Plan to buy more fighter jets puts Canada on hook for bigger share of F-35 costs

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Canada is being forced to shoulder a bigger share of the costs of developing F-35 fighter jets even though it has not decided whether it will actually buy any.

Canada is one of nine partner countries in the F-35 project, each of which is required to cover a portion of the stealth fighter’s multibillion-dollar development costs to stay at the table.

Each country pays based on the number of F-35s it’s expecting to buy. Canada has pitched in more than half-a-billion dollars over the last 20 years, including $54 million last year.

But that amount was based on the Stephen Harper government’s plan to buy 65 new fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s, which the Trudeau government has since officially increased to 88.

Even though Canada has not committed that those 88 jets will be F-35s, the Department of National Defence says that change means it will have to pay more to remain a partner — including about $72 million this year.

« Canada’s costs under the F-35 (partnership agreement) are based on an intended fleet size, » Defence Department spokeswoman Ashley Lemire said in an email.

« Canada changed its fleet size within the F-35 (agreement) from 65 to 88 aircraft to align with government decisions on the size of the intended permanent fighter fleet to be acquired through competition and the payment increased accordingly. »

As each partner contribution is determined annually, based on the overall cost of the F-35 development program for that specific year, Lemire said she could not provide details on how much more Canada will have to pay.

The F-35’s development costs have been a constant source of criticism over the life of the stealth-fighter program, which Canada first joined under the Chretien government in 1997. The entire program is believed to have already cost more than US$1 trillion.

The Trudeau government says it plans to keep Canada in the F-35 development effort until a replacement for the CF-18s is chosen — partners in the development work can buy the planes at a lower price and compete for work associated with their production and long-term maintenance.

Canadian companies have so far won more than $1.2 billion in contracts related to the F-35, according to the government.

‘Biased toward performance’

The F-35 is one of four planes slated to participate in the $19-billion competition that the government plans to launch this spring, the others being Boeing’s Super Hornet, Eurofighter’s Typhoon and Saab’s Gripen.

The competition isn’t scheduled to select a winner until 2021 or 2022, meaning Canada will be on the hook for several more payments. The first new aircraft is expected in 2025 and the last in 2031, when the CF-18s will be phased out.

F-35 maker Lockheed Martin says more than 350 of the stealth fighters have been delivered to different countries, while Israel became the first country to use the plane in combat last year when two of the jets struck targets in neighbouring Syria.

Acting U.S. defence secretary Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, nonetheless criticized the program on Monday, saying it « has room for a lot more performance. »

« I am biased toward performance, » he was quoted as saying when asked if he is biased toward Boeing. « I am biased toward giving the taxpayer their money’s worth. And the F-35, unequivocally, I can say, has a lot of opportunity for more performance. »

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NDP puts off winter caucus meeting to focus on Singh’s byelection campaign

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The NDP has postponed its winter caucus meeting to free up MPs to help leader Jagmeet SIngh campaign in the Burnaby South byelection, CBC News has learned.

The party retreat, traditionally held before the resumption of Parliament in late January, will instead be held in March or early April, a party official told CBC News.

It is customary for the three main parties to gather ahead of each parliamentary sitting to plan strategy. The Liberals and Conservatives are holding their meetings in Ottawa on the weekend of Jan. 26-27.

The meetings are seen as particularly important this time around as parties are trying to fine tune their strategies and focus their message for this election year.

But the NDP has a more imminent concern: getting its leader into the House of Commons.

Singh is running in a byelection to fill the vacant Burnaby South seat in B.C., one of three byelections called by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month. Singh has been without a seat since he was elected leader in October 2017.

« Since (Singh) is focusing on his byelection in Burnaby South, and some MPs are focusing on helping our candidates in the three by-elections throughout the country, we have postponed our strategic discussions to the next few weeks, » said NDP caucus chair Matthew Dubé.

