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TORONTO STAR

TOPSTORIES

UPX costs province $11 per ride

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 07:00:00 EDT


The province is subsidizing rides on the Union Pearson Express (UPX) at much lower levels than it did last year, but it still costs the public about $11 every time a passenger boards the controversial air-rail link.

According to figures that will be presented at the Metrolinx board on Wednesday, it cost the provincial government $62.8 millionto operate the train between Union Station and Pearson Airport during the fiscal year that ran from April 2016 to March 2017.

Over the same period, 2.76 million people rode the service. With revenues from fares and other sources totaling $32.4 million, the government provided a subsidy of $30.4 million, or about $11 per rider.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca called the new numbers “great news.”

The subsidy is much lower than the $52.25 per ride it cost the government in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

“I’m delighted to know that we’ve managed to drop the subsidy for the UP Express by 80 per cent year over year. I think that’s really critical,” the minister said.

Although Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that operates the UPX, has cast doubt on whether it will be possible for the service to break even under its new fare structure, Del Duca said that remains the goal.

“I think it’s trending the right way, but we definitely have more work to do,” said the minister, who is also the Liberal MPP for Vaughan.

Michael Harris, transportation critic for the Ontario PC party, said the new lower subsidy number is nothing to celebrate.

“Only the Liberals can pat themselves on the back for jacking the subsidy at the beginning and then reducing it down to $11,” he said.

Harris, who is the MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga, argued that Metroolinx should never have ignored warnings that its original fares were too high and that it was a mistake to attempt operate the UPX as a “premium” rail line.

The UPX entered service in June, 2015, and initially charged $27.90 for a trip between the airport and Union, or $19 with a Presto card. Travellers found the price too high and the service failed to attract enough riders.

In March 2016 Metrolinx finally decided to slash the fares to $12, or $9 with a Presto fare card. Ridership has surged since.

In its first 10 months of operation, a little more than 750,000 people rode the line, less than half the number that rode last year.

Aside from additional fare revenue from increased ridership, the UPX has also cashed in on corporate sponsorships.

Revenue from partners like CIBC and Deloitte, which paid for naming and advertising rights, and Mill Street Brewery and the Drake General Store, which rent space at Union Station, made up almost 28 per cent of the service’s revenue.

The Metrolinx board is expected to approve a 3 per cent fare increase to the UPX on Wednesday. It will only affect fares that cost more than $5.65, and won’t apply to shorter trips on the line that don’t make the full trip from Union to the airport.


Toronto doctor accused of sexual assault on patient during treatment

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 14:54:36 EDT


Police say a Toronto doctor has been charged after an alleged sexual assault on a patient.

They say the complainant alleges she was sexually assaulted by the doctor during treatment.

Investigators say Dr. Stephen Strigler, 57, was arrested on Monday and charged with sexual assault.

Police are asking anyone with information to contact investigators.

Strigler is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 4.


Blue Jays cut ties with Grilli after emotional ride: Griffin

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 20:18:00 EDT


Jason Grilli’s name will never be raised to the Level of Excellence at the Rogers Centre with the Blue Jays’ immortals, but for 184 games from May 31, 2016 until Tuesday — when manager John Gibbons told the veteran his services were no longer needed — he had been an important piece of the club’s ever-changing bullpen puzzle.

The 40-year-old Michigan native brought emotion and wisdom to a nomadic encampment of relievers that often seemed like it featured a revolving door of young, untested pitchers behind closer Roberto Osuna. The fact is, it can be easier for young players to share their fears and failures with a fellow player who has been there, done that, rather than a coach. Grilli was always open to that mentor role.

Everything Grilli did was with genuine emotion, whether that included the successes of 2016 or the failures of 2017. Above his locker when he left, instead of his name, was a handwritten message for teammates: “Stay in the fight.”

Grilli had been called into the manager’s office mid-afternoon Tuesday, where he was told he was being designated for assignment. That means the club has 10 days to make a trade or, in Grilli’s case, offer him his release so that he can find another job as a free agent. The Jays owe him about $1.6 million U.S., the amount remaining on the option year of a contract they picked up in November. The Jays suggested they won’t wait the full available time before setting him free.

“He was struggling,” Gibbons said. “We really couldn’t find a role. In that role he was pitching in, we needed multiple innings at times. We weren’t using him to do that. He couldn’t do that.

“Some of the other guys that pitched so well had moved into his role. This will hopefully give him a fresh start somewhere else. Maybe he’ll go and do for somebody what he did for us last year. He really saved us last year. It got to the point where he wasn’t getting steady work. I control all that, but other guys were pitching better. It was really tough finding him some work.”

Grilli did not hang around to speak to the media — not out of disrespect, but more likely out of emotion. He had travel arrangements to make to get back to his wife and two boys, and had to let them know he was on his way home.

Grilli was often willing to share his emotions. Some of his favourite moments as a major-league father were when he had his sons with him in the clubhouse or on the field at the Rogers Centre. Some of Grilli’s favourite major-league moments were with his own dad, former Tiger and Blue Jay Steve Grilli, in the clubhouse or on the field at Tiger Stadium or in Syracuse with the Jays’ Triple-A affiliate at that time.

After being an important setup man for the Jays on their way to a wild-card berth following his acquisition from the Braves last May, Grilli began 2017 in the same role with high expectations for a contender, but struggled in high-leverage situations. For the season he is 2-4 with a 6.97 ERA in 26 games, allowing nine home runs in 20 2/3 innings — including four in one game against the Yankees on June 3. At 40, he is not a multiple-innings man and has no minor-league options.

“There’s excuses, there’s reasons,” Grilli said in an interview this month. “I’m not going to list the reasons, but I know what they were. This is a long season and I’m trying not to draw any parallels (with last year). I had to make some adjustments and I don’t even want to go there. I take sole responsibility for when I stink. No one feels worse when you’re out there trying to win and you’re put in a situation to do the job and you let your team and the manager down …”

Meanwhile, other Jays pitchers blessed with options — including Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone — had been stepping up their games over the first two months, earning work in more important late-game situations. Also, right-hander Joe Smith had established himself as a reliable eighth-inning guy and will be back soon from the disabled list. And when Aaron Sanchez returns to the rotation it’s likely interim starter Joe Biagini will be headed back to the ’pen as well. That’s a crowded house.

“It really came down to how he was being used and what he’s best at, and those two things not matching up for us,” general manager Ross Atkins explained, about the timing of their painful parting of the ways. “He’s been someone that has impacted the Blue Jays in such a positive way, which made it extremely difficult. He’s as professional as they come. He’s been a leader for us. But we felt it was best for the other six or seven guys in the ’pen to have some more versatility there.”

