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- 08/28/17--03:00: _Metrolinx pressured...
- 08/28/17--03:00: _Ottawa to students:...
- 08/28/17--06:30: _Man faces 3 charges...
- 08/28/17--08:06: _Seamus O’Regan to b...
- 08/28/17--07:46: _$250M worth of coca...
- 08/28/17--14:58: _Montreal police arr...
- 08/29/17--06:09: _Toronto school boar...
- 08/29/17--08:35: _Displeased with Pho...
- 08/29/17--04:30: _Pair of 70-year-old...
- 08/28/17--12:32: _Toronto’s chief pla...
- 08/28/17--20:50: _Celebrity chef Susu...
- 08/28/17--17:16: _ORNGE’s mistakes le...
- 08/28/17--15:20: _Margaret Atwood joi...
- 08/29/17--08:07: _Premier Kathleen Wy...
- 08/29/17--09:17: _Is Doug Ford poised...
- 08/29/17--07:51: _Why is this Toronto...
- 08/29/17--08:56: _NDP calls on Trudea...
- 08/29/17--03:00: _Tories ask auditor ...
- 08/29/17--09:32: _Past delivery delay...
- 08/29/17--10:54: _Ontario earmarks $2...
- 08/28/17--03:00: Metrolinx pressured to approve GO station in minister’s riding
- 08/29/17--06:09: Toronto school boards warn of bus driver shortage
- 08/28/17--12:32: Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat leaving post
- 08/28/17--20:50: Celebrity chef Susur Lee to return money docked from employees’ tips
- 08/28/17--15:20: Margaret Atwood joins fellow Annex residents to fight condo project
- 08/29/17--08:07: Premier Kathleen Wynne promises $50 million in new arts funding
- 08/29/17--09:17: Is Doug Ford poised to announce he’ll run for mayor?
- 08/29/17--07:51: Why is this Toronto block home to 5 florists?
- 08/29/17--03:00: Tories ask auditor general to investigate new GO stations
The provincial transportation ministry pressured Metrolinx leadership to approve a new $100-million GO Transit station in the minister’s riding, according to documents obtained by the Star.
The ministry, led by Liberal MPP Steven Del Duca, also intervened to secure support for a new station that is part of Mayor John Tory’s “SmartTrack” plan and that would cost the public $23 million to build.
As the Star has previously reported, analysis commissioned by Metrolinx, an arm’s length agency of the provincial government, determined that both stations would have a negative effect on the rail network and recommended they not be built.
However, documents obtained through a freedom of information request reveal the behind-the-scenes story of how Metrolinx ignored this analysis and approved the two contentious stations after Del Duca’s ministry interceded.
The documents, which include more than 1,000 pages of emails sent by Metrolinx and ministry officials as well as draft agency reports, show that on the advice of agency staff, the Metrolinx board approved, at a closed-door meeting in June 2016, a list of new stops that did not include Kirby or Lawrence East.
A day later, Metrolinx officials were shocked to receive copies of draft press releases from the ministry indicating that the following week Del Duca would announce that stations the board hadn’t approved were going ahead.
In the ensuing days, following conversations between Metrolinx executives and ministry officials, agency staff revised a board report to support Kirby and Lawrence East.The board then reconvened in public and voted to build the two stops.
The Star emailed a list of questions to Del Duca’s office, which included questions about whether he overstepped his authority to ensure Metrolinx approved the stations.
Del Duca did not directly respond to the questions, but in an emailed statement said the approval of all the new GO stations was based on “initial business case analysis, extensive consultation with municipal and regional representatives, community engagement, and collaboration between the ministry of transportation and Metrolinx.”
He said he believed the population density around Kirby justified a station but that all the new stations require further analysis before they are built.
In an emailed statement, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said station selection “is a collaborative process that requires many inputs, including from public servants and elected officials, which must be blended together in final judgments.”
She said agency officials changed their recommendations before the final vote after receiving new information that showed the two stops were justified.
Kirby, which is on the Barrie line in Del Duca’s riding of Vaughan, as well as the Lawrence East stop on the Stouffville line in Scarborough, were two of dozens of sites Metrolinx spent a year-and-a-half analyzing for potential inclusion in GO Transit’s $13.5-billion regional express rail (RER) expansion program.
Analysis commissioned by Metrolinx recommended that neither Kirby nor Lawrence East be considered for at least 10 years in part because they would lead to decreased ridership on the GO network.
That’s because adding stops to the rail lines increases travel times for other riders on the network, discouraging some from taking transit. The initial business cases conducted for Kirby and Lawrence East determined that while the stops met some strategic planning objectives, neither would attract enough new riders to offset the passengers lost to the longer travel times.
Draft board reports from early June 2016 show that Kirby and Lawrence East were not on Metrolinx’s shortlist of 10 stations proposed for approval.
On June 9, 2016, three weeks before the board was scheduled to vote on the stations, Metrolinx briefed Del Duca about the stations.
In an email later that day to Metrolinx board chair Rob Prichard, then-president and CEO of Metrolinx Bruce McCuaig reported that the meeting with the minister was “so-so.”
“My interpretation is that he is disappointed” that Kirby wasn’t on the list, McCuaig wrote.
The emails show McCuaig asked Metrolinx staff for an “alternative analysis” of the stops. He told Prichard he was “trying to see if there is a credible way to improve the business case” for stations in Vaughan.
Even in the “alternative” analysis, however, Kirby still performed badly and McCuaig wrote that staff would recommend it be left off the list.
McCuaig resigned from Metrolinx in April to take an advisory role at the federal government’s Canada Infrastructure Bank. He declined to answer questions for this story. Prichard also declined to answer questions. The Metrolinx spokesperson replied on his behalf.
The emails obtained by the Star detail how, on June 15, 2016, Metrolinx board members, who are appointed on the recommendation of the minister, convened a special closed-door meeting to discuss the new stops.
A public vote was scheduled for June 28, but in an email to the board Prichard explained that the earlier meeting was necessary because Tory and Del Duca wanted to announce SmartTrack stations the following week.
“We did not want the minister doing so without the input of the board in advance,” he wrote. The board would “revisit the same issues” at the public session, Prichard explained, but he stressed that “the real substantive meeting is this one” on June 15.
Metrolinx has never previously acknowledged the meeting took place. But the documents indicate the board voted to support the staff-recommended list of 10 stations, which did not include Kirby or Lawrence East.
But the day after the meeting, Metrolinx received draft copies of press releases that the ministry planned to use to unveil the new stations. Agency officials were taken aback to see that they indicated the minister would announce Kirby, Lawrence East, and two other stations the board hadn’t approved.
“Are you hearing anything like this?” Metrolinx chief planning officer Leslie Woo wrote to McCuaig after learning of the ministry’s plan.
