Archive | Canadian Politics

Trudeau Must Defend Canada’s Progressive Values From Trump

Posted on 15 February 2017 by admin

The Hon. Charlie Angus 

Ottawa

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to Washington, Canadians are asking themselves how the presidency of Donald Trump will affect our nation. This question is important, but equally important is the question of what role Canada must play in a world that has been upended by the Trump agenda.

Within the month of taking office, Trump has plunged the world into a period of frightening instability. He elevated the conflict level with Iran and China and threatened to destabilize the precarious situation in Israel/Palestine. He has hung up on the Australian prime minister and picked a fight with Mexico. But it has been his targeting of Muslim travellers and direct challenge of the U.S. judiciary that is the most disturbing foreshadowing of what is to come.

Trump has elevated America’s right-wing fringe to the inner sanctums of power. They are spoiling for a fight on a whole manner of issues from climate change, to women’s rights, to the Middle East.

There have been those in the media who advise the prime minister to keep his head down and avoid angering a clearly erratic president. But let’s not kid ourselves — the idea that the prime minister can get away with tiptoeing around Trump’s attack on international law and human rights isn’t going to cut it.

As much as Canada has economic interests, we have moral interests. And this isn’t simply a question of values. This is also a matter of standing up for Canada’s vital interests.

This must be kept in mind as the prime minister meets in Washington. Will we turn over security information on Canadian pipeline protesters under the broad powers established by C-51 to the Trump administration? Will we be silent on his all-out assault on privacy rights for travellers entering U.S. airspace? Will we stay silent as the president destabilizes our allies?

Clearly Canada’s economic interests are deeply entwined with the U.S. market. The prime minister has a duty to work to maintain the economic flow of goods between both countries. But he also needs to be a champion the interests of sectors like lumber and beef even as Trump attempts to add to his wish list of trade concessions. Taking advice from Brian Mulroney, who has been floating the trial balloon of adding supply management sector to the negotiating table, sends a very wrong signal.

On the international front, Canada is going to have to step up its multilateral diplomatic initiatives to Latin America, Europe and Asia. Having a part-time ambassador to Germany and the EU isn’t good enough when we need to be working closely with them on containing the Trump effect.

On the domestic front, the prime minister cannot use the Trump presidency as an excuse to walk away from his electoral commitments to a more progressive Canada. His attempt to invoke fears of the rise of an extreme right wing as a reason to kill the electoral reform commitment reeks of cynicism.

Last month, at the height of the fabricated tensions against Muslim Americans, six Canadians were murdered in a religious sanctuary where they should have been safest. In the days following this despicable act, Trump’s spokesmen used the murder of Canadians to justify policies, which are against Canadian values and undermine our national interests. Yet, the Trudeau government opted to stay silent in the face of these falsehoods and attacks on the memory of these innocent victims of right-wing terror.

Canadians may not be in a position to change the Trump administration, but we must take the steps needed to keep him from changing us. I believe the prime minister should take his lead from the tens of thousands of ordinary Canadians who are organizing an incredible resistance movement rooted in community, protest and respect. The ring of peace that was organized by a Canadian rabbi to protect Muslim worshippers at prayer in cities across Canada is a symbol of all that is best in our nation.

We need leadership in Ottawa that channels this energy. In dark and uncertain times, Canada’s voice is needed more than ever. Canada can provide the world with a progressive, principled vision that does not get thrown off by the politics of bullying and fear.

Charlie Angus is the Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay.

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Funding for municipalities improved to offer more travel options to commuters

Posted on 15 February 2017 by admin

Ontario is boosting support for Brampton by providing reliable, long-term funding to improve and expand local transit and offer more travel options for commuters and families.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca was joined by Harinder Malhi, MPP Brampton-Springdale today to make the announcement.

