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Ontario dips into reserves to cover increased costs of free tuition and college strike

Posted on 22 February 2018 by admin

Money is taken from the province’s $500 million reserve fund but Finance Minister Charles Sousa says the budget will be balanced.

Higher costs for student loans – including for college learners whose courses were extended because of a fall strike — forced the province to dip into its $500 million reserve fund in the third quarter.

But Finance Minister Charles Sousa said Thursday the Liberal government remains “on track” to balance its budget before the June 7 election.

The finance department’s report on three months ending Dec. 31 said “greater demand” for free tuition following the early launch of Ontario Student Assistance Plan applications pushed costs up by $118 million.

Another $20 million went to college students following a five-week strike that forced some programs to continue into the New Year.

The government spent a further $8 million to provide fare discounts to PRESTO card users transferring from GO Transit lines or the Union-Pearson Express to the TTC.

Overall, expenses in the quarter were $215 million more than forecast in last spring’s budget.

Revenues came in $115 million higher, with drops in personal income taxes and land transfer taxes offset by higher revenues from corporation taxes and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

The revenues from personal income taxes totalled $33.3 billion, $1.7 billion lower than forecast. Corporations tax revenue was almost $1.6 billion higher than expected at $15.4 billion.

Sousa said in a statement that the “uncertain global economy” presents challenges for Ontario given tricky NAFTA negotiations, reductions in U.S. corporate taxes under the Trump administration, a slowdown in household spending and the pinch rising interest rates will put on consumers with debt to manage.

The finance minister has not made public a date for his spring budget, but has said it will be presented after the federal government’s fiscal blueprint on Feb. 27.

That means the Liberal government’s pre-election budget — which will be a preview of the party’s campaign platform — is not expected until later in March.

The election campaign officially begins May 9.

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Patrick Brown says he’s suing CTV over sexual misconduct allegations

Posted on 22 February 2018 by admin

‘My lawyers are talking to CTV’ former Ontario PC leader says in Facebook post.

Patrick Brown says he’s suing CTV for airing a story detailing sexual misconduct allegations against him involving two young women — accusations he has called lies.

“In the court of public opinion and among the many journalists I’ve spoken to, these allegations are now seen for what they are — fictitious and malicious,” the former Ontario PC leader posted Thursday on his Facebook page

“… Right now, everyone is asking me two questions: 1) Am I suing CTV? And 2) What are my future plans,” he wrote.

“To the first question, the answer is a resounding yes — I am suing CTV.

“My lawyers are talking to CTV. Early this week, CTV lawyers agreed to ensure that all emails, texts and other correspondence related to this travesty are held independently for safe keeping.”

Brown, 39, has recently started fighting the women’s accusations, which were aired three weeks ago and led him to resign as leader.

Matthew Garrow, the network’s director of communications, said in a statement to the Star that “CTV News stands by our reporting and will actively defend against any legal action.

“We welcome the opportunity to defend our journalism in court.”

Brown, who remains the MPP for Simcoe North, also said in his Thursday post that his plans now are still up in the air.

“As for my immediate future, I’m spending lots of time on the phone listening to my colleagues,” he wrote, later thanking the “many thousands” who “sent me heartfelt messages of support.”

“… The response on social media and directly to me has been overwhelming. It has given me a boost of confidence that I am eternally grateful for.”

Two anonymous women were featured in the Jan. 24 television report, alleging sexual improprieties by Brown when they were teens and he a federal member of parliament. Both had said they were intoxicated, after having been out partying at a bar with Brown. Both had also said the alleged incidents happened in his home, and that he was sober.

One woman has since said she was not a high school student, nor under age, when the alleged incident happened.

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Premier confirms ‘troubling’ sex assault allegations against unnamed former Liberal cabinet minister

Posted on 22 February 2018 by admin

Liberal MPP would have served in the cabinet of David Peterson, who was premier from 1985 to 1990.

A woman alleges she was groped and propositioned by a former Liberal MPP and subjected to his “chronic inebriation” — and that her initial complaint, more than a decade ago, went ignored.

