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    OTTAWA—A new poll conducted by Ekos Research and commissioned for The Canadian Press suggests the Liberals find themselves statistically tied with a resurgent Conservative Opposition.

    The New Democrats — reeling from a disappointing 2015 campaign and lengthy leadership race — remain a distant third, driving home the political challenge confronting newly elected NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

    Ekos president Frank Graves says the numbers suggest the Liberals have finally come back to earth after enjoying a massive lead in public support after the 2015 election — an advantage they managed to maintain for more than a year.

    The Ekos-Canadian Press poll, which puts the Liberals at 34 per cent, the Conservatives at 33 per cent and the NDP at 15 per cent, surveyed 4,839 people during the last two weeks of September, and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

    Graves says he believes the Liberals will be watching the Conservative numbers closely, as well as the NDP, which is likely to be targeting many of the progressive voters who supported Justin Trudeau’s party in 2015.

    He also says the poll suggests that the Liberal government’s controversial tax reforms — criticized by opposition parties as well as many doctors, farmers and small business owners — are not having a significant impact among Liberal or potential Liberal voters.

    Federal Liberals, Conservatives statistically tied, NDP a distant third: pollFederal Liberals, Conservatives statistically tied, NDP a distant third: poll

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    Trish Tervit’s “Taj Mahal” of backyard chicken coops will soon have new tenants after council’s decision Tuesday to approve a pilot project in four Toronto wards.

    In 2010, Tervit got three chicks to mostly entertain and educate her two daughters.

    They helped keep the backyard clean, there was no increase in raccoons or other pests and the only noise was a little daytime clucking.

    Still, somebody in her upper Beaches neighborhood complained and, after a warning from the city and a decisive 2013 council decision closing the door on backyard coops, Tervit gave away her “girls” to a farm outside the city.

    On Tuesday, council reversed course, and approved a pilot project that will allow Toronto residents in wards 5 (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) 13 (Parkdale-High Park) 21 (St. Paul’s) and 32 (Beaches-East York) — Tervit’s east-end ward — to keep up to four chickens in their backyards.

    “I adored having the chickens,” Tervit said. “We got used to having fresh eggs and fun little pets. When I heard the (council vote) news today, there was no guesswork — I'm already googling where to get some chicks, we'll have some within days,” she said.

    The 23-14 council vote removes chickens from the city’s list of prohibited animals.

    Backyard chickens will not be allowed in apartment buildings condominiums or properties without sufficient outdoor space.

    Eggs produced by the hens could not be sold and roosters would not be allowed in the henhouse. Participants will have to register and agree to regular inspections.

    The proposed pilot will go into effect by the end of October and will operate for up to three years with an interim review at 18 months.

    “It’s a good day for Torontonians. Chickens are already in our community, this normalizes a practice frankly that is around the world,” Councillor Joe Mihevc said after the vote.

    “To have a few pets in your backyard that also have the benefit of producing eggs, there’s nothing wrong with it from a public health perspective, from a nuisance perspective, they are as clean as cats and dogs, they are as clean as the owners who keep care of them.”

    Council critics said the public had not been adequately consulted prior to the debate and decision. “This is ridiculous, government at its worst,” Councillor Jon Burnside said.

    “We should not be entertaining this for a second,” agreed Councillor Jaye Robinson. Other councillors questioned why council was wasting any time at all on the backyard chicken issue.

    Nevertheless, a majority of councillors voted down a motion to refer the pilot project back to the city’s licensing division to hold public consultations.

    City staff did not back the move to legalize backyard hens.

    “Research indicates that the primary human health risk of keeping chickens is infectious disease transmission, such as Salmonella,” a staff report said. “Another important consideration is the potential public nuisance problems that might arise from the keeping of chickens. Some of these concerns arise from noise and odour.”

    As well, keeping chickens outdoors in poor enclosures and coops “may present animal care, welfare risks for chickens and attract pests such as flies, mice, rats, skunks and raccoons, and coyotes.”

    While the debate around chickens grabbed all the attention, council voted to delay the come into force date for the deletion of the prohibited animals’ exception from educational programs from July 1, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2018.

    Council voted last December to end the exemption that allowed prohibited animals to be used for educational purposes.

    After Jan. 1, prohibited animals, including snakes greater than three metres, tigers and all poisonous and venomous animals, will not be permitted to be used for private or public evens, such as school visits or birthday parties.

    With files from David Rider

    Chickens to be allowed in some Toronto backyardsChickens to be allowed in some Toronto backyards

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    Daniel Dale, the Star’s Washington correspondent, has been blocked on Twitter by Donald Trump.

    He joins a list of Twitter users blocked by the U.S. president that includes author Stephen King, actress Rosie O’Donnell and Jimmy Kimmel Live writer Bess Kalb.

    Dale routinely checks claims made by the president on social media, and his latest correction may have been the tipping point.

    On Sunday, Trump tweeted: “Being nice to Rocket Man” — Trump’s nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — “hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.”

    Dale retweeted Trump, commenting, “25 years ago, Kim Jong Un was eight,” in a post that was shared almost 80,000 times.

    “I have been fact-checking every word of his for his entire presidency,” said Dale. “Weekly, I’ll call him out on a number of false claims but I don’t know he ever saw any of those.”

    Dale said he saw the message Tuesday morning that he had been blocked by the president.

    “I stared at it and just shook my head,” he said. “It was just strange and hilarious.”

    “Daniel’s always been a crusader for the truth,” said Star editor Michael Cooke. “Some politicians just can’t stand that.”

    Being blocked on Twitter means that Dale can’t follow Trump’s tweets directly. Dale said he will have to use multiple browsers, make another account on his phone and follow Twitter accounts that repeat what Trump tweets.

    “It feels silly but I have to,” he said. “His tweets are essential. The White House itself has acknowledged that they are policy statements, they are the most accurate reflection of his true thoughts and emotions. So you can’t cover the Trump’s presidency without seeing his tweets.”

    King was blocked by the president in June after a series of tweets criticizing Trump’s government and his daughter, Ivanka. The author responded by tweeting a ban on Trump seeing the hit film based on King’s novel It. “No clowns for you, Donald,” King wrote.

    A long-running feud between Trump and O’Donnell resulted in the president blocking her in July. The comedian continues to tweet at the president.

    Seven blocked Twitter users launched a lawsuit in July, claiming that Trump is violating their First Amendment rights by excluding them from a public forum.

    Last week, Forbes reported the White House has acknowledged that Trump blocks Twitter users who criticize him and his administration.

    Donald Trump blocks Star reporter Daniel Dale on TwitterDonald Trump blocks Star reporter Daniel Dale on Twitter

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    SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—U.S. President Donald Trump highlighted Puerto Rico’s relatively low death toll compared with “a real catastrophe like Katrina” as he opened a tour of the island’s devastation Tuesday, focusing on the best of the reviews he and his administration are getting rather than criticism of the federal response to Hurricane Maria.

    Trump pledged an all-out effort to help the island but added: “Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”

    He said his visit was “not about me” but then praised local officials for offering kind words about the recovery effort and invited one to repeat the “nice things” she’d said earlier. Trump also singled out Gov. Ricardo Rossello for “giving us the highest praise.”

    “Every death is a horror,” he said, “but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous, hundreds of and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here ... nobody’s ever seen anything like this.”

    Read the latest news on U.S. President Donald Trump

    In Washington, Rep. Luis Gutierrez noted that many people in more remote areas still in dire straits and in need of food and water. He told CNN, “Let’s stop talking about the death count until this is over.” It stands at 16 now, and 95 per cent of electricity customers remain without power, including some hospitals.

    The most prominent critic in Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, attended Trump’s first event, in an airport hangar, shaking Trump’s hand as he went around a table greeting officials before sitting in the shadow of a hulking, grey military plane.

    “How are you?” he asked. Her response could not be heard. He thanked her. Days earlier, Cruz said the Trump administration was “killing us with the inefficiency,” pleading for more effective federal leadership in the crisis.

