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Ontario Tories announce changes to welfare programs

PAOLA LORIGGIO, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Aug 1st, 2018

Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government ushered in the first of what it promised would be major reforms to social assistance on Tuesday, reducing a planned increase in support rates and cancelling a pilot program that provided payments to low-income people in certain communities.

In an afternoon news conference, Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said the government would come up with a plan within 100 days to overhaul the “disjointed patchwork system” left by the previous Liberal regime.

The Liberals, she said, spent money the province didn’t have on “handouts that actually do little if anything to break the cycle of poverty.”

The province’s first steps will be to cancel the previous government’s plan to raise Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works rates by three per cent and raise them by 1.5 per cent instead, said MacLeod, adding the decision was made “on compassionate grounds.”

“What I’m announcing today is about restoring dignity to Ontarians,” she said.

“But let me be clear: the best social program is a job, for those who can get one,” she said. “So I’ll be working with my colleagues… in making sure that we have an ability to integrate people back into the workforce where they can and making sure that they keep more money in their pockets.”

The minister would not say how much the change was expected to cost. “This decision isn’t about saving money, this decision is about fixing a broken system,” she said.

The province will also wind down Ontario’s basic income pilot project, which provided payments to 4,000 low-income people in communities including Hamilton, Brantford, Thunder Bay and Lindsay. Single participants receive up to $16,989 a year while couples receive up to $24,027, less 50 per cent of any earned income.

Asked how the government determined the pilot was ineffective before it was over, MacLeod simply said the program was “not doing what it’s intended to do and it’s quite expensive.”

The announcement was panned by Green party Leader Mike Schreiner, who said assistance rates were too low even with the increase promised by the Liberals.

“They certainly seem more interested in tearing things down than building things up,” he said.

Residents leave homes as Ontario forest fires burn, blaze near Trans-Canada

GABRIELE ROY, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Aug 1st, 2018

While heavy grey smoke from a nearby forest fire hung in the air, Donna Butson packed a bag of clothes and walked in her backyard with tears running down her eyes.

She is one of many residents who had to leave their homes Tuesday due to the raging fire known as Parry Sound 33 burning in northeastern Ontario.

“I lost my husband three years ago and he is everywhere here,” she said as she looked around her property in Killarney, Ont. “When I don’t have this, I lose a lot more than the buildings.”

Parry Sound 33 started on July 18 and has now burned more than 100 square kilometres, said Jonathan Scott, spokesman for the Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

The blaze is currently only five kilometres from the Trans-Canada Highway and will likely spread out more in the next days as the weather stays dry and windy, he said.

The ministry said there are more than 500 firefighters battling the fire, and more than 200 of them are from Mexico.

“Each crew is assigned a team leader who is bilingual and relays orders,” Scott said. “So far, it’s been going really well and everyone is working really well together to suppress this fire.”

In Killarney, like elsewhere, the municipal government had to issue an evacuation order for certain areas, instructing residents to take three day’s worth of clothing, food and water with them.

Gordon Fraser, who moved to Killarney about a year ago, was also leaving Tuesday morning. He said he was going to stay with his daughter and her husband in Sudbury, Ont., located about 100 kilometres to the north.

“Of course I am worried about my property,” Fraser said, wiping tears off from his eyes. “But we are not hungry and we are dry and safe … so what can you do?”

While some left their homes behind, others had to end their vacations early.

Rob Joll, owner of the Flat Rapids Camp and Resort in Killarney, said he and the holiday-makers in the area were also forced to evacuate.

On Tuesday morning, he packed up some of his belongings, leaving behind about a hundred of vacant cottages and trailers.

“It is so disappointing for the people that are here on summer vacation, especially with the long weekend ahead of us,” he said.

“For me, it is a revenue lost because I can’t rent cottages,”he said. “My only hope is that when we come back, there will be something to come back to.”

In French River, Ont., — east of Killarney — an evacuation alert has been issued by the municipal government, warning residents in some areas that they should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.

Some of the residents said they already have bags waiting by the front door, packed with photographs, important documents and a few clothes.

But they said they are hopeful they won’t have to leave.

“It’s a waiting game,” said Jack Bearman, who has been living in the area for about 30 years. “You just have to hope you don’t go up in flames.”

Bearman owns the French River Inn Motel, located just off Highway 69, where the smoke from the fire is creeping in. He said this time of the season is usually the busiest of the year.

But now, the rooms and the dining hall are empty. The workers are looking out the window at the smoke that’s spreading rapidly.

“I’ve seen fires before, but never anything like this,” said Bearman.

He said he will be staying at his motel as long as he can, but “if it’s too bad,” he said go to his hometown of Hamilton.

“But honestly, I don’t think we will have to leave,” he said. “At least, I hope we won’t have to.”

Debbie Nadeau, who works in the kitchen at a business off Highway 69 in French River, said she is worried but is staying positive.

“What else can you do?” Nadeau asked. “Of course we are worried like everyone else, but we love our job and we love this place, so we will stay open as long as we can.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect spelling of Donna Butson’s first name.

