Downtown commuters are finally being rewarded for years of wading through crowds and construction dust at Union Station.
The $796 million city-managed renovation won't be completed until 2017. But the first significant public space in the main station, the new York St. GO Transit concourse, is opening Monday, offering more elbow room, more direct access to trains and downtown, and improved accessibility.
"This will be a big surprise for people. But I think it will be a pleasant surprise," said Mike Wolczyk, vice-president of GO capital infrastructure. The improvements come with the promise of more amenities, including station-wide Wi-Fi and new retail offerings.
The new concourse is about 50 per cent larger than the old Bay St. GO space, and features a brighter, airier look and layout.
The Bay facility, which opened 36 years ago when GO still had only four train lines, will close after the Pan Am Games, to be made over into a replica of the York concourse. (The Bay St. staircases offering direct access to the train platforms will remain open during the two-year renovation.)
Instead of the labyrinth of stairs and elevators seen on the Bay side, the York concourse features two straight lines of glass-enclosed staircases and elevators leading directly to most train platforms. Platforms 24 to 27 are accessible to the southwest of the ticket counter.
Black stripes on the terrazzo floors in front of the customer service counter mimic the train tracks upstairs at platform level.
To the north of the customer counter, escalators and stairs lead down to a future retail space that will feature a food court and level access to the TTC (which recently opened a second platform at Union) and PATH.
Commuters can also cross under Front St. through a new link on the northwest corner of the concourse that leads to stairs and an elevator to 1 University Ave. By 2017, that PATH link will extend as far north as Wellington St. The existing tunnel provides for a potential entrance to the Fairmont Royal York, but the hotel is still deciding whether to create one.
Part of the PATH route that’s currently open to the air will eventually get a glass roof and flooring, where it connects with the new York St. teamway.
The Union Station project, which won't be complete until about two years after its original 2015 target, is "one of the most challenging jobs in the world," said Richard Coveduck, Toronto's director of design and construction. "We're not aware of any project in the world that is comparable.”
That's because the work, digging down to create two new concourses, has gone on for four years while 200,000 people a day continued to use Canada's busiest transportation hub. That number will almost certainly double within 20 years as GO ramps up to its pledge to offer 15-minute, all-day, two-way regional express rail.
GO commuter comforts
GO's new York concourse features some serious upgrades from the transit agency's original ticket and waiting area along Bay St.
WASHROOMS Smelly, poorly laid out washrooms on the Bay St. side have been replaced in the York concourse with modern gray and cream tiled facilities: 23 stalls in both men's and women's, with modern, clean sinks, soap dispensers and powerful hand dryers. They're wider and fully accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.
BENCHES Gone are the cold (or hot), punched-metal lime green GO benches. The York concourse has new wooden slat seating that looks modern, yet warm and inviting.
STAIR ENCLOSURES Glass enclosures bearing platform numbers in elegant gold type replace the Soviet-style stair bunkers GO riders use to get to their platforms. The stairs provide a simple, direct path to trains. Similar enclosures are used north of Front St., where stairs and elevators provide direct access into the station.
TEAMWAY Just west of the concourse a teamway along York St. allows riders to take stairs to their platforms without even entering the new concourse. But the teamway also provides access to the concourse for those who want to shop, dine, buy a ticket or load a Presto card.
Ontario’s public elementary teachers will be in a legal strike position May 10, the union announced Friday after receiving a no-board report from the provincial Ministry of Labour.
News came as a strike by public high school teachers in Durham Region ended its first week, and as more teachers could hit the picket lines if job action in the Sudbury-area board goes ahead on Monday.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said in a news release that the no-board report “doesn’t mean negotiations have ended. ETFO continues to be open to meaningful bargaining that meets the needs and respects the professionalism of our members.”
However, he added, “members are running out of patience” and are “offended” by some of the demands at the provincial bargaining table that could “strip ETFO members’ collective agreements, erode their working conditions and reduce teachers’ ability to use their professional judgment when providing instruction and support to students.”
All of ETFO’s 76,000 teachers across the province will be in a legal strike position as of May 10.
The province’s public high school teachers’ union has seven boards where members can strike. Those in Durham walked off the job last Monday, Sudbury teachers are scheduled to follow suit on April 27 if no local deal is reached and those in Peel could strike May 4.
