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Andy Byford resigns to become CEO of New York City Transit

Andy Byford announced Tuesday morning that he was resigning from his role as CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). He will be leaving in mid-December, following the opening of the Yonge-Spadina Subway Extension, to take on the role of President and CEO of New York City Transit.

“My last task in Toronto will be to deliver the opening of the long-awaited, spectacular, Line 1 subway extension to Vaughan in York Region, with its 8.6-kilometres of new track and six beautiful, Wi-Fi-, cell-, PRESTO-equipped stations,” he said at a press conference Tuesday morning. “I will look back on my time at the TTC as the absolute highlight of my 28-year transit career to date.”

Byford joined the TTC in 2011 and has played an integral part in Toronto’s growth and development. He helped create and push forward a five-year modernization plan that transformed how this city designed and used public transportation. Toronto’s transit system was dirty, slow, and construction had come to a grinding stop. Byford had his work cut out for him — and he didn’t miss a beat.

His passion for customer service was what set him apart from other city staff. He had a deep desire to make Torontonians proud of their transit system. He wanted the best technology, the fastest bus routes, and the least amount of delays. At every board meeting, he would smile when presenting the CEO report, always underselling his achievements by saying staff needed to aim higher.

Byford didn’t shy away from speaking bluntly about the need to invest in transit. He used his knowledge and expertise to convince city council and private investors to spend much-needed dollars on building new subway lines and more sustainable busses. He championed the Relief Line, calling it a priority project that required investment. He pushed for the integration of the PRESTO card, the implementation of Wi-Fi at stations, the replacement of a 60-year-old signal system, the modernization of the fleet, and the creation of a new herd of streetcars, just to name a few.

Under his leadership, transit users have experienced 21 per cent fewer delays — a number he was fond of quoting. In June 2017, the TTC was named the best public transportation system in North America by the American Public Transportation Association.

And still, Byford had more ideas. At every board meeting and city council meeting he stood is ground when grilled by councillors who didn’t want to spend tax dollars on transit. He expressed the need to continue to modernize and merge new technologies into business practices. His ideas were radical for some of the more conservative city staff — a fully integrated system that was easy to use for daily commuters and tourists alike!

Byford also encouraged more diversity within the organization itself.

“I have deliberately changed the face of the TTC,” he said. “Five years ago – incredibly – there had never been a woman on the TTC Executive. Now, 50 per cent of my senior team are women, all on merit and both the Executive and the next two levels below are increasingly diverse. We have promoted talent from within and we have added bench strength where needed from outside.”

In his farewell press conference, Byford did what he always did — talked about transit, the successes of the TTC, and put the spotlight on his employees.

“But as I prepare to say goodbye in just four weeks, and before my wife, Alison, and I head to New York, I want to save my final thank you for the near 15,000 men and women of the TTC. The frontline staff of this company are the ones that really make the difference. They are the decent, loyal Canadians whose hard work has delivered the achievements of the past five years,” he said.

“So it is to TTC employees that I dedicate the final achievement of our Five-Year Plan.. That we achieved our objective of getting back to being number one by winning the 2017 APTA Outstanding Transit System of the Year, in spite of myriad challenges, is testament to the hard work, dedication to duty and passion of my colleagues and for that, they should hold their heads very high indeed.”

Byford will start his new job at the New York City Transit in mid-January of next year, and called it “arguably the toughest job in transit right now.” Sounds like it is just up Byford’s ally!

Deputy CEO Rick Leary will take over as acting CEO.

Featured Image courtesy of the TTC.

SmartTrack could be operational by 2024

Toronto’s Executive Committee will discuss and debate the concepts for the SmartTrack stations next week.

SmartTrack will use existing rail to shuttle residents from the further neighbourhoods and areas of the Greater Toronto Area into the downtown core for the cost of a TTC fare. There will be 14 stations built and trains will run every six to 10 minutes. The plan also includes an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport with an approximate additional 10 stations.

“The people of Toronto want choice and convenience when it comes to their commute. SmartTrack takes the concept of local rail travel to a whole new level,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “SmartTrack is an important part of the city’s transit network plan that also includes the relief line, the Eglinton East LRT and waterfront transit.”

The executive committee will review the concepts for stations at St. Clair-Old Weston, King-Liberty, East Harbour, Gerrard-Carlaw, Lawrence-Kennedy, and Finch-Kennedy. Each station has been designed to serve the specific neighbourhood, with King-Liberty station including strong connections for pedestrians and cyclists, East Harbour station integrating with a high-employment area, and Gerrard-Carlaw optimizing connections with the planned Relief Line station.

