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Election reform bill passed in time for implementation in 2019 federal vote

JOAN BRYDEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Dec 11th, 2018

Legislation aimed at preventing foreign interference and constraining the influence of big money in Canadian elections has been approved by the Senate.

Bill C-76 passed in the upper house late Monday on a vote of 54-31 and is expected to receive royal assent later this week.

That means the reforms will apply during next year’s federal election campaign.

Chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault had warned that the much-delayed bill must go into effect by the end of this year if the independent elections watchdog was to have time to implement the reforms for next year’s campaign.

Bill C-76 is an omnibus bill that will reverse a number of changes wrought by the previous Conservative administration’s widely denounced Fair Elections Act.  It will restore the use of voter information cards as a valid form of identification to prove residency and will do away with measures that critics argued were designed to benefit the deep-pocketed Tories.

It will limit spending by parties and advocacy groups during the three-month period before an election is officially called, as well as during the official campaign. And it scraps a Tory-instituted provision allowing parties to spend $650,000 for each day a campaign exceeds the minimum 37 days and caps the maximum campaign length at 50 days.

It will also extend the right to vote to ex-patriate Canadians, no matter how long they’ve lived outside the country, rather than the current five-year limit.

The bill represents a first stab at grappling with the spectre of social media being abused by bad actors — foreign or domestic — to manipulate election results, exacerbate societal divisions, amplify hate messages or instill distrust in the electoral system. It comes in the wake of scandal over Russian interference in the last U.S. presidential contest and the misuse of personal information of millions of Facebook users during the United Kingdom’s Brexit campaign.

It will ban advocacy groups from ever using money from foreign entities to conduct partisan campaigns.

And it will require online platforms, such as Facebook and Google, to create a registry of all digital advertisements placed by political parties or third parties during the pre-writ and writ periods and to ensure they remain visible to the public for two years.

The bill requires political parties to put in place and publish policies designed to protect the privacy of Canadians whose personal information winds up in their massive voter data bases. But there will be no requirement for independent monitoring or enforcement of those policies.

The legislation also beefs up the powers of the commissioner of elections to investigate violations of election laws, including giving the commissioner the power to compel testimony.

Conservative senators proposed four amendments to the bill Monday but all were defeated.

They have been particularly critical of the provision allowing millions of Canadian citizens living abroad to cast ballots, some of whom Conservatives have argued might potentially be compelled to vote a certain way by unfriendly foreign governments.

Although some two million Canadians live outside the country, Perrault has estimated that only about 30,000 ex-pats will actually take advantage of the right to cast ballots.

Nova Scotia professor striving to create perfect Christmas tree

ALY THOMSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Dec 10th, 2018

A Nova Scotia professor is striving to create the ideal Christmas tree, inside the only research lab of its kind in the world.

Dalhousie University’s Raj Lada is the director of the Christmas Tree Research Centre in Truro, N.S., a unique lab dedicated to improving balsam fir Christmas trees.

“We are the pioneers in terms of what we have been doing,” said Lada, a plant, tree and ecophysiology professor in the school’s Plant, Food and Environmental Sciences Department.

The centre’s flagship product is the SMART Balsam, which epitomizes the quintessential Christmas tree: architecturally sound, fragrant and an able to retain its blue-green needles for up to three months.

Lada said solving industry-wide challenges, such as needle retention, is critical to the survival of the multimillion-dollar Christmas tree industry in Atlantic Canada, as it competes with other markets and artificial trees.

His interest in Christmas trees was sparked more than a decade ago, when a producer approached him after he was not paid for a shipment to British Columbia because of needle loss.

“I could see it in his eyes,” he said. “The trees had lost needles, but it looked like he had lost his life, like he had lost his business, his credibility.”

He began looking into the plight of the producer, researching shipping processes and other factors that affecting the trees during transport.

Lada then went to the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia.

“It seemed this had been a common problem all these years,” he said.

At the time, there had been no research on the physiology of post-harvest needle loss in balsam fir trees. And so, Lada took it on as his personal mission.

He brought together producers from across eastern Canada to form the Atlantic Christmas Tree Research and Development Consortium, and they devised research priorities.

The producers’ No. 1 concern: needle retention.

Eventually, Lada received a grant from Ottawa’s Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency.

Among his latest research projects is the SMART tree, which Lada believes will revolutionize the Christmas tree industry.

Lada and his team started by screening balsam firs for ideal traits, including fullness and the ability to retain needles. Genetic markers for those traits were identified.

SMART trees are now being mass produced for market.

Lada expects planting to start next year.

“They’ll look great, smell great, and they’ll also have a higher needle retention capacity,” said Lada. “Nothing will beat the SMART trees.”

The centre has also developed and licensed needle-loss prevention agents, which are applied with water.

As well, Lada’s team has created technologies for shipping and storage that can help Christmas trees remain fresh for at least two months.

Lada’s partners include provincial government departments in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“This has not being done in such a co-ordinated, consorted way in the past,” he said. “The industry has been managing the situation, but now we have solutions for it.”

