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Hydro One considering use of pre-paid meters

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 24th, 2017

Hydro One is considering allowing its customers to use pre-paid meters for their electricity use.

The proposal is contained within a massive Ontario Energy Board application, which also asks for a rate increase of 0.5 per cent this year and 4.8 per cent next year.

The application says the pre-paid meters would minimize Hydro One’s financial risk by requiring customers to pay for energy before using it — in particular for customers who are deemed to be a high collection risk.

But Hydro One’s executive vice-president of customer care and corporate affairs said it would not be used as a collection tool, adding that the language in the application to the OEB is very generic and “somewhat out of context.”

If the OEB allows Hydro One to move forward with pre-paid meters, they would be offered to customers as a choice and wouldn’t be forced upon anyone, Ferio Pugliese said.

The NDP believes the move would allow Hydro One to circumvent a winter disconnection ban.

“They’re going to move forward with this and they’re going to go after anyone who has a bad credit score, anyone who’s in arrears — anyone who they think is vulnerable,” said energy critic Peter Tabuns.

Hydro One’s application says once the pre-paid amount on a meter is used up, “power is cut off until the customer is able to load the meter with more credits.”

But Pugliese said that would “absolutely not” be the case, noting Hydro One was the first utility to voluntarily stop winter disconnections.

“We are not about to go about the business of disconnecting people, especially remotely once something like this runs out,” he said.

Energy Minister Glen Thibeault stressed that pre-paid smart metres are in very preliminary stages and their inclusion in the approximately 2,000 page application is a small detail. They would be opt-in for customers, he said.

“This is about giving people choice,” he said. “This isn’t … a Trojan horse. It’s two paragraphs in a rate application that may not even get through.”

If the OEB gives its approval, Hydro One would study the pre-paid meters idea, then find vendors, then test the technology, then field test it, Pugliese said, stressing the idea is in a very preliminary stage.

Major security changes could be coming to Toronto City Hall

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 24th, 2017

A staff report to be reviewed by Mayor John Tory’s executive committee is recommending enhanced security measures at Toronto City Hall, including metal detectors, bag checks, and a glass wall.

The report dated Nov. 15 outlines several ways to boost security at the municipal building, based on assessments from the Toronto Police Service and Public Safety Canada.

“The primary goals of these proposals are to maintain an accessible, safe, and secure Toronto City Hall while providing a reasonable level of protection from foreseeable threats,” the report states.

One of the measures is “patron screening” through the use of metal detectors and physical baggage checks – the latter by security staff, X-Ray machines, or both.

The report points out that patron screening is done in various degrees at provincial legislatures in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Quebec, at city halls in Calgary and Edmonton, the courts, as well as at the Air Canada Centre and Rogers Centre.

Tory told 680 NEWS on Thursday the new security measures have to be considered.

“People are used to having some degree of security when they go into a hockey game or a rock concert, or even other public or private buildings, and City Hall is open, as we wanted to remain as much as we can, but striking that balance is really tough,” he said.

However, Coun. Gord Perks is not in favour, saying “we have a tradition of openness, transparency and inclusion at Toronto city government.”

Another suggested security measure includes providing a “physical separation between vehicles and persons.” Currently, there are already such “vehicle mitigation measures” in place around Nathan Phillips Square.

The staff report also recommends implementing a glass wall in council chamber and a “physical delineation of space” for two committee rooms.

The city adopted security measures after Canada’s domestic terrorism threat level was increased from low to medium on Oct. 1, 2014. However, since the threat level remains, the city says more permanent measures are needed.

“As there is no indication that the level will again be lowered anytime in the near future, there is a need to consider security enhancements as more permanent in nature,” report states.

If the enhanced security measures are approved, it will cost the city $500,000 in one-time capital funding, while adding extra security staffing will cost the city $774,000 more a year.

The executive committee will review the report on Tuesday. If approved, it will then head to city council on Dec. 5.

Canadian screen industry wants code of conduct to deal with sexual misconduct

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 24th, 2017

Groups that represent actors, talent agencies, directors and other employees of Canada’s film and television industry say a code of conduct will be one of several steps toward tackling sexual harassment in the industry.

More than a dozen organizations met on Thursday in Toronto to discuss what can be done to curb the problem.

They issued a statement that says a code of conduct would clearly define what is inappropriate behaviour as well as what the consequences would be for those who commit such actions.

Some in the industry say sexual misconduct has long been a reality in Canada’s film scene, and they contend it’s a problem that appears to be growing.

The recent revelations of sex-related allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and other prominent celebrities has shone a light on sexual harassment in the industry.

The groups also agreed to create more effective ways to report wrongful behaviour to ensure people can report allegations without fear of retribution.

Their statement says they plan to organize an education program and ensure existing policies governing sexual misconduct are properly enforced.

“This moment presents us all with an opportunity to focus a spotlight on the prevention of sexual harassment,” the Canadian stakeholder groups says in a statement released Thursday. “We are committed to working in partnership to build solutions and will continue to provide updates as they become available.”