“Nope,” he shot back.
McCuaig wrote to a policy adviser at the ministry to ask why unapproved stops were in the announcements. “Has a decision been made that I’m not aware of?” he asked.
On the afternoon of June 17, McCuaig wrote to Prichard to say he had spoken to the adviser again. “M apparently wants us to include Lawrence…Kirby” and two other stations, McCuaig wrote.
McCuaig would not confirm to the Star that “M” referred to Minister Del Duca, or the ministry.
Prichard replied that Lawrence East “will probably be ok” — city of Toronto staff had performed their own analysis that showed the station performed better — but, he asserted “deferral is right for Kirby.”
Prichard wrote that he told the ministry adviser that “we would need a call with the minister if they can’t accept the deferral.”
Whether that call took place is not clear.
However, two days later, on June 19, McCuaig emailed agency officials with a “proposed revision” to the report that would go to the board at the public meeting on June 28. Kirby and Lawrence East were now recommended for approval.
In a series of news conferences the week of June 20, 2016, Del Duca announced that the Ontario government intended to build 12 new GO stations, including Lawrence East and Kirby.
The following week, the board met in public and approved all 12 stops.
Metrolinx didn’t release the business case analyses for any of the potential new GO stations until last March, almost nine months after the board vote. The conclusion of the public version of the Kirby analysis was altered from earlier drafts to remove references to its “poor results.”
The agency never publicly released a separate report drafted before the board vote that explicitly recommended against proceeding with Kirby and Lawrence East. The Star obtained a copy in June.
In an email, Aikins, the Metrolinx spokesperson, said the Metrolinx board is permitted by legislation to meet behind closed doors to discuss certain issues.
She said that, at the closed-door meeting, “the board received management's preliminary advice including advice that there might be updated information following further stakeholder consultations.” During the public meeting management provided its final advice, she stated.
“All of this was done in accord with the board’s governance procedures and the Metrolinx Act.”
According to Aikins, the agency’s leadership recommended Lawrence East be approved after Toronto city officials made the case that “it was an important part of the city’s overall transit network plans.”
She said Metrolinx leaders recommended Kirby after “municipal officials, community stakeholders and Minister Del Duca collectively made the case” that the area around the stop would exhibit higher population growth than the numbers contemplated in the Metrolinx business case.
Aikins said it was a precondition for proceeding with both stops that the respective municipalities enact policies to encourage greater density around the station sites. She said all the proposed new stations will undergo further analysis before they are built to ensure they’re warranted.
The Star asked Del Duca’s office if he could provide any Metrolinx or ministry analysis to support the position that Kirby would benefit the transit network. He did not.
Tory’s office said, “City staff have recommended Lawrence East as a stop for SmartTrack and as an important part of the Scarborough transit network plan.”
OTTAWA —The federal government is promising to create 10,000 paid student work placements in key industries over the next four years through a new $73-million program set to be unveiled Monday in Toronto.
The funding was originally announced in the 2016 budget, but details of how the government plans to create these connections between students and employers haven’t been released until now, just in time for the 2017-18 school year.
Patty Hajdu, minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, told the Star the goal is to provide incentives to companies to hire students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries, as well as the business sector.
“There does tend to be a bit of a lag between students graduating and getting a position in their field,” Hajdu said.
“This allows us to try to address that and to close that gap.”
Starting this school year, the program will provide wage subsidies to participating companies to host active students who need to finish work placements to complete their post-secondary programs. According to Hajdu’s office, the government will pay 50 per cent of the student’s wages — up to $5,000 — and 70 per cent of the wages, totalling up to $7,000, for first-year students and “underrepresented groups” such as women in male-dominated programs, Indigenous students and people with disabilities.
Hajdu said the placements are meant to be flexible and could include anything from three-month contracts to part-time work a couple days per week.
“It’s designed in that way so that a variety of different programs and courses of study can take advantage of this,” she said.
The government has inked deals with five industry groups that include companies willing to take on students through work placements, in fields including information and communication technology, aerospace and aviation, the environment, and biotechnology and business.
Hajdu said work continues to link more sectors to the program, and the department is pushing for one with financial services.
“This is really around incenting employers to take on students and then having that fringe benefit of them saying, ‘I’ve invested some time in this person, this could be a real asset to me to hire this person,’ ” she said.
“We think it’s a really effective way of playing matchmaker, if you will.”
A Toronto man is facing three charges after allegedly threatening to blow up a train earlier this month.
Toronto police said they responded to a call for a bomb threat on Aug. 13 at Bloor-Yonge station, where a man allegedly announced to the people on board a southbound train that he had a bomb and would blow up the train.
The train and station were evacuated. The suspect was believed to have fled the scene along with the crowds leaving the station.
Subway service was suspended on Line 2 from Broadview to St. George stations and on Line 1 from Union to Eglinton stations.
Jonathan Fox, 30, was arrested and charged with threatening death and two counts of mischief: interfering with lawful use of property under $5,000, and interfering with lawful operation of property over $5,000.
He is scheduled to appear in court Monday.
With files from Star staff.
OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is making former TV host Seamus O’Regan his new veterans affairs minister in a mid-mandate cabinet shakeup that will also give Health Minister Jane Philpott a new role in a restructured Indigenous Affairs department.
Philpott will work closely with current Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett as the Liberal government seeks to jump-start stalled efforts to establish a new relationship with Canada’s Aboriginal community, a cornerstone of its 2015 election platform, multiple sources told The Canadian Press.
O’Regan and Bennett were seen arriving at Rideau Hall for this afternoon’s swearing-in ceremony. Asked his feelings about being named to cabinet, O’Regan would only say, “For once, I’m speechless.”
The shuffle is in response, at least in part, to former public works minister Judy Foote’s announcement last week that she has left cabinet and intends to resign her seat in the House of Commons for family health reasons.
Kent Hehr was expected to move from Veterans Affairs to the Sport and Persons with Disabilities portfolio currently held by former Paralympic swimmer Carla Qualtrough, also spotted Monday at Rideau Hall.
Speculation was rampant Monday that Qualtrough would replace Philpott at Health, a move that would be seen as a significant promotion. Other speculation had her moving into the Public Works and Procurement portfolio vacated by Foote.
With Trudeau having made gender parity in cabinet a big part of his government’s identity, he was also widely expected to be adding a promising female backbencher to the cabinet table to restore the balance upset by Foote’s departure.
That appears to be Ginette Petitpas Taylor, a New Brunswick MP elected in 2015 who was also seen arriving for the swearing-in ceremony, suggesting she could be bound for the Public Works job.
It’s widely seen as one of the toughest portfolios in cabinet, responsible for handling the federal government’s troubled Phoenix pay system as well as handling defence procurement challenges.