New legislation mandates a two-tiered approach to bargaining, where costly items such as salary, sick leave and class sizes are negotiated at provincial bargaining tables, and local specifics such as teacher transfers or unpaid leaves are bargained between individual school boards and the union districts.
Some board chairs have said it will be difficult to get local deals before the provincial-level agreement is hammered out, and that the local high school teacher strikes are a strategy to put pressure on the higher-level talks.
An unprecedented analysis of data from Ontario’s children’s aid societies has revealed “striking” differences in the way vulnerable youth are treated across the province.
Whether children are placed with relatives or in group homes, how likely they are to rejoin their families after being placed in care, and even whether they receive regular dental checkups are all influenced by where they happen to live and which of the province’s 46 children’s aid societies takes them into care.
The stark differences are revealed in a Toronto Star analysis that for the first time compares the performance of these privately run, non-profit agencies. Drawn from budget reports and case audits, the numbers raise the veil on a secretive and unaccountable system that struggles to keep tabs on how well its youth are faring.
A child removed from a family in Toronto, for example, is more likely to end up in a group home than one from Brantford, where a much higher percentage of children are placed with kin. And a Crown ward in an aboriginal community in northern Ontario will change foster homes or group homes far more often than one in Peel region.
The differences are wide-ranging — from the way societies draft mandatory “plans of care,” to the number of times children are returned to their parents only to bounce back into care, raising questions about whether some are being returned to unsafe environments.
For the five years ending in 2012-13, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto opened 17,373 new cases but reopened 18,805. During that same period, the Jewish Family & Child service of Toronto opened 2,523 cases and reopened only 158.
Even annual medical and dental checkups — mandated by the provincial government — depend on which society cares for a child. While all Crown wards in Muskoka received dental checkups in 2013, for example, almost a third did not get such care in the area served by the Bruce Grey children’s aid society, near Georgian Bay.
Raymond Lemay, who spent three decades as the highly respected executive director of the Prescott-Russell society east of Ottawa, describes the differences revealed by the Star as “quite striking.”
“Why do we have to wait for the Toronto Star to produce such comparative data?” Lemay asks, adding that the child protection system is notorious for disregarding available data on how children in its care are doing.
Lemay, who retired last summer, cautions against using the findings to set up a standardized, one-size-fits-all system. They should instead spark research on why the differences between regions exist and which practices lead to the best results for children, youth and families, he said.
“Why are we not now actively looking at such data?” he asks in an email to the Star. “Why are senior executives not brought together in the same room to discuss what these numbers mean? Right now, we don’t have a firm grasp on what works, or even have agreement on desired outcomes. We can not even begin to have such discussions unless and until we start comparing data.”
Factors that can affect how a society functions and how children are treated include geography — vast and remote catchment areas can impede access to services — as well as staffing levels, budget cutbacks, availability of foster homes and demographic differences, such as the level of poverty in a society’s district, which can result in more families under stress and more investigations.
The data comes from budget reports sent to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, detailing how each society spends government funds, and from ministry case audits of children who have been in the care of foster parents or group homes for two or more years. Reports and audits dating back five years were obtained by the Star through freedom of information requests.
The provincial government, which spends $1.5 billion annually funding children’s aid societies, has collected the information for decades but doesn’t use it to compare performance.
The Star sent a 34-page analysis of the findings to the ministry March 25, and asked for an interview with minister Tracy MacCharles. It was not granted. The ministry instead issued a one paragraph statement Thursday defending the system as giving children “every opportunity to reach their full potential regardless of where they live or come into care.”
In 2012, a government-appointed commission concluded the child protection system does not provide value for money, and described services as “fragmented, confused and siloed.” Its recommendations triggered important reforms, including a centralized computer system that standardizes the inconsistent data agencies now collect. The Liberal government promises to eventually compare each agency’s performance to benchmarks. But the slow-moving reforms are many years from being complete.
Meanwhile, children and families — many losing their kids because of neglect caused by poverty, mental health struggles or addiction — are paying the price.
For example, both the province and children’s aid societies favour placement with kin — relatives or community members who have ties to the child — as a way to reduce the stress of being taken from parents, while increasing the chance of eventually reuniting families. For aboriginal children, it’s called customary care.
