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Toronto city budget: broken promises and austerity

In late November, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced a 2017 budget surplus of $141.8 million, shortly before city council revealed a balanced budget plan for 2018. The news lends support to Tory’s image as a stable, responsible mayor, wisely investing in public services while not spending more than the city can afford. However, a closer look reveals a different picture. The budget, which represents an increase of one per cent in spending over the previous year, actually represents a cutback in services once inflation and population growth is taken into account. Even worse, the “balanced” budget is in fact perched on the edge of an inflated and precarious housing market, making the consequences of a potential correction disastrous for workers.

A grand total of $41 million worth of approved programs have received no funding. This includes the poverty reduction strategy, which would provide relief to many who rely on affordable housing, transit, and other public services; TransformTO, an ambitious climate action strategy that would divert waste from landfills and reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050; funding for extended time-based TTC transfers; measures to reduce traffic congestion; an anti-Black racism action plan, and an Indigenous office. While some of these missing programs will no doubt be added into the budget during debates in the first few months of 2018, no extra revenue will be added. City councillors will simply be shuffling money into one essential program at the expense of another.

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The Spectator’s View: Smoothing out a rough deal on Presto

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There is something fundamentally distasteful about Metrolinx insisting the City of Hamilton adopt Presto tap cards and phase out traditional paper HSR tickets. The push, included in a 10-year service agreement proposed by the transportation agency, would also grant a virtual monopoly to Loblaws and its affiliates to sell Presto cards and house loading stations.

Refusing to adopt the Presto model means Hamilton could no longer access its share of revenue from gasoline taxes — currently about $11 million annually, but expected to increase to $21 million in 2021. Coun. Chad Collins referred to this being ‘a little bit like political blackmail,’ which, while it is over-the-top, is not entirely inaccurate. No city in Ontario can afford to turn its back on $11 million a year, never mind $21 million. So really, there is little choice involved.

There is no doubt that, eventually, traditional tickets are destined for extinction. And there is also little doubt that a Presto or Presto-like system is inevitable in the quest for an integrated local/regional transit system. Maybe the distaste here, or most of it, is about the timing and “do-it-or-else” messaging that seems to reside between the lines of Metrolinx’s polite language.

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“Politically tone-deaf”: Conservatives have “no stomach” for Brown’s “Liberal-Lite” PCs

On Friday’s episode of Rebel Roundup, Sheila Gunn Reid joined me for an in-depth conversation about what she learned in her interview with Ontario grassroots conservative activist, Jim Karahalios.

The picture of Patrick Brown’s PCs that emerged from their conversation wasn’t an encouraging one for principled conservatives in the province.

Watch as Sheila explains why the next election in Ontario won’t be a cake-walk for Patrick Brown’s PCs despite the Liberal government’s corruption and incompetence.

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Wynne shuffles several senior cabinet posts ahead of election

Premier Kathleen Wynne shuffled several senior roles in her cabinet Wednesday as she prepares for a provincial election less than five months away.

Deputy Premier and Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, Treasury Board President Liz Sandals and Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid have all said they’re not running in the June election, and Wynne is filling those jobs with politicians who are up for re-election.

“I want to make sure that we have that team that’s going to carry us into the election and beyond,” Wynne said Wednesday after making an unrelated announcement in Barrie.

“The people who are no longer going to be in cabinet are people who have served this province very, very well.”

Mitzie Hunter moved from education minister to become minister of advanced education, Eleanor McMahon left her role as tourism, culture and sport minister to lead the treasury board, and Steven Del Duca was shuffled from transportation to economic development.

Indira Naidoo-Harris, who had been the status of women minister and minister responsible for early years and child care, will fill the job of education minister, while keeping her early years and child care responsibilities.

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Canadian unions seek end to hospital services privatization in Carillion fallout

Two Canadian employee unions on Tuesday urged Ontario’s provincial government to stop the privatization of hospital service contracts following the collapse of Britain’s Carillion.

The call for the Canadian government to step in came from Unifor and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), which represents employees at the William Osler Health System, The Royal Ottawa Hospital, Halton Healthcare and the Sault Area Hospital.

The hospitals have service contracts with Carillion, the unions said, adding the workers are among the 6,000 Canadian workers affected by the Carillion liquidation.

“It is also time for these projects to be brought back into the public sector. The folly of private ownership of the hospitals is exposed fully by this bankruptcy,” OCHU president Michael Hurley said in a statement.

Construction and services company Carillion collapsed on Monday when its banks pulled the plug, triggering Britain’s biggest corporate failure in a decade and forcing the government to step in to guarantee public services from school meals to roadworks.

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A Look at Innisfil’s Uber Transit Pilot

In May 2017 the Town of Innisfil, located in Simcoe County, north of Toronto, launched a transit pilot project that was the first of its kind in Canada. In a response to the creeping suburban fringe of the Greater Toronto Area reaching its mostly rural landscape, the Town decided to launch its own transit system. But rather than make the investment of purchasing two buses, hiring drivers to drive them, and installing bus stops, the Town decided to take a different approach – they called Uber.

Uber is a mobility service that allows users to request, via its smartphone app, a driver to pick them up at a pre-specified location, and drop them off at another pre-specified location for a fee. Critics, and the taxi industry itself, call Uber a taxi company, while the company and many of its supporters refer to it as a “ride-sharing service”. Regardless of the semantics of language, the Town of Innisfil opted to contract their transit service out to Uber, rather than operate their own conventional bus service.

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Keep Transit Public News: ATU Members Edition

Please note that the mentioned meeting on Friday, December 1, has been cancelled.

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ATU celebrates 125th anniversary With Fight To Fix The Bus Driver Workstation

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Amalgamated Transit Union International President Larry Hanley released the following statement to mark the 125th anniversary of the ATU.

“One hundred twenty-five years ago, today, in order to “disenthrall themselves from the slavery of long hours and burdensome toil,” 52 transit workers assembled in Indianapolis, IN, to form the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America, now the Amalgamated Transit Union. It was the birth of the largest and most successful transit worker movement in North America – a labor union that’s still fighting for its members, and all workers today.

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What is the Kirby GO station and why did it get approved?

Metrolinx is adding new stations as part of a major expansion. The Kirby site is 10 km. north of Toronto on GO’s Barrie line, in Liberal Minister Steven Del Duca’s riding of Vaughan.

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Metrolinx Releases RFP to Study Hydrogen-Powered GO Trains

Today, September 15, Metrolinx issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for what it calls “Bi-Level Electric Multiple Unit Concept Design Services”. In a press release, the Ontario Government describes the purpose of the RFP by stating the following: “As part of planning the electrification, Ontario is undertaking a feasibility study on the use of hydrogen fuel cells. Recent advances in the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power electric trains in other jurisdictions makes it important that Ontario consider this clean electric technology as an alternative to conventional overhead wires. The Hydrogen Rail (Hydrail) Feasibility Study will inform a decision on how Ontario will proceed with the electrification of GO rail services.”

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On Metrolinx’s approval of using Student Universal Transit Passes on Presto cards

On September 14th, Metrolinx announced at their Board of Directors meeting that the Presto card will now be enabled with functionality that will support the use of any existing Universal Transit Passes that student unions or universities and colleges may offer. This is an important step towards the province’s goal of fare integration, and this is something that students have been calling for since the creation of the Presto card program.

According to Metrolinx “The PRESTO enabled University pass (UPASS) program coming this fall will offer an automated solution for discounted fares to university students within their jurisdiction.” Robert Hollis, Executive Vice President, Presto presenting this along with other issues during his report to the board.

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