Bias against funding Canada’s female scientists revealed in study

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A new Canadian analysis in The Lancet validates complaints that the awarding of research grants is biased against female scientists.

The analysis found women are less likely to receive valuable research dollars if their grant applications are reviewed based on who the lead scientist is, rather that what the proposed project is.

The study, titled « Are gender gaps due to evaluations of the applicant or the science?« , analyzed almost 24,000 applications submitted to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) — the federal government agency that awards approximately $1 billion in science grants annually.

The study’s lead author, Holly Witteman, says CIHR created « a natural experiment » when in 2014 it established two new funding streams — the Project Grant Program, which focuses on funding « ideas with the greatest potential, » while the Foundation Grant Program funds « research leaders. »

Men and women performed similarly in Project Grants — 13.5 per cent of male applicants and 12 per cent of female applicants were successful.

But under the Foundation program — 13.9 per cent of male applicants won grants, compared to only 9.2 per cent of women.

The disparity is most striking in the field of public health, where female applicants outnumber male applicants, but men are twice as likely to win Foundation grants — 14.1 per cent vs 6.7 per cent.

Overall, grant applications from men outnumber those by women two to one.

Holly Witteman is a researcher at Laval University’s Faculty of Medicine in Quebec City. (Submitted by Holly Witteman)

The analysis took applicants’ age and field of study into account. 

« This evidence is fairly robust, » said Witteman, a researcher at Laval University’s Faculty of Medicine in Quebec City. 

« When the [grant] reviewers are told to focus on evaluating the scientists … that significantly amplifies success rates for men, » she said.

Grant awarding system broken

Neuroscientist Jennifer Raymond said the Canadian study is another indication that the research funding « system is broken and really needs to be fixed. »

Raymond is a researcher at California’s Stanford University and wrote a commentary which appears in the same edition of The Lancet.

She said female scientists might find the CIHR analysis both discouraging and vindicating.

« A lot of times women internalize and say ‘Oh it’s me, maybe, I’m not good enough, my male colleague is getting all of these awards and attention. I need to try harder,' » she told CBC News.

But Witteman’s research indicates women are being passed over. « And I think this shows that the system is biased, » Raymond said.

Raymond has also assessed grant applications for the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. equivalent of CIHR.

Getting funding can lead to more publications which can make it easier to attract good scientists to your lab, which in turn can help you do more good science and get more funding– Jennifer Raymond

« I sometimes hear comments that I wonder if they would be saying that if the applicant was a male scientist instead of a female scientist. But in any one of those cases, you can never really know what’s motivating the comment. You can really only see the bias in the statistics. »

Funding begets more funding

Gender equality has long eluded the sciences, especially at the leadership level. Raymond said funding bias plays a role in that disparity. 

« Small advantages over time can become big advantages. Getting funding can lead to more publications which can make it easier to attract good scientists to your lab, which in turn can help you do more good science and get more funding. So you know there’s all of these different levels at which these biases play out. »

Raymond said she supports a « blinded » grant application process to protect female researchers from unintended bias. 

It’s an approach increasingly adopted by recruiters and employers. When the Toronto Symphony Orchestra famously began concealing the identities of musicians during auditions in the 1980s, it transformed what was once a nearly all-male orchestra.

For research scientists early in their careers, the cumulative effect of those first grants is often more opportunities down the road.

Bias stalling innovation

Dr. Laura LaChance, a Toronto research psychiatrist and published academic who finished her residency in 2017, points out how important research is in advancing a career.

« Research is a major way that we’re kind of measured against our colleagues in terms of how productive you are and how good of a candidate you are, » said LaChance.

LaChance said career advancement aside, bias against female researchers also results in « stalling innovation in clinical care. »

She said she also worries some frustrated women may simply quit their research efforts in frustration.

Witteman, the study’s author, credits CIHR for both collaborating on her gender research and taking steps to prevent further bias once the disparity in the Foundation grant program was clearly identified. 

In a statement, CIHR said it was committed to eliminating « systemic biases against any individual or group. » The agency has developed an online course called « Unconscious Bias in Peer Review. »

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Toronto’s plan for ‘balanced’ budget has $79 million in unknown funding and cuts

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City staff say the budget can be balanced by raising property taxes in line with inflation, increasing TTC fares and relying on tens of millions in unknown cuts and yet-to-be secured funding.

The $13.46 billion operating budget was presented to members of council, the media and the public Monday morning. It is a first attempt at balancing the many services and programs the city provides — from snow-clearing to swim classes — with the various ways the city raises money, such as taxing property owners.

The residential property tax increase staff are recommending for 2019 is 2.55 per cent, which the city says is the rate of inflation.