Reports of Hehr’s departure from the veterans file comes amid increasingly vocal disgruntlement from veterans groups.
The Liberals were elected two years ago on a promise to address many of the complaints veterans had raised about their treatment under the Conservative government.
The biggest promise was to re-introduce lifelong disability pensions, which had been eliminated in favour of a lump-sum payments and a new system of benefits for injured ex-soldiers in 2006.
O’Regan’s elevation to cabinet will ensure a continued seat at the table for Newfoundland and Labrador, since Foote also represents the province.
But the Liberals have since waffled on that promise, and Hehr’s folksy style and vague promises had failed to quell growing complaints that the government was breaking its key promises to veterans.
O’Regan, 46, a former TV host, was first elected in 2015 and is a personal friend of the prime minister.
He and his partner were among the friends who accompanied Trudeau on a controversial family vacation last Christmas to a private island in the Bahamas owned by the Aga Khan, a billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims.
The previous Christmas, O’Regan spent the holidays in a “wellness centre” where he received treatment for alcoholism. He has openly discussed his struggles with alcoholism and mental illness.
O’Regan worked in politics as a ministerial assistant both federally and provincially before joining Canada AM in 2001.
Hehr, 47, was a bystander when he was injured in a drive-by shooting in 1991 that left him a quadriplegic. He went on to earn a law degree and went into private practice.
In 2008, he was elected to the Alberta legislature.
He won the federal seat of Calgary Centre in 2015.
A tip from a member of the public has triggered the single largest drug seizure in the history of the Ontario Provincial Police.
The force netted 1,062 kg of 97 per cent pure cocaine which had a wholesale value of $60 million and an estimated street value of $250 million, OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes said Monday at a press conference at OPP headquarters in Orillia.
“This is a massive seizure – bigger than I’ve seen in my 33 years of policing,” Hawkes said.
Armed tactical officers stood guard at the press conference near the wall of multi-coloured cocaine bricks on display. There was a further armed guard at the entranceway to the OPP complex.
That cocaine will be destroyed at a secret location, Hawkes said.
“There’s a lot of drugs out there and drugs are killing people,” Hawkes said.
“It’s an amazing size seizure,” OPP deputy commissioner Rick Barnum said, adding the investigation is ongoing.
The OPP declined to elaborate on the tip that started the massive operation.
“Good information was received,” Barnum said.
The initial arrests were made after a traffic stop of Highway 410 in May.
The drug would have been cut down to between 30 and 40 per cent purity before it reached the streets, often with particularly deadly additives liken fentanyl, Barnum said.
“With the amount of pure cocaine seized during Project HOPE, we’ve stopped many criminals from causing more harm to our communities while removing a quarter of a billion dollars from the criminals economy,” Hawkes said.
Despite the massive amount of cocaine seized, there hasn’t been a noticeable change in the price of the drugs on the streets, Hawkes said.
Most of the stones containing bricks of cocaine had a kilogram hidden inside. The most found in a single stone was six kilograms, Barnum said.
Some of the stones were seized at a stone supply operation in Stoney Creek.
“Certainly the business was set up to be a front or a cover,” Barnum said, adding it wasn’t known where the cocaine was initially produced.
“There are definitely connections to Mexico and the Mexican cartels,” he said.
The Mexican cartels have members living in the GTA, he said.
The cocaine was smuggled in pallets of building stones.
“Our dogs – CBSA dogs – never detected the cocaine,” Barnum said.
He declined to say who would have distributed the drugs in Canada, except to say they are “extremely high-level organized crime groups.”
The haul was called Project Hope and was in partnership with the Canada Border Services Agency, Peel Regional Police, the FinancialTransactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
The cocaine was loaded onto ships in Argentina, destined for the Port of Montreal and then the GTA, Niagara Region and other parts of Canada, police said.
Luis Enrique Karim-Altamirano, 52, of Vaughan has a bail hearing on Aug. 30. He’s charged with importation of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for the purposes of trafficking and driving while disqualified.
Mauricio Antonio Medina-Gatica, 36, of Brampton, has been freed on bail after being charged May 1 with importation of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance for the purposes of trafficking.
Iban Orozco-Lomeli, 45, of Toronto was charged July 10 of importation of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance for the purposes of trafficking. He has also been released on bail.
Montreal police say they have arrested a man who was sought in connection with alleged drug offences in Ontario and was also on a list of most wanted criminals in the United States.
They say they apprehended Katay-Khaophone Sychanta, 35, and another man on a cycling path last Wednesday for alleged drug possession.
Ontario Provincial Police were looking for Sychanta, who was the subject of a Canada-wide arrest warrant.
Montreal police say he was on the list of the top 10 criminals wanted by the Homeland Security Investigations unit of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Sychanta was arraigned in Montreal last Thursday on charges of drug possession, obstructing the work of police officers and using false documents.
He is expected to be sent to Ontario before possible extradition proceedings.
The most-wanted list states Sychanta was born in Laos and was first indicted in 2005 in Michigan.
It says he evaded capture and continued to supervise a drug-smuggling organization based near Windsor, Ont.
Toronto school boards say a small number of bus routes do not have permanent drivers for the coming academic year.
The Toronto Student Transportation Group says one bus carrier is short drivers with school starting next week, but will pull drivers from two other companies in the short term for help.
The group, a joint effort by the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board, says only 21 routes are affected of the 1,750 total routes in the city.
A few weeks ago, Ontario’s ombudsman released a scathing report after a bus driver shortage last year on about 60 routes left more than 2,600 students stranded and some missing at the start of the school year.
Paul Dube found officials failed to adequately plan for contingencies and communicate effectively in the lead up to last year’s crisis that left at least three kindergarten students missing for various lengths of time.
The group says it will provide updates to parents by the end of the week.
Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.
TV and social media coverage showed that the rally site, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president.
As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.
Even by his standards, Trump was remarkably strident in Phoenix. After introductory speakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, lauded him for his commitment to racial harmony, the president came on stage and lambasted the media for what he called inaccurate reporting on his remarks about violence between hate groups and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He threatened to shut down the federal government unless Congress funds construction of the Mexican border wall he promised in his campaign. He telegraphed that he’d pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying a court order to stop racial profiling by his deputies. And in their home state, he assailed Arizona Senas. John McCain for the failure of Obamacare repeal and Jeff Flake for being “weak” on illegal immigration, without mentioning their names. Both are fellow Republicans.
Gigicos had staged the event in a large multipurpose room. The main floor space was bisected by a dividing wall, leaving part of the space empty. There were some bleachers off to the side, but otherwise the audience was standing—and the scene appeared flat, lacking the energy and enthusiasm of other rallies.