Replacing Grilli on the 25-man roster is right-hander Chris Smith, a 28-year-old with no major-league experience. He was promoted last September but did not get into a game. In 2017, he was 1-2 with a 3.93 ERA in 14 games for Triple-A Buffalo with two walks and 15 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings. Like many in the Jays’ revolving-door bullpen, he has remaining options.

The Jays made a second move on Tuesday, activating outfielder Ezequiel Carrera from the 10-day DL. He had been out with a fractured right foot. To make room on the roster, the club optioned outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. back to the Bisons. They have used 21 pitchers and 20 position players in the first 75 games.


Third Ontario PC riding association abandons ship

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 09:40:01 EDT

Another one bites the dust.

A third Progressive Conservative riding association executive committee has resigned en masse.

The Newmarket-Aurora Provincial Progressive Conservative Association board of directors has quit in protest of the party’s nomination process.

Riding association president Derek Murray informed PC executive director Bob Stanley of the executive’s decision in an email June 15.

Volunteers on the Ottawa West-Nepean board abandoned the party last Friday amid allegations of ballot-stuffing in their May 6 nomination.

The Kanata-Carleton Progressive Conservative riding association stepped down June 11 over ideological differences with Tory Leader Patrick Brown, who is trying to steer the party to the political centre.

In Newmarket-Aurora, activists had formally challenged the controversial April 8 nomination of candidate Charity McGrath Di Paolo.

“The nomination process and election has been tainted by a blatant breach of the nomination rules,” Murray and other executive members said in an April 27 letter to Brown.

They alleged supporters of rival candidates Tom Vegh and Bill Hogg “were physically blocked from approaching or speaking with” Tories being bussed in for the meeting.

But the party rejected their appeal and Brown personally signed off on all 64 nominated Tory candidates — after hiring private-sector auditors PwC to oversee all selection meetings moving forward.

The 14 Newmarket-Aurora volunteers cited “the blatant disregard for the democratic rights of the people of this riding to choose their local candidate in a fair, open and transparent process” in their letter of resignation.

Warning the same thing “is being allowed to openly occur across numerous other ridings,” they said they could no longer serve the party locally.

“In the circumstances and environment, it has become impossible to carry out in good conscience that fiduciary responsibility.”

Murray, who was riding president for eight years and a volunteer for nearly two decades, said Tuesday the executive board was “disillusioned and annoyed” by what happened in Newmarket-Aurora.

“They’ve got nothing if they don’t have volunteers. We’re the people who do the work and we don’t get paid for it,” said the life-long Tory.

Still, he vowed to stay involved with the party by helping the campaign of Tory candidate Michael Parsa in the newly created riding of Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, next door to Newmarket-Aurora.


Durham high school students don‚??t have to read To Kill a Mockingbird, board decides

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 13:30:41 EDT


High school students in Durham will now be able to study alternatives to Pulitzer-Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird to better reflect the student demographic.

“The book is still available as a choice of study, however the students have the option of making the choice of what they prefer, and that is us simply being respectful,” said Terry Simzer, spokesperson for the Durham District School Board.

“You don’t choose one book and say, ‘OK, this is the book we’re going to study as a whole class.’ Those days are over. We have a very diverse population of students.”

Written by Harper Lee and published in 1960, the book is set in 1935 in small-town Alabama and revolves around the Finch family. The father, Atticus Finch, is a struggling lawyer who agrees to defend a black man who is alleged to have raped a white woman. One of the most enduringly popular books of the 20th century, it became a standard text in classrooms around the world.

One reason for the change is the book’s use of racially charged language, which could make some students feel uncomfortable, he said.

“It was a different time, different era,” Simzer said. “We simply want our students to be engaged and to feel welcome by creating an inclusive environment that’s sensitive of their rich, cultural diversity.”

Though the novel may be inconsistent with the times, it’s not off-limits to teachers, Simzer said, adding that it “would not be following the outcome of the discussion which was agreed to that there should be a variety to choose from” should a teacher decide to teach the book anyway.

How principals have interpreted the change may be causing confusion, said Dave Barrowclough, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 13, referring to concerns raised by some teachers about whether the novel could still be taught.

“Some interpreted it as a ban on the book, others interpreted that it shouldn’t be used as a standalone text,” he said. “It’s just about being sensitive about the book, because it is a little controversial, and supplying other books if kids need those.”

Simzer emphasized that the board did not ban the book.

“Anyone who thinks otherwise is either not informed or wants to bend the truth,” he said.

Paul Downes, an associate professor of English at the University of Toronto, lauds the board for encouraging teachers to diversify the range of fiction studied in classrooms.

“I find that some schools tend to teach a safe, reliable set of texts from many decades ago, including Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Brave New World, To Kill a Mockingbird,” he said. “My three boys have gone through TDSB at different ages and every one of them has read the same fiction, so the board keeps rehashing the same old stuff again and again.

“They’re great works, classic works of literature, but there’s an enormous amount of great stuff written in the last 30 years that doesn’t get taught enough in the schools.”


Global companies struggle to recover after massive cyberattack with ransom demands

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 07:53:09 EDT


MOSCOW—Companies worldwide struggled to recover Wednesday after wave of powerful cyberattacks crippled computer systems in Europe, Asia, and the United States with a virus similar to the ransomware assault in May that infected computers around the world.

Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk said on Wednesday that it was working to recover its operations a day after being hit by a cyberattack linked to malware called Petya.

“We have contained the issue and are working on a technical recovery plan with key IT partners and global cybersecurity agencies,” Maersk, which handles one in every seven containers shipped world wide, said in a stock exchange announcement. The Copenhagen-based group said its APM Terminals were affected “in a number of ports,” but said that its vessels with Maersk Line were “manoeuvreable, able to communicate and crews are safe.”

Read more:

Massive new cyberattack hits Europe, U.S. with widespread ransom demands

Ransomware’s strange history began with a colourful culprit

Surfer worked from bedroom to bring ‘WannaCry’ cyberattack to a halt

Russia’s largest oil company, Ukrainian banks and multinational firms were brought to a standstill Tuesday in a wave of ransom demands. The virus even downed systems at the site of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, forcing scientists to monitor radiation levels manually.

Russia’s Rosneft oil company says some of its gas stations have been affected by the outbreak of malicious software, but production operations haven’t been hurt.

