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Rising minimum wages could speed up automation not relocations: labour leaders

Ross Marowits The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2018

MONTREAL — Companies might not be able to dodge rising minimum wages by relocating even their most mobile workforces to lower wage provinces, but higher costs could accelerate the pace of automation.

“It would be foolish of some employers to think that they can escape temporarily by moving their operations,” said Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff.

While companies may get a short-term benefit, he said the reality is that minimum wages across the country are going to keep increasing.

Unifor president Jerry Dias said pressure is being placed on every province to boost entry wages that mostly affect retail and service sectors, where relocation is not an option.

“This is spreading across the country like a very good epidemic and so they can run but they can’t hide,” he said in an interview.

Some businesses have criticized the pace of wage hikes in Ontario and Alberta.

On Jan .1, Ontario boosted hourly minimum wage by 20 per cent — from an $11.60 to $14. The rate will rise to $15 an hour in 2019. Alberta is expected to raise its minimum wage to $15 later this year.

But the union leaders argue that higher wages will ultimately help businesses as low income earners are more apt to spend all they earn and boost the economy.

Jobs that can easily be done from any location, such as call centre work, are theoretically most likely to shift locations. But the reality is that many of these positions pay much higher than entry wages, said Rob Campbell, president of ContactNB, which represents New Brunswick’s large contact centre community.

Air Canada and WestJet Airlines say they have adjusted the wages of their call centre positions and have no plans to move these jobs to other provinces.

Some companies may move jobs say from Ottawa to Gatineau, Que., but the numbers will be very small, said Fabian Lange, associate professor at McGill University’s Department of Economics.

But don’t expect provinces to woo businesses with the promise of lower wages.

He said it would be “politically problematic” for provinces with lower minimum wages to run big campaigns that emphasize how many low wage workers they have.

“It would be political suicide to do that because ultimately they’re all going to be at $15,” added Dias.

Provinces cannot guarantee that their minimum wages won’t unexpectedly rise, said University of Alberta economics associate professor Joseph Marchand.

“No one really saw Alberta’s $15 minimum wage coming. In 2014, it was one of the three lowest minimum wage provinces,” he said.

Marchand said rising minimum wages could speed up a growing trend to automate with the addition of ATMs, restaurant order screens and grocery self-checkout lines.

“It’s happening because technology is moving at a constant rate so that’s making capital cheaper year by year, but then if you have a drastic shift in labour costs that’s only going to speed up the process.”

A report from the Brookfield Institute on the Canadian jobs most at risk of automation found employees in the lowest-paid sectors, such as cashiers and food and beverage servers, are most vulnerable.

Canadian retailers such as Dollarama Inc. and Metro Inc. have said they are speeding up studies of automation as they consider options for offsetting the pending wage increase.

But the shift to automation over the last couple of decades has little to do with wage hikes, said labour representative Yussuff.

“There is recognition that more and more automation is coming to a lot of sectors in society and that’s long before the minimum wage has been increased.”

North Korea to send delegation to Winter Olympics in South

The Associated Press | posted Tuesday, Jan 9th, 2018

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North Korea agreed Tuesday to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Seoul officials said, as the bitter rivals sat for rare talks at the border to discuss how to co-operate in the Olympics and improve their long-strained ties.

The Koreas’ first talks in two years were arranged after North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un recently made an abrupt push for improved ties with South Korea after a year of elevated tensions with the outside world over his expanding nuclear and missile programs. Critics say Kim may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington in a bid to weaken international pressure and sanctions on the North.

During the talks, the North Korean delegation said it would send an Olympic delegation, which includes officials, athletes, cheerleaders, journalists and others, South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters, according to media footage from the border village of Panmunjom, the venue for the talks.

The South Korean delegation, for its part, proposed North Korea send a big delegation and conduct a joint march during the Feb. 9-25 Game’s opening and closing ceremonies, Chun, one of the five South Korean negotiators, said.

He said South Korea also suggested resuming temporary reunions of families separated by war and offering military talks designed to reduce animosities in frontline areas. South Korea also stressed the need to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Chun said.

North Korea responded by saying the two Koreas must try to promote peace and reconciliation through dialogue, he said.

The two sides were to continue their negotiations later Tuesday at Panmunjom, the only place on the tense border where North and South Korean soldiers are just feet away from each other. A North Korean soldier late last year defected to the South across Panmunjom amid a hail of bullets fired by his comrades. He was hit five times but survived.