The former political staff member sent a letter outlining the 2006 sexual assault allegations three weeks ago to an email address for Premier Kathleen Wynne and was contacted by a lawyer earlier this week seeking to discuss the incidents.

Wynne told reporters at the Toronto auto show on Friday that her constituency office in Don Valley West was first contacted about the unnamed former politician.

“My office has received information that involved troubling allegations related to an MPP who held a cabinet office portfolio at one point, left the legislature many years ago and was never a member of my or premier (Dalton) McGuinty’s cabinet,” she said.

Given that description, the former MPP would have served in the cabinet of David Peterson, who was Liberal premier from 1985 to 1990, and possibly remained a member of the legislature for years afterward under subsequent party leaders.

 “Since becoming premier in 2013 I have not been informed of any complaints of this nature against any member of my cabinet,” said Wynne, who has, however, dealt with complaints about at least two MPPs, including Kim Craitor (Niagara) who was forced to resign five years ago over sexual harassment allegations.

Wynne said legal counsel was asked to contact the complainant, who is represented by lawyer John Nunziata. He first tweeted the allegations Thursday night.

Nunziata told the Star the initial complaint was lodged in 2006, but nothing was done. His client was subsequently moved to work for another MPP and later found herself unemployed.

He said the woman — who is on a first-name basis with the premier, having known her from her days as a school trustee — sent Wynne the email but only heard from a lawyer this week via email. The complainant expected better from the premier, he added.

“My client has not been dealt with with respect,” he said, adding he is looking for an independent process of some sort — possibly headed by a retired judge — to deal with the issue.

He said his client’s allegations include “repulsive and adulterous groping, propositioning and innuendo and chronic inebriation,” and that when she complained it was later dismissed so as not to “embarrass” the premier at the time. She was then reassigned and “eventually ushered out the door,” Nunziata said.

The complainant realizes that none of the alleged abuse occurred when Wynne was in charge and says the “crux of the issue is the failure” of the system to hold the MPP accountable.

The woman “ended up losing her job and she suffered mental anguish for the last 10 years,” said Nunziata, adding his client is not looking for money but for a proper, independent process to handle such issues.

Nunziata said police have not been contacted, but that and civil action are also options.

Jack Siegel, who is legal counsel to the premier and to the Liberal caucus, contacted the complainant Tuesday and said the process will be independent, but exact details have not yet been determined. Siegel will not be involved in the investigation itself.

He said he has had “a constructive conversation” with Nunziata, “and we both have to go back to our respective clients and see where it goes from here.”

 

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Scarborough RT could be shut down for ‘at least a year’, internal documents reveal

Posted on 22 February 2018 by admin

City and provincial officials say they think a shutdown can be avoided, but they have yet to agree on a solution.

The Scarborough RT would need to be shut down before a planned subway extension opens, leaving residents and commuters on the bus for at least a year, internal documents say.

Emails obtained in a freedom of information request made by the advocacy group Scarborough Transit Action and provided to the Star, reveal that in July 2017, Metrolinx told the city there was no way to build a new, contentious Lawrence East GO station and keep the SRT operational.

City and provincial officials have both told the Star that they now think a shutdown can be avoided, but they have not yet agreed on a possible solution.

The aging Scarborough RT is meant to be replaced by an underground, one-stop Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line, currently estimated to cost at least $3.35 billion.

Council has also endorsed the concept of building six new GO stations within the city’s limits, at the city’s cost, to add to the electrified network planned by the province’s transit agency Metrolinx. The stations form part of what remains of Mayor John Tory’s campaign “SmartTrack” promise.

One of those stations, Lawrence East, would take the place of the existing Lawrence East SRT station.

The SRT and GO train tracks run side-by-side in a separated corridor through Scarborough between Kennedy Rd. and Midland Ave. and from north of Ellesmere Rd. to Eglinton Ave. There is a narrow stretch of track between commercial properties just north of Lawrence East station, which sits beneath a Lawrence Ave. overpass, and residential neighbourhoods and a city park to the south.

