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Is Ontario investing too much in foreign builders?

Everyone is talking about the foreign buyers tax in Ontario — but no one is talking about the increase in foreign builders.

What do I mean by foreign builders? Large, international companies based in Italy, France, or Japan, with small offices within the GTHA, are being given contracts for large transit projects while smaller Canadian companies are shut out.

If you take a look at the shortlist for the Hurontario LRT, half of the constructors are not from Canada. They may have Canadian offices, but the companies themselves were created and have headquarters in Europe, the United States, and Asia. While each individual “team” that is bidding for the contract does have at least two Canadian companies on board, this is not a guarantee on division of work and/or financial contributions.

And this is a big problem.

By allotting contracts for big developments and transit projects to foreign builders, it severely impacts the Canadian economy. It means less jobs and less money for construction workers, and it means the competition between Canadian companies is steep.

Canada also has a unique climate. There are certain materials that must be used for a development to support extreme cold and hot temperatures. Would a company from Spain or Italy be able to understand how to build something resistant to this temperamental landscape?

An even bigger problem is that these foreign companies are not connected to the community, and therefore do not understand and/or empathize with local concerns over a new development. These companies come in, build, and leave, which means they are not around if any problems arise and they don’t get to see the affect it has on the residents who leave them. There is no real investment to the community they are building.

To be clear, collaborating with international partners is not a bad thing. These types of partnerships can inspire new ideas and provide interesting solutions to municipal problems.

However, when native companies are pushed out of the process in favour of international conglomerates — it’s Canada that loses out.

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

Transit Alliance: financing infrastructure via P3 and AFP

Ontario has an infrastructure deficit — there is a lot of infrastructure that still needs to be developed, but very little money is available. This creates a bit of a challenge. “If we were to build all infrastructure on public balance sheets, we wouldn’t be able to get there,” said Bruce McCuaig, Executive Advisor of Privy Council Office. “Money isn’t free.”

McCuaig was a special guest at the Transit Alliance’s seminar on alternative financing and public-private partnerships. Over 80 people attended the June 20 event in hopes of learning more about the Infrastructure Bank and alternative financing models that can help push municipal projects forward.

The morning seminar began with a fireside chat between McCuaig, KPMG partner Will Lipson, and Transit Alliance Chair Brian Crombie. The conversation centered around the Infrastructure Bank, a crown corporation that will provide low-cost financing for new infrastructure projects. McCuaig is set to help launch the Infrastructure Bank through the Privy Council.

“It’s about finding the best financial model for the project,” McCuaig said. “Each on has different needs.”

Transit will play a big part of the portfolio, although clean water was also mentioned numerous times throughout the discussion. McCuaig stressed that a balance will be needed between public interest and independence within the crown corporation, and that decisions should be made using evidence-based analysis.

The Infrastructure Bank will be complimentary to Infrastructure Ontario, Infrastructure Canada, and other private agencies. KPMG said the corporation will bring about numerous opportunities for municipalities, providing more financing options than before.

“The government has been quite wise in implementing the bank,” Lipson said.

After the fireside chat, Crombie moderated a second panel that dealt largely with financing for smaller municipal projects. Special guests on the panel included Rob Pattison, SVP, LRT, Infrastructure Ontario; Don Dinnin, VP Procurement Services at Metrolinx; Olivia MacAngus, VP Corporate Development at Plenary Group; and Omer Malik, Vice President Project Financing at Stonebridge Financial Corporation.

Each member of the panel is involved in public-private partnerships or alternative financing, and believes that innovation and creativity are key when it comes to municipal projects. For most, the Infrastructure Bank is a unique opportunity, but not something to depend on. MacAngus and Malik both think there is too much unknown about the Infrastructure Bank. “We don’t need another traditional lender,” Malik said. “It should focus on a gap, where larger equity funds aren’t interested.”

Dinnin suggested the use of an agency such as the Infrastructure Bank to help spearhead the relief line in Toronto. Metrolinx, he said, has a number of funded projects using public-private partnerships, but maybe the Infrastructure Bank can fill the rest of that gap. “There is always more than one way to do something,” he said.

The collective solution to municipal infrastructure, as suggested by the panel, is hybrid-financing models and innovative thinking — partnering with the right investors to see your project completed.

The goal of alternative financing and public-private partnerships is to build and develop a project on time and on budget. According to Pattison of Infrastructure Ontario, the worst thing someone can do is drag out the construction phase.

The seminar also included a networking opportunity, where business and municipal leaders were able to approach these financial firms to discuss their personal projects and seek advice (or offer potential solutions).

