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Katherine DeClerq

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Ditch the cards this Valentine’s Day

I’m not a card person – to me, it’s a waste of paper. You read the messages inside and then, as soon as the person who gave it to you leaves, it goes in the recycling bin. Some people will keep it on a desk or a bookshelf, propped up for a few weeks like some sort of artwork, but, at the end of the day, whether it’s that week or months from today, the card always gets tossed away. So, what’s the point?

According to Hallmark, one of the biggest card companies in North America, approximately 114 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged on February 15, not including the packages you may give to your kids in elementary school. Surprisingly, this is the second largest holiday for cards!

It is natural, to want to do something small for someone you care about. Getting a card is no big deal — it shows you care, but doesn’t offer a commitment of gifts or events. It’s a “look, I remembered you”, giveaway. It doesn’t really mean much, especially if there is nothing personal written within it.

Cards are also, unexpectedly expensive. They range from $3.50 to $10 depending on where you get it from. Most have generic prose spread across the page in fancy cursive fonts that are incredibly difficult to read, not to mention the message is generally sappy and cliche. There really is no good reason to buy a card for someone. Can you think of one?

Here is my two cents. Instead of spending five dollars on a card to express your love, why not try something truly original:

  1. Actually talk to your partner and tell him/her you love them. No one needs a folded piece of paper with a photo of two children in a cute embrace and the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” to enjoy the holiday. Sometimes, a simple greeting in person, over text, or even a Facebook message will brighten someone’s day. In this age of technology, there are so many options. Why limit yourself to paper?

    If you really want to go the paper route – why not try putting little sticky notes on mirrors and in cupboards where your partner can find it? It’s cute, but no one expects you to keep the sticky notes afterwards.

  2. The key to a romantic Valentine’s Day is to create memories. While gifts and cards are nice, your partner will remember if you make them a tasty dinner or take them out for an evening stroll. Technology is great, but anyone can wish someone happy birthday, anniversary, and even happy Valentine’s Day. You want to make your day stand out and the way to do that is to ditch the cards and gifts and focus on the experience.
  3. If memories aren’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with jewellery or chocolates. If you want to give a gift, make it a real gift and not just a piece of stock paper with a pre-determined message inside. This doesn’t have to be something expensive. Pick up some flowers or send your partner to work with a pre-made, cutesy lunch made of heart-shaped things. Anything is better than a card!

What do you think? Will you be sending a loved one a card? Let us know in the comments below!

Toronto approves 2018 budget, with extra funding for transit

City Council approved the Toronto 2018 budget Monday 33-11, with a special interest in transit. Included in the $11-billion operating budget budget is over $50 million for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to help in new investments and maintenance, as well as provide discounts for low-income riders and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

There will also be a fare freeze for the next year.

The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

“This is a good news budget. It invests in key areas while spending low and keeping tax increases low,” said budget chief Gary Crawford in a statement. “Toronto residents want City Hall to build the city but they also appreciate that we strike the right balance, that we tighten spending, find efficiencies and don’t hike taxes sky-high. For the fourth year in a row, I’m confident we have struck the right, responsible balance that people expect.”

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. City staff say this will equal an increase of about $82 on average for homeowners with property valued at $624,418. Residents will pay an additional 0.5 per cent for the City Building Fund, which supports infrastructure projects such as transit and housing. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

Prior to budget approval, mayor John Tory announced $3 million (included in the $50 million investment) earmarked to help overcrowding on Line 1, including the prioritization of the relief line. The 10-point plan includes the addition of more subway cars during peak hours, overnight maintenance schedules, hiring of platform staff for the Bloor/Yonge station, and the use of express busses to alleviate overcrowding.

“I know delays and crowding can be frustrating. I know people want an expanded transit system as soon as possible. I know how maddening it can be when transit and traffic don’t move in this city,” said Tory in a statement. “I want Toronto residents to know that I am dedicated to getting transit and traffic moving. I’m dedicated to building our entire transit network plan. I’m dedicated to making sure the TTC is doing everything possible to minimize delays and ease crowding.”

