Ontario, Toronto release framework for deal to upload city’s subway to Queen’s Park


It sets the stage for the biggest subway transfer in the history of the Toronto Transit Commission.

Premier Doug Ford’s government on Tuesday released the terms of reference for the deal to “upload” the building and maintenance of new and existing TTC subway lines to the province from the City of Toronto.

Premier Doug Ford has released the terms of reference for the deal to upload the building and maintenance of new and existing TTC subway lines to the province from the City of Toronto.
Premier Doug Ford has released the terms of reference for the deal to upload the building and maintenance of new and existing TTC subway lines to the province from the City of Toronto.  (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

The plan, a cornerstone of the Progressive Conservatives’ election platform last June, would leave the TTC responsible for day-to-day operations of the subway while keeping fare box revenues.

Buses and streetcars would continue to be run by the city.

“With an upload, our government can cut through red tape to start new projects and finish construction faster,” Ford promised.

“Necessary maintenance and investment in the subway system has been put off for too long. We’ve also been waiting far too long for subway expansions. New subway construction has been stuck in red tape for years. It’s time to take action and speed things up,” the premier said.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said the “bold action” would speed up construction, making life easier for commuters from across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

“As a government, we are turning priorities into real projects and get the job done. We know that a lack of transit infrastructure and traffic congestion are costing money, jobs and time,” said Yurek as the framework was announced.

Read more:

Law to upload responsibility for Toronto subway to province coming in spring

“The signing of the terms of reference between the province of Ontario and the City of Toronto signals a shared interest to improve subway service, build more transit projects, to expand, and integrate the regional network and get people moving,” he said.

That means a push for more integrated fares and services between the TTC and regional transit systems, including GO.

“As we continue to work with the city and TTC, we will act in an open and transparent manner to get desperately needed transit built sooner and we will make every decision with … taxpayers and transit riders top of mind,” said Yurek.

As part of nine-page accord, Queen’s Park and the city will assess the value of the subway system, which carries 289 million people annually, and the price tag for deferred maintenance.

Sources told the Star that both sides are close to agreeing that the subway is worth between $8 billion and $9 billion, with about $5.6 billion required to maintain and upgrade existing equipment such as signals, tunnels, and track.

That suggests the city would have a one-time net gain on its bottom line of between $2.4 billion and $3.4 billion.

But according to a report published by the TTC last month, the subway network and stations will require roughly $22 billion in capital investment over the next 15 years, a figure that doesn’t include the cost of building the much-anticipated relief line or other expansion projects. More than $16 billion is unfunded.

The required work, which the TTC says is necessary to keep current levels of service and meet future demand, includes capacity improvements on Lines 1 and 2, installing the automatic train control signalling system, buying new trains, and expanding Bloor-Yonge station.

The terms of reference released Tuesday make clear that options on the table include ones that would fall short of a complete transfer of subway assets to the province. The city and province will also examine a model under which Ontario would only assume ownership and responsibilities of new transit expansion projects.

In December, Toronto council voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm its position that the subway should remain in the city’s hands. But at the same meeting of that largely symbolic decision, councillors also voted to enter talks with the province to set terms of reference for discussions about the upload.

Despite Mayor John Tory and the majority of councillors registering their disapproval of the upload proposal, many said they felt they had little choice but to sit down with the province, having received confidential legal advice that the city had no legislative authority to prevent Queen’s Park from taking over the rail network.

“Discussions between city staff and the province will continue now guided by the approved terms of reference and I expect a full report to council at the appropriate time,” Tory said Tuesday.

“I continue to firmly believe that any actions taken with regard to our subway system need to be in the best interests of the people of Toronto, including transit riders and employees, and that Toronto must be completely involved and fully consulted as Premier Ford previously indicated would be the case,” the mayor said.

“It is a good document that has been agreed upon by the two parties to now shape the discussion. The real decision time will come once those discussions have happened and whether or not they produce some kind of a deal or some kind of a change from the status quote that is good for employees, transit riders, taxpayers and anybody else who is a stakeholder from the city of Toronto,” he said.

“I can’t tell you if that’s going to be the case or not.”

At Queen’s Park, the opposition New Democrats said Toronto’s subways are “one step closer to being stolen by Doug Ford.”

“What Toronto’s subways need is the provincial investment they’re owed, not a complicated Doug Ford scheme to break subways apart from the TTC,” said MPP Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale).

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was also not convinced.

“Centralizing power in the premier’s office is not a silver bullet for fixing transportation delays,” he said in a statement, calling for a downtown relief line as soon as possible.

“Given Ford’s well-documented distaste for above-ground public transit, I am skeptical about the ability of his government to make evidence-based decisions for the TTC,” Schreiner said.

“Putting the relief line on the back burner while Ford builds subways to the suburbs would be disastrous for the TTC and for anyone trying to travel in Toronto.”

The terms of reference released Tuesday lay out objectives that largely reflect council’s stated position from the December meeting that the framework for discussions should give consideration to guiding principles of good governance, fair allocation of financial obligations between the city and province, and an integrated transit system.

