CMHC says housing market still highly vulnerable despite slight price drop

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The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) says the housing market is still showing a high degree of vulnerability for the 10th straight quarter, despite some indications of price correction.

In its quarterly housing market assessment, CMHC found that there are is still some market overvaluation — one of four factors the agency tracks to evaluate market vulnerability — in Canada’s sky-high housing markets. 

But in two of those cities prices may be coming somewhat closer to earth. 

« We are seeing overvaluation pressures unwinding in Toronto and Victoria, despite the fact that Canada’s overall vulnerability remains high, » said Bob Dugan, chief economist of CMHC.

Overvaluation occurs house prices are elevated compared to personal disposable income, population, interest rates and other factors.

Some overbuilding in the prairies

In Vancouver, overvaluation remained high between the last quarter of 2018 and the first of quarter of 2019, while in Victoria and Toronto it moved from high to moderate. Hamilton’s overvaluation stayed the same at moderate levels.

Additionally, the report found that there is moderate overall vulnerability in Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg, where there is moderate to high overbuilding. That’s when the number of rental vacancies and unsold newly built housing units are higher than normal.

« Nationally, overheating and overbuilding remain low, » said Dugan.

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Adults learn to ice skate at Kingston’s Market Square – Kingston

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The skating rink at Market Square in Kingston was blocked off Sunday morning for adults who were learning to skate.

Sarah Wurtele was among those lacing up her skates as she prepared herself to step on the ice after 22 years.

“I stopped skating when I was 10, and this is my first time skating since then,” Wurtele told Global News.

When she first got on the ice, “it was dread,” Wurtele said. “I thought I was going to fall but I haven’t fallen yet.”

This is a feeling many adults shared at the second annual adult skating class, which was part of Kingston’s Feb Fest.


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“I think it’s great that they have it for adults because a lot of programs are geared towards kids, but there’s not that many for adults, and we feel embarrassed,” said Wurtele. “We feel self-conscious trying to learn how to skate, especially around young kids.”

Veteran skating instructor Lynn Grivich was teaching adults to skate at the event.

“We’re getting a great response,” Grivich said. “There’s a lot of newcomers to Kingston that have perhaps never skated before.”

The event brought about 25 adults to Market Square, half of whom were, like Wurtele, starting from scratch.

Grivich says she finds “a lot of satisfaction seeing just how nervous and stiff they are when they initially come on to the ice and then gradually start relaxing.”


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Global News asked Grivich to provide some pointers for new skaters.

She says the most common mistake people make is that they push the blade forward instead of pushing from the side.

“You’re pushing and bending from side to side,” said Grivich.

She also adds that the most important tip of all is to relax, something that sounds simple but is usually the hardest for those new to the ice.

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

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Why legal cannabis growers can’t compete with the black market — yet

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Despite the persistent media buzz, there are no cannabis supply shortages in Canada, Brock University pot industry expert Michael Armstrong explains matter-of-factly.

“There’s all kinds of cannabis in Canada,” says Armstrong, who teaches operations management at the St. Catharines school. “It’s the legal cannabis that we’re short of.”

Nearly empty shelves at a Montreal cannabis store in December as supply shortages were felt in many provinces. One B.C. grower hopes to increase its production capacity from just under 10,000 kilograms to 480,000 kilograms annually by 2020.
Nearly empty shelves at a Montreal cannabis store in December as supply shortages were felt in many provinces. One B.C. grower hopes to increase its production capacity from just under 10,000 kilograms to 480,000 kilograms annually by 2020.  (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

And to successfully compete with a stocked and still-thriving illegal market, the country’s licensed cannabis producers must — among a series of moves — ramp up their crop outputs exponentially, offer cheaper, more varied strains and get them into a vastly increased number of stores.

“This is not a new industry, there is an existing industry,” says Armstrong, who analyzed new Health Canada data on the country’s marijuana market for a recent article. “What we have is this new legal version that has to compete with it.”