Council also voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in property taxes for culture hubs like 401 Richmond. To be eligible, a hub must prove their tenants produce cultural goods and services, charge tenants below market rent, and have a minimum rentable space of 10,000 square feet (5,000 if owned by the city).

Macy’s embraces diversity with modest line for Muslim women

Macy’s announced their intention to sell a modest clothing collection that would target Muslim women. The Verona Collection will feature “versatile, ready-to-wear pieces including maxi dresses, tops, cardigans, pants and hijabs in a variety of colours and fabrics.”

“Verona Collection is more than a clothing brand. It’s a platform for a community of women to express their personal identity and embrace fashion that makes them feel confident on the inside and outside,” said Lisa Vogl, founder of Verona Collection, in a statement. “Macy’s has been an amazing partner, helping us strengthen the foundation of our business through The Workshop at Macy’s and now introducing our brand to their consumers through this collaboration.”

Vogl said she converted to Islam in 2011 and had difficulty finding both modest and fashionable clothing in regular outlet stores. She invested $7,000 in her own online company, selling her own line while acting as businesswoman and photographer. Vogyl is a graduate of Macy’s The Workshop, a retail vendor development program supported by the department chain.

“Through The Workshop at Macy’s, we want to nurture and support minority- and women-owned businesses to build their capabilities and become the next generation of retail partners,” said Shawn Outler, Macy’s executive vice president – Licensed Businesses, Food Services and Multicultural Initiatives. “We are truly encouraged by the successes of our graduated businesses, including Verona Collection, and look forward to hosting a new class of participants this spring.”

Not everyone is thrilled about the decision. Feminists are torn — with some applauding Macy’s commitment to diversity in fashion and others criticizing the oppressive background of the hijab. The latter is causing a number of people to boycott the department store.

Verona Collection ranges in price from $12.95 to $84.95 and will be available at macys.com beginning February 15.

What do you think of Macy’s decision? Let us know in the comments below!

Eurostar launches direct rail from London to Amsterdam

Over four million people travel by plane between London and Amsterdam every year, making it one of the most  — now, they have another option.

Eurostar announced they will be launching a new high-speed direct rail service in between these two major systems, to be operational by April 4. The company will take advantage of one of the busiest traffic routes in Europe, creating a direct transit corridor that stops at Rotterdam and Brussels.

“The launch of our service to the Netherlands represents an exciting advance in cross-Channel travel and heralds a new era in international high speed rail. With direct services from the UK to The Netherlands, France and Belgium, we are transforming the links between the UK and three of Europe’s top trading nations,” said Eurostar Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic.

“Our new route marks the culmination of the extensive investment in high speed rail on both sides of the Channel. With £1 billion investment in our new state-of the art trains and enhanced connectivity on the European network passengers can now enjoy fast, seamless rail connections between the UK and mainland Europe and a transformed travel experience.”

The cross-Channel rail operator is marketing itself as the more economic and sustainable transportation option, saying a trip from London to Amsterdam will emit 80 per cent of the carbon emissions as a flight between the two tourism hubs. Other benefits include express service, free wifi and onboard entertainment, fast check in, as well as free baggage allowances for two bags/suitcases and one piece of hand luggage. All baggage is taken on board so there is no ned to line up to reclaim your property.

Tickets will go on sale starting Feb. 20, at 35 Euros each way. There will be two trains running per day at a speed of 300 kph and the trip will take approximately three hours.

Who doesn’t love the train?

Why the ‘peoplekind’ debacle is so insulting

When I first heard that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau interrupted a woman during a town hall meeting to suggest she say “peoplekind” instead of “mankind”, because it was more inclusive, I laughed. I assumed it was a mistake, as to my knowledge there is no word or term in the English language for “peoplekind”. He meant “humankind” right?

Apparently, that wasn’t the mistake he made.