The company said Wednesday it’s too early to assess the damage from malicious software.

It acknowledged that it has faced some problems, which are being dealt with quickly. Rosneft said cash registers at some of its gas stations have been affected, but didn’t offer further details.

Rosneft emphasized that its production cycle hasn’t been affected by ransomware.

The Ukrainian Cabinet says an outburst of malicious software has been contained.

The ransomware that paralyzed computers across the world hit Ukraine hardest Tuesday, with victims including top-level government offices, energy companies, banks, cash machines, gas stations, and supermarkets.

The Cabinet said in Wednesday’s statement that the cyber-assault has been stopped and the situation now is under “full control.”

It added that “all strategic assets, including those involved in protecting state security, are working normally.”

Ukrainian railways said in a separate statement that the cyberattack has caused some disruptions with money transactions, but its operations haven’t been affected.

Cyberattacks also spread as far as India and the United States, where the pharmaceutical giant Merck reported on Twitter that “our company’s computer network was compromised today as part of global hack.” The New Jersey-based company said it was investigating the attack.

Cyber researchers say that the virus, which was linked to malware called Petrwrap or Petya, used an “exploit” developed by the National Security Agency that was later leaked onto the Internet by hackers. It is the second massive attack in the past two months to turn powerful U.S. exploits against the IT infrastructure that supports national governments and corporations.

The onslaught of ransomware attacks may be the “new normal,” said Mark Graff, the chief executive of Tellagraff, a cybersecurity company.

“The emergence of Petya and WannaCry really points out the need for a response plan and a policy on what companies are going to do about ransomware,” he said. WannaCry was the ransomware used in the May attack. “You won’t want to make that decision at a time of panic, in a cloud of emotion.”

The attack mainly targeted Eastern Europe but also hit companies in Spain, Denmark, Norway and Britain. Victims included the British advertising and marketing multinational WPP. India’s biggest container port was also crippled when a Maersk-run terminal in Mumbai was hit.

But the damage was worst in Ukraine.

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team, in Russia, estimated that 60 per cent of infected computers were in Ukraine and 30 per cent in Russia.

The hacks targeted government ministries, banks, utilities and other important infrastructure and companies nationwide, demanding ransoms from government employees in the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

Kaspersky Lab says the massive cyberattack that has locked computers across the world involved a new malware.

The company said Wednesday that its preliminary findings suggest that it is not a variant of Petya ransomware, as some reports indicated, but a new ransomware that has not been seen before.

It named it ExPetr, noting that “while it has several strings similar to Petya, it possesses entirely different functionality.”

The company said its telemetry data indicates around 2,000 attacked users so far. It added that organizations in Russia and Ukraine were the most affected, and hits were also registered in Poland, Italy, the U.K., Germany, France, the U.S. and several other countries.

It added that the cyberattack involved modified EternalBlue and EternalRomance exploits.

The hacks’ scale and the use of ransomware recalled the massive cyberattack in May in which hackers possibly linked to North Korea disabled computers in more than 150 nations using a flaw that was once incorporated into the National Security Agency’s surveillance tool kit.

Cyber researchers have tied the vulnerability exploited by Petya to the one used by WannaCry—a weakness discovered by the NSA years ago that the agency turned into a hacking tool dubbed EternalBlue. Petya, like WannaCry, is a worm that spreads quickly to vulnerable systems, said Bill Wright, senior policy counsel for Symantec, the world’s largest cybersecurity firm. But that makes it difficult to control—or to aim at anyone in particular, he said.

“Once you unleash something that propagates in this manner, it’s impossible to control,” he said.

Although Microsoft in March made available a patch for the Windows flaw that EternalBlue exploited, Petya uses other techniques to infect systems, said Jeff Greene, Symantec government affairs director. “It’s a worm that has multiple ways to spread,” he said, which could explain why there are victims who applied the EternalBlue patch and still were affected.

The initial infection was in Ukraine and spread to Europe, said Paul Burbage, a malware researcher with Flashpoint, a cyberthreat analysis firm. Petya differs from WannaCry in that it does not appear to reach out to the Internet and scan for vulnerable systems, he said. It limits itself to the computers linked to the same router.

The ransomware used in the attacks is a variant of Petya called GoldenEye, which was sold on underground forums used mainly by Russian-speaking criminal hackers, he said.

With files from The Associated Press


No, lower speed limits don‚??t kill people. That‚??s crazy: Keenan

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:18:17 EDT


Given the political culture of Toronto City Hall, where the right to fast and unencumbered movement of automobiles is considered a self-evident truth, it was interesting to see poll results this week showing Toronto citizens may feel a bit differently.

Specifically, it seems more than 80 per cent of us support lower speed limits and longer travel times on the roads if it means safer streets. Moreover, 80 per cent support a “safe network of bike lanes across the city” and 69 per cent support keeping the Bloor St. bike lanes, in particular.

These are surprisingly large numbers in favour of changing the congested car culture of the city. A surprise, but a pleasant one: that saving lives should trump speed of movement strikes many of us as obvious. But so far, not all of our elected representatives are ready to embrace obvious conclusions.

Take Councillor Stephen Holyday, of Etobicoke Centre. He’s hostile to the obvious, working on the logic that there’s a danger hidden in it.

He told my Star colleague Kate Allen that we ought to be careful about something like lowering speed limits, or adding bike lanes. Those things are meant to save lives, see. But what if — stick with him here — what if they would actually endanger lives!

“If drivers and cyclists and pedestrians are collectively frustrated by increased controls and configuration changes, that raises the stress level and raises aggression,” he said. And that, see, that makes the street less safe.

There’s a certain appeal to this kind of counter-intuitive argument — painting a picture of the kind of irony that makes for fun drama. The very things they we’re doing to save lives were killing people. And if you cock your head and squint your eyes, it’s possible to see a kind of barstool logic to it, too. I get frustrated driving slowly in heavy traffic, so maybe that frustration would lead to aggression, which would lead to some kind of bloodbath on the streets.

And it is an argument that seems to have some supporters on city council, since I’ve heard it periodically there in the past few years from Holyday and others.

What this argument doesn’t have is a shred of evidence I can find that would lead anyone to suspect it might be true.

“It’s ridiculous,” says Gil Penalosa, when I put Holyday’s lack-of-speed-kills argument to him. Penalosa is the founder of 8-80 Cities, a global organization devoted to creating “safe and happy cities that prioritize everyone’s well being” by creating vibrant streets and parks.