But that fresh player — who was only allowed into the game on Oct. 17 of last year — is not coming close to competing yet, Armstrong says.

Its primary problem out the gate was production. Armstrong says the Health Canada data suggests the country’s recreational cannabis market requires some 77,000 kilograms of product a month.

“That’s the existing black market, existing legal recreational buyers — that’s the estimate of the whole thing combined,” he says. “In November, roughly speaking, the legal industry produced about one-eighth of that amount.”

Clearly, legal growers have a long way to go to catch up with the ubiquitous pot farms and grow-ops that exist across the country, Armstrong says. The good news, he says, is that federally licensed production is increasing at a breakneck pace and that adequate legal supplies should be available countrywide by early next year.

Federal figures show the industry grew production by 12 per cent a month — compounded — in the first nine months of last year, Armstrong says.

Michael Armstrong says the Health Canada data suggests the country's recreational cannabis market requires some 77,000 kilograms of product a month.
Michael Armstrong says the Health Canada data suggests the country’s recreational cannabis market requires some 77,000 kilograms of product a month.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / toronto star)

“If that continues to grow at that compounded rate, which is really a madcap, frantic rate, they’ll actually have enough raw capacity in about a year.”

As greenhouses and converted factories spring up across the country, and even abandoned soccer bubbles are put to new uses, there are questions about whether that exponential production growth can continue, Armstrong says.

One large licensed grower is planning expansions on such whirlwind scales and beyond.

“We’re currently ramping up all of our facilities, both licensed and those in the licensing process,” says Andrew Grieve, CEO of Zenabis, based in Surrey, B.C.

Grieve says Zenabis is adding two facilities — in Langley, B.C., and Nova Scotia — to its two existing plants in New Brunswick and Delta, B.C. With those additional plants, coupled with planned expansions at its existing facilities, Zenabis hopes to catapult its production capacity from just under 10,000 kilograms to 480,000 kilograms annually by 2020.

“As a result we believe there will be producers, ourselves included, who are able to grow high-quality product and actually satisfy the recreational market in Canada,” Grieve says.

Industry expert Nick Pateras says the widespread carping over product shortages since the legal market opened was unwarranted given the predictable production lags that were forced on growers by simple economics.

Pateras, vice-president of strategy at the cannabis resource and information company Lift & Co., says the licensed producers could not have been expected to build enough stockpile or capacity for day one when they had no revenues to cover those costs.

“That’s a pretty big ask to have them grow it … and sit on it for months and months,” he says. “I think (the supply shortage) was always going to happen.

But Pateras says he’s confident production will scale up enormously.

“I think that you are going to see a ton of production capacity come online” in the next two to three financial quarters, he says. “So within a year that supply demand imbalance that we see now will have narrowed greatly.”

Most industry watchers think product shortages will greatly ease over the coming months. Pateras, however, believes that true production needs may have been underestimated, given the high percentage of raw crops that will be demanded by the edible and beverage products hitting the Canadian market next October.

He says offerings like pot-infused gelatins and beer — which together could attract 60 per cent of the market — require far more plants to produce a desired amounts of THC or CBD than combustible products. “It’s a pretty inefficient production process,” Pateras says.

He adds that industry production growth forecasts are often spotty, and notes that many Canadian producers are looking to export some of their wares and that crop loss is often a wildcard factor.

Brock’s Armstrong stresses that these are far from the only challenges the legal industry will face in its push to displace the black market. “The next trick is taking that raw material and getting it into final-product form and out to the retailers,” he says. “That appeared to be one of the bottlenecks in November.”

Michael Armstrong says that with the mass increase in shipping volumes that producers faced in October, many also experienced logistics problems in transporting, testing and warehousing their products.
Michael Armstrong says that with the mass increase in shipping volumes that producers faced in October, many also experienced logistics problems in transporting, testing and warehousing their products.  (Steve Russell / toronto star)

Armstrong says that with the mass increase in shipping volumes that producers faced in October, many also experienced logistics problems in transporting, testing and warehousing their products. He also says producers and retailers have to put much more work into assessing which products and strains are most popular with consumers and adjust appropriately.