They also state the province and city will consult the public on the proposal, which council had also set out as a condition for talks in the December vote.

Under the framework, there would be more private-public partnerships to build infrastructure like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is slated to open in 2021.

“The parties jointly recognize the need to pursue alternative approaches to the planning, funding, decision-making and delivery of transit in Toronto, and spanning the broader region,” stated the document signed by the province and the city on Monday.

This means the “accelerated implementation of priority transit projects,” better integration of TTC with Metrolinx and transit agencies in the 905, the “modernization and enhancement” of the existing subway system and a “long-term sustainable, predictable funding model” for transit.

However, there remains a lot of room for the deal to go off the rails.

Josh Matlow, the one member of council who voted against entering into talks with the province, said he took no comfort in the fact the terms state the two parties will consider options under which the city would retain ownership of existing subway assets while ceding new projects to the province.

“I think we’re being suckered,” said Matlow (Ward 12-St. Paul’s).

Citing past statements by the premier and the province’s recently announced strategy of using private development at station sites to fund transit, he charged the Ford government is dead set on taking over Toronto’s subway system wholesale and selling off land and air rights along the lines.

Matlow said councillors would be a “bunch of Pollyannas” to believe otherwise.

“Metaphorically, they’ve already announced that they want to take over your house and all the belongings in it. And to get you to the table to give them your keys and the number for your alarm they’ve said, oh yeah, we’ll also discuss some other options too. Maybe we’ll only take your furniture.”

Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10- Spadina-Fort York) slammed the upload talks as “a waste of time.”

Cressy said if Ontario was sincere about improving transit, it would increase its spending for the TTC instead of trying to take the subway system from the city.

“If the province truly wants to support the TTC and the movement of people and goods and services in this city, they should invest in it,” he said.

But proponents argue the province, which can borrow more money and run a deficit, will be better positioned to build and repair the subway network.

With files from David Rider

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

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

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


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Kingston mayor turns to city’s brightest young minds as part of innovation challenge – Kingston


Kingston’s mayor turned to some of the city’s brightest minds on Friday to come up with innovative ideas for improving the city.

Teams of post-secondary students pitched their concepts, addressing topics that ranged from long-term care to reducing carbon emissions.

The Mayor’s Innovation Challenge is a partnership between the city and its three major post-secondary institutions: Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College and the Royal Military College.

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The competition calls on students to come up with innovative proposals that address identified challenges facing the City of Kingston.

“This is really a picture of how we harness the incredible talents we have in our post-secondary institutions and how we can tap into that in our community,” said Mayor Bryan Paterson.

‘This was not small’: Queen’s University professor pinpoints frost quake

Teams of three students were asked to focus on four challenges during the one-day event. Nine teams made presentations on topics such as how to leverage emerging technologies to create a smart city, engaging residents who deal with social isolation and loneliness in long-term care, revitalizing public spaces and reducing carbon emissions.

One group of Queen’s University students — Zoe Mitz, Jesse Mastrangelo and Andrew Farley — pitched and hope to develop an app specifically targeted at seniors dealing with social isolation.

“They can learn about each other, see names and faces and relate them to each other and plan activities, make new friends and connections and actually get out of their rooms and be social,” explained Mitz.

If the group were to win, these young entrepreneurs would engage the help of seniors to make the app user-friendly for its target audience.

“The reason tech, for a long time, hasn’t been the most usable for seniors is the fact that things are not made for them,” said Mastrangelo.

“The fact that we are going to start from scratch, from the ground up and bring seniors onto our team and build it with them, that’s the big differentiating factor for us.”

St. Lawrence College opens new Student Life and Innovation Centre

Two teams will be chosen as winners of the Mayor’s Innovation Challenge. Winners of the competition will receive a paid four-month internship as well as a grant of seed capital for their ideas.

“Ultimately, how do we retain talent? We talk a lot about how do we find jobs and opportunities for young people here so this is exactly the forum where we could be creating new businesses and new startups and new ideas we can run with as a city,” said Paterson.

Based on the ideas presented, the mayor says it won’t be easy to select the winners.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Oshawa firefighters demand action after commissioning report on city’s fire services – Durham


The Oshawa Professional Firefighters Association is calling for action from the city after an October report commissioned by the organization claimed the city’s fire services need to improve in order to meet industry standards.

The organization commissioned the report following a fire that claimed the lives of four people last January.

Now, it wants council to fix several issues highlighted in the report, but four months after its release, firefighters say they have been stonewalled by the city.

“The response has been very frustrating. We haven’t heard anything officially from the city, we’ve had one meeting with management on the report that lasted less than an hour,” said Peter Dyson, president of the Oshawa Professional Firefighters Association.

Oshawa needs more frontline firefighters: new report

Fire Station No. 1 is right in the heart of Oshawa and used to house two fire trucks up until a couple years ago.

“We went down to one truck in the most vulnerable area in the city — the area in the city that has the most calls, the most fire calls and the most intense fire calls, and that can all be seen in our report, based on the city’s own data,” said Dyson.

