Job posting for city agency seeking former staff from mayor’s office prompts ‘cronyism’ complaint

[ad_1]

A posting for a senior position at the city’s new body overseeing its massive real estate portfolio appears tailored to former members of Mayor John Tory’s staff or that of previous mayors.

The job qualifications for CreateTO’s senior vice-president of stakeholder communications and relations included this line: “Experience at the highest level with regards to the City of Toronto’s political realm, ideally having had experience working in the Mayor’s office.”

None of the other more junior postings, including for a director of development, included that qualification. The deadline for applications is March 4.

After being contacted by the Star, CreateTO changed the qualifications to say: “Experience working within a political environment at either the municipal, provincial or federal level.”

CreateTO spokesperson Susan O’Neill told the Star on Friday the wording would be adjusted to the online posting to attract a larger pool of candidates. She said there was no involvement or influence from the mayor’s office.

In 2017, council voted to create a new super realty agency responsible for nearly 8,500 properties, representing more than $27 billion in public assets — which city staff reported then was one of the largest portfolios in Canada — as well as future real estate transactions.

As a public agency of the city, it folded together responsibilities from the city’s real estate division, as well as the former Build Toronto and Toronto Port Lands Corporation. It was called the Toronto Realty Agency and later branded CreateTO.

Several senior members of Tory’s staff left the mayor’s office shortly before or just after his re-election last year.

They include chief of staff Chris Eby, who is now an executive at Downsview Metro Development. Asked if the posting was intended for him, Eby noted his new job in a message and said, “Not for me.”

Siri Agrell, the mayor’s former director of strategic initiatives, is now the managing director for OneEleven Toronto, a startup accelerator where she confirmed Friday that she is “happily and productively employed.”

Amanda Galbraith, who left her post as the mayor’s director of communications in 2016, is now a principal at communications firm Navigator. “While I’m flattered you reached out, I’m happy in my role with Navigator,” she said in a message.

Tory’s former principal secretary, Vic Gupta, has remained “happily unemployed,” he told the Star’s David Rider last week. Gupta left the mayor’s office as the second most senior staffer at the beginning of the second term after co-chairing Tory’s re-election campaign.

Gupta, in an email, said: “I’ve just reviewed the job profile you forwarded and I can confirm that I have no intention of applying for that job.”

Tory was invested in the creation of the new agency to better oversee the city’s real estate portfolio, calling it one of the “most vital, strategic assets that we have in the city” and advocating for less bureaucracy in its governance.

“As long as I’m here, I will be watching this like a hawk,” he told city council in May 2017 when the new body was approved.

“Because I don’t want to have had responsibility for creating something that’s either a monster or that works worse, if there’s such an expression, than what we had there now with that entangled system.”

Tory spokesperson Don Peat said Friday that the mayor’s office had “no involvement in the posting” and referred questions to CreateTO.

City spokesperson Brad Ross said the city “does not provide recruitment support or advice to agencies, boards and commissions,” when asked about whether there are hiring guidelines. “Those matters are handled directly by the agencies themselves.”

Councillor Gord Perks said a posting specifying someone with experience in the mayor’s office was “outrageous.”

“It’s fine to say that you have to have experience in government,” Perks said. “The list gets a lot smaller and a lot more intimate when it’s people who have dealt with Mayor John Tory . . . That narrows it down to about five people and that’s the worst kind of cronyism.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

3 former civil servants file $1.8M suit against former P.E.I. premier, government agency over privacy breach

[ad_1]

Three former government employees who raised concerns about P.E.I.’s provincial nominee program in 2011 have filed a lawsuit against former premier Robert Ghiz, a provincial Crown corporation and others.

A statement of claim was filed in P.E.I. Supreme Court Thursday on behalf of Susan Holmes, Cora Plourd Nicholson and Svetlana Tenetko.

The three women, who call themselves whistleblowers, are seeking $1.8 million in damages plus a further undisclosed amount representing loss of income and out-of-pocket expenses in the aftermath of a privacy breach.

A report from P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner released in Dec. 2017 concluded government was either directly or indirectly responsible for a privacy breach where personal information about the three women was leaked to the P.E.I. Liberal Party during the 2011 election campaign.

Also named in the suit, besides Ghiz and the provincial Crown lending agency Island Investment Development Inc., are former innovation minister Allan Campbell, former deputy minister of innovation Michael Mayne and a lawyer involved with the Liberal Party, Spencer Campbell. 

When reached Thursday afternoon, former premier Robert Ghiz said he had no comment as the issue is before the courts. CBC has not yet been able to reach the other individual defendants.