“I made a dumb joke a few days ago that seems to have gone a little viral in the room, on the peoplekind comment,” Trudeau told reporters after the fact. “It played well in the room and in context. Out of context it doesn’t play so well, and it’s a little reminder that I shouldn’t be making jokes even when I think they’re funny.”

This is disappointing. Essentially, he was saying his mistake wasn’t the word, but rather the Canadian prime minister, someone who describes himself as a staunch feminist, said he was joking about inclusivity. Not only that, but he interrupted a woman with a legitimate question to do so.

This is not just a matter of a joke not playing well. It’s proof that even the Prime Minister still has a patriarchal mentality.

Oh, and the international media is having a field day.

Trudeau’s comment, in addition to the way he injected his opinion overtop of that of a woman, is the reason why no progress can be made in the feminist movement. Women are fighting to be heard, to be considered active citizens and get involved in politics. Yet, they are being shoved out, belittled with fake expressions of equality.

This woman’s question was about a policy that would see religious charities lose funding, not a light-hearted topic. However, the condescending way in which she was treated at the town hall meeting diminished the importance of what she was saying. It also acted as an embarrassment technique. This woman was essentially corrected in front of a couple hundred people, told she was being sexist and politically incorrect.

Trudeau’s boyish charm will only get him so far if he continues to act so cavalier when speaking with the people of Canada, especially women. It’s important to remember that everyone has the vote now — and this silly, stupid “joke” may have lost him some.

Featured Image: Justin Trudeau | by JustinLing

Woman of the Week: Leslie Woo

Leslie Woo, Metrolinx’s Chief Planning Officer, approaches everything with curiosity. With an extensive background in both the private and the public sector, Woo is the kind of person who will move to a new position to fill an education gap and learn how everything connects. She calls it design or systematic thinking, something she acquired through her architectural background.

“Every time I twisted and turned in my career, it was because fundamentally, in my work, I identify something that drives me to solve some other underlying problem somewhere else,” she said.

Woo grew up in Trinidad with a middle class family surrounded by poverty, something she says is one of the reasons why she went into architecture and urban planning — to give back to the community. Architecture, Woo said, is an “interesting bridge between community and planning.” Her mother, who was interested in interior design, encouraged Woo in her love of math, art, and language, leading to a study abroad in in Canada.

When she arrived in this country, she found a hostile climate and a foreign landscape. Even the language was difficult, as she had a thick accent. But, Woo pushed through the culture shock, falling in love with environmental studies and city building.

“In reflection, everything in my life and career is about creating roots and being grounded and establishing a place for myself and for my kids and family,” she said. “This interest in urbanity and quality of space and access, that’s where it comes from.”

Woo’s career is extensive. Prior to joining Metrolinx, she worked with the Waterfront Regeneration Trust as well as Waterfront Revitalization, helped shape the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan with the Ontario Growth Secretariat, and acted as strategic policy director for the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities.

At Metrolinx, Woo developed a large and expanding portfolio. She is responsible for the long-term vision of the provincial transit agency, based on The Big Move, a vast plan to create one of the “largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America.” She is responsible for $31 billion worth of capital public investments and drives corporate sustainability and innovation.

“I don’t know that I have a love for transit planning to be honest,” she said. “I have a love for city building, and you can’t build a city without mobility. This job has changed three, four times as the organization has grown, as we have continuously demonstrated our capabilities and our expertise, and we have been rewarded to be a larger contributor to the success of the region. That energizes me. Transportation planning is part of the puzzle I have spent the last 10 years trying to solve.”

She is currently leading the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan, which will build on the foundations created between 2008 and 2018, and help create a fully integrated transportation system across the province. Woo says her biggest challenge was to separate herself from the original Big Move plan and take an objective view, focusing on fresh ideas. The first round of consultations has just finished.