Dyson has been sitting in on the 2019 city budget deliberations, hoping that council will bring up the report and find the funds needed to improve resources for firefighters.

Residents in downtown Oshawa face higher risk of being fire casualties: report

Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter said the city has yet to delve into these issues.

“Items dealing with fire services have not been dealt with yet by the community services committee,” Carter said in a statement.

“In addition, labour relations are ongoing so commenting at this time on any fire services issues would be premature.”

Besides adding another fire truck to Fire Station No. 1 and staffing it with four front-line firefighters, the report also recommends that Oshawa change how firefighters respond to fires in the city.

“Right now, we send 13 firefighters; the industry standard calls for 15. That can be changed immediately, today,” said Dyson.

No working smoke alarms in Oshawa house where fire killed 4: investigator

The association says it is going to keep advocating for these changes and is willing to take legal action in order to appear before council as a delegation to discuss the matter on behalf of the public.

“We’re going to keep pushing forward until this city meets the industry standards and puts the fire truck back here and sends the proper amount of firefighters on a call,” said Dyson.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Students at Edmonton school get into Christmas spirit by making lunches for city’s homeless – Edmonton


Even as the school term winds down ahead of Christmas, students at St. Bernadette School in Edmonton’s Beverly neighbourhood were beyond busy on Tuesday.

The students weren’t learning through books, but rather through benefaction, however.

Most of the Catholic school’s 220 students were busy preparing 500 lunches to be delivered to homeless Edmontonians who could use a meal.

READ MORE: Boyle Street Community Services launches #ThatsBS campaign to draw attention to poverty in Edmonton

Students packed lunch bags containing sandwiches, cookies and mandarins that will later be distributed to several shelters in the heart of the city. Tuesday’s initiative was associated with Santa YEG, a push to help impoverished Edmontonians. It held an event last month, which inspired a St. Bernadette School teacher to involve her students.

Most of the 220 students at St. Bernadette School in Edmonton’s Beverly neighbourhood were busy on Tuesday, preparing 500 lunches to be delivered to homeless Edmontonians who could use a meal.

Albert Delitala/ Global News

“We would hope that after experiencing this today, they can feel really good about going into Christmas feeling like they’ve actually done something for somebody else — shared some kindness, compassion sent messages of love through their cards and care packages,” Lisa Mullen-LaBossiere said. “Some of the kids will also be handing out the meals.”

Yardstick Testing and Training, an Edmonton-based company, paid for a significant portion of the meals assembled on Monday.

–With files from Global News’ Albert Delitala

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Montreal-area sisters gather, distribute donations in effort to help city’s homeless – Montreal


On Saturday, Sara Capobianco riffled through dozens of bags, trying to find a pair of boots that would fit.

She, along with her friends and family, were in downtown Montreal, giving away supplies to those who need them most.

“We saw on the news that there was a dog that died in the arms of his owner, in the cold weather,” said Sara’s sister, Samantha Capobianco, “and me and my sister, we’re avid animals lovers, so we wanted to find some solution to help out.”

READ MORE: Bimonthly, volunteer-run street buffet helps Montreal’s homeless get back on their feet

Together, the sisters brainstormed ways they could help homeless people get through the winter.

WATCH: How big is Montreal’s homeless population?

They started putting together gift bags and getting the word out out on different Facebook community groups, in an effort to gather donations.

“It went from zero to 100 within, I would say, a week and a half,” said Sara. “It’s just something that fills our hearts to make other people happy.”

Altogether, the sisters have raised around $5,000.

READ MORE: West Island woman crochets plastic bags into mats for homeless

Plus, they put together around 50 bags of supplies filled with donated clothing, sleeping equipment and food.

On Saturday, they roamed the streets, giving it all away.

READ MORE: Record-breaking cold snap leaves Montreal shelters scrambling

“For them, just the look on their faces when we’re telling them what’s inside — there’s nothing in the world I think that can give you that,” said West Island resident Claudia Giovanniello.

The giveaway wasn’t a one-time thing. The sisters are already planning to hand out an even bigger batch of donations in the new year.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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114th Santa Claus Parade marked largest parade in city’s history


Zyana Mangubat didn’t care that she was about to witness the largest parade — of any kind — in the city’s history.

The antler-wearing Stouffville tot was there for the star of the show.

The Fernandes family takes a selfie.
The Fernandes family takes a selfie.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

“Santa!” Zyana, 7, erupted when asked what she was most looking forward to Sunday from Toronto’s annual Santa Claus Parade.

But before she’d see the rotund elf — and bid him bring her a Hatchimal egg — some 32 floats, 21 marching bands and thousands of clowns, knights, skunks, fish, princesses and upside-down monkeys would pass by her University Ave. perch.

And those combined floats and players would make the 114th edition of the Christmas season kick off larger than any of its predecessors, says Clay Charters, the parade’s executive director.

“And if the Santa Claus parade has always been the largest in the city and this is our largest Santa Claus parade, then I’m inclined to agree with (the largest parade ever claim),” Charters says.

