Development of Vernon’s Kin Race Track could include pool, housing

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The end of legal wrangling over the site of the old Kin Race Track has opened the door for the City of Vernon to develop the property.

Vernon’s mayor is now publicly musing about putting a pool and recreation centre on the land, as well as other recreational facilities and possibly even housing.

The city’s ability to use the property for a new purpose comes at the same time as Vernon is starting the process of looking for possible locations for a potential new pool.

The site of the old track, which is right next to two arenas, is considered an ideal spot.

“The most obvious spot for [a pool] is to take advantage of some of the heat produced and other things from the two arenas,” Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said.

“I can imagine that will be one of the top spots looked at for a new swimming pool and rec centre.”


READ MORE:
Court judgment opens door for new development at Kin Race Track

The mayor also expects baseball to continue on the property, which already houses a number of ball diamonds, as well as the addition of space for other recreational activities.

“It is a large site, and I can imagine some housing that matches the use,” added Cumming.

The development wouldn’t happen right away. Cumming said it would take years to develop a new pool for the city.


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After 10 years, lengthy lawsuit abandoned over Okanagan race track  

The city is now able to consider other uses for the property after the Okanagan Equestrian Society abandoned its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision on the track.

The equestrian society, the city and the regional district had been locked in a legal dispute, originally launched by the society in 2004, over the future of the property.

The society had been trying to retain the space for horse racing, but the B.C. Supreme Court ruled against the society last year.

The equestrian group said it simply couldn’t afford to continue fighting local governments to keep horse racing at the track and abandoned its appeal of the Supreme Court decision.

“We are obviously extremely disappointed,” said the society’s lawyer, Ed Woolley.

“Any lawsuit is expensive. One that drags on for several years is extremely expensive, and all resources were tapped for the original trial.”

After 120 years of hosting horse races at Kin Race Track, the facility hasn’t been used for that purpose since 2014.


READ MORE:
Horse races cancelled in Vernon

That year, races were cancelled when the grandstand wiring was deemed unsafe.

The structure was then destroyed in a deliberately set fire, part of a string of arsons that gripped the region that summer.

The equestrian society said it would like to continue its activities somewhere else but its future is uncertain, as no new space has been identified.

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

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Bell wants permission to gather and track customer data

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Canada’s largest telecommunications group is getting mixed reviews for its plan to follow the lead of companies like Google and Facebook in collecting massive amounts of information about the activities and preferences of its customers.

Bell Canada began asking its customers in December for permission to track everything they do with their home and mobile phones, internet, television, apps or any other services they get through Bell or its affiliates.

In return, Bell says it will provide advertising and promotions that are more « tailored » to their needs and preferences.

« Tailored marketing means Bell will be able to customize advertising based on participant account information and service usage patterns, similar to the ways that companies like Google and others have been doing for some time, » the company says in recent notices to customers.

Giving away valuable information

If given permission, Bell will collect information about its customers’ age, gender, billing addresses, and the specific tablet, television or other devices used to access Bell services.

It will also collect the « number of messages sent and received, voice minutes, user data consumption and type of connectivity when downloading or streaming. »

Here’s a company that’s taking every shred of personal information about me, from all kinds of activities that I engage in, and they’re monetizing it. What do I get in return?– Teresa Scassa, expert in information law

« Bell’s marketing partners will not receive the personal information of program participants; we just deliver the offers relevant to the program participants on their behalf, » the company assures customers.

Teresa Scassa, who teaches law at the University of Ottawa and holds the Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, says Bell has done a good job of explaining what it wants to do.

But Scassa says Bell customers who opt into Bell’s new program could be giving away commercially valuable personal information with little to no compensation for increased risks to their privacy and security.

« Here’s a company that’s taking every shred of personal information about me, from all kinds of activities that I engage in, and they’re monetizing it. What do I get in return? Better ads? Really? That’s it? What about better prices? »

Toronto-based consultant Charlie Wilton, whose firm has advised Bell and Rogers in the past, says there’s « tonnes » of evidence that consumers are increasingly aware of how valuable their personal information can be.