But that first attempt by staff to put together a “balanced” budget includes $79 million in funding or cuts that have not been identified or received, putting that balancing act at risk of tumbling.

Still, Mayor John Tory’s hand-picked budget chief Councillor Gary Crawford claimed the budget is currently balanced at this early stage, saying he hopes the federal government steps up to help with the city’s housing crisis.

“It’s going to be a tough budget year. There are not a lot of extras,” said Crawford. “We will continue to provide the kind of investments that we have over the last number of years, whether it’s poverty reduction, youth hubs, child care, but there will be some challenges, no doubt.”

Crawford said that the city plans to invest in transit, community safety, libraries, Toronto Community Housing repairs and in child care. He said the city will also invest in speeding up the work on the relief line subway and hire an additional 300 police officers. Policing remains the biggest single line item in the budget.

The unclear balancing is the result of three separate issues.

The city is budgeting for $45 million in additional shelter costs but planning to cover that spending by requesting the funds from the federal government, which has not yet promised to cover those costs. Staff attribute the added pressure on the city’s already overcrowded shelters to number of refugees that have migrated to Toronto. City officials have maintained that the federal government has a responsibility to help offset those costs because they are responsible for the policies that control the flow of refugees across the border.

Also unclear is where the TTC will find $24 million in cuts — what senior staff acknowledged at a board meeting last week was required to actually achieve balance, calling it “undetermined corporate reductions.”

And on Monday, new city manager Chris Murray said they still need to find $10 million in additional savings to find balance, which he told committee members is not an insurmountable problem.

Part of the challenge this year is the fact that Toronto can no longer bank on an incredibly hot housing market as it has over the past four years. The MLTT, introduced in 2008, is a tax paid by homebuyers when they take ownership of a property. A slowing housing market has been cited as the reason for the decline.

The staff-attempted balancing also includes a plan to cut the rebates on garbage bins of all sizes. In 2019, cutting the rebate for large bins first would save the city $35 million, staff say.

Critics who have long opposed the strategy of making inflation the target for property tax increases note it does not account for the growing number of new residents moving to the city also rely on public libraries, road maintenance and other daily services.

“I think it’s uninspired,” said Councillor Mike Layton, who sits on the budget committee. “It’s not really leaving us with something that Torontonians can be proud of, that works towards long term solutions in our city around transit, around housing.”

“What I think that the people of Toronto want to see is a government that is wiling to be brave enough to make bold proposals to resolve these issues across our city that we’re seeing and not just hide behind the same old, same old, status quo budget which is what is reflected here.”

The budget launch Monday is just the first step in a process that begins anew each year. After making its way through debates at committee and being subject to comments from the public, the budget will be finalized by council in March.

Because last year was an election year, council has not yet provided staff with direction on the budget.

However, as in previous years, Murray asked all city divisions and agencies to try to keep their budgets at 2018 levels.

Murray said they looked at past direction from council to assume an inflationary-only increase in property taxes.

As he did in 2014, Tory promised to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation this term.

Councillors like Gord Perks say once again that plan is not good enough. He plans to propose an above-inflation tax increase.

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

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Big city mayors call for emergency federal funding to deal with housing crunch

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The mayors of Canada’s largest cities are ramping up pressure on the Trudeau government to deliver a major cash infusion to cope with a housing shortage they say has been driven in part by refugees.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities ‘Big City Mayors’ caucus was to gather in Ottawa today before meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and delivering its election year wish list for the 2019 federal budget — the last of the Liberal government’s current mandate.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said his city had to absorb roughly $5.7 million in additional housing costs in 2017 related to a spike in asylum seekers crossing the border from the United States. He said he expects the city took a similar hit in 2018.

« What often happens is a government will make a decision at a senior level and the consequences trickle down to us, » Watson said.

« Toronto received $11 million in July to deal with refugee claimants. Our city has received nothing. »

Share the burden, mayors say

The mayors don’t appear to have a specific sum in mind for emergency federal housing money. In late 2017, the Trudeau government rolled out a 10-year, $40-billion national housing strategy meant in part to address a severe shortage of affordable housing units in major cities, but the mayors appear to be looking for more near-term funding.

The RCMP intercepted 19,411 asylum seekers outside official border points in 2018, down from 20,593 in 2017.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he agrees with Watson that the federal government ought to do more to share the burden of settling refugees outside of Toronto.

« [The federal government] makes the decisions about what happens at the border and Toronto is very supportive, for example, of admitting refugees, » he said. « We’ve had a historically compassionate approach in this country which we support. But the federal government, who admits refugees to the country, also has to take a hand in helping to house and settle them. »

Watson also said the federal government’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana use is ramping up the cost of police drug enforcement in his city.