At the Algoma society, based in Sault Ste. Marie, 30 per cent of children, on average, were placed with kin during a five-year period ending in 2013. Next door at the Sudbury and Manitoulin society, however, the number drops to 18 per cent. It’s even lower at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto — 11 per cent — and less than 7 per cent at Dufferin Child and Family Services, just northwest of the city.
Likewise, some agencies carefully consider mandatory questionnaires detailing a child’s history when deciding on his or her plan of care; others don’t. Some put a significant number of children in group homes, while others almost completely avoid doing so.
Some agencies also investigate families far more than others. York, Halton and Durham regions investigate six or seven families for every one they end up serving on an ongoing basis. Others, such as the society that includes Timmins, have a two-to-one ratio. Ontario’s black communities, which see a disproportionate number of their children taken into care, have long complained that cultural biases have made black families needless targets of investigations.
The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, the lobby group representing the agencies, argues the budget numbers do not capture all the elements needed to judge performance. Still, “we think there are crucial issues raised by the data that should be addressed,” said Caroline Newton, the group’s spokesperson.
The group’s executive director, Mary Ballantyne, said agencies and the ministry should work to figure out the story behind the numbers, such as why so many protection cases are being closed and later reopened.
Once benchmarks for children in care are set by the ministry, whether local agencies use different practices to achieve those standards will not matter, she added.
Agencies have finally recognized they need to be “much more transparent,” Ballantyne said, crediting the Star’s ongoing investigation with helping make that happen.
The story behind the numbers
Sandro Contenta, Laurie Monsebraaten and Jim Rankin - Staff Reporters
The data used in this Toronto Star analysis comes from budget reports sent to Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services — detailing how each children’s aid society spends the government’s money — and from government case audits of children who have been in the care of foster parents or group homes for two or more years. Reports and audits dating back five years were obtained by the Star through freedom of information requests.
To make comparisons between the 46 individual children’s aid societies, Star journalists consulted with experts on which data points might speak to differences in philosophy and other factors — such as geographic setting and demographics of catchment areas — that would affect how children in care are treated.
Such comparisons have never been made before. The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) says the data was never collected with such analysis in mind, but there is agreement that this is the best available data to make such comparisons.
The Star shared its preliminary analysis and sought input from the ministry and the OACAS, which in turn shared it with its member societies.
After receiving feedback from the OACAS, a final findings package was prepared and is available at thestar.com.
Due to privacy concerns of the ministry, counts of children who were between 0 and 5 years old were redacted. This has an impact on some calculations. Also, because some of the calculations cover a time period when some societies amalgamated, the total number of societies varies.
It appears to be final days for Captain John’s floating restaurant at last.
Ports Toronto has agreed to a plan for having the unsightly waterfront landmark towed from its slip at the foot of Yonge St. by May 25 and is just “finalizing the plan to finance the proposal,” according to a spokesperson for the waterfront authority.
It now appears certain, although Ports Toronto would not confirm this, that a “breaker” will be paid to tow the 300-foot Jadran away so it can be scrapped and recycled into usable metal.
That process could cost Ports Toronto close to $500,000, given the complexity of the tow, likely through the Welland Canal, and the sorry state of the ship: A move would require two tugs, because the Jadran hasn’t had a working engine for years. Also, the ship needs to be stabilized and sealed to ensure any contaminants like lead and asbestos don’t escape into the environment.
The ship is now worth about $200,000 less now than it was during the original auction last summer, when it was purchased by entrepreneur James Sbrolla for $33,501, just because of slumping metal prices globally, marine experts say. That makes it less lucrative for a scrapper and, therefore, ups the price of towing it away, which veteran scrapper Wayne Elliott estimated at about $300,000 last summer.
He was the second bidder for the ship and is believed to be the winner this time around, although he was awaiting word from Ports Authority when contacted this week.
The complex case was supposed to be back before a Federal Court judge April 28 for approval of a plan to get rid of the troubled ship, on which owner “Captain” John Letnik owes well over $1 million in mortgage, property taxes, berthing and other fees that have been accumulating for years.
The court hearing has been rescheduled for May 11, the original deadline set by Ports Toronto for having the ship removed.
“We have now selected a proposal that meets all the requirements and we are certainly proceeding,” said Erin Mikaluk, the senior manager of communications for the port authority.
