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What Canadians were curious about: Google searches suggest 2017 a tough year

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Dec 13th, 2017

If you are what you Google, Canadians are a pretty broad-minded lot.

Google has released its 17th annual survey of top-trending searches, and top-of-mind topics for Canucks in 2017 ranged from devastating hurricanes to deceased rock icons to the continuing political circus south of the border.

“Google Year-End Search takes a look at trillions of searches globally,” said Alexandra Hunnings Klein, trends expert for Google Canada. “These lists are a barometer of what was interesting, what Canadians were curious about in 2017.”

Some search terms are always popular, said Hunnings Klein.

“Justin Bieber is always up there.”

What the lists measure are short-term spikes in the use of specific search terms. They provide a kind of index of which news stories Canadians responded to most — or at least drove them to their cellphones or tablets for more information.

The top overall search term was Hurricane Irma. Canadians were unstoppably keen for the latest on the immensely powerful storm that battered Florida and the Caribbean in the fall.

The second most popular overall search was Meghan Markle, the American and sometime Torontonian actor engaged to Prince Harry.

Hunnings Klein said search spikes often coincide with events in the news. For example: “Why are Canadian flags at half-mast?” — the second-most common spike under the “Why?” category — came after six men were shot and killed in a Quebec mosque last January.

And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remained broadly popular, Canadians appeared to be at least curious about opposition leaders. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, both annointed this year, were near the top of searches under “Political Figures.”

There’s no prize for guessing that column was headed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Singer and poet Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip front man who died this year after a rapturously received national tour and album in 2016, placed high in both the “National News” and “Losses” categories. But under “Losses,” even Downie came second to U.S. musician Tom Petty.

Canadians also seemed fascinated by entertainment giants toppled by allegations of sexual misbehaviour. Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Kevin Spacey — who all lost their jobs over such accusations — came in one, two and three in the “People” category.

The biggest search surges in the “Kitchen” section were for the apple cider vinegar diet and the plant-based diet.

The Google list suggests we’ve had a bit of a tough year, said Hunnings Klein.

“This list really tells me we’ve had a year where there’s been many moments that have been divisive or contentious or challenging. We’ve had a lot of moments that have challenged us.”

But some searches suggest there were moments that brought us together. Queries on the British Columbia wildfires were often accompanied by searches asking how to help, Hunnings Klein said.

Then there was August’s solar eclipse. Not only did the term place third in the overall Canadian list, it spawned a second, related spike.

“On Day 1, they were asking, ‘How do I make a solar eclipse viewer?’” Hunnings Klein said. “On Day 2, they were asking, ‘Why do my eyes hurt?’”

Some questions may have flummoxed even the world’s most popular search engine.

One wonders what Google made of at least one question that made the list under “Why?”

“Why are fidget spinners so popular?”

Some questions, even for Google, remain unanswerable.

25,700 college students get refund after strike, early numbers show

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Dec 13th, 2017

Nearly 25,700 full-time Ontario college students received tuition refunds after a five-week strike derailed their semester.

Ontario’s Ministry of Advanced Education confirmed Tuesday that 10.3 per cent of Ontario’s roughly 250,000 full-time college students asked for, and received, their money back after the strike.

Minister Deb Matthews said the figures are still preliminary and could change in the coming weeks as further numbers are reported by Ontario’s 24 colleges.

“Over the past months, I have heard from students about hardships they have experienced as a result of this strike,” she said in a statement. “It is clear that they have borne the brunt of the labour dispute between colleges and faculty. Preliminary reports from colleges indicate that the vast majority, approximately 90 per cent of students, chose to stay and finish the semester.”

Matthews said she expects many students who withdrew from this semester will return in January and September.

“I want to say to those students who did decide to withdraw, we hope you will return to college,” she said. “We need your talent and skills in this province and want to keep seeing you succeed. We will work with colleges to support and encourage students to re-enrol.”

Last month, the minister ordered colleges to refund the tuition money for any student who felt unable to complete the condensed semester. The decision is likely to cost the schools millions of dollars, which would have otherwise been saved because of the labour dispute.