In comparison with the black market, however, price, quality and access — along with increased policing — are going to be key, Armstrong says.

The stick of more and increased legal perils for black-market sellers will surely help the sanctioned industry make headway, he says. Provinces have vowed to boost enforcement of the illegal trade while the federal criminal code sets out harsh sentences, especially for anyone selling to minors.

“I think the main emphasis has to be on the carrot side,” Armstrong says.

Aside from formulating the most desirable and consistent products — something legal producers can do better with laboratory backing — growers and regulators must make cheaper products available to complement high-end wares, he says.

“Governments so far have kind of talked about $10 a gram including taxes, (and) that’s not going to cut it very well against the black market that’s charging $5.50 or $6.50,” Armstrong says.

“It doesn’t have to be all cheaper, but if you can at least have a value brand (so) people can say, ‘I’m not saving any money going to the black market why not go legal?’ ”

Armstrong says the industrial-scale operations legal growers will build will give them and advantage over their furtive, underground counterparts in offering cheaper goods — should regulators allow them to go on sale.

Grieve says his company is intent on offering such cheaper alternatives if allowed.

To compete with underground dealers, many of whom offer customer loyalty discounts and pizza-like delivery times, the legal market must also open far more stores, Armstrong says. While product shortages have limited initial store openings in Ontario to 25, for example, this province needs 1,000 or more stores to be competitive, Armstrong says.

Armstrong says producers must also be freed from the draconian advertising and promotion restrictions Health Canada’s legalizing regulations have imposed.

While regulators have a duty to limit the use of a product with known health and public safety risks, producers need some latitude to compete, Armstrong says.

Current rules limit virtually any advertising and promotion and insist on plain packaging with minimal product information and a tiny producer label.

“But if you really want to get people to switch, you’ve got to explain why, you have to make a sales pitch,” Armstrong says. “And that’s something industry is really going to struggle with.”

Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter and feature writer. Reach him on email: gjhall@thestar.ca

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From the cute to the strange, Pierrefonds vintage market showcases unique items – Montreal

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The simple pleasures of life make Julie-Anne Ouimet giddy, like the sound of two crystal glasses clinking.

“I love it,” Ouimet said, holding two wine glasses.

There’s also the smell of an old radio. “It smells like an old car,” she said while taking the smell in. “It’s funny: it’s the sounds, the smells, the touch, the feel.

“Oh my Gosh, I love this. I love this.”

With her overflowing treasure trove of vintage china and home items, Ouimet’s appreciation for the classic is clear.

“I have one room in particular that I keep the door closed, because it’s full of stuff,” Ouimet admitted, “and I’m renting out a friend’s basement to put my stuff there.”


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It’s a happy problem she shares with a handful of vendors at Timely Vintage, a vintage market in Pierrefonds, where collectors go to sell their own overstock.

“I have to buy the whole collection, so I get rid of what I don’t want after, but some of this I still want — but my wife doesn’t want me to have it,” Lance Ford, owner of the Vintage Vibes shop, said amid laughter.

WATCH: Julie-Anne Ouimet from Timely Vintage shows off her most precious finds






The market, set inside the St Michael and All Angel’s Church, is a place for unique finds, ranging from the cute to the admittedly strange.

On the cute list is a walking Mickey Mouse doll. “This is one of my favourites,” Ford said while showing off the doll. “Oh, it’s so cute.”

On the strange column, meanwhile: a weirdly-shaped, multi-coloured vase.


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“This thing, they call it ‘goofus glass,’ because back in the days, they took it as a goof,” said Correy Patterson. “Like people thought they were joking when they made these, but now they’re getting desirable because they were weird.

“It’s weird. I mean, look at it. It’s weird.”

WATCH: Rust Valley Restorers return old wrecks to their former glory






The whole place is a time capsule of sorts. “I’m showing them some of the stuff that I grew up with,” said Evan Graham, who took his children to the market.