“The previous high mark was 30 floats, so we’re two floats longer than there’s ever been before.”

The parade’s fanciful new entrants included a float sponsored by Sunwing.ca and Autentica Cuba featuring sunning elves on a Caribbean beach as well as a Canada Protection Plan entrant called Sledding Fun.

There were also 19 returning sponsors who’d done complete rebuilds of previous floats, Charters says.

Celebrity clowns smile during the parade.
Celebrity clowns smile during the parade.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

Charters says his not-for-profit organization relied on more than 3,000 staff and volunteers to build, march in, and marshal this year’s parade.

Kalayce Brown — a parade sticker on her 6-year-old face — also enjoyed Santa and was asking him for an L. O. L Surprise Doll.

Dinosaur-mad James Chong, 7, hoped to see a Jurassic World movie float, but would have to make do with a Toronto Raptors raptor dribbling a basketball across a Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment entrant.

Charters is not surprised that the parade is still growing and beckoning hundreds of thousands of kids and their parents to Toronto’s downtown sidewalks in this video-game age.

“I think that even if kids are attracted to video games and their screens, inevitably everyone wants to be able to share experiences with people they love,” he says.

“And that’s what the Santa Claus Parade offers is a chance to get outside, to share something with your friends and family and to build traditions with them.”

The three-hour parade travelled from Christie Pits, wending along Bloor St., University Ave, and Wellington, Yonge and Front Sts. before breaking up at the St. Lawrence Market.

The North Toronto Marching band. The 114th Santa Claus Parade starts at Christie Pits and ends at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.
The North Toronto Marching band. The 114th Santa Claus Parade starts at Christie Pits and ends at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)


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Toronto is known for dead raccoons and potholes. The city’s 311 nerve centre knows this reputation is well-earned


In a new series, the Star delves into 311 data to see what our concerns say about the city. In the first instalment, we go behind the curtain at 311’s headquarters and learn that, with our Top 5 gripes, we’re living up to our raccoon-loving, pothole-hating reputation.

One of the strangest calls Toronto’s 311 service has ever received came during the 2015 Pan-Am games: someone wanted to know if a dead body would qualify them to drive in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane.

Director Gary Yorke stands at the centre of 311 Toronto’s headquarters on John St. The service answers roughly 4,000 calls a day — 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in 180 languages.
Director Gary Yorke stands at the centre of 311 Toronto’s headquarters on John St. The service answers roughly 4,000 calls a day — 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in 180 languages.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

The answer was no, recalls Gary Yorke, director of 311 Toronto, from behind his desk overlooking the floor at the call centre’s Metro Hall headquarters on John St.

A client solution rep, or CSR as they’re known, told the caller (who was travelling in a hearse) that to travel in the lane, all persons in the vehicle must be alive.

It was one of two strange calls that stuck out for Yorke, who’s been in his role for about three and a half years.

“The other one is ‘I have a turkey on for three hours, when should I take it out?’” says Yorke, with a laugh.

Up two escalators at 55 John St., the 311 nerve centre is a place where white noise streams through speakers to calm the din of employees taking roughly 4,000 calls each day on everything from garbage pickup up to dead animals — 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in 180 languages.

In a city that tops Canada’s worst roads lists every year and where the unofficial mascot is a raccoon, 311 operatives may have the best gauge of Toronto’s day-to-day affairs, with the service’s data backing up the city’s reputation.

Toronto’s Top 5 service requests for 2018 so far, according to 311’s own analysis provided to the Star, are: storm cleanup (13,884), pot holes (11,631), wildlife cadavers (11,356), injured or distressed wildlife (10,432), and property standards related to bylaw enforcement (10,087).

“I think that our residents are concerned about our infrastructure, the property that they use every day. They’re very intelligent and diligent about it, and they require responses and information,” Yorke says.

Given wildlife concerns made two of the top five spots, the data suggests #DeadraccoonTO, the critter whose body was honoured with an impromptu viral memorial in 2015, was far from a unique occurrence.

In fact, 311 data from many municipalities seem to suggest you can know a place by what it grumbles about.

In New York, the top service request, according to the city’s open data portal, aside from “other” is “noise-residential.”

On the other side of the continent in San Francisco, one of the most unaffordable cities in the world, one of the top calls were of “encampment reports,” which refer to homeless camps, according to that city’s own open data.

Vancouver’s top service requests, spokesperson Jag Sandhu says, are for street tree work.

The types of service requests that come in to Toronto’s 311 are “relatively the same” over the years, says Yorke, with pitfalls such as potholes, property standards, garbage pickup and noise reoccurring.

The area of the city with the most service requests (going by the old 44-ward model) is Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence (10,228, according to 311) followed by Ward 25, Don Valley West (10,181) and Ward 22, St. Paul’s (9,965). Ward 8, York West had the least at 4,045, by 311’s stats. Data is not available for the new 25 wards.