The government ended the strike in November with back-to-work legislation passed in a rare weekend sitting at Queen’s Park.

Earlier Tuesday, PC legislator Lorne Coe said the government was dragging its feet when it came to releasing the figures because the information was politically damaging.

“Ontarians have the right … to know the consequences of the premier’s lack of leadership on the community college strike,” Coe said. “Will the minister stop playing politics and confirm today that approximately 25,000 dropped out from Ontario’s community colleges due to the Liberal government’s inaction?”

NDP education critic Peggy Sattler said government inaction over the strike has put all students in a difficult position and hurt their education.

“These students were backed into a corner, and made the very difficult decision to withdraw from the shortened semester entirely in order to get a refund,” she said in a statement. “Those that have chosen to remain in class face their own challenges, including increased workloads and condensed schedules. Many students will be left struggling to recover financially and academically long after the semester is over.”

Streetcars moving faster 1 month into King Street pilot, data shows

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Dec 13th, 2017

The city has released its first set of data for the King Street Transit Pilot and, not surprisingly, it suggests streetcars are moving a little faster and cars a little slower.

The pilot project launched on Nov. 12, between Bathurst and Jarvis streets, primarily to improve transit service, which has slowed significantly over the past several years.

The differences are only a few minutes either way, with the biggest change coming during the afternoon rush hour.

“This initial set of data shows improvements in the reliability and travel times of the streetcar, with minimal impacts on travel times for vehicles on other routes in the downtown,” said Barbara Gray, general manager of Transportation Services.

Here are the preliminary findings.

  • The reliability of streetcar travel times has improved for both the morning (7 a.m. to 10 a.m.) and afternoon (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.) rush hours.
  • The most significant improvement has been during the afternoon rush hour, when the upper range of streetcar travel times has improved from 25 minutes to 22 minutes eastbound and 24 to 19.7 minutes westbound.
  • Average streetcar travel times have improved for the afternoon rush hours. The most significant improvement has been westbound, with a 2.6-minute improvement in average travel time through the pilot area.
  • Average vehicle travel times on most streets in the pilot area have seen variations (+/-) of around a minute or less compared to before the pilot.
  • In some cases, where increases in vehicle travel times are more than a minute, other conditions have been identified which most likely caused the delay.

 

“Measurement is vital to the King Street pilot, and will ensure we can make any necessary adjustments so the street and surrounding area works for transit customers, cyclists, pedestrians, drivers and business owners as well as local residents,” said Mayor John Tory.

“We also appreciate the feedback of local businesses, transit users, and the taxi industry and will continue to address any concerns as quickly as possible.”

The city is monitoring the impact on transit service, traffic on parallel streets and effects on cyclists, pedestrians and local businesses.

New data for the pilot project will be released every month, and a more comprehensive report will be out early in 2018.

Ontario ticket sales law that bans scalper bots may pass Wednesday

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Dec 13th, 2017

A bill to strengthen consumer protection rules around home warranties, ticket sales, real estate practices and travel services in Ontario may soon become law.

The legislation is set for final debate on Wednesday, and if it goes to a third reading vote, the majority Liberal government is expected to pass it.

Changes to ticket selling laws include banning so-called scalper bots, which buy a large number of tickets online for an event then resell them at a large profit.

It would also ban tickets from being resold at more than 50 per cent of the face value and make it illegal to knowingly resell tickets that were purchased by bots.

Ticket sellers would also have to display an itemized list of all fees, taxes and service charges, and resellers would have to disclose the face value of the ticket.

But Ticketmaster has warned that the legislation puts companies that are playing by the rules at a disadvantage, and ticket resale site StubHub says capping ticket resale prices artificially controls a global market and will lead to unintended consequences.

Bitter cold grips Toronto, closing holiday fair for Wednesday

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Dec 13th, 2017

First there was the snow, and now comes the cold. The frigid temperatures arrived in the GTA late Tuesday and has not loosened its grip on the region.