The city’s SmartTrack website says the new GO stations, which have yet to be approved for construction, would be built by 2024. The subway, which is also not yet approved for construction, is not expected to be completed until midway through 2026. That leaves potentially two years where the connection to Kennedy station would need to be served by buses if construction was completed on time.

Not having to shut down the aging SRT during construction of replacement transit was seen to be a major advantage of the subway plan over the original seven-stop light-rail option to replace the LRT. It was pushed by those backing the subway on council as a reason to flip from the fully-funded LRT plan to the more expensive subway option in 2013.

The city has not budgeted for bus replacement service with the subway option. With the LRT option, an estimated three years of bus replacement would have been paid for by the province under a still-signed master agreement.

The potential conflict between building the Lawrence East “SmartTrack” station while keeping the SRT running was spelled out in a tense email exchange between provincial and city staff last summer.

In July 2017, James Perttula, the city’s director of transit and transportation planning, emailed Brian Gallaugher, Metrolinx’s director of project planning for Regional Express Rail, and others working at the city, Metrolinx and TTC, saying he learned Tory was briefed by Metrolinx on “an issue” with Lawrence Station.

Gallaugher responded: “The issue is the need to shut down the SRT in advance of the opening of the SSE in order to build the Lawrence East (SmartTrack) station.”

He went on to say the subway will not be open “for at least a year” after construction of the SmartTrack station is finished.

Perttula fired back: “This issue of shutting down the SRT in advance of the SSE being operation has not been discussed in any way at the staff level, nor has there been a decision made on this matter.”

“If there is a real issue here, we should discuss how we might deal with it in terms of the timing of station construction.”

A year before that email exchange, a Metrolinx business case prepared in July 2016 stated that building the GO station in the rail corridor at Lawrence would be “contingent” on removing the SRT infrastructure. The document assumed the existing Lawrence SRT station would need to be acquired to use as a construction staging area.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said last week that while a construction schedule is not yet finalized and no final decision has been made, consultants believe it is possible to keep the SRT open. Metrolinx will be in charge of building the Lawrence East station.

“In the months since that email was sent, we continued to work with the city and our consultants and it is no longer anticipated that it will be necessary to close the SRT to build Lawrence East station,” Aikins wrote in an email.

“Metrolinx understands and has significant experience with undertaking construction while continuing to operate an existing transit service. We share the City of Toronto’s goal to keep the SRT open during construction.”

When pushed for more information Karla Avis-Birch, acting vice president of new stations for Metrolinx, conceded that the agency doesn’t yet know how it can keep the SRT running during construction, but asserted it was possible.

“We’re still working through the solution,” she said. “We believe we can keep the SRT operational during construction, but we are now working with our technical adviser on different options.”

She said it was possible that building the station could require “service interruptions” or weekend closures oF the SRT.

Avis-Birch could not say how the agency would address specific obstacles raised in the business case, which included the need to use the SRT stop as a staging area, and to expropriate land currently occupied by SRT facilities like track and a power substation to make way for the new SmartTrack station and realigned track.

In general, however, she said while the initial business case “assumed that the GO tracks would be right where the SRT tracks are,” Metrolinx has since “surveyed the area to find an alignment that pushes it away from that.”

“By our surveys, our technical advisers and us have assessed that we actually have the space needed or will be procuring the space required in that area.”

City spokesperson Wynna Brown said after learning of Metrolinx’s position, they worked to find an engineering solution.

She pointed to a November 2017 report that outlined “design refinements” being considered, including moving the station east of the existing Lawrence East SRT station and creating side platforms instead of an island platform, which would require tunneling beneath the tracks, the report says.

In a subsequent email, she said that “existing bridge piers would partially encroach on the northbound platform, leaving enough space for tracks and other station elements including elevators and stairs.”

The staging area for constructing the SmartTrack stop would be along the east side of the rail corridor, “likely beneath the bridge in the existing TTC parking lot.”

Both Metrolinx and the TTC said it was possible to safely tunnel beneath the tracks while maintaining GO and SRT service.