Although the crowd looked thin when Trump arrived at about 6:30 p.m., rallygoers filled in the space while Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, former Georgia state Rep. Alveda King, evangelist Franklin Graham and Pence delivered introductory speeches. A city of Phoenix spokeswoman told the Arizona Republic newspaper that about 10,000 people were inside the room when Trump took the stage.
Trump’s first words when he stepped to the microphone: “Wow, what a crowd, what a crowd.”
A week later, Trump was still reminiscing about the event.
“You saw the massive crowd we had,” he said at a White House news conference on Monday with Finland President Sauli Niinisto. “The people went crazy when I said, ‘What do you think of sheriff Joe?’ Or something to that effect.”
Gigicos organized all of Trump’s signature campaign events and his occasional rallies since entering office. He left his White House job as director of advance on July 31 to return to his consulting business. But he continued to work for Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Over the past two years, Trump had often assigned the blame—rightly or wrongly—to Gigicos when his rally logistics weren’t perfect. But his irritation usually blew over quickly. When his microphone had problems at a January 2016 rally in Pensacola, Florida, Trump bellowed: “The stupid mic keeps popping! Do you hear that, George? Don’t pay them! Don’t pay them!”
Gigicos is the latest high-profile departure from Trump’s inner circle. Since July 21, press secretary Sean Spicer, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and national security aide Sebastian Gorka have all resigned or been fired. Former Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure lasted less than two weeks.
Two outside advisory councils comprised of corporate CEOs dissolved after Trump’s Charlottesville remarks, and the White House severed ties with billionaire Carl Icahn, a semiformal Trump adviser.
HOUSTON—A pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston from flooding began overflowing Tuesday, adding to the rising floodwaters from Harvey that have crippled the city after five consecutive days of rain.
Engineers began releasing water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs Monday to ease the strain on the dams. But the releases were not enough to relieve the pressure after one of the heaviest downpours in U.S. history, Army Corps of Engineers officials said. Both reservoirs are at record highs.
The release of the water means that more homes and streets will flood, and some homes will be inundated for up to a month, said Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood Control District.
The county is trying to determine where the water will go, Lindner said.
Meanwhile, more than 17,000 people are seeking refuge in Texas shelters, the American Red Cross said. With rescues continuing, that number seemed certain to grow.
Calls for rescue have so overwhelmed emergency teams that they have had little time to search for bodies. And officials acknowledge that fatalities from Harvey could soar once the floodwaters start to recede from one of America’s most sprawling metropolitan centres.
More than four days after the storm ravaged the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane, authorities had confirmed only three deaths — including a woman killed Monday when heavy rains dislodged a large oak tree onto her trailer home in the small town of Porter. But unconfirmed reports of others missing or presumed dead were growing.
“We know in these kinds of events that, sadly, the death toll goes up historically,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press. “I’m really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find.”
One Houston woman said Monday that she presumes six members of a family, including four of her grandchildren, died after their van sank into Greens Bayou in East Houston.
Virginia Saldivar told The Associated Press her brother-in-law was driving the van Sunday when a strong current took the vehicle over a bridge and into the bayou. The driver was able to get out and urged the children to escape through the back door, Saldivar said, but they could not.
“I’m just hoping we find the bodies,” Saldivar said.
Houston emergency officials could not confirm the deaths.
A spokeswoman for a Houston hotel said one of its employees disappeared while helping about 100 guests and workers evacuate the building.
The disaster is unfolding on an epic scale, with the nation’s fourth-largest city mostly paralyzed by the storm that parked itself over the Gulf Coast. With nearly 61 centimetres of rain expected on top of the 76 centimetres that has already fallen in some places, authorities worried the worst might be yet to come.
Early Tuesday, Harvey continued to drench Houston and the surrounding area. Rain fell at about 1 centimetre per hour over Harris County — home to Houston — and up to 5 centimetres per hour to the east.
The Houston metro area covers about 25,900 square kilometres, an area slightly bigger than New Jersey. It’s criss-crossed by about 2,700 kilometres of channels, creeks and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, about 80 kilometres to the southeast from downtown.
U.S. President Donald Trump was expected Tuesday in Corpus Christi and Austin for briefings on the first major natural disaster of his administration. Vice-President Mike Pence said in an interview with Corpus Christi radio station KKTX that he will visit southeast Texas later this week.
Forecasters expect the storm to linger over the Gulf before heading back inland east of Houston sometime Wednesday. The system will then head north and lose its tropical strength.
It could creep as far east as Mississippi by Thursday, meaning New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina unleashed its full wrath in 2005, is in Harvey’s path. Foreboding images of Harvey were lighting up weather radar screens early Tuesday, the 12th anniversary of the day Katrina made landfall in Plaquemines Parish.
Rescuers meanwhile continued plucking people from inundated Houston neighbourhoods. Mayor Sylvester Turner put the number by police at more than 3,000. The Coast Guard said it also had rescued more than 3,000 by boat and air and was taking more than 1,000 calls per hour.
Chris Thorn was among the many volunteers still helping with the mass evacuation that began Sunday. He drove with a buddy from the Dallas area with their flat-bottom hunting boat to pull strangers out of the water.
“I couldn’t sit at home and watch it on TV and do nothing since I have a boat and all the tools to help,” he said.
Nearly 6,000 inmates displaced by flooding have been moved from prisons in the Houston area to other facilities in South and East Texas, according to the state Department of Criminal Justice.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the low-lying Houston suburb of Dickinson, home to 20,000. Police cited the city’s fragile infrastructure in the floods, limited working utilities and concern about the weather forecast.
In Houston, questions continued to swirl about why the mayor did not issue a similar evacuation order.
Turner has repeatedly defended the decision and did so again Monday, insisting that a mass evacuation of millions of people by car was a greater risk than enduring the storm.
“Both the county judge and I sat down together and decided that we were not in direct path of the storm, of the hurricane, and the safest thing to do was for people to stay put, make the necessary preparations. I have no doubt that the decision we made was the right decision.”
He added, “Can you imagine if millions of people had left the city of Houston and then tried to come back in right now?”
By Tuesday morning, more than 9,000 people were at the city’s largest shelter set up inside the George R. Brown Convention Center — which originally had an estimated capacity of 5,000.
Red Cross spokesman Lloyd Ziel said that volunteers made more space inside the centre, which also was used to house Hurricane Katrina refugees from New Orleans in 2005, in part by pushing some cots closer together. A shortage of cots means some people will have to sleep on chairs or the floor.
The centre settled down at night, after an occasionally chaotic day that saw thousands of evacuees arrive in the pouring rain. Officers and volunteers at times rushed to attend to those with medical needs.
Before the storm is gone, up to 51 centimetres of rain could fall, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said Monday.
That means the flooding will get worse in the days ahead and the floodwaters will be slow to recede once Harvey finally moves on, the weather service said.
