Tag Archives: Toronto Star

The best photography from the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays season

I never know if this falls under the category of “too soon” but the Toronto Star just published some of their favourite photos from The Star’s sports photographer, Steve Russell.  Click on the link or the photo to see them all.

Ben Revere makes a catch at the fence in front of the Royals bullpen on Salvador Perez. The Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals play game six of the MLB American League Championship Series  at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.  October 23, 2015.

All of his photos are exceptional but I just love the look on the Kansas City Royals bullpen staff on this catch.

What side of history is Saskatoon on?

Thought provoking piece in the Toronto Star by Christopher Hume about John Tory and the Gardiner Expressway

The Gardiner, a relic of an earlier age, dates from a time when the car was king. Today, the world is a different place. No question cars are here to stay, but in the decades since the Gardiner was constructed, we have learned that city-building is about more than taming traffic congestion. Successful cities manage to balance the two — cars and people — without sacrificing one on the altar of the other.

Ironically, Toronto has arrived at this point because of its chronic unwillingness to spend the money needed to keep the aging expressway standing. Now Tory would have us spend an extra $500 million to keep it standing.

In the meantime, urban highways around the world are disappearing as cities liberate themselves from the shackles of the car. But old habits die hard, nowhere moreso than in Toronto, where car dependency remains enshrined, amber-like, in public policy.

Like the Gardiner he defends, Tory, tragically, is a relic. The Toronto he imagines he represents no longer exists. He and his supporters seem not to have noticed that the city is transformed; people in their thousands now live in areas once given over to industry and then forgotten. The waterfront is a perfect example; the long-neglected precinct is now being turned into a series of mixed-use neighbourhoods that have attracted more than $4 billion in (private-sector) investment with much more to come.

“This is a pivotal moment in the history of Toronto,” argues Toronto architect and planner Michael Kirkland. “It is an opportunity to correct the devastating mistakes made during the mid-20th-century industrial era. We have the chance to reconnect the city to its greatest natural asset, Lake Ontario. Not taking down the Gardiner would be seen by our descendants as the great mistake of our age.

“This is a transportation issue, and we should focus on other forms of transportation. Congestion can only be resolved through a proliferation of transportation options. Increasing automobile access won’t improve congestion; indeed, it will only make it worse.”

Meanwhile Saskatoon prepares to add a freeway, highway, two three four (maybe five) bridges, turn residential streets into arterials, and keeps on building low density neighbourhoods like there is no tomorrow while doing nothing on the downtown and north downtown plans. 

Why Iraq is America’s new Vietnam

From the Star

“If you break it, you own it,” warned U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to President George W. Bush just before the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.

Powell knew that the president had no clue what unpredictable forces he was about to unleash. Bush now knows. We all do.

As we witness the inexorable, slow-motion collapse of Iraq in the face of viciousIslamic State extremists, let’s remember Powell’s private caution to Bush: “You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You’ll own it all.”

This has been an awful week in the troubled history of Iraq. The stunning seizure last Sunday night of the pivotal provincial capital of Ramadi by Islamic State fighters took everyone by surprise.

Until last weekend, the United States and Iraqi view was that ISIS rebels were on the defensive and that Iraq’s questionable military had learned to hold its ground. But at Ramadi, even though they outnumbered the rebels, Iraqi soldiers abandoned the city in the face of the ferocious attack. Many of the ISIS fighters were equipped with American weapons captured earlier from fleeing Iraqi soldiers.

Once again, the debacle has called into question the country’s future as a unitary state. Not only is the Iraqi military’s will to win in doubt, but the Iraqi government is also showing itself to be divided and inept. As for the Americans, whose military intervention has been limited to largely ineffective air strikes, their strategy to “defeat” ISIS is floundering.

However, it is not as if these Islamic State jihadists, who are now roaming freely in Iraq and Syria, were invented out of thin air. They have a history.

They are largely the remnants of the Al Qaeda movement operating for years in Iraq, as well as veterans from Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. Shortly after the Americans deposed Hussein, the U.S. foolishly disbanded Iraq’s Baath army. It was a move that put more than 200,000 angry young men out of work. Is it a surprise that many of them are now are working for ISIS?

Paul Krugman says the invasion of Iraq was criminal.

Why did they want a war? That’s a harder question to answer. Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.

Whatever the precise motives, the result was a very dark chapter in American history. Once again: We were lied into war.