As another NDP MP put it, « is time better spent here (Ottawa) for a couple of days gazing into the next eight months or on the doorsteps over the next two weeks. »

« Most, if not all, of the B.C. caucus and others will be going out to help out Jagmeet, » the MP said. « All of this hinges on what happens in Burnaby. »

At the outset, it looked like Singh would have an uphill climb in Burnaby South. A poll in the fall put the NDP in third place in the riding. But a new survey published Tuesday by the same polling firm found Singh ahead of the Liberal and Conservative candidates.

Still, Singh shouldn’t take anything for granted. Riding-level polling, particularly in byelections and in diverse ridings like Burnaby South, has a mixed track record.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also called byelections for the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe and Montreal’s Outremont, which was vacated in the summer by Singh’s predecessor, Tom Mulcair.

The byelections will be held Feb. 25.

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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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Court puts brakes on Uber bid to have drivers resolve work issues overseas

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Ontario Uber drivers should not be forced to resolve employment issues through expensive arbitration in the Netherlands, the court of appeal has ruled, calling a provision to that effect in the company’s service agreement an “unfair bargain” for drivers.

The ruling also means a lawsuit against the ride-sharing company can now seek certification to proceed as a class action.

The proposed class-action launched in 2017 by Toronto-based Samfiru Tumarkin LLP argues Uber drivers are employees entitled to protection under the Employment Standards Act — not independent contractors as the company claims. Initially, the suit was stopped in its tracks because Uber successfully argued its agreements with individual drivers specify that disputes must be resolved through Dutch arbitration.

The court of appeal of Ontario rejected that argument Wednesday, reviving the possibility of a class action against the company and addressing what lawyers called a “dangerous loophole” in the province’s worker protections.

Lawyer Lior Samfiru said allowing employment issues to be resolved through foreign arbitration clauses would have constituted the “death of employment laws in this province.”

“It deprives anyone from the ability to pursue their rights,” he told the Star.

The decision from Justice Ian V.B. Nordheimer echoes that position.

“The Arbitration Clause constitutes a contracting out of the (Employment Standards Act),” the ruling said. “It eliminates the right of the appellant (or any other driver) to make a complaint to the Ministry of Labour regarding the actions of Uber and their possible violation of the requirements of the ESA.”

“I believe that it can be safely concluded that Uber chose this Arbitration Clause in order to favour itself and thus take advantage of its drivers, who are clearly vulnerable to the market strength of Uber,” Nordheimer’s decision adds.

“It is a reasonable inference that Uber did so knowingly and intentionally.”

In an emailed statement, Uber spokesperson Josh McConnell said the company was “proud to offer an earning opportunity to tens of thousands of drivers throughout Ontario.”

“We are reviewing the decision,” McConnell added.

While the courts initially agreed with Uber that it made dispute resolution mechanisms “readily available” to Ontario drivers, Wednesday’s ruling said what the “factual record actually shows is that there is no dispute resolution mechanism either in Ontario or elsewhere, short of the Arbitration Clause.”

“It must be remembered, in this regard, that the evidence shows that the cost of initiating the arbitration process alone is US$14,500,” the ruling adds.

“This does not include the costs of travel, accommodation and, most importantly, counsel to participate in the arbitration. These costs are to be contrasted with the appellant’s claim for minimum wage, overtime, vacation pay and the like brought by a person earning $400-$600 per week.”

Allowing arbitration clauses to override provincial employment laws would also leave “the rights of the drivers to be determined in accordance with the laws of the Netherlands, not the laws of Ontario,” the decision notes.

“Drivers are given no information as to what the laws of the Netherlands are,” Nordheimer’s ruling added.

Uber does not have the automatic right to challenge the decision, but could seek leave from the Supreme Court of Canada to appeal.

“The next step, assuming there are no further appeals, is the court would have to decide to certify the case as a class action,” Samfiru said.

The class action seeks $400 million in damages on behalf of around 20,000 Uber drivers in Ontario and claims they are Uber employees entitled to rights like minimum wage and overtime pay.

Uber argues its drivers are independent contractors, a category of worker that is not covered by employment legislation.