Sometime Tuesday or early Wednesday, parts of the Houston region will probably break the nearly 40-year-old U.S. record for the biggest rainfall from a tropical system — 120 centimetres — set by Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978 in Texas, meteorologists said.
After making her mark for publicly sparring with politicians over progressive visions while channeling the Jane Jacobs doctrine of city-building, chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat will leave her post this fall.
The city announced Monday that Keesmaat will depart Sept. 29 to “pursue other interests” — which, according to sources, came as a surprise to her own staff and was only made known to the mayor’s office last week.
Keesmaat did not respond to requests for comment to confirm her future plans. In the past she has been courted to run for political office but has privately told people at city hall she is not interested.
In a statement released by the city, Keesmaat said: “I look forward to new challenges in the important business of city-building now enriched by invaluable lessons, new friends and colleagues acquired while serving the people of our great city, Toronto.”
On Twitter, where she is often outspoken while cultivating an adoring following rare for a city bureaucrat, she added: “I will be taking a breather and spending some time with my family.”
Those who supported her policy positions say her departure will leave a “massive hole” in city planning. Tackling some of the city’s biggest transit and transportation projects in the last five years has also meant Keesmaat has been in the midst of ongoing controversy.
“It definitely feels like the end of an era that was all too short,” said Richard Joy, executive director of Toronto’s Urban Land Institute think tank.
“I think she really returned the sense of city-building and the spirit of civic responsibility over the destiny of our city to a time that might only have been rivaled in the 1970s.”
Her leadership style sparked praise from those who valued her vision and sharp rebukes from those opposed.
A battle over the future of the Gardiner Expressway saw Keesmaat pushing to tear down the eastern section and create a “grand boulevard.” In 2015, it led to a prolonged, public spat with Mayor John Tory who successfully pushed to keep the elevated expressway up.
“She was willing to stand up in opposition to the original vision of a brand new, powerful mayor and other political forces, which was, I think, characteristic of her style and of her guts,” Joy said.
But in the back-half of the term, Tory and Keesmaat have been said to be on good terms. Sources confirmed Monday that Tory personally asked Keesmaat not to leave.
In a statement, Tory thanked Keesmaat for her “tremendous passion,” adding she “used her platform and voice as chief planner to help guide council’s efforts to build a better city for all Torontonians.”
Keesmaat was appointed by the city in 2012 out of the private sector, in part, to be a visionary, said provincial housing minister Peter Milczyn, who, as a city councillor, led the selection process.
“With the exception of maybe a couple of tweets early on in her time at city hall, I think she was always professional and objective and fulfilled her role as a public servant very well,” he said.
With the construction of the 19-kilometre Crosstown LRT well underway, along with a plan for building up Eglinton Ave. in its path, Councillor Shelley Carroll credited Keesmaat with keeping plans for a transit-oriented, cycling-friendly city from being derailed.
“I don’t know if we would still have those ideas afloat in the back-to-back Ford and Tory mayoralty without her at the helm,” Carroll said.
Some projects have not gone to plan.
Though Keesmaat pushed for the approved, seven-stop LRT to replace the Scarborough RT, council in 2013 instead approved a three-stop subway that would cost the city far more while serving far fewer people.
Analysis provided by her planning division helped fuel the about-face, which Keesmaat later admitted was both “rushed” and “problematic.”
Despite her attempt last year to create a compromise by reducing the number of new subway stops to just one and using the savings to fund an extension of the Crosstown LRT, today plans for a single-stop extension are progressing while the LRT remains largely unfunded — leaving the dream of a transit network in Scarborough in limbo.
And there are still projects left unfinished.
While she championed the idea of a “Central Park” in the heart of the downtown called Rail Deck Park, the cited cost of at least $1 billion has fueled skepticism it will ever come to fruition.
It is expected Gregg Lintern, director of community planning for the Toronto and East York district, will take over as acting chief planner.
With files from Robert Benzie
Celebrity chef Susur Lee, who runs three well-known restaurants in Toronto, will return money taken from employees’ tips to pay for mistakes after public outcry over the practice.
More than 7,000 people signed a petition asking the chef to refund the money after staff at Fring’s, Lee and the recently closed Bent spoke publicly about the issue. Last year, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour made the practice of docking tips for common slip-ups — such as broken glasses, spilled drinks and incorrect orders — illegal.
In a statement Monday, a representative for Lee said management chose to change the policy, called the “IOU system,” as soon as they found out it was no longer allowed.
“We are currently in the process of refunds and reaching out to previous staff members that were affected as well,” said Kelsea Knowles, Lee’s executive assistant.
“We are also in the process of hiring an HR consultant to make sure all is done correctly.”
News that Lee’s three restaurants would change the practice spread after Taylor Clarke — an online personality who often posts about the Toronto restaurant industry under the moniker “ChefGrantSoto” — uploaded an Instagram photo of a note reportedly sent to employees, saying Lee and his two sons were “deeply regretful.”
ORNGE caused the death of two pilots and two paramedics when the company failed to provide night vision goggles, the Crown attorney prosecuting Ontario’s air ambulance service has told a court.
“Despite knowing that flight into total darkness was their No. 1 workplace risk, ORNGE did not give these pilots any way to see in the dark or to see the ground,” prosecutor Nick Devlin told the judge presiding over the labour code case.
More than four years have passed since the 2013 crash that killed ORNGE captain Don Filliter, co-pilot Jacques Dupuy and flight paramedics Chris Snowball and Dustin Dagenais. They died shortly after taking off from Moosonee, Ont., headed to Attawapiskat.
In a hard-hitting condemnation of ORNGE’s safety and management regime at the time, Devlin never mentioned former boss Chris Mazza, but one of his decisions was front and centre: buying 12 state-of-the-art Italian helicopters and outfitting only 10 for air ambulance use. The plan — a failed one, as it turned out — was to one day sell the other two choppers for a profit. That purchase and related matters are part of an almost six-year-old OPP criminal probe, which, despite a statement by the force in March that it was nearing conclusion, now shows no sign of ending.
“ORNGE spent millions of dollars on a money-losing, speculative purchase of non-(air ambulance) aircraft, rather than using those funds to install (night vision) capacity in its fleet,” Devlin said in his submission to court. The helicopters were purchased from AgustaWestland at a cost of $144 million in 2008. Mazza and other senior company executives were gone by early 2012.
The air ambulance firm, which receives $172 million a year from the province, “failed the four men it sent out into the darkness,” Devlin said.
Though it involves the high-pressure field of emergency medical transport by air, the case in Brampton court is in essence a workplace safety case, and the prosecution is taking place under the Canada Labour Code. The maximum penalty against a corporation is a $1-million fine — something that has struck observers as odd, since if a penalty is paid, it will in effect come from Ontario taxpayers.