“Expertise should always be evolving,” Pattison said.

Here are some photos from the event:

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”7″ gal_title=”P3 Seminar June 20″]

More photos to come.

Photographs taken by Ethan Helfrich.

Ontario tries to empower women, but ends up with stale report

Engaging empowered women in Ontario is getting more political airtime, with more focus on the “status of women” in legislature. But will it have the desired impact of actually helping women in Ontario?

The province released an engagement paper on June 9 that describes the ways in which the government wants to increase women empowerment and close the wage gap. The paper includes a survey with questions about youth, economic opportunities, social attitudes, and leadership. These are significant issues for women and addressing them is important — as long as it is for and about the women in Ontario, instead of an election issue to win votes with no real purpose.

The survey asks Canadian citizens what they believe is the most important component to women’s empowerment via a series of detailed questions. The issue with the survey is that it offers several reasons why women don’t have complete equality in Ontario and doesn’t mandate the survey-taker to choose which issue is the most important on every question. This allows the people taking the survey to choose every issue and not specify what subject matters should be tackled first. It is fairly obvious that each of the four goals specified in the report is important, but asking if all of them are important is redundant. This is often seen in government surveys and makes a democratic and potentially helpful questionnaire essentially pointless.

Though Ontario is making strides with women, the efforts thus far is limited. For example, the province has committed to help 100,000 children obtain licensed child care over the next five years, but the subsidy waiting list in Toronto alone is 18 months long. There are also efforts to help 1700 low-income women gain financial literacy training, but there are thousands of women who still need help to gain education and training to move up in the world. Needless to say, more is needed and it shouldn’t be based on fulfilling commitments five years down the road, but should be fulfilled now.

The report is well-minded, but still lends itself to words such as “encouraging women to explore different careers”, and “supporting continued career progression”, but lacks specific goals with targeted language. Though it is important to “encourage” and “support”, women need action and specific goals with a ready-made budget instead of a tentative report and survey. Often, talking about women empowerment is seen as enough action when credible and supported goals need to be met to actually close the wage gap and promote women equality.

Women’s economic empowerment is a primary concern in Ontario and needs to be addressed with affirmative action as soon as possible. Between reports, surveys, and loosely mandated changes, there remains a gap on giving childcare to all women who need it so they can work. Pay wage gaps must also be addressed immediately, and board positions should be mandated to have 50/50 representation.  The engagement paper is yet another shining example of the government using ‘status of women’ to appease female voters — what will it take to get the real support and action women need?

Ontario may use hydrogen-powered train on GO Transit lines

Ontario is hoping to join the list of mostly European innovators looking to create clean public transportation.

The provincial government has announced their intention to study the feasibility of having hydrogen-powered passenger trains in use on RER lines and the UP express. The train will combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, converting the energy via fuel cells that charge the train’s battery. The only emissions that will be produced is steam and condensed water.

The feasibility study will look at whether or not hydrogen-powered trains are more efficient than electric vehicles. The ultimate decision maker will be how quickly this technology can be adopted, as the government doesn’t want these new innovations to impact pre-set completion dates for RER.  “We want to know if hydrogen fuel cell technology can be ready in time to deliver Go regional express rail by 2024-25,” Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, said while in Etobicoke.

In the fall, the province will bring industry leaders together for a symposium to explore the application of hydrogen fuel cell technology. In the meantime, the province will continue to work on electrified rail service.

“Our work on GO RER is about transforming transit in the GTHA by creating a sustainable, integrated, regional transit network that connects people and communities to jobs, services and activities in their everyday lives,” Del Duca said in a statement. “Electrified service as part of GO RER will allow us to run faster, more frequent rail service across core sections of the GO rail network, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing diesel service where possible.”

The first hydrogen-powered train will launch in December 2017 in Germany. Alstrom, a French manufacturing company, is working on the actual train while a Canadian company called Hydrogenics is providing the fuel cell to help with the energy conversion.

Del Duca mentioned Hydrogenics and said there is a “positive economic development potential” in embracing hydrogen-powered technology, but that Ontario isn’t ready to discuss any specific details.

While in Etobicoke, Del Duca also announced the launch of a study that will examine electrification of the GO line as part of the Regional Express Rail program, “the backbone of this next generation of transit”. The RER program is set to be completed by 2025, regardless of whether or not the province chooses to use to clean technology.

The RER program expansion will introduce two-day GO service by 2025, including Lakeshore, Kitchener, Barrie, and Stouffville lines.

EDITORIAL: What’s the value of an employee?