« In our case we’re going to receive about $2 million for all enforcement inspections … and our staff estimate it’s more of a cost of $8 million so we’re going to have to absorb $6 million in costs, » he said.

« It’s almost like, you know, when the federal and provincial governments sneeze, we end up getting a cold. »

But the major ask from Canada’s largest cities is likely to be for federal transit funding. The mayors are looking for $34 billion over 10 years starting in 2028 for public transit services. Under their proposal, $30 billion of that would be distributed to cities based on ridership — $29 billion going to transit systems with a ridership over a certain threshold and the remaining $1 billion to smaller transit systems.

The other $4 billion would go to boosting ridership and to rural transit systems. The mayors also want the funding made permanent.

Political clout

« That allows Toronto to think about its next major subway expansion, it allows Halifax to start thinking about bus rapid transit and allows Edmonton to think about where light rail will go next, » said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson​, chairman of the big city mayors’ caucus.

Iveson said he and his other large city mayors swing considerable political clout in a federal election year.

« These 22 mayors represent more than half the country’s population and two-thirds of its economy. So you know we have an opportunity to influence the course of the country. »

Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne said his government has already invested billions in transit.

« There have been repairs and upgrades of more than 2,000 kilometres of roads and highways, more than 170 kilometres of new highway, and more than 70 new bridges, » he said in an email. « Public transit across the country has seen improvements, including more than 3,000 new buses purchased, 3,700 buses repaired and refurbished, nearly 15,000 bus stops and shelters been upgraded, and more than 200 transit stations built or upgraded. »

Along with Trudeau, the mayors are expected to meet today with Champagne, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc and Bill Blair, the minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction.

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Trump caves on shutdown, agrees to temporarily reopen government without wall funding

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WASHINGTON—Donald Trump caved.

In a move that amounted to a concession of at least short-term defeat, the U.S. president announced Friday that he had agreed with Democrats to sign a bill to fund the U.S. federal government for three weeks, until Feb. 15, without getting any border-wall funding in return.

U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to a bill that would temporarily end the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government. Trump had initiated the shutdown to try to pressure Democrats into agreeing to pay for the wall on the Mexican border.
U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to a bill that would temporarily end the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government. Trump had initiated the shutdown to try to pressure Democrats into agreeing to pay for the wall on the Mexican border.  (MANDEL NGAN / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” he said in a speech at the White House.

If he keeps his word, his climbdown will end the 35-day-old partial shutdown Trump initiated to try to pressure Democrats into agreeing to pay for the wall on the Mexican border. The shutdown has forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay, slowed or stopped hundreds of government activities, and done serious damage to Trump’s popularity.

The president’s move will not mean the permanent end to the fight over the wall. Trump implicitly alluded to his threat to declare a national emergency and seize government funds for the wall, if Congress did not use the three-week reprieve to work out a long-term deal that included billions for his proposed wall on the Mexican border.

But he had repeatedly insisted he would not sign any bill without wall money. Senate Republicans, acting on Trump’s wishes, had voted down such a proposal the day before.

“Is there a white flag flying above the White House?” Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, wrote on Twitter.

Trump’s announcement at the White House came hours after Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser and a renowned political trickster, was arrested by the FBI and charged with obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the relationship between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian interference in the election.

And it came after a series of shutdown developments that weakened his negotiating position.

On Friday morning, a large number of absences by air traffic controllers, who are going unpaid, caused significant delays at major airports in New York, Atlanta and elsewhere. And FBI Director Christopher Wray released an extraordinary video message to employees in which he said, “Making some people stay home when they don’t want to, and making others show up without pay — it’s mind-boggling, it’s short-sighted, and it’s unfair. It takes a lot to get me angry, but I’m about as angry as I’ve been in a long, long time.”

Trump’s lack of leverage was made clear in the Senate on Thursday, when a Democratic proposal — two weeks of government funding, no wall funding — received more votes in the Republican-controlled Senate than Trump’s proposal that included the wall funding. The Republicans who voted for the Democratic proposal included two who face difficult re-election battles in 2020.

The end of the shutdown may allow for the State of the Union address to be held next Tuesday as originally planned. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had refused to allow Trump to give the speech in the House chamber, as is traditional, until the government was funded, forcing him to surrender on a promise to do so regardless of her wishes.

Trump’s poll numbers had worsened significantly over the shutdown, particularly with independent voters. The latest poll, by the Washington Post and ABC and released on Friday, put his approval rating at 37 per cent. Other polls this week also had him in the 30s; the Associated Press had him at 34 per cent, the lowest in more than a year.

