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Which Toronto mayoral candidate is telling the truth about the relief subway line?

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As they vie for Torontonians’ votes, Mayor John Tory and election rival Jennifer Keesmaat are telling two very different stories about the state of what is arguably the city’s most important transit project.

Tory says his administration has done everything it can to advance the relief line, the proposed $6.8-billion subway that would connect downtown to Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) east of the Don River. But Keesmaat accuses the mayor of allowing the project to fall behind schedule, and says she has a plan to speed it up.

Whoever is elected mayor on Oct. 22 could play a large role in how and when the relief subway line gets built.
Whoever is elected mayor on Oct. 22 could play a large role in how and when the relief subway line gets built.  (Bernard Weil / Toronto Star file photo)

The relief line is viewed by many experts as the only effective way to alleviate crowding on the TTC’s overburdened subway system, and whoever is elected mayor on Oct. 22 could play a large role in how and when it gets built.

So which candidate is right? Is the project on track under Tory’s leadership, or has it been delayed? The Star fact-checked the pair’s claims and found neither Tory’s nor Keesmaat’s assertions are completely backed up by the evidence.

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While early design and engineering work for the line is underway, construction has not yet begun.

In April the TTC board awarded $31 million worth of design contracts for stations and systems like track work, traction power, and signalling. Contractors are also conducting drilling and coring along the proposed route in order to gather geotechnical data.

This work will support construction of the line, but the subway is not yet being built.

Is the relief line delayed?

Keesmaat’s campaign has said that under Tory, the relief line has “fallen 18 months behind schedule” and “preliminary design work … is already two years delayed.”

The basis for the claim is a report council approved in June 2014 that projected a joint city and TTC study of the relief line route and station locations, called a “project assessment,” would be complete by early 2016.

The campaign says that because the city didn’t complete a key planning document called an “environmental project report” until August 2018, there has been a substantial delay.

However, the 2014 document didn’t set a firm deadline for completing the environmental project report, and city staff did recommend a route and station locations for the relief line to council in July 2016, only slightly behind schedule. That appears to undermine Keesmaat’s claim Tory allowed the project to stagnate for years.

Approval of the relief line route was delayed, but not for the reason Keesmaat’s campaign cited. Although staff recommended council endorse a proposed route at its July 2016 meeting, amid local residents’ concerns about disrupting the residential neighbourhood along Pape Ave., councillors voted to study shifting the subway to run beneath Carlaw Ave. for part of the route instead.

In May 2017, almost a year after staff first recommended a route, council approved the new Carlaw alignment. Both Tory and Keesmaat, who was the city’s chief planner at the time, endorsed the switch to Carlaw.

Is the relief line funded?

No.

Tory has said of the city’s transit plan that different levels of government “are proceeding with it and paying for it.” However, while the federal and provincial governments pledged in March to spend $9 billion on Toronto transit, that money will be spread between several projects, and according to a city spokesperson, “the city has not entered into a formal agreement with the province for the allocation of the funds.”

As part of an agreement Tory has claimed credit for, in 2016 the province pledged $150 million for design and engineering of the relief line.

Is it possible to speed up construction of the relief line?

Keesmaat says she could accelerate the construction of the relief line by three years, which would require finishing the subway by 2028. To accomplish this she would start property acquisition required for the line’s construction, commence utility relocation, and shortlist companies to build the project all while the current design work is still ongoing.

According to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross, initial outreach and public notifications for relief line property acquisitions have already begun, and the design work that is currently underway “is required to identify” where utility relocations may be required.

He suggested it wouldn’t be possible to start shortlisting companies to build the line at this point because work to determine the design and engineering requirements for the project “must be completed before any (such request) can be issued.”

Did previous administrations do nothing to advance the relief line?

Tory said on Sept. 17 that previous mayors and councils have engaged in “decades of talk” about the relief line, but done “nothing” to advance the project.

It’s true that little progress had been made on the relief line until this current term, but in June 2014, four months prior to Tory’s election, council approved spending $4 million on preliminary planning and the project assessment for the relief line. The vote paved the way for the current work on the project.

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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