City staff are also requesting that Metrolinx, a provincial transportation agency, consider pedestrian and cycling pathways when connecting GO corridors to Bloor St. and that they work in partnership with the city to push forward the Spadina-Front GO Regional Express Rail station and the Rail Deck Park proposal. The Rail Deck Park will also be discussed next Tuesday, with city staff recommending council move forward and that all rail projects should keep the park in mind during design.

“Rail Deck Park will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley,” the report reads. “The proposed decking structure will support a fully functional park that, at full build-out, will comprise a total area of approximately 8.3 hectares or 20 acres, excluding the Metrolinx property at the corner of Front Street and Spadina Avenue.”

The cost estimation is $1.665 billion.

If these reports are approved, they will be sent to city council in December. Metrolinx estimates that service along SmartTrack will be available in 2024.

EU proposes 40 % quota for “non executive” women

The European Commission has proposed that companies whose non-executive directors comprise of more than 60 per cent men to prioritize the hiring of women when choosing between candidates of equal merit.

The proposal aims to have a minimum of 40 per cent of non-executive members on company boards to be women. The goal is to have this achieved by 2018 in public-sector companies and 2020 in the private sector. Annual reports on the composition of these boards will be required and sanctions could be imposed if the evaluation is negative. Those companies would then have to explain the measurements they intent to use to achieve the quota.

The quota will apply to companies listed on the stock exchange as of November 2012.

“Company boards in the EU are characterized by persistent gender imbalances, as evidenced by the fact that only 13.7% of corporate seats in the largest listed companies are currently held by women (15% among non-executive directors),” the proposal reads.  “progress in increasing the presence of women on company boards has been very slow, with an average annual increase in the past years of just 0.6 percentage points.”

This proposal has been on the table for years, with previous attempts to pass it blocked by certain European countries. According to the file, it is the issue of state independence is intertwined.

“Although there is a broad consensus across the EU in favour of taking measures to improve the gender balance on company boards, some Member States consider that binding measures at the EU level are not the best way to pursue the objective and would prefer either national measures or non-binding measures at EU level. They take the view that the proposal does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity,” the file reads.

The interesting part of this proposal is that it only applies to “non-executive” roles rather than direct managerial positions. In fact, the proposal actually goes on to say that the reason for this is to minimize interference with “day-to-day management of a company.” While I understand that most companies prefer to hire on a merit system, especially for positions of power and management; the proposal already indicates  the priority of hiring a female candidate should be taken when two candidates have the same qualifications. This focus on “non-executive roles” may actually encourage companies to hire more women, but it also reinforces the idea that top positions are reserved for men.

Why not say boards must be comprised of at least 40 per cent of both sexes. That way, it encompasses all roles and positions within the board? This proposal will be discussed over the next few days; which means there is a possibility for amendments and further specifications.

If the EU is really concerned about gender parity on boards or in positions of powers within big companies, it would step up with a stronger proposal that calls for real equality rather than a piece of paper that placates to the feminist cause without actually creating change.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Woman of the week: Nneka Elliott

Sometimes if we’re lucky enough, we have that one person in life whom we aspire to be like. For Nneka Elliott, it was her grandfather. He was the Chief Magistrate to Anguilla, a published author, and a violinist. He inspired her to pursue music, the arts, and to be the next Prime Minister of Canada. While Elliott didn’t really follow that path, she did pursue the Arts.  You may have seen her doing the weather on CTV news or reporting and anchoring at CP24. Today she is a lifestyle entrepreneur who creates digital content.

Elliott grew up as a little girl with ambition, always in front of her camera recording her own shows, taking part in drama classes, piano, acting and of course, the violin. Growing up in the tiny island of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Elliott said having an active imagination was necessary, as there was not a whole lot to do.

However,  her time in St Vincent was also shared with her second home and original birthplace of Canada. Born in Montreal, Elliott moved to the islands when her parents split, but would regularly return to Toronto for vacations.

“I was at a crossroads in terms of my identity as a young kid growing up in the Caribbean, but also had these western influences,” she said.

Elliott enrolled in the radio and television program at Ryerson University and, being one of three black people in her year, felt at times it was important to work that much harder. “It was a very competitive program to get into and a lot of people had prior experience,” she said. “I worked at a radio and television station in St Vincent and I had some experience, but not like working at Rogers, like a lot of these kids were doing.”

