A revised schedule for the delivery of 204 new streetcars puts the roll-out at least a year behind schedule.
Manufacturer Bombardier is re-committing to have all vehicles delivered by the end of 2019, according to a statement sent Wednesday morning. But after delays, TTC and city officials maintain the delivery of cars to-date has been unacceptable.
“I’m kind of sick of their excuses at this point,” said TTC chair Josh Colle (open Josh Colle's policard) at a hastily scheduled press conference at city hall after Bombardier announced the new schedule commitments Wednesday morning. “I don’t want anymore excuses I just want our damn streetcars.”
The TTC board will debate financial penalties and blocking the company from further city contracts at meeting today.
To date, there are only six streetcars in service when Bombardier should have delivered 50 cars by now, said TTC CEO Andy Byford. According to the new schedule, Byford said there will be 23 cars delivered and 20 in service by the end of the year.
That falls below what the TTC had proposed as a new schedule of 30 cars by the end of the year.
But the original timeline should have seen 70 cars delivered in that time. Instead, Byford said they now expect 70 cars to be delivered by the end of next year.
“That’s nowhere near where we should be. We’re not happy about that,” Byford told reporters. “But the key thing has always been, we want quality vehicles — vehicles that work out of the box.”
Byford said they are confident with the quality and reliability of the vehicles they have now — “We just want more of them.”
Colle said he expects some board members will be seeking “drastic” measures to penalize Bombardier’s performance, saying they have grown tired of the “shifting goal post.”
While Bombardier has re-committed to the full order of cars by original date, the new schedule would put them behind their contracted milestones, which includes 60 streetcars delivered by late August.
The TTC’s contract with Bombardier allows for damages of up to 5 per cent of the total $1.2 billion cost if the 60th streetcar is late.
Officials have not yet put a price on the delay.
Colle said he’s always been more concerned with meeting the milestones and the cost of delays in keeping an aging streetcar fleet in operation.
“I’m certainly pleased to see that they’re finally publicly committing to something, at the same time the number that they had earlier committed to us several times is much lower than we had anticipated,” Colle said. “The true test would be when that next car arrives and what shape it’s in — that’s when I’ll believe this delivery schedule.”
“I think our riders deserve better from Bombardier.”
Earlier this year, officials visited Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant, where Colle said the main demand was just to provide a revised schedule.
Bombardier said Wednesday they are “ramping up” their production rate to meet the four cars per month schedule they’ve now set out, which they provided the TTC earlier this week.
“Bombardier assures that all of the vehicles will be of the utmost quality, like all those that are in service today, performing at an industry-leading 98 per cent availability rate,” a statement from the company said.
Spokesperson Marc-André Lefebvre said they would not comment on potential penalties as the TTC board meets today.
It’s not clear how the late deliveries could impact the need for more streetcars on city streets.
Byford has said the city will need to order 60 additional streetcars to keep up with growing demand on transit in the next decade.
While the city hasn’t budgeted for the estimated $53 million needed to secure the cars as part of the current Bombardier order, Byford said they won’t be making that request now.
“The priority absolutely is to hold Bombardier to deliver on their present contract. We’re not in a rush to give them extra orders until they can prove that they can deliver on the base order,” Byford said.
However, the option to order new vehicles at the existing price disappears after Bombardier delivers the 60th streetcar from the current order.
“I would say the commission would be very reluctant to do that at this point based on the delivery,” Colle said of tacking on a new order. He said he hopes the TTC will be in a position to make that call next year.
For low-income workers battling unfair bosses, there is now a little extra ammunition at hand.
Legal Aid Ontario will announce a windfall of money for independent, community-based clinics on Wednesday — much of which will go to underfunded outfits in the GTA struggling to provide free legal services to precarious workers.
The $3.9 million annual boost will allow numerous clinics in the Toronto area to launch or expand worker’s rights programs. Advocates say such initiatives are a vital stopgap in a system where weak laws and poor enforcement often make justice elusive for vulnerable workers.