The province has heard directly from people who are frustrated by their daily commute and from regions and municipalities that are struggling to meet their transit needs. In response to these concerns, starting in 2019, Ontario will increase funding for Brampton Transit and other municipal transit systems across the province through an enhancement to the existing gas tax program, doubling the municipal share from two cents per litre to four cents by 2021. There will be no increase in the tax that people in Ontario pay on gasoline as a result of the enhancement to the program.

Brampton is able to use the new funding to plan for and make major infrastructure upgrades, buy additional transit vehicles, add more routes, extend hours of service, implement fare strategies and improve accessibility.

Supporting stronger public transit systems is part of our plan to create jobs, grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.

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Consumer groups tell CRTC review to force providers to stick to wireless code

Posted on 08 February 2017 by admin

Some cellphone companies are either passively or actively violating Canada’s wireless code of conduct and the rules need to be tightened and enforced, consumer groups told a hearing Monday.

While consumer complaints have dropped since the code came into effect in 2013, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre told the review wireless users need greater controls put in place so they don’t suffer from “bill shock.”

“Certain wireless service providers have … knowingly or unknowingly avoided or violated or attempted to change clear wireless code requirements, and have not largely been stopped,” advocacy centre executive director John Lawford told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. “This must change.”

The CRTC review comes amid calls for greater parental control over household cellphone data charges and clearer rules governing wireless service cancellation fees and how caps on data overage fees should apply.

Speaking on behalf of the Consumer Association of Canada, the National Pensioners Federation and the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of British Columbia, PIAC told the regulator that, in some cases, wireless providers offer data and voice as optional services, despite stipulations in the code that key services be clearly spelled out in wireless contracts.

“(This) is not only vastly inappropriate and skewed against the consumer, but clearly contradicts the spirit and letter of the wireless code,” said PIAC legal counsel Alysia Lau.

“Data and voice services clearly form a key part of a wireless contract.”

The first code effectively killed three-year phone contracts, limiting them to 24 months. But that led, in many cases, to higher monthly bills as the service providers were forced to recoup the cost of subsidized smartphones over a shorter period.

While Telus Corp. has suggested the CRTC revisit the two-year limit, arguing that providing a three-year contract option could reduce monthly bills by amortizing the cost of so-called zero-dollar phones over 36 months, BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. have not specifically proposed changes to contract length provisions.

Carriers also want to be able to recoup the cost of items offered for free to customers as incentives to sign a contract.

Currently, service providers can charge consumers for the residual value of subsidized cellphone hardware if they cancel their contracts early. For example, a customer could be charged $300 if they cancel a two-year contract after one year, if the initial value of the incentivized phone was set at $600.

But the code doesn’t allow carriers to recover the cost of other promotional items, such as new TVs or tablets.

Industry and consumer groups acknowledge the code has been largely effective since coming into force.

“We love it,” Lawford said of the consumer-protection provisions of the code.

The most recent survey commissioned by the CRTC revealed about 46 per cent of consumers paid fees for exceeding their data limits. But the TNS Canada survey, conducted in September, also showed that only about one in five respondents experienced “bill shock” from their wireless services, down from 28 per cent who said they experienced the problem in 2014.

Complaints to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services also dropped sharply between 2015 and last year, according to the watchdog.

But CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais questioned Monday whether the code should spell out how carriers charge for data overages when increasingly popular family plans are now spreading data use over a number of devices in a household.

In its testimony, Telus told the hearing its “default” policy allows anyone with a device on such a plan to approve a data use extension, but noted it offers data management tools that allow for greater control and warn consumers when they’re about to reach or exceed their data limits.

But account holders have complained that the tools offered by service providers often don’t work and that it’s too easy for children to approve data overage charges at the push of a button, sometimes resulting in massive bills.

“It wasn’t an issue at the time (the code was introduced) but now it is,” said CRTC spokesperson Patricia Valladao.

The existing code places a $50 a month limit on what carriers can charge for data overages.