Allergy advocate says time for answers amid another EpiPen shortage

CASSANDRA SZKLARSKI, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Aug 1st, 2018

Repeated shortages of the life-saving EpiPen has “moved from an inconvenience to a concern,” says Food Allergy Canada.

The national advocacy group was among those alarmed by yet another announcement from Pfizer that its epinephrine auto-injector is in short supply, with executive director Jennifer Gerdts saying the latest shortfall comes just when it’s needed most.

“The month of August … is a key peak demand time for our audience given that it’s back-to-school,” says Gerdts, noting that many schools request students have an extra EpiPen onsite as a backup.

“This is the time at which they are looking to refill prescriptions.”

The drug giant said Monday that it expects its EpiPen auto-injector will be in “very limited” supply in Canadian pharmacies in August, and that new stock likely won’t be available until the end of that month.

The EpiPen auto-injector delivers 0.3 mg of epinephrine and is intended for those who weigh 30 kilograms or more (approximately 66 pounds or more).

That could include patients as young as eight or nine years old, especially since most allergists graduate young patients from the EpiPen Jr – which delivers 0.15 mg epinephrine and is intended for children 15 to 30 kg (or 33 to 66 pounds) – once they hit 25 kilograms, says Barrie, Ont., allergist David Fisher.
Fisher says there have been supply issues in Canada for most of 2018.

It’s been so bad, he’s heard of doctors discussing workarounds, such as letting patients have two EpiPen Jr’s if the larger-dose injector is not available.
He adds that’s not ideal, because the needle length is made for a child.

“It has happened from time to time,” says Fisher, also president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“No one has really looked into this as a viable alternative because normally it does not happen. Normally, it should not happen.”

Supply is also currently low for the EpiPen Jr, but stocks are being managed across the country and Pfizer says it “continues to be available and allocated at a national level.”

Fisher says that’s in large part due to Health Canada’s “preventative allocation approach,” in which pharmacies have been instructed to be judicious about how many they dispense at a time.

Without that management, things could be much worse.

“The fact that there’s (several) weeks without it is a crisis-of-a-kind but it’s not the same as knowing there’s not going to be anything for six months. Because of the careful shepherding of it, it actually has worked out better than it might have,” he says.

But you can’t shepherd what does not exist, he adds.

Although more EpiPens are expected in September, there were no assurances the supply would remain stable: “There will be stock in September for September. As for October, (we) don’t know. It’s a month-by-month basis … and this is the way it’s been all year. A lot shows up, we’re in preventative allocation. If nothing shows up, we’re in shortage.”

Gerdts says it’s already causing problems, and she expects it to worsen as the shortage makes its impact in coming weeks.

“We’ve had a few families contact us saying: ‘We’ve gone to three or four pharmacies, we can’t find the product,”’ says Gerdts, noting that includes families in Atlantic Canada and Toronto.

“We’re now at the point where we say: You know what? It’s time to get some answers…. We need clarity on the root cause of the issue. What are the steps that are being taken and what’s the time frame to resolution?”

Christina Antoniou, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Canada Inc., says the shortage is the result of “manufacturing delays.”

“Stock that was scheduled to be shipped in early August is currently being inspected, which has caused a delay,” she said by phone from Montreal.

EpiPen products expire on the last day of the month indicated on the package, so those with an August expiry date are good until Aug. 31.

Health Canada says anyone who has an anaphylactic reaction but has only an expired EpiPen should use the expired product and immediately call 911.

While those already managing allergies likely have recently expired EpiPens to use in a pinch, Fisher worried about newly prescribed patients who may have nothing.

There are no alternative auto-injectors available in Canada.

Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist and medical historian who tracks drug shortages on her own website, CanadianDrugShortage.com, says the EpiPen shortage is “really serious” but is just one of dozens of medications in short supply.

She calls it “the tip of an ice berg.”

“It’s very frightening for the people that are affected but it’s just part of a massive problem that we can’t get to the bottom of until we understand the causes of all of it,” says Duffin.

“We are just sort of lurching from one problem to another trying to put out the fires caused by individual shortages.”

About 2.7 million Canadians have food allergies.

The Big Story: And the best place to live in Canada is…

Denise Wong | posted Wednesday, Aug 1st, 2018

Over 400 Canadian communities enter, but only one triumphs.

Every year, MoneySense puts together a comprehensive statistical ranking of the best places to live in Canada. Ottawa has taken the top spot for the past two years, but there’s a new winner in 2018.

This year, the winner is Oakville, Ontario.

Claire Brownell heads up Reports and Rankings at Maclean’s, and was given the daunting task of balancing a ton of data to determine which city tops them all this year, and why.

What happens in the rankings for a smaller suburb like Oakville to knock one of Canada’s major cities off the top spot?

“It was really close. Oakville won by less than one point over Ottawa,” points out Brownell.

“Oakville did better in the crime category than Ottawa. It also did better in population growth. But Ottawa did better in commute, which makes a lot of sense,” she explains, noting the commute category is worth fewer points than the other two categories.

She joins Jordan Heath Rawlings in today’s “Big Story” podcast.