Under Ontario law, a worker is generally considered an employee if the business directs the nature of their work, including deadlines and pay rates. Other indicators include providing a worker with tools and equipment to do their job or the ability to suspend, dismiss, or discipline a worker. The Ministry of Labour can find a worker is an employee even if their employer calls them an independent contractor.

Legislation recently enacted by the Ford government repealed new measures that placed the onus on employers to prove a worker is an independent contractor when disputes over status arose.

Regardless of the outcome of the proposed class action, Samfiru said the court of appeal decision sends an important message to foreign companies operating in Ontario.

“We have employment laws in Ontario,” he said. “ If you’re going to operate here you have to play by those laws.”

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz

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Taverner puts a halt to his swearing in as OPP commissioner

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Ron Taverner has put his appointment as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police on hold, pending a review into his hiring by the Office of the Integrity Commissioner.

“Out of the greatest of respect for the brave men and women of the Ontario Provincial Police, I am requesting my appointment as commissioner be postponed until as such time the integrity commissioner has completed his review,” Taverner said in statement issued Saturday afternoon.

Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Sylvia Jones accepted Taverner’s decision.

“While the government has full confidence in Mr. Taverner, we will respect his request for a delay in his appointment, until such time as the integrity commissioner has conducted a review of the selection process,” Jones said in statement.

Taverner, 72, was set to be sworn in as Ontario’s top cop on Monday.

The NDP has called on the integrity commissioner to look into “potential political interference” in the appointment of Taverner, a long-time family friend of Premier Doug Ford. Taverner, who recently retired from the Toronto Police Service at the rank of superintendent, had been unit commander at 23, 12 and 31 Divisions.

It was also revealed Saturday that Gary Couture, OPP deputy commissioner of field operations, has been appointed Interim Commissioner of the OPP while the review is conducted, replacing Brad Blair, who held that position since the retirement of commissioner Vince Hawkes in early November.

Blair asked the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario to investigate “potential political interference” in Taverner’s appointment. Ombudsman Paul Dubé this past week turned down Blair’s request, saying it was outside his jurisdiction. Blair is taking the matter to court to decide whether or not that is the case.

In a statement to OPP members Saturday, Blair said he understands the “preference for an alternative interim commissioner and will co-operate in every respect.”

Blair said he will resume his role of deputy commissioner of traffic safety and operational support command and remains “devoted to ensuring that the well-earned reputation” of the OPP “remains untarnished.”

“I have been humbled by the honour of leading the women and men of the OPP and I do not regret a single step I have had to take,” said Blair.

The number of voices questioning the hiring process, calling for a review or putting a pause on Taverner’s appointment had been growing since it was announced Nov. 29, and included former OPP commissioner Chris Lewis and former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had also written a letter to Taverner, urging him to “do the right thing” and “delay your installation and assuming command of the OPP until a full investigation …has been completed,” Horwath wrote.

At Queen’s Park Saturday, Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh said Taverner’s move to postpone his controversial appointment is welcome but raises further questions about how a close friend of the premier was given the plum policing job after the qualification level was mysteriously lowered, allowing him apply.

“We are very relieved Mr. Taverner will not be appointed Monday and sworn in,” Singh told reporters.

“However we are still very concerned. Where there is smoke, there is fire. There are a lot of unanswered questions here.”

The New Democrats are calling for an “emergency select committee” of MPPs to investigate the hiring — with the power to compel witnesses in public sessions — in addition to the integrity commissioner’s probe.

“We need to have answers,” said Singh.

At this point, it’s unclear whether Taverner himself made the decision to ask his OPP swearing-in be postponed or whether he was prompted by the premier’s office, Singh added.

“That’s why the premier’s office needs to come forward and provide some clarity…We need to understand how this was allowed to happen, how rules were changed.”

Established in 1988, the Office of the Integrity Commissioner “serves the public interest by encouraging and supporting high ethical standards that strengthen trust and confidence in the Ontario government,” states its website.

The office has a number of mandates, one of which falls under the Members’ Integrity Act. The “primary objective is to help prevent ethics violations before they occur,” and the office offers confidential advice to members of provincial parliament around 300 times each year, according to its website.