    Read more:

    ‘He’s a racist president’: Mainland Puerto Ricans are furious over Donald Trump’s debt talk amid hurricane crisis

    Trump calls his Puerto Rico critics ‘ingrates’

    ‘They want everything to be done for them’: Trump lashes out at desperate Puerto Rico officials

    Air Force One brought the president, first lady Melania Trump and aides to Puerto Rico in late morning. They were expected to spend more than five hours on the ground, meeting first responders, local officials and some of the 3.4 million people whose lives have been upended by a hurricane that, in the president’s words, left the island U.S. territory “flattened.”

    At least parts of the itinerary were drawn to ensure a friendly reception: Trump was visiting the houses of pre-selected families waiting on their lawns.

    The president also handed out flashlights at a church, where 200 people cheered his arrival and crowded around him getting pictures on their cellphones.

    “There’s a lot of love in this room, a lot of love,” Trump said. “Great people.”

    Asked by AP what he has to say to people still without power, food and water, he spoke of the generators brought to the island and said the electrical grid is being fixed.

    “Again the job that’s been done here is really nothing short of a miracle,” he said.

    In the Playita neighbourhood in the heart of San Juan, a few miles from the air base where Trump gave his upbeat report on progress, people cleaned sewer water from their homes and businesses, stacked fouled clothes in shopping carts and piled them on street corners alongside wet mattresses and pieces of broken metal roofs.

    They still lack power, got water back Sunday and said they have seen no federal officials since Maria struck.

    “What more do they want us to do?” asked Ray Negron, 38, resting in the shade of a church after a morning collecting debris. “Nobody’s come.”

    On approach to the airport, Air Force One descended over a landscape marked by mangled palm trees, metal debris strewn near homes and patches of stripped trees, yet with less devastation evident than farther from San Juan.

    At least in his first moments on the island, Trump remained focused primarily on drawing praise. “He didn’t play politics at all,” he said of the governor, making clear that he considers those who have criticized him to be politically driven. Trump misstated Maria as a Category 5 hurricane; it was Category 4 when it hit Puerto Rico.

    “I appreciate your support and I know you appreciate ours,” he said. “Our country has really gone all out. It’s not only dangerous, it’s expensive. But I consider it a great honour.”

    Before leaving Washington, he said Puerto Ricans who have called the federal response insufficient “have to give us more help.”

    Large-scale protests against Trump, talked about in advance, failed to materialize by early afternoon, with only a few knots of people gathering around San Juan to decry his criticism of local politicians.

    As he headed out from the White House to visit the island, Trump told reporters that “it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done.”

    The trip is Trump’s fourth areas battered by storms during an unusually violent hurricane season that has also seen parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the U.S. Virgin Islands inundated by floodwaters and hit by high winds.

    Nearly two weeks after the Puerto Rico storm, much of the countryside is still struggling to access such basic necessities as food, fresh water and cash.

    Trump’s visit follows a weekend in which he aggressively pushed back against critics, including Cruz. Trump responded angrily on Twitter, deriding the “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”

    “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” he added, scoffing at “politically motivated ingrates” who had criticized the federal work, and insisting that “tremendous progress” was being made.

    Cruz had begged the administration to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.”

    Trump and his wife were to meet Navy and Marine Corps personnel on the flight deck of the USS Kearsarge as well as the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    Even before the storm hit on Sept. 20, Puerto Rico was in dire condition thanks to a decade-long economic recession that had left its infrastructure, including the island’s power lines, in a sorry state. Maria was the most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century and unleashed floods and mudslides that knocked out the island’s entire electrical grid and telecommunications, along with many roads.

    Trump and other administration officials have worked in recent days to reassure Americans that recovery efforts are going well and combat a perception that the president failed to fully grasp the magnitude of the storm’s destruction in its immediate aftermath.

    While early response efforts were hampered by logistical problems, officials say that conditions, especially in the capital, have improved.

    According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are now more than 10,000 federal officials on the ground on the island, and 45 per cent of customers now have access to drinking water. Businesses are also beginning to re-open, with 60 per cent of retail gas stations now up and running.

    The Health and Human Services Department says federal medical teams with their own equipment and supplies have been sent to help provide care at Centro Medico, a major trauma centre in San Juan. Additional teams have been sent to five hospitals in other parts of the island.

    The department has also placed a liaison in each hospital that’s open, to make sure the facilities can get timely shipments of fuel needed to keep generators running, as well as medical supplies.

    For many, however, Washington’s response isn’t enough. On Monday, the non-profit relief group Oxfam announced that it would be taking the rare step of intervening in an American disaster, citing its outrage over what it called a “slow and inadequate response.”

    95% of Puerto Rico is without electricity, but Donald Trump calls storm recovery ‘nothing short of a miracle’95% of Puerto Rico is without electricity, but Donald Trump calls storm recovery ‘nothing short of a miracle’

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    Surveillance camera footage of an overnight burglary at a Scarborough hardware store has been posted by the store owner’s son in hopes of tracking down the thieves who stole more than $50,000 worth of goods.

    “They did the whole thing in about five minutes,” said Dominic Dimilta, a co-owner of Alpine Lawn & Garden Equipment at Kennedy Rd. and Finch Ave. E.

    Multiple videos uploaded to YouTube by Dimilta’s son show how the burglary happened at about 1 a.m. Monday. A U-Haul truck reversed right to the store’s front doors. A camera from the front counter shows a shower of sparks from a cut-off saw, cutting two locks on the front door.

    Two masked thieves enter the store, grab chainsaws, pull trimmers from their stands, and struggle to remove some items from wires attached to the walls before eventually scrambling out of the building and loading the truck.

    By the time the alarm company called, the break-in had wrapped up.

    “Unfortunately, we thought it was a false alarm,” Dimilta said. “They took two of the biggest generators I have, we’re still counting. They took at least a half a dozen trimmers, and two of my biggest chainsaws.”

    Dimilta said that the thieves had clearly prepared in advance to rob the store.

    “These guys, they knew exactly where they wanted to go and they knew exactly what to do.”

    The hardware store is well-secured, with a double gate at its fence equipped with chains and locks, but the saws used by the thieves were too powerful.

    “The cut-off saw, with the gas that they’re using, they’ll go through anything,” Dimilta said. “I mean, that’s the first time I’ve seen (someone) using a cut-off saw to do that. I mean, what the heck are we going to do now?”

    Toronto police are investigating.

    Dimilta hopes that the YouTube videos will help identify the thieves and deter future thefts.

    “The reason my son put (the videos) on YouTube is that we’re trying to see if we can find these suckers before they sell the stuff,” he said. “And if someone’s buying this stuff they know it’s going to be trouble because we have all the serial numbers, all the pictures.”

    Scarborough hardware store releases survelliance footage showing brazen burglaryScarborough hardware store releases survelliance footage showing brazen burglary

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    A fourth Canadian has been confirmed dead in a mass shooting at a country music show in Las Vegas.

    Tara Roe Smith, who was 34 and lived in Okotoks, Alta., was there with her husband, Zach, for a weekend getaway.

    Her aunt, Val Rodgers, says Roe Smith died when a gunman opened fire on the crowd from the window of a hotel on Sunday night. Nearly 60 people were killed.

    “She was a beautiful soul. She was a wonderful mother and our family is going to miss her dearly,” Rodgers said when contacted at her home in Brandon, Man., on Tuesday.

    Read more:

    Las Vegas hospitals overwhelmed after mass shooting left 59 dead, 527 injured

    Three Canadian victims mourned after Las Vegas attack

    B.C. man, Alberta woman among 59 killed in Las Vegas concert shooting

    Roe Smith, the mother of two young boys, is the third Albertan confirmed dead in the shooting.

    Two other women — Calla Medig and Jessica Klymchuk — also died.