With nearly 650 categories, less popular requests range from dogs off leash (400 in 2018, according to open data), to sewer odour (465), bees/wasps (265) appliance emergency (58) and sinkholes (780).

But Yorke is quick to point out that he doesn’t see them as “complaints.”

“There will always be complaints,” he says. Service requests make up about 30 per cent of calls — people calling, for example, about a pothole that needs to be fixed. But about 70 per cent of their business is just “general inquiries,” questions staff can easily answer.

They don’t consider a call a complaint unless the city worker who comes to fix something is, say, really rude or runs over the family dog in the process.

On a recent November day at the call centre — a sun-filled space that was once home to preamalgamation Metro Council — a few Halloween decorations are still up: caution tape, witches and cobwebs.

“Because of the stressful nature of the business, you gotta have fun,” Yorke says.

On the wall, flanked by two TVs, one playing CP24 and the other CNN, is a huge screen showing how many callers are in the queue (15), how many employees are on calls (18), and how many are not ready — maybe making notes or going to the washroom (16).

It’s a barometer Yorke is constantly monitoring.

“This screen is our lifeline,” he says. “No call’s the same.”

They have a council mandate to answer 80 per cent of calls within 75 seconds, he adds, a target they’re proud of exceeding last year, with a wait time of “about 44 seconds.”

The challenge is when there’s a “major event” such as a storm or a very confusing city election, and calls skyrocket.

The nerve centre at 311 Toronto with its screen showing how many callers are in the queue, how many employees are on calls, and how many are not ready -- perhaps making notes or going to the washroom.
The nerve centre at 311 Toronto with its screen showing how many callers are in the queue, how many employees are on calls, and how many are not ready — perhaps making notes or going to the washroom.  (Steve Russell)

The 311 team doesn’t actually handle the issues themselves, but either get information for people or direct the service requests to the appropriate city divisions.

“The way I see it is like, we’re like the coach,” Yorke says. “The coach calls the plays, but the players execute the play.”

The first 311 system in North America was launched in Baltimore, Md., in 1996, with the help of a $300,000 federal grant, reported the Baltimore Sun at the time.

It was an experiment to see if a non-emergency public line could help ease the burden for a congested 911 system. The Sun noted 60 per cent of the 1.8 million 911 calls Baltimore police dispatchers answered the previous year were for nonemergencies.

“People call 911 for everything from directions to the ballpark to the removal of double-parked cars,” read the article.

The 311 model proved popular and soon other major cities such as Chicago, L.A and, in 2003, New York adopted it.

Toronto’s 311 service was officially launched in September 2009 as a way to centralize city services and “make it easier for the resident” to access the city, without having to search through multiple divisions, Yorke says.

With an annual budget of about $18.6 million, 311 now has 3.4 million contacts a year compared to 1.5 million about three years ago. That figure includes contacts by phone, Twitter, email and visitors to their online “knowledge base,” a kind of self-serve for city information.

There were 359,671 service requests in 2018 so far, according to 311’s own open data posted on the city’s website. That’s compared to 396,379 for all of 2017 and 406,291 in 2016, up from 254,218 in 2010, the first year data is available.

Yorke describes 311 Toronto as “going through an evolutionary stage,” adding they have people coming from places such as Shanghai, Sweden, Finland and Botswana to learn from them.

“It’s kind of cool to just find out what other people are doing,” he says. “We all have the same pains.”

At the call centre there’s a sense of calm, even though it’s a hive of activity on this recent weekday.

On a pillar is a poster about “customer connections,” showing, fittingly, two raccoons navigating a call with “active listening,” “empathy” and “personal connection.”

“I haven’t had garbage in weeks!” says one. “I understand,” responds the other.

“The new green bin locks are just too good.” “Ha Ha!”

Yorke sits behind a desk that overlooks the floor. Behind him are Spiderman mugs and figurines — a way to connect with staff, he says.

And, like the superhero, 311 does have a role to play in watching over the city. It’s the control centre that keeps Toronto ticking, one dead raccoon at a time.

“From a moral compass, with power comes responsibility,” says Yorke.

“Basically we’re one of the organizations that really doesn’t sleep, and we have really a good pulse of what’s going on in the city.”

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11


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Iqaluit residents line up as city’s largest grocery store reopens after fire


Iqaluit’s largest grocery store reopened Saturday, just over a week after an early morning fire burned through part of it for 22 hours.

« I’ve been waiting a long time and I’m actually excited, » said Jimmy Koolola, one of the many people who stood in line to get into the store Saturday morning.

No one expected, truth be told, that they’d be able to open so quickly.– Madeleine Redfern, Mayor of Iqaluit

The fire at Northmart in Nunavut’s capital was one of a handful of blazes that affected buildings and vehicles in the same area of town, on Nov. 8. A youth was charged with arson and disregard for human life in relation to the Northmart fire.

The store’s warehouse — which stored mainly non-perishable food brought up by sealift — crumbled to the ground. The main part of Northmart suffered mostly smoke and water damage.

Since then staff have scrubbed down the store, thrown out most things affected by the fire and restocked.