She started volunteering for the now defunct Toronto One, where she was an audience coordinator, CBC Sports Awards, and was even the training assistant director on Da’ Kink in my Hair, which aired on Global Television network in 2007.

While in her third year of university, Elliott began her summer internship at CFRB Radio. Her persistence and dedication turned that internship into a part-time job. Elliott knew her goal was to make it on-air so she relentlessly bothered her boss to listen to her demos and sought advice from other anchors at that time.

“It was just an obsession. You have to be obsessed. Just put on blinders. I knew it was something I wanted to do and eventually he was like, ‘ok let’s try you’ and I started doing weekend anchoring at CFRB.”

Elliott worked there three days a week, while being an RA on residence, a student ambassador, and any other thing she had going on. Looking back she didn’t know quite how she did it all.

After graduation in 2006, Elliott got a job at the Weather Network as early as January 2007.  In a short span of time, Elliott moved from an on-call broadcaster to full contract. She always kept in mind that is key is to not be complacent.  It was a similar story for Elliott when she decided to pursue a job at CTV News.

“I called up the head of CTV News at the time and said, ‘it’s Nneka here from the Weather Network,’ he didn’t know who the hell I was, but I just said can you just take 10 minutes out of your day to tell me what you’re looking for in someone at CTV? A lot of what we spoke about was my extra curricular activities, because it’s important to have a life outside of work. He said, ‘we’re not looking for anyone right now but CP24 is hiring a weather person’ and the rest is kind of history.”

Elliott started off at CP24, Canada’s 24-hour breaking news network in 2008.  For the next three years, Elliott was the familiar face coving breaking news around the city and sometimes reporting in studio. In 2011, Elliott took a break to start a few side projects. She founded a venture called Media Huddle to mentor upcoming media personalities that wanted to make it on air.

“People want to be in news because they want to tell stories, but things are changing so much as the money is spread thin in television. The models are changing and it’s harder and harder for journalists to specialize in any one thing,” she said.

“You don’t really become known for anything and I just wanted to be known for something. I’ve been telling people’s stories for so long and I forgot my own. I had this obsession with how I thought my career was supposed to be and I never came up for air.”

Elliott made the decision to leave CP24 in 2016 to rebrand. She got opportunities based on the way people thought she was, as seen on TV, and it was time for her to become her own person. Elliott decided to launch her own blog. She also began to focus a lot on her Caribbean roots.

“I love Carnival. I love food and I love fashion inspired by the Caribbean, so that is why the bulk of my content is about the Caribbean.”

Elliott even launched an online talk show that is specifically aimed at the Caribbean diaspora.

Speed Round: Q&A

Q: What’s your favourite fashion piece?

A: A good pair of jeans, my go to is a jeans and a top.

Your favourite Caribbean dish?

I’m a pescatarian, so I only eat fish but I love fried fish and roasted breadfruit. I also love Buljol, it’s a pickled salt-fish dish.

What do you do for fun?

My husband and I watch an obsessive amount of TV and I’d probably say walk my dog— see I don’t know if people find that fun?

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Metrolinx thinks to the future in new transportation plan

Metrolinx is thinking about the future — at least as far as 2041.

The board released their Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area at their Sept. 14 meeting, with the intention of gathering feedback over a 90-day public consultation period. The information they get will be considered for use in the final draft, which will be available in December.

By 2041, Metrolinx says over 10 million people will live across the Golden Horseshoe Area. The new transportation plan will move beyond The Big Move.

The report reads: “We need to plan for a future characterized not only by continued population and employment growth, but also by changing demographics (including an aging population), the changing nature of work, new transportation technologies and services, and the impacts of climate change. In short, we cannot stop.”

There are five different aspects of this new transportation plan.

  1. Completing delivery of current regional transit projects: Metrolinx is in the midst of increasing their Rapid Express Rail, working on the Hurontario, Eglinton, Hamilton, and Finch Light Rail Transit, as well as the York VIVA. Delivery is expected by 2025.
  2. Connecting more of the region with frequent rapid transit: The goal is to create 15-minute all day service so that people can get around the region without delay.
  3. Optimizing the transportation system to make the best possible use of existing and future transit assets: Metrolinx has determined that fares by distance is the most efficient structure. It also wants to ensure that more people take alternative modes of transportation on their way to use the transit system. Their goal will be to increase the number of people who bike, walk, or carpool from 38 per cent to 62-64 per cent.
  4. Integrating land use and transportation: This strategy will help create mobility hubs and new developments, with the goal of intensifying certain areas so that transit becomes more accessible. The designs wil encourage cycling and walking as primary modes of transportation.
  5. Preparing for an uncertain future: The plan encourages a regional approach to transit planning as opposed to municipal or private enterprises. Metrolinx will also continue to study new technologies to help reduce greenhouse gasses.