Susan Holmes is shown at her home in Moncton, N.B., in January 2018. She has said she won’t fade away without being compensated for the economic and emotional toll on her life. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

Personal information leaked to Liberal Party

The three women, who had all worked for the provincial government, made national headlines in September 2011 with allegations of bribery and fraud within P.E.I.’s provincial nominee program.

Later the same day, the Liberal Party of P.E.I. issued a media release that included personal information about the three women, including work histories, details about a human rights complaint and personal emails.

Spencer Campbell, speaking for the Liberal Party at the time, said the information had been leaked to the party and he didn’t know where it came from.

« The Liberal Party is not subject to the information and protection of privacy legislation in this province, » Campbell said at the time.

6-year investigation concluded breach happened

After an investigation that took six years, P.E.I.’s Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose concluded the information had come from government.

Rose said one of two things happened: either, « someone within Economic Development and/or the Premier’s Office and/or Executive Council … deliberately disclosed the personal information to the Liberal Party of PEI, » or, she said, an unknown third party deliberately disclosed the information because those three government bodies « failed to make reasonable security arrangements to prevent unauthorized disclosure to the Liberal Party of PEI. »

In either case, the commissioner concluded a breach of the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act occurred.

In their statement of claim, the three litigants say Ghiz, Mayne, Allan Campbell and others « conspired with each other and with [Spencer] Campbell and the P.E.I. Liberal Party by knowingly and unlawfully publicly disclosing private information … with the predominant purpose of harming the plaintiffs. »

Allegations not proven in court

They say the defendants acted « with a common design, to injure, embarrass, intimidate and promote bias against the plaintiffs » and should have known « their acts would, in fact, cause harm to the plaintiffs. »

Holmes, Plourd Nicholson and Tenetko say they suffered depression, mental anxiety, loss of income and costs of « moving and uprooting their lives. »

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Investigations by RCMP and border services into the women’s allegations regarding the PNP did not result in any charges.

A spokesperson for the province told CBC News the government is reviewing the statement of claim and referred to the statement provided by current Premier Wade MacLauchlan when the privacy commissioner released her report in 2017.

That statement noted the privacy breach occurred « under the previous government, and the key players involved are not a part of the current administration.

« This is something that would not have been, and will not be, tolerated under this current government, » the statement read. « We do business differently. »

More P.E.I. news

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Exercise caution on health-care super agency, Ontario warned

[ad_1]

Before proceeding with the creation of a health-care “super agency,” Ontario would be wise to look closely at the experiences of other provinces that have gone down that bumpy road, health policy experts and leaders warn.

Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta have undertaken similar reforms and found them to be more difficult, disruptive and distracting than anticipated, they caution.

“Everybody is thinking about the restructuring (while) the actual provision of services sort of gets ignored,” charged Katherine Fierlbeck, a political science professor at Dalhousie University, recounting Nova Scotia’s experience.

Nine regional health authorities were merged into the Nova Scotia Health Authority in 2015 with the aim of saving money and creating efficiencies.

But Fierlbeck argues there is no evidence to show that either goal was attained.

The Star reported in January that Ontario is eyeing the creation of a “super agency,” which would absorb more than 20 smaller agencies including Cancer Care Ontario, the Trillium Gift of Life, eHealth and 14 local health integration networks.

The provincial government has yet to confirm it intends to create a super agency, but the idea is being openly discussed in the broader public sector.

The provincial New Democrats have released numerous leaked government documents on health restructuring, including draft legislation to enable creation of a super agency.

Meantime, the Star has confirmed through a public record search with the Ministry of Government Services that the province incorporated, just over two weeks ago, an entity named Health Program Initiatives. The new entity and super agency are one in the same, said a source close to government who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the restructuring plan.

Asked if she had any advice for Ontario, Fierlbeck responded: “Don’t do it.”

Nova Scotia created a “huge monster agency” through the merger of smaller health agencies, she said, adding there was much inefficiency in decision making. Officials were unsure whether to get permission to make certain moves. There was a reluctance to make big decisions and a belief those should come down from on high.

An informal, blue-ribbon panel of Nova Scotia physicians, including a former deputy health minister, issued a report two years ago in which they wrote that merged organization “has quickly become a bureaucratic non-system which cannot respond quickly on behalf of dying or very ill people.”

Fierlbeck said primary care services in the province continue to be “a mess,” long-term care lacks planning and mental health services are improving but still not where they should be.

Thirteen years after health-care services in British Columbia were overhauled, the province’s cancer system continued to struggle, Dr. Don Carlow, former head of the B.C. Cancer Agency, wrote in a 2014 opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun.

The restructuring saw the board of the cancer agency disbanded. The agency was then taken over by the Provincial Health Services Authority, which had competing priorities.