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

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Liberals taking new approach for First Nations on-reserve education funding

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The Trudeau government is changing how Ottawa allocates nearly $2 billion in annual funding for First Nations education to help ensure on-reserve students benefit from support comparable to what’s offered in provincial school systems.

Starting in April, the federal government will take a new approach it says will mean a more predictable base of money for First Nations elementary and secondary schools.

Education is a service the federal government pays for on reserves but provincial governments handle in much larger systems off reserves. A 2016 report from the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated that the federal government spent $336 million to $665 million less than would be needed to provide educations comparable to those students get elsewhere.

Some First Nations students stay at home and get substandard facilities, resources and teaching. Some leave home for better schooling but lose connections to their homes and families.

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said Monday that the new model was developed after an extensive engagement process involving several organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations.

« This is very good news because we know when First Nations lead these initiatives and when we’re there to work in partnerships with them with funding we know that we will get greater outcomes, » O’Regan said in Ottawa shortly after the new approach was announced.

« This is about communities taking greater control of their education to make sure that it’s specific to their community, that it’s specific to their cultures and traditions and to their language. »

More to do to create equity, says Archibald

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald called the changes a « strong step, » but she stressed there’s a lot more to do to create equity when it comes to First Nations education and communities.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald leads the AFN’s education portfolio. (Supplied/Laura Barrios)

« As the largest growing demographic in the country, investing in First Nations students and young people is investing in Canada’s future, » Archibald, who also leads the AFN’s education portfolio, said Monday in a statement.

« Fair and sustained funding for First Nations children and students, including languages and cultures, will lead to better outcomes for everyone. »

Under the new approach, First Nations schools will also receive $1,500 per student every year towards language and cultural programs. Schools will offer full kindergarten for on-reserve kids aged four and five, O’Regan said.

In a statement, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde credited the new approach as a significant move toward closing the education gap, saying it will enable First Nations to plan and build quality school systems that address their needs.

Changes to make funding more reliable

The funding will be within the jurisdiction and control of chiefs and band councils, O’Regan said. He added that Ottawa will work with the communities on the issue of accountability.

O’Regan said the changes mean First Nations will have an easier time budgeting for education because they’ll know the money will be there for them year after year.

In the 2016 federal budget, the Liberals promised to spend an additional $2.6 billion over five years to improve education for First Nations children living on reserves.

Ottawa is expected to spend $1.89 billion in 2018-19 on First Nations elementary and secondary education. The annual commitment is set to increase each year until it rises slightly above $2 billion in 2020-21.

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Students call Tories’ funding changes ‘frustrating,’ ‘terrifying’ and ‘devastating’

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Amy Mather doesn’t know what she’ll do now that the province has ended her free tuition.

“It’s terrifying, to be honest,” said the 21-year-old, who’s studying child and youth care. “I’ve been at Ryerson for two years now on free tuition and it’s still very difficult.”

Mather is one of thousands of students hit last week by the provincial government’s announcement of a sweeping package of reforms to the Ontario Student Assistance Program and tuition. It includes a 10 per cent cut to tuition fees across the board, but it also means the end of both free tuition for lower-income students and of the six-month grace period on interest being charged on loans after finishing a degree. Those are changes that many students say will make paying for their education much more difficult or impossible.

Mather says it might cost her the chance to finish her degree. The whole reason she decided to go back to school, after a year off, was the free tuition program, introduced by the Liberal government in 2016.

All her tuition was covered under the grant and she also qualified for an OSAP loan that covers living expenses, such as the $1,300 in rent she pays for a basement apartment with her partner in Ajax.

Mather has an idea of what it will be like without the free tuition because she started her post-secondary education at Carleton University in 2015, before it kicked in. She incurred $18,000 in debt from that first year alone.

“And then I took a year off because I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I can’t even describe the amount of struggling.”

Merrilee Fullerton, the minister of training, colleges and universities, told reporters Thursday the 10 per cent tuition cut will translate to “significant savings for students and their families,” and that the goal is to focus resources on the students with the greatest need.

She said OSAP costs are out of control and noted the auditor general projected in December they could balloon to over $2 billion annually by 2020-21, an increase of 50 per cent from four years earlier.

About 300 students protested in front of the legislature on Friday to protest the end to free tuition for low-income students.

Stephanie Bertolo, vice-president of education at McMaster Students Union and a recent arts and science grad, said the decrease on the “sticker price of tuition” is a relief for students on the surface but “we are disheartened to see that it is changing to a formula we don’t think is necessarily going to help as many students.

“We’re seeing a portion of the grants turned back into loans.”