“The whole precarious employment stuff is just overwhelming,” said Marjorie Hiley, executive director of the Flemingdon Community Legal Services, which is now partnering with five other east-end clinics to hire a full-time employment lawyer and co-ordinate an outreach program.
“The actual care that you’re getting under (the Employment Standards Act) is very low. It’s absurd in many ways.”
The new investment will create a more “equal balance of funding per low-income person” for legal clinics across the province, said Nye Thomas, Legal Aid Ontario’s Director General of Policy and Strategic Research.
That will mainly benefit clinics in Toronto suburbs, who have seen their low-income population skyrocket in recent years — but have not received commensurate funding increases.
The Star has previously reported on the difficulty workers face in recovering stolen wages and compensation for other workplace violations.
“We’re taking advantage of new public attention to target certain groups that have not been served as well in the past,” said Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.
The Community Legal Clinic of York Region will see the largest boost relative to other clinics, with a 65 per cent funding increase from last year. Executive Director Dennis Bailey says the clinic intends to bring on at least one full-time employment lawyer to tackle workplace violations faced by precarious retail sector employees and migrant workers from the nearby Holland Marsh.
“What a clinic can actually do in the way of poverty law is determined by the number of staff, plain and simple,” said Bailey.
Specialty and ethno-linguistic clinics will also receive annual funding increases of around 15 per cent from 2015/2016 on.
That is welcome news for Jose Gonzales, 59, and Rodolfo Vasquez, 64, who have both benefited from the help of the Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples Legal Clinic. Without it, Gonzales says he would never have known that his employer — who laid him off after he raised concerns about workplace conditions — owed him termination and overtime pay.
“We’re just looking for justice,” added Vasquez, who through the clinic was able to recover thousands of dollars in wages from a boss who did not pay him for a month and a half.
But even with the increases, many Toronto-area clinics will still be disproportionately underfunded.
York Region’s legal clinic, which has the largest catchment area in Ontario and serves over a million people, will still only be receiving $10.24 in funding per low-income person even after it’s 65 per cent lift. That’s just under half the provincial average of $21.77.
“I think the reality is this is not going to completely meet the demand,” said Shalini Konanur of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, “But definitely it’s going to allow us to enhance our capacity to do that work.”
How the money will be spent
Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples Legal Clinic
2141 Jane St., Toronto
Funding increase: 17%
Employment law has been a priority at this clinic for some time, but the extra funding will allow its employment law expert Daniel Rippes to focus on worker’s rights cases full time. The clinic says the money will also allow it to take more wrongful dismissal cases to small claims court, which it has not had the resources to do in the past. Their clients include people working in painting, cleaning and odd jobs.
Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
180 Dundas St. W., Toronto
Funding increase: 15%
This clinic already commits significant resources to employment law services, which have long been a priority for its Chinese and Vietnamese clientele. The additional funding will be used to ramp up outreach efforts to restaurant and nail salon workers, who often suffer from poor work conditions and are exposed to health and safety risks.
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
45 Sheppard Ave. E., Toronto
Funding Increase: 15%
The clinic will partner with the Migrant Workers Alliance to create an outreach plan for undocumented workers. The money will also allow the clinic to sustain innovative pilot projects like its Tamil Injured Workers program, which bring workers together to support each other and engage in advocacy work.
Flemingdon Community Legal Services
1 Leaside Park Dr., Toronto
Funding increase: 7%
Six legal clinics east of Yonge St. — Flemingdon, Willowdale, West Scarborough, East Toronto, and Neighbourhood Legal Services — will pool their resources to hire a full-time employment lawyer who will rotate between the clinics. The project will also second a full-time community outreach person from West Scarborough. Flemingdon itself has also hired an additional employment law expert.