Sbrolla said he’s submitted another bid for the ship, in partnership with Priestly Demolition, undeterred by the fact his original offer fell apart when he failed to find a new berth for the ship, well away from Toronto’s waterfront, where it could be refurbished or scrapped.
There’s been considerable pressure to get the ship removed, after years of little progress, given that rust is now visibly eating away at its hull and another major condo tower, surrounded by a waterfront promenade and public park, is slated for the area immediately east of the ship.
1975: Yugoslav immigrant “Captain” John Letnik buys cruise ship the Jadran for $1 million and has it sailed from his homeland to the foot of Yonge St.
1988: Letnik announces $5 million plan to turn the Jadran into a hotel and restaurant. Plan never goes anywhere.
2002: Letnik files for bankruptcy protection, owing over $5 million. Agreement with creditors keeps it afloat.
2009: Letnik puts Jadran up for sale for $1.5 million.
2012: Water is shut off and lease rescinded over $500,000 in unpaid taxes and fees. Letnik also owes more than $650,000 on the mortgage.
2013: Officials seize the ship to sell at auction for unpaid fees.
August 2014: Entrepreneur James Sbrolla’s $33,501 bid wins the ship.
August 2014: Port authority objects to demolition plan. Sbrolla’s money is returned.
March 17, 2014: Court agrees to a second auction with May 11 deadline to have the ship removed.
OTTAWA—The Mike Duffy fraud trial ended its third week of testimony with an aggressive grilling of a top Senate official, bickering lawyers, an exasperated judge, and no end in sight.
By late Friday, Duffy’s lawyer, Don Bayne signalled he would need three to six more weeks of trial time on top the seven weeks already scheduled.
“I’m wide open to do this September, October, November, December,” Bayne said.
But neither of the two prosecutors, who start separate months-long murder trials in September, is available then.
The expense fraud trial of another senator, Mac Harb, is scheduled to start in August. It involves the lead Duffy case investigator, RCMP Sgt. Greg Horton. The judge said they’ll all have to work through court administration to co-ordinate something, and expressed frustration that three weeks in, only the “broad brushstrokes” of the case against Duffy had been made.
So the Duffy trial now appears certain to run past the next federal election campaign with no resolution before voters are expected to judge for themselves the question of whether Duffy’s actions were criminal or whether, as the Conservative appointee claims, he was given the green-light by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Conservative Senate leadership to operate as he did.
Duffy says it was only when his travel and living expenses became a political embarrassment that his erstwhile political allies made him a scapegoat. He has promised “the real story” is yet to come.
The political drama is merely a backdrop to the Duffy trial, however. After three weeks of a deep dive into Senate rules, documents and Duffy’s senate expense paperwork, the legal drama took on an edge.
Judge Charles Vaillancourt grew testy Friday morning after bickering between the prosecutors and Bayne over Crown attempts to have Proulx — the Senate’s top corporate administrative officer — give an opinion on whether Senate rules allowed a senator to claim expenses for travel to give a speech that he was being paid for separately by the private association that invited him.
Bayne objected, as he has repeatedly, to allowing Proulx’s views as evidence, saying she is not a legal expert. Bayne said it is solely up to the judge to determine what the rules allow.
“Let’s say a senator has someone cut their lawn or mow their lawn,” said assistant Crown attorney Jason Neubauer. “Just because there is nothing there that says you can’t bill the Senate for private landscaping, does that mean they can? Of course not.”
“That’s the whole point — whether there were any rules at all,” the judge replied tersely. “I hope you have something more substantial than what appears on the platter right now.”
When Neubauer expressed concern whether Vaillancourt had already made up his mind about the non-existence of travel rules even before he’d heard the evidence, the judge lost patience.
“At this point in the trial I’m just beginning to see the broad brushstrokes . . . I’ve got a long way to go before the determination of facts but I would like to start hearing some evidence,” he said.
By the end of the day, Proulx’s testimony was consistent and damning for Duffy. She believed Senate administrative rules do not allow senators to spend Senate money on travel to give speeches for which a senator is remunerated by a private source; nor for travel to medical appointments or for specialist care; nor for funerals of a friend or family member.
She described them all as personal business, not “Senate-related.”
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