680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor says it will feel like -20 C with the wind on Wednesday morning. The windchill will drop slightly to -14 by the afternoon, but will then dip again to -24 overnight.

On Tuesday, the City of Toronto issued an extreme cold weather alert for the city. Extreme cold weather alerts are issued when the temperature is forecast to reach -15 C Celsius or colder, or when the windchill is forecast to reach -20 or colder.

During an extreme cold weather alert, extra services are made available for the homeless.

If you’re planning to go to the Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square, it will be closed Wednesday due to the cold. Officials say they plan to reopen on Thursday.

The Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square is closed on Dec. 13, 2017, due to the cold weather. CITYNEWS

The Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square is closed on Dec. 13, 2017, due to the cold weather. CITYNEWS

Meanwhile, problems persist at Pearson International Airport in the wake of the GTA’s first significant snowfall of the year. At one point, around 400 flights were cancelled. As of 5 a.m. on Wednesday, there were 60 cancelled flights in and out of the airport.

Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama Senate seat in stunning upset

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Dec 13th, 2017

In a stunning victory aided by scandal, Democrat Doug Jones won Alabama’s special Senate election on Tuesday, beating back history, an embattled Republican opponent and President Donald Trump, who urgently endorsed GOP rebel Roy Moore despite a litany of sexual misconduct allegations.

It was the first Democratic Senate victory in a quarter-century in Alabama, one of the reddest of red states, and proved anew that party loyalty is anything but sure in the age of Trump. The Republican loss was a major embarrassment for the president and a fresh wound for the nation’s already divided GOP.

“We have shown not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way — that we can be unified,” Jones declared as supporters in a Birmingham ballroom cheered, danced and cried tears of joy. Still in shock, the Democrat struggled for words: “I think that I have been waiting all my life, and now I just don’t know what the hell to say.”

Moore, meanwhile, refused to concede and raised the possibility of a recount during a brief appearance at a sombre campaign party in Montgomery.

“It’s not over,” Moore said. He added, “We know that God is still in control.”

From the White House, Trump tweeted his congratulations to Jones “on a hard-fought victory” — but added pointedly that “the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!”

Jones takes over the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The term expires in January of 2021.

The victory by Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for Birmingham’s infamous 1963 church bombing, narrows the GOP advantage in the U.S. Senate to 51-49. That imperils already-uncertain Republican tax, budget and health proposals and injects tremendous energy into the Democratic Party’s early push to reclaim House and Senate majorities in 2018.

Still, many Washington Republicans viewed the defeat of Moore as perhaps the best outcome for the party nationally despite the short-term sting. The fiery Christian conservative’s positions have alienated women, racial minorities, gays and Muslims — in addition to the multiple allegations that he was guilty of sexual misconduct with teens, one only 14, when he was in his 30s.

“Tonight’s results are clear — the people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate,” said Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who leads the national GOP’s Senate campaign arm and called on Moore to quit the race weeks ago.

A number of Republicans declined to support him, including Alabama’s long-serving Sen. Richard Shelby. But Trump lent his name and the national GOP’s resources to Moore’s campaign in recent days.

Had Moore won, the GOP would have been saddled with a colleague accused of sordid conduct as Republicans nationwide struggle with Trump’s historically low popularity. Senate leaders had promised that Moore would have faced an immediate ethics investigation.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have expressed hopes of scheduling a vote on their tax legislation before Jones is sworn in, but lawmakers are still struggling to devise a compromise bill to bridge the divide between the House and Senate legislation that can win majority support in both chambers.

The Republican loss also gives Democrats a clearer path to a Senate majority in 2018 — albeit a narrow one — in an election cycle where Democrats are far more optimistic about seizing control of the House of Representatives.

Ultimately, Tuesday’s contest came down to which side better motivated its supporters to vote. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said turnout likely would not exceed 25 per cent of registered voters.

Jones successfully fought to cobble together an unlikely coalition of African-Americans, liberal whites and moderate Republicans.