ORNGE has rejected Devlin’s claims, along with additional allegations that the two pilots were not properly trained or prepared for the flight.
“The pilots had the training, testing, and experience they needed to fly by instruments,” ORNGE said in its submission to court Friday, prepared by lawyers Brian Gover and Fredrick Schumann. “In those circumstances, the employer complied with its duty to ensure employee safety.” The lawyers pointed out that aircraft regulators in Canada do not require pilots to be able to see the ground.
ORNGE, in the wake of the crash, is in the process of outfitting its fleet and pilots with night vision capability.
The job ORNGE was doing in Moosonee, a northern community near James Bay, was routine for the service, which is charged with picking up patients in emergencies and flying others between hospitals. Filliter and Dupuy were flying an older model Sikorsky chopper, not one of the brand new AW139s that Mazza, as ORNGE boss, had purchased.
Neither type of helicopter was outfitted for night vision, though they had instruments that ORNGE maintains were sufficient for a safe flight.
The Transportation Safety Board investigation of the crash found that shortly after midnight on May 31, 2013, the ORNGE chopper was dispatched from Moosonee to Attawapiskat to pick up an emergency patient. Investigators determined the aircraft climbed to 300 feet and the captain and first officer began carrying out post-takeoff checks. The paramedics on board likely would have been preparing for the medevac ahead in Attawapiskat.
What was described as an “inadvertent descent” began as the chopper was banking left. During the turn, the captain noticed on the instruments that the turn angle was excessive and the first officer said he would correct it. Seconds before impact, the report states the captain “recognized that the aircraft was descending and called for the first officer to initiate a climb.” It was too late and the Sikorsky hit the ground, crumpling and bursting into flames.
Night vision goggles, court heard, would have made it possible for the pilots to quickly orient themselves with the terrain.
ORNGE spokesperson James MacDonald said that the air service is now fully operational with night vision goggles and modified aircraft at its bases in Sudbury, Kenora and Thunder Bay. ORNGE is aiming to have night vision capability in all chopper bases by the end of 2017.
The court case has also delved into the previous management at ORNGE. Prosecutor Devlin said in his submission to court that ORNGE was “run by people with little or no relevant experience,” that three safety warnings concerning the Moosonee pilot’s state of mind, readiness and training were ignored, and that ORNGE had a “corporate culture of ignoring, attacking and ostracizing pilots and managers who expressed safety concerns.”
ORNGE today is under different management, following a series of investigative stories by the Star that led to a massive overhaul of the agency and most senior-level executives being shown the door.
As to the ongoing OPP criminal investigation of Mazza and others over alleged kickbacks and other matters, OPP officials did not return requests for comment last week. On Sunday, a media official with the OPP said an update would be provided this week.
Mazza, a doctor, has bounced around various jobs in Ontario since leaving ORNGE. Once paid millions of dollars a year as a top executive, he has worked at a northern hospital in the emergency room and recently has been doing a stint as a sports medicine doctor in Mississauga.
Kevin Donovan can be reached at 416-312-3503 or email@example.com .
Kevin Donovan can be reached at 416-312-3503 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Celebrated author Margaret Atwood, grocery store magnate Galen Weston, their spouses, and others have joined forces to fight a proposed mid-rise condo development in their beloved Annex neighbourhood.
City planning staff is recommending Toronto and East York Community Council agree to alter city planning rules so the proposal can proceed to council for approval.
“Overall, given the site and context, planning staff find the height and massing … to be acceptable,” says a staff report on next week’s community council agenda.
Even if council approves the development, the battle could still play out at the Ontario Municipal Board, the provincial agency that has final say on all planning decisions in the province.
The proposal calls for an existing two-storey commercial building at 321 Davenport Rd., south of Dupont St., to be demolished and replaced by an eight-storey building with 16 condo units and 30 parking spots in a two-level garage.
The proposed structure exceeds height and density rules so requires zoning bylaw amendments, typical of most condo building applications in Toronto.
“We have always believed that our development approach to 321 Davenport is the right one, and we will continue to advocate for our proposed scheme,” Danny Roth, a spokesman for Alterra Developments, wrote in an email.
After the community raised concerns last winter, the developer revised the proposal, modifying the front and rear façades “to fit better within the surrounding context,” the staff report says.
But several high-profile Annex residents, particularly those living in homes on Admiral Rd. with rear yards facing the Davenport property, are outraged by the proposal. They’ve sent emails, letters and a petition to city officials objecting to the “hulking presence.”
“I join my neighbours in their concerns about setbacks that violate bylaws, and about privacy issues, and about the precedent such large violations of bylaws would set, not only for the neighbourhood but for the city,” Atwood wrote in a letter to local Councillor Joe Cressy, who sits on that community council. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
Atwood included a link in her June 5 email to a newspaper story about a court case regarding shared trees.
There are no trees on the proposed site. But the proposed development has an impact on six privately owned trees located on three neighbouring properties, the staff report says.
“Neighbours must get permission to alter or damage a shared tree. It is against the law to act otherwise,” Atwood wrote, urging councillors to postpone a vote on the proposal back in June, pending further study on a tree “alleged” to be unhealthy. Without a proper assessment, “the developers may find themselves being sued,” she wrote. “That would be unfortunate; as such cases can drag on for a long time.”
(On Monday, she wrote in an email to the Star it would be premature to comment further but said any statement would have to come from all neighbours.)
Novelist Graeme Gibson, Atwood’s husband, suggested the proposed plans “hover close to a brutal and arrogant assault on a community that has been here since the 19th Century.”
Canadian businessman Galen Weston Jr., chair and president of Loblaw Companies Ltd., and his wife Alexandra, live on nearby Bernard Ave. and sent an email to Cressy in June outlining their concerns.
The development “designed as is, will change the neighbourhood in such a negative capacity and will devalue all of the assets we currently love about living here; it will no longer be the ideal place for our young family to grow up,” their email said.
The couple added: “This building is an invasion on our privacy, our community and an environmental assault on our neighbourhood.”
Artist/photographer Scott McFarland and his wife Cleophee Eaton, a member of the Eaton department store family, also emailed a long list of objections and suggestions to Cressy.
If, for instance, there are balconies, they should face Davenport, or, if they are permitted west, “they should be Juliette-style balconies.” They warned city planners not to repeat mistakes made in the past.
“We have made diligent efforts to communicate openly with our neighbours in the hopes of resolving any concerns they may have through the redevelopment process,” Roth’s emailed statement said.
“That said, our respect for the process and our sincere desire to reach agreement with stakeholders does not mean that the future of this site should be left solely in the hands of a few vocal residents. There is a planning process established, with mechanisms for resolving disputes, and we are fully committed to proceeding with that process.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne is making a song and dance about increasing arts funding — just in time for next year’s election.