Prior to the overhaul, the cancer agency reported directly to government. But after the changes, it reported to the authority, which in turn reported to government.

The cancer agency, which once had an international reputation for excellence and attracted top talent, had difficulty recruiting professionals and suffered from poor morale under the new structure, lamented Carlow, former president of the Ontario Cancer Institute/Princess Margaret Hospital and former executive director of the Canadian Association of Provincial Cancer Agencies.

Reached by phone, Carlow said Cancer Care Ontario is the envy of cancer systems around the world and he would hate to see it suffer a similar fate:

“This is an anachronism. You’ve got a good system and other people are looking at it and writing about it and praising it and copying it, and now they want to take it down? Oh no, I think that would be a mistake.”

Carlow pointed to a 2011 analysis by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which compared cancer systems in OECD countries. The best ones had good governance and leadership and took a systemic approach to cancer control through a lead organization like Cancer Care Ontario, he said.

Ontario’s former deputy minister of health, Dr. Bob Bell, said he is worried for the future of cancer care and organ donation in Ontario if both are moved under the umbrella of the super agency.

“Ontarians have enjoyed a system that continually improves without radical chaotic changes in structure,” said Bell, former president of the University Health Network and a former cancer surgeon.

“Incremental solutions are at hand to improve our current problems. Incremental change is not resisting innovation, it is introducing change in a responsible, safe manner that does not put patients at risk,” Bell added.

Alberta’s health system experienced much publicized disruption after it was centralized in 2008. Alberta Health Services was created out of 12 smaller health entities.

Opposition politicians and unions denounced the merger and called for AHS to be dismantled, charging health services were suffering.

Its first CEO, Stephen Duckett, lasted only 18 months, eventually returning to his native Australia. At the same time, some board members resigned.

Reached by email, Duckett described the restructuring this way:

“In my view it was handled badly but I think the outcome was good. There was unhealthy competition between the predecessor authorities which was not in the public interest. I do not think though that the merger process impacted adversely on patient care.”

Theresa Boyle is a Toronto-based reporter covering health. Follow her on Twitter: @theresaboyle

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Ontario health care ‘super agency’ would allow more privatization, confidential draft bill shows

[ad_1]

A confidential draft bill from Premier Doug Ford’s government would establish a health “super agency” to create “efficiencies” in the system and empower cabinet to privatize more services and sell medical data, according to a leaked copy.

The new “super agency” to oversee health care was first revealed by the Star on Jan. 17.

The leaked version of the Health System Efficiency Act 2019, obtained by the New Democrats and revealed Thursday, states the super agency — yet to be named — would implement the new Progressive Conservative government’s health system strategies, hinted at in a new report released Thursday from Ford’s health care czar Dr. Rueben Devlin.

Devlin said the complex health-care system is too “difficult” for patients to navigate, pointing to the need to make treatment paths more efficient and, for example, take better care of people with chronic diseases like diabetes.

Under the draft bill, the super agency would have the powers to “designate” providers of integrated care providing a mix of at least two of the following: hospital care, primary care, mental health, addictions, home care, long-term care, and palliative care.

The bill would also give Health Minister Christine Elliott the power to “consider whether to adjust the funding (of the super agency) to take into account a portion of the savings from efficiencies that the super agency generated in the previous fiscal year and that the super agency proposes to spend on patient care in subsequent fiscal years.”

A source told the Star an official announcement on the super agency, which the legislation says will have a 15-member board of directors, is expected in late February.

More to come

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Province eyeing creation of ‘super health agency,’ sources say

[ad_1]

The provincial government is considering a plan to shutter more than 20 health agencies — including Cancer Care Ontario, 14 local health integration networks (LHINS) and eHealth Ontario — and fold them into one “super agency,” the Star has learned.

Provincial bureaucrats have been asked to create a blueprint for a massive transformation of the health system, according to numerous sources in the broader public sector. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they have not been authorized to give media interviews.

Describing the plan as a work in progress and subject to change, they said the intent is to keep front-line and core services intact, but to run them out of one agency under a single board of directors and a streamlined layer of management.

The provincial cabinet met on Thursday, but it is unclear whether it has signed off on the plan. Following the three-and-a-half-hour cabinet meeting, Health Minister Christine Elliott did not deny the government is looking at getting rid of LHINs.

“We’ve talked from the very beginning about doing a review of all agencies in government so there’s nothing new here,” she said, referring to a health agency review announced shortly after last June’s provincial election.

“We’re continuing our review and working to create a patient-centred system of health care,” the minister said in a brief interview with the Star.