Community Legal Services of York Region
21 Dunlop St., Richmond Hill
Funding increase: 65%
The funding for this clinic, one of the most underfunded in the province, could enable it to almost double its staff. Executive Director Dennis Bailey says despite the huge rise in precarious service sector workers in the area and the presence of migrant farm workers from the Holland Marsh, the clinic has struggled to take employment law cases in the past. It intends to hire at least one staff member dedicated specifically to workers’ rights.
KABUL—Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency said Wednesday that the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has been dead for more than two years.
The one-eyed, secretive head of the Taliban and an al-Qaeda ally led a bloody insurgency against U.S.-led forces after they toppled him from his rule in Afghanistan in 2001. He has not been seen in public since fleeing the invasion over the border into Pakistan.
Abdul Hassib Seddiqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, said Mullah Omar died in a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi in April 2013.
“We confirm officially that he is dead,” he told The Associated Press.
It was not immediately clear why his death was only being announced now. The confirmation comes two days before the Afghan government and the Taliban are to hold their second round of official peace talks in Pakistan. The Taliban could not be immediately reached for comment.
“He was very sick in a Karachi hospital and died suspiciously there,” Seddiqi said, without elaborating.
Earlier, Zafar Hashemi, the deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said the government was investigating reports that the Taliban leader was dead.
Representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban are due to meet on Friday in Pakistan for official talks aimed at ending the war that is nearing its 14th year.
Confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death could complicate the peace process as it removes a figurehead for the insurgents, who until now have appeared to act collectively but are believed to be split on whether to continue the war or negotiate with Ghani’s government.
Ending the war has been a main priority for Ghani since he took office last year.
OTTAWA—Canadian government and law enforcement officials are scrambling to figure out how Anonymous got their hands on what the hacker collective calls cabinet-level secrets.
On Monday, individuals associated with Anonymous released to the media the first in what they call a series of sensitive government documents.
They will continue to release documents until the RCMP officers who shot dead an Anonymous protester in Dawson Creek, B.C., are arrested, they said in a video.
The security breach is an escalation in Anonymous attacks against the federal government. Up to now, the group had mostly contented itself with temporarily downing government websites, a tactic experts have equated to a digital sit-in protests
“We repeat our insistence upon the immediate arrest of the RCMP killers of James McIntyre,” stated the video, released Monday night. “Unless and until that happens, we will be releasing stunning secrets at irregular intervals.”
The February 2014 document, published by the National Post Tuesday, was a request for funding to improve the CSIS intelligence network in 25 foreign offices. It’s the first time the number of CSIS offices on foreign soil has been known publicly.
The Star could not independently verify the authenticity of the document, but it follows the general rubric of Treasury Board requests. The document is labelled confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council, which is one of the most protected classifications for government records.
In the document, CSIS is asking for roughly $3 million more on a $17-million project to upgrade their information-sharing network between 25 field offices.
The document states that CSIS had not upgraded that infrastructure since its inception in the mid-1980s. Analysts both abroad and at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa needed to manually sift through an average of 22,500 messages a year.
“These outdated processes result in delays that impact (CSIS) operational effectiveness and jeopardize the security of its personnel collecting the intelligence,” the document states.
The document does not list where the agents are stationed — the agency admits only to having offices in a few allied countries. But it notes that many are located in “developing countries and/or unstable environments.”
A source familiar with the Anonymous team that obtained the document said they had been working on its release before MacIntyre was killed on July 16 — but that his death accelerated the document’s release.
MacIntyre was killed while wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, Anonymous’ adopted symbol, outside an energy meeting in Dawson’s Creek. B.C.’s independent police watchdog is investigating his death.
It’s not clear how the group obtained the document, or how many more government secrets they may be sitting on.
Gabriella Coleman, a McGill professor who has written extensively on Anonymous, said that the document was not obtained by any defined crew of Anons.
Subgroups and splinter initiatives have typically popped up among the notoriously difficult to pin down hacker collective, but Coleman said the people who obtained the documents are taking their security more seriously.
“Their security practices are much better. They’re not as visible insofar as (subgroups) LulzSec and AntiSec were like, every week announcing something crazy,” Coleman said in an interview Tuesday.