With work to add a second track for GO service along the corridor already underway, including at Lawrence, it’s unclear how the station could be shifted east. Aikins said in a follow-up email that they believe there is room.

Metrolinx said potential design changes would impact cost, but did not say by how much.

Further complicating the conflict at Lawrence Ave. is that the Lawrence East “SmartTrack” stop is currently under review after a Star investigation revealed that the ministry of transportation pressured the board of directors for Metrolinx to endorse the stop. Analysis found the station was not justified and should not be built for the next 10 years.

City analysis disagreed with the province’s findings.

The results of the provincial review, which included input from the city, are expected to be presented at a March meeting of Metrolinx’s board of directors.

 

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Province bearing heavy cost of Hydro One sale

Posted on 14 February 2018 by admin

It would have been cheaper to borrow money for transit projects than to sell shares in Hydro One, watchdog says.

The Liberal government’s controversial sale of 53 per cent of Hydro One will cost about $1.1 billion in annual revenues from lost dividends this year, the independent Financial Accountability Office said Monday.

In the long run, selling the shares will cost taxpayers about $1.8 billion more than if the province had borrowed the $9.2 billion raised by the partial privatization, according to a 40-page reportby the watchdog.

The sale to private investors, with proceeds going to pay down hydro system debt and finance public transit improvements has the effect of boosting the province’s books $3.8 billion in the fiscal years from 2015 to 2018 — which opposition parties noted is a crucial period before this spring’s election as the Liberals scrambled to keep their balanced budget promise.

Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod said the findings in the report are damning given public concerns about selling a valuable provincial asset.

“We warned the Liberals it was a dumb move and now the Financial Accountability Office has proven it is,” she told the Star.

“It would have been cheaper just to flat out borrow the money than it was to sell the shares.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne has maintained the sale was necessary to raise money for infrastructure improvements and that bringing more private-sector discipline to Hydro One would make it more profitable.

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Anti-poverty protestors disrupt Toronto budget debate

Posted on 14 February 2018 by admin

Toronto city councillors are setting the $11 billion operating budget for 2018.

Shouts of “Mayor Goldilocks Tory!” and “People are dying!” erupted at Toronto city council as anti-poverty protestors briefly shut down debate on the 2018 budget.

During a morning presentation on the proposed spending blueprint by city staff, members and supporters of Ontario Coalition Against Property in the council chamber gallery started shouting at Mayor John Tory and council members sitting below.

“Hey John Tory, add more beds or you’ll be sorry!” they chanted as police and security officers moved toward them and started asking people to leave.

While past similar disruptions have seen protestors start to file out after a few minutes, this time they refused to leave, and security order the entire chamber cleared. Some people were dragged out.

A woman who said she is living in a medical facility with no other permanent housing, told reporters that homeless people and advocates are fed up with austerity budgets that keep property taxes low at the expense of social service spending.

“Every successive government has passed this problem onto the next successive government since the early ‘70s, the buck has to stop somewhere,” she said shortly before everyone was ejected.

“It’s not that an additional billion dollars for one (Scarborough) subway station is more important than those who are trying to live. No one should struggle on this level every day. It’s inhumane.”

Spectators and councillors returned to the chamber after about 15 minutes, restarting deliberations that are expected to go into Monday night and possibly Tuesday.

Tory has branded the proposed $11-billion operating blueprint his “Goldilocks” budget, arguing it strikes a “just right” balance between spending on services and the fiscal restraint required to keep the residential property hike to the rate of inflation.

With Tory’s council-supported freeze spending, the budget for most programs and serviceswon’t even keep up with inflation — effectively mandating nearly across-the-board cuts.

The budget recommendations commit Toronto to the first year of a plan to create 1,000 new shelter beds over three years, with a first installment of 281 this year. But advocates say that 1,000 beds are desperately needed now, with 500 more needed as soon as possible.

Prior to council, OCAP staged a rally and speeches both outside of city hall and in the rotunda, with speakers from the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society and Health Providers Against Poverty.