“The people using the system, municipalities and public, they have real insights that are important,” she said. “Now we are focused on the ‘how’ – we feel like what we’ve got is a strong validation of the ‘what’ – the direction, the vision. The ‘how’ is about who is making the decisions, how will you prioritize, how will you develop the evidence, where is the money going to come from, what is the role of municipalities?”

In addition to her work, Woo is deeply interested in mentoring and building up women. She said she was blinded about the gender divide in her early career, as a woman from a matriarchal family. But then, she took part in The Judy Project, an executive program within the Rotman School of Management in Toronto that helps prepare women for executive and CEO positions. The program really opened her eyes to the challenges women face in business.

For example, she said data showed that when someone was meeting a woman for the first time, they judged them 60 per cent on how they looked, 30 per cent on how they sounded in terms of their voice, and only a small percentage of what they actually said. “That for me was disturbing but really helpful in how I speak with other women,” Woo said. “It’s a great time to be a woman right now, but it is going much to slow.”

She continued her development at Harvard through a custom designed leadership program. As part of this fellowship, she founded She Builds Cities, a website where she showcases female city builders, people she has admires within the profession. She also leads Metrolinx’s network for women in management, which includes a mentorship program.

“I have formally and informally mentored younger women, older women, I have been mentored myself – I’ve been reversed mentored by younger women, which is refreshing,” she said. “Coaching, sponsoring, those are all things that are important. In my career, I had many mentors…men and women!”

Woo celebrated her 10-year anniversary at Metrolinx this week.

 

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What do you need to know about Toronto’s budget?

The 2018 city budget is set to go to city council on Monday. It is being described by Toronto Mayor John Tory as “balanced” and “affordable”, focusing on low taxes and transit.

The $11 billion operating budget sets the tone for services and capital projects for the next year. The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

The budget will include $9 million for traffic initiatives, including $1.6 million for traffic wardens, $477,000 to fix temporary lane blockages on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway, and $2.7 million for smart traffic signals. “Over the last three years, people across the city have made it clear that traffic is one of the most important issues they expect City Hall to tackle,” said Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure Jaye Robinson, in a statement. “The 2018 budget builds upon work we have done each and every year on the City’s congestion plan to get Toronto moving.”

There will be a significant investment in transit this year, with over $50 million in new investments to the Toronto Transit Commission, including $4.8 million for the TTC Fair Pass, which will provide discounts for low-income riders, and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Tory. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Other highlights include $279 million in new funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation, $486 million for the George Street revitalization, the creation of 825 new child care and 20,000 new recreational spaces.

Canada “ill prepared” for automated vehicles

Canada is not ready for driverless cars.

This new technology is supposed to help reduce the number of traffic-related accidents in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and yet, Canada is moving with caution when it comes to self-driving vehicles. A new report from the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications discusses the benefits and the challenges of self-driving vehicles, resulting in the overwhelming conclusion that this country is simply “ill prepared” for this technology.

“We are approaching the end of an era for the traditional, individually-owned, human-driven automobile. In the not-too-distant future, people will be able to summon a driverless taxi from their smartphone and may therefore decide to forego vehicle ownership in favour of these shared automated vehicles,” the report reads. “These technologies also raise a number of concerns in terms of job losses, privacy, cybersecurity, urban sprawl and infrastructure.”

Experts say self-driving vehicles could become commonplace in 10 to 15 years. The report differentiates between autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles, or rather technology that allows for communication between devices like a Smartphone or even vehicle-to-vehicle.

The benefits of automated vehicles are widespread — fewer traffic deaths caused by human error, ridesharing potential, and freedom for the elderly or those with mobility issues. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the economic benefits of self-driving cars could equal approximately $65 billion annually in collision avoidance, heightened productivity, fuel cost savings, and congestion avoidance. They also predict that automated vehicles will prevent 80 per cent of road deaths.

At the same time, there is still a lot unknown about how this technology is going to effect Canadians, especially when it comes to the economy. Experts say this change could affect the jobs of 1.1 million Canadians. For example, the trucking industry expects to employ 25,000 to 30,000 less drivers by 2024. New infrastructure may need to be created to accommodate this technology. Privacy is another big issue, as most technology is vulnerable to cyberattacks and the data collected from an autonomous vehicle would be rather sensitive.