Read more:

Opinion | Don’t harm Cancer Care Ontario while restructuring health agencies

Asked if the government would get rid of Cancer Care Ontario by absorbing it into a new super agency, Elliott said: “All I can tell you is that we are looking at truly creating a patient-centred system of health care — it’s the patient experience that is truly important.”

The Star has obtained a copy of an undated Ministry of Health document marked “confidential” and labelled “exploratory model,” which appears to point to the option of a large “provincial clinical and delivery agency” with a government-appointed board of directors, a chief executive and leadership team.

They would oversee three divisions with one in charge of measuring health system performance and including public health, a second division providing clinical oversight for cancer, organ donation, diabetes, critical care, mental health and chronic kidney disease, among others, and a back-office support division to handle procurement, digital health and human resources.

Below these high-level functions would be 60 to 70 “integrated delivery systems” across the province, which could care for defined patient populations by disease or geographical areas with a “comprehensive continuum of care” for common conditions like diabetes or mental health.

There are few details in the document, which is described as a “vision” for delivering health care so “everyone in the province can access seamless, integrated care no matter where they live or what care needs they have.”

There were no estimates of costs or savings in the document.

Sources said the government wants to “debureaucratize” the health system by eliminating numerous agencies, along with their boards of directors and executive “C-suites.”

Home care and long-term care would still be locally co-ordinated under a restructured health system and these sectors would work more closely with the hospital sector.

The idea to consolidate them was first raised in a report last September by the consulting firm Ernst and Young, which was commissioned by government to conduct a line-by-line review of provincial expenditures.

A section of the report, which called for a consolidation of transfer-payment agencies, stated: “There are currently more than 20 health agencies across 11 priority areas; these organizations operate independent of each other, and most have leadership teams and back-office functional teams.”

It went on to say that administrative costs could be reduced by cutting the number of service providers receiving transfer payments.

Ontario’s health system, like many in the developed world, has been criticized for being siloed. The province has long been trying to improve integration of health services. A super agency could help with that, sources said.

Cancer Care Ontario has been praised in the past for its work in co-ordinating cancer services, but in more recent times it has been criticized as “bloated.” It has gone beyond its original mandate and now manages the delivery of kidney care services and participates in quality improvement programs in the broader health system.

The Conservatives have long had Ontario’s 14 LHINs in their crosshairs. The agencies co-ordinate home-care services and entry into long-term-care homes. LHINs have been accused of devoting too many resources to administration and not enough to front-line services.

eHealth Ontario has a tortured history. A 2009 auditor general’s report found $1 billion had been spent on eHealth and its predecessor with little to show for it. Three years later, the auditor found that $24.4 million was spent on an electronic registry of diabetes patients that was unceremoniously scrapped before it was up and running. The organization also weathered an expense account scandal when it was revealed that private consultants earning $3,000 a day were billing taxpayers for $3.99 cookies and $1.65 cups of tea.

Sources say the following transfer-payment recipients are also being eyed for inclusion in a super health agency: The Trillium Gift of Life Network, which co-ordinates organ and tissue donation and transplantation; Health Quality Ontario, which aims to improve the quality of health services; and CorHealth, which organizes Ontario’s cardiac and stroke services.

Theresa Boyle is a Toronto-based reporter covering health. Follow her on Twitter: @theresaboyle

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Canada’s domestic spy agency looking to hire hackers and data scientists

[ad_1]

OTTAWA–Canada’s domestic spy agency is in the market for hackers.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) wants to hire a “network exploitation analyst” to assist the agency in “cyber investigative activities.”

CSIS is hiring for a “network exploitation analyst.” They build tools for the spy agency to carry out electronic snooping.
CSIS is hiring for a “network exploitation analyst.” They build tools for the spy agency to carry out electronic snooping.  (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The successful candidate will be expected to build new tools for the spy agency to carry out electronic snooping, develop and maintain a database of “malware” exploits, and provide analysis of “technical artifacts,” according to the job posting.

CSIS, which investigates activities suspected of constituting threats to national security, can and routinely does rely on its sister agency, the Communication Security Establishment (CSE), for high-tech help with its espionage efforts. While CSE is focused on gathering foreign intelligence and is forbidden from spying on Canadians, it can assist domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies with their own investigations.

But one spy watcher said CSIS building up an in-house capability for cyber spying may have less to do with traditional espionage than with its new powers actually to disrupt threats to Canada.

Ronald Deibert, the director of Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said he’s not surprised CSIS is in the market for hackers — state-sponsored hacking is on the rise, and the Liberal government’s new national security laws empower Canada’s spy agencies to take part.

But Deibert, one of Canada’s foremost cybersecurity researchers, told the Star that he has significant concerns about the agencies’ new electronic powers.