Privacy and security concerns

« I mean, in a perfect world, they would give you discounts or they would give you points or things that consumers would more tangibly want, rather than just the elimination of a pain point — which is what they’re offering right now, » Wilton says.

Scassa says there are also privacy and security concerns to consider.

At the macro level, Bell’s data security could be breached by hackers. At the micro level, she adds, there’s the potential for family friction if everybody starts getting ads based on one person’s activities.

Ads for pornography, birth control or services for victims of abuse could trigger confrontations, for instance.

« Some families are open and sharing. Others are fraught with tension and violence, » Scassa says.

Wilton says a company in Bell’s position also runs the risk that customers will feel betrayed if their information is leaked or the advertising they receive is inappropriate.

In the age of social media, he says, « one leak or one transgression gets amplified a million times. »

For its part, Bell spokesman Nathan Gibson notes in an email that its customers aren’t required to opt into its new marketing program and they can opt out later by adjusting their instructions to the company.

Ads that are relevant to customers

« Bell is responsible for delivering the advertising we believe would be most relevant to customers who opt in to the program, rather than the random online ads they would receive otherwise, » Gibson says.

« Customer information is always protected, enforced by our strict privacy policy and in accordance with all Canadian privacy regulations. »

Gibson noted that « international competitors like Google or Facebook, who deliver targeted marketing services in this country, are not subject to the rules that we as a Canadian company must and do follow. »

A spokeswoman for the federal privacy commissioner says that it hasn’t received any complaints about Bell’s new program.

However, Tobi Cohen noted that Bell withdrew and replaced its earlier Relevant Ads Program for its mobile service after the commission concluded in 2015 that dissatisfied consumers shouldn’t be required to take the initiative to opt out.

Numerous requirements

« Following further consultations and discussions with our office, Bell did make improvements and relaunched the program with opt-in consent in 2016, » Cohen says.

She added that the privacy commission hasn’t scrutinized the new « tailored » marketing program but added that the federal privacy law governing private-sector organizations has numerous requirements.

Among other things, organizations « need to explain what risks of harm may come to the individual from the collection, use or disclosure of the various information. »

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Has Bombardier finally run out of track?

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What was the death knell for Bombardier Transportation (BT), the rail division of Bombardier Inc.?

Was it the 2017 decision by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to disqualify BT from even bidding on a landmark contract for as many as 1,800 rail cars? Was it the 2017 decisions in Bombardier’s home Canadian market by the transit systems of Montreal and Toronto to order their next-gen rail cars from China Railway Rolling Stock Corp. (CRRC) and France’s Alstom SA, respectively?

Or, finally, was it the decision announced last week by Via Rail, yet another firm in Bombardier’s home country, to award a $1-billion (Cdn) contract for railcars to Germany’s Siemens AG?

There have been many such setbacks at BT.

Always, BT’s record of unreliability in delivering glitch-free products on time is why it loses contracts. And each setback also costs BT lucrative after-sales service contracts.

You could say that it’s time for Bombardier to shed its arrogant incompetence (problems with faulty BT equipment are usually the buyer’s fault, in BT’s view), now that archrivals Siemens and Alstom are merging, with combined global market share more than twice that of BT’s approximately 4 per cent.

And BT has no realistic hope of holding off Chinese state-owned industry leader CRRC (13 per cent market share), a growing threat to BT in North America, where it already has planted its flag in Montreal, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.

You could say that.

But, as a still-bloated General Motors Co. has shown us in waking up one morning with the realization it needed to shutter seven North American plants including GM Oshawa, entrenched cultures of arrogant complacency that are decades in the making usually end only with liquidation.

Canada’s resilient banks

Two warnings last week of economic turbulence ahead should be assessed in a larger, favourable context.

The federal banking regulator last week ordered Canadian banks to tighten their lending standards, ahead of a possible economic slowdown in 2019 and a resulting rise in loan losses. And Citigroup Inc. warned of a possible “debt crisis” for Canada and, indeed, the world, over the next three years.