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists invited the groups to the meeting.

Would-be thief fails in spectacular fashion

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 24th, 2017

Toronto police have released a short security video online which appears to show a would-be thief, fail in spectacular fashion.

The black and white security video shows a young man throwing a rock at a car passenger window to try to break it – but instead – the rock comes back and hits him square in the face.

It was tweeted by Det. Marc Hayford with the Major Crime Unit in 54 Division in East York, who writes “perhaps, breaking into cars isn’t a good career choice for this guy.”

There has been no word on when and where this incident happened.


GTA shoppers line up early, hoping to find Black Friday deals

CityNews | posted Friday, Nov 24th, 2017

Black Friday shoppers are already lining up outside some GTA stores in the hopes of scoring some deals, on what has become one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Many Canadian malls and stores are opening earlier than usual, hoping to cash in on the Black Friday mania that normally sweeps through the U.S.

The day after American Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year – on both sides of the border.

But it’s also morphed from a single day, when people get up early to score so-called door-buster deals, into a whole season of discounts.

So some shoppers may simply check their phones and go back to sleep.


Ontario reforms labour laws, boosts minimum wage to $15 in 2019

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 23rd, 2017

Ontario passed sweeping labour reform legislation Wednesday, including increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which will form a key pillar of the governing Liberals’ re-election bid next year.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has been tying the policy at nearly every opportunity to a theme of fairness that will likely carry through to the June 2018 election, along with free tuition for low- and middle-income students, more child care spaces and pharmacare for youth.

The minimum wage boost has proved largely popular in government polling and with labour advocates, though it is controversial with businesses, who say the increase is too fast and will lead to job losses.

Currently at $11.60 an hour, the minimum wage will rise under the legislation to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, with the increase to $15 coming in 2019. It will then continue to rise with inflation.

The government and some economists argue that the hike will have some positive impact on the economy, as minimum wage earners get more spending power.

“Actually what you see is increases in employment because that money gets recycled,” said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn.

“This isn’t money that goes to the Cayman Islands. This isn’t money that goes into savings accounts. If you’re trying to raise a family on a minimum wage in the province of Ontario you don’t have a savings account,” he said. “What you do is you take that money out, you pay your rent, you pay your groceries, maybe a little car payment, you buy some shoes for the kids, diapers, that goes right back into the businesses.”

Flynn also immediately made political hay of the Progressive Conservatives voting against the legislation.

“I really think it was a slap in the face to working people in the province,” he said. “I expected better.”

Progressive Conservative John Yakabuski said his party didn’t support it because of various analyses and business groups warning such a sharp increase in minimum wage will lead to job losses.

“The accelerated increase in the minimum wage is the No. 1 reason why we had to send a clear message that we’re going to defend what we believe are the working class in Ontario,” he said. “If you haven’t got a job your wage is zero.”

The province’s economic watchdog, the Financial Accountability Office, has estimated more than 50,000 people could lose their jobs due to the minimum wage increase.

A TD Bank report has estimated the minimum wage hike could cost the province’s economy as many as 90,000 jobs by 2020. And an analysis from the Keep Ontario Working Coalition concluded over 185,000 jobs could be impacted.

Businesses say it will be difficult to absorb the increased costs over such a short time frame.

“They also turned a blind eye to numerous surveys and evidence-backed studies warning of significant job losses, especially among lower-skilled workers,” said Julie Kwiecinski, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The Liberal government recently announced the provincial corporate tax rate for small businesses will be cut from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent to help support businesses through the minimum wage transition, though Wynne said it was never intended to fully offset the impact.

The legislation also mandates equal pay for part-time and temporary workers doing the same job as full-time employees, increases vacation entitlements to three weeks after a worker has been with their company for five years, requires employees to be paid for three hours if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours of its start, and expands personal emergency leave to 10 days per year, two of them paid.

The minimum wage increase is the centrepiece of the legislation and something labour advocates have been urging for years.

“The $15 minimum wage will put money where it is deserved and most needed, into workers’ pockets,” Navi Aujla, a former temp agency worker with the $15 & Fairness campaign, said in a statement.

“Together with paid emergency days, fairer scheduling and equal pay for equal work measures, $15 will make a real difference for our communities who fought so hard for this victory.”

The Ontario Federation cheered the passage of the legislation but had hoped it would contain even more changes.

“The law needs to go further to better safeguard decent work for generations to come,” said president Chris Buckley. “It must reflect what these workers and so many others face every day, including low wages, no access to unions and no job security.”

The NDP had proposed amendments to give all workers five paid sick days, eliminate minimum wage exemptions for servers and limit how much companies can rely on temp workers, but the Liberals voted them down.

“Workers have been waiting 14 long years actually under the Liberal government for some improvements to their working conditions in this province,” said New Democrat Cindy Forster.