“While (Liberal national security bill) C-59 placed some limits and provided some clarity on what those disruption powers would entail, the prospect of CSIS hacking in any form should give everyone pause, especially because there is still a lot of uncertainty around what that mandate would allow,” Deibert said in an email.

“Practically speaking, CSIS hacking could include computer network interference in a foreign election process, compromising the integrity of important digital tools that Canadians rely on for everyday privacy and security, creating fake online personas and using them to spread disinformation and more.”

John Townsend, a spokesperson for the spy agency, said Bill C-59 gives the agency “clear legislative authority” for the collection and analysis of information not “directly or immediately” related to national security threats.

“Data acquisition and exploitation are key to modern national security investigations,” Townsend wrote in a statement. “CSIS has employed network exploitation analysts and data scientists for some time. Given our mandate and specific operational requirements, CSIS does not disclose details related to individual job functions.”

The agency is also hunting for data scientists to develop a new program to sift through massive amounts of information to glean useful intelligence, according to a separate job posting.

CSIS received a sharp rebuke in 2016 from Federal Court Justice Simon Noël over the agency’s Operational Data Analysis Centre, which for almost a decade retained and analyzed data on people who posed no threat to Canada’s national security.

While Noël ruled that CSIS lawfully collected the information during the course of their investigations, it was illegal to retain “third party” data indefinitely.

Bill C-59, which Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale introduced in 2017 but has yet to become law, set parameters around how the spy agency can access, collect and analyze “publicly-available data” for its investigations, but critics have suggested the powers are ill-defined and overly broad.

CSIS wants its new team of data scientists to “autonomously find, enrich, transform, interpret, and exploit data to create intelligence products.” So: find data sets, figure out how to “exploit” the information contained in them, and condense it into reports that the spies can stomach.

Deibert pointed to a larger, more philosophical question about Canada’s spies’ growing powers for electronic espionage: is this the kind of activity Canada wants to sanction?

“To the extent CSIS, CSE and other Canadian government agencies are players in this space, they will be contributing to this highly-profitable but extremely dangerous market for ‘digital weapons,’” Deibert said.

“By empowering CSIS to hack, in other words, Canada is helping to normalize a dangerously escalating arms race in cyberspace proven to cause demonstrable harm to businesses, governments, and civil society, including back here in Canada.”

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier or reach him at 613-237-1441.

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Mayor Tory’s office directed provincial transit agency on SmartTrack messaging

[ad_1]

Mayor John Tory’s office directed what is meant to be an arm’s-length provincial transit agency about its messaging surrounding the mayor’s signature “SmartTrack” plan, emails obtained by the Star show.

As that plan was being significantly revised — reduced to just six new stations along existing GO train lines — the changes requested by Tory’s staff appeared aimed at putting what remained of the promised improvements in a better light.

The SmartTrack plan includes the controversial Lawrence East station, which the province’s auditor general found last week was inappropriately approved by the provincial transit agency, Metrolinx, under pressure from the city. The decision to approve the station came in spite of analysis recommending the station not be built. The auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, has now recommended an independent review of the selection of that station.

That follows earlier reporting by the Star that showed city staff boosted the case for Lawrence East, which the mayor has said is a key part of expanding the transit network in Scarborough.

A separate set of emails recently obtained by the Star from the TTC also show ongoing discord about transit planning and concerns from a senior official that the city’s planning process on SmartTrack was “insanity.”

The correspondence involving the mayor’s office began in February 2018, when then CEO of Metrolinx Bruce McCuaig wrote to then city manager Peter Wallace and the mayor’s then chief of staff Chris Eby to provide them a copy of a presentation to be given at an upcoming board meeting. The emails were obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request.

Within hours, Eby replied with concerns.

“Why not take the opportunity to reset the communications on this a bit?” he said, noting there seemed to be “consensus between our teams about how this is going to unfold.”

He suggested the mayor come to make the presentation with Metrolinx officials as a “collaborative effort.”

“Would send a strong signal that we’re all on the same page when it comes to the options and moving towards the same goals,” he wrote.

He went on to raise issues with slides in the presentation.

That included a concern that Metrolinx was not showcasing SmartTrack in conjunction with existing GO stations and a light rail extension in the western part of the city.

“The options should include existing, LRT and SmartTrack stations so it doesn’t miscommunicate the impact these lines would have. Wouldn’t want journalists to see low number of stations and misunderstand the slide,” Eby wrote to McCuaig.

Though Tory promised a 22-stop “London-style surface rail subway” during his 2014 mayoral campaign, the resulting plan when these emails were sent was six new stations within Toronto, added to existing GO lines that were already slated for increased, electrified service. A heavy rail spur Tory had promised to Mississauga became a western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line — meaning anyone travelling by GO train would need to transfer to that line and potentially pay an extra fare to take it. Several of the new station stops promised by Tory were eliminated as was the concept there would be any kind of separate service from GO.