What’s the value of an employee? Better yet, what’s the value of a human life?

A few weeks ago, the Ontario Liberal government announced a plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 in the next few years. After the press releases were handed out, two things happened — low-paying workers rejoiced and businesses started complaining.

Small businesses argued they wouldn’t be able to stay afloat if they had to dedicate more funds to their employees. Larger industries also criticized the government’s decision, saying they will be forced to cut down on labour and raise the prices of their services.

As someone who understands the perils of living on minimum wage, I don’t exactly sympathize. But, it’s one thing to make a business-case argument and another to dismiss the value of having a hardworking (and well-paid) employee at all.

In Tuesday’s morning paper, I saw an advertisement doing exactly that.

In the ad, a woman is standing at a counter preparing to take a customer’s card and complete a transaction. The text reads: “The Ontario government has announced a devastating 31.6 per cent increase in the general minimum wage. Quick Service Restaurant operators now have a choice….More than $15.00/hour or only $2.50/hour.” The advertisement is for a self-serving order kiosk, by RT7 Incorporated. Under the picture of the machine is a list of benefits such as “never comes late”, “no coffee breaks”, “no overtime”, and “doesn’t complain.”

This advertisement isn’t about technology or the future of restaurants — it’s about an employer who thinks his/her workers aren’t worth the sick days and overtime pay. It’s about labelling everything that employee does as something not deserving of being fairly compensated.

And that is absolutely unacceptable.

Advertisements like this one are incredibly dangerous. It makes the assumption that every day human actions like getting coffee or getting sick are somehow of detriment to a company. That human beings, especially those paid minimum wage, complain too much and use social media (a.k.a. are irresponsible).

This is not a stereotype that should be allowed to spread.

As Ontario pushes forward this new legislation, it’s important to remember that employees are, more often than not, hard workers. Many have large student loans or families to support. They may have a second job or may be in school. All they want to do is be able to afford a place to live and food to eat. It’s not that much of an ask, right?

If a business can’t afford their employees, they shouldn’t be allowed to remain open. It’s as simple as that. And anyone who thinks a kiosk can replace a human being, obviously hasn’t had to call the cable company.

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

Lack of pet euthanization laws in Canada put animals in danger

Imagine if you had a neighbour or an acquaintance who had a beautiful healthy dog that was young, vibrant and excited to be alive. Then the next time you hear about the animal, it had been euthanized because the neighbour or acquaintance had moved and didn’t want their pet anymore. The dog was not sick and did not have low quality-of-life. Instead, it became inconvenient for the pet owner to continue caring for the dog and euthanization was the easiest option.

The reality is in Canada, there is very little animal welfare protection. There are no laws that prevent pet owners from euthanizing healthy animals due to silly and irresponsible reasons like not having time for the dog, divorce, moving, or behavioural issues. Many veterinarians try to avoid euthanizing animals when there are little ethical grounds, but it isn’t prohibited and there is no way to stop it if a vet is willing. Other vets could try to adopt out the animals or give them to rescues, but sometimes it isn’t possible and the pets are left in a terrible situation.

“We recently had a beautiful German shepherd surrendered to our shelter. He belonged to a husband and wife who were getting divorced, and neither felt they could care for the dog any longer. The wife asked the husband to euthanize, and he called us in a panic and asked us if we had space,” media director at Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, Clare Forndran, says. “Of course we said yes, and since meeting him, we have fallen in love with him though the wife thinks the dog has been euthanized..It is difficult to understand how anyone could euthanize a vibrant dog who has so much life left to live. Our hearts break for the dogs that don’t get that opportunity.”

Many animals simply don’t get this opportunity and there is no legal protection to keep the pets from getting put down needlessly. According to the 2015 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, 1890 healthy animals were put down that year. This consisted of 759 cats, 39 dogs, and 1092 other animal species. These statistics are fairly limited because the survey is voluntary and no concrete evidence exists on the total amount of healthy animals were put down in Canada. In Ontario, there are few limitations on convenience killing and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) doesn’t advocate for ‘no kill’ shelters. “We need robust publically supported shelters and much more federal and provincial investment,” Executive Director of Animal Justice, a Canadian animal rights law charity, Camille Labchuk says. “There is nothing kind about convenience killing and it should be illegal.”