Now, you can understand why many political and media figures would prefer not to talk about any of this. Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn’t say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.

On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn’t get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.

But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it. The campaign of lies that took us into Iraq was recent enough that it’s still important to hold the guilty individuals accountable. Never mind Jeb Bush’s verbal stumbles. Think, instead, about his foreign-policy team, led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war.

So let’s get the Iraq story right. Yes, from a national point of view the invasion was a mistake. But (with apologies to Talleyrand) it was worse than a mistake, it was a crime.

The ideological roots of Stephen Harper’s vendetta against sociology

From the Toronto Star by Jakeet Singh

Stephen Harper really seems to have it out for sociology. In 2013, in response to an alleged plot against a VIA train, Harper remarked that we should not “commit sociology,” but pursue an anti-crime approach. And last week, in response to the death of Tina Fontaine, Harper argued that an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women is not needed, because this is not a “ sociological phenomenon ” but simply a series of individual crimes.

Of course, not only is all crime a sociological phenomenon , but also without a broader sociological analysis we can’t begin to understand why the rates of missing and murdered indigenous women are tragically high compared to non-indigenous women. Furthermore, it’s clear that if rates of violence against non-indigenous women climbed as high as those of indigenous women, this government (even with its woeful record on women’s issues) would be more likely to announce not only a public inquiry but a full-scale national strategy. (This double-standard in how we value human lives is what sociologists call “racism.”)

Harper’s two disparaging comments about sociology, however, also need to be understood alongside his gutting of the long-form census in 2010. It is widely accepted that this action fundamentally undermined Canada’s ability to understand its own demographics, long-term social trends, and inequalities — in short, its sociology.

So what does Harper have against sociology? First, Harper is clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems. The benefit of this for those who share Harper’s agenda, of course, is that if there are no social problems or solutions, then there is little need for government. Individuals are solely responsible for the problems they face.

This ideology is so seductive not only because it radically simplifies our world, but also because it mirrors the two social institutions neo-liberals actually believe in — the “free” market and law and order. Everything is reduced to either a simplistic market transaction or a criminal case. In the former, you either have the money to buy stuff, or you don’t and it’s up to you to get more. In the latter, a lone individual is personally responsible for a crime and is punished for it. Easy peasy. No sociology needed.

But there’s yet another reason this ideology is so hostile toward the kind of sociological analysis done by Statistics Canada, public inquiries and the like. And that has to do with the type of injustices we can even conceive of, or consider tackling, as a society.

You see, sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often wilful, and have a relatively isolated victim.

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”

And therein lies the rub. Perhaps the key difference between personal and structural injustices is that the latter are only clearly identifiable through macro-level societal analysis — that is, sociology. This is because a) there are no clear perpetrators with whom to identify the injustice and assign responsibility; and b) while structural injustices do generate concrete harms and victims, we often only learn about the collective nature of the injustice through statistical inquiry, or by identifying social/demographic patterns over time.

What should be clear, then, is that Harper’s seemingly bizarre vendetta against sociology is actually an ideological attempt to prevent Canadian society from being able to identify, and tackle, its structural injustices. Without large-scale sociological analyses, we can’t recognize the pervasive, entrenched social inequalities that these analyses reveal. And because structural injustices are actually generated by our social systems, both their causes and solutions are social.

So Toronto is going deeper into debt (and so is Saskatoon)

Does this sound at all like Saskatoon?  It was Toronto under Mel Lastman who felt he needed to freeze taxes.

Perks noted that Lastman froze property taxes during his first three years in office. During that time, the Toronto Transit Commission was rebuilding 18-year-old buses instead of buying new ones, and the backlog in road repairs was growing.

“We had a mountain of backlog. We were in a profound crisis. Between provincial downloading and Mel Lastman’s tax freeze, we had a giant hole. Now we’re catching up.”

This week’s flooding demonstrates the need for sturdy infrastructure, said Di Giorgio, who on Tuesday was visiting homeowners hit with flooded basements.

“When you talk to people, they’re very irate, and you can’t blame them. They’re really upset that this kind of thing would happen and they blame the city for not having proper infrastructure.”

Borrowing allows the city to do more capital projects each year, rather than put them off to future years, he said.

“To do things quicker, you have to go more into debt. I do think it’s okay to grow your debt a little bit at a time each year, because you do have to replace infrastructure.”