    Medig had taken time off from her job at Moxie’s restaurant in west Edmonton to attend the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas, said her boss, Scott Collingwood.

    “This had started to become an annual thing for her. I believe it was her third trip,” Collingwood told The Canadian Press.

    When news broke about the shooting Sunday, Collingwood said he immediately called Medig, but it went right to voice mail. She didn’t answer texts or Facebook messages, he said.

    On Monday, he called her roommate, who went to Vegas with Medig, and got the terrible news.

    “She was a little bit of everything around here. She was kind of a rock and, as of Thursday, she would have been our newest manager,” Collingwood said. “A lot of us around here have super heavy hearts and we already miss her.”

    Medig grew up in the Rocky Mountain town of Jasper. Jasper Legion Branch 31 said in a Facebook post that it lowered its flag in Medig’s memory. In its post, the legion called her a young, beautiful lady who was taken too soon.

    Alberta Premier Rachel Notley extended her condolences to Medig’s friends and family, as well as to the family of Klymchuk, who was from the small Alberta community of Valleyview.

    Jordan McIldoon, 23, from Maple Ridge, B.C., was also killed.

    A relative said McIldoon would have turned 24 on Friday and was a month shy of completing a course to qualify as a heavy-duty mechanic.

    Canadians injured

    Jan Lambourne, Teulon, Man.

    • The married friend of Jody Ansell, Lambourne was shot in the abdomen and shrapnel fractured her pelvis. She had surgery to repair her intestine.

    Jody Ansell, Stonewall, Man.

    • Ansell was shot in the right arm. She was discharged from hospital late Monday.

    Steve Arruda, Calgary

    • The referee with an adult hockey organization called Hockey North America underwent surgery and was in intensive care in a Las Vegas hospital. He helped his wife to safety, told her run, then stayed to help others get to safety.

    Carrie-Lynn Denis of Leoville, Sask.

    • Denis, who was shot in the foot, grew up on a local farm and is a community volunteer.

    Sheldon Mack, Victoria

    • Mack was shot twice and suffered a ruptured colon and a broken forearm. A friend used his belt as a makeshift tourniquet. He was recovering in intensive care.

    Ryan Sarrazin, Camrose, Alta.

    • Sarrazin, born and raised near Spiritwood, Alta., was shot and seriously injured.

    Fourth Canadian confirmed dead in Las Vegas mass shootingFourth Canadian confirmed dead in Las Vegas mass shooting

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    The Blue Jays won’t be picking up the mutual option on Jose Bautista’s contract for 2018, but GM Ross Atkins wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the all-star slugger returning to Toronto in the future.

    Atkins, in a season-ending media availability at Rogers Centre on Tuesday, said he sat down with Bautista a couple of weeks ago to tell him the option on the contract he signed before the 2017 season would not be picked up.

    But while the team won’t be bringing back the 36-year-old right-fielder right now — a move long expected after Bautista struggled through 2017 — Atkins said he was moved by the outpouring of fan support showered on Bautista during his final home game, and that moment will not be the last time he’s celebrated in Toronto.

    Read more:

    Status quo not an option for Blue Jays: Griffin

    Four burning questions for Blue Jays after lost campaign

    Blue Jays win finale, but season was lost long ago: Griffin

    “Jose’s career, it’s remarkable, and the last home game of the season speaks to what he’s meant to this city and this organization,” Atkins said.

    “We wanted to make sure that when he comes back here he’s going to be celebrated in a very strong way. That could be in the form of wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform again, it could be that he’s traded for or signed in the future at some point, but there will be a day that we make sure we celebrate him in a significant way, knowing that he’s going to be celebrated for years by the fans for his accomplishments.”

    Bautista, a six-time all-star and three-time silver slugger who spent 10 years with the Blue Jays, finished the year with a .203 batting average, 23 homers, 65 RBIs and a franchise-record 170 strikeouts.

    With an aging roster — the Blue Jays had the American League’s oldest starting lineup last season — Atkins said the plan now is to trend younger. Keeping Bautista would contradict that.

    “We’re not getting any younger if we add him to our fold and guarantee him our right-field spot,” Atkins said.

    Bautista was far from the only Toronto player that failed to meet expectations this season.

    The Blue Jays, who reached the ALCS in back-to-back years in 2015 and 2016, ended 2017 in fourth place in the American League East (17 games back of first-place Boston), leading Atkins to characterize the season as a “massive disappointment.”

    Part of Toronto’s struggles had to do with injuries that plagued its position players and rotation from the very start of the season.

    Aaron Sanchez pitched just 36 innings over eight starts because of blister and fingernail issues, J.A. Happ missed time with inflammation in his throwing elbow, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin all sat out significant stretches of the season, and the team scuffled offensively and defensively with replacement players inserted into everyday roles.

    “We’re asking those questions — where can we improve, how can we get better,” Atkins said. “I say first thing is we’ll be better if we have Troy Tulowitzki and a healthy Devon Travis on the field and all of Josh Donaldson, and Russell Martin not missing a month of the season. If we are healthy that will be one thing that helps that area.

    “We were not able to sustain the injuries this year. Our players that had to step in were not enough. We have to put ourselves in a better situation to sustain injuries because we will have them.”

    Atkins praised Toronto’s rotation for staying consistent through the season, but the Blue Jays were still forced to use 14 starters to get through 2017, up from seven in 2016.

    Joe Biagini, who was plucked from the bullpen for 18 starts, said that had a big impact on the team’s performance.

    “Sometimes when teams get injured it kind of throws off the rhythm of everything,” Biagini said in a recent interview. “That’s why it’s hard for a team to make the playoffs every single year in a row for a long time even despite how good of a team it is — look at all the good players we have.

    “I think it’s hard when a team goes to the playoffs two years in a row, injuries pile up and guys have lots of expectations. The team goes through some changes and I think sometimes with new players it’s hard to figure out what (the team) is going to be and how it’s going to play and it takes more than one season to do that.”

    Biagini’s versatility gives the Blue Jays options both in the rotation and bullpen for 2018, but Atkins would prefer to acquire at least one more “impact arm pitcher, and one impact position player” this off-season.

    “For sure, we have to do that,” Atkins said. “We’ll be open to trades, we’ll be open to any possible way we can make our team better.”

    Blue Jays will not bring Jose Bautista back for 2018, GM Ross Atkins confirmsBlue Jays will not bring Jose Bautista back for 2018, GM Ross Atkins confirms

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    Commuters who transfer between GO Transit and the TTC are about to get a $1.50 break on their fares, the Star has learned.

    The provincial government has agreed to subsidize a co-fare agreement that will allow riders who use both agencies on a single trip to avoid paying two full-price fares.

    Instead, adult passengers on GO Transit and the Union Pearson Express who transfer to the TTC will pay a half price TTC fare of $1.50.

    Going the other way, riders switching from the TTC to GO Transit or the Union Pearson Express will be discounted $1.50 on their fares.

    The discount will apply only to riders who pay using the Presto fare card.

    A regular adult TTC ride using Presto costs $3. Fares on GO Transit and the Union Pearson Express vary depending on the distance travelled.

    Premier Kathleen Wynne, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, and Toronto Mayor John Tory plan to announce the fare reduction on Friday morning.

    Del Duca told the Star on Tuesday night that the change is “fantastic news for the tens of thousands of people across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area that transfer ... for their daily commutes.”

    “These commuters will now not only enjoy enhanced service across the GO network, but also a substantial savings for choosing to take transit to get around the GTHA,” the minister said.

    Subsidizing the discount will cost the provincial treasury $18 million a year, and will affect 50,000 daily commuters who take the TTC and GO Transit or the UP Express.

    For average commuters, it could mean a savings of $720 a year.

    The change will be put in place to coincide with the opening of the Spadina subway extension to Vaughan, which will be the first TTC subway to cross municipal boundaries and will intersect with GO Transit service.

    The extension is scheduled to open on December 17, and once it’s in operation more GO Transit users are expected to be hopping aboard the TTC as part of their daily commute.