Because there is no road connection between Iqaluit and southern Canada, all food must be shipped or flown in, and the city has only one other large grocery store to serve its 7,700 residents.

A lineup of people wait outside of Iqaluit’s Northmart Saturday morning. It’s been over a week since a fire consumed about half of the grocery and merchandise store. (David Gunn/CBC)

« It’s nice that it’s open. I was psyched about it, » said Johnny Sagiatook, inside the grocery store on Saturday. 

Sagiatook helped the water trucks douse the store’s fire earlier this month.

« It was pretty brutal, working down here 18 hours, » he recalled.

The fire on Nov. 8 started in the store’s loading dock and spread to the attic, eventually destroying the warehouse. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Staff worked 24 hours a day

There were lineups at almost every checkout counter as people rushed back to shop Saturday.

The smell of smoke was still lingering in the store, and some general merchandise — labelled as 50 per cent off — had some light soot on it Saturday morning.

We had all kinds of people on their hands and knees.– David Chatyrbok, North West Company

Northmart started restocking its shelves as early as Tuesday, after health and building inspectors examined the store.

The smell of smoke was still lingering in the store, and some general merchandise — which is labelled as 50 per cent off — had some light soot on it Saturday morning. (David Gunn/CBC)

« The effort was unbelievable. We had all kinds of people on their hands and knees, » said David Chatyrbok, the vice president of major markets for North West Company, which owns the grocery store. 

Chatyrbok explained that staff scrubbed all the shelves, backboards, counters and refrigerators from top to bottom.

« We worked on this store 24 hours a day, non-stop, to make sure we got [it] ready for today. » 

Long lineups were at every checkout counter as people rushed back to Iqaluit’s largest grocery and merchandise store. (David Gunn/CBC)

Earlier this week, the company said it would not raise prices in the short term to compensate for the loss. Food prices in Nunavut can cost up to three times the national average.

Chatyrbok didn’t give any figures on how much the damage will cost the company, but said it was « a tremendous amount of money. » 

He said the store brought in all new products, like fresh produce and meat, for the reopening.

« We absolutely started brand-new clean, » he said.

Unexpectedly quick recovery, says mayor

« No one expected, truth be told, that they’d be able to open so quickly. [We thought] best case scenario — a month or so, » said Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern. 

Redfern said all the store’s perishable foods were taken to the dump and buried.

She said public health and city officials inspected the store and found it in good shape.

« All indications look pretty solid, » Redfern said.

She added she hopes the warehouse will be rebuilt soon.

Ceiling tiles were replaced and air ventilation fans were installed, a Nunavut government spokesperson told CBC. (David Gunn/CBC)

A government of Nunavut spokesperson told CBC in an email that ceiling tiles have been replaced, air scrubbers and ventilation fans were installed, and all surfaces were washed.

It said food, medicine and medical supplies that were potentially exposed to smoke were all disposed.

Ongoing monitoring will continue, the spokesperson said.

With files from Donna McElligott, David Gunn, Nick Murray and Heather Hiscox


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Snow wreaking havoc on Regina roads, despite city’s best efforts – Regina


Blowing snow and howling winds ensured the morning commute was the first treacherous winter drive of the season – especially for those without snow tires.

“We had sanders and plow trucks out last night working all night, working extra hours into the morning shift to have coverage for rush hour traffic,” City of Regina’s director of roadways and transportation Norman Kyle said.

Eight sanders, eight graders and one sidewalk-clearing machine were on the roads on Tuesday, but the snow still wreaked havoc on the Queen City.

Myth-busting winter driving wives’ tales

Regina police responded to 17 collisions on Tuesday, six involving injuries.

The accidents were mainly in suburban neighbourhoods, which could be a concern for some drivers – especially since the city has no plans to plow those roads.

“An event like this, we wouldn’t be touching residential roads just yet. Just not enough snow, not enough ice,” Kyle said.

Kyle said he understands the driving conditions aren’t ideal, but added it will take a little more snow for crews to be out in full force.

Regina and area wakes up to winter wonderland

“We got a far bit of snow, but nothing close to a systematic plow – so it’s manageable within that equipment force,” Kyle said.

“Once we get five centimetres or more [of snow], we will start the systematic plow.”

Kyle said when the city is in storm mode, they focus on high-speed routes and major intersections. If ruts caused by snow in neighbourhood roads get bad enough, the city would consider sending graders to even them out.

According to SGI, the best plan is just to drive for the weather.

“It’s always important when you first head out to get a feel for the road, start a little bit slowly, get a sense of how your car is performing with the road conditions and the traction,” SGI communications manager Tyler McMurchy said.

What you need to know before your purchase winter tires

That means giving a lot of distance between cars and braking or accelerating gradually – and if you do spin, don’t panic.

“Ease up on the accelerator [and] brake gradually. If you find yourself going into a bit of a tailspin, look where you want to go and steer there,” McMurchy said.

Another piece of advice, McMurchy recommends, is to give yourself more time in the morning for your commute to ensure you get to where you’re going safely.