They included Tara Hird, 36, and partner Brian Willett, 51. The couple has been at the Better Living Centre for three weeks and Hird is 35 weeks pregnant with their first child together, who they plan to name Greyson.

Both have been without housing or precariously housed for years and met inside the emergency system and OCAP and supporters planned to take them to Mayor John Tory’s office to demand they be relocated immediately.

Willett said the biggest barrier to moving forward with their lives has been a place to call home and with a baby on the way the couple is increasingly worried about their future.

“We need the first and last months rent and an actual apartment. Give us that and I’m sure we’ll surprise you and move on,” with their lives as a family, said Willett.

“That is the hardest part getting that apartment,” said Hird, who described living inside the Better Living Centre, as “scary.”

A new report from Social Planning Toronto also outlines tens of millions in spending missing from the budget, which fails to provide funding to implement some of the goals from several key strategies previously approved by council — plans aimed at tackling poverty and climate change, and improving recreation and transit across the city.

Tory’s office argued in a news release that the proposed budget invests wisely in the lives of Toronto’s 2.7 million residents.

“This budget contains over $50 million in new and enhanced investments including the TTC’s hop on-hop off transfer, the City’s TransformTO plan, funding for social housing repairs, 825 additional child care spaces, 20,000 additional recreation spaces, accelerating the Vision Zero safety plan and hiring more police officers focusing on community safety,” states a news release issued Monday.

Council is expected to approve a residential property tax increase of 2.1 per cent. With surcharges including a fund to build transit and housing the actual increase would be 2.91 per cent. City staff say that translates into an increase of just over $82 on an average Toronto home with an assessed value of $624,418.

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LCBO announces deal with Shopify to run online cannabis sales platform

Posted on 14 February 2018 by admin

The Canadian firm’s technology will also be used in brick-and-mortar stores to process transactions and display product and health information.

The Ontario government has inked a deal to use Shopify Inc.’s e-commerce platform for cannabis sales online and in stores as part of its plan to be the province’s sole distributor of legal recreational marijuana.

The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC), a subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, will use the Ottawa-based company’s online store software for its online and mobile sales portal.

“Our top priority is fulfilling the province’s framework for the safe and sensible retailing of recreational cannabis for when it is legalized by the federal government,” said George Soleas, president and CEO of the LCBO.

“We look forward to combining our expertise as a socially responsible retailer with Shopify’s world-class commerce solutions to deliver the safe, informed and reliable shopping experience that our new customers will expect.”

Shopify’s technology will also be used inside brick-and-mortar stores to process transactions on iPads and for digital screens displaying product and health information.

The OCRC said Ontarians will have access to the same product information, use guidelines and social responsibility information — which adhere to federal marketing provisions — both in-store and online.

The public consultation for Health Canada’s proposed guidelines for cannabis regulation — which include limits on branding elements on packaging, as well as restrictions on marketing similar to tobacco — finished on Jan. 20, with a finalized version yet to be delivered.

The agency selected the tech darling to provide point-of-sale systems for in-store and online sales in late 2017.

“Bringing this differentiator to the LCBO on this historic project to consumers of legal age across Ontario is a great example of a made-in-Canada innovation, which we are proud to be a part of,” said Loren Padelford, vice-president of Shopify Plus, the division that focuses on big clients.

The OCRC is in the process of determining the design for the user experience, with the aim of having operations installed in time for the proposed federal marijuana legalization launch in July 2018, the agency said.

In addition to online sales, Ontario will roll out an initial wave of 40 stores, which is expected to grow in number to 150 by the end of 2020

The government agency will also use Shopify’s platform to manage inventory, accounting and human resources operations.

Sales of cannabis in Ontario will only be available through government-run online or in stand-alone stores, while some other provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia are allowing for some private sales of cannabis.

 

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The TTC’s budget is rising, but will service improve?

Posted on 14 February 2018 by admin

Mayor Tory cites “unprecedented investment” in transit, but critics say the 2018 budget won’t address chronic service problems.

No single program takes up a larger share of Toronto’s operating budget than its transit system.