    The subsidy is consistent with Wynne’s plan to reduce gridlock by encouraging motorists to take public transit. At the same time, with an election set for June 7, 2018, it should be politically helpful to the governing Liberals, who hold most of the seats in the Greater Toronto Area.

    Contacted about the arrangement, a spokesperson for Mayor John Tory said it’s “a step in the right direction” toward the SmartTrack project. Tory promised during the election campaign that under his SmartTrack plan, transit riders would be able to board at GO stations within Toronto at the same price as taking the TTC.

    “This is the first step in fare integration, not the only step and not the end of the story, but a great beginning,” wrote Don Peat in an email.

    “The TTC's budget is protected and will not be negatively impacted. Ultimately, this agreement will mean if you ride a mix of the TTC, UP Express and GO to get around Toronto, transit will now be less expensive."

    Spokespeople for the TTC and Metrolinx, the provincial agency that operates GO Transit, declined to comment.

    GO Transit already has co-fare agreements with all other local transit agencies in the 905, but until this week’s announcement it lacked one with the TTC, which is by far the biggest transit operator in the region.

    Forcing riders who use both TTC and GO Transit to pay a double fare has been seen as a significant disincentive to more people taking public transit.

    Metrolinx, which is also responsible for transportation planning in the GTHA, has initiated a study of fare integration, with the ultimate goal of standardizing fare structures of all the agencies in the region and allowing passengers a “seamless” transit trip across municipal boundaries.

    A report presented to the agency’s board last month determined a new regionwide fare system would require changes to transit governance and funding models however, which are likely to be controversial and take years to implement.

    The report recommended less contentious measures in the short-term as part of a “step-by-step approach” to reduce barriers to transit use across municipal boundaries.

    They included creating a co-fare between the TTC and GO Transit, advice that the province appears to have followed.

    Other proposed measures were discounts for trips between the TTC and 905 transit agencies, and adjustments to GO’s fare structure.

    GO Transit users to get half-price fares on TTCGO Transit users to get half-price fares on TTC

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    Our thoughts. Our prayers. Our tears.

    What does that even mean?

    When mass murder by gunfire in the U.S. turns into a celebrity meme.

    Condolences expressed on social media, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among those who tweeted out his sorrow for victims of the Las Vegas massacre.

    To show that you’re on the side of sanity, of revulsion for a crime that wiped 59 innocents off the face of the Earth?

    One can talk miles about good and evil — “an act of pure evil” as President Donald Trump described it, a sombre address clearly scripted for him because those are the only occasions where he sounds even marginally rational: The comforter-in-chief, a mantle that rests so unsuitably on his shoulders.

    And then Trump got on a plane to Puerto Rico, there to hand out flashlights and such — photo op, coming face to face with the same people he’d earlier characterized as “politically motivated ingrates” — for a calamity which he claimed was nowhere near the tragedy dimensions of Hurricane Katrina. “Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”

    The death toll from Katrina a dozen years ago: More than 1,833. A “real catastrophe,” Trump chose to scold Puerto Ricans on Tuesday.

    As if blaming them, Puerto Ricans, for the natural disaster that has befallen their island.

    The financial drain of emergency assistance on the American treasury, Trump thought it appropriate to highlight that as well. “I hate to tell you Puerto Rico but you’ve thrown our budget a little of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.”

    Less than a hundred helicopters sent to the hurricane-ravaged island, an American territory, in the abysmally slow emergency reaction by Washington. Six thousand troops deployed, compared to 10,000 on the ground in Louisiana under the command of U.S. army Lieutenant General Russel Honore who, now retired, has been scathing in his indictment of the inadequate response.

    Trump was scheduled to descend on Vegas next, Wednesday. I can think of hardly anyone more morally unfit to bind a nation’s wounds in the aftermath of Sunday night’s slaughter by a retired accountant sniper, firing from his makeshift fortress room in the Mandalay hotel. Dozens from among the more than 500 wounded remain in critical condition.

    This is the president who, in February, put his signature on a measure that nixed a regulation, initiated by his predecessor in the wake of other mass shootings, that would have kept guns out of the hands of some severely mentally ill people. That law required the Social Security Administration to disclose information quarterly to the national gun background check system about individuals with a documented mental illness — specifically and narrowly those receiving full benefits because of a mental illness and those requiring the assistance of third parties because they were incapable of managing their own benefits.

    Even that was too much for Republicans, deeply beholden to the National Rifle Association — the NRA endorsed Trump in the last election — to swallow. (Although it should be noted that loved-by-the-lefty-left Bernie Sanders, Mr. Progressive, was so leery of alienating supporters in his rural Vermont state that he’d five times voted against the Brady Bill in the ’90s and in 2005 voted in favour of a special immunity law protecting gun makers and sellers from being sued when their weapons are used in a deadly attack.)

    Gun control, yearning for it, is in fact a non-partisan issue. Respectable polling has shown that a huge majority of Americans — 94 per cent — wanted, at the very least, to restrict the mentally ill from purchasing weapons.

    Vegas, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando — massacres that seize a nation’s attention. But only a tiny fraction of gun deaths — about three per cent — are attributable to such rampages.

    Mass murder in the U.S. is defined as the killing of four or more people. It’s a poor way to frame gun violence. Thirteen thousand miles away from Vegas, on the same day that Stephen Paddock sprayed a crowd of concertgoers with rapid-fire lethality, three individuals were killed and two injured at the University of Kansas. It hardly merited a news digest.

    The numbers are staggering.

    So far in 2017, 326 killed in mass shootings, 432 in 2016, 369 in 2015.

    Since Sandy Hook five years ago — 26 slain at an elementary school, including 20 children — there have been some 1,500 mass shootings in America, according to the Gun Violence Archive: 1,715 killed, 6,089 wounded.

    And that’s just the tip of the bloodshed.

    A country where it’s estimated that 300 million guns are in the hands of 320 million people, highest in gun possession among 178 countries, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, a global research agency. Americans comprise 4.4 per cent of the global population but account for fully half of civilian owned guns around the world.

    Number of Americans killed in battles in all wars in history: 1,396,733. Killed by firearms in the U.S. since 1968: 1,516,863.

    The war is on a homeland battlefield.

    The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides these gruesome statistics: 406,496 killed by guns in the U.S. between 2001 and 2013. Of those, 237,052 were suicides. Because in a society where guns are so readily available, it is the preferred means for taking one’s own life.

    Homicides accounted for 153,144 of those gun deaths, 4,778 were police shootings, 8,383 categorized as “accidental” and 3,200 where no cause was determined.

    Some 25 children killed by guns every week.

    The Second Amendment guarantees Americans the right to bear arms and the intent was aimed at raising a “regulated” militia. It doesn’t guarantee the right to semi-automatic weapons, to high-powered rifles, to personal arsenals such as the 48 guns that the Vegas shooter possessed.

    This is NRA-generated hokum. Such bristling caches are not for the purpose of self-defence.

    There was a time when even Trump understood this. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he expressed support for a ban on assault weapons and long rifles with military-style features that made it easier to fire multiple rounds. In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Trump wrote: “I generally oppose gun control but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

    Two years later Trump praised president Barack Obama for introducing, after Sandy Hook, slightly tighter firearm regulations. But in the election campaign, and certainly since he assumed the Oval Office, Trump has lost his marbles on the subject of guns, even railing against government-mandated gun-free zones in places such as schools, churches and military bases. Better, he’s argued, that civilians should arm themselves against the potential of such attacks, than go down with hands empty as “target practice for the sickos.”

    Maybe he knows his country better than we realize.

    One final fact: After every mass shooting in America, the sale of guns spikes.

    Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

    On gun control, Donald Trump has lost his marbles: DiMannoOn gun control, Donald Trump has lost his marbles: DiManno

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    WASHINGTON—He accused Puerto Ricans of throwing the federal budget “out of whack.”