Abdullah Mushtaq, director of advocacy for the College Student Alliance, called the cuts a “devastating” move.

“It’s going to have the biggest impact on low- and middle-income students,” he said. “That couple of thousand dollars is still coming out of their pockets.”

For Donald Giancoulas, the changes will mean $800 in savings on the cost of his studies overall but also a huge change in his grants-to-loans ratio, which is now about 70/30. He’ll also face the immediate start of interest being charged on his loans.

“It will end up costing me more money,” he said of the reforms.

He’s getting what he believes the government considers a “secondary” or post-graduate degree, in accounting from Sheridan College. For these kinds of degrees, loans will be a minimum of half the aid provided, another one of the new changes announced by the province last week.

It’s a change Giancoulas estimates will cost him about $1,500 on an $8,000-a-year program. “Any time you go into something where you have a plan and then someone changes the plan, it’s frustrating,” he said, adding he’s committed to finishing his education.

“But that’s going to come with a little bit more hard work and a little more effort.”

With files from Rob Ferguson and Kristin Rushowy

What do the changes mean for you? The Star has you covered:

10 per cent tuition cut:

Across the board, the province is cutting tuition for domestic students by 10 per cent. For a student attending an Ontario college, this will add up to an average savings of $340 depending on the program, Post-secondary Minister Merrilee Fullerton told reporters.

Free tuition:

This has been scrapped by the province. Brought in by the previous Liberal government, it allowed qualifying students to have 100 per cent of their tuition covered by grants that they didn’t have to pay back, and still qualify for OSAP to cover living expenses. Now the province is converting more of the grants to loans. No one will have their tuition covered entirely by grants.

Individual impact:

It depends on your exact situation. The province said in its news release Thursday that under the new plan 82 per cent of grants will go to students with a family income of less than $50,000, up from 76 per cent under the previous government. However, those students will still have to pay for some of their tuition out of pocket through loans.

According to examples on the government’s OSAP.ca calculator, if your parents make a total of $50,000 or less a year, and you’re doing a university undergraduate degree, the ratio would break down as a $7,100 grant and $7,600 loan. If they make $70,000 under the same scenario then it’s a $6,100 grant and $8,600 loan.

Second degrees:

If you’re doing another degree, like a postgrad college certificate, graduate degree, or law school, your loan-to-grant ratio will be a minimum of 50 per cent loan, the government says in its news release.

Mature students:

The definition of a mature student, which the government calls an independent student, will change from someone who has been out of high school for four years to someone who’s been out of school for six years.

This means that you’re tied to your parents’ income longer, and your OSAP grants and loans calculation will be connected to your parents’ income for six years after you’re out of high school, rather than four.

The OSAP interest grace period:

It’s gone. Under the old Liberal government, there was a six-month grace period after finishing your degree before you had to start paying back your loans. The idea was this gave you time to get on your feet and find a job. You still have the grace period on making payments but now interest will accrue during it.

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Experts call Scarborough subway funding proposal ‘far-fetched’

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The province’s new pitch to have developers pay for a large part of the Scarborough subway by offering them land is being described by four industry experts as unworkable and “far-fetched.”

The math suggests that in order for developers to cover the cost of building two additional stations for a three-stop subway rather than the planned one-stop extension, the province would need to allow those developers to build two of the largest private real-estate projects in Canada — eclipsing neighbourhoods largely made up of single-family homes.

The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a proposed station under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a proposed station under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

Those experts say there is simply no way that enough demand for that real estate would materialize in time to make those projects financially viable, leaving the province’s proposal dead on arrival.

What’s at stake is that Scarborough residents may be soon left without any rapid transit. The subway is meant to replace the aging Scarborough RT, widely considered to be at the end of its run.

Assessing the government’s plan, James McKellar, director of the Brookfield Centre for Real Estate and Infrastructure at Schulich School of Business, said “Someone must have bought some of that new green stuff … That won’t work.”

Details of how the province proposes that the development industry would recover the costs of building the transit infrastructure remains vague, but Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek earlier told the Globe and Mail it would involve offering developers land and air rights around and over the future subway stations. Yurek said this plan would “not be a cost to the taxpayer.”

Graham Haines, research manager at Ryerson University’s City Building Institute, looked at that plan by asking how much buildable square feet a developer would need to be offered, in order to offset the cost of building just one of the subway stops.

The city is currently moving forward with planning of a one-stop subway extension at the Scarborough Town Centre, which is estimated to cost at least $3.35 billion; a three-stop subway was last estimated to cost, as of July 2016, $4.6 billion. The additional stations would be at Lawrence Ave. and Sheppard Ave. along McCowan Rd. Building the northern Sheppard station would also involve connecting it to the line with an additional kilometre of tunnel.