But while consumer advocates argue the cap should apply to individual accounts, including family plans, some carriers have been applying the charge for each wireless device.

In that case, a family of four, with four devices, could face up to an extra $200 in overage fees.

Blais also raised questions Monday over fees charged for unlocking cellphones.

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Toronto protesters rally against Islamophobia, Trump’s travel ban

Posted on 08 February 2017 by admin

Thousands of protesters marched against Islamophobia and United States President Donald Trump in downtown Toronto on Saturday — the second major demonstration this week.

The massive rally began outside the U.S. Consulate on University Ave. as protesters, bundled against the cold, stretched from Queen to Dundas Sts. Hundreds had gathered five days earlier to protest Trump’s sweeping travel ban targeting seven predominantly Muslim countries — which was blocked by a U.S. judge on Friday.

Organizer Hashim Yussuf, of Black Lives Matter, estimated that at least 5,000 people protested outside the consulate on Saturday.

“It’s a call to action that has just begun,” Yussuf said in an interview. “The stuff that is happening now is not OK and we will fight back.”

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Wynne withdraws support from tolls on Don Valley and 401, doubles funding for municipalities from Gas tax

Posted on 01 February 2017 by admin

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s decision to scuttle Toronto’s road toll proposal hasn’t just deprived the city of a revenue source to pay for its infrastructure needs; experts say it has also eliminated a key tool to fight congestion and may undermine the province’s own policy directives.

Wynne withdrew her support for the plan to charge drivers for using the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.

Just two months earlier she had signalled she would support the regulatory changes requested by Mayor John Tory and council to make tolling the city-owned highways possible.

Instead, on Friday Wynne promised the Liberal government would double the funding that municipalities receive from the provincial gas tax by 2021.

For Toronto that would mean an extra $170 million a year.

The city was expecting between $160 million and $336 million in annual revenue from tolls, depending on the amount of the toll charged.

Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat said Wynne’s decision has robbed the city of a vital means to alleviate congestion, a problem that costs the city billions of dollars in lost productivity every year.

Keesmaat called Wynne’s announcement “disheartening.”

She argued that provincial and city plans to build more transit won’t succeed unless more people are induced to leave their cars, and road tolls would have played a key role in shifting people to other modes of travel.

“Tolls, of course, are a really good fit with our larger public policy objectives,” she said.

“Currently, for example, you pay every time you get on the TTC, but you don’t pay every time you get on the road.

“And yet we want more people using the TTC and less people getting in their cars.”

Keesmaat noted that the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the provincial land use policy for the region, directs municipalities to implement traffic management plans in order decrease the reliance on cars. The growth plan specifically lists road tolls as a traffic management tool.

According to Keesmaat, Wynne’s reversal on the issue “makes the province’s own policy statement seem like gobbledygook.”

She suggested that Toronto should consider taking the province to the Ontario Municipal Board for violating the Growth Plan, although she conceded that she wasn’t certain such a move was possible.

Asked about Keesmaat’s criticism, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said Friday’s announcement “aligns closely with our government’s policy priorities, which include investing in transit and transportation across the province through our $31.5-billion Moving Ontario Forward plan, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling gridlock.”

The spokesperson said that doubling the gas tax revenue would provide “significantly more stable and reliable funding” that cities can use to improve public transit: “We are taking real action that will make it easier and quicker for you to get to work or to school, and get back home again safely to your loved ones.”

Lindsay Wiginton, a transportation analyst for the Pembina Institute, argued that Wynne was correct to put the brakes on Toronto’s toll plan because drivers currently have few reliable alternatives to using their cars.

According to a city staff report, tolls could have been implemented within three to seven years, while major planned transit projects, such as GO Regional Express Rail and the relief subway line, aren’t projected to be completed for at least seven and 14 years, respectively.