WATCH: Winter driving wives’ tales to avoid

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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In Toronto, we trust: Groundbreaking study shows city’s social capital is remarkably high


How many close friends or relatives could you call in an emergency?

If you lost your wallet, would you trust someone in your neighbourhood to give it back?

Samantha Luc and her partner Lars Boggild outside the condo building which will soon be home. The two came from Halifax and found it a bit difficult to make friends and social connections. They have since joined clubs and are feeling more settled.
Samantha Luc and her partner Lars Boggild outside the condo building which will soon be home. The two came from Halifax and found it a bit difficult to make friends and social connections. They have since joined clubs and are feeling more settled.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

The answers to these questions are part of what researchers call “social capital,” a key ingredient to a good quality of life, a healthy population, safe streets and economic prosperity.

Toronto — a city of more than 2.8 million people where 51 per cent of residents are visible minorities — exhibits remarkably high levels of social capital, according to a groundbreaking report being released Tuesday.

And surprisingly, the research shows robust social capital among some groups where it was not expected, including first-generation Canadians and seniors living alone and in highrise buildings, says the report by the non-profit Toronto Foundation and Environics Institute for Survey Research.

“In contrast to some of the research evidence for U.S. cities, this study found no evidence in Toronto that increasing ethnic diversity is linked to lower levels of social capital,” says the report, the first comprehensive look at the issue in a Canadian city.

Social capital is the “lubricant” that drives social networks, determines trust and makes it possible for people who may have little in common to live peacefully with each other, says the report. This kind of mutual support, trust and connection are not simply “feel good” notions, but as important as economic capital, it says.

“Social capital is absolutely critical to our lives, to our happiness, to our well-being, to progressing in society,” said Sharon Avery, president and CEO of the foundation. “And while there is clearly something to celebrate (in the Toronto results), I don’t want us to celebrate and walk away.”

For example, the research shows just 6 per cent of Torontonians don’t have a close friend or relative. But that still represents 100,000 residents, Avery noted. “That’s the population of Pickering and not something we can ignore.”

To lead the way, the foundation is using the research to make grants of up to $25,000 each to nine resident-led projects aimed at strengthening social capital and urban resilience in neighbourhoods across the city.

The foundation hopes the research, which will be freely available through Environics, will help academics, planners, activists and philanthropists guide investment in communities and help those who are most vulnerable.

Avery also hopes other cities across Canada do their own studies.

“Until another big city does this, we won’t be sure we are as good as we should be,” she said.

The report, which cost about $275,000 and another $100,000 in in-kind support, examined four dimensions of social capital — social trust, social networks, civic connection and neighbourhood support.

It found people in Toronto generally trust others, including those who are different from themselves, feel a sense of belonging to their community, have family and friends they can rely on, give back to the community and are interested in politics.

However, the research found a significant number of residents with low levels of social capital, including those who are isolated from their neighbours, living on low incomes, residents in their late 20s struggling to get established, and in some cases, racialized minorities.

At a time when Toronto faces a rapidly-aging population, high rates of child poverty and a growing polarization of high- and low-income neighbourhoods, “social capital becomes even more important to our collective well-being,” the report says.

It is also “an important measure of how well residents are doing and how well they are able to recover from setbacks and crises, both individually and as a community,” it adds.

Environics surveyed a demographically representative sample of 3,207 residents over age 18 earlier this year and asked participants a series of 60 questions.

In addition to questions about personal connections and trust, the Environics survey asked about civic connections, such as participation in groups, community associations and interest in politics. It found civic connection is highest among those who know their neighbours, have relatively high incomes, are religiously active and live in the central part of the city. Among ethnic groups, those who identify as Black were most active, while those who identify as Chinese were least active, according to the study.

Despite concern about low voter turnout, the survey shows higher rates of political engagement since Statistics Canada’s 2013 General Social Survey, a national survey that included a small sample from Toronto.

In terms of neighbourhood support, the Environics survey found a large majority of city residents believe “people working together as a group can make a big difference” with the highest scores among those who identify as Black or South Asian and among residents of “neighbourhood improvement areas” targeted for extra municipal support due to high socio-economic needs.

“Listening to those populations and asking them what they think the solutions are … is a key bridge we’d like to build between neighbourhoods,” Avery said. “Assets aren’t just about money, they are also about the relationships we share.”

Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute, one of several community partners that helped fund the project, said most people understand the value of having friends and relatives to count on — in fact, 54 per cent of Torontonians said they had up to five close friends.

“But what many people may not realize is that a society where (groups from different cultures) are better linked is actually more important for your health and … a vital component of well-being,” he said. “We need to ensure that we build better links between groups in the city if we want good health for everyone.”

Michelynn Laflèche, vice-president of research and policy for United Way Greater Toronto, another community partner, said social capital is linked to opportunity.

“In a region with growing inequality, it’s important to have a picture of what social capital looks like: Who has how much, and what they can do with it,” she said.