It’s not clear how the additional $1 billion in costs breaks down between the two stations, so Haines started with the assumption of an even $500 million to build each station.

Market analysts Ben Myers, president of Bullpen Research & Consulting Inc., and Shaun Hildebrand, president of Urbanation, said the price of land per buildable square foot in Scarborough is between $30 to $50 per square foot.

The corner of Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

At that value, the scale of development required to offset the cost of building one station at $500 million would be in the magnitude of 10 million to 17 million square feet.

That amount of development is equivalent to between eight and 13 Aura towers — the 78-storey condo at Yonge and Gerrard Sts., which is for now the tallest residential building in Canada. Looking at it another way, the development required would be equal to 12 to 19 times the Honest Ed’s redevelopment site at Bloor and Bathurst Sts.

Based on typical condo development, that amount of development would be expected to produce some 11,000 to 19,000 condo units. By comparison, only 9,339 residential units were proposed in the fastest-growing part of Scarborough during the five years between 2013 and 2017, according to statistics from the city’s planning division.

Haines did calculations along the lines of Myers’ work, but assumed the land value around stations was much higher at $100 per buildable square foot. That scenario would allow the cost of building just one station to be offset by 5 million square feet of development, or the equivalent of four Aura towers.

That would produce some 5,500 units at just one site — by comparison, the entire CityPlace neighbourhood is expected to be about 7,500 units when completed downtown. Haines said even one of these projects in Scarborough would be one of the biggest development projects in Toronto.

McKellar said the province’s plan would require “the most exceptional demand for condos that ever existed in the City of Toronto” noting no transit station has ever drawn anywhere near that demand, including in the downtown core.

“Whether it’s five or 10 million (square feet), it doesn’t matter in that there isn’t the market for that kind of density,” McKellar said.

Myers noted that typically a developer is looking to make 15 to 20 per cent profit on their investment.

“It sounds really far-fetched,” Myers said of the province’s plan.

The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

On Thursday, Mayor John Tory — who has long backed a subway plan, originally three stops and then the one-stop version pitched during his first term in office — said he was open to the province’s plan to pay for the additional stations with development assuming it was on “acceptable terms,” which he said “means any development that produced the money for that would have to be compatible with the city’s planning guidelines and with neighbourhoods that those transit stations are in.”

The province currently doesn’t own the land where the stations would go, meaning that property would have to be expropriated not only to build the station but also to accommodate the development at each site.

There is little room, for example, at Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd. where today there is the Scarborough Hospital campus, several apartment buildings and sprawling, leafy neighbourhoods.

A development of the scale calculated would also conflict with several planning principles in the largely lowrise area.

Hallbank Terrace, very near Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., where the province's proposal might place a new subway station, is filled with the sort of single-family homes and lowrise buildings that might soon exist adjacent huge real-estate developments.
Hallbank Terrace, very near Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., where the province’s proposal might place a new subway station, is filled with the sort of single-family homes and lowrise buildings that might soon exist adjacent huge real-estate developments.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

In response to an email from the Star outlining these calculations, the concerns about feasibility and question about how their proposal would work, Yurek’s spokesperson Mike Winterburn reiterated past statements.

“Well-designed land value capture mechanisms, like the sale of air rights, provide ways for private sector builders to decrease the cost of building transit for taxpayers,” he said. “Our government is confident that private sector support will help secure funding that will allow for construction to begin sooner. We will be able to build better transit, faster for Ontarians.”

He said their government is currently working on options to “maximize the value achievable from transit-oriented development.”

The previous Liberal government earlier agreed to fully fund a seven-stop light rail line, completely separated from traffic, to replace the SRT. That project was cancelled under former mayor Rob Ford in favour of the more expensive subway, which is in part being funded through a special tax collected from all Toronto homeowners for the next 30 years.

The earliest a subway extension could be completed is mid-2026. If the LRT project had gone ahead as planned, it was expected to be in operation next year.

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44 crop-research projects receiving over $12M in funding

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Forty-four crop-related research projects will receive over $12 million with funding from both provincial and federal governments.

“The projects we’re investing in today consist of a variety of fields of study, including herbicide resistance, pest control, crop breeding and much more,” Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit said in a press release.

“Not only do these projects enhance our industry by creating more opportunities for producers and agribusinesses, they cement our province as a leader in agriculture research.”


READ MORE:
Federal, industry investment to boost Canadian crop production and innovation

The funding was announced during CropSphere in Saskatoon on Wednesday, and will be administered through Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) and the Strategic Research Initiative (SRI).