Consider, though, that three years is a long time, and that at least some of the troubles currently besetting the world are temporary. To wit, trade wars, Brexit, slumping commodity prices, the easing in China’s once-torrid GDP growth rate, and geopolitical instability ranging from Russian adventurism to severe economic distress in major economies such as Brazil.

But the trade wars will abate, since there are only losers on all sides. Europe’s economic crisis is waning. Brexit will resolve itself, perhaps not in ideal fashion but with the crippling uncertainly removed. Lower oil prices benefit emerging economies. China’s GDP is poised for a modest uptick, and Japan has just recorded its second-longest postwar stretch of GDP growth uninterrupted by recession. Add in continued U.S. buoyancy, and the world’s three biggest economies are robust.

Canada’s Big Six banks have bolstered their reserves to withstand above-average loan losses. Should those occur, the “contagion” we’re warned of – a jump in Alberta loan losses spreading elsewhere – is unlikely. For instance, Quebec’s much larger economy is posting unusually strong growth.

Preparing for the worst is wise. But there is such a thing as the Cassandra who has predicted seven of the last two downturns. This probably isn’t a time to go long on pessimism.

Making the internet safe

Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, in 1990, is waging a campaign to enable us to be online “freely, safely and without fear.”

So far, more than 50 organizations have signed up for his mission to create a “Magna Carta for the web,” rules of proper conduct devised by governments, business and individuals, who then adhere to them.

Ahead of the Magna Carta’s scheduled publication May 2019, you can monitor its development at Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation .

Among the early signatories to the Magna Carta project are Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. It only makes sense that these two firms, which dominate what was intended to be a public commons, be at the table.

Then again, the business model for Facebook and Google is the harvesting of intimate data of billions of people for sale to parties unknown, for use as they see fit. As such, they are prime candidates for transformation into non-profit utilities.

Berners-Lee is confident that the likes of Facebook and Google feel a moral obligation to clean up their vast ecosystems. “People in the big companies are concerned about truth and democracy,” he has told the U.K. Guardian.

That is a strikingly naïve proposition.

Fact is, civility and the profit motive don’t easily mix, not online, in medicine, and many other realms.

But if Berners-Lee can galvanize the forces required to clean up the Web, he will be owed a second debt of gratitude. Gordon Brown, the former U.K. prime minister and an early signatory to the Magna Carta, has put it well: “Tim Berners-Lee has pinpointed one of the great human rights issues of our time.”

David Olive is a business columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @TheGrtRecession

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Ottawa on track to invest less on new military kit than promised for second year

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For the second year in a row, the federal government is expected to spend billions of dollars less on new military equipment than promised because of a combination of good and bad news: cost savings on some projects and delays in others.

The Trudeau government in 2016 released a new defence policy that included dramatic increases in spending on new aircraft, ships, armoured vehicles and other military equipment over the next 20 years.

The investments are vital to replacing the Canadian Forces’ fighter jets, ships and various other types of aging equipment with state-of-the-art kit.

Yet while new budget documents filed in the House of Commons show the Department of National Defence has so far been given authority to spend $4 billion this fiscal year, the policy had predicted total spending of $6.5 billion.

The department does have until March 31 — when the federal government’s fiscal year ends — to make up the $2.5-billion difference, but its top civilian official, deputy minister Jody Thomas, admitted Thursday that a large shortfall is likely.

Part of the reason is that the department expects to save about $700 million on various projects that ended up costing less than planned, Thomas told The Canadian Press following a committee appearance on Parliament Hill.

« We’ve delivered things more efficiently than was anticipated and so we don’t need the money, » she said. « And we can apply it to projects, either new projects or projects that have a cost overrun. »

But delays moving some projects through the military procurement system have also caused their fair share of problems, Thomas said, and the department is expecting to have to put off $1 billion to $1.3 billion in purchases it had planned to make this year.

« We’d like to (spend) $6 billion every year. Can I guarantee to you that we’re going to do that? No, there’s slowdowns in projects, there’s slowdowns with suppliers, there’s changes in scope. Things change, » she said.