“It has not been the case anywhere,” he says of streets becoming more dangerous when speed limits are reduced. “Everywhere they have reduced speeds, they reduce accidents. They reduce deaths.”

Leah Shahum, the founder and director of the Vision Zero Network in the U.S. which coordinates research and programs in cities across the country to try to eliminate road accident deaths, says pretty much the same thing. “In 20 years of working on traffic safety issues, I’ve not seen evidence to back up the claim … about detrimental impacts on safety,” Shahum writes in an email.

She points instead to a slew of studies that show the opposite: that where protected bikeways are installed, there are up to 90 per cent fewer injuries. In New York City, she points out, when protected bike lanes have been installed, injury crashes for all road users (car drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists) typically drop by 40 per cent and by more than 50 per cent in some locations.

Shahum also points to a large body of research showing that lowering speed limits saves lives, and increasing them leads to more deaths.

There is, in fact, no need for us to scratch our chins and theorize about how these things might or might not work, since there are cities all over the world that have lowered speed limits and installed bike lanes and pedestrianized streets and done all kinds of other things to slow down traffic and encourage cycling and walking. And what those cities show is that accident rates go down.

Hmmm. But what about driver aggression?

Just to be sure, I called Dr. Christine Wickens, a scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and at the University of Toronto who is on the board of directors of the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals. I called her specifically because she has studied driver aggression and its causes.

She says that if a study has been conducted specifically contrasting road safety measures such as bike lanes and speed limits with levels of driver aggression, she is unaware of it. She says it’s possible that if such measures slow down people’s commutes, there may be more frustration and inconvenience for drivers. “But it should be looked at as part of a system,” she says, “that prioritizes road safety over convenience — prioritizing lives is more important than a commute being reduced by five minutes.”

I put forth Holyday’s thesis about road safety measures creating an unsafe menace of raging drivers on the streets. “I have seen no research to indicate that would be the case,” Wickens says.

I have my own theory. And that’s that frustrated drivers moving more slowly than they would prefer to don’t necessarily drive more recklessly — or at least not enough so to counteract the safety benefits of slower-moving vehicles and of protections on the roads for bikes and pedestrians. Instead, I think they channel their rage into politics, phoning and emailing and yelling at their city councillors.

That might explain the curious reluctance of politicians to accept the obvious facts that this week’s poll shows are supported by such an overwhelming number of regular Torontonians.

It’s not the safety of the roads they are worried about, it’s the safety of their votes. That’s where we have work to do: the 80 per cent of us who support safer roads need to make enough noise that they understand that saving lives on the street will actually make their political careers safer.

Edward Keenan writes on city issues ekeenan@thestar.ca . Follow: @thekeenanwire


Ontario commits $85 million to clean up ‚??gross neglect‚?? at Grassy Narrows

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:44:56 EDT


The Ontario government is committing $85 million to finally clean up the mercury-contaminated Wabigoon River that has poisoned the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation and nearby Whitedog First Nation for generations.

The “comprehensive remediation action plan” will also involve finding all contaminated sites that could be leaking mercury into the river.

At Queen’s Park, Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray did not mince words.

“If you ask me when would I like to have done this? Fifty years ago,” Murray said in an interview Tuesday. “I have never seen a case of such gross neglect. I am embarrassed as a Canadian that this ever happened and I can’t understand how people for 50 years sat in that environment office knowing this was going on as a minister and simply didn’t do anything about it,” he thundered.

The province’s historic commitment follows a Star investigation that probed the impact of the poisoning and decades-long lack of action by government.

And it comes after decades of activism by Grassy Narrows community members, from chiefs to mothers to youth. Most recently, “River Run” protests in Toronto have been led by the younger generations.

Between 1962 and 1970, the paper plant in Dryden, Ont., then owned by Reed Paper, dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the river about 100 kilometres upstream from Grassy Narrows.

The mercury, a potent neurotoxin, contaminated the fish, which poisoned the people of Grassy Narrows and nearby Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations.

The mercury contamination still plagues these Indigenous communities in northern Ontario. Recent key findings by the Star, environmental group Earthroots and top scientists have shown high levels of mercury in soil, fish and river sediment — all strongly suggesting the site of the mill is still leaking mercury, about 50 years on.

There is no suggestion that Domtar, the current pulp mill operator — several owners removed from Reed Paper — is responsible for any source of mercury.

Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister said: “This river is the lifeblood of my people. For too long we have suffered from this preventable tragedy. May this be the beginning of a new era of hope for my people, and may justice flow at long last.”

Speaking outside the cabinet room moments after Premier Kathleen Wynne and her executive council approved the plan, Murray said the day Wynne appointed him minister three years ago, she said: “You’ve got to get this done and it better get done before the next election.”

With voters headed to the polls on June 7, 2018, there is political pressure to tackle the cleanup.

The major announcement came the day before environmentalist David Suzuki was scheduled to visit Grassy Narrows. He was expected to hear strong concerns from the First Nation over the government’s progress on its commitment to clean up the mercury.

Murray hailed both Fobister for his commitment to the issue and the Star for its relentless coverage.

“The Toronto Star, which is the journal of record, actually shone a light on it and didn’t give up. The Star was persistent and drove the agenda,” the minister said.

“It just horrifies me that we actually allow these things to happen and it speaks to the systemic racism and the colonialism of our society,” he said, noting such dumping would never have been permitted in Toronto.

The projected $85-million cost of the cleanup was pegged by top scientist John Rudd, who has experience with mercury cleanups in the U.S. and who initially recommended the Wabigoon be cleaned back in 1983. Despite the then environment minister making that recommendation, it was ignored by the government of the day, which chose to let the river clean itself naturally.

The Star began its investigation into mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows last year with the story of retired mill worker Kas Glowacki, who said that in 1972 he was part of a group who “haphazardly” dumped drums filled with salt and mercury into a pit behind the mill.

Late last year, near where Glowacki recalls the 1972 mercury dump happening, Star reporters and volunteers from Earthroots dug holes in a clearing behind the old mill and found significantly higher-than-normal levels of mercury — nearly 80 times the level expected to be found in soil from that region of the province.

“We have all of the clearance and approvals from the Treasury Board,” Murray told the Star, adding that the fund will be managed by the province and Grassy Narrows and Whitedog,

Chief Fobister said he hopes “this promise is fulfilled no matter who is in power.”

“I am really happy that Ontario has finally made this historic commitment to fund the cleanup of our river,” he added. “Now we need to put the funds into a trust.”