The committee listed 16 recommendations on how to proceed with the integration of self-driving technology. Included in these recommendations is the creation of a joint policy unit to aide in the creation of a national strategy dealing with autonomous vehicles, the writing of legislation to deal with issues related to privacy and cybersecurity, and the formation of a road safety plan. The committee also wants Transport Canada to develop vehicle safety guidelines for the development, testing, and deploying of these new self-driving cars. At the end of the report, the committee calls for a national strategy on how to deal with this new technology.

What do you think about the potential for automated vehicles or connected vehicles? Let us know in the comments below!

Ladies, do you need specialized Doritos?

Apparently, women are embarrassed by crunching and finger-licking. This is such a problem, that Indra Nooyi, the CEO of the Doritos parent company, PepsiCo, said they are looking into low-crunch chips that will come in special packs designed to fit in a purse.

“You watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavour, and the broken chips in the bottom,” Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio.

“Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers.”

I love the sound of a good, crunchy potato chip, and I think many women do too. Because really, what’s the point of a chip if you can’t crunch it? Do I feel embarrassed when I have to lick my fingers? Not really — honestly, I use a napkin if one is around, but I’m not picky. While the idea of a purse-friendly chip pack is appealing, I’m pretty sure Doritos can simply label them as “travel-friendly” to hit all gender demographics.

“It’s not a male and female as much as “are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?” Nooyi asks. “And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon. For women,  low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavour stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse?”

As much as Nooyi says it is not a “male and female” issue, it absolutely is. Gender marketing and gendered products have circulated stores for decades, and apparently the #MeToo and TimesUp movement isn’t doing anything to change how people, even female CEOs, see women. Women are dainty. They nibble on their salads and carrot sticks while waiting for their husbands to return home from work. During the Superbowl, women aren’t the ones to gobble up nachos or get messy with a pound of chicken wings. They drink fruit smoothies, right?!

Come on. Innovation and inclusivity is great, but can Doritos agree that making crunch-less chips in purse-size packaging specifically for women is a bit sexist? Men have briefcases — wouldn’t they like a smaller-sized bag of Doritos? Sure, low-crunch chips are intriguing, but can you not market them as perfect for sneaking a bite in the boardroom instead of the perfect snack for easily-embarrassed women? Why does everything have to target a specific gender? The product is chips…shouldn’t the target demographic be “people who like junk food.” Trust me, that category is universal. You really don’t have to derail it.

There is no information about the specific product — so who knows? Maybe this is just the beginning of PepsiCos brainstorming on the matter and tomorrow, they will announce Nooyi was mistaken. Or, they could really go for it and make the Doritos pink!

TTC to address last week’s complaints

While there are a lot of things to complain about this week in terms of transit service, the one thing riders can’t complain about is the sincerity of staff to do better.

There were a lot of problems with Line 1 and Line 2, mostly caused by either human error (passengers claiming emergencies) or a crack in the rail, something the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is trying to rectify. A report will be presented at the TTC board next week about the issues.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Later this month, City Council will be approving a total operating budget, which will include $1.98 billion for the TTC. This is $21 million more than last year. This money will be used to help in repairs and upkeep that have been postponed over the last few years.

The mayor also confirmed the relief line was still a priority. By 2019, city council should have a detailed design to push forward. The city will be asking the province to match the federal government’s $4.8 billion investment — money that will be dedicated to transit, including the relief line.

“The federal government has made it clear that they expect provinces to match this investment at least 33 per cent, but other provinces across the country have committed to 40 per cent, and it’s time for Ontario leaders to commit to doing the same for people of Toronto,” said Tory. “Toronto is growing fast and we must keep up. Having a strong and robust transit system is vital to our residents, to our economy and to our competitiveness as a city and a province.”