And when it comes to cold hard cash — and getting your wallet back, the survey shows 75 per cent of Torontonians trust someone in their neighbourhood to return it.

Portraits of social capital:

Marilyn Cancellara, 73, is typical of seniors who have among the highest levels of social capital, according to a new report by the Toronto Community Foundation. Despite being widowed six years ago and living alone in a highrise near Earl Bales Park, Cancellara is an active volunteer with North York Community House, helping newcomers with conversational English.

Marilyn Cancellara, 73, is widowed and lives alone, but as an active volunteer has a wide social circle.
Marilyn Cancellara, 73, is widowed and lives alone, but as an active volunteer has a wide social circle.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

Many of the newcomers she helps have become close friends, an important form of social capital researchers call “bridging capital” or the ability to form connections with those who are not like themselves.

“I’ve worked with people from almost every country,” Cancellara said. “And I find most people are the same. We think the same. We’re not that different at all.”

“They come to my home and they have coffee. I get Egyptians and Iranians, people from Iraq, Afghanistan . . . everyone gets along with everyone.”

Nancy Li, 53, who came to Toronto from China with her husband and 11-year old son in 2005, knows what it is like to be a newcomer who doesn’t speak the language and is struggling to convert foreign skills into employment in a new country.

Nancy Li, who came to Canada in 2005, knows what it is like to be a newcomer who doesn't speak the language and is struggling to convert foreign skills into employment in a new country. "It was very lonely," she says.
Nancy Li, who came to Canada in 2005, knows what it is like to be a newcomer who doesn’t speak the language and is struggling to convert foreign skills into employment in a new country. « It was very lonely, » she says.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

“It was very lonely,” she said. But Li, a teacher in China, learned English, went back to school and found a job as a community worker at the Agincourt Community Services Association, where she sees other members of her community suffering from the same sense of disconnection.

Chinese immigrants have the lowest level of social capital, according to the report. Although researchers are not sure why this ethnic group ranks lower than others, Li speculates the intense pressure to provide for their families may be a factor. Chinese seniors are especially vulnerable as they are often isolated in their homes helping their new immigrant children and grandchildren get established. It is why Li’s agency supports the Happy Healthy Friendship Association. “The group helps seniors form friendships and make connections outside their immediate community, says Li, who co-ordinates the group. “Everybody needs a friend to talk to.”

Ana Barbakadze, 27, is one of roughly 6 per cent of Toronto residents — or about 100,000 people — who have no friends or family to call in an emergency. And yet the refugee from Georgia, in Eastern Europe, who came to Toronto two years ago, alone and pregnant, believes in miracles.

Ana Barbakadze, a 27-year-old refugee from Georgia, is one of roughly 6 per cent of Toronto residents who have no close friends or family to call in an emergency. She is holding son, Daniel, 15 months.
Ana Barbakadze, a 27-year-old refugee from Georgia, is one of roughly 6 per cent of Toronto residents who have no close friends or family to call in an emergency. She is holding son, Daniel, 15 months.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Barbakadze had nowhere to turn when she was illegally evicted from a rooming house shortly after she arrived. She faced homelessness again last summer when the couple running her new rooming house announced they were moving.

“I just broke down crying, sobbing in the stairwell with my baby. What kind of mother takes her baby to a homeless shelter?” Barbakadze said. But “miraculously,” a passerby — who turned out to be another immigrant from Georgia — offered the mother and son a room in her home. “It is a miracle that I could come here,” said Barbakadze, who worked as an emergency services telephone operator, but fled her homeland due to racial persecution. “When I get on my feet, I want to work with people to help them. Because I know what it feels like to have no one.”

Vivien Green director of settlement services for North York Community House, says Barbakadze’s story is not unique and underscores the important role settlement workers play for refugees.

“For many refugees, their settlement worker is their only contact,” she said. “They deal with everything.”

Samantha Luc isn’t surprised a new report shows young people between the ages of 24 and 29 are among those with the lowest social capital in the city. “Many people in my age group are just out of university, new to the city and trying to get established,” said Luc, 25, who moved to Toronto from Halifax with her spouse Lars Boggild, 27, four years ago.

Samantha Luc and her partner Lars Boggild outside the condo building which will soon be home. The two came from Halifax and found it a bit difficult to make friends and social connections. They have since joined clubs and are feeling more settled.
Samantha Luc and her partner Lars Boggild outside the condo building which will soon be home. The two came from Halifax and found it a bit difficult to make friends and social connections. They have since joined clubs and are feeling more settled.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star)

“It took us some time to find our feet when we first got here,” said Luc, who works as an events co-ordinator for a specialty chocolate maker. “We had no family here and didn’t really know anyone, so my partner and I were feeling a bit isolated.” But 4-1/2-years later, as more university friends moved to the city and they became more secure in their jobs, the couple have formed a wide social circle and have joined local clubs and community groups.

“I have joined a figure skating club and Lars has joined a tennis club,” Luc said. The couple has also joined Vision 2020, a group of young philanthropists working with the Toronto Community Foundation to give back to their community.

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


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