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Bill to prevent strike or lockout at OPG expected to pass today

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Dec 20th, 2018

The Ontario government is expected to pass legislation today that would prevent a strike or lockout at a utility that provides roughly half of the province’s power.

The government called legislators back from the holiday break on Monday in an effort to end the dispute between the Power Workers’ Union and Ontario Power Generation, saying the move was necessary to stave off outages.

The Progressive Conservatives say their bill, if passed, will send the matter to arbitration so it can be resolved without jeopardizing the province’s electricity supply.

The Opposition has accused the Tories of fear-mongering and immediately turning to back-to-work legislation when there were less drastic options available.

The union, meanwhile, has said it is disappointed with the government’s decision, which it says undermines bargaining efforts.

The labour group, which represents about 6,000 OPG employees and another 10,000 energy sector staff, has been without a collective bargaining agreement since March 31.

It said the utility’s final offer was rejected by a nearly 60 per cent vote of its membership, with the key sticking point deemed to be OPG’s refusal to grant over 300 “term” workers the same rights as full-time employees at the Darlington and Pickering Nuclear Plants.

The union issued a strike notice last Friday, prompting the government to announce the emergency session, although government sources had already said that was a possibility.

Workers would not walk off the job until three weeks after the notice was issued, however, due to rules surrounding the shutdown of nuclear equipment, the province has said.

But it said outages could begin as early as this Friday as some equipment powers down.

Ford’s approval rating down 5% since his election: exclusive poll

NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Dec 20th, 2018

Six months after being elected premier, Doug Ford’s approval numbers appear to be slipping.

An exclusive poll for CityNews by DART Insight found that Ford’s approval rating is at 35 per cent — down two points from September and five points since the provincial election.

“This follows the Toronto municipal election which incorporated the downsizing of the city council by provincial fiat and a series of other self-inflicted political distractions,” the poll’s findings state.

The forced cuts to city council was one of several controversies that surrounded Ford since he was elected premier. Some of the other issues included the dismissal of senior minister Jim Wilson over sexual misconduct allegations and the defection of the lone Francophone member of the PC caucus over cuts to French-language services in Ontario.

Ford continues to be hobbled by the controversy surrounding the appointment of family friend Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner. Although it appears this poll was conducted prior to that issue surfacing.

The poll also ranked Ford sixth among the nine Canadian premiers profiled in the survey, just ahead of Alberta premier Rachel Notley who has been dealing with oil pipeline and resources issues.

Newly-elected Quebec premier François Legault has the highest approval rating of any premier with 61 per cent.

The poll surveyed 5,962 Canadians who are members of Maru/Blue’s Online panel between December 5-12. The previous poll was conducted in September.

Below is the full ranking of the premiers’ approval rating:

1. Quebec premier François Legault 61% (first measurement)
2. Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe 56% (+1)
3. British Columbia premier John Horgan 46% (-3)
4. New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs 43% (first measurement)
5. Manitoba premier Brian Pallister 42% (no change since September)
6. Ontario premier Doug Ford 35% (-2)
7. Alberta premier Rachel Notley 34% (-7)
8. Newfoundland and Labrador premier Dwight Ball 33% (-9)
9. Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil 30% (+4)

The poll is accurate to within plus or minus 1.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. It was also conducted for the Toronto Sun.

St. Michael’s sex assault case due in court today

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2018

The case of six students charged for allegedly sexually assaulting another student at a private school in Toronto is up in court today.

The teens face sex assault and assault charges for an incident at St. Michael’s College School that was caught on video.

The six teens, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, were all released on bail after their first appearance in mid-November.

St. Michael’s expelled eight students amid a growing police investigation into eight incidents at the private Roman Catholic all-boys institution.

Two top school officials resigned in wake of the scandal and St. Michael’s has established a “respect and culture” review panel that’s set to report its findings by the summer.

The school has also cancelled its varsity basketball season for this year and scrapped its football program for the next year.

Amazon says it plans to create 600 new tech jobs in Toronto

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2018

Amazon says it plans to create 600 new tech jobs in Toronto.

The online retail behemoth says the jobs will be in fields including software development, machine learning and cloud computing.

The announcement comes as Amazon is set to open an expanded office in Toronto’s downtown core.

The city was on the shortlist to host the company’s highly coveted second headquarters, but eventually lost out to New York City and Arlington, Va.

Had the Toronto region won that bid, it would have landed 50,000 Amazon jobs.

Amazon says it currently has more than 800 corporate employees in Toronto.