This is what Toronto’s debt is being spent on.

In 2011, on Ford’s insistence, the city froze property taxes. The next year he limited the increase to 2.5 per cent, in line with inflation.

About half of the borrowing was to pay for transit infrastructure, such as replacing worn-out vehicles. Other big-ticket infrastructure spending went to areas such as roads, parks and housing.

That is what happens when you put off infrastructure and transit spending.  Eventually it catches up to you and it’s exactly what we are doing here in Saskatoon and it will take a couple of terms to catch up which will mean more debt.

Holding the line on taxes is always popular but those costs don’t go away.  In Saskatoon it is our roads where we used to pay for but not longer do.  Doubt me?  Check out the 2012 Roads Report which gives funding options to city council.  It includes this line.

Although funding for paved roadways has, in general, increased over the past decade, from 2003 to 2008 the annual roadway budget only increased by 0.5% per year, while  the cost of treatments increased by 15.2% per year. This erosion of purchasing power, combined with the general ageing of the network, has resulted in a degradation of the roadway network since 2002.

The result? Check out this 2012 article in The StarPhoenix by David Hutton

Mike Gutek, the city’s infrastructure services manager, said old crumbling roads such as Koyl are a “victim of priority.” The road rates as “very poor” under the city’s ranking of which roads require resurfacing.

Roads are ranked based on condition and traffic volume. The city has 650,000 square feet of roads that are considered in “very poor” condition, but can treat 15,000 square feet per year under the current budget, Gutek said. Ten per cent of local roads in Saskatoon are rated as “very poor” and in danger of failing, according to the city’s latest assessment.

“(Koyl) has not failed. It’s in horrible shape, the asphalt is very old and it doesn’t drive that well,” Gutek said. “It’s really our worst condition (of road), but it hasn’t failed yet (and turned to gravel).”

Saskatoon has fallen way behind in road maintenance and repair as costs for fuel, asphalt and labour have skyrocketed.

Since 2003, the road repair budget has grown 31 per cent while the cost of fixing roads has jumped 216 per cent. But council declined last year to add a phased-in property tax increase over eight years to bring the annual roads budget up to the point where the city isn’t falling further behind annually. Instead, one-time funding was added for a number of individual projects.

City administration estimates $18.5 million per year is needed to maintain the current state of the roadway network. In 2012, roughly $9.5 million will be spent on roadway rehabilitation, including the discretionary funds.

Koyl is not in the city’s five-year road rebuilding plans and likely wouldn’t be fixed until the annual funding amount surpasses $18.5 million, city staff say.

Where does the money go?

The infrastructure department is tackling as priorities high-traffic roads that have completely failed or on the brink of turning to gravel, Gutek said. 

Council likes to pick on Mike Gutek but when they give him a fraction of what he needs each year, what are city staff supposed to do?  Year after year city council says that they hear that roads are our number one concern and instead hold the line on taxes and don’t add any more new money into roads.

So when does Saskatoon start to dig ourselves out this infrastructure hole that City Council has dug us into and how long will it take?  How much debt will we have to take on to pay for these years where council made a negative infrastructure investment.  As we have seen here and in Toronto, unpaid infrastructure bills come due with interest.

Hebert: A Perfect Storm for Conservative Trifecta

From the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert

The fact is that, over the past three months, Harper’s agenda has featured more so-called distractions than anything else.

Creaky wheels in the PMO and in the cabinet; cracks in caucus solidarity and public opinion turbulence have become hallmarks of the ongoing federal season.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2013 budget played to tepid reviews. He has been battling a painful illness. In the lead-up to a mid-term shuffle there has been unprecedented speculation as to his future role in the government.

For different reasons, outgoing Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright — who both played strategic roles on Harper’s economic watch — are simultaneously out of the picture.

For the first time since Harper became leader, some elements of the religious right have waged open war on his leadership. That comes on the heels of a public collision between the prime minister’s parliamentary lieutenants and the social conservative wing of his caucus over the abortion issue. That clash has morphed into a larger internal battle over the democratic rights of government MPs.

An early attempt to clip the wings of Justin Trudeau seems to have backfired. Polls suggest that the latest Liberal leader is less vulnerable to the black magic of Conservative spin doctors than his predecessors.