New mom facing issues booking Wheel-Trans

FAIZA AMIN | posted Monday, Dec 10th, 2018

A Toronto woman who uses a wheelchair says having a baby means its nearly impossible for her and others to use the TTC’s accessible transit.

Terri-Lynn Langdon tells CityNews she’s been spending extra money on taxis, because she’s been unable to bring her 10 week old infant Jaycie aboard the Wheel-Trans vehicles. She uses a wheel-chair and when accessing the specialized transit service, she requires a friend to accompany her for doctor appointments and other vital errands. But when she tries to board the bus, the drivers usually raise questions.

“They’ve actually called it in and said she has two friends or she’s traveling with two people, and my daughter isn’t my friend,” Langdon tells CityNews. “The appointment is for her and it’s important that she comes.”

CityNews reached out to the TTC on Sunday, explaining to them about Langdon’s challenges. A spokesperson tells us there’s only one policy which applies during all days of the week.

“This policy is that customers can travel with one attendant and infinite dependents subject to vehicle availability,” said Hayley Waldman. “Customers who have a support person card can travel with two attendants along with their dependents. If the customer would like to travel with additional attendants/dependents they may call on the date of travel and request this, subject to vehicle availability.”

The TTC adds that transit users could only book one attendant or dependent online, and additional riders would have to be added by reservations. Which means Langdon must choose between her support person or her baby when traveling on a Wheel-Trans vehicle. The TTC says its automated booking system is an efficient way to make reservations, however Langdon tells CityNews when she attempted to make reservations over the phone, she was left waiting for over an hour and never got a call-back.

She adds that she’s written and called the TTC to advise them about her inability to access their Wheel-Trans service.

“Essentially the response that I got is, yes this is our status quo and it’s our policy, and nothing to further the conversation or to say that they’re willing to address it or change what’s currently happening,” she said. “I belong to the city as much as everyone else so I should be able to travel the way that other people do.”

On Sunday, the TTC unveiled it’s newly designed Wheel-Trans self-booking website, making upgrades and changing the way customers reserve their rides online. The upgrade is part of a 10-year transformation program aimed at improving the experiences of TTC customers.

A spokesperson says that with this new online system, transit users like Langdon will also be able to reserve multiple reservations for an attendant and dependents.

Langdon says while this is a good step forward she wants the TTC to allow riders to indicate if they’ll be traveling with infants online and would like Wheel-Trans drivers to be trained in the use of car-seats.

“As a new mom I learned about car seats before I left the hospital,” she said. “But as a Wheel-Trans user I can’t help the driver with that just because of where I would be sitting.”

Ontario’s fiscal watchdog to release latest assessment of province’s economy

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Dec 10th, 2018

Ontario’s financial watchdog is set to release his latest assessment of the province’s economy and the government’s fiscal outlook Monday.

Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman is expected to discuss his fall economic and budget outlook at a news conference at 10 a.m.

It will be his first such report since the Progressive Conservatives took office in June.

The FAO issued its spring economic outlook just weeks before the provincial election, saying the province’s deficit would jump to almost $12 billion in 2018 as a result of higher spending in the budget presented by the then-governing Liberals, as well as weak revenue gains.

The Liberals had projected a deficit of $6.7 billion, a figure that was also called into question by Ontario’s auditor general.

The Tories have since accepted the auditor general’s accounting but say a commission of inquiry and financial review convened to examine government spending found the province’s deficit will grow to $15 billion this year.

Weltman, meanwhile, announced this summer he would look into the new government’s cancellation of the cap-and-trade program in order to determine how much that decision will end up costing the province.

OHRC to release report on racial profiling, discrimination by Toronto police toward the black community

KEVIN MISENER | posted Monday, Dec 10th, 2018

A report is due out Monday on racial profiling and discrimination by Toronto police toward the city’s black community.

The release from Ontario’s Human Rights Commission (OHRC) coincides with International Human Rights Day.

This is expected to be the most detailed report of police discrimination and profiling ever carried out in the province of Ontario.

The OHRC examined internal police documents and statistics from 2010 to 2017.

University of Toronto professor Dr. Scot Wortley will outline his analysis of the data received from the Special Investigations Unit as part of the inquiry. The OHRC’s executive director will also be on hand.

The news conference is scheduled for 10:15 a.m.

Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmastime in Toronto this weekend

PATRICIA D'CUNHA | posted Friday, Dec 7th, 2018

December is the best time of the year, in this writer’s opinion. Once you put aside the commercial element of the holiday, the season is all about positivity and lifting up your spirits. It is also a time when families and friends come together to reminisce and just have fun.

The holiday spirit is all around us in the city. Below are some events to plan your weekend.

And please remember to donate food or clothing to those in need this season. The City of Toronto has a food and toy drive, or you can also donate clothing and other amenities to various charities across the city.


Events

Hanukkah lights the way
Hanukkah ends the evening of December 10, and this year in Toronto, the “Pillars of Light” installation in Yorkville Village is commemorating the religious holiday. The installation has been organized by the Yorkville Jewish Centre in an effort to bring “Torontonians of all faiths together in sharing their messages of peace.”