ADF support is awarded to researchers who examine areas important to Saskatchewan producers. These projects will receive an additional $3.6 million from industry partners.

WATCH BELOW: Lack of snow poses challenges for Sask. farmers looking ahead to spring

SRI projects focus on innovative research to address complex challenges facing the industry. This will be the first year for the new program.

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

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Province’s push for private funding, additional stops puts Scarborough subway at risk of delays

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The Ontario government intends to rely on the private sector to help fill a more than $1-billion funding gap in its plan to build a three-stop Scarborough subway — a move that marks another twist for a controversial transit project and raises the possibility of construction delays that could leave Scarborough residents stuck taking the bus.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek revealed last week the province intends to enlist the private sector to help offset the cost of the more expensive three-stop plan, by striking deals that would offer developers public land or air rights above station sites in exchange for helping fund the transit infrastructure.

The TTC is trying to prolong the lifespan of the Scarborough RT, which was first build in 1985.
The TTC is trying to prolong the lifespan of the Scarborough RT, which was first build in 1985.  (Rene Johnston Toronto Star / Toronto Star)

The plan currently on the city’s books is to extend Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) to the Scarborough City Centre, which would cost an estimated $3.35 billion. Pending final approval, it’s projected to start construction next year with a completion date of 2026.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, who took power in June and have promised to table legislation to take ownership of the subway system from the city, wants to scrap the one-stop plan and build a three-stop version that would extend past the Scarborough Town Centre to Sheppard Ave. East, and have a stop at Lawrence Ave.

An earlier estimate for the city of a three-stop extension that was based on very little design work pegged the cost at $4.6 billion. That estimate was contingent on construction approval being given by council in 2016.

“The developer would pick up the cost of those stations … and it will not be a cost to the taxpayer,” Yurek told the Globe and Mail.

The market-driven approach to building Toronto transit projects has been floated before with little success. But in an email Monday, the minister’s spokesperson said under their government it will work.

“Unlike the last government … we have created an environment where private business can confidently invest in infrastructure projects,” said Mike Winterburn, Yurek’s director of communications.

As an example, he cited a potential agreement Metrolinx announced last fall that would see a developer partner with the transit agency to overhaul the Mimico GO Transit station.

“In future, more agreements will be reached to improve our transportation infrastructure while protecting taxpayers,” Winterburn said.

In November, Metrolinx, which is the most likely agency to take oversee the TTC subway if it’s uploaded to the province, announced it intends to use the market-driven strategy to fund future transit projects.

At the time it conceded that strategy would expose projects to risks associated with the fluctuating real estate market, which could delay transit construction. The agency said the approach could also speed up projects in some cases.

Any delay to opening the Scarborough subway extension could have major implications for transit riders who currently rely on the Scarborough RT, which was built in 1985 and is reaching the end of its service life.

The TTC is currently working to extend the life of critical components of the SRT train cars by at least another 10 years to keep the line running. Details of that plan remain secret despite formal requests from the Star. What information has been released suggest it’s possible to extend the operations of the SRT into 2026 — when the one-stop subway was earlier scheduled to be complete — but any safe operation beyond that date is in question.

If the SRT is shut down before a replacement is built, it could result in all commuters east of Victoria Park Ave. being stuck on the bus for an unknown period of time.

Councillor Josh Matlow, who has chiefly advocated for a network of LRTs in Scarborough, said pushing for a more-expensive subway will only cause more setbacks to delivering transit.

“(Premier) Doug Ford has always been more interested in merely promising subway stations than actually building rapid transit. The absurd suggestion that the private sector is going to cover a billion-dollar shortfall will only further delay delivering results,” Matlow said.

“We need to move forward now with an already approved and funded LRT network for Scarborough to ensure residents aren’t left on the bus.”

Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek signalled his Progressive Conservative government wants to enlist private funds to pay for a three-stop Scarborough subway extension.
Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek signalled his Progressive Conservative government wants to enlist private funds to pay for a three-stop Scarborough subway extension.  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star File)

The proposed intervention from Yurek, who has cited council delays to transit projects as a main reason the province should take ownership of the subway system, comes as councillors were months away from a crucial vote on whether to proceed with the one-stop subway extension.

In April, the TTC plans to release a report, which had previously been expected this month, on the project reaching the 30 per cent design mark, including an updated cost estimate and construction schedule. Councillors would vote as early as April on whether to send the subway project to procurement.

By contrast, the three-stop plan the city had earlier considered was at less than 5 per cent design when it was abandoned in favour of the one-stop plan.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said he couldn’t speculate on how much of the design work the agency has done on the one-stop extension could be repurposed for a three-stop version.