When asked if the $85-million commitment will survive future elections and governments, Murray told the Star the “joint governance” model of the fund, as well as language that can be added to remediation work contracts, “makes it very hard for someone in the future to mess with.”

“We want to get contracts out the door as soon as we can. We have to start this work,” he said.

Before this fund announcement, the province said it has spent $2.5 million for sampling and analysis work to determine the extent of the mercury contamination and which remediation options may be most appropriate for each contamination site. The province said it will be adding another $2.7 million this year to support that ongoing pre-cleanup work.

“I’m feeling like this is a landmark day,” Murray said. “I was very proud of (the premier) today.”

Physical symptoms of mercury poisoning include loss of muscle co-ordination and tunnel vision. Fetuses are particularly vulnerable to cognitive damage, according to recent research. A recent study by Japanese experts concluded that 90 per cent of people tested in Grassy Narrows and Whitedog have a symptom of mercury poisoning.

“One of the most toxic things about mercury is it has held back the (communities) from the future they should have,” Murray said. “Let’s get on with it.”


Questionable land deal should be investigated by police, city‚??s audit committee told

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:54:31 EDT


An inflated land deal negotiated by the Toronto Parking Authority involving a seasoned lobbyist, a sign consultant and a city councillor should be investigated by police, the city’s audit committee heard Tuesday.

“We have a situation here that just smells. It really smells,” Councillor Josh Matlow, a member of the committee said following the release of a 76-page investigative report from Toronto’s auditor general into a pending land transaction in North York.

“I think it’s reasonable to ask, did anything untoward happen and should the police be engaged?”

Auditor general Beverly Romeo-Beehler’s nearly 10-month investigation into an otherwise mundane-sounding land deal questioned both the process and the $12.2-million price that has been on hold since she intervened. Her report outlines obfuscation by parking authority executives, prodding by the local councillor looking to push the deal forward, and potential conflicts among hired lobbyists and consultants with prior connections to the land.

Until now, the pending deal has been discussed in secret, behind closed doors.

The auditor’s investigation was sparked late last year after Councillor John Filion, a member of the Toronto Parking Authority board, repeatedly asked to see due diligence on the deal.

The Star has also traced the origins of the transaction, the history of the land and the people who have an interest in it.

The site in question is a five-acre (two-hectare) grassy strip that runs along the south side of Finch Ave. W. between Arrow Rd. and an on-ramp for Hwy. 400.

The proposed deal was connected to future plans for a Finch West light-rail line. In March 2016, as part of a much larger report, council approved the parking authority’s acquisition of the property at fair market value, to be used for city parking and bike-share programs.

That report also allowed for the possibility of creating public space — a long-held dream of erecting North America’s largest flagpole, pushed by local Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West). The auditor’s report outlined that Mammoliti was involved in the land sale deliberations.

Romeo-Beehler concluded that the “(Toronto Parking Authority)’s actions created unnecessary risk of overpaying an additional $2.63 million” and that executives failed to obtain the independent evaluation required to determine fair market value.

“There was significant risk to the city and TPA’s reputation because of the lack of independence, transparency and judgment expected of the Toronto public service,” she wrote. “The lack of judgment in disclosing information to the lobbyist, not checking for conflicts of interest and not obtaining an independent sign valuation is concerning.”

Those involved in the deal have been key players connected to the Arrow Rd. plot since at least 2009, when an application for a large digital billboard on the Finch-facing land was made by Allvision Canada on behalf of Frank De Luca, a real estate broker who had come to own the land years earlier.

Public records show the land has been held by the company Katpa Holdings Inc. since 2000 and corporate records name De Luca as the president and sole director of that company.

Much of the land south of Finch Ave. in that area is owned by the Prayer Palace, a controversial church.

A 2007 Star investigation into the Prayer Palace’s business practices found Katpa Holdings appeared to be connected to the church, but De Luca said then that they were no longer involved in the land. De Luca could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.

De Luca’s digital sign application on the property was pushed through against staff recommendations by Mammoliti at a meeting of the Etobicoke York community council in 2009, according to a recording of that meeting reviewed by the Star.

At the same time, Mammoliti asked for city staff to assess the land for the feasibility of a proposal he was working on: a “monumental flagpole.”

The 125-metre flagpole idea was also being advanced by the Emery Village Business Improvement Area (BIA), of which Mammoliti is a board member.

In 2010, council directed city staff to negotiate the purchase of the land (council voted that the city should not be responsible for any costs related to the land acquisition).

That plan fell apart after staff in the real estate services division determined the landowner’s asking price was “not realistic,” according to internal staff emails obtained by the Star through a freedom of information request.

The auditor general’s report outlines what happened next.

Starting in 2014, the BIA, through a hired lobbyist — who the Star confirmed is former North York city councillor Paul Sutherland — and Mammoliti approached the parking authority about the site and the possibility of reviving the flagpole project.

While an independent appraisal ordered by the TPA valued the land at $7.5 million, De Luca, the landowner, said it was worth $17 million, the auditor found.

The TPA told the auditor general it was Sutherland who returned with a deal for $12.2 million.

The auditor detailed how the TPA asked a sign consultant who had done work for the agency to help determine the value of the digital sign already on the site and its impact on the land value.

The Star has confirmed that the consultant was Blair Murdoch, former president of the advertising firm Allvision, who the auditor noted put together the original sign deal on the site for De Luca.

Murdoch was never paid for his TPA work and told the auditor he did it as a “service.”

The TPA and Murdoch also discussed the potential for a second sign to be built on the site — which the auditor wrote was unlikely to be approved but helped raise the TPA’s assessment of the deal’s value to the already agreed-upon $12.2-million price.

When the auditor questioned how the TPA determined the value for the signs, she learned that vice-president of real estate and development Marie Casista prepared a spreadsheet and sent it to Murdoch, who then returned the same spreadsheet as though it was his own.

Asked how she prepared the calculations, Casista told Romeo-Beehler she “did it on the back of an envelope.”

“When asked for the envelope, she said that she did not keep the envelope,” the auditor wrote.

The auditor general found the deal overall was worth $9.5 million. She wrote that had Filion not brought the purchase plan to her attention, the parking authority would have overpaid.

Casista and parking authority president Lorne Persiko told the Star on Tuesday they would never have paid $12.2 million and that they had always planned to carry out the due diligence to obtain a fair market value on the deal, but they were “interrupted” by Filion and the auditor.

The auditor general said there was no evidence that Toronto Parking Authority staff or their sign consultant were directly benefiting from the land deal.