The meeting began with an amicable atmosphere Tuesday morning, with chief North Korean delegate Ri Son Gwon saying he hopes the talks would give “a New Year’s first gift — precious results (of the talks) to the Korean nation.” Ri’s South Korean counterpart, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, said he also hopes they would come up with a “good gift” for people in both Koreas.

The overall prospect for the negotiations was still unclear. The two Koreas have a long history of ending key talks without any agreement and failing to follow through with rapprochement accords.

An agreement on the North’s Olympic participation had been widely expected before the talks began, but the Koreas remain sharply at odds over how to improve their overall ties.

North Korea is expected to demand rewards in return for South Korea’s offer for family reunions and military talks, like Seoul halting propaganda broadcasts and scaling back or halting military drills with the U.S., observers say.

Suspension of the military drills would be unacceptable for Seoul because that would seriously undermine the alliance with its chief ally the United States, which wants to put more pressures on Pyongyang. The North views the drills as a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

President Donald Trump on Saturday expressed hope for some progress from the talks and said he was open to talking with Kim himself. But U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley later said the U.S. administration isn’t changing its conditions regarding talks with North Korea, saying Kim would first need to stop weapons testing for a “significant amount of time.”

In his New Year’s Day address, Kim said there is an urgent need to improve inter-Korean ties and that he is willing to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games. He urged Seoul to halt the military drills with the U.S. and said he has a “nuclear button” to launch missiles at any target in the United States.

South Korean liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favours dialogue as a way to defuse the North Korean nuclear standoff, welcomed Kim’s outreach and proposed talks at Panmunjom. Kim quickly accepted.

“As President Moon has said, the improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from resolving North Korea’s nuclear program,” Brian Hook, a chief adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, told reporters in a conference call late Monday Washington time. “And so, we remain focused on our global pressure campaign. That campaign is designed to bring Kim Jong Un to the table for meaningful negations.”

The Trump administration agreed last week to delay springtime military drills with South Korea until after the Games. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis insisted the delay was a practical necessity to accommodate the Olympics, not a political gesture.

Trump and Kim traded bellicose warlike rhetoric and even crude insults last year, as the North conducted it sixth and most powerful nuclear detonation and three tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The International Olympic Committee said Monday it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the Games. IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the registration deadline has been extended and that the Switzerland-based committee supports North Korean athletes in the qualification process, while respecting U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

4 killed, including 2 children, in Oshawa house fire

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Jan 9th, 2018

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Fire officials say four people — two adults and two children, were killed after a fire ripped through a multiple-unit home in Oshawa.

The fire broke out at around 8:30 a.m. Monday at a three-storey home at Colbourne Street West and Centre Street North.

“It engulfed the whole house within minutes,” a neighbour told CityNews. “(I heard) yelling and screaming of ‘fire’ and ‘my child.’ ”

Fire Chief Derrick Clark said a man and a woman, along with a boy and a girl, died in the fire. It is not known if they were from the same family since there were multiple tenants in the building.

Neighbours told CityNews the woman was Lindsey Bonchek and the children, her two kids Madeline and Jackson. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help cover the costs of their funerals. They identified the fourth victim as Steven McDonald, who they said ran back inside to save people.

Three other people were also taken to hospital.

Clark said the house had been divided into a number of apartments and initial reports indicated there were at least two units in the home. Officials will be looking into whether it was a legal multiple-unit dwelling.

“We don’t have any information yet on cause or a determination of how this fire got going, that will be part of the investigation over the next three or four days,” he said.

“I think the message here is, no matter what dwelling you live in, if you have working smoke alarms that’s the key, and a fire escape plan to get out of your house in time in the event of a fire.”

“At this time we cannot confirm whether there were or were not working smoke alarms, ” he added.

Clark said firefighters faced heavy smoke and fire when they arrived at the scene and had to fight the flames from the outside before attempting to rescue those inside.

Businesses mulling legal action over King Street pilot project losses

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Jan 9th, 2018

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A coalition of Toronto businesses is “very seriously” considering legal action if it can’t get the hours of the King Street pilot project reduced on nights and weekends.

Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association President and CEO Tony Elenis said a meeting is planned between Mayor John Tory, Councillor Joe Cressy and King Street business owners this Friday. The business owners are hoping the city will lift restrictions on private vehicles using King Street after 7 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends.