The city’s proposed 2018 budget, which council will debate at a special meeting starting Monday, includes a whopping $1.98 billion for the TTC, which is almost one-fifth of the city’s projected $11-billion operating costs this year.

Coming months before an October municipal election that Mayor John Tory is expected to contest by leaning heavily on his claimed achievements on the transit file, the proposed budget would increase investment in the TTC while introducing policies aimed at making transit more affordable.

“Year over year we have been making unprecedented investments in providing more service and better service for TTC riders,” Mayor Tory said at a recent press conference on transit policy.

Critics argue the budget doesn’t do enough to address chronic crowding on the TTC, however. And despite the larger budget, service will not significantly improve for most riders this year.

“The TTC has been underfunded for years and this budget will not deliver the service that riders need,” said Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of advocacy group TTCriders.

Are TTC fares going up?

No. For the first time since 2011, the cost of riding transit is not increasing this year. Adult fares paid for with a Presto fare card, ticket, or token will remain at $3.00, while adult cash fare stays at $3.25. Monthly Metropasses will still cost $146.25.

Is the city investing more in the TTC?

Yes. The $1.98-billion gross operating budget, which covers both the conventional transit system and Wheel-Trans, is a record high.

More than half of the gross budget is made up of revenue the TTC takes in from fares. Discounting that revenue, the city will spend $576.8 million to subsidize conventional service this year, and $143.4 million to subsidize Wheel-Trans.

For the conventional system that’s an increase of $30 million, or 5.5 per cent, compared to last year’s subsidy.

How many riders does the TTC expect to carry?

The TTC is budgeting for 539 million trips on the conventional system this year, just 3 million more than in 2017.

If the ridership projection is correct, the city’s 2018 TTC subsidy works out to roughly $1.07 per rider.

Although the TTC’s per rider subsidy has increased in recent years as ridership growth stalls and the cost of operating the system increases, Toronto still has one of the least subsidized transit systems on a per rider basis in North America.

According to TTCriders, the average subsidy for transit systems on the continent in recent years was about $2.60 per rider. The group is advocating for the city to increase its subsidy to $1.30, and for the province to match that, in order to bring the TTC in line with other agencies.

If the budget is increasing, does that mean existing service will improve?

For the most part, no. The 2018 budget calls for maintaining existing service levels, which means buses, streetcars, and subways will generally operate as frequently as they do now.

Instead, the TTC attributes its higher costs to new expenditures on items like the Spadina subway extension, the ongoing implementation of Presto, and provincial legislation that has increased the cost of labour.

Some service will get better. Last month the budget committee voted to spend an additional $1 million to add service on 22 bus routes that experience the worst crowding. The improvements would come into effect in September.

The budget committee voted down a motion from TTC board member Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21 St. Paul’s) that would have invested $3.2 million this year to ensure no bus routes exceed TTC crowding standards, instead of just focusing on the worst lines.

Mihevc said that the decision not to give the TTC enough money to adhere to its own crowding standards “is the sign of a city that isn’t willing to invest in mobility.”

The TTC says it has a limited ability to address crowding on streetcar lines due to an ongoing vehicle shortage caused by delays to the agency’s $1-billion order from Bombardier.

How is the TTC transfer policy changing?

The budget includes $11.1 million (comprised of $6.1 million from the operating budget and $5 million from the capital budget) to implement timed transfers later this year. If the policy is approved, Presto fare card users will be able to make an unlimited number of trips within a two-hour window on a single fare.

Timed transfers have been on transit advocates’ wish list for years, and Mayor Tory said last week the measures will “make life more affordable and more liveable for the residents of the city.”

Pizey-Allen agreed the policy is “a big win for transit riders.”

The program would start in August and is expected to cost the TTC $20.9 million a year by 2020.

What’s being done to help low-income riders?

Roughly 36,000 low-income residents will be eligible for discounts on TTC fare this year if council approves funding for the Fair Pass program.

Under the first phase of the program, which would begin in March and cost $4.6 million, Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works clients who don’t receive transportation supports would be eligible for discounts of 33 per cent on single fares and 21 per cent on monthly passes.