Murdoch told the Star he did not stand to gain financially from the deal and was not in a conflict.

“The assignment with TPA had nothing to do with the property owner and I simply provided an opinion to TPA as part of my role as their sign consultant,” Murdoch wrote in an email.

Sutherland told the Star by phone that he “did not ask” for the $12-million proposal. “It was sent to me,” he said, but he did not clarify by whom.

The auditor general said Tuesday her findings would be appropriately referred to the city’s integrity commissioner as they relate to Mammoliti.

Mammoliti, in an email to the Star, said even though he has vehemently disagreed with the light-rail plan, it is likely to go ahead and it is his duty as a councillor to secure public benefits.

“Let me be clear: I would not have supported the acquisition of the property at a price that was not reflective of fair market value,” he wrote.

He also challenged councillors Matlow and Filion to accuse him directly of something illegal so he could “sue their sorry asses for slander.”

Speaking to reporters ahead of the audit committee meeting Tuesday, Mayor John Tory said he is “very concerned” by the contents of the report.

Filion questioned why those involved seemed to go to “great trouble” to have the valuation match the purchase price desired by De Luca.

“I have no explanation for why that would happen, but it’s very disturbing and I hope in time we do get to the bottom of that,” Filion said at the committee meeting.

Jennifer Pagliaro can be reached at 416-869-4556 or jpagliaro@thestar.ca . Jayme Poisson can be reached at 416-814-2725 or jpoisson@thestar.ca .

With files from David Rider


Donations keep dreams afloat at Leslieville pool

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 05:00:00 EDT


Talk about making a big splash.

At the same Leslieville pool where Olympian Penny Oleksiak learned to swim, a $45,000 donation will keep alive the swim programming, and with it, neighbourhood kids’ gold-medal dreams.

“It’s the little pool that could,” Councillor Paula Fletcher said Tuesday after Daniels Corporation ($30,000) and Sierra Building Group ($15,000) stepped forward with the money.

The city will also contribute $10,000 if a motion at council passes next week, Fletcher said.

The pool, located inside the Duke of Connaught Public School, which is attached to the S.H. Armstrong Community Centre, is one of 29 school pool locations used by the city to offer swimming lessons and other programming after school hours and on weekends.

As part of the 2017 budget process, council approved the relocation of the pool’s aquatic programming to other city-owned facilities within roughly two kilometres to save about $162,000.

“I was really sad, I started crying,” said Keagan Valentine, 11, Tuesday, remembering his reaction to the news that his beloved Sharks swim team would no longer have a place to train.

One of the reasons Keagan started swimming there about four or five years ago was the proximity to his house, which is across the street. If the city cancelled programming there, he says he would have missed competing with his “amazing team.”

“We love our pool. We love being together.” He participated in a winter rally to save the community pool.

Oleksiak made waves during the budget debate after tweeting her support to save the programming.

Mayor John Tory agreed to review the proposed cut – tweeting back “gold medal message received.” But he and council eventually voted to pull funding after staff produced figures showing the east-end school pool had a “utilization” rate of only 69 per cent.

Council directed city staff to form a working group, including representatives from the local community, Toronto District School Board and the new HOPE Shelter, to develop a plan to improve the pool’s performance.

The east-end neighbourhood is filled with new families, many of whom weren’t aware the pool existed inside the school or that it was available for community use, local resident Sara Ehrhardt, co-chair of the working group, said Tuesday.

Nor were the swimming programs offered by the city best-suited to the community’s needs, she added. “There is no shortage of demand in our neighbourhood.”

The relocation was problematic for many residents who don’t own cars and either walk places or use transit, she noted. The two-kilometre radius might not sound far away except if “you’re pushing a stroller with a 2-year-old in the winter.”

Over the last few months, media attention about the budget cut along with social media heightened awareness of the pool and pushed its usage to 89 per cent this spring.

The city’s programming has now finished for the season. The pool will remain closed over the summer while it undergoes upgrades, but, if council agrees, will re-open in the fall without losing a day of programming.

Earlier this month, the city’s community development and recreation committee, congratulated pool supporters for increasing its usage and agreed to Fletcher’s motion asking council to consider restoring programming there during the 2018 budget process.

“I think the community will really show in the fall that this is a popular pool,” said the councillor. The pool isn’t in the area she represents, (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth), but many of her residents use the facility.

In order to accept the developer donations, Etobicoke Councillor Mark Grimes agreed to move a motion at council next week to re-open the 2017 operating budget for parks, forestry and recreation.


Are Canadians really that polite? We put the myth to the rush-hour test

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 06:00:00 EDT


The myth: Canadian are the most polite people on the planet.

Gusting wind whips garbage down the canyons of Toronto’s financial district. It’s the kind of blast that sends neckties flying into men’s faces, but here in Yusuf Farooqi’s cab, it feels refreshing in the steamy evening rush hour. Farooqi is driving his taxi with the window down, his brown eyes scanning for cyclists, fares, drivers and pedestrians.

The 38-year-old father of two is an owner-driver with Beck. He says 95 per cent of the riders are polite. That’s not always the case with other drivers. In more than a decade behind the wheel, he has seen his share of middle fingers, and had one angry cyclist spit on his windshield. He turned on the washer fluid and let it go.

“When it’s your business you’re not going to be stressed,” he says. “You won’t last.”

We are in the crucible of one of Canada’s most impolite situations to see if that old mythology holds up. Are Canadians the most polite people in the world?

I’m a bit of a cynic. Like most Canadians, I grew up close to the border, and more often than not, I found Michiganders were friendly, welcoming and polite. I didn’t completely understand why Canadians sewed small flags on backpacks and packed patriotic towels for all-inclusive vacations. The implicit message seemed passive aggressive, and maybe a little impolite. Love us world, but know we are different. We are not like them.

Politeness should not be confused with friendliness, although it often gets tangled up in it. Politeness is about making contact, acknowledging someone else’s presence and following implicit rules. “Politeness is a bit reserved, it brings with it a somewhat forbidding expectation that other people should be polite as well,” says Dylan Reid, author of Toronto Public Etiquette Guide.

“I think Americans value friendliness more than politeness, so they might get in your business a little more in a friendly way, in a way that Canadians might find intrusive.” Reid says. Politeness varies regionally. People may be more easygoing in other parts of the country, but in Toronto, efficiency is at the core of politeness.