If a member suspects another member of crossing an ethical line, in contravention of the act, the member can ask the integrity commissioner through what is known as a “Section 30” complaint to look into the matter, and offer an “opinion.” An affidavit must be filed by the complainant to start the process.

The process involves a review to see if the complaint is within the jurisdiction of the office, followed by a decision on whether an inquiry will be conducted, and notifying the affected member of that decision. If the inquiry is on, the office then asks for written responses to the affidavit.

Taverner’s decision to postpone his investiture comes as the Progressive Conservatives have recalled the house Monday.

The Tories are to introduce back-to-work legislation to end a strike by the Power Workers’ Union, which threatens to shut down Ontario Power Generation’s nuclear reactors that provide almost half of the province’s electricity supply.

But resuming sitting in the house means the government will face the opposition in the daily question period.

With the first question period set for Tuesday morning, the Tories were bracing for difficult inquiries from the New Democrats, Liberals, and Greens over Taverner’s appointment.

All the opposition parties have denounced the fact that a close friend of the premier is being named to run the provincial police even though he lacked the professional qualifications in the initial job posting. That posting, which was later amended, enabled Taverner, a superintendent, to apply for the post, which comes with a raise of almost $100,000 over his $178,000 Toronto police salary.

Jim Rankin is a reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @Jleerankin

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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Schism within government on how to deal with the Ontario Medical Association puts premier and health minister at odds

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The Ford government has not only angered doctors by pulling the plug on arbitration with the Ontario Medical Association, but now one of its MPPs has gone public in denouncing the move as well.

The Star has also learned there is a growing schism within government on the issue — with the health minister’s office on one side and the premier’s office on the other.

Binding arbitration, aimed at resolving an almost five-year-old contract dispute between the OMA and government, is scheduled to resume Saturday.

But the government revealed earlier this week it no longer plans to attend.

The OMA, which is the legally recognized bargaining agent for the province’s 31,000 physicians, says it still plans to participate, noting that arbitration legislation permits the process to continue even if one party fails to show up.

But the OMA contends it’s illegal for the government to “fire” its nominee.

Meantime, angry doctors are lashing out against the government with some warning of job action and others calling on Conservative MPPs and cabinet ministers to stand up to their own government on the issue.

The physicians charge that the Conservative Party wooed them for their support during the election based on a false promise to make peace with the profession.

Conservative MPP Randy Hillier said he has heard that message loud and clear from doctors in his eastern Ontario riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston. He said the Conservatives also promised in the election to resolve the dispute through binding arbitration and now have an obligation to do so.

“There is a substantial number of physicians who are very disappointed. They are truly expecting and wanting to have a good relationship and to have this dispute resolved through the mechanism that we agreed to,” he said.

“We made that commitment to resolve this dispute through arbitration and unless there is a better mechanism that all parties agree to, then we must uphold our commitment,” Hillier added.

The government earlier this week sent a letter to William Kaplan, chair of the arbitration board, stating it was withdrawing from the arbitration process because it “lacks confidence that the OMA can deliver on the outcome of any arbitration decision.”

Less than two weeks earlier, a request was made to Health Minister Christine Elliott by a group of high-paid specialists to suspend the arbitration process.

It was signed by radiologist Dr. David Jacobs, an outspoken supporter of Premier Doug Ford’s. He is spearheading an effort by a group of high-billing specialists, including radiologists, to break-away from the OMA.

The attempt to split the OMA followed the release of a report from an internal association committee, which recommended that high-billing specialists get paid less and low-billing ones get paid more.

A source close to government said the decision to pull out of arbitration came directly from Premier Doug Ford’s office.

Health Minister Christine Elliott has pushed for arbitration to continue but has been overruled by an official from Ford’s office, said the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.

A second source close to government acknowledged the internal rift.

“Given how this was handled, there is no way that the government is unified about this decision. Things have to get back on track, fast,” said the source, who who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the controversy.

The government is alienating physicians, the source warned, adding that the consequences could spell bad news for Ontario patients.

“The problem is that the consequences for the government and its relationship with physicians will be toxic.”