Future phases of the program would extend eligibility to other low-income groups, with the goal of providing 193,000 residents with cheaper transit by 2021.

Councillor Mihevc, who is also the mayor’s poverty reduction advocate, said the program is “the single biggest initiative to help low-income working families and adults.”

Pizey-Allen argued the program should be enhanced. “We need deeper discounts rolled out faster,” she said.

The program would be funded through the city’s social development department, not the TTC budget.

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Digital media company lays off workers after getting provincial funding

Posted on 07 February 2018 by admin

Legend 3D promised to create 270 new jobs through funding from the Ontario government, but its Toronto office soon be down to 100 employees.

A digital media company receiving money from the provincial government’s jobs fund is shedding most of its Toronto workforce, saying it is “realigning” its plans here.

When the Liberal government announced $3.1 million for Legend 3D last summer, it said the L.A.-based firm would “nearly double its current workforce, creating 271 new jobs and retaining 280 positions in Toronto.”

However, after a number of layoffs in recent months, the Toronto office will soon dwindle to about 100 employees — although the company says more hires will happen in the future as it takes on new projects.

But the Ontario government says its officials are now “working with Legend 3D to confirm that they are following the terms of our contract.”

The money from the Jobs and Prosperity Fund is to be spread out over a number of years, and Legend has so far received about $180,000.

“Any money that flows to one of our partner companies is contingent on the company meeting clear investment and job targets,” said Daniel Bitonti, spokesperson for Steven Del Duca, Ontario’s newly appointed minister of Economic Development and Growth.

All deals, Bitonti added, “contain ‘clawback’ provisions tied to overall dollars invested, new project jobs created, and the overall employment footprint maintained. The bottom line is that if any company were to drop below the minimum footprint, they would have to refund taxpayer dollars.”

Legend 3D says it has fulfilled its employment targets for 2017, and that it was clear its jobs were mainly contract positions, given the nature of the industry where workers are hired based on projects. Steffler said it is on-target for the jobs promises it made to the government.

The company says it reduced the number of employees after wrapping up several projects, but more jobs will come along.

Chief administrative officer Barry Stagg told the Star that, with new facilities in India and China to handle the 3D work, “we are going to be realigning Toronto to become more focused on visual effects” over its multi-year plan for the government money, which will also be used for staff training and equipment upgrades.

“The government knows that this industry does have project hires,” added chief financial officer Mark Steffler. “Jobs go up and down depending on projects.”

But for workers, the precarious employment has left them confused, given the government funding was announced with such fanfare but followed by the gutting of several departments.

“We are all left wondering — where did the Ontario government money go?” said one current employee, who asked not to be named. “None of our facilities saw upgrades, we never saw the 300 jobs that were supposed to be created.

“Instead, two foreign branches were set up.”

Former production coordinator Amber Couturier, who left her full-time job at Legend about six months ago, said she did not like the working conditions and was “livid” about the government funding.

“I know other people who heard about it and they too were (upset), because we knew that they didn’t have the projects, they kept having people at three-hour shifts a day because they didn’t have the work.”

Ontario’s auditor general has twice raised questions about the billion-plus dollars the government has handed out since 2004.

New Democrat MPP Catherine Fife, her party’s economic development critic, said the government does a “very poor job monitoring the return on investment on these grants, and even doing basic due diligence to ensure the government funding will retain jobs or even grow the business in question.”

She said funding should go for full-time work, not contracts.

“This government is in the business of supporting precarious work,” Fife added. “They should know that the citizens of this province expect more, and have every right to do so.”

Legend 3D has worked on such blockbuster hits as the new Ghostbusters, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Doctor Strange.

It set up shop in Toronto in 2015, converting films from 2D to 3D, as well as working on visual effects for television and virtual reality projects.

The Liberals also ran into trouble in 2016, after Arc Productions shut down, throwing 500 people out of work, just seven years after receiving $23 million in public funds. In that case, the government said the company had met all contractual obligations and the money was not repaid.

When the government announced the funds for Legend, the company also pledged to invest $27 million in the Toronto office.