The public will be able to provide feedback at six regional roundtables prior to the final draft.

Ontario unlocks land for Toronto housing

Ontario is in the midst of unlocking provincial land to create more than 2,000 new rental housing units in Toronto.

Ontario Minister of Housing, Peter Milczyn made the announcement in Toronto’s West Don Lands, saying the province is in the process of securing a developer that will turn several sites into mixed-income housing, with 30 per cent earmarked for affordable housing. The sites themselves are currently owned by the province. There will be a lot between Trinity and Cherry Sts, in addition to north of the rail line east of Cherry St. int he West Don Lands. There will also be a lot at 27 Grosvenor St. and 26 Grenville St., which is being occupied currently by a parking structure and a provincial coroner’s office.

This announcement is part of Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan, which is meant to address demand for housing and protect both renters and homebuyers.

“We need to do everything we can to build more affordable housing in Toronto and we need to do it much faster,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “Today’s announcement is about the Government of Ontario and City of Toronto working together to speed up the delivery of affordable housing by releasing surplus public land. The City will do everything we can to encourage development of affordable rental homes by providing incentives to developers such as waiving fees and charges. By working together, we can make housing affordable for the residents of Toronto.”

Following this announcement, the Mayor’s office announced the city was on track to create 1,000 new affordable rental homes by the end of 2017. This is the first time the city has been able to meet this yearly goal since 2009.

Toronto will be investing $54.5 million in funding, financial incentives and loans to make sure these homes are built.

Jennifer Keesmaat leaving position as Toronto Chief Planner

Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has announced she will be leaving her position with the city as of Sept. 29th “to pursue other interests.”

“It’s been an honour to work with Mayor Tory, Council, City staff and my remarkable team in the City Planning division over the last five years,” said Keesmaat in a statement. “I promised myself that after five years in public service I would review my future options. 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.”

Keesmaat has been a strong leader for the City of Toronto. She was never afraid to confront her colleagues in council or on committees, answering their questions with poise. When asked about how she deals with the politics of city building, Keesmaat always answered with respect for the democratic process and government accountability. With her aide, Toronto has begun its transformation into a more liveable and walkable city. One example is the council-approved Transit Network Plan, which will connect all regions of the GTA together under the “motherlode” of transit plans. And then there is the King Street Pilot, something that may revolutionize how Torontonians view the downtown core.

During her tenure, she also started a podcast called Invisible Cities, which touches on numerous aspects of city building. Through this podcast, listeners are able to hear her passion and the joy she gets from discussing things like density, green spaces, and automated cars.

In July, Women’s Post presented Keesmaat with the City Builder Glass Slipper Award for her dedication and leadership. It was an absolute pleasure to have her as a partner and Women’s Post wishes her the best of luck in her future endeavours.

Ontario makes abortion pill Mifegymiso free

A week after Alberta announced the government would cover the cost of Mifegymiso, otherwise known as an abortion pill that will terminate a pregnancy up to 49 days from the start of the last menstrual period, the government of Ontario followed suit.

As of Aug. 10, women in Ontario will be able to request this drug from their doctors free of charge. “The commitment to publicly funding Mifegymiso means women across Ontario will have fair and equal access to safe abortion without payment, judgment or exception,” said Indira Naidoo-Harris, Ontario Minister of the Status of Women, in a statement.

Mifegymiso is a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, and is an easy and safe alternative to surgery. One of the biggest barriers facing women’s reproduction rights is the financial accessibility of both birth control and abortion. By covering this drug under a universal health plan, women will now have immense power over their own reproduction system — only a doctor’s prescription is needed to get the drug. There will never be a woman in Ontario who cannot afford to get an abortion. That is an amazing thing.

“The arrival of the new abortion pill Mifegymiso has been greatly anticipated,” said Notisha Massaquoi, Executive Director, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre. “The Ontario government’s decision to publicly fund this option is increasing our right to choose and will provide all Ontarians with barrier-free access to safe abortions regardless of socio-economic circumstances.”

The Liberal government promised to make Mifegymiso free of charge in their 2017 budget back in April. Ontario is now the third province to cover Mifegymiso following New Brunswick and Alberta.

Next step? Making birth control government funded!

What do you think of this announcement? Let us know in the comments below!

What do you think of CBC’s new National team?

