.

“In our community, they put fire hose down across the blue lines.”

Number of confirmed mumps cases in Toronto jumps to 64

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Mar 28th, 2017

Toronto Public Health (TPH) has confirmed 16 new cases of mumps, bringing the outbreak total to 64.

Officials say most people affected are aged 18 to 35. However, five of the cases are related to elementary and high schools in Toronto, either among staff or students.

TPH says the people at Toronto schools who contracted the virus had contact with a “known person” who already had the mumps and not from the school setting.

By the same token, they also say broader community spread of the mumps is currently ongoing.

The outbreak seemed to have begun in February, when several individuals between 18 to 35 years old contracted the virus after attending bars in the west end.

Last week, two new cases of the mumps were confirmed at Ryerson University.

TPH is encouraging the people to ensure that they’re up-to-date with their vaccinations against the mumps.

For a fact-sheet about the mumps and more details regarding prevention, click here.

Here is a list of all the schools who have one or more confirmed cases of the mumps this year:

  • Ryerson University
  • Davisville Junior Public School (TDSB)
  • Hodgson Senior Public School (TDSB)
  • King Edward Junior and Senior Public School (TDSB)
  • Forest Hill Collegiate Institute (TDSB)

Most patients get priority surgeries like joints, cataracts within target wait times

Sheryl Uberlacker, The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Mar 28th, 2017

Three out of four Canadians received a hip or knee replacement, cataract surgery, hip fracture repair or cancer radiation therapy within the recommended wait times for those priority procedures, although there was often wide variation from one province to another, researchers say.

A report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), released Tuesday, provides a snapshot of patient wait times for five priority medical procedures in 2016 and compares them to data for the previous four years.

Overall, wait times for hip fracture repair across the country continued to improve, with the percentage of patients receiving surgery within the 48-hour benchmark increasing to 86 per cent in 2016 from 81 per cent in 2012.

Nationally, wait times for joint replacement remained relatively unchanged last year, with 75 per cent of patients receiving hip or knee replacement surgery within the 182-day benchmark. Since 2012, the number of hip replacements rose 22 per cent, while knee replacements went up 18 per cent.

“Essentially, when we look at hips and knees, they haven’t changed too much over the five years,” said Tracy Johnson, CIHI’s director of health systems analysis and emerging issues.

“In the last year or so, there looks like there’s a bit of a downward trend, but what we don’t know is whether that will continue or it’s just a little bit of the fluctuation you see year over year,” she said Monday.

However, there was a significant drop in the proportion of Canadians who were able to get cataract surgery within the targeted wait time of 112 days: in 2016, 73 per cent of patients had the sight-restoring operation within that period, down from 83 per cent 2012.

Median wait times increased over the five-year period: in 2012, half of patients got cataract surgery within 47 days; four years later, that median wait time had expanded to 67 days.

“What we can see with cataracts was that the volumes of cataract surgeries done has not increased as much as it has for hips and knees,” said Johnson.

“So one of the reasons could be that we’re not keeping up with the demand for cataracts,” she said, acknowledging that the country’s aging population could be a contributing factor.

When it came to cancer patients, CIHI found that about 97 per cent received radiation therapy within the 28-day benchmark in 2016. While there was some variation in wait times across provinces, overall 90 per cent of patients were able to access the treatment within 15 to 27 days.

Still, there were some marked differences among provinces for the four other priority procedures.

In British Columbia, for instance, 61 per cent of hip-replacement and 47 per cent of knee-replacement patients were able to get their surgery within the target time frame of 182 days. Across the country in Nova Scotia, the figures were 56 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively.

Meanwhile, 85 per cent of patients in Ontario and Quebec got hip replacements within the benchmark wait time, while about 80 per cent in both provinces received new knee joints within the period.

Johnson said Ontario, for instance, has a “fair number of resources it can focus on. You go to a smaller province like Nova Scotia and just a change in the number of surgeons available can have a big impact on the wait list and the number of people that they can do.”

“No one province or area looks really bad in everything. They have strengths and weaknesses based on where they started,” she said, noting that the federal and provincial governments agreed to set wait-time benchmarks for the priority procedures in 2004.

“How a province is doing in a particular area goes back to whatever their population needs are and what their emphasis has been.”

The report, which also breaks out regional wait times online, can help patients who find themselves on hold for a particular procedure by giving them information to discuss with their doctors, Johnson said.

For instance, a patient might say: “I can see that the benchmark is 182 days. How much longer or shorter am I going to have to wait? And is there another way that I might not have to wait?”

Scarborough transit meeting heats up ahead of city council vote

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Mar 28th, 2017

The future of transit in Scarborough was the subject of a heated panel discussion Monday evening.

Organizers called it the first event aimed at educating residents about both of the transit options – the one stop subway extension and the LRT.

The event, which was hosted by two community groups – Scarborough Transit Action and Scarborough Residents Unite – took place at the Scarborough Village Recreation Centre on Kingston Road at Markham Road.

The panel included two city councillors with opposing views – Ward 43’s Paul Ainslie, who has been a vocal advocate of the LRT plan, and Ward 38’s Glen Debaeremaeker who supports the one stop subway extension.

Urban transit experts from York University also took part.

Ahead of the discussion, Mayor John Tory spoke about his plans for the Scarborough subway at the Scarborough Business Association’s annual lunch.

“Transportation is a vital artery that connects people to opportunity and this is a debate that has been ongoing for way too long without action being taken.”

Tory said the subway extension will bring the city together by providing “the catalyst that can help Scarborough to renew itself though a long-term investment in public transportation.”

He believes the extension will attract more jobs and residents to the area.

“We’re going to build the subway, but we’re also going to have SmartTrack running right through Scarborough from north to south and south to north. We’re going to build the Eglinton East LRT and we’re going to connect the U of T Scarborough (campus) to to the Crosstown (LRT),” he said.

City council will debate and vote on the current alignment of the Scarborough subway extension on Tuesday.

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