In yet another first, the prime minister lost a seat to a byelection earlier this month and, in the process, his only Newfoundland-and-Labrador minister. Peter Penashue had initially resigned over 2011 election spending violations.

On the same general theme, a federal court judge found that fraudulent phone calls to non-Conservative voters in the last election were part of a systemic attempt to prevent them from voting. While last week’s ruling did not point the finger at the Conservatives, it did conclude that whoever was behind the manoeuvre accessed the party’s data bank.

If there ever was a time when the government needed to change the channel it would be now, but Harper does not have a lot of alternative programming to offer.

So the situation in Toronto seems to be resolving itself nicely

From the Toronto Star on Rob and Doug Ford’s radio program today.

Two Star reporters viewed the video three times, a Gawker journalist once. The video appears to show Ford smoking crack and uttering an anti-gay slur. However, the Star could not verify its authenticity.

Doug Ford, as he did on Saturday, vehemently denied a Globe and Mail article that reported he had been a dealer of hashish in Etobicoke when he was in his teens and early 20s. “I was not a dealer of hashish in the 1980s,” Doug Ford said.

Rob Ford fired his chief of staff, Mark Towhey, without public explanation on Thursday. He said Sunday that he would not discuss “personnel issues.” He did deny a Star report that he had fired Towhey in part because Towhey had rejected his demand to seize thousands of dollars of football equipment he had donated to Don Bosco Catholic Secondary.

Rob Ford was dismissed Wednesday as Don Bosco’s volunteer football coach. He said on the show that he had Don Bosco players “over at the house” after his dismissal. Though council loyalists have long advised him to quit coaching to focus on government, he also said he will now consider coaching offers from other schools.

“People keep coming up to me, saying, ‘Have you retired from coaching? Are you getting another coaching job?’ As of now, I don’t have a job. So if something comes up, you never know. But I really want to concentrate on getting, basically, our platform through,” he said.

Rob Ford read out the names of councillors who handed him another legislative defeat last week by voting against allowing expanded gambling at Woodbine racetrack. Doug Ford said the “vast majority” of councillors “couldn’t get a job” outside politics. He also pledged to reveal damaging information about any councillors who criticize him and his brother.

“I can go through all 44 councillors right now, folks — and I’m sure I could do it, but I’m not going to. But I have a message for the councillors: you want to keep throwing stones, I’m going to throw boulders right back at you. It’s very simple,” Doug Ford said.

The Ford’s aren’t happy with the media either.

The mayor called reporters a “bunch of maggots,” describing them as relentless and telling listeners “no matter what you say… you’re never going to make them happy.”

His brother, Councillor Doug Ford added that only “80 per cent of them are nasty son of a guns.”

As for the denial of the video, Warren Kinsella’s column reminds us of this

Arrested in Florida for drunk driving and drug possession; pleaded no contest on the former charge; denies it during the 2010 Toronto mayoralty race, until presented with the evidence by the Toronto Sun.

He has denied his past behaviour before.

As someone quipped on Twitter, Toronto is stuck in an abusive relationship with its mayor.

Housing the homeless costs less the putting them in shelters

I’ve been saying this for years

Last month, the Canadian Homelessness Research Network (CHRN) released a compilation report on the costs of caring for Canadians on the street. While homeless advocates usually make appeals to compassion and morality when championing policy reforms to help the most impoverished of this country’s citizens, the report attempts to illustrate empirically the financial impact of homelessness.

What author Stephen Gaetz makes clear is that calculating the cost of homelessness must not only account for shelters or soup kitchens, but also peripheral services, such as health care and the justice system, that homeless people come into contact with more frequently than society at large. As they are often poorly nourished, unable to engage in adequate sanitation practices, and live in settings where exposure to communicable disease is high, for instance, homeless Canadians experience a serious deterioration of their physical health. In addition, 40 per cent of this population suffers from mental health issues. As a result, they are hospitalized five times more often than the general public during any given year, usually for longer periods.

According to a 2007 Wellesley Institute report cited by the CHRN, the average monthly expense of housing a homeless person in a Toronto hospital is $10,900. To provide them with a shelter bed costs $1,932. But here is where the data may surprise you: Putting a roof over that same person’s head, either with rent supplements or social housing, would require just $701 or $199.92, respectively. In fact, a similar study conducted in British Columbia discovered that province’s homeless population currently costs the public system $55,000 per person per year, but if every homeless person were instead provided with adequate housing and supports, they would require just $37,000 — saving the province $211 million annually.