And if you ask, you’ll also get a history lesson. “These are pins from the ’40s, during the war period,” Mike Hennessy explained.

“Copper was unavailable, they were using it to make shells. So they coloured the silver a copper colour, because they couldn’t get the brass.”

The market was a one-day pop-up.

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

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Ghost enthusiasts haunt Regina’s former Sears Outlet store at Centennial Market – Regina

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A century-old building in Regina’s Warehouse District has become a hotbed for paranormal activity, ghost experts say, and is drawing in tourists, wanting to connect with spirits.

The old Sears bargain centre dates back to 1918, when it was first built by Eaton’s. Then in the 1980’s Sears moved in, but closed its doors in 2017, leaving the building largely vacant.


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“They were a major anchor in this place and so we were trying to find a way to keep the building thriving and the area itself,” said Chrysta Garner, manager of the Centennial Market. .

Now home to the Centennial Market, Garner says the building was first found to be haunted after finding an old room that had been boarded off, and a team of paranormal investigators were brought in.

WATCH: Paranormal investigators tour haunted house in Drumheller, Alta. 






“You hear people talk about ghosts and they see this and they see that, but unless you’ve really been part of it you don’t believe it,” Garner said.

Once word got out that the building was haunted, Garner says it sparked the idea to give tours on a monthly basis.

Deb Mathias, known as Deb the Seer, now leads the charge. Seven days a week she can be found doing readings at Deb’s Cozy Cove, nestled away in Old Sears bargain centre at the Centennial Market.


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“I tell people all the time I’m not a psychic — I can see,” Mathias said. “What’s the difference? Psychics basically know; I am clairsentient, so I can see, smell, taste, hear and feel when I’m doing readings.”

The goal now is to restore parts of the old building with money collected from the tours, bringing it back to its former glory — ghosts and all.

“There’s 13 of our regular ghosts, but we have about 100 spirits in here,” Mathias said. “I want people to understand that our people are people without meat suits. They’re people just like you and me they have personalities — they have feelings.”


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Like people, Mathias says ghosts also have needs. Which is why a museum is also in the works as part of the tour and is filled with items requested by spirits, such as an old radio, ballet slippers and old pictures.

“They want these things because it reminds them that they are appreciated and wanted and welcomed,” Mathias said.

Mathias is also writing a book based on the stories of the spirits, with proceeds eventually going directly to restoration.

Anyone wanting a tour can register in person or through e-mail at admin@centennialmarket.ca.

Tours start at 7:00 p.m. and cost $25 per person.

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Controversial tiny, tall home in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood on market for $3M – Toronto

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From their back deck, a couple of homeowners in south Riverdale discuss the “big white square” that has become their rear view.

“We knew by the height of it that it would just be grotesque,” said Linda Bourgeois.

“It’s just been a mar on a community.”

Bourgeois is referring to a house that is up for sale on Hamilton Street, near Broadview Avenue and Dundas Street East, and it about a block away from her own home.

The asking price is $3 million for the tiny but tall, 1300-square-foot, modern-style home. It sits on a 15-by-86-foot lot.

According to the MLS listing for 154 Hamilton St., it is a “unique home in central Toronto” and a “modern marvel with four levels of functional minimalism naturally lit via full-height Juliette balcony windows, beautiful terraces, and a central skylight.”

Seller Cyril Borovsky, who bought and built the existing home, calls it a “piece of art.”

“Really the most important thing was the fact that I wanted to make it extremely efficient with the environment in mind,” he said.

“The entire building works on natural gas with very little electronic components. The heating is completely radiant throughout the house… These are completely new ways to build a house.”

But the look of the tall and skinny look of the home has raised eyebrows in the south Riverdale neighbourhood.

“The only thing you could use it for would probably be to show movies on the side because it’s just a big white … It would be a great drive-in movie theatre but unfortunately it’s not, it’s a house,” said Linda Clowes while giggling.

Clowes, Linda Bourgeois, and a group of other area residents, fought the home’s construction several years ag, when they first caught a glimpse of the design plan.