On June 20, 2017, the OSPCA is going to court for a case that involves putting down 21 pitbulls that were involved in a dog fighting ring in Chatam Ont. In 2015, the dogs were seized and subsequently the OSPCA applied to the courts to euthanize the dogs because they deemed them ‘unfit for society’. Three animal advocacy organizations, Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, Animal Justice, and Bullies in Need applied to intervene in the case in February 2016 and were later denied in December 2016. The owners of the dogs, who are not being charged of several accounts of animal Cruelty and other criminal charges, have not granted the OSPCA the right to euthanize them and granted the rescues permission to take the dogs for rehabilitation, yet the date of the 21 pitbulls still lies in the hands of the OSPCA and their court application. “Our team is continuing to work around the clock in hopes of saving the lives of these dogs and providing them with a much-needed second chance,” Ferndran says. “Our hope is that a positive update will come out of the June 20th court date.”

Paris Hilton supporting the #savethe21 campaign. Photo provided by Dog Tales Rescue & Sanctuary.

In the meantime, Dog Tales has launched the #savethe21 campaign, which has ignited support worldwide. Celebrities like Paris Hilton and business magnate Richard Branson have showed support to save the dogs from euthanization. If Dog Tales is successful and the dogs are released, they have developed a rehabilitation plan that includes sending the canines down to Florida to the Dogs Playing for Life National Canine Centre for Advanced Behavioral Support. “The court is well aware of the public interest in the case and it has really a chord with people,” Labchuk says. “People need to remind the justice system that these dogs were rescued from a horrific dog fighting ring. It is not appropriate to kill them without giving them a fair chance at rehabilitation.” People can show support by writing to the CEO of OSPCA, the Ontario government, and posting a photo on twitter with the tag #savethe21 to show support.

It is clear that animals needs stronger legal protection against euthanization. Healthy animals deserve to live fulfilling and happy lives, instead of at the whim of irresponsible pet owners. Euthanizing an animal should only be used in the most dire of circumstances, including illness and low quality-of-life ie. from old age. There should also be more education available to teach potential pet owners of the responsibilities of owning and taking care of an animal to lower the amount of unnecessary euthanization happening in Canada currently. As a country, Canada needs to start promoting better animal welfare protection and become a leader in animal rights advocacy, instead of an international embarrassment when it comes to animal protection.

John Tory calls for provincial funding for relief line

Toronto Mayor John Tory did his best not to grimace at Friday’s joint federal-provincial-municipal press conference on the Yonge Relief Line.

For what seemed the millionth time, three levels of government “re-affirmed their commitment” to this important transit project without actually promising dedicating funding. In fact, in what was an awkward turn of events, Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca took his time at the podium to outline the province’s previous transit commitments and gush about the government’s contributions to Toronto.

Afterwards, Tory took the podium and said “investing in transit is not work that can ever be considered complete.” He called on the province and the federal governments to each contribute 40 per cent of the funding needed to build the relief line. With federal and provincial representatives standing at his side, he said this commitment was necessary and Toronto wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

The federal representative, Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenships, who was there on behalf of the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, pledged his support for the relief line. Hussen talked about the $27 million the federal government has already promised to this project and said more is on the way as part of an 11-year, $81 billion infrastructure plan.

“This investment will not have a real and lasting impact for Canadians unless the province is involved,” Tory said in a statement. “While the Province of Ontario has invested $150 million to help plan the Relief Line, and we thank them for that, we need them to commit to partnership on the construction of this transit project and the continued expansion of our network across Toronto.”

“I’m asking for a steadfast commitment from the Province that they will be financial partners in the building of the Relief Line.”

It seems like even after all of this discussion — Toronto is in the same place it was before. The mayor is fighting for funding after being refused the right to raise it on his own with tolls. The province is in denial, saying they have already provided enough money. And the federal government is saying they will help, but won’t give an exact number just yet.

It looks like Toronto’s Mayor has a bit more fighting to do.

Ontario set to increase minimum wage to $15

Tuesday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne officially announced a plan that would see the province’s minimum wage increased to $15 by 2019.

“The economy has changed. Work has changed,” Wynne said in a statement. “It’s time our laws and protections for workers changed too.

Employees can expect the minimum wage to be raised to $14 per hour on Jan. 1, 2018 before the government phases in the last dollar in Jan. 2019. After that, minimum wage will be increased annually at the rate of inflation.

The province is also mandating equal pay for part-time, temporary, casual, and seasonal employees doing the same job as full-time employees. This is a critical statement to make, as too often changes to employment laws only affect full-time workers, leaving those struggling in short-term contracts behind.

Other changes to the Ontario’s employment and labour laws include:

  • Increasing vacation time to at least three weeks after five years within a company
  • Managing that employees be paid for three hours of work if a shift is cancelled within 48 hours of its scheduled start time
  • Employees can refuse shifts without repercussion if asked with less than four days notice
  • Expanding personal emergency leave to include two paid days per year for all workers

There will also be some slight changes to union laws, which will establish card-based certification for temporary workers, among other things.