« I’m hoping to get it below $1 billion. I’m not committing to getting it to below $1 billion. … We’re driving projects to get it as low as possible and spend funds efficiently and effectively. We’re not wasting money. »

‘It’s not good to have delays​’

The government spent $2.3 billion less than planned last year. That was also largely because of delays in projects such as the government’s multibillion-dollar plan to buy new warships, though also because some things ended up costing less than expected.

The government does deserve credit for having increased investments in equipment to levels not seen since the height of the war in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

« And if they can actually move as much as the deputy (minister) was saying, and they only leave $1 billion on the table, that will be the best year in the last several decades, » said Perry, who has previously warned that delays in the procurement system could derail the defence policy.

« But there are a bunch of impacts from not being able to spend money on schedule. One is you don’t have the actual gear to do what you want. And project budgets lose purchasing power when money is not spent on schedule. So it’s not good to have delays. »

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TTC faces workplace safety charges in death of track worker

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The provincial government has charged the TTC with violating provincial safety regulations in the death of a track worker last fall, the Star has learned.

The transit agency has been charged with three offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in relation to the Oct. 1, 2017, incident that killed Tom Dedes, according to a summons from the ministry dated Sept. 24, 2018.

The maximum amount an employer can be fined for violating the act is $500,000 per count, plus a 25 per cent surcharge. A hearing on the charges is scheduled for Oct. 25 at Old City Hall.

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said in an emailed statement that the transit agency “will respond appropriately” to the summons.

“As an employer of 15,000 dedicated women and men, nothing is more serious than the death of an employee due to a workplace incident,” he said.

Dedes, 50, was an 18-year veteran of the TTC at the time of his death. He was severely injured shortly after 2 a.m. at the agency’s McCowan Carhouse in Scarborough, when he was crushed between a parked pickup truck and a moving rail car. He was taken to hospital and died eight days later.

According to the summons, which was delivered days before the one-year deadline the ministry had to lay charges under the act, the TTC is accused of violating regulations that stipulate employers must erect barriers or warnings to protect workers from vehicle traffic, and provide adequate lighting to ensure employee safety. The agency is also charged with failing to take every reasonable precaution to protect a worker.

The precautions the TTC allegedly failed to take include “provid(ing) road markings defining the area swept by the tail of turning rail cars” and “provid(ing) a trained and qualified …work car monitor” to ensure a car doesn’t strike workers or equipment.

As the Star reported in May, as part of an investigation into this incident that was still ongoing at the time, ministry investigators found the lighting at the carhouse didn’t meet safety standards. Ministry guidelines stated there should be a minimum lighting level of between 20 and 30 lux, but readings found an average of just 8.3 lux at the site.

The TTC has since painted yellow lines to mark a safe zone around the curved track where Dedes was struck, but there were no such markings in place at the time of the fatal incident, the TTC told the Star in May.

Joanne Dedes, Tom’s sister-in-law, said in an interview the charges bring “some type of closure” to his family as they prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of his death.

“But it won’t bring him back. A life is lost, is lost,” she said.

“But at least hopefully the TTC learns from it to prevent any further deaths.”

In a statement sent Tuesday night, Frank Grimaldi, the president of the largest TTC workers union, said the organization “continues to grieve the loss of Tom Dedes.”

“ATU Local 113 hopes the charges against the TTC will result in necessary workplace improvements so such a tragedy never happens again,” he said, noting that the union “is strongly committed to improving the health and safety conditions of Toronto’s public transit workers.”

In 2008, the Ministry of Labour fined the TTC $200,000 in the death of worker Tony Almeida, who was killed while working with an asbestos abatement crew on the Yonge subway line. A platform on the work train he was driving struck the side of the tunnel, came loose, and crushed his operating cab.

The ministry also investigated the 2012 death of TTC track worker Peter Pavlovksi, who was struck by a rail car near Yorkdale station. The ministry declined to lay charges.

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

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