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Why Doug Ford’s subway ‘upload’ could be Toronto’s most contentious city hall story of 2019

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There was a time when Mayor John Tory and Toronto city council might have seen the Ontario provincial government’s desire to get more involved in the funding of the city’s transit system as a gift.

After years of requesting more support and funding for the city’s jam-packed and too-often-delayed Toronto Transit Commission: hark, a saviour! A Christmas miracle, even. 

But there’s been little holiday cheer at city hall this year over Premier Doug Ford’s desire to bring the TTC’s subway system under provincial ownership.

At their final meeting before the Christmas break, Tory and councillors voted 23-2 to reaffirm their desire to keep the entire TTC — subways and all — while also requesting that the province “demonstrate clearly and with evidence” why exactly they’re so intent on taking the subways.

The city clearly doesn’t see Ford’s move as a gift. Instead, the subway upload has been received more like the opening salvo in a political fight, and the coming negotiations over the fate of the subway system look to be one of the most contentious and complex Toronto city hall stories of 2019.

Why? Well, to start with, both sides have yet to agree on the definition of words.

First step toward uploading is defining the word ‘uploading’

At their meeting on Dec. 13, as councillors started peppering him with questions about the specifics of what it would look like if the province uploaded the subway system, TTC CEO Rick Leary took a moment to explain he doesn’t know anything.

“The TTC has not had direct negotiations or discussion regarding ‘what is uploading?’ And that’s really the question we have at this time — what it is and what it is not,” he said.

There are some potential benefits to Queen’s Park taking over the subway system. For example, the province has more ways to raise money to build than the city does. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Just as it’s important to define words like “space” before engaging in space travel, “uploading” does indeed seem to be an important word to define when making preparations to upload a subway system.

But the specifics so far are very lacking and that makes it challenging to evaluate the provincial government’s plans and the road ahead over the first few months of 2019.

The upside to an upload

The most obvious benefit to the province taking ownership of the TTC subways is probably the nerdy accounting stuff. With no obligation to avoid annual deficits and far more taxation powers, the provincial government has far more flexibility to raise money.

And if Queen’s Park were to own the transit infrastructure they’re funding, the value of that infrastructure would appear on the government’s books to offset some of their transit-related debt.

That could make transit dollars easier to find. It could unlock funds to accelerate the implementation of things like platform edge doors, automatic train control, enhancements to make stations fully accessible and other reliability improvements. No longer would the TTC be struggling to extract money primarily from city property taxes and fares.

Vague plan makes for vague risks

The downsides are harder to identify with so much left undefined.

The biggest potential red flag? The province has not made much mention of improving the reliability of the subway system as a reason for their desire to take control. Instead, the premier and Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek have talked almost exclusively about how this will be great for enabling expansion.

Ford has floated a number of ideas, including:

  • A subway extension to Pickering, Ont., and Markham, Ont.
  • Extending the Sheppard subway.
  • Adding two more stops to the controversial Scarborough subway extension, which is currently set to add just one new stop.
  • And during his 2014 Toronto mayoral bid, Ford pitched a subway line along Finch Avenue.

Basically: imagine a mostly-suburban area somewhere in the GTA. Odds are the premier would like a subway there.

Giving the province exclusive and unfettered powers to plan and build these kinds of suburban extensions could shift transit dollars away from maintenance or much-needed investments in projects like the relief line subway or more buses and streetcars. And depending on the deal hammered out between the province and the city, City Hall and the TTC may end up on the hook for operational costs related to subway extensions they neither approved nor endorsed.

For riders, ownership is irrelevant — investment matters

As the Scarborouth RT continues to age, there’s increasing pressure to replace the line. The city is currently working on a one-stop subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre, although Ford has said that line should have three stops. (John Rieti/CBC)

Most transit riders are never going to care which level of government owns the subway trains they ride, so long as those trains get them where they need to go. Transit riders have never stood shoulder-to-shoulder on a crowded subway platform and thought, “gee, I wish we had a different governance model for transit.”

Transit riders tend to just want improved service.

But with lingering tension between Premier Doug Ford and Toronto council and so many details — and words — left undefined, it’s not clear yet how this process might translate to better service, or if it will truly be a precursor to sustained government investment in transit. If you’re dreaming of better subway service in the new year, expect delays. The fight over uploading will come first.

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Future of Ottawa: Chefs with Kathryn Ferries

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Kat Ferries on the future of chefs, or read posts from Quinn Taylor on bars or Justin Champagne on fine dining.

Kat Ferries is Sous-Chef at Stofa Restaurant and a 2020 San Pellegrino North American Young Chef Social Responsibility Award Winner.

Apt613: What is the current landscape for chefs in Ottawa?

Kat Ferries: There is such great talent in Ottawa with so many chefs either being from here originally or have returned after traveling and have since opened some incredible restaurants. Many chefs have focused menus that really highlight their strengths, their heritage, and their passion for food. Dominique Dufour of Gray Jay, Marc Doiron of Town/Citizen, Steve Wall of Supply & Demand, Daniela Manrique Lucca of The Soca Kitchen, and so many more are all cooking up beautiful and delicious food in this city.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is the food industry in Ottawa going for chefs in 2021?