Press secretaries for Ford and Elliott have not responded to questions about the dissension between their offices.

On Twitter, doctors are discussing job action and OMA president Dr. Nadia Alam has said all options are on the table.

OMA lawyer Steven Barrett sent a letter to Kaplan Thursday, stating that the arbitration hearings “must proceed nothwithstanding the unlawful and bad faith attempt by the (government) to undermine the process.”

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

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Ministry of Labour puts hold on proactive workplace inspections, internal memo says

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The Ministry of Labour has instructed staff not to initiate any new proactive inspections aimed at preventing wage theft and other employment standards violations, according to an internal memo obtained by the Star — a day after the Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill that will significantly roll back recently enacted labour protections.

The memo, which is signed by the ministry’s acting director of employment standards, Joe Boeswald, says that as of Sept. 3, staff should “not initiate any new inspections.” It also says the ministry will defer inspection and prosecution training for staff who have not yet received it.

Protesters, some with the Ontario Federation of Labour and others with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, joined a Day of Action in Oakville last week urging the Ford government to keep its hands off the proposed $15 minimum wage. On Tuesday, the province took steps to freeze the minimum wage at $14 and roll back other gains for workers.
Protesters, some with the Ontario Federation of Labour and others with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, joined a Day of Action in Oakville last week urging the Ford government to keep its hands off the proposed $15 minimum wage. On Tuesday, the province took steps to freeze the minimum wage at $14 and roll back other gains for workers.  (Graham Paine / Metroland)

Employment standards inspections deal with basic workplace issues such as unpaid wages and overtime. Proactive inspections, which are initiated at the behest of the ministry, are far more effective at recovering unpaid wages, including public holiday pay and overtime, than when individual workers file complaints, according to the ministry’s own data.

Andrew Langille, an employment and labour lawyer with East Toronto Community Legal Services, called the move “very troubling.”

“Inspections are important because they are the backbone of enforcement of the ESA (Employment Standards Act),” he said. “It’s really the only way to detect widespread violations of the minimum social standards other than employees reporting violations themselves.”

According to the memo dated Aug. 30, the move is motivated by a significant backlog of employment standards claims filed by workers — exacerbated by a “discretionary spending freeze and subsequent suspension of recruitment” at the ministry.

In response to questions from the Star, a ministry spokesperson said the “measures taken are temporary and will be re-evaluated as wait times decrease.”

“The Ministry of Labour continues to identify and conduct proactive Health and Safety inspections and other safety initiatives on specific industry sectors to raise awareness and help prevent injuries and fatalities,” spokesperson Janet Deline said in an email. “We also continue to conduct reactive investigations in response to workplace fatalities, critical injuries, work refusals and complaints.”

“Any inspections that are underway will be completed in the normal manner,” she added.

As first reported by the Star, a commitment by the Liberals to double its complement of employment standards inspectors by hiring 175 new staff was iced after the Conservatives were elected in June.

The memo says to deal with increased wait times, inspectors will have to focus on claims and should not initiate any new inspections. The memo does not specify for how long.

Bill 47, introduced in the legislature Tuesday, will repeal other Liberal measures meant to tackle precarious work, including a minimum wage bump, sick days, and equal pay provisions for temporary workers. It also reduces the maximum penalties for employers who break the law.

Responding to worker claims could still require inspectors to visit workplaces, but the memo means all future proactive blitzes — for example, of high-risk sectors like temp agencies — are on hold.

Last year, the government recovered only one-third of the wages owed to individual workers after they filed claims, according to documents obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request.

Since 2013, this low recovery rate has resulted in some $28 million in missing wages for workers, according to 2016 research conducted by York University academics Leah Vosko and Eric Tucker, based on ministry data.

The recovery rate when the ministry inspected workplaces was almost 100 per cent.

“There’s a major problem when it comes to detecting infractions for workers who remain in the workplace,” said Langille.

“There’s a fear of reprisal, which is quite a live issue that I see in my practice quite extensively,” he said, adding that workers often have a “poor understanding” of their rights and the claims process.