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U.S. won’t ban Canadian permanent residents, immigration minister says

Posted on 01 February 2017 by admin

The federal government moved to clear up confusion that surrounded a U.S. travel ban on citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries by announcing that Canadian citizens and permanent residents with roots in those countries can still cross the border.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Sunday that the White House has given assurances that permanent residents of Canada can enter the U.S. provided they have a valid Canadian permanent resident card and passport from one of the seven affected countries.

On Saturday night, the prime minister tweeted that the White House confirmed that dual citizens with a Canadian passport are also allowed into the U.S.

The confusion stemmed from an executive order signed Friday by U.S. President Donald.

It was initially unclear Saturday whether Canadians who are also citizens of the affected countries would be allowed to cross the U.S. border, as the State Department said that dual citizens were included in the ban. Canada received no prior warning that the ban was to be imposed.

U.S. officials have not publicly commented since on how the ban affects Canada. Instead, they are relaying their position through their Canadian counterparts.

Hussen held a news conference in Ottawa on Sunday to try to clear up some of the confusion created by the American ban.

People still worried

Despite these assurances, there still appears to be confusion on the ground about who can cross the border. Before Hussen’s statement on Sunday, several Canadian residents reported they’d been turned away. Even now, some say they don’t want to take the risk.

And while people in Canada with roots in the countries involved have expressed relief that they can still enter the U.S., the policy still affects their families.

Why hasn’t Canada denounced Trump’s order?

Hussen was asked at the news conference about why he hadn’t denounced the order.

“Every country has the right to determine their policies. I can only tell you that we will continue our long-standing tradition of being open to those who seek sanctuary,” he said.

He said Canada will provide temporary shelter to any people stranded because of the ban, but he noted he doesn’t know of anyone stuck in a Canadian airport.

He also noted that Canada will not raise the number of refugees it plans to accept — this year’s target is 25,000 — in response to the ban, in spite of widespread speculation that tweets sent out by the prime minister suggested Canada would accept more people.

On Saturday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength .WelcomeToCanada.”

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Trump says he’s meeting with Trudeau to talk trade

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Sunday that he will be meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as he moves quickly on his campaign pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Yet faced with negotiations that could rewrite the rules with its biggest trading partner, Trudeau’s office was staying silent Sunday, declining to comment on Trump’s first official statements on NAFTA since taking office.

But Canada’s relations with the new administration are expected to top the agenda when Trudeau met with his cabinet ministers.

Trump – who made clear his “American first” agenda during his inauguration speech — used brief remarks Sunday during a White House ceremony to reaffirm his intent to reopen the trade pact between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

That will start with upcoming meetings with Trudeau and Pena Nieto, he said.

“We’re going to start some negotiations having to do with NAFTA. . . . I ran a campaign somewhat based on NAFTA,” Trump told an audience of administration staff.

“We’re going to start renegotiating on NAFTA, on immigration and on security at the border,” Trump said.

No date was announced for the meeting with Trudeau. The prime minister’s office said Sunday it did not have any additional details beyond a telephone call between the two leaders Saturday when they said they “looked forward to meeting soon.”

Discussions will also include Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group investment firm appointed in December to lead the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Sunday.

Dominic Barton, the head of the Trudeau government’s Council of Economic Advisers, is also set to attend.

During their call, both Trump and Trudeau underscored the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.

“The prime minister noted the depth of the Canada-U.S. economic relationship, with 35 states having Canada as their top export destination,” the statement sad.

White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said the two leaders had a “constructive” conversation about “strengthening the relationship between our two nations.”

“They also discussed setting up additional meetings in the days to come, which we will follow up on,” Spicer said Saturday.

Trump’s brief comments on Sunday were largely focussed on Mexico. “I think we’re going to have a very good result for Mexico, for the United States, for everybody involved. It’s very important,” Trump said.

Still, Trudeau’s government is gearing up to deal with a new administration in Washington as it braces to see how Trump’s tough talk on trade now become policy that could impact the cross-border economy.

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Kathleen Wynne blasts Tory leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

Ontario’s Liberal premier has injected herself into the federal Conservative leadership race with a slap at the newest — and highest-profile — contestant.

Premier Kathleen Wynne posted an open letter on Facebook on Sunday attacking businessman and television personality Kevin O’Leary for erroneously claiming Ontario attracts lower auto investment than Michigan.

“I noticed that you told one media outlet that our province trails Michigan when it comes to auto sector investment because, in your words, business there enjoys, ‘30 per cent less in tax, no regulations and no carbon tax,’” Wynne wrote.

“In fact, that’s inaccurate on just about every count. As it turns out, Ontario has attracted roughly $2 billion worth of new auto sector investment in the last few months alone — far outpacing Michigan,” the premier continued.

“Indeed, over the past five years, Ontario has accounted for 14.6 per cent of all the auto production in North America, surpassing the share enjoyed by any other jurisdiction on either side of the border including — you guessed it — Michigan,” she said.Wynne conceded that there is “no carbon tax in Michigan but our program to cap the emissions of industry is far less expensive and much more effective than the new carbon tax your fellow Conservatives have promised to introduce.”

That’s a reference to Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown’s vague plan to replace the Liberals’ new cap-and-trade program, which increases fossil-fuel prices, with a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax if he wins the June 7, 2018 provincial election.

“As for taxes, businesses in Ontario pay a combined federal and provincial rate of 28.5 per cent. That’s significantly below the 38.9 per cent they pay in Michigan,” noted Wynne.

With a nod toward O’Leary’s role as Mr. Wonderful on ABC’s Shark Tank, Wynne admitted it is difficult to debate someone famous for making outrageous claims on television.

“I know that responding to you with such facts runs the risk of missing the point. On American game shows and reality TV, no one expects their words to be taken literally — or even seriously,” she wrote.

“But for the millions of working families in Ontario who rely upon the auto sector to put bread on their table, I thought it was worth pointing out that your statements have been quite incorrect.”

O’Leary was not immediately available to respond Sunday. But on Saturday he made clear he stands by his criticism of Wynne’s government.

“Kathleen Wynne doesn’t worry about successful entrepreneurs in her province any more because she taxed them away,” he said in a Twitter message to his 608,700 followers.

The premier’s office said she was moved to respond after an interview O’Leary gave Newstalk 1010 on Wednesday where the former star of CBC’s Dragons’ Den complained Ontario is “a very uncompetitive province.”

“It’s ridiculous that we pay these taxes, it’s so uncompetitive,” he told Newstalk 1010.

The Conservative Party of Canada’s website does not yet include O’Leary as an official candidate though 13 other hopefuls are listed.

But his own slick website makes it clear he will soon be a formal candidate for the leadership, which will be decided by Conservative party members on May 27.

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TDSB chief defends handling of cash aimed at needy kids

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

The head of Toronto’s public school board has fired back at critics who say millions of dollars in provincial grants earmarked for at-risk students aren’t reaching them.

The learning opportunities grant goes directly to “programming, staff and services” and is being used for its intended purpose, John Malloy, education director at the Toronto District School Board, told reporters Thursday.

“It is directly connected to student achievement. It does support our students at risk, but it also supports their classmates as well.”

Malloy made the comments hours after the release of an explosive report from Social Planning Toronto, which said the TDSB is diverting millions of dollars of the annual learning opportunities grant designated for its neediest students and using it for other purposes as it struggles to balance its $3.3-billion budget.

The report from the social policy research group said $61 million — 48 per cent of the $127 million “demographic allocation” portion of the grant — did not go directly to programs and services aimed at low-income students in 2014-15. And it noted the grant is one of the few that allows school boards discretion in how they deploy those resources.

It also placed much of the blame squarely on the province for underfunding the Toronto board and forcing it to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

But Malloy said while poverty is a key issue in Toronto, there are other ways that students can be considered vulnerable, and that funds spent across the school board help many of those.

The grant covers items ranging from breakfast programs and homework clubs to Model Schools for Inner Cities, a program that provides extra funding and community supports at 150 high-needs schools. The grant is also used for things like outdoor centres that serve students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. And that falls well within the provincial guidelines for the grant, Malloy stressed.

“What I do want to state emphatically is the grant is not used inappropriately based on what the regulation expects,” he said.

That money doesn’t go towards keeping the lights on or heating the buildings, he added.

Malloy said the TDSB and Social Planning Toronto have different views on the how the grant should be used. While the advocacy group asserts it should all go to students in poverty, the board is adhering to a broader definition permitted by the province.

That’s “technically right,” says Sean Meagher, executive director of the organization. But he argues that the explicit purpose of the “demographic allocation” of the grant is to level the playing field for students of different demographic backgrounds.

“That’s why the city of Toronto gets it.”

Instead, $61 million of it is going into the board’s general revenue and there is no clear way to track how those dollars are being used, he added.

He said while serving all students is important, that was not the purpose of this particular money, which the report argues should be “sweatered” so that boards have to adhere to stricter rules on how it is spent.

Last year the TDSB launched an Enhancing Equity Task Force, which includes outside experts and consultants, to tackle the thorny issue, which has been a matter of contention over the last few years among some researchers and trustees. It will look at how resources for at-risk students are used, their impact and future priorities. It is due to make recommendations next November.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement Thursday that when it comes to allocating funds, locally-elected school boards “are in the best position to make decisions that support local priorities based on student needs and available staff and resources.”

“This grant is focused on addressing the needs of students and cannot be used towards central board administration costs,” she added. “I expect school boards to remain committed to using this grant in a way that prioritizes the success and well-being of students.”

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Ontario drivers with unpaid speeding tickets to be denied licence plates

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Speeding scofflaws in Ontario will soon be feeling extra pressure to pay outstanding fines, as the province gives municipalities the power to deny them licence plates.

Under changes the Liberal government is set to enact in May, people who have not paid fines for driving-based offences, such as speeding and careless driving, won’t be able to get or renew their plates.

The current plate denial regime only applies to vehicle-based offences, such as parking tickets and red-light camera fines.

Municipalities in the province are owed a collective $1.4 billion in unpaid fines for provincial offences, including those under the Highway Traffic Act. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has been asking the government for more than a decade for more tools to collect that money.

Some of those fines date back 50 years and couldn’t be feasibly collected, so the government is making the policy retroactive seven years.

About one-third of the defaulted fines are from the past seven years. Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca acknowledged that even with the changes, municipalities won’t be able to collect all of the approximately $500 million, but it sends a strong message to people with outstanding fines.

“If they’ve managed to navigate the system to their benefit up until this point in time, it’s that much harder now for them to do it,” he said. “With any system that government puts in place there will always be those who will find creative ways to avoid playing by the rules, I suppose, but this is another opportunity for us to be able to get those fines collected and make sure people get a clear message that they can’t continue to act in this way.”

Municipalities had been hoping the change would apply farther back than seven years, but are now just anxious to collect more of the outstanding fines, said Lynn Dollin, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

“If those fines aren’t paid, it’s you and I covering those administration costs out of our property taxes, so we want to make sure that we’re getting the full bang for the buck and everything that we’re entitled to is coming to us,” she said.

People with unpaid speeding tickets are already subject to licence suspension, but plate denial will be an added motivator to pay those fines, said Del Duca.

“A person might be theoretically out there driving with an expired or suspended licence, therefore they’re not going forward to get it renewed, but you have the visual sticker on your licence plate, you have all that stuff that is easier for law enforcement to recognize at a glance,” he said.

The change is one of the last to be enacted under the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act that passed in 2015. The legislation also increased fines for distracted driving and “dooring” cyclists and introduced new penalties for drug-impaired driving.

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