In campaign-style announcement at Toronto’s Berkeley Street Theatre, Wynne said annual funding to the Ontario Arts Council will increase by $50 million over the next four years.
“When we invest in the Ontario Arts Council, we are investing in much more than our thriving arts sector,” Wynne said Tuesday.
“We are investing in our young people, our communities, and our capacity to build a more creative, more inclusive, more innovative society,” she said.
Last year, the arts council contributed funds to 1,657 artists and 1,098 to organizations in 212 communities across the province.
Ontarians go to the polls on June 7, 2018.
Doug Ford says he will end speculation and announce his future political intentions at the family’s semi-regular barbeque on Sept. 8.
He’s refusing to say whether he’ll take another run against Mayor John Tory or seek a Progressive Conservative seat in the Ontario legislature, but he may have inadvertently dropped a hint.
“I’m putting together the best team ever assembled, but we’ve still got a year and a bit,” Ford told the Star Tuesday.
The provincial election is next June 7, 10 months away, while the municipal election is Oct. 22.
“That was a slip,” Ford laughed.
The former one-term councillor said his skills are needed at both levels of government.
“Look at the province and the city; they’re both financial disasters,” said Ford, 52, who has been running the family labels-and-tags business.
He said he would relish a rematch with Tory, who, he claimed, has “taxed everything that moves,” and failed to “fix traffic, which has never been worse,” but would also be honoured to run with a “principled leader like Patrick Brown.”
In the 2014 municipal election, Tory captured about 40 per cent of the vote and Ford about 34 per cent. From 2010 to 2014, Ford represented Ward 2, Etobicoke North, while his late brother Rob was the city’s mayor.
Asked what he thought about the possibility of Ford running against him again, Tory, 63, said he isn’t concerning himself “unduly” about next year’s campaign.
“The media love, you know, this kind of colourful story. I think Mr. Ford has a lot of questions to answer about some of the TTC cuts, dramatic cuts that were made to the TTC, for example, under his administration,” Tory said after a press conference to tout his record on expanded bus service.
“In the meantime, I have a job to do leading the council, leading the city, attracting jobs, keeping taxes low, getting transit built, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
Every day Ken Teryan wakes up to smell the roses — both the real roses he sells in his Avenue Rd. shop, and the metaphorical roses reminding him that he owns one of no fewer than five flower shops competing for business on the same block.
Kay & Young’s, Yang’s, Ken’s, Jong Young and Grower’s stand side-by-side on Avenue Rd. south of Davenport. Unlike the restaurants of Chinatown or the Danforth, there is no apparent logic to why they’ve congregated there.
But the flower shops of “Av and Dav” have come to characterize the neighbourhood. The novelty draws regular customers from as far as Barrie, and even occasional tourists eager to check out Toronto’s “flower district.”
“I think for Toronto, it’s great,” said Teryan, who owns Ken’s Flowers.
“I would love to have cheese stores, five in a row. Or bakeries selling lots of croissants — that would be wonderful. For sure they would be the nicest croissants around,” he said, smiling broadly at the pastry-filled reverie.
Teryan sees the tough competition and close proximity of the flower shops as an advantage to customers — and that keeps the shop owners on their toes.
“It’s giving the signal to all of us to wake up early every morning, never sell anything dead, always keep the flower store so clean and nice and fresh,” he said. Neglect to do these things, and customers will simply go next door.
Grace Young, owner of Kay & Young’s, the newest florist on the strip, agreed that the surrounding flower shops were a draw to setting up shop there.
It seems to be working. On Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, the lines to get into any one of the Av and Dav flower shops get so long that the police show up to monitor crowds, Teryan said.
It’s not unheard-of for small businesses in close proximity to become each other’s most serious competitors, and sometimes the contest gets tense. Last year a cocktail supply shop owner sued her direct neighbour, claiming he was trying to pass off his shop for her’s.
Those who have lived near Av and Dav a long time might not remember exactly how or why the strip blossomed into flower row — but they’re not complaining.
Diane Loeb, who has lived in the area for 38 years, recalls watching as produce shops and kitchen supply stores were replaced by florists over time.
“Just the two minutes you take walking south through that block you’re hit with the most amazing scents and colours,” she said. “It lifts your spirits.
“It’s amazing to me that five separate locations can keep going just a few yards from one another.”
She sometimes worries that high-rise condo developers will change the landscape of the neighbourhood, and take the quaint flower shops with them.
Loeb is a dedicated customer at Jong Young (“I always get a ‘hello’ when I go into my flower shop!”) and believes that each of the shops must thrive by carving out their own unique client base.
Nevertheless, Milena Eglite, who owns Grower’s, described the competition between shop owners as “fierce.”
With the alternatives right outside her door, Eglite said it can be especially difficult to contemplate minor price increases when things like hydro become more expensive.
But she said the shops work hard to build their own unique base of customers. She serves hotels and shops in the nearby upscale Yorkville neighbourhood. Teryan, meanwhile, focuses on wedding orders.
Rebecca Reuber, a strategic management professor at the University of Toronto, says “it’s probably not an easy existence” for the owners when similar businesses line up side-by-side.
“You can’t be complacent because you have a competitor right beside you,” she said.
But businesses may also benefit from their neighbours’ high reputations, Reuber said, which can help to turn areas of the city into “destinations” for certain products or services.
“It’s probably in your interest that the competitor is quite good,” she said.
With all five flower shops boasting reviews by customers who claim theirs is the best one, the flower shops at Av and Dav seem to be doing well by that measure.
OTTAWA—The NDP is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “immediately remove” from caucus a Calgary MP accused of sexually harassing a young female staffer, then offering her money to stay silent with her allegations.
In a statement Tuesday morning, the party’s Status of Women critic Sheila Malcolmson said Trudeau is failing to uphold his stated“zero tolerance” for misconduct and harassment, after allegations emerged that rookie MP Darshan Kang sexually harassed a woman who worked for more than four years in his Calgary constituency office.
The 24-year-old woman’s father told the Star Monday that Kang then offered to pay her as much as $100,000 to stay silent with her allegations, which he said included unwelcome hugs and hand-holding, as well as an incident in June when he offered the woman wine and tried to take off her jacket.
“Until such time as a full investigation can be completed, Mr. Kang should not sit as a member of the governing party. That is exactly what Prime Minister used to say and do; I am at a loss as to why he has refused to take similar action in response to these allegations,” Malcolmson said in the statement.
“That is not the leadership of a feminist prime minister.”
Kang did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday and remained silent Tuesday morning.
None of the allegations against him has been proven.