Like right now. Farooqi sees a woman standing on King St., scanning the traffic. He waves, she nods, he waits, and then pulls a U-turn. They exchange hellos. Shelley Edwards raises her eyebrows because I am already in the cab, but within seconds, she is on board with our weird situation, and engrossed in the discussion. Edwards moved to Toronto 30 years ago from Winnipeg, and she’s never been at a loss looking for help.

“I’ve always believed it was a Canadian thing,” she says of politeness.

At Bay and King, a rush-hour dreamer drives into the intersection on the dying embers of a flashing hand. Yellow changes to red, as it always does, and he blocks eastbound King drivers for most of the light cycle. Farooqi hates this move (“That should be ticketed”) but he’s not going to honk.

“That makes you a polite driver,” Edwards laughs from the back seat. “I would have been on the horn by now.”

Edwards drives regularly from the west end into downtown. “You let somebody in, knowing a mile from now someone will let you in,” she says. “It’s good karma.”

We let off Edwards at Bloor and Church. “Take your time,” Farooqi says. “We Canadians, we are very nice.”

Where did that idea come from? University of Toronto semiotics professor Marcel Danesi doesn’t believe the mythology. “You cannot anymore say this culture is subjectively more polite than the other,” he says.

“They are different in how they interact.” Over the phone, he tells a quick anecdote about teaching in Vermont, jaywalking across a street and having a car slow down in anticipation.

“If that happened in Toronto they’d be aiming for you,” he laughs. “OK?”

He thinks the idea of the polite Canadian took root in media portrayals and Canada’s northern landscape. In literature of yore there was an idea that Canadians were welcoming because of their isolation.

Back in the 19th century, in a welcome speech to the American commissioner of education in 1891, Principal Grant, (likely George Munro Grant, of Queen’s University) said Canadians were the most courteous people “under the sun.”

“That is one of the advantages we get from having so many French in Canada, for Frenchmen are always polite,” he said.

Almost a century earlier, in a walking trip along the eastern seaboard in 1821, American Phillip Stansbury noted the same thing:

“Bonjour is the common salutation, and wherever two meet, whether acquaintances or strangers, their hands are respectfully applied to their hats or caps, and the friendly bon jour. pleasingly uttered as they pass,” he wrote in A Pedestrian Tour of Two Thousand Three Hundred Miles in North America.

When Stansbury returned home, he felt a relief to be rid of such polite and mundane people.

“There is something, notwithstanding all their complacency, that makes many an American glad to escape out of their province … The contrast is plain. There we have reserved, austere, unambitious peasants: here, plain, open-hearted, merrymaking farmers.”

Stansbury even went to a Vermont hilltop to look back at us with moderate scorn: “It seemed as if clouds, cold and storms, had been left with Canada, whose horrible hemlock swamps spread in wide prospect to the north.”

The Americans had a storm of their own, and the long simmering issue of slavery in a land of liberty erupted in the Civil War in 1861. When it ended in 1865, the disparate groups living in what would become Canada began to warily watch their militarized neighbour.

“The story theoretically starts out as mutual accommodation” between the French and English, says Michael Adams, president of Environics research, and author of Fire and Ice: the United States Canada and the Myth of Converging Values. “From the perspective of Aboriginal people actually it was colonialism.

“It isn’t that we understood or even liked each other very much,” he says, “But we were more afraid of the Americans, so we created a country.”

As a marketing ploy, being polite was an early hit. In 1897, the Queen’s Hotel in Montreal was trying to make a name for itself as the “Polite Hotel of Canada.”

“From the proprietor to the bell boys, all exhibit to the guests that true politeness which grudges no pains to ensure the comfort of its object,” an advertisement noted in the local press.

This year, Roots has a button to celebrate 150 years of Confederation. It says “nice.”

“We’re polite, friendly people that say sorry when you bump into us,” an accompanying explanation states. “During the past 150 years, we’ve shown the world what it means to be nice though our bravery, strength, pride and confidence.”

In an age of truth and reconciliation and Black Lives Matter, that seems a little too easy. Canada’s history, with residential schools, discriminatory laws, and internment camps, is messy. The Canadian experience, through the lens of politeness, doesn’t exactly fit on a button.

Adams believes that modern Canadian politeness stems from Charter values of equality and multiculturalism, and a rejection of hierarchical culture.

“We kind of pride ourselves on being a country that can bring people from all over the world and we more or less get along,” he says.

Inherent in Canadian politeness is a rebuffing of other countries where you see the rise of xenophobic nationalism and divisive politics.

He calls the U.S. a “50-50” nation, with shrinking common ground between the two camps. “That’s a nation that is quite stressed and on edge,” he says. Canada is a “two-to-one” nation, with about two out of three people being “more or less progressive,” and the remaining people not open to diversity or social change.

To be polite in Canada is to hold open a door, perhaps make some small talk, and maybe establish a common humanity.

“It’s an ideology that becomes self-fulfilling if you have the institutions to support it,” he says.

Back in the cab, the sidewalks thin out at 6 p.m. We have picked up three fares: Edwards, a couple with groceries, and an architect. Everyone was nice.

Farooqi drops me off and waves goodbye. I don’t know if Canadians are more intrinsically polite than any other culture, but when we’re not using the idea as a crutch to avoid critically examining our history and ourselves, it is a nice idea to aspire to. I keep thinking of what an architect said as we drove down Bay St.: “It doesn’t hurt to be polite,” he said. “It changes everything.”


A man helped a lost toddler find her parents, police say. He was smeared online as a predator, then fled town

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 13:59:13 EDT


A man trying to help a lost toddler find her parents was misidentified as a kidnapper on social media over the weekend, according to police in Lakeland, Florida, prompting him to leave town in fear for his safety and the safety of his family.

The man was also punched by the child’s father who told local media that he “thought he was trying to take my daughter” and “wanted to kill him.”

The whole episode prompted the Lakeland Police Department to warn citizens to “be careful about what you post on social media so as not to victimize an innocent person ... Before posting information on matters such as this, we encourage people to identify the source and the validity of such claims before sharing them.”

Lakeland police, in a Facebook post, said the falsely accused man was visiting friends at a softball game when he noticed at a 2-year old had gotten separated from her parents. She was “wandering by herself,” police said, and the man “believed that she was lost.

“The citizen attempted to ask the girl where her parents were and walked with her in hopes she could point them out,” the statement said, a fact verified by at least one independent witness.

At that point, “bystanders” told the parents that the man was “attempting to kidnap the child,” said police.

As the two were nearing the playground, three men approached them from behind, Patch reported. One man grabbed the girl and the other man, who is the child’s father punched the man five or six times.