University of Toronto contract staff vote 91% in favour of strike mandate

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 23rd, 2017

Contract academic workers at the University of Toronto have given their union a 91 per cent mandate in favour of strike action as they work towards a new contract.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says the workers include non-student sessional lecturers, writing instructors and music professionals.

CUPE says the key issue is how post-secondary institutions relay on “precarious labour,” with sessional lecturers at the university delivering more than 20 per cent of all undergraduate teaching, yet earn less and have little to no job security.

Union official Jess Taylor says after four months of bargaining, they have made some gains at the table in terms of wage increases, but contract workers need a pathway to permanent employment.

The two sides are scheduled to resume bargaining on Friday and Taylor says the union hopes the strike mandate message is “well received” by university negotiators.

“Many of our members have been working at the University of Toronto for decades,” said CUPE 3902 chairwoman Pamela Arancibia in a statement.

Ottawa offers options to international students after college strike

CityNews | posted Thursday, Nov 23rd, 2017

Ontario’s college students may be back in the classrooms after a record breaking five-week strike but, for some, there’s still some uncertainty over their future. An international student attending Humber College told CityNews the school’s latest email was putting her in a difficult position. Part of that email she shared, read “If you withdraw, we recommend that you leave Canada.”

The student, who did not want to be identified, said she wanted to receive a full refund for the fall 2018 semester and re-enroll in 2018. But she now fears this plan may have an impact on her student visa status in Canada.

A spokesperson from Humber College said the school regrets any confusion the language may have caused, and a followup email will be sent to students on Thursday.

“The intent of the message was to provide further information to international students about the withdrawal process and how to protect their status with IRCC,” Andrew Leopold said.

“According to current IRCC guidelines, if a student chooses to stop attending classes and withdraw from his/her program, the student is required to leave the country. By not complying with IRCC guidelines, the student is risking an impact on his/her current and future status.”

Colleges in Toronto are operating on a revised schedule, where the Christmas break is shorter and the fall semester extends into the new year, forcing a late start to the winter semester. Some international students, like the student from Humber and Nico Dedocoton, had already purchased flights back home.

“We’re in a trap, I feel like the school doesn’t want to let us go because they’re losing money,” said Dedocoton, who is enrolled in the Bachelor of Technology program at Seneca-York.

Dedocoton, who is from the Ivory Coast and told CityNews he pays $10,000 a semester, must now choose between going back home to Africa in December or continuing his studies. Though students who want to withdraw from classes will be eligible for a full tuition refund, the College Student Alliance, an advocacy group, says international students are expressing concerns over the impacts that will have on their visa status in Canada.

“What international students are hearing from their institutions is that if they withdraw for the tuition refund, they might not be eligible to stay in Canada and they might have to leave the country because they’re no longer in class,” Abdullah Mushtaq, the Director of Advocacy, said.

The province said it has been working alongside the federal government to alleviate the visa impacts the strike had on international students.

“International students are really important and are particularly vulnerable throughout this,” Deb Matthews, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Canada, said.

“We’ve worked with federal government, the federal government has provided assurance that students who need an extension to their visa as a result of the strike will be granted that extension.”

When asked about the concerns expressed by international students, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said although it can’t provide case-specific advice, there are a number of possible scenarios for international students to consider:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Students who continue to remain enrolled and actively pursue their studies following the strike:

“There will be no impact on the immigration status of students who, following the strike, continue to remain enrolled and actively pursue their studies at their designated learning institution. The interruption in studies caused by the strike will not affect a study permit holder’s eventual eligibility for a post-graduation work permit.”

Students who accept the refund and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester:

“There will be no impact on the immigration status of students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester. Students will be eligible for on- or off-campus work after they resume full-time classes in January 2018. The interruption in studies caused by the strike will not affect a study permit holder’s eventual eligibility for a post-graduation work permit.”

Students who accept the refund and are not enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester:

“Students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester, and are not enrolled at a designated learning institution for the January 2018 semester, may change their status to “visitor” if they wish to remain in Canada or they may leave Canada altogether. Students who choose this option no longer meet the eligibility requirements for either on- or off-campus work or a co-op work permit, and will not be eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program.”

Students who accept the refund and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the Summer or Fall 2018 semester:

“Students who withdraw from the 2017 Fall semester, and are enrolled at a designated learning institution for the Summer or Fall 2018 semester, may change their status to “visitor” if they wish to remain in Canada. Students who choose this option no longer meet the eligibility requirements for on- or off-campus work or the post-graduation work permit program. Students who change their status to visitor will need to apply for a new study permit from abroad if they wish to return to full-time studies.”

However, if students withdraw from the semester, it doesn’t automatically mean they will be getting automatically be admitted into the program.

“At Humber, we are able to re-admit most students to their program of study but we cannot guarantee in which semester that will occur,” said Leopold. “While we will do everything possible to help students who want to withdraw and start their program or semester again in the future, some programs have a limited number of spaces and are only offered at certain times throughout the year.”

College students still have time to decide on their enrollment, the deadline to withdraw from lasses without academic penalty is December 5th.

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