Power workers could be made an essential service, Doug Ford says

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As MPPs debate back-to-work legislation to keep power workers from zapping Ontario’s electricity system, Premier Doug Ford is not ruling out eventually designating them an essential service.

“We haven’t crossed that bridge yet. Would we rule it out? We wouldn’t rule anything out,” the premier said Tuesday at Amazon headquarters where the U.S. company announced 600 jobs for the province.

Making the workers essential would forbid them from ever striking. Their contracts would instead be settled through arbitration, as is done with police, emergency services and Toronto Transit Commission employees.

“The most important thing is get the OPG workers back on the job,” Ford said of the 6,000 Ontario Power Generation employees who are members of the Power Workers’ Union.

“We can’t afford to have any power outages, any power blackouts or brownouts across the province,” the premier told reporters.

With the bill expected to pass by Thursday, Ford said he was hopeful things get back to normal by Friday.

Energy Minister Greg Rickford, noting the government has moved quickly to end the first such job action since 1985, praised the unionized workers for behaving so responsibly in the dispute.

“When 50 per cent of the Ontario’s hydro supply is at stake, we take the issue very seriously,” said Rickford.

“We appreciate the Power Workers’ Union. They issued their vote to strike and strike notice on Friday and they remain on the job. We appreciate that, because we think they understand the importance of no interruptions during this critical season of peak demand and temperatures getting colder,” he said.

“After eight months of negotiations, three votes, a rejection of the final offer on Thursday, a vote to strike on Friday and the option for arbitration, every right has been afforded to resolve this. This is now less about rights than it is about lights.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath oppose the legislation because it infringes on the Charter rights of workers to collective bargaining.

The PWU also expressed disappointment at the bill.

“Our union has a proven track record of negotiating fair and responsible employment agreements,” said union president Mel Hyatt

“Our priority has always been the strength and health of Ontario’s electricity sector. This is reflected in how we negotiate for our membership and in our public statements about energy issues affecting the people of Ontario,” said Hyatt.

“These highly-trained and skilled term workers have not been treated fairly or responsibly by OPG,” he said.

“Since the PWU initiated the current job action in response to OPG’s last offer, our members have acted professionally and responsibly to ensure the energy needs of the people of Ontario are met.”

The workers, who operate the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations as well as 66 hydroelectric stations, rejected OPG’s offer of a 6.6 per cent wage increase over three years.

That decision last Friday triggered a 21-day period in which the utility and its employees take steps to begin shutting down the plants.

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

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5 Essential Vegan-Friendly Spots to Explore in St. Catharines

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With its famously majestic waterfalls and fertile fields, Canada’s bountiful Niagara Region has long been associated with earthly wonders. From rolling hills lined with neat rows of carefully tended grapevines to roadside stands overflowing with ripe fruit, this green stretch of the world is a must-visit for anyone who appreciates pristine produce bursting with flavor. It only makes sense, then, that the area’s largest city, St. Catharines, is home to an impressive, burgeoning vegan dining scene. With this in mind, we recently went on a quest for plant-based perfection; these are the five spots that any self-respecting vegan (and vegetable lover) should have on their must-visit list.

Rise Above

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First stop on “Operation Vegan”? Rise Above. The Niagara Region’s first 100-percent-vegan restaurant and bakery promises to be an oasis for those seeking meat- and dairy-free comfort food and fresh-baked goods, and we’re not disappointed. We order the “cheddar” macaroni and cheese, which comes smothered in a velvety cashew cheese sauce and topped with a crunchy broccoli crumb, and the curried cauliflower tacos, packed with spiced chickpeas, tahini, and crispy jalapeños. We’ll most certainly swing back around at Sunday brunch for the weekly pancake special, which can come topped with anything from a sweet-tart peach crumble to a sticky mix of banana slices, walnuts, and toffee.

Bella Noella’s Pizzeria

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Bella Noella’s is practically next door to Rise Above, so we pop over for a few slices of hot pizza. We soon realize there’s no need to feel like the odd one out when dining with dairy-eating friends at this quaint, brick-walled spot, because nearly all of its 20-plus pies can be vegan-ified and made with gluten-free crust. We go for the “Hawaiian,” which comes topped with pineapple, jackfruit, and marinara sauce, and the “Greek,” which is piled high with pesto, spinach, red onion, tomatoes, and black olives. The pies run big—they fill an entire plate!—but we’re not complaining.

The Lemon Tree

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Next up, we pile in the car and drive across town to The Lemon Tree. (Don’t worry, it’s only 10 minutes away—that’s the benefit of a small town!) It doesn’t look much different from any other strip-mall restaurant at first blush, but once inside we see what the hubbub is about: Owners Billy and Isabella Qorri gave the menu a complete vegan makeover in March. Instead of squid, the “calamari” features delicately battered and deep-fried root vegetables served with house-made tzatziki. We’re also keen on the savory spinach burek pastries, here constructed with flaky layers of vegan pastry and plant-based feta cheese. Of course, we can’t leave without ordering a fat burger made with Beyond Meat, the meat substitute that’s earned a cult-like following thanks to its ability to “bleed” ruby-red beet juice. Go for dessert, too: Today’s special—a vegan Ferrero Rocher-inspired confection packed with hemp hearts, flax seeds, and coconut—makes our eyes roll into the backs of our heads.

Beechwood Doughnuts

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Moving further into the sweet portion of our tour, we head to Beechwood Doughnuts’ petite glass-enclosed storefront. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went out of his way to visit this vegan establishment on a trip to the region in 2016, opting for a half-dozen piping-hot, made-fresh-on-site doughnuts blanketed with a craggy topping of cinnamon and sugar. It’s hard to decide what to order—the shop cranks out more than 20 varieties in all, with a menu that rotates daily—but we finally settle on two: a chocolate-glazed s’mores offering capped with a torched marshmallow and a golden-hued tropical number smothered in a sugary dip spiked with orange, pineapple, mango, passion fruit, and guava. We’re pretty sure Justin would approve.

Hometown Ice Cream

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We save just enough room for a few final treats at Hometown Ice Cream. You won’t find a lick of additives or preservatives in this shop’s all-natural, from-scratch frozen goodies, which span ice cream, sorbet, and sherbet. We go for scoops of the dark rum-infused piña colada and roasted peach sorbet, plus a few classics like chocolate and cookie dough. We can’t say no to the homemade pop tarts, though: The jammy, all-vegan raspberry-rhubarb flavor is a real winner, as is the zingy and sweet peach-ginger flavor. Both come slicked with icing and finished with a flourish of sprinkles, and we’re not mad about it.

After making the rounds at the best vegan spots around St. Catharines (and testing the limits of our belt buckles), we had to call it a day. But you can bet we’ll be back.

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