The industry right now is, unfortunately, in a really tough spot. The pandemic has been so devastating on mental, physical and emotional levels for so many and I know that many of my friends in this industry are burning out. There are many discussions happening on work/life balance and what is healthy for everyone. Some may never return to the long, hard hours we are expected to put in day after day and instead opt for a more flexible schedule or hire more staff to lighten the load on everyone, with some even leaving the industry indefinitely. Some may throw themselves back into this industry 10x as hard and create some of the best restaurants and concepts we’ve yet to see. I think all that will happen after the pandemic though.

For this year, it’s mostly about survival and finding happiness in creating what we can in the spaces we have while following all the laws and guidelines from public health officials. I think we will see more chefs creating experiences for guests that we otherwise wouldn’t have: think pop-ups, virtual dinner clubs, cocktail seminars, collabs, etc.

Where in your wildest dreams could the Ottawa culinary community grow in your lifetime?

I would love to see the Ottawa community support more small, local restaurants so our streets are bustling late into the nights like they are in Montreal, New York, or Europe. Having a local restaurant to frequent should be so much more commonplace, where you can enjoy a night out more often than just Friday or Saturday night. I would also love to see many more of our local chefs highlighted for the amazing food they create!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Turning all our restaurants into mini-markets for customers to enjoy the food and wine of their favourite places at home. We have bottle shops for all your wine, beer and cocktail needs as well as menus that reflect what each restaurant does best. Some have even pivoted to a point where they are 100% a store and have paused any type of “service-style” dining.

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Future of Ottawa: Fine Dining with Justin Champagne

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Justin Champagne on the future of fine dining, or read posts from Kathryn Ferries on chefs or Quinn Taylor on bars.

Justin Champagne went to culinary school at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. He got his start in fine dining restaurants at C Restaurant under Chef Robert Clark, then at Hawksworth Restaurant under Chef Eligh. He staged at three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn under Chef Dominque Crenn before moving to Ottawa and spending five years at Atelier, working his way up to Sous-Chef. He’s now the Head Chef of Bar Lupulus.

Apt613: What is the current landscape of fine dining restaurants in Ottawa?

Justin Champagne: Ottawa punches well above its weight class when it comes to quality restaurants in general. Fine dining is no exception to that—we have some amazing chefs here that are doing really great things. We also have some phenomenal sommeliers in town that are a huge factor when it comes to a guest’s experience in a fine dining restaurant. While there are some fantastic fine dining restaurants in town I do believe there’s room for more, and definitely room for more creativity and unique styles of cooking! I think we’ll see more small fine dining restaurants opening up, “micro-restaurants” where there’s maybe 20 seats. This will be over the next few weeks as the industry did take a big hit financially with COVID-19, but we still have a lot of great young chefs who have the fire inside of them to open their own location!

If you care to make a prediction… Where is fine dining going in Ottawa in 2021?

I’m not sure it’ll be 2021 or 2022 with the way the vaccine rollout and stay-at-home order is going, but I do expect there to be a wave of people looking to go out to fine dining restaurants. We’ve been cooped up cooking for ourselves or ordering takeout for over a year now. People are getting antsy and ready to go out and have fantastic meals again with exceptional wine and not have to worry about doing all the dishes afterwards!

Where in your wildest dreams could fine dining go in Ottawa in your lifetime?

That’s the fun part about “fine dining,” it can go anywhere and it can mean many things. Fine dining is about amazing service and well thought out, unique food that the kitchen spent hours fussing over, being meticulous in execution. Outside of that, you can have a lot of fun and be creative in different ways. My wildest dream I guess is that fine dinning restaurants begin to thrive and are able to charge without backlash the kind of prices that they need to charge in order to keep the lights on and pay their staff a proper living wage!!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

I’m not sure if I would really say there’s been a best “innovation” in my industry during the pandemic, but I will say that seeing the “adaptability” by all the restaurants in Ottawa has been incredibly inspiring. Ottawa’s food scene has always been a tight-knit community, “everyone helping everyone” kind of mentality. And this pandemic has really helped show that—restaurants helping restaurants through all of this!

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Ottawa’s Giant Tiger chain celebrating 60 years in business

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa staple, along with what might be the most famous cat in Canada, are celebrating a milestone Monday.

Giant Tiger is 60 years old.

“It all started with a very simple idea,” says Alison Scarlett, associate VP of communications at Giant Tiger. “Help Canadians save money every single day. Bring them products that they want and need. When you focus on those core principals, it really is quite simple to succeed.”

In 1961, Gordon Reid opened the first Giant Tiger in Ottawa’s ByWard Market. The company now has more than 260 locations across Canada and employs roughly 10,000 people.

“If you were at our store on opening day 60 years ago, the in store experience would be a little bit different from your local Giant Tiger store today. So that’s changed. A lot of our products and offerings have changed or expanded as Canadian consumers wants and needs have changed or expanded,” says Scarlett.

The homegrown department store continues to be a favourite for many shoppers looking to for the best deals on everyday products.

Helen Binda has been shopping here for decades.

“Many years. I can’t remember when. I’ve always loved Giant Tiger. It’s always been a good store for me.”

“I think its amazing and I think that we need more department stores,” says shopper Fay Ball. “And if it’s Canadian, all the better.”

The Canadian-owned family discount store carries everything from clothing to groceries, as well as everyday household needs. They’ve also expanded their online store and like most retailers provide curbside pickup during the pandemic.

“Doing what is right for our customers, associates, and communities. That has enabled us to be so successful for all of these years,” says Scarlett.

To celebrate, Giant Tiger is hosting a virtual birthday party at 7 p.m. Monday with live musical performances from some iconic Canadian artists.

You can visit their Facebook page to tune in. 

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