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Wynne says Liberals facing ‘uphill battle’ in coming election

Posted on 07 February 2018 by admin

 “Stay out to knock on just one more door, or five more or maybe 20 more,” she told more than 1,000 cheering supporters at the party’s annual meeting in Toronto Saturday.

The Liberal government faces an “uphill battle” to win re-election this spring despite disarray among rival Progressive Conservatives over a damaging sexual misconduct scandal, says Premier Kathleen Wynne.

“I don’t think there’s anyone under any illusion that we’ve got this in the bag,” Wynne said after a 30-minute campaign-style speech to supporters at her party’s annual meeting Saturday.

‎In a nod to polls that show her personal popularity low and the Liberals neck-and-neck with the Conservatives, Wynne reminded Liberal activists from across the province that she lost her first election in 1994 by just 72 votes.

“Stay out to knock on just one more door, or five more or maybe 20 more,” she exhorted more than 1,000 cheering supporters in a Toronto hotel ballroom that was two-thirds full.

The election readiness convention, which wraps up Sunday, takes place as the Conservatives — whose leader Patrick Brown and president Rick Dykstra have quit over sexual allegations they deny — scrap over a new leader in an abbreviated race that will culminate March 10.

Wynne hinted the Liberal campaign will focus more on voters and pocketbook issues than the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats.

 “It’s not who we’re fighting against; it’s who we’re fighting for,” she said several times in the speech, citing measures her government has taken to help Ontarians.

They include a higher minimum wage, the new OHIP+ pharmacare plan for people up to age 25, and free tuition in place for more than 200,000 college and university students of modest means.

 “There’s a lot a‎t stake on June 7,” Wynne said.

“We are changing lives for the better, today, right now,” she added, making a case for her activist style that saw the minimum wage surge by $2.40 an hour to $14 in January, with another $1 increase slated for next year.

“There is a place for government — a need for government — to be involved in tackling these big issues that people simply can’t solve alone.”

The New Democrats said Wynne’s decision to bump up the minimum wage and improve pharmacare just months before the election smacks of pure political opportunism.

“We don’t just sit and wait until four months out from an election in desperation and all of a sudden discover there are people who work full-time and go to food banks,” NDP campaign director Michael Balagus told reporters, referring to a line in Wynne’s speech about low-income families unable to make ends meet.

“When these people (Liberal volunteers) get out on those doorsteps that Kathleen Wynne is sending them to, they’re going to have a different greeting … People are going to say, ‘Why is my grandmother stacked up in the hallway of a hospital? Why can’t she get into a long-term care home?’”

Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) said in a statement that Wynne for too long “has been turning her back on hard-working people in the province.”

Without mentioning the Conservatives and some of their business supporters by name, Wynne ‎mocked them for saying the minimum wage has gone up too far, too fast.

“Make no mistake. When they say ‘not now,’ we know what they’re really saying … not now means not never.”

Business groups have raised concerns the rapid rise in the minimum wage has made it hard for employers to adjust, putting tens of thousands of jobs in jeopardy.

Brown promised in his party’s election platform that the $14 minimum wage would stay, but raising it to $15 would take place over the next few years in 25-cent increments.

Wynne warned party activists to gird for tougher shots from critics as the election approaches.

“Some do it in the newspapers. Some do it on Twitter. Some do it from behind a podium in their mother’s basement,” the premier added to laughs from the crowd, in a shot of her own at PC leadership candidate Doug Ford, the former Toronto city councillor and brother of late Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

Ford, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor against John Tory in 2014, announced his bid for Brown’s job last week at his mother’s Etobicoke home.

In a reference to the spate of sexual misconduct allegations in the media worldwide, Wynne said her party has a “very strict vetting process” for candidates.

“To my knowledge, no,” she replied when asked if any Liberal candidates have incidents in their past that could emerge in the weeks leading to the election.

Should any allegations come forward, Wynne said the party would take action.

“I’m heartbroken that in 2018, we as a society are still confronted by this vile and unacceptable behaviour that is dominating our headlines right now.”

 

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