Earlier this week, CBC announced Peter Mansbridge’s replacement as host of the flagship show The National. In an attempt to offer Canadians “a new kind of evening news”, the national broadcaster decided to hire four people to take turns hosting The National. The new hosts are: senior correspondent Adrienne Arsenault, political reporter Rosemary Barton, CBC Vancouver host Andrew Chang, and CBC News host and reporter Ian Hanomansing.

“Each of these award-winning journalists bring distinct strengths and expertise to the program,” said Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor-in-Chief of CBC News, in a statement. “They will report as an integrated team, across broadcast and digital, to deliver depth and context on the stories that matter to Canadians.”

This is an interesting decision on CBC’s part — to replace one national icon with four others in an effort to make The National more relevant to local communities (although the North and Maritimes are missing). There will be offices based in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Toronto, with the hosts split up between them. While this is a unique approach to national journalism, it does seem a bit of an oxymoron. It also begs the question: do we need four people to replace Mansbridge? Sure, he was a good anchor, but is he ‘we-can’t-replace-him-with-a-single-person’ great? I would argue no.

There is no doubt these four journalists are qualified for the job. I’ve been a fan of both Aresenault and Barton for a long time. Aresenault is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative stories. She has covered everything from natural disasters, conflicts, politics, sports, and human-interest stories, including the terrorist attack in Brussels and Paris. Barton has a long history of political reporting covering federal campaigns. For the last few years she has served as host for the daily CBC show Power and Politics and has done an amazing job keeping political representatives to account.

Chang has served as host for a number of CBC’s shows, including the National, and was a key member of the Olympic broadcast in 2014 and 2016. He has worked for both CBC Montreal (covering the NDP’s rise to power) and CBC Vancouver. Hanomansing is probably the most recognizable as a veteran host and reporter. He has covered everything from earthquakes, riots, the Olympic Games, and McMurray’s wildfires. He is the current host of CBC News Now weeknights.

The CBC’s choices, while qualified, are causing a bit of an uproar. If the CBC was looking for diversity — they succeeded. But, as was mentioned in a number of satire pieces written about the announcement, to hire two women and two minorities to replace one white man may not have been the message they were going for.

I’m honestly not sure what to think about this announcement. I have followed the careers of each of these reporters, and I am confident they will do an amazing job as hosts of The National. I think Canadians are going to have to wait and see how this new setup works before commenting on whether or not the CBC has overreached by adding so many co-anchors. Who knows? It could revolutionize the way people look at national news!

Personally, I’m going to miss Rosemary Barton on Power and Politics and am a bit more concerned about who will replace her on the show than what happens to The National. But, that’s just me.

The new National will broadcast on Nov. 6.

What do you think of the new hosts? Let us know in the comments below!

Minister Murray resigns as Minister of Environment

On July 31, the Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, has announced his resignation. Chris Ballard, former Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, will replace him in the cabinet.

Peter Milczyn, MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, will be given the position of Minister of Housing.

Murray has dedicated most of his life to public service. His extensive political career began in Winnipeg, where he acted as city councillor before becoming Mayor in 1998. After moving to Toronto in 2010, he was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Since then, he has held the position of Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure, and finally Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Unlike some politicians, Murray is genuinely passionate about the environment, working tirelessly to ensure the policies enacted by the provincial government followed sustainable practices. He is most known for his instrumental role in the creation and adoption of the cap-and-trade regulations that passed through the legislature in mid-May as well as Ontario’s Climate Chance Action Plan.

Murray announced his resignation Monday morning, saying that he will step down from cabinet immediately, but will remain an MPP until Sept 1.

“As part of the Ontario Liberal Government, I have had the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I have always tried to bring a fresh and creative approach to public policy and government, making decisions that keep those that matter the most in mind.”

“I ultimately have made the difficult decision, with the support of my partner Rick, to transition from this chapter on to the next chapter of tirelessly working to mobilize to fight climate change at the national level.”

On Sept. 5, Murray will join the Pembina Institute as Executive Director. The Pembina Institute is a 30-year-old Canadian think tank that advocates for clean energy solutions and the overall reduction of fossil fuels.

“Glen is a renowned thought leader on social and environmental issues, with an impressive track record of policy leadership throughout his tenure in elected office,” said David Runnalls, president of the Pembina Institute. “On behalf of the board of directors, I am thrilled that Glen is joining our talented team and know he will propel the Pembina Institute to new heights as we work to solve today’s greatest energy challenges.”

It is unclear at this moment if this change will result in new priorities for the Liberal government, and if Ontario’s climate change plan will still be considered among them.