Also, a 2016 business case prepared by city and TTC staff said stations on the three-stop version “were found to be much more complex” than “typical” stations. Due to difficult topography, the station at Lawrence East would have to be built at almost twice the depth as regular stations.

The stations would also require larger than normal bus terminals to accommodate the high number of Scarborough routes being diverted to feed the subway extension.

Winterburn said the government is “confident that private sector support will secure funding and help ensure that construction begins sooner.”

But he said in cases where partnering with private developers is “not applicable,” the province “can still explore traditional funding models for construction.”

Councillor Michael Thompson, whose Scarborough Centre ward would include part of the proposed subway extension, said he welcomed Yurek’s proposal to add stations by striking deals with developers. He said he has heard from residents in the run-up to October’s municipal election that they don’t want to stick with the one-stop plan.

“I would say a good 90 per cent of people I spoke to felt there was a need for additional stations to be included in the Bloor-Danforth expansion into Scarborough,” he said.

“Recognizing that the funding is always a challenge, if the province and the minister has additional ideas and so on, I think that’s something we should applaud.”

A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory — who has pushed a three-stop and then the one-stop subway plan — did not respond to specific questions from the Star about the province’s new plan.

“Mayor Tory is committed to building transit — that’s what he was elected and re-elected to do by Toronto voters,” a statement read.

This is not the first time the Fords have pitched to pay for a controversial, costly subway project by calling for private sector investment.

In 2012, city staff and an expert panel panned a plan by then mayor Rob Ford to have developers finance an extension of the Sheppard subway — a plan for which no private investors actually signed up.

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

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

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Government funding cuts hit ‘youth most in need,’ Toronto school board says

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The province has axed funding for programs that “were making a positive difference for at-risk youth,” the Toronto District School Board said Friday in a memo that details the impact that losing $744,500 in grants will have.

The board says 127 part-time jobs for students — 75 from priority neighbourhoods, as well as 52 for post-secondary students — will disappear following the cancellation of the Focus on Youth after-school jobs program and a tutoring program for struggling elementary students as part of a surprise $25-million funding cut.

The board also warned the original Focus on Youth program, which has provided thousands of inner-city youth with summer jobs since it began in 2007 — following the shooting death of Jordan Manners in his Toronto high school — is also under threat.

“Many of the program/funding cancellations were aimed at helping youth most in need,” the board says. “The board’s experience is that the programs were making a positive difference for at-risk youth.”

Chair Robin Pilkey said she is concerned by the potential loss of the summer jobs, because hundreds of teens are hired for those positions.

“It would be terrible if it was just cut, and gone.”

Last week, the government sent out a series of emails to school boards outlining changes to the funding for “other” education programs — known as “EPO” — which includes the after-school jobs, classroom tutors and Indigenous-focused projects, as well as support for teachers in providing daily physical activity to students.

Opposition parties have been heavily critical of the move. NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles has slammed the government for leaving boards on the hook for funding, saying they are “out of pocket covering for this government’s mismanagement” and losing programs vital to student success.

But Education Minister Lisa Thompson has said the grants had become “somewhat of a slush fund” and that some of the spending was redundant, and wasteful.

Thompson said school boards are free to continue offering the jobs programs, but must find the money from within their existing budgets.

Liberal MPP Michael Coteau told the legislature Thursday that Manners’s death “brought attention to an issue that for too long had gone unaddressed, namely, the lack of school supports and programs in our schools that were targeting low-income, marginalized and racialized youth.”

Toronto Catholic Board Chair Maria Rizzo said her board alone is losing $655,000 in grants and laying off 95 students.

The funding was promised last spring by the previous Liberal government. The Toronto public board says it believes “any changes the ministry makes to funding of programs in the middle of the school year should not penalize the board financially.”

Pilkey said she’s very worried about the loss of $137,615 for a “re-engagement” program, where a guidance counsellor sought out youth who have left school with just a couple of credits to go, “to make contact with them again” and see if there’s a way to get them back into class to graduate.

“Our graduation rates have only increased,” she said, wondering why that program would be targeted. “I think, given what the job market looks like, there aren’t jobs for people who don’t have a high school diploma.”

On Friday, the Toronto Catholic board was notified that it would be receiving $141,491 for “parent reaching out grants” to run programs or support initiatives in its schools, starting in January.

The ministry had put the funding on pause despite an outcry from parents, who volunteered their time to apply for the grants last spring to run math nights or host speakers on issues like cyberbullying.

The move prompted Stiles to tweet “this is good news … but unfortunate that some schools had to cancel planned events … while the government sorted out a mess of their own creation. Honestly, it is mind-boggling.”

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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