When it comes to social policy, Canadians are often told there must be a balance between compassion and affordability. As it turns out, in this case, the right thing to do is also the least expensive. This should perhaps come as no surprise, as in life generally a proactive strategy is almost always more efficient than a reactive one. Still, there is now hard data to show funding emergency services, shelters, and day programs is just not as cost-effective as providing homeless citizens with a place to live and the social supports to help them stay there

Focused on the Menial

Chantal Hébert writes…

These days, the most striking differences between Canada’s two main parties centre on matters such as the future of the gun registry, the public funding of sports facilities or the rate of taxation of corporate Canada.

On the larger issues, the line between the two is blurred, when it exists at all. Earlier this week, pollster Frank Graves suggested that the Liberals and the Conservatives could be natural partners in a coalition and he was not speaking totally in jest.

One could argue that there were more major policy differences between the Tories and the Canadian Alliance prior to their 2003 merger than there are between today’s Liberals and Conservatives.

The Toronto Star’s Wishlist for 2010

I agree with a lot of it.

  • STEPHEN HARPER (Prime Minister): Stop trying to score political points at the expense of the opposition and start addressing the very real challenges facing the country, both at home and abroad.
  • MICHAEL IGNATIEFF (Leader of the Opposition): Draft a platform that positions the opposition Liberals as a viable alternative to the governing Conservatives.
  • JACK LAYTON (NDP leader): Cease pretending to be a prime minister in waiting and focus on the NDP’s historical role as a progressive voice in Parliament.
  • JIM FLAHERTY (Federal finance minister): Resist the siren calls to balance the budget by slashing public services at the expense of Canada’s most vulnerable.
  • JIM PRENTICE (Federal environment minister): Instead of emitting more hot air, produce an actual plan for reaching Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions target by 2020.
  • ROB NICHOLSON (Federal justice minister): Stop playing politics with our criminal code. This wedge-issue tactic won’t make us safer, but it will leave us with costly prisons packed with non-violent offenders.
  • BARACK OBAMA (U.S. president): Stop trying to make nice with your political enemies and start using the presidential bully pulpit to advance your own agenda.
  • HAMID KARZAI (President of Afghanistan): Drive out corruption in your government so that NATO forces no longer have to hold their noses while they prop you up.
  • BENJAMIN NETANYAHU AND MAHMOUD ABBAS (Respectively, prime minister of Israel and Palestinian leader): Find a way to break through old barriers and make peace.
  • DALTON MCGUINTY (Ontario premier): Leave the small stuff (mixed martial arts) or the details (electronic health records) to your ministers and focus on the big picture, including the economy.
  • ED STELMACH (Alberta premier): Restrain your paranoia about eastern Canadians lusting after your province’s wealth and make a deal on greenhouse gas emissions.

Where have I seen this photo before the Toronto Star used it tonight?

I was on David Olive’s excellent blog tonight, the Great Recession and I was reading that Saskatchewan was celebrating our entry into Confederation today.  We joined it back in 1905 and have won three Grey Cups in our time as a province.

I was noticing the great looking photo of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building.  You can see it in context here.

Hey look, the Toronto Star used a photo of mine without permission. 

It reminded me a lot I took of the Saskatchewan Legislature building back in 2007 while with Mark and Wendy.  A quick look around on Flickr… ohhh, here it is…  I’ll put a photo paper border on it here… upload it my site… there it is…

The original image of the Saskatchewan Legislature

Same legislative building, same wind, blowing the same flags, same people playing on the same dead grass.  I think it’s fair to say that it is the same image.

Just a second, let me check the copyright on this image.  The good news is that it is Creative Commons.  The bad news is that it has some conditions.

  • Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

  • Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

I missed the attribution and I don’t remember giving anyone permission to use it commercially.

I am probably a little sensitive to this because last week, CBC Saskatchewan also needed to use a photo of mine for a story they were running.  A quick email was all it took to get my permission free of charge and I would do it for any media outlet. I really wish the Toronto Star had extended me the same courtesy that the CBC did.

Update:  The Toronto Star got back to me and I gave them permission.  In hindsight I should have asked it in return for a little less Maple Leaf coverage and a little more coverage for the rest of the NHL but why ask the impossible.