“Whereas these folks are really trying to de-centre the attention on the little crew or the individual, and really on the leak.”
Torstar Corp., which publishes the Toronto Star, announced Wednesday it has acquired a 56 per cent interest in digital media company VerticalScope Holdings Inc., for aggregate consideration of $200 million.
VerticalScope owns and operates more than 600 online forums and premium content sites across North America, including AutoGuide.com, PetGuide.com, Motorcycle.com and ATV.com.
The Toronto-based private company’s websites attract more than 80 million unique visitors and generates more than 500 million page views a month.
With 130 employees, the company serves the North American market through its network of user forums and premium content sites, offering advertisers access to large audiences in popular websites, including motor sports, outdoors and health.
“VerticalScope is a Canadian success story, with a proven track record of growth and profitability over the past five years and is well positioned to build on that record,” David Holland, president and chief executive officer of Torstar Corp., said in a statement.
“We are enthusiastic about this investment, which achieves our objective of allocating capital to a high-growth business opportunity. It is an important step forward in the transformation of Torstar, positioning the company for future growth,” Holland added.
VerticalScope will continue to operate as an independent business with founder and chief executive officer Rob Laidlaw and founding investor Jesse Rasch retaining a combined 44 per cent share in the company.
“We are excited to have Torstar onboard as a long-term partner,” Laidlaw said in a statement. “We believe that VerticalScope is still in the early innings of its growth trajectory and look forward to continuing to execute on our acquisition and organic-growth strategies in the years to come.”
Torstar declined to disclose VerticalScope’s revenue and earnings today.
“A very large majority of VerticalScope’s revenues come from the U.S. and the business operates at a pretty healthy margin,” Holland told analysts on a conference call.
Torstar plans to create a new digital segment that will report the combined results of VerticalScope, Workpolis and Eyereturn starting next quarter, the company also said.
Torstar acquired its stake in the company by purchasing the minority interest held by private equity firm ABRY Partners along with more than a third of the shares held by the Laidlaw and Rasch.
The transaction values the company at $404 million. VerticalScope plans to pursue a distribution to its shareholders, which if completed would reduce Torstar’s net investment to about $178 million.
The acquisition multiple paid by Torstar is about 12 times VerticalScope’s trailing adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, known as adjusted EBITDA, and 10 times Vertical Scope’s expected forward adjusted EBITDA.
Torstar’s investment has been financed from its cash resources.
Torstar sold its Harlequin book publishing division in Aug. 2014 for net proceeds of $442.2 million. After retiring all outstanding debt, the company ended 2014 with $290.2 million in cash and cash equivalents and restricted cash.
The announcement came on the same day Torstar released its second quarter financial results.
Segmented revenue for the quarter ended June 30 was $216.9 million, down $20.3 million, or 8.6 per cent from the second quarter of 2014, Torstar said.
Segmented adjusted EBITDA was $20.8 million, down $11.7 million from the year earlier period.
Adjusted earnings per share were 13 cents, down 7 cents from the prior year.
“Results in the quarter were lower with segmented adjusted EBITDA down $11.7 million, to $20.8 million as the impact of continued print advertising pressures more than offset continued efforts on costs,” Holland said in a statement. “On a positive note, we saw a continuation of the easing of the revenue declines at the Toronto Star, which began in the first quarter of the year, and we are pleased with the continued growth of local digital advertising revenue at Metroland.
“We remain focused on looking forward and positioning ourselves for a more digitally oriented future. The Toronto Star’s launch of its innovative tablet edition, Star Touch, remains on track for mid- September and we are encouraged by advertisers’ early reactions,” Holland also said.
While the print advertising environment is expected to remain challenging, the company said early indications in the third quarter are somewhat encouraging. At the Toronto Star, the moderation in the rate of print advertising revenue decline has continued while at Metroland Media Group trends in July have improved relative to the second quarter.
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