Doug Ford defends friend’s appointment as OPP commissioner despite probe

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2018

Doug Ford defended Tuesday the appointment of a family friend as Ontario’s police commissioner, despite an ongoing investigation into the premier’s role in the hiring process.

Ron Taverner, a 72-year-old superintendent with the Toronto police, did not initially qualify for the job, but the government has said it lowered the requirements to attract a wider range of candidates.

Now, the province’s integrity commissioner is investigating an Opposition complaint that Ford violated the Members’ Integrity Act by participating in the cabinet decision to appoint Taverner, a longtime friend of the premier’s family.

“You know my friends, this is going to move forward,” Ford told reporters after attending the opening of an Amazon office in Toronto.

“Let the review take place, and I can tell you one thing, once it gets done, he will be the best commissioner the OPP has ever seen.”

Taverner was set to start his new job on Monday, but over the weekend he announced that he would wait until the integrity commissioner’s probe was complete. In the meantime, Taverner has returned to his previous job with the city police.

His appointment as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks after the forces’ acting commissioner, Brad Blair, alleged political interference from the premier’s office.

In a nine-page letter, Blair called on the provincial ombudsman to investigate Taverner’s appointment, alleging the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, had asked the OPP to purchase a “larger camper type vehicle” and have it modified to the specifications of the premier’s office.

Blair, who is now deputy commissioner, further alleged the chief of staff then provided specifications to an unnamed OPP staff sergeant and asked that the costs associated with the vehicle be “kept off the books.”

Ford, who has acknowledged that he did not recuse himself from the cabinet decision to approve Taverner’s hiring, said Tuesday that some of the allegations made by Blair were false, including the request for a new vehicle.

“That’s just a baseless claim without merits,” he said. “It’s not accurate…I asked for a used one.”

A lawyer for Blair, who wants the courts to order the ombudsman to investigate Taverner’s appointment, said Ford’s comments Tuesday were “personal shots” at his client.

“No amount of intimidation or insult will deter the deputy commissioner from seeking a full airing of these issues,” Falconer said in a statement.

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for a public inquiry into Taverner’s appointment, saying the integrity commissioner should expand the probe into a full public inquiry.

Horwath said two rarely used subsections of the Public Inquiries Act allow the integrity commissioner to launch a public inquiry – a power usually reserved for the premier and his cabinet. That power would allow for a wider look at the allegations of political interference surrounding Taverner’s hiring, not just Ford’s participation in the cabinet decision.

“An investigation of this importance…has to be an open, transparent process,” she said. “That’s why I’m urging the integrity commissioner to call a full public inquiry with the power to summon witnesses, request documents, and ensure witnesses are protected from self-incrimination and discipline or retribution from their employer.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said even with Ford’s endorsement, it will be difficult for Taverner to eventually assume the OPP commissioner’s role.

“The premier saying he has confidence doesn’t instill confidence in the people of Ontario,” he said. “This is actually about the perception of conflict. That perception exists and is likely to still exist after there’s an integrity commissioner’s (investigation).”

Toronto Catholic School Board says 95 part-time jobs cut after funding slash

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2018

The Toronto Catholic District School Board says the province’s decision to cut programs aimed at providing students with extra skills and support will result in the immediate loss of 95 part-time jobs.

In a briefing note sent this week to trustees, the school board says the jobs losses will affected about 35 part-time student tutors and 60 working in youth after-hour programs.

On Friday, the Ontario government issued a memo to school boards announcing it is slashing $25 million in funding for specialized programs in elementary and secondary schools.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Lisa Thompson said the programs account for less than one per cent of school board funding, but has had “long track record of wasteful spending.”

However, Maria Rizzo, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said after the cuts became public that she was “blindsided” by the funding cuts and worried how special needs students in her board would be affected.

Meanwhile, the briefing note also highlights that $30,000 allocated for a program called Indigenous Student Learning and Leadership, which provides leadership development opportunities to Indigenous students from Grade 7-12, has been cut.

“Some temporary staffing reductions are required effective immediately,” says the note, adding most of those losing their jobs are part-time tutors who are university or college students.

The Progressive Conservative government has made significant changes to the province’s education system since taking power, such as promising to develop a new sex-ed curriculum, requiring new teachers to pass a math proficiency test before teaching the subject and the cancellation of Indigenous curriculum writing sessions.

Penny Marshall, ‘Laverne and Shirley’ star, dead at 75

NEWS STAFF | posted Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2018

Penny Marshall, who starred in “Laverne & Shirley” before becoming one of the top-grossing female directors in Hollywood, has died. She was 75.