Vosko and Tucker’s research found that more than 90 per cent of the approximately 15,000 annual employment standards complaints are filed by people who have left or lost their jobs.

The Star has reported extensively on wage theft and other enforcement issues across the province.

A 2016 report by two independent experts commissioned by the Ministry of Labour to review the province’s workplace standards also found that Ontario faces “serious” and extensive problems enforcing basic employment rights.

“We conclude that there is a serious problem with enforcement of (Employment Standards Act) provisions,” the report reads. “While most employers likely comply or try to comply with the ESA, we conclude that there are too many people in too many workplaces who do not receive their basic rights.”

Ministry blitzes in the past regularly found violations in more than 75 per cent of workplaces inspected.

Langille said underresourcing at the Ministry of Labour has been a systemic problem under successive governments.

“This is an issue that cuts across all governments,” he said. “This is an enduring problem that the ministry has encountered.”

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz

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National Service Dogs puts out urgent call for ‘puppy raisers’

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National Service Dogs in Cambridge has put out an urgent call for people to help raise a massive litter of puppies that will be in need of homes on Oct. 19.

“Currently we have a litter of 11 puppies that need puppy raisers,“ said Caitlin Bonaldo, assistant director, puppy development, with National Service Dogs.

Bonaldo said that her organization “breeds and trains service dogs for children with Autism, as well as for first responders and veterans with PTSD.”

WATCH: Veterans denied service dogs despite a government report showing ‘significant’ reduction in PTSD






They put out the call for help earlier this week and have received a great response, but she says they are always looking for more help.

“We are always looking for puppy raisers and we have four other volunteer programs if puppy raising doesn’t sound like the type of role someone has time for,” Bonaldo explained. “We ask that people visit our website and fill out an application and we will direct them for the next steps.”

People who are able to take on a puppy, will receive the dog when it is around eight weeks old, and will care for it until it is between 16 and 20 months of age.

READ MORE:  Dog brought in to help Alberta paramedics work through job stress

Puppy raisers, as they are termed, are responsible for taking the pooches everywhere — work, home and play — to get them acclimated with being out in the world in a busy environment.

WATCH: Local service dogs and why they are so important






“This real-world training imitates the experiences that our service dogs need to successfully help become the best service dog possible for NSD clients,” the organization said in a media release.

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

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Guelph Fire Department puts new ‘Avenger’ pumper truck into service – Guelph

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It looks like something from the Transformer film series and is even called the “Avenger” by the manufacturer, but it’s just the latest addition to the Guelph Fire Department’s fleet.

The brand new pumper was received about a month ago from Rosenbauer America in Minnesota and was put into service this week.


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Chief John Osborne says the truck is already getting some looks.

“A lot of people are pulling over and taking pictures, and coming in and asking about it,” he said.

“It is a whole new design that Rosenbauer America has brought out.”

Even with the sleek look, the fire truck is shorter from front to back and comes with a tighter steering radius, Osborne added.

He said that was important for Guelph.

“It allows us to get into the areas within the community that are a little bit smaller because intensification is the way we’re moving towards now and we needed a truck that was capable of getting into the smaller areas,” Osborne explained.

The truck also comes with a 360-degree camera system, it has about 20-25 per cent more storage space and it can hold an extra 1,000 litres of water compared to other pumper trucks.

Older trucks carry can carry just under 1,900 litres of water, whereas the Avenger model can carry almost 3,000 litres.

Osborne said the extra water allows firefighters to tackle fires more quickly.

“It does give us a lot more flexibility as far as how much of a fire we can put out and it also saves time because the crew doesn’t have to grab a hydrant,” he said.


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The truck was purchased for $740,000, but Osborne said about $100,000 was saved because it was meant to be one of Rosenbauer’s demonstration trucks.

The purchase was covered through the city’s 2017 capital budget.

The fire department’s fleet currently consists of nine pumper trucks, one aerial truck and one tanker truck. The new truck is replacing a pumper that is reaching the end of its life cycle and will soon be put up for auction.

Osborne said their next purchase will most likely be made in 2020.

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

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