    He suggested Puerto Rico had not experienced a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina, since a mere “16 people” had been confirmed dead.

    He told a family of hurricane victims to “have a good time.”

    He tossed paper towels to another group of victims, in a church, as if he was shooting basketball free throws.

    He told a third group of victims that they don’t need flashlights any longer, though 90 per cent of the island was still without power.

    He refused to speak to the mayor of San Juan.

    And, as usual, Donald Trump congratulated himself.

    Facing withering criticism for his delayed and then belligerent response to the Puerto Rican hurricane crisis, Trump’s Tuesday visit to San Juan was a chance to begin to repair the wounds he had caused over a week of tweeted insults.

    Instead he casually tore them open, a smile on his face.

    In a frequently abnormal afternoon on the island, Trump showed none of the scripted gravitas of his sombre Monday response to the massacre in Las Vegas. Speaking without notes, he behaved as if the ongoing crisis had long since been fixed by his own doing.

    It was vintage Trump — informal, freewheeling, self-centred, detached from facts, wholly unlike the behaviour of any other modern president.

    His supporters applauded again, pointing to his authenticity and moments of empathy. Puerto Ricans already upset with him before he landed were infuriated.

    “He takes two weeks to visit a disaster zone where 3.5 million American citizens live. He arrives with a smile on his face, makes fun of the situation, shows no empathy, lies and lies on camera as he does 24-7. And then throws paper towel rolls to people in need as if he was playing Go Fetch with dogs,” said Joel Isaac, 27, a New York actor who moved from Puerto Rico three years ago.

    Most of Isaac’s family is still on the island. He said he had never felt humiliated as a Puerto Rican until he watched Trump’s visit.

    “It’s the whole scene where the privileged white man comes to save the brown peasants after they’ve been begging, thirsty and hungry. It’s super disgusting to see, honestly,” he said.

    Trump began the day with a traditional kind of crisis event: a roundtable briefing with members of his Cabinet and Puerto Rican and military leaders. His presence and his response were applauded by Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

    “I want to personally thank you, Mr. President, because over the course of the past week you have called essentially every day to make sure we have what we need, to make sure that the resources are over here,” Rossello said.

    Trump, however, did nothing at the briefing to dispel criticism that he is not sincerely concerned about Puerto Ricans. In meandering remarks, he boasted about the F-35 warplanes the government is planning to procure, complimented pro-wrestling titan Vince McMahon, and again grumbled about the cost of the rebuilding effort — this time suggesting Puerto Ricans themselves were at fault.

    “Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” he said. “Because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”

    Then he mused that Maria was different than “a real catastrophe like Katrina,” in which more than 1,800 people died.

    “Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people,” he said. “You can be very proud. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”

    The official death toll was increased Tuesday evening to 34 from the previous total of 16.

    A reporter for San Juan’s Center for Investigative Journalism found that at least dozens more were dead.

    Jeremy Konyndyk, chief of foreign disaster assistance under Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter: “THIS IS APPALLING. This is such a deeply wrong, deeply inappropriate, deeply disrespectful thing to say....that I hardly know where to start.”

    Trump proceeded to a chapel, where he handed out bags of rice. In the manner of a basketball player, he also tossed up several packages of paper towel.

    The pool reporter on scene said the crowd “enjoyed” Trump’s NBA impression. Other Puerto Ricans found the display disrespectful.

    “Does he think this is a show? A game? The first reaction that I had: why is he throwing things to Puerto Ricans like we’re animals?” said Frances Alvarado, 55, a Puerto Rican in North Carolina whose husband has spent three decades in the navy. Of Trump’s performance as a whole, she said, “It’s shameful. It’s degrading. It’s insulting.”

    Trump shook the hand of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, whom he has repeatedly disparaged as a poor leader and a Democratic partisan. Yulin Cruz said she told him, “This is about saving lives. It’s not about politics.”

    Trump didn’t respond, “then pointedly ignored her,” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported.

    As Trump’s motorcade passed, a lone protester held up a sign reading “You are a bad hombre.” He was greeted politely by the families he encountered on a brief neighbourhood walking tour, listening to one tell him about how they had been trapped in their house.

    Trump ended the visit with some additional applause for himself.

    “I think it meant a lot to the people of Puerto Rico that I was there. They really responded very nicely. And I guess it’s one of the few times anybody has done this. From what I am hearing it’s the first time that a sitting president has done something like this,” he said.

    Donald Trump compares Puerto Rico to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina’ — and congratulates himself: AnalysisDonald Trump compares Puerto Rico to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina’ — and congratulates himself: AnalysisDonald Trump compares Puerto Rico to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina’ — and congratulates himself: AnalysisDonald Trump compares Puerto Rico to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina’ — and congratulates himself: AnalysisDonald Trump compares Puerto Rico to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina’ — and congratulates himself: AnalysisDonald Trump compares Puerto Rico to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina’ — and congratulates himself: Analysis

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    A man is in serious condition after a shooting in Scarborough on Wednesday afternoon.

    Just after 1 p.m., Toronto police said they responded to a call for three to four gunshots fired in the Eglinton Ave. E., and Brimley Rd. area., said Toronto police spokesperson Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook.

    One male was transported to hospital with serious gunshot wounds, Cook said.

    Witnesses told police that one male and two females were seen fleeing the scene with their faces covered.

    Police said they are canvassing the area and speaking to witnesses.

    Man in serious condition after shooting in ScarboroughMan in serious condition after shooting in Scarborough

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    Three troubled Ontario nursing homes — including a Mississauga home — have been ordered to stop accepting new residents due to substandard care.

    The crackdown came this week after the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care ordered each to “cease admissions,” meaning no new residents are allowed to move into the homes.

    The order affects two facilities operated by the Sharon Village Care Homes chain, Tyndall Nursing Home in Mississauga and Earls Court Long Term Care in London, along with a home from the Caressant Care chain in Fergus. Both companies sent written statements to the Star, saying they will work with the ministry to resolve the problems.

    Read more:

    Thousands of under-65 adults with physical disabilities are being forced into Ontario nursing homes: Ministry data

    Ontario nursing homes feed seniors on $8.33 a day

    Two lawsuits seek to lay some blame on nursing homes who hired Elizabeth Wettlaufer

    The cease admissions orders are not common. Of Ontario’s 630 long-term care homes, roughly five a year are stopped from accepting new residents.

    In Health Minister Eric Hoskin’s Oct. 3 letter to Sharon Village president Peter Schlegel, he called the results of the recent ministry inspection of Tyndall and Earls Court “deeply concerning.”

    The ministry has “determined that there is sufficient risk of harm to the residents’ health or well-being to warrant a Cease of Admissions,” Hoskins wrote.

    He highlighted problems at the London home, Earls Court, saying ministry inspectors found the staffing plan does not meet the residents’ care needs. “As a result, residents did not receive the care required,” Hoskins wrote.

    Proper staffing of Ontario long-term care homes in general has long been a complaint among workers, families and the residents who suffer from lack of care.

    Tyndall nursing home, located on Eglinton Ave. E. and Dixie Rd., had its annual inspection last January. The public report showed that inspectors spent 13 days in the home and found 51 violations, including problems with toileting, food, the use of restraints and communication with residents.

    Earls Court in London had a “cease admissions” order in 2016, which Hoskins cited in his letter to Schlegel. In its most recent inspection, posted online, the ministry found 20 violations. Caressant Care Fergus had 14 violations in its most recent public inspection report.

    The minister’s letter to Caressant Care president James Lavelle noted inspectors found “repeated” examples of resident neglect and a lack of cleanliness in the home and its furniture, but did not provide specific details.

    Hoskins also said the home had not complied with previous ministry orders related to managing residents with “responsive behaviours” and the prevention of falls.

    In both letters to Caressant Care and Sharon Village, Hoskin said, “As the president of a corporation that owns places that residents call home, you are entrusted with an enormous responsibility to provide high quality, dignified care to our cherished elderly family members, and our most valuable friends and neighbours,” he wrote.