“People weren’t happy with that design and the height … it doesn’t really fit,” noted Councillor Paula Fletcher, who has been to the home before.

“I was a little surprised that the planning department didn’t suggest that it was out of character and shouldn’t be approved.”

The listing has been active since September, but remains for sale.

Borovsky, who initially started building it for himself now, said he is looking for someone who would appreciate it.

He acknowledged the home has led to a lot of discussion within the neighbourhood, and some people expressed their distaste for the style of the home.

“I really hope that this will be landmark after I’m long and gone,” he said.

“I hope they treat it like it’s the Eiffel Tower. It’s something that is new and beautiful part of the neighbourhood.”

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

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This journalist needed a voice-operated camera, but there was ‘nothing’ on the market. So he made her one

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As a trapeze performer, Carolyn Pioro made flying and flipping through the air look easy. Movement, she once said, was her life.

That changed forever in September 2005. Pioro was training for a performance with a Toronto-based circus when a mid-air flip went terribly wrong. She fell 40 feet, landed badly in the safety net and severed her spinal cord. In a painful flash of blue, she thought her life was over.

Journalist Carolyn Pioro gets a voice-activated camera mount engineered by Toronto Star visuals editor Taras Slawnych at the Star library in Toronto on Friday. The mount responds to voice commands to move up, down, left, right and capture a photo.
Journalist Carolyn Pioro gets a voice-activated camera mount engineered by Toronto Star visuals editor Taras Slawnych at the Star library in Toronto on Friday. The mount responds to voice commands to move up, down, left, right and capture a photo.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

It’s hard to imagine what life as a quadriplegic is like, or the strength and courage needed to get through the day. A milestone for Pioro occurred seven years ago, when she moved to her own apartment downtown with her cat and the help of daily attendants. Another happened this year, when she enrolled in the contemporary journalism program at Centennial College and planned to shoot a photo essay of students at local schools for acrobats.

“It will be interesting to see if I emotionally fall apart during the shoot or whether I can see it all through the lens of a working journalist,” Pioro said in an interview.

So she looked for a camera she could operate using the only mobility she still has — from the shoulders up.

“I did an exhaustive search, looking for adaptive equipment that was already out there. And there was nothing,” Pioro said. “Now, had I wanted a rifle mounted to my chair that I could use, that would have been easy. There were multiple companies that would have kitted me up.”

Her professor, photographer Tyler Anderson, mentioned the problem to Star photographer Steve Russell, who in turn mentioned it to the Star’s visuals editor — and technological handyman — Taras Slawnych. Two months later, Slawnych presented Pioro with a sleek contraption he made in his basement.

It’s a black rectangular box that mounts to Pioro’s wheelchair and holds a camera that swivels and shoots to her voice commands. A microphone clipped to her sweater and attached to the device allows her to turn the camera on and off, move it from side to side, up and down — and shoot.

When the first picture snapped, Pioro’s mouth and eyes were wide with excitement.

“It’s pretty cool, and useful and awesome,” Pioro said after the test in the Star’s library Friday, when Slawnych presented her with his device.

“Trust me, I’m more thrilled than anyone else,” Slawnych said.

(Russell joked he’s just glad Slawnych is “using his powers for good,” not evil.)

The device weighs less than a pound. Slawnych made the black casing with a 3D printer. Inside that, he placed an Arduino, a tiny processor he connected to a device that identifies voice commands. He hired a freelance computer programmer to help write code for the system’s servo. Slawnych also included an adapter to reduce the 24 volts from Pioro’s wheelchair battery to 12 volts for the device.

“Carolyn’s mom asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Slawnych recalled. “I said, ‘Because I can.’”

“I’m quite surprised how much Taras got into such a small item,” Pioro said.

Pioro earned a degree in semiotics and environmental studies before her accident. She works as a freelance fact-checker for design magazines and decided the time was right to get further into journalism.