Marshall’s publicist, Michelle Bega, said Marshall died in her Los Angeles home on Monday due to complications from diabetes. “Our family is heartbroken,” the Marshall family said in a statement.

Marshall starred as Laverne DeFazio, the Milwaukee brewery worker, alongside Cindy Williams in the hit ABC comedy “Laverne & Shirley.” The series, which aired from 1976 to 1983, was among the biggest hits of its era.

It also gave Marshall her start as a filmmaker. She directed several episodes of “Laverne & Shirley” before making her feature film directorial debut in “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the 1986 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Her next film made Marshall the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million. Her 1988 hit comedy “Big,” starring Tom Hanks, was about a 12-year-old boy who wakes up in the body of a 30-year-old New York City man. The film earned Hanks an Oscar nomination.

Marshall reteamed with Hanks for “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 comedy about the women’s professional baseball league begun during World War II. That, too, crossed $100 million, making $107.5 million domestically.

A Bronx native, Marshall became a dedicated Los Angeles Lakers fan, and a courtside regular. Her brother Garry Marshall, who died in 2016, was also one of Hollywood’s top comedy directors. Penny Marshall was married to Michael Henry for two years in the 1960s and to the director Rob Reiner from 1971-1981. Their daughter Tracy Reiner is an actress; one of her first roles was a brief appearance in her mother’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

Marshall is also survived by her older sister, Ronny, and three grandchildren.

Deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash chosen by media as Story of the Year

CHRIS PURDY, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2018

A deadly bus crash that united a hockey-mad country in grief and spurred people to leave sticks on porches from coast to coast has been selected as Canada’s News Story of the Year.

The Canadian Press annual survey of newsrooms across the country saw 53 out of 129 editors cast their votes for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in rural Saskatchewan as the most compelling story of 2018.

The legalization of recreational cannabis in October came a close second with 51 votes.

“Although cannabis is landmark legislation, legalization arrived mostly with a shrug,” wrote Murray Wood, provincial news director with Saskatchewan radio stations CJME and CKOM.

“No story affected Canadians in 2018 more than the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.”

The junior hockey team was on its way to a playoff game when its bus and a semi-truck collided at a crossroads on April 6. Sixteen people were killed. Another 13 were injured.

The crash made headlines around the world and struck a chord with hockey-loving Canadians, many of whom saw themselves and their children in the young players and their grieving families.

Some of the players were changing into suits and others were texting girlfriends as the Junior A team’s bus headed to Nipawin for a matchup against the Hawks. It was at an intersection just north of Tisdale where the bus and a truck carrying a load of peat moss collided.

Motorists who stopped to help, as well as some parents who were also on their way to the game, were met with a chaotic, gruesome scene. Those who survived were sent to nearby hospitals, the dead to a makeshift morgue.

Aerial pictures of the devastation are seared into the nation’s memory.

“Almost everyone in this country has climbed onto a bus with their peers or put a child on a bus for an out-of-town trip,” wrote Tim Switzer, managing editor of the Regina Leader-Post newspaper. “Many people could relate.”

Ten players along with the team’s coach, an assistant coach, trainer, radio play-by-play announcer, statistician and the bus driver were killed. Of the injured, two players were paralyzed and two received serious brain injuries.

“The aching void of unrealized potential, the memorial services, and the fundraisers captured the interest of Canadians — in an event basically unmatched since Terry Fox’s death in the middle of his Marathon of Hope almost 40 years ago,” said Bill McGuire, editorial page editor of Charlottetown’s Guardian newspaper.

Canadians and others around the world started leaving hockey sticks on their front porches to honour the team. Many sticks are still standing outside.

“You only had to walk through the streets of Toronto for weeks afterwards and see all these hockey sticks on the front steps of people’s homes to know that this horrific accident, so many thousands of kilometres away, had reached in and tugged on the hearts of every hockey-loving Canadian,” said Janet Hurley, a senior editor at the Toronto Star.

People from more than 80 countries donated $15 million to support those on the bus and their families, making it the second-highest GoFundMe fundraiser of the year next to the Time’s Up legal defence fund to fight sexual harassment and discrimination.

Lorne Motley, editor-in-chief of the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun, noted that the Humboldt story continues to make headlines about truck-driver training, the painstaking recovery of survivors and calls from players’ families for mandatory seatbelts on buses and trucks.

The story will continue to be in the news in the new year.

RCMP have charged the truck’s driver, Jaskirat Sidhu, with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily injury.

Sukhmander Singh, owner of Adesh Deol Trucking in Calgary, also faces eight charges relating to non-compliance with federal and provincial safety regulations in the months before the crash.

Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press

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