    In a written statement emailed to the Star, Caressant Care said its management team is “working closely with the ministry to address certain compliance deficiencies. Our first priority is to provide a high level of care to our residents.”

    A statement from Schlegel, of Sharon Village Homes, said the ministry has “temporarily ceased” admissions “in order that we can rectify some areas of non-compliance. We support the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, in their efforts to ensure the public of high quality care in all Long-Term Care homes in the province.”

    These orders were filed a few days after the government introduced legislation that, if passed, would create tougher enforcement against nursing homes. The legislation would include hefty fines for corporations, ranging from $200,000 for first time offence and $500,000 for subsequent offences.

    It is currently in first reading and, if passed, likely won’t become law until early 2018, said Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.

    Unless the Strengthening Quality and Accountability for Patients Act becomes law, the “cease admissions” is one of the ministry’s best weapons, said Meadus.

    “Clearly, these homes are not able to clean up their act,” Meadus said. “The ministry has no choice but to say if you can’t meet the requirements then we can’t let you accept new residents.”

    She said cease admissions orders are considered serious action taken after repeated violations of provincial care regulations, because fewer residents can mean ministry funding cuts for the affected homes. It also impacts Ontario’s long waiting list, removing beds for residents who need a place to live.

    “I think that with all the problems we are seeing in the media with long term care homes, the ministry is finally getting the message,” Meadus said.

    In a statement to the Star about the ministry action, Hoskins said, “. . . it is completely unacceptable that these operators are not meeting the province’s standards. The distressing practice of failing to meet provincial standards will not be accepted in Ontario.”

    Three Ontario nursing homes ordered to stop new admissions because of substandard careThree Ontario nursing homes ordered to stop new admissions because of substandard care

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    Starting Oct. 11, permanent residents will be eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship if they have lived in the country for three out of the previous five years.

    Also, applicants over 55 years of age are once again exempt from the language and knowledge tests for citizenship under the amended citizenship regulations to be announced by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on Wednesday.

    The changes will be welcoming news for the many prospective applicants who have been holding off their applications since the newly elected Liberal government introduced Bill C-6 in March 2016 to reverse the more stringent changes adopted by its Conservative predecessor to restrict access to citizenship.

    Read more:

    We are Canadians, but it’s complicated

    Children applying for Canadian citizenship face hefty fee

    Canada faces dramatic drop in citizenship, prompting concerns about disengaged immigrants

    Citizenship applications are expected to go up, reversing the downward trend observed over the last few years after the Harper government raised the residency requirement for citizenship — requiring applicants to be in Canada for four years out of six — and stipulated that applicants between the ages of 14 and 64 must pass language and citizenship knowledge tests.

    Immigrant groups and advocates have said the more stringent rules discouraged newcomers’ full integration and participation in the electoral process.

    “Citizenship is the last step in immigrant integration. Those unnecessary obstacles put in place by the previous government are hurting us as a country,” Hussen told the Star in an interview Tuesday. “We are proud of these changes and are excited about it.”

    Another Liberal reform that takes effect next Wednesday is granting one year credit to international students, foreign workers and refugees for time spent in Canada before becoming permanent residents toward their residency requirements for citizenship.

    Despite the anticipated surge in citizenship applications as a result of the relaxed requirements, Hussen said the department will ensure resources are in place to respond to the increased intake. However, he insisted there is no plan to reduce the current $630 citizenship fee for adults and $100 for those under 18.

    The changes announced Wednesday are part of the amendments that received Royal Assent in June, including repealing the law that gave Ottawa the power to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens for crimes committed after citizenship has already been granted as well as handing over the power of citizenship revocation to the Federal Court from the immigration minister.

    According to government data, 108,635 people applied for Canadian citizenship in the year ended on March 31. Historically, citizenship applications received have averaged closer to 200,000 a year.

    New language and residency rules for Canadian citizenship kick in next weekNew language and residency rules for Canadian citizenship kick in next week

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    Jennifer Keesmaat’s next stop will be in a classroom, not on the political campaign trail.

    The city’s former chief planner will be teaching in the geography and planning department at the University of Toronto for the rest of the academic year, the school announced this week.

    Keesmaat was approached by the department to accept the John Bousfield Distinguished Visitorship in Planning, a residence that will run until April. She will give lectures and teach a course to graduate students.

    “It’s yet to be determined, but the studio (course) will most likely be something on . . . how we can transform the city to become a safer, more livable, pedestrian place,” Keesmaat said in a phone interview Wednesday.

    Keesmaat said the class will also do “a bit of a deep dive into the public documentation that’s available in the budget.”

    “I know where all the bodies are buried,” she said with a laugh.

    Dr. Richard DiFrancesco, the director of graduate programs in the planning department, said they are “thrilled” that Keesmaat has agreed to join U of T.

    “Jennifer’s unique blend of urban planning knowledge, knowledge of Toronto planning in particular, and her high-energy/high-clarity style made her an attractive candidate for us,” DiFrancesco said in an email.

    Keesmaat believes the city needs to build more urban infrastructure to accommodate the increasing density, and “build better pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.”

    “It’s not rocket science, it’s political.”

    Keesmaat said that the residence “will complement the other work that I’m doing very nicely.”

    While she did not elaborate on her other projects, she said it “has nothing to do with running for mayor” as some rumours have suggested.

    Keesmaat spent five years as chief planner, leading projects like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the King St. streetcar pilot project, before officially stepping down last month.

    She was also known for being outspoken and challenging Mayor John Tory over issues like the future of the Gardiner Expressway and a proposed subway stop in Scarborough.

    Keesmaat is one of three to receive the visitorship. She will be joined by Dr. John Curry, a retired professor who taught at the University of Northern British Columbia, and Stanley Makuch, a planning lawyer and adjunct professor at U of T.

    Jennifer Keesmaat to teach at University of TorontoJennifer Keesmaat to teach at University of Toronto

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    MONTREAL—How many storms of its own making can Justin Trudeau’s government sustain before it takes a lasting hit in public opinion?

    As they reach mid-mandate the ruling Liberals are apparently determined to find out.

    Over the past few weeks the government has marched in disorderly fashion to some poorly planned policy battles.

    If there was meant to be a consistent thread to its core messaging, it has been lost in the shuffle.

    It sometimes seems like the right hand is unaware of what the left hand is doing. Or in this instance that the left hemisphere of the collective Liberal brain trust is disconnected from the right one.

    Exhibit A: Finance Minister Bill Morneau has spent weeks defending his plan to make changes to the tax rules that govern private corporations and endured much opposition grief over it. Since Parliament reopened for the fall sitting the issue has dominated the agenda.

    The debate has played out against the backdrop of a furious small business backlash that the minister is still scrambling to appease.

    Through it all he and the prime minister have maintained that the proposed changes are inspired by the Liberal pursuit of tax fairness.

    But that pursuit does not extend to Canada’s cultural industries.

    Exhibit B: Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly had promised to adjust Canada’s cultural policy to the new realities of a digital world. Last week the main change she delivered was a sweet deal for Netflix.

    Under the arrangement she negotiated, the American video streaming giant will be spared the fiscal and Canadian content obligations under which its domestic competitors operate in exchange for a commitment to invest $100 million a year in Canadian productions.

    The arrangement has set off the first real Quebec backlash of Trudeau’s mandate.

    Under Joly’s deal, the American company is under no obligation to set part of the agreed-upon $100 million aside to meet a minimal French-language production quota.

    Moreover Canada’s fledging French-language streaming platforms must collect the sales taxes from their subscribers and Netflix does not.

    After her policy announcement Joly set out on a whirlwind tour of Montreal’s media studios. She might as well have packed a shovel to dig herself in.

    On Saturday, La Presse’s veteran columnist Alain Dubuc challenged the minister’s contention that all countries are struggling to find a way to tax companies like Netflix. The title of his column was “Mélanie Joly’s alternative facts”.