“So many people now disregard journalism as one-sided and not true, and journalists have become almost underdogs,” she said, noting the “fake news post-truth environment.” And since I always root for the losing team, I thought it was important to support the profession and get involved more.

“And I want to provide the best life I can for my cat,” she added, smiling. “So more work would be awesome.”

Slawnych showed his device to Canon Canada, and says their engineers are interested in tinkering with it so that Pioro can also work the zoom with her voice.

“That would be cool,” she said.

Sandro Contenta is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @scontenta

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The Advent Calendars That Never Made It to Market

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Every holiday season, new advent calendars hit stores that go way beyond the traditional daily chocolate, causing a downright frenzy. Countdown to Christmas with CHEESE?! Okay, yes! Mini bottles of wine, little jars of jams. NEED! Sold out! What will they think of next? But behind every genius invention are a handful of ideas that never got their chance to shine. These are the advent calendars that never made it to market.

aunt cathy purse advent calendar

Illustration by Jay Daniel Wright

What’s Inside Aunt Cathy’s Purse Advent Calendar

This calendar counted down the days until Christmas with select offerings from Aunt Cathy’s purple faux croc Brighton Collectible handbag: a hanky that once belonged to Great Grandma Milly, a glow-in-the-dark rosary, piña colada Tic-Tacs, the business card of the Panera manager who owes her a salad, a bottle of Herbalife Cell-U-Loss® vitamins, a Starbucks gift card down to .45 cents, and a tube of burgundy tinted Burt’s Bees. But the real treasure is on Christmas day: a police-strength pepper spray keychain.

soup advent calendar

Illustration by Jay Daniel Wright

The Hot Soup Advent Calendar

Watch out! All month long, these hot soups will scald you with holiday spirit, somehow kept heated by a cheap cardboard box. Look forward to a bowl of split pea, followed by lobster bisque, an extra chunky clam chowder every Friday, and on Christmas morning: a big bowl of bison chili.

restaurant mint advent calendar

Illustration by Jay Daniel Wright

The Restaurant Mint Advent Calendar

Every day is a different mint your dad stole from various mid-range restaurants over a span of 14 years of business travels. Pastel buttermints from Ponderosa, chocolate peppermints from Red Lobster, crinkly Lifesavers from Denny’s, spicy cinnamon ones from Ninfa’s, ice blue ones from the Macaroni Grill that closed in 2002, those not-quite Andes mints from Olive Garden, a stray golf ball from Hooters, and on Christmas morning, greet the lord’s birthday with: a half-eaten tin of Altoids and loose change.

raisin advent calendar

Illustration by Jay Daniel Wright

The Raisin Advent Calendar

Wake up, run to your advent calendar, and behold: a single shriveled raisin, every single day until Christmas.

expired food advent calendar

Illustration by Jay Daniel Wright

The Expired Food That’s Still Good* Advent Calendar [*Keep Refrigerated]

With at least six cups of Yoplait key lime pie, this expired food that’s still good advent calendar promotes a less wasteful food system as much as it tests the biochemical strength of your gut. Tear open one surprise after the next: still painted hard-boiled Easter eggs, takeout lo mein from three weeks ago, half-eaten container of hummus turned to spackle, speckled shredded Parmesan, a salami stub, a few old Babybels, a jar of fuzzy manzanilla olives, and a nearly new jar of Prego alfredo. If you survive until Christmas, look forward to that tuna salad stored in a festive old cottage cheese tub! #Upcycle.

tap water advent calendar

Illustration by Jay Daniel Wright

The Tap Water Advent Calendar

It’s local! Try a sip of tap water from half of every state in this limited-edition advent calendar that celebrates Christmas with a cloudy cup of North Dakota rain water. Stir up the flavorful sediment with a Candy Cane for even more festivity [not included].

dirty dishes advent calendar

Illustration by Jay Daniel Wright

The Dirty Dishes Advent Calendar

Unwrap a new soiled dish that needs washing as we countdown until the birth of Christ: pint glasses with dried bubbles of beer on the side, oily popcorn bowls, mystery meat speckled cast iron pans, box graters with hardened cheese, a bloody knife, a mixing bowl with cemented flour, and on Christmas: a salad spinner with tiny shards of kale in the panes.