Still Tory’s office was trying to make SmartTrack appear more than it was.

One of the slides was eventually changed at Eby’s request to say: “All options include an LRT on the Eglinton West corridor, with the number of stations to be determined” and also, “All options include the 11 existing stations in the City of Toronto and Markham on the Kitchener and Stouffville corridors.” Eby’s request that the second point say “as part of the SmartTrack/RER service concept” was not included.

When contacted by the Star, Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat did not specifically address the email exchange involving Eby.

“We are getting on with building transit — that’s what Mayor Tory was elected and re-elected to do by Toronto voters,” Peat wrote in a statement. “City council has voted to move ahead with SmartTrack and the province has endorsed this plan.”

McCuaig, who is no longer CEO of Metrolinx, declined to comment, referring questions to Metrolinx. A spokesperson for Metrolinx also declined to comment.

There have been ongoing concerns with at least one of the stations approved by council and the province, Lawrence East.

After the Star revealed secret analysis concluding the stop was not good value for money and should not proceed as part of the approved plan, city staff, at the direction of then deputy city manager John Livey, set about to provide a different, more favourable analysis of the potential station to convince Metrolinx to approve it.

In her annual report, the auditor general said “repeatedly adding further ‘strategic considerations’ to the decision-making process makes it possible to justify any decision.”

She described a June 2016 email to the chair of the Metrolinx board from McCuaig where he says the Lawrence East site still performed “relatively poorly” even after receiving a technical evaluation from the city.

In an October 2017 letter, the city forwarded further “strategic considerations” to Metrolinx, emphasizing the station’s importance in an “optimized” Scarborough transit network, as the provincial agency weighed whether to approve the station.

“Putting so much priority on these vague strategic considerations — and less weight on net economic costs — makes the decision-making process seem arbitrary,” the auditor general wrote.

In the same period, TTC officials were discussing concerns about the planning for SmartTrack.

In a January 2016 email to colleagues, Mitch Stambler, then head of strategy and planning for the TTC, noted he had come from a meeting with city staff, including then deputy city manager Livey.

“Just came from a Livey SmartTrack meeting, and it’s the closest thing to insanity that I’ve ever seen,” wrote Stambler, who has since retired. “Truly turns my stomach.”

He went on to say that city staff at that meeting were explaining “where they think we should build this line and that line and those stations, etc.”

He concluded: “Just like on the old game show ‘Family Feud,’ everyone in the room would cheer them on and shout, ‘good answer’. It’s a different and very sad world.”

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross told the Star they do not share Stambler’s characterization of the transit planning process.

“Of course, robust discussions can and do occur on a range of issues in any organization. The TTC’s expectation of its staff is that those discussions, and subsequent correspondence, remain cordial and professional at all times,” he wrote.

In a statement, city spokesperson Tammy Robinson said staff are following council direction to negotiate with Metrolinx to implement SmartTrack project objectives.

“The city is committed to working with our partners at the TTC and Metrolinx to provide improved transit access to Toronto residents through transit expansion.”

Councillor Josh Matlow, who has challenged the mayor’s Scarborough transit plan, arguing an LRT network would serve more people for less money, said he would welcome the review of Lawrence East recommended by the auditor general and a value-for-money analysis of all transit projects.

“I think it’s disgraceful that so much time and money has been wasted rather than achieving fact-based transit plans to really help people,” he said. “Numbers have been torqued, facts have been embellished and far too many people in the political world have put their own interests before those of the people.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

TTC union warns Presto too unreliable for agency to end Metropass program next month

[ad_1]

The union representing TTC workers is warning that the Presto fare card system is still plagued by reliability issues and isn’t capable of handling the influx of users expected when the agency discontinues the Metropass program next month.

In a Dec. 4 letter sent to Premier Doug Ford, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 recounts a litany of problems with Presto devices he says have been observed by union members. He argues TTC workers rather than contractors hired by Presto should take responsibility for upkeep of the fare devices in order to improve reliability.

“Unfortunately, Presto is not ready,” reads the letter, which is signed by ATU Local 113 president Frank Grimaldi and was obtained exclusively by the Star.

“It is critical that Metrolinx, the TTC, and the Ontario government take immediate and urgent action to fix the Presto fare card system’s failures to ensure a smooth transition of Metropass users to the Presto fare card system.”

Both TTC management and Metrolinx, which oversees the Presto system, counter the union’s assertion, saying the system is prepared for the switch.

