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Ontario Superior Court dismisses bid to save basic income pilot project

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A grassroots attempt to overturn the Ford government’s decision to kill the basic income pilot project has failed.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, Ontario Superior Court said the applicants made “clear and cogent submissions” on the importance of the experiment and the harm participants endured when the government cancelled the anti-poverty initiative last July.

“However, the pilot project is a government funding decision which does not give rise to individual rights enforceable on judicial review,” the three-judge panel wrote.

“This court has no power to review the considerations which motivate a cabinet policy decision,” the justices said in their 10-page ruling dismissing the case.

Courts do not have authority to order government to spend money, which would have been the “inevitable effect of an order to quash,” they added.

The participants’ lawyer Mike Perry said his clients are “understandably disappointed with today’s decision.”

“But they respect the court and the legal process and have asked me to thank the court for its consideration of their application,” he said Thursday.

Perry had argued in the case, heard in Toronto Jan. 28, that courts can step in when governments act irrationally, in bad faith and in breach of ethics.

The group will not be appealing the decision as it is focused now on its class-action lawsuit, he added.

Although Thursday’s ruling was “disappointing, applicant Dana Bowman, 57, said the case “put a human face” on the government’s actions.

“I felt heard by the justices,” said Bowman, who was living on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments due to chronic physical and mental health challenges when she enrolled in the pilot project last winter.

“I can’t thank them enough,” she said.

The other participants in the legal challenge included Grace Hillion, Susan Lindsay and Tracey Mechefske.

Under the three-year experiment launched by the previous Liberal government in April 2017, about 4,500 people in Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay were to receive up to $16,989 annually.

Couples were to get up to $24,027, while individuals with disabilities were eligible for a $6,000 top-up.

The goal was to see if regular payments with no strings attached would improve health, housing and employment outcomes for people living in poverty.

The project was also testing whether a basic income would be a simpler and more economic way to deliver social assistance, a program mired in rules and bureaucracy.

Under the Ford government’s plan to scrap the experiment, participants will receive their last payment in March, a year before the pilot project was set to end. Apart from intake surveys, which showed participants were experiencing stress, struggling to pay rent and having trouble affording healthy food, no followup research was conducted on the impact of the extra income.

As news of the decision trickled out on social media, participants in other communities also expressed their dismay.

Tracey Crosson, 47, of Thunder Bay said she was “disappointed, hurt and confused,” by the ruling.

“I honestly don’t know what to do. I can’t live off of $1,168 a month. I am disabled. I can’t do it,” said the grandmother, who has relied on ODSP on and off for almost 20 years due to an accident.

Crosson moved to Toronto a month ago for medical treatment and was in court for the hearing. She says her basic income payments allowed her to cover her $950 monthly rent, buy nutritious food and focus on her health.

Ontario Premier Doug “Ford is attacking the vulnerable and he is winning,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion. “This is unfair. When will they realize what they are doing to the vulnerable is wrong?”

The decision was “not entirely unexpected … having listened to the very technical legal arguments,” said Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, who also attended the hearing.

“In this very particular judicial review circumstance, it didn’t meet the test,” she said. “But it is still cruel, immoral and very callous. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Despite the legal setback, Regehr said her network, which has been pushing for a national basic income for almost 20 years, will “keep up the fight.”

“The groundwork has been laid by the former Ontario government in getting this designed and getting payments out there,” she said.

“The world is still looking at this and still thinking this was quite a remarkable achievement and there’s still lots to learn from it.” she added. “It’s just harder now.”

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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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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