You know what would make a pretty great holiday gift? Our magazine! And a cool tote bag, plus some great baking tools for holiday cookies. More details here.

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He volunteers his time to advise Toronto tenants. In this rental market, he’s a busy guy

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In 2010, Rob Maguire was “screwed” by a landlord. To be precise, he says he was conned out of $5,000 when he paid first and last month’s rent on a house in Oshawa, only to discover, shortly after moving in, something the landlord probably should have revealed before he asked Maguire to fork over five grand: the property was not his to rent out.

At this point Maguire had been already living in his new digs for 10 days. That’s when two cops arrived at the door “asking what I was doing trespassing.” He was forced to find a new place in the middle of the month with very little money to his name. “I didn’t know what my rights were. I didn’t know anything other than how to read a lease.” He learned fast. Today, Maguire, a 70-year-old father of four, not only knows his rights. He mentors thousands of people who don’t.

Rob Maguire, centre, spends many evenings at a Toronto bar counselling renters. “I drink beer, eat fantastic wings and talk to tenants,” he says.
Rob Maguire, centre, spends many evenings at a Toronto bar counselling renters. “I drink beer, eat fantastic wings and talk to tenants,” he says.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

Our media is obsessed with intergenerational discord — specifically with stories about baby boomers who can’t stand millennials. But this isn’t one of them.

This is a story, rather, about an older guy who spends many evenings in front of his laptop at a north Toronto bar, counselling very grateful young people over the internet. “I drink beer, eat fantastic wings and talk to tenants,” says Maguire.

He does this on Facebook, through Ontario Tenant Rights: the hugely popular support group he founded a little over a year ago for renters in the province to voice their housing concerns and learn from one another.

Ontario Tenant Rights, and groups like it, such as Bunz Home Zone, are a vital resource for renters who know little about their rights and who may not have enough money to access legal representation. When it launched, Maguire expected a couple hundred people to sign up. Today membership sits at more than 20,000. Every morning when he gets up, he says, he’ll have about 15 to 20 private messages from tenants, many of them from Torontonians in their twenties who are struggling in the city’s notoriously expensive and competitive rental market.

Competition for living space breeds desperate renters, which in turn unfortunately breeds unscrupulous landlords. This includes landlords who refuse to fumigate roach infested apartments, landlords who refuse to give proper notice before entering tenants’ spaces, landlords who evict tenants in bad faith, and, perhaps most infuriating, landlords who don’t live on the property but who tell tenants they aren’t allowed to have any guests over to their homes — ever — even though such a prohibition is completely illegal. Maguire recently heard from a 20-year-old tenant who was told his own parents couldn’t visit his apartment without explicit permission from the landlord. With Maguire’s assistance the tenant took the case to the Landlord and Tenant Board where it was resolved in mediation and he received financial compensation.

When we think about young people facing discrimination in the rental market, we tend to imagine they are denied housing because of their age. But sometimes the opposite is true. Maguire insists there are plenty of standup landlords out there, some of whom seek advice in his group, but at the same time, he says, there are also landlords “who only rent to young people because they know they can walk all over them.” Not only are millennials less likely to know their rights than older renters, they’re less likely to have the capital to pick up and move.

“Oftentimes I hear from tenants in substandard living conditions,” says tenant rights lawyer Jonathan Robart. “But the market is so out of control they are unable to move to another place.” And even if they do try to improve their circumstances by writing a strongly worded letter to their landlord or taking their issue to the Landlord and Tenant Board, Robart says “that can really sour a relationship between landlord and tenant and most tenants either don’t have the time, the resources, or the knowledge,” to go through the legal process.

In Robart’s view, renters and society at large would be better served if tenant rights were a subject covered not only in lawyers’ offices and online forums, but in school. “If everybody coming out of high school had knowledge of what to look for in a lease, how to enforce their rights — I’d be interested to see how the power imbalance between landlord and tenant might shift.”