The winners and losers are fun, but it’s the way in which crunching the numbers tells us how our country is changing that’s fascinating.

There are several metrics involved in creating the ranking.

“We think there are a lot of things that make a city a great place to live that you can’t measure. Things like the beauty of the sunset or the waves crashing against the shore. Those are things not in the ranking. But there are all kinds of things you can measure. Things like the unemployment rate, incomes, and health care wait times,” she explains.

“We took all those data sources, I assigned a weighting to all of them – decide how important they are – and then that pops out with a ranking of the best places to live in Canada, from number one to number 415.”

“It’s (Oakville) a suburb of Toronto. If you’re not aware of it, it does have a certain reputation as being a place to live for rich people. There was a mansion on a lakefront that went on sale for $65 million a couple years ago,” explains Brownell.

“I actually grew up in Oakville. When I was growing up in the ’90s, Oakville wasn’t a very diverse place to live. And that has changed over time. Over the past 10 years, the percentage of visible minorities living in Oakville has gone from 18 to 30 per cent. And 30 per cent of the population speaks a language other than English or French. Oakville also won our subranking for the best places for new Canadians.”

You can hear the full episode and subscribe to The Big Story podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

You can also hear it online at thebigstorypodcast.ca.


She admits the weighting for the various categories is subjective.

“We try to think about what the average person would care most about. The two most highly weighted categories are the wealth and economy category and affordability. Those two kind of balance each other out a little bit. You want a place where you can both make a nice income and get a good job, but you can also afford to live there — afford rent or afford a house.”

Toronto cracked the top 20 on the list this year, up over 110 spots to number 16.

Two other GTA cities made it into the top 10, Milton landed in 6th while Halton Hills came 10th.

Seth Rogen is the new voice of TTC public service announcements

DILSHAD BURMAN | posted Wednesday, Aug 1st, 2018

After dropping a not-so-subtle hint on Twitter, the TTC confirmed Tuesday that Canadian actor Seth Rogen will be lending his voice to announcements on transit.

But you won’t be hearing Rogen’s signature voice booming over the PA systems announcing subway stations or bus and streetcar stops.

Similar to his gig with Metro Vancouver’s TransLink in his hometown, Rogen will be the friendly voice that reminds customers to be courteous and provides other useful information via “quirky public service announcements (PSAs).”

For example, in a message about fare evasion, Rogen jokes, “I can see you! No, I can’t actually see you … I didn’t mean to freak you out.”

In another about blocking doors he says, “I judge you! You are being rude!”

In a release, the TTC said the 20-second messages are meant to be light-hearted and humorous, in an effort to make “taking the TTC a more positive experience for all.”

Rogen generously donated his time to the project, saying he’s a proud Canadian and was eager to participate.

“I was enthusiastic to record messages for the TTC to help make everyone’s riding experience as amazing as it could possibly be,” said Rogen. “I use public transportation myself and would like people to not be clipping their toenails around me,” he joked, referring to a PSA specifically aimed at deterring personal grooming on the TTC.

Listen to all 12 recordings below.

  1. Holding Train Doors
  2. Fare Evasion
  3. Backpacks
  4. Bags on Seats
  5. Feet on Seats
  6. Priority Seating
  7. Blocking Doors
  8. Personal Grooming and Eating
  9. Talking on Cell Phones
  10. Using the Emergency Alarm
  11. Two-Hour Transfers (Will play in subway stations starting Aug. 26.)
  12. Thank You

Minor’ changes in TTC service alerts cause ‘major’ headaches for commuters

Tammie Sutherland | posted Wednesday, Aug 1st, 2018

The TTC has made some “minor” changes to the way it reports delays on the system, that appear to be causing “major” frustration for commuters.

In early July, the transit system quietly tweaked how it communicates with customers through social media and automated alerts. One of the major adjustments is the language the TTC uses, and its criteria for what constitutes a “minor” delay versus a “major” one.

CityNews first discovered the change during Breakfast Television on the morning of July 16, after this tweet was sent out:


If trains are running, but service has been slowed for any reason, the TTC considers this a “minor” delay. Whether that wait for a train is 5 minutes or 20 minutes, the delay will be labelled as ‘minor’, as long as service is still operating.


A major delay is anything over 20 minutes that may require you to alter your travel plans.


A subway suspension would simply be communicated as “no service.” While that is considered a considerable inconvenience, the word “major” is not used if trains, buses or streetcars are likely to stop operating on a route.

However, judging by comments on Twitter, commuters and TCC communications have very different views on the definitions of “major” and minor”

Here’s just a small sample of some of the tweets sent out about a “minor” delay on Line 1 this morning:

Ross says the changes are based on customer feedback about making the service alerts clearer, shorter and more concise.

The new-look alerts now only include the route number, the problem, and the type of delay, and are sent out to commuters faster through the TTC’s automated alert system.

Ross adds nothing is set in stone.

“If ‘minor’ and ‘major’ become a major issue, we’re open to looking at that, and continuing to evaluate,” he says. “We continue to work out minor vs major, cognizant of customers’ interpretation of minor vs major.”

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