“We having a meeting this Friday and we’re hoping for some good news,” Elenis said. “Every business there is hurting. There is an issue with what happens to that dollars that did not come in during the busiest time of year.”

Elenis says some restaurants and hotels have seen as much as a 52 per cent decline in revenue since the pilot project came into effect Nov. 12.

Cars are no longer allowed to travel straight through King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst, a stretch that cuts through the city’s busy financial and entertainment districts. The project gives priority to streetcars along what is the busiest surface transit route in the city.

“There is parking down below a major hotel in that area,” Elenis said. “They’re down close to 34 per cent year over year.”

A spokesperson from Mayor John Tory’s office says the mayor is “committed to hearing from business owners and working with them in constructive ways to make sure King Street now works for everyone… We are less than two months into the year-long pilot and City staff are measuring it in all possible ways.”

John Mascarin, a specialist in municipal law, says any attempt by business owners to sue for damages or seek an injunction to stop the pilot project would likely fail.

“I don’t think it’s a realistic possibility,” Mascarin said. “The City of Toronto certainly has jurisdiction to regulate King Street. It can open King Street the way it deems appropriate; it can restrict access to King Street, so it has the jurisdiction.”

What’s more, any move to recoup damages would also likely be unsuccessful, Mascarin said. The section of the Expropriations Act only allows homeowners or business owners to file for damages for construction work.

“In this case, I just don’t see it,” Mascarin said. “It’s just the use of the roadway which is quite different from putting up construction to preclude access to the road.”

In 2011, both the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of merchants on St. Clair for $100 million against the City of Toronto.

Many business owners said their businesses were hurt, or forced to close, by the city’s management of the St. Clair streetcar project that took more than five years to complete.

Elenis says they will make a decision on their next steps after Friday’s meeting.

“Hopefully the mayor and the city councillor will meet those asks we feel are pretty realistic… if not there are many considerations on the table,” he said.

The pilot project is slated to run for a year.

5 injured in house fire north of Barrie

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Jan 9th, 2018

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Five people have been sent to hospital after a fire broke out at a home in Victoria Harbour, just north of Barrie.

Emergency crews were called to the scene on Nielson Road just before 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Sources told CityNews three adults and two children were in the home at the time.

The fire allegedly started in a Christmas tree.

One of the children has been rushed to SickKids hospital.

There has been no word on the extent of injuries suffered by the victims.

Back to school after the holiday break coincides with snow

CityNews | posted Monday, Jan 8th, 2018

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It is a messy commute across much of the GTA, as thousands return to the routine of school and work after the holidays.

A special weather statement remains in effect on Monday for the region, calling for between 4-8 centimetres of snow for Toronto.

Up to 10 centimetres of show is expected in areas northeast of the Great Lakes.

So far, there are 200 flights cancelled at Pearson International Airport.

On a brighter note, the GTA is seeing a reprieve from the cold. 680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor says the high for Monday will be 2 C.

She said the last time Toronto was above the freezing mark was on Dec. 23 when it was 1.4 C.

Woman dies after being hit by van in Scarborough

CityNews | posted Monday, Jan 8th, 2018

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A woman in her 20s has died after being struck by a van in Scarborough on Sunday night.

Emergency crews responded to a call for a collision in the Markham Road and Steeles Avenue East area around 10:15 p.m.

Police said the woman had just stepped off a TTC bus and was attempting to cross Steeles when she was struck by the van.

The woman suffered life-threatening injuries and was rushed to hospital, where she later died.

The van remained on scene.

The eastbound lanes on Steeles Avenue East were closed for the investigation.

There has been no word on charges.

Costco recalling some Kirkland Signature brand croissants that may contain plastic

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Jan 8th, 2018

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Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd. is recalling Kirkland Signature brand All Butter Croissants sold in certain stores in Ontario due to the possible presence of plastic.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says consumers should not eat Kirkland Signature All Butter Croissants sold in 12-packs with a best before date of Jan. 7 and a packaged date of Jan. 5.

The product was sold only at Costco outlets in Barrie, London, Newmarket and west Toronto.

Also being recalled are Kirkland Signature All Butter Croissants (Frozen, Uncooked) with a best before date of April 2 and a packaged date of Jan. 5 that were sold at Costco in Newmarket and west Toronto.

The CFIA says the recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased.

There have been no reported injuries associated with the recalled food.

Click here for more information on the recall, including the store locations.

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