He had his strongest support across Alabama’s “black belt,” named for the colour of its soil, and in the larger urban areas, including Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. Turnout in those areas, which features a large African-American population, also ran higher than in some of the more heavily Republican parts of the state.

At his election night headquarters, stunned supporters erupted in celebration as news of his victory was announced. Many danced to the song “Happy.” Some cried.

“I honestly did not know that this was even an option. I didn’t think that we could elect a Democrat,” said 26-year-old campaign volunteer Jess Eddington, her eyes red from tears of joy. “I am so proud we did.”

Moore, who largely avoided public events in the final weeks of the race and spent far less money on advertising than his opponent, bet big — and lost — on the state’s traditional Republican leanings and the strength of his passionate evangelical Christian supporters.

He sidestepped questions about sexual misconduct as he arrived at his polling place on horseback earlier in the day.

Alabama state law calls for a recount if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percentage point. With all precincts reporting, Jones led by 1.5 points — three times that margin.

If the secretary of state determines there were more write-in votes than the difference between Jones and Moore, the state’s counties would be required to tally those votes. It’s not clear how that would help Moore, who ended the night trailing Jones by more than 20,000 votes.

Democrats were not supposed to have a chance in Alabama, one of the most Republican-leaning states in the nation. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton here by nearly 28 points just 13 months ago. Yet Moore had political baggage that repelled some moderate Republicans even before allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Virtually the entire Republican establishment, Trump included, supported Moore’s primary opponent, Sen. Luther Strange in September. Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was one of the only early high-profile Moore backers.

Moore was once removed from his position as state Supreme Court chief justice after he refused to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument at the state court building. A second time, he was permanently suspended for urging state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez: “The people of Alabama sent a loud and clear message to Donald Trump and the Republican Party: You can’t call yourself the party of family values as long as you’re willing to accept vile men like Roy Moore as members.”

Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jay Reeves and Emily Wagster Pettus in Birmingham, Alabama, Bill Barrow in Montgomery and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.

Toronto man wanted in connection to alleged Kijiji rental fraud

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 12th, 2017

Toronto police are investigating after five people alleged they were victims of rental fraud after connecting with a man on Kijiji.

It was reported that between Oct. 23 and Nov. 28, five people responded to an ad about a condo at 2200 Lake Shore Boulevard West.

The alleged victims claimed they were met by a man living in the unit who claimed to be a real estate agent and were given a tour.

It was reported that the victims all signed rental agreements and handed over first and last months rent.

Police said the man has since fled and didn’t have the right to rent the unit.

The suspect has been identified as Olufemi Abiodun Agunbiade, 33, of Toronto, who also goes by the name “Femi.”

Police said they have interviewed other people who have allegedly fallen victim to this fraud and are urging any others to come forward.

Are there too many roundabouts in this GTA neighbourhood?

CityNews | posted Tuesday, Dec 12th, 2017

Richmond Hill is a fan of roundabouts, but how many is too many? One resident feels the traffic management tool is being used too often.

Tower Hill Road between Yonge Street and Bathurst Street stretches about 4.3 kilometres and would take about seven minutes to drive. It has six roundabouts on that stretch of road, with two additional ones in the Tower Hill neighbourhood.

According to city building experts, it’s used for many reasons — one of them being that it’s safer. But that’s if people know how to use them, which according to a CityNews tipster, many drivers don’t. She says that the town should do more to educate the residents about using the roundabouts to avoid collisions.

Lynn Chan, communications advisor to the township of Richmond Hill said in an email to CityNews after we reached out about redients’ concerns that “the Town is reviewing the signage needs on the Tower Hill Road roundabouts and additional signage and pavement markings will be considered.”

According to the Ministry of Transportation, drivers should approach the roundabout in the correct lane, depending on where they are headed. Those entering the roundabout must always yield to traffic in both lanes already inside, and wait for a gap before proceeding. Motorists should never stop inside the roundabout, except to avoid a collision.  (Here is an explainer about how to use roundabouts.)

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