“I thought he was trying to take my daughter,” the girl’s father told News Channel 8.

“I saw this man with my daughter in his hands walking toward the parking lot. What would you do?” the father asked. “I wanted to kill him.”

The father told The Washington Post that it all happened very quickly, “within 45-seconds.”

The investigating officer noted the victim’s face had several cuts and was swollen.

Police concluded that the man was only trying to help. “We had an independent eyewitness that saw him walking around, asking, ‘Is this your parents? Is that your father?’” Sgt. Gary Gross with the Lakeland Police Department told Fox 13 News.

According to police the young girl tried to pull away but the man was concerned for her safety and picked her up and continued walking toward the playground, “hoping that he would be able to locate the child’s father.”

The father and his friends were not satisfied with the man’s explanation or that of the police. “So, I guess in Lakeland, you can kidnap a child and get away with it,” the father said to police, local media reported.

According to WFLA, other media outlets and police, family members and friends went on social media and shared the man’s photo, his Facebook page and his place of business, “calling him a child predator,” WFLA said.

Police, however, called him a “good Samaritan” in their statement. “It is understandable how parents can possibly be upset in a situation involving a lost child,” the statement said. “However, this incident truly involved a good Samaritan trying to assist a lost child finding” her parents.

“Accounts of this incident have circulated on social media with false information and speculation. Posting false information on Facebook could cause a defamation of character claim and those posting false information could be held libel.”

The police statement noted that only one person called authorities to “get the correct information.”

One Facebook user responded: “I was one of those who shared post thinking it was helpful, now I feel awful that it clearly was not! Definitely teaches me to double check sources before spreading!”

“Now this man’s face is all over the internet,” said another commenter on the police department’s Facebook page. “ ... The assumptions that were made can ruin this guys (sic) life. Unbelievable.”

The good Samaritan told several local outlets that he has now left town with his family for their safety. He says he will not press charges against the father.

The father made no apologies for his actions but told The Post, “All that matters is that my daughter is home safely.”

The police statement did not provide names. In order to protect the child and the falsely accused man, The Post is not using names in this story.


Presto‚??s TTC installation to cost $385 million

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 06:00:00 EDT


Installing the Presto fare card system on the TTC is expected to cost the province 50 per cent more than originally estimated, with the budget ballooning to $385 million.

The new figure, which was provided by the provincial transportation minister’s office and is expected to be discussed at a Metrolinx board meeting on Wednesday, is $130 million greater than a 2012 estimate of $255 million.

The additional cost helps push the province’s total anticipated spending on Presto infrastructure across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and Ottawa to $916.2 million over roughly a decade.

Asked in an interview why equipping the TTC with the fare card system has gone so far over budget, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said the original estimate was produced before Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency for the GTHA, had signed a formal agreement with the TTC for the Presto program.

Over the course of hammering out the deal and implementing the program, Metrolinx discovered “some additional complexities” that led to increased costs, Del Duca said.

“We’re always cognizant that we’re investing taxpayers’ dollars wisely and effectively,” said Del Duca, the Liberal MPP for Vaughan.

“From my perspective, the most important thing is that we continue to deploy this successfully on the TTC, so that customers … have that reliability and that accessibility that they need to make their commute easier and more straightforward.”

New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo, the party’s urban transit critic, called the cost overrun “shocking” and described Metrolinx as a “rogue agency” that racks up bills at the public’s expense while being opaque about its finances.

“The concern is that they seem as if they answer to no one, except the Liberal cabinet,” said DiNovo, who represents Parkdale—High Park.

She argued that “the books need to be opened for that agency.”

“Ultimately, the buck stops at Steven Del Duca. And he needs to be held responsible for the errors of Metrolinx,” DiNovo said.

As one example of the project’s unforeseen complexities, Del Duca stated that Metrolinx needed to deploy Presto readers on more of the TTC’s old-model “legacy” streetcars than expected, as a result of Bombardier’s failure to deliver a fleet of new vehicles on time.

The TTC pushed back against that assertion Tuesday, with a spokesperson saying it’s the agency’s position that the majority of the costs Metrolinx has incurred were within the original scope of the project.

The TTC and Metrolinx entered into a master agreement for Presto in November 2012. The system allows transit users to pay for their trips by tapping prepaid fare cards on readers located on transit vehicles and in stations.

It will eventually replace older forms of payment on the TTC, and is currently available on 10 transit services within the GTHA, including the TTC, GO Transit, Mississauga’s MiWay, and the Union Pearson Express. It’s also used on Ottawa’s OC Transpo.

Presto’s deployment on the TTC has not been totally smooth: card readers and other devices suffered persistent technical problems last year. Metrolinx says the issues have mostly been rectified.

Michael Harris, transportation critic for the Progressive Conservatives, questioned how a system that cost so much could have so many significant problems.

“We don’t even have a perfect system and we paid 50 per cent more, $130 million more. For what?” asked Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.

“Only a project ultimately overseen by (Premier) Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals … could see a project go over by 50 per cent.”

Despite the cost increases, Minister Del Duca described the Presto program as an operational success. He noted that more than 2.8 million people now use the fare card in all of its jurisdictions.

He also stated that the reliability of Presto devices on the TTC has improved dramatically. As of last month, 97 per cent of card readers on the transit system were operable at any given time, just below Metrolinx’s target of at least 99 per cent.

The TTC now has 5,000 Presto readers on buses and streetcars, and is installing automated Presto fare gates at all of its subway stations.

Of 69 stations, 45 are equipped with Presto gates, with the remaining 24 slated for completion this year.

The TTC has budgeted $44 million for its share of the Presto installation, which is separate from the Metrolinx costs. According to TTC spokesperson Heather Brown, so far the Toronto agency has spent $35 million of the total on project management, testing, engineering and design. It is spending an additional $50 million on the new fare gates to replace its subway turnstiles.

Installation of Presto hardware is expected to be completed in 2018, and some time next year the TTC will begin phasing out other forms of payment. The agency has not set a firm date for when it will stop accepting tickets, tokens and passes.

Numbers that will be presented at the Metrolinx board meeting are expected to show that as of March 31 of this year, the provincial agency had spent $327.1 million equipping the TTC with Presto, with a further $57.9 million budgeted for completing the project.

According to Del Duca, in addition to the $385 million Metrolinx will spend on the TTC Presto program, the provincial agency will be spending a further $59 million on software features and Presto infrastructure upgrades across the GTHA and Ottawa to ensure the system “functions even better for our commuters.”