Christmas village in the city
Did you know there is a hidden village in the city? It is a place where the magic of Christmas intermingles with beauty of the winter season. Once there, you will be surrounded by sparkling lights and greeted by mystical characters. Visitors can board an old-fashioned train or ride the 60-foot Ferris wheel, from where you get a perfect overview of the village. And where is this hidden village, you ask? It is at Ontario Place on the East Island. The village is part of Aurora Winter Festival, which runs until December 30. The village also has a skating rink and a tube park, as well as other amusement rides. After expending all that energy, grab a bite at the food gardens or take grab some treats from the Christmas market. Don’t forget to stop by Santa’s workshop before you leave the village. Click here for ticket information.

Vintage holiday market
Celebrate the season as you browse for antique gifts at the holiday edition of the Ontario Vintage Market, which takes place at Evergreen Brick Works. More than 15 vendors will be on hand this Saturday and at the market’s next date on December 16. While there, stop by Evergreen’s winter village for some skating, snacks, and so much more.

A pioneer Christmas
What was Christmas like in the 1800s? There was no string lights like we have now, so they used candles and lanterns to brighten up the season (which they used all-year long since there was no electricity). Families and friends gathered around the fireplace sharing stories and munching on gingerbread cookies, and sipping mulled cider. The smell of chestnuts roasting on a open fire permeated the air, and then everyone gathered around the table for a traditional Christmas dinner. During the next three Saturday evenings, step back in time at Black Creek Pioneer Village and experience Christmas by Lamplight. The dinner portion is sold out but you can still purchase tickets to explore the village and take part in the Christmas programming.

Christmas art crawl
Are you looking for a unique gift? You can do just that while supporting your local artists and designers at the Toronto Art Crawl Christmas Market. The event is being held at the Great Hall from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Free admission for kids under 10 years old. And while we’re at it, what the city really needs is a cookie crawl — there is still time. The “cookie crawl” reference is from a Christmas movie from the Hallmark Channel.

TTC closure

Partial Line 2 closure
This weekend’s subway closure only involves three stations, so a bit of a breather compared to last weekend. This Saturday, subways won’t be running on Line 2 between Victoria Park and Kennedy stations. The closure is for track work. Shuttle buses will be running.

Waterfront Toronto chair, 2 directors fired following Sidewalk Labs deal

ROB GILLIES, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Friday, Dec 7th, 2018

The chairwoman of a government organization that signed an agreement with a Google affiliated company to create a smart-city development in Toronto says she and two other appointed board members have been fired.

A unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet is proposing to turn a rundown part of Toronto’s waterfront into what may be the most wired community in history.

Sidewalk Labs had partnered with a government agency known as Waterfront Toronto with plans to erect mid-rise buildings on a 12-acre (4.9-hectare) site.

Waterfront chair Helen Burstyn confirmed Thursday the firing of herself and board members Michael Nobrega and Meric Gertler.

A recent auditor general report highlighted numerous examples of waste and inefficiency at Waterfront Toronto, saying it had failed to deliver on its mandate to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront. Auditor Bonnie Lysyk said Waterfront Toronto did not properly consult with any levels of government regarding the Sidewalk Labs project.

Some Canadians are rethinking the privacy implications and want the public to get a cut of the revenue from products developed.

Huawei CFO arrested in Vancouver as U.S. seeks extradition: Justice Department

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Dec 6th, 2018

VANCOUVER — The Justice Department says the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies, who is sought for extradition by the United States, has been arrested in Vancouver.

Justice Department spokesman Ian McLeod says in an email that Wanzhou Meng was arrested Saturday.

A clerk at the B.C. Supreme Court said Meng appeared in court on Wednesday and a bail hearing is scheduled for Friday.

McLeod says further details cannot be provided on the case because a publication ban is in effect at Meng’s request.

In a statement, Huawei says Meng is being sought for extradition to face unspecified charges in the Eastern District of New York.

It says she was arrested when she was transferring flights in Canada.

“The company has been provided very little information regarding the charges and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng,” the statement says. “The company believes the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will ultimately reach a just conclusion.”

China says it “firmly opposes and strongly protests” the arrest of Meng and calls for her immediate release.

“The Chinese side firmly opposes and strongly protests over such kind of actions which seriously harmed the human rights of the victim,” read a statement released by the Chinese Embassy in Canada. “The Chinese side has lodged stern representations with the US and Canadian side, and urged them to immediately correct the wrongdoing and restore the personal freedom of Ms. Meng Wanzhou.”

The U.S. Justice Department could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that U.S. authorities were investigating whether Huawei violated sanctions on Iran.

Huawei says the company complies with all laws and regulations in the countries where it operates, including applicable export control, sanction laws and regulations of the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

The company’s website also lists Meng as its deputy chairwoman and The Associated Press reports that she is the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei.

— With files from The Associated Press

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