On Jan. 1, the TTC plans to end its Metropass program, which currently accounts for about 40 per cent of all trips on the system. Customers will be able to buy a monthly pass on their electronic Presto card instead, and about 200,000 customers are expected make the switch.

Quoting anonymously from statements purportedly made by some of the union’s 11,500 transit workers, the letter says that malfunctioning fare card readers can mean that between 10 and 20 per cent of fares aren’t being paid during a typical bus driver’s shift.

The union also asserts that it can take up to an hour for Presto fare readers to go live once a driver starts their vehicle, and reload machines at subway stations sometimes take customers’ money without putting any funds on their cards.

The union also says it can take hours, days, or even weeks for Presto to send someone to fix a faulty device, during which time vehicles can be taken out of service.

Presto is responsible for maintenance of most fare card devices. The main exception is fare gates at subway stations, which are owned by the TTC. However, the software that operates the gates is Presto’s responsibility.

Metrolinx contracts out the maintenance of the Presto system to private firms, including the devices’ manufacturer, a German company called Scheidt & Bachmann.

The union argues that Presto reliability would improve if TTC workers, who already operate and maintain transit vehicles, were also authorized to handle repairs to the fare card machines.

Grimaldi’s letter calls on the province to “end the privatization and contracting out” of work on the TTC.

TTC spokesperson Heather Brown said the agency has procedures in place with Metrolinx to ensure “Presto contractors are on site within a timely manner” to address any malfunctions.

“Presto carries out first and second line maintenance activities every night at all garages and streetcar houses. Card readers are repaired within 24 hours” except if the vehicle is in service or undergoing repairs, she said.

Brown said the reliability of Presto readers on buses and streetcars is above 98 per cent, and the devices take an average of only three to five minutes to go live once a bus driver starts the vehicle. She acknowledged it could take longer if Presto has performed a recent software update, but the TTC has no record of it taking up to an hour.

“We are confident that Presto is ready for the transition away from Metropasses,” Brown said.

Annalise Czerny, executive vice-president for Presto at Metrolinx, also said the agency is ready to take on former Metropass users. She noted that last month 800,000 TTC riders per day used Presto.

She acknowledged the “mixed accountabilities” that result from Presto being responsible for maintenance of fare card devices on vehicles controlled by the TTC can cause challenges, but the two agencies work together to resolve any issues.

“To be fair, it’s taken the organizations a bit of time to get those processes in place because that is part of the change,” she said.

“I think we’re getting better and better. Compared to where we were a year ago, we’re improving. We’re seeing our stats consistently getting better.”

The Presto system was intended to modernize fare payment on Toronto’s transit network but has been controversial ever since the provincial government imposed it on the TTC in 2011.

Presto devices initially experienced high failure rates, and the system’s full implementation on the TTC has repeatedly been delayed even as costs exceeded original estimates. Despite initial assurances it would save the TTC money, the agency now believes Presto will cost more per year than its outgoing system of tickets, tokens and passes.

This week the TTC announced the debit and credit payment options will be removed from the Presto fares and transfer machines on its new streetcars. It said the function, which made it easier for riders to pay their fares, was causing the machines to be unreliable.

As the Star reported in October, an internal TTC document said that Presto devices continued to perform below reliability targets and at levels “not sustainable over the long term given the impact on customers, revenue, and reputation.” The TTC has billed Metrolinx for $4.2 million in lost revenue it says it incurred as a result of faulty Presto devices over two years.

The TTC plans to stop accepting tickets and tokens in favour of Presto at the end of next year.

A spokesperson for the premier didn’t return a request for comment Thursday.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Global credit ratings agency warns of downgrades in Canadian oilpatch if crude price woes persist

[ad_1]

Global credit rating agency DBRS is warning that if Canada’s crude oil price woes drag on without improvement, it could negatively affect the credit ratings of energy companies that rely on Western Canadian oil.

The Toronto-based firm said in a commentary Wednesday that while global and U.S. oil prices have dropped, Western Canadian producers have been under even « greater duress » as Canadian benchmark prices have fallen even more.

Generally, integrated energy companies — those that own refineries and gas stations — have been able to weather the steep price discounts. But other, less diversified producers have struggled.

If the bottlenecks making it difficult to get more oil to U.S. markets continue unabated, DBRS says producers that rely on Western Canadian energy production are at risk of  « a material degradation in cash flow and resulting key credit metrics. »

« This has happened quickly and it is of concern, » Victor Vallance, senior vice president of energy at DBRS said in an interview.  « And if it stays this way for some period of time, it will likely cause us to take action on our ratings and lead to downgrades. »

A shortage of pipeline capacity and oilsands production growth has led to bottlenecks that widened the usual price gap between Canadian crude and the American benchmark.