Earlier this month, the Hill Times revealed that Kang is being investigated by the House of Commons human resources officer for alleged sexual harassment. The government whip’s office has confirmed it received allegations, and said Monday that it forwarded them to chief human resources officer Pierre Parent.
“We were made aware of the allegations and referred them, as per the House of Commons process, to the chief human resources officer,” the government whip’s chief-of-staff, Charles-Eric Lépine, said in an email on Monday.
He declined to answer any more questions on the matter.
It is not clear if Lépine was referring to the allegation of sexual harassment, the alleged offers of money, or both.
According to the woman’s father, Hamilton MP and deputy government whip Filomena Tassi travelled to Calgary in June, shortly after the alleged victim came forward to her boss in Kang’s office, to interview her about what allegedly occurred.
It is unclear when the whip’s office informed Parliament’s human resources office of the allegations.
The office investigates claims of harassment, abuse of authority, misconduct and sexual harassment among MPs and Parliamentary employees, including workers in politicians’ constituency offices.
During the 2016-17 fiscal year, the office received 19 cases and deemed two serious enough for investigation, according to its most recent annual report. Both cases were found to be “not substantiated.”
Trudeau was asked about Kang’s case on Monday. The prime minister told reporters “that our whip’s office and the human resources of the Parliament of Canada are engaged, as they must be, in this process, and I have no further comment to make at this time on the independent process that is being undergone.”
In March 2015, when he was leader of the third-place Liberals, Trudeau booted two MPs from caucus over allegations of sexual misconduct from two female New Democrat MPs.
Former fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo was also blocked from returning to caucus last year after he resigned from cabinet to enter treatment for alcoholism. It was later revealed that he was in a sexual relationship with a young female staffer.
The Progressive Conservatives have asked the Ontario auditor general to investigate two GO Transit stations that a provincial agency approved last year despite government-commissioned advice that recommended they not be built.
One of the proposed stations, Kirby, is in Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca’s riding of Vaughan. The other is a stop at Lawrence East in Scarborough that has been labeled part of Mayor John Tory’s “SmartTrack” plan.
As the Star reported on Monday, documents obtained through a freedom of information request show that the Liberal government’s ministry of transportation pressured Metrolinx, the arms-length agency responsible for transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, to approve the two stops.
Kirby station would cost $98.4 million to build, while capital costs for Lawrence East are estimated at around $23 million.
In a letter sent to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk on Monday, Progressive Conservative transportation critic Michael Harris requested a “full value for money audit” of the stops.
“The minister of transportation’s office has unfortunately provided very few answers as to why ministry-funded analysis recommending against these projects was overruled,” Harris wrote to the auditor general, who is charged with monitoring government spending.
“Before any more hard-earned tax dollars are sunk into these projects, taxpayers deserve to know that the money will be spent effectively and efficiently,” said Harris, who is the MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office and Metrolinx declined to answer questions Monday about the stations. A spokesperson for Del Duca said he was away and unavailable.
All three referred the Star to statements the minister and Metrolinx issued on Sunday.
The statements asserted that the studies that showed Kirby and Lawrence East wouldn’t benefit the transit network were just one input into the decision-making process, which also included consultation with local municipalities and affected communities.
They stressed that all the new GO stations Metrolinx is considering will undergo further study and won’t be built if they’re not warranted.
Metrolinx board chair Rob Prichard issued a one-word answer in response to a question about whether he stood by the station approval process. Through a spokesperson, he said “Yes.”
Analysis commissioned by Metrolinx determined that adding Kirby and Lawrence East to the GO network would lead to a net loss of ridership, as well as increased car travel and pollution. A consultant report recommended that they not be pursued for at least 10 years.
The documents obtained by the Star show that the Metrolinx board met behind closed doors in June 2016 and approved a list of new stations that didn’t include the two stops. The following day agency officials were surprised when Del Duca’s ministry sent Metrolinx draft press releases that showed he intended to announce the stops were going ahead.
Metrolinx subsequently redrafted reports to support the two stations, and the board then reconvened in public to approve them as part of a package of a dozen stops the province intends to build under GO Transit’s $13.5-billion regional express rail (RER) expansion plan.
According to Metrolinx its station evaluation program, which analyzed more than 120 potential sites, cost $1 million.
In an emailed statement on Monday, Ontario NDP urban transportation critic Cheri DiNovo slammed the approval of the stops as politically-motivated.
“Commuters in the GTA have every right to be concerned that Kathleen Wynne is making transit planning decisions in the interests of the Liberal Party instead of in the public interest,” she said.
The Progressive Conservative’s request comes one week after a transit advocacy group made a similar complaint to the auditor general about the approval of Kirby and Lawrence East stations, as well as construction of the Scarborough subway extension.
MONTREAL—Bombardier says it’s been shut out of a $3.2-billion (U.S.) contract to supply subway cars in New York City because of past delivery delays.
The Montreal-based company says it learned last week that its bid submitted to New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority in December won’t make it to the final round.
In a letter sent to employees, the president of Bombardier Transport’s Americas division said the manufacturer’s poor performance and delays “sealed the fate of our bid.”
The New York transit authority declined to comment because the procurement has yet to be awarded.
Its decision follows Bombardier’s problems in delivering a prototype light rail car and streetcars that have soured its relationship with Toronto transit authorities.
Bombardier spokesman Eric Prud’homme says the company is disappointed by the decision but notes that the loss of the contract to supply up to 1,700 subway cars is not expected to have an impact on employment at its facilities, including its Plattsburgh, N.Y. site.
The company has won other rail contracts around the world and has bid on helping New York State to improve commuting in the city by supplying new rolling stock and enhancing signalling so trains can run more frequently.
Prud’homme says Bombardier is transforming its global manufacturing operations, but New York’s decision affects a relationship that has endured for 35 years and seen the delivery of nearly 2,000 subway cars.
Ontario is earmarking another $222 million over three years to fight the opioid crisis, including more naloxone kits for overdoses, more supervised injection sites and more “rapid-access” clinics such as the one at St. Michael’s Hospital.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the funding, in addition to $15 million announced in June, will help more people get help faster.
“This is a national crisis composed of literally hundreds of individual tragedies,” Hoskins told reporters.
“Too many lives have already been lost.”
The announcement, which Hoskins said was “weeks in the making,” came a day after 700 addictions workers and doctors released an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne calling for her to declare an emergency and provide more resources.
Earlier in the day, Premier Kathleen Wynne explained why her government isn’t declaring the opioid crisis an emergency.
“When there’s an emergency declaration, you’re usually dealing with a situation that has a beginning and a foreseeable end, whether it’s a flood or a fire,” Wynne said at a cultural announcement.
“The challenge with this situation is this is not a situation that has a foreseeable end.
“We’re talking about a crisis that is going to be ongoing.”