    “Joly bows to Netflix’s law”, was Le Devoir’s choice for a headline on the federal policy.

    On Sunday the minister’s appearance on Tout le monde en parle — Canada’s most-watched French language talk show — fell squarely in the cringe-worthy category.

    She was notably at a loss to reconcile the decision to put Netflix on a different more favorable fiscal footing than Canada’s industry players and her government’s tax equity mantra.

    Joly’s central talking point — in French as in English — has been that her government is committed to not increasing the tax burden of the middle class. There will not be a Netflix tax, she stated repeatedly.

    But what goes for couch potatoes does not apply to potheads.

    Exhibit C: Less than 24 hours after Joly appeared on TLMEP, the prime minister told his provincial counterparts of his intention to introduce a 10 per cent cannabis tax. (The tax would initially be $1 per gram on every purchase under $10). Proceeds would be shared on a 50/50 basis with provinces.

    Predictably Canada’s first ministers — soon to be joined by some big-city mayors — are ready to spend the next few months haggling over their respective share of the federal tax.

    Somewhat lost in this debate is the purported central objective of running the cannabis black market out of business by running a competitive legal one. That will be hard to do if the price of legal weed is inflated by a variety of government taxes.

    To look at polls these days is to get a confusing picture of where the federal parties stand in voting intentions. Over the same two-week period some have reported a healthy Liberal lead where others have found none.

    But if consistency in messaging and policy matters to voters the polling picture is bound to become clearer if not necessarily nicer for the Liberals.

    Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

    Tax changes and Netflix deal show the muddle Trudeau’s government has created: HébertTax changes and Netflix deal show the muddle Trudeau’s government has created: Hébert

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    Toronto city council has, by a narrow margin, endorsed Premier Kathleen Wynne’s plan for tightly regulated marijuana sales through LCBO-style stores.

    Council voted 21-16 Wednesday in favour of backing Wynne’s pot plan while demanding that the City of Toronto be compensated for any related costs when the federal government legalizes marijuana next year.

    Councillor Cesar Palacio, chair of the licensing committee, said the city must endorse the closure of all illegal, private dispensaries to prevent “chaos” in the new marijuana marketplace.

    Many councillors, however, said the provincial approach freezes out the marijuana advocates who fought for — and many cases were jailed — to move public opinion in favour of legalization.

    Councillor Paula Fletcher said 16,000 Canadians have been charged with marijuana offences since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would end pot prohibition.

    Many of those who continue to be arrested are visible minorities, she said, noting that those positioning themselves to be players in the legal marijuana marketplace include former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino and former deputy chief Kim Derry. Another former Toronto chief, Bill Blair, is the Liberal MP overseeing the new federal marijuana regime.

    The provincial rules would restrict the legal smoking of pot to people’s homes. Toronto council asked the medical officer of health to advise on safe places for people who require medical marijuana to consume it outside their homes.

    Toronto endorses province’s pot planToronto endorses province’s pot plan

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    The biggest showcase of the Beautiful Game could be coming to a soccer field near you in 2026.

    Toronto — with BMO Field as a possible venue — was one of four Canadian cities shortlisted Wednesday to become an official host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, as announced by a group hoping to bring the event to North America.

    Canada, Mexico and the United States, represented by the United Bid Committee, are competing against Morocco to host the expanded 48-team tournament. The committee whittled the list of contending cities down to 32 spots across the three nations.

    Edmonton, Montreal and Vancouver also made the cut, as did 25 U.S. cities and three in Mexico. Ottawa was one of nine cities not selected, after 41 places submitted bids to host the matches.

    If the committee’s bid is successful, at least 12 cities will be selected as venues for the games. The current proposal ensures 10 of the 80 World Cup matches would be played in Canada, with 10 more in Mexico. The U.S. would get the remaining 60, including all from the quarter-finals and beyond.

    “Having hosted every FIFA competition other than the FIFA World Cup, Canada has built a strong foundation across the country from which we can now draw on as a member of the United 2026 bid,” Canada Soccer president Steven Reed, who is also a board member for the bid, said in a statement.

    “Canada has proven itself to be a soccer nation and we are confident Canadians will come together to show, once again, the wonderful Canadian hospitality that has helped make each of our previous FIFA tournaments successful.”

    In August the committee sent out requests for information to 44 cities, asking for declarations of interest. The 41 interested cities were announced at the beginning of September.

    The 32 potential host cities that remain will now work with the committee on its bid strategy and vision, as well as with local officials to finalize the hosting document required by FIFA. Representatives from each city will head to Houston in November for a working session with the committee.

    Final bids from the selected cities are due in January. The bid committee plans to include 20 to 25 venues in its official bid to FIFA, due in March. Cities not selected could serve as locations for broadcast centres, team base camps or to host events, such as the preliminary or final draw.

    “The response from Canadian cities has been impressive and we are looking forward to working with our partners across the country as we move through the bid process to ensure as many Canadian cities are involved as possible,” said Canada Soccer’s general secretary, Peter Montopoli, the country’s bid director.

    “Once again, Canadians have shown support for soccer in this country and the desire to welcome soccer fans from around the world.”

    FIFA will announce the winner in June.

    Canada has previously hosted the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2007, the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in 2014 and the 2015 Women’s World Cup, when matches were played at BC Place in Vancouver and Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

    The Canadian men’s national team is ranked 95th in the world. Its only previous appearance in a World Cup competition came in 1986 in Mexico, where it was knocked out after losing its three group stage matches.

    Toronto one of four Canadian cities shortlisted as possible World Cup sites in 2026Toronto one of four Canadian cities shortlisted as possible World Cup sites in 2026

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    Gordon Stuckless positioned himself as a father figure to his young victims, calling them “good boys” and telling them he loved them, a court heard Wednesday, as the latest trial for the convicted pedophile and former Maple Leaf Gardens employee began.

    Stuckless was found guilty in 1997 of sexually assaulting at least 24 boys while working as an usher at Maple Leaf Gardens between 1969 and 1988, and served two-thirds of a five-year prison sentence before being released in 2001.

    Several men have come forward since then, alleging Stuckless abused them when they were young.

    Stuckless was sentenced to six and a half years in prison in 2016 after pleading guilty to 100 charges related to the sexual abuse of 18 boys in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

    The charges he now faces, which include multiple counts of buggery, sexual assault, gross indecency, and uttering death threats, are connected to the alleged abuse of three boys between 1978 and 1984, while Stuckless was an usher at Maple Leaf Gardens.

    Stuckless has pleaded not guilty to all the current charges, and his main opposition is to the buggery allegations, his lawyer Ari Goldkind said.

    On Wednesday morning a 51-year-old witness, whose identity is protected by the court, testified that Stuckless violated him at least 100 times over the course of about a year, around 1978 to 1979, when the witness was about 13 years old.

    Stuckless had caught the witness and his friends sneaking into the Gardens before a hockey game and told them he could get them into games and concerts any time they wanted, the witness said.

    The boys returned to the Gardens within a week. Stuckless led them to a sauna room in the arena and began fondling them and touching their privates, the witness testified.

    Stuckless, short and heavy, with grey hair and a thin grey moustache, leaned forward and shifted in his seat as the witness described in often graphic detail the various sexual acts, including molestation, oral sex and rape, which Stuckless allegedly perpetrated on the witness and his friends.

    Stuckless often gave the boys hockey memorabilia like sticks and gloves, and arranged for them to get autographs from visiting teams, the witness said.

    It seemed at the time like Stuckless cared about the boys, the witness said, and spoke them like a father would. “It felt great,” the witness testified, adding that he didn’t know his own father and that “a lot of us didn’t get” that kind of care at home.

    Stuckless “smoked drugs” with the boys and gave them pop and snacks, which may have been laced with drugs, the witness said, adding that he sometimes felt drowsy after having the food Stuckless gave him.

    Sometimes George Hannah, equipment manager for the Toronto Marlboros junior hockey team, took part in the abuse, the witness said. Hannah, who died in 1984, has previously been accused by Toronto police of participating with Stuckless in child sex abuse at the Gardens.

    Stuckless told the boys that what they were doing was “OK” and “nothing to be ashamed of,” but also said they would get into trouble if they told anyone what was going on, the witness testified.

    The witness spent years struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as a result of the abuse he allegedly experienced, he testified.

    He has a criminal record and has spent time in several Ontario jails, he said.

    The witness “buried” his experiences with Stuckless for nearly 20 years, until he ran into Stuckless inside a Brampton jail in “1996 or 1997,” he added.

    “It triggered my memory,” the witness said. “I started having nightmares, flashbacks, that (I still have).”

    The Crown is scheduled to call two other witnesses to testify about the abuse Stuckless allegedly perpetrated against them.

    New trial begins for latest allegations against Maple Leaf Gardens sex abuser Gordon StucklessNew trial begins for latest allegations against Maple Leaf Gardens sex abuser Gordon Stuckless

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    For 70 consecutive years alumni of RH King Academy have organized reunions, but this year went a step further: a group of fresh-faced students welcomed them back to the very place they all came to know one another, to commemorate the values of friendship instilled in them years before.

    With ginger ale in hand and tiaras donned the remaining class of 1947 — all in their late eighties — paid tribute to the legacy of a woman they credit as the glue that kept them together long after she died: their teacher, Alice Carnaghan.

    “She taught us how to do shorthand and how to use a typewriter,” said Norma Hardy, 87. “These gifts might have gone out-of-fashion, but Miss Carnaghan also taught us that friendship will never be obsolete.”

    The class originally had a count of 22 students; there were 10 at the gathering.

    “Through the years we have stayed friends, and we sincerely hope you have the same privilege we have enjoyed to make good friends while you’re at this place who will stay with you for a long, long time,” continued Hardy, addressing the current students.

    Carnaghan co-ordinated the first reunion — over the years, this eventually switched to Hardy, who planned the event Wednesday morning at the Scarborough high school, one of the oldest in the area, with a student body of 1,250. The school was formerly called Scarborough Collegiate.

    Students assisted the all-female party as they made their way to the school’s grounds, where a fresh plaque made out to the adored teacher hung from a newly planted tree.

    Simon Pan, 15, walked arm-in-arm with Mary Jean Zissoff, who inquired if he had a girlfriend.

    “I just wanted to see what it would be like to see 70 years of friendship,” he said. “The quality of it is really high, and compared to kids our age, there’s a huge contrast. It’s not quite the same,” adding that advances in technology can mean a decline in genuine social connection.

    Morgan Harris said some were “shocked” by the school’s transformation since graduation — particularly the number of computers in one of its labs.

    “After 70 years, you change a lot,” she said. “The school, technology. It’s pretty cool that they’ve all stayed in touch this long and are so committed.”

    Local school trustee Parthi Kandavel said the visit is a testament to the profound, lifelong impact teachers can have on their pupils.

    “In this day of the number of followers you have, it’s more about the quality of friendships that last the test of time,” he said. “A brilliant message to our, perhaps, newer students.”

    The school’s principal, David Rowan, called the students ambassadors for their maturity and inclination to help facilitate the event.

    “We have visitors quite frequently, so it’s one of the things I like to do: open up the school, showcase the students and the work teachers are doing,” he said.

    70th high school reunion a testament to unwavering friendship70th high school reunion a testament to unwavering friendship70th high school reunion a testament to unwavering friendship70th high school reunion a testament to unwavering friendship70th high school reunion a testament to unwavering friendship70th high school reunion a testament to unwavering friendship

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    Doctors deserve to be well paid.

    They work hard and study hard. Long years of medical training delay their earnings and advance their debt load.

    And as doctors keep reminding us, those hefty gross incomes are weighed down by steep overhead. To be fair, you have to deduct the cost of equipment and expenses to figure out their true earnings.

    But that’s still not the full story.

    No matter how often it’s mentioned in columns, people forget that most doctors also enjoy a special tax benefit unavailable to other workers. They get to incorporate themselves, treated like a small business that pays a much lower tax rate than regular rich folks get.

    Even better, they can share the wealth by “sprinkling” it among spouses and adult children — family members who aren’t necessarily part of the family business, but are typically taxed at a much lower rate.

    It’s a sweet deal for doctors, but unsavoury for the rest of us. There’s nothing illegal about it, but nothing right about tax dodges that exploit tax loopholes with surgical precision to shelter earnings.

    Now, the federal Liberals — who won an electoral mandate, fair and square, on a platform of tax fairness — say they want to recover the lost tax revenue. Doctors are crying foul, tying themselves into knots over loopholes.

    They are not alone — dentists, accountants and lawyers are also frothing. True, no one is crying for the Canadian Bar Association, which claims its lawyers really, really deserve the tax break too.

    But doctors occupy a special place in the public space, and they are apoplectic. Physicians were playing the victim card again this week as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met the premiers to discuss his planned tax reforms.

    The Ontario Medical Association head, Dr. Shawn Whatley, warns of a brain drain if doctors flee “an undesirable place to practice.” Dr. Nadia Alam, the OMA’s president-elect, says the government has declared “open season on doctors.”

    About 70 per cent of Ontario’s 29,000 practicing physicians have incorporated, most in the last 15 years after the province made a relatively obscure concession in fee negotiations allowing them to incorporate — and to let their spouses be shareholders. It was a convenient way to enrich doctors without depleting the provincial treasury, by quietly siphoning money away from federal tax revenues (though that ultimately affects Ontario’s tax take, too).

    The change mostly benefits higher-income specialists who would otherwise pay the highest marginal tax rate of more than 50 per cent on their hefty six-figure incomes — compared to the mom-and-pop small business tax rate of about 15 per cent. It allows doctors to redirect money from their private companies to their spouses or children as dividends, at a lower personal tax rate.

    The result is higher after-tax incomes, which doctors never mention when pointing out the discrepancy between gross and net pay. Doctors counter that they need the tax break to help save for their retirement, because they don’t get pensions like the rest of us (bearing in mind that 60 per cent of Canadians still don’t have a workplace pension).

    In fact, physicians (like lawyers) can access tens of thousands of dollars in RRSP tax shelters beyond the reach of most workers. The lack of physician pensions is a choice they made collectively a half-century ago, when they adamantly refused to be deemed government employees despite earning virtually all their income from public funds in a now archaic fee-for-service model.

    That income anachronism is debilitating for all sides — patients, doctors and the government. After years of brinkmanship, physicians are still without a provincial contract — doctors rejected the last deal negotiated by their official bargaining agent (the OMA), because the government sought to keep a lid on the overall growth of their pay envelope.

    Now, with a provincial election looming, Premier Kathleen Wynne is keen to negotiate a deal anew. Both sides have agreed on arbitration, but Ottawa’s proposed reforms have added a messy new wrinkle.

    Given that the province threw in that dubious tax dodge as a sweetener several years ago, an arbitrator might conclude that Queen’s Park is on the hook if Ottawa makes it dissolve. No matter that it was never a wise tax policy, or that many doctors are defending the indefensible with a straight face (until red in the face) — it was undoubtedly an inducement, and the OMA will demand to be compensated.

    But closing that loophole could open another door. If the federal proposals force doctors to revisit the historic contradictions in their tangled system of taxation and compensation, then why not re-examine the fee-for-service model that is a half-century out of date?

    Long overdue reforms to remuneration and taxation would not only be fair, but far more efficient for everyone in a health care system still stuck on piecework for patients. Doctors — and the people they serve — deserve at least as much.

    Martin Regg Cohn’s political column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday., Twitter: @reggcohn

    Doctors deserve a better deal, not tax dodges: CohnDoctors deserve a better deal, not tax dodges: Cohn

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