For weeks, the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS) has been tracking roughly $40 US a barrel less than West Texas Intermediate. In better times, it might track around $15 below.

The widened oil price discount is costing some companies and the government dearly. Analysts have said both are losing tens of millions of dollars every day because of the discounts.

DBRS didn’t name any particular companies that could come under credit scrutiny as a result of the Canadian price discounts.

But Vallance said the agency would determine within six months whether action would be necessary.

« It really comes down to seeing an improvement in pricing and that would be related to getting more transportation capacity in place and/or seeing additional production being shut in beyond what’s shut in currently, » Vallance said.

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Canada Revenue Agency is tough on regular taxpayers but goes easy on those with offshore accounts, audit finds

[ad_1]

The tax man goes easy on wealthy Canadians with offshore bank accounts while being harsh on regular taxpayers, according to a damning report made public by the federal auditor general Tuesday.

Wealthy tax cheats are given more time to find receipts and they get their interest and penalties waived, even if they didn’t ask for it.

Meanwhile, if a salaried employee can’t find a receipt, it’s automatically disallowed and they’re reassessed, the report said.

“Most taxpayers are individuals with Canadian employment income. We found that the (Canada Revenue Agency) requested information from these taxpayers more quickly, and gave less time to respond, than it did with other taxpayers, such as international and large businesses, and taxpayers with offshore transactions,” said the report.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson highlighted a double standard that many Canadians have personally experienced, where the CRA aggressively pursues regular people for small amounts of tax owing, while offering amnesty and anonymity for those involved in sophisticated offshore tax schemes.

In the five years from 2013-2018, the CRA accepted voluntary disclosures from 140 people who were already being audited, and waived $17 million they owed in interest and penalties.

The voluntary disclosures program, which encourages tax cheats to come clean by pledging not to prosecute them and offering to waive some or all of their penalties, has since changed its rules to prevent those who are already being audited from taking part.

“Does the CRA have a culture of conveniently ignoring tax-evaders who have the means to hire a lawyer?” asked Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in reaction to the report. “The CRA needs to shift its Sheriff of Nottingham approach to tax-collection and have the rich pay their fair share rather than concentrate audits on hardworking Canadians because it’s easier to have them pay.”

In response to the report, Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier pledged to “ensure that our tax system is fair for everyone, throughout Canada.”

Ferguson’s team put together a list of eight recommendations that focused on the lack of consistency in how the CRA applies tax law. Consistency, the auditors pointed out, is enshrined in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. They nevertheless found wide discrepancies in how people were treated by the CRA depending on their region and activities.

In one example cited, the CRA gave regular taxpayers 90 days to produce a receipt and automatically disallowed the deduction if it wasn’t provided in time.

But those with offshore transactions were given much more time to produce documents, and that timeframe “was sometimes extended for months or even years.”

“Sometimes, the agency did not obtain information at all, and the file was closed without any taxes assessed,” the report stated.

On average, the CRA took more than 18 months to complete audits that included offshore activity.

“The CRA continuously strives to apply the law consistently while taking taxpayers’ individual circumstances into account,” Lebouthillier said in a statement. “The agency will review its internal processes and procedures to ensure its compliance work follows sound and transparent processes.”

Since the Panama Papers were made public in 2016, the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has added more than $1 billion to the CRA’s budget to crack down on tax cheats, with a focus on those using complex offshore schemes.

In the last two years, the CRA says it has collected $21.5 billion in additional revenues from the stepped-up audits and other compliance activities.

But Ferguson’s report says those numbers are not only imprecise — based on estimates rather than actual revenue — they’re also overstated.

“The additional revenue the agency reported … did not reflect the taxes that it could not collect from taxpayers. This means that the impact on the government’s fiscal results was significantly less than what the agency estimated,” the report stated.

The auditors found the CRA reported at least $1.3 billion in additional revenue that was never collected.

“This previously reported additional revenue will never be collected because the assessments were overturned through the objection process,” the report said.

Lebouthillier agreed that reporting could be improved.

“I agree with the auditor general’s recommendations related to improving reporting and processes,” Lebouthillier said in a statement. “The CRA has already started to produce more strategic performance indicators, such as the tax gap estimates launched in 2016. The CRA will continue to build on this work with additional estimates to better report on our successes to Canadians.”

It looks as if you appreciate our journalism. Our reporting changes lives, connects communities and effects change. But good journalism is expensive to produce, and advertiser revenue throughout the media industry is falling and unable to carry the cost. That means we need you, our readers. We need your help. If you appreciate deep local reporting, powerful investigations and reliable, responsible information, we hope you will support us through a subscription. Please click here to subscribe.

Marco Chown Oved is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @marcooved

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس