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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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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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