Maguire agrees. So many of the tenants who belong to his group are in “their late teens and early twenties.” It’s their first time away from home. Or for some, away from the country where they were born.

Indeed, The exploitation of renters in Toronto is particularly common among millennials new to Canada. Arun (an international engineering student from India who prefers not to disclose his last name for fear of how it might effect his professional life) came to Toronto in 2016. He soon found a place through friends — a house on a residential street in Brampton. It would be an understatement to say it was crowded. According to Arun, he was one of 30 tenants in the house, all of them students from outside the country. He paid $350 for a shared room in the basement, where, he says, “there was hardly space to sit down. There was no ventilation in the kitchen. In case of fire, we were trapped.” The landlord, who seemed like “a very nice lady,” refused to provide Arun and his housemates with a lease, telling them it was to their advantage not to sign one. Today, thanks in part to the Facebook group Bunz Home Zone, he is living in a different house, one he describes as safe and spacious.

But getting there was difficult, and telling. Before finding decent, safe accommodations, Arun encountered another sketchy apartment listing — this one demanding (illegally again) that tenants cook their food in the microwave only and abstain from having guests over. A newly informed man, he kept looking.

Unfortunately somebody won’t. Somebody will read that listing or one like it, take the place, and most likely try to heed the landlord’s wildly unfair, illegal demands, because they are desperate or because they don’t know any better. The silver lining is that when they decide they’ve had their fill of mandatory microwave dinners — Rob Maguire will be at a Toronto bar, on his laptop, ready to receive their complaint. It’s nice, he says, “to help people keep a roof over their head.” Or if that fails, to point them in the direction of a better one.

Emma Teitel is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @emmaroseteitel

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Notley calls on Ottawa buy more rail cars to get Alberta oil to market

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Premier Rachel Notley is calling on the federal government to buy more rail cars to transport Alberta oil.

« The best and only long-term solution to the price gap is building new pipelines, » Notley said Monday in Calgary after a meeting with local energy industry officials on market access.

« In the meantime, however, we need to take a close look at the tools available to us to close the differential where it’s feasible. Like, for example, increasing the efficiency and availability of rail capacity to move our products. »

Notley said the more than $50 per barrel differential between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select is a « punishing » number that’s costing the federal government tens of millions of dollars a day.

« If it continues, it is going to have a significant impact, frankly, on Ottawa’s bottom line, » she said.

Notley pointed out that the federal government supports grain transportation by rail, and said it’s time to increase the capacity for oil as well.

Railways have struggled to keep up with exports this year, with reports of both grain and rail cars marooned on the Prairies.

Bill C-49, which was passed this year, imposed reciprocal penalties on railways that leave farmers waiting months for grain to be shipped.

Notley said there are no specific details on the province’s request just yet — which could include a call for a number of rail cars and locomotives to be purchased, or a requirement that rail companys’ shipments include a certain portion of oil. She said Alberta is in the midst of putting together a specific business case to take to Ottawa. 

And, she said, the investment would pay for itself through the economic benefits from increased capacity and by a boost in investor confidence.

« It’s something that ultimately will be paid for by the way of increased value to the federal government’s own coffers, » Notley said.

Not the ‘best outcome’

When asked if she was concerned that increasing rail capacity could lead to accidents like the 2013 disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., she said there’s not much choice if needed pipeline projects continue to be stalled.

« We all know pipelines are the safest and lowest-emission means of transporting oil and gas out there. But as a result of years of successive federal governments’ inability to move forward on getting these major infrastructure projects … putting them on rail I don’t believe is the best outcome, but at the same time a $45-per-barrel differential steals tens of millions of dollars a day out of the pockets of Canadians and redirects them south of the border, and that is profoundly unwise, » she said.

The volume of crude shipped by rail has spiked in the past eight years since the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was first pitched, with an increase from 30,000 barrels to 200,000 barrels being shipped per day.

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