It’s still unclear how the business community will respond to this announcement, but most employees living on the current minimum wage will be supporting it. At the current minimum wage, a full-time employee will make on average $23,712. As Women’s Post has previously mentioned, this kind of salary (especially considering the state of the real estate market) doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room to pay for anything other than shelter, transportation, and amenities.

This will also give the Liberal party a leg up come the next provincial election. The $15 minimum wage is a big political issue for millennials and other young people venturing out into the working world. The timing of this announcement, along with the Liberal’s plan for free prescription medicine for those under the age of 25, is no accident.

 

NOTE: the NDP came out with a plan to increase minimum wage to $15 prior to the provincial budget release.

 

We can’t have high-speed rails without a relief line

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Friday the provincial government will invest $15 million in a high-speed rail line that will eventually connect Toronto to Windsor, cutting down travel time from four hours to two hours.

“Building high speed rail along the Toronto-Windsor corridor isn’t just a game changer for Southwestern Ontario — it’s going to deliver benefits all along the line,” Wynne said in a statement. “Whether it means accepting a job that previously seemed too far away, visiting family more often, or having ready access to the innovators who can take your business growth to the next level — high speed rail will make a real difference in people’s lives and drive economic growth and jobs.”

The project, estimated to cost about $19 billion in total (if the trains run 250 km/hr), will travel through Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, and Catham, with a connection to the Toronto Pearson Airport. The $15 million investment is for a comprehensive environmental assessment.

Provided by MTO

 

The 2017 budget included a small mention of funding being provided to RER, but the $19 billion price tag is a bit of a surprise, especially considering the lack of support for municipal projects that should be built prior to this high-speed rail line.

While connecting Southern Ontario to Central Ontario has its advantages, it’s only going to cause increased overcrowding on Toronto’s transit system. Presumably, the people working and visiting in Toronto’s downtown core won’t all be heading to locations around Union Station or Pearson Airport, meaning they will have to use the TTC to get around. Considering Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031 — the same time the high-speed rail is supposed to be completed — it would be wise for the province to invest more funds in the downtown relief line before promising funds for high-speed rail.

Without a relief line, commuters in Toronto will suffer from these connecting high-speed lines. Connecting the cities in this corridor would absolutely benefit businesses and commuters throughout Ontario— but if those commuters get stuck as soon as they get in Toronto, what’s the point?

The province hopes to have high-speed trains up and running from London to Toronto by 2025, and from London to Windsor by 2031. The provincial government will be looking at alternative financing options as well as public-private partnerships to fund the rest of the rail line.

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

Relief line alignment moves forward to council

Executive Committee voted to move forward the Relief Line and the Yonge Subway Extension for city council approval.

Next week, city council will vote to approve the Carlaw alignment for the Relief Line and move to start the “Transit Project Assessment Process.” The alignment for the southern section of the relief line will travel down Carlaw from north of the Go tracks at Gerrard Ave. to Queen St. East.

Council will also vote on advancing the planning and design of the Yonge Subway Extension.

The discussion about these two transit projects began with statements by York Region chair Wayne Emmerson, Makham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, and Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow. Each city leader pledged their support for both the Relief Line and the Yonge North Extension and they be built concurrently.

The support for the relief line being built concurrently with the North Extension is significant since the extension will bring more people from the GTA into the downtown core and Line 1 is nearing capacity. Without the relief line, those new transit users won’t be able to use to get on the subway once they enter the city.

City councillors were given the opportunity to ask questions of the York region representatives, including joint-funding and their decision to oppose the creation of tolls, which would have provided much-needed revenue towards these projects. Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti spent most of his time at executive committee praising the provincial government for providing starting funds for both transit projects, despite the fact the amount is minimal. Toronto Mayor John Tory emphasized that it will take all three levels of government to move these projects forward, saying there is a distinction between funding for the planning of a project, and the construction of a project.

In the end, everyone agreed that more funding is needed for both the relief line and the Yonge Extension. This decision is a far cry from Tory’s threat last week to withdraw his support for the Yonge Extension unless the province provided more funding for the relief line. It appears as though Tory made a deal with the York mayors that he will support the extension if they publicly support his bid for the relief line.

A few amendments were added to the original report before it passed, including a cost-analysis of the northern section of the relief line and the renaming of that section as the “Don Mills Line”.

City Council will be held on May 24 at city hall.