Feb. 19th, 2017

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Celebrating Montreal 375 at City Hall


These golden doors of the Hôtel de Ville were framed by these banners advertising Montreal 375, this year's celebration of the 375th anniversary of Montréal's foundation.
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  • blogTO notes that yesterday was a temperature record here in Toronto, reaching 12 degrees Celsius in the middle of February.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly writes about the pleasure of using old things.

  • Joe. My. God. notes the death of Roe v Wade plaintiff Norma McCorvey.

  • Language Hat notes that, apparently, dictionaries are hot again because their definitions are truthful.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers if the Trump Administration is but a mechanism for delivering Pence into power following an impeachment.

  • Steve Munro notes that Exhibition Loop has reopened for streetcars.

  • The NYRB Daily considers painter Elliott Green.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that North Carolina's slippage towards one-party state status is at least accompanied by less violence than the similar slippage following Reconstruction.

  • Window on Eurasia warns that Belarus is a prime candidate for Russian invasion if Lukashenko fails to keep control and notes the potential of the GUAM alliance to counter Russia.

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Torontoist's Andrea Houston and the Ryersonian's post were just two links noting a protest Thursday by anti-Muslim activists outside of a mosque downtown on Dundas Street West. One thing that the social media coverage of the event highlighted, which was nice, was that random passersby confronted the activists on the street.

More than a dozen people gathered outside a mosque in the heart of downtown Toronto with loudspeakers and banners in hand, shouting slogans about banning Islam as Muslims gathered to pray inside.

The protest happened Friday outside Masjid Toronto on Dundas Street West near University Avenue.

The shouting was so loud that Tera Goldblatt, who works on the 21st floor in a nearby building, said she could hear it from inside her office.

When she came down to see what was going on, she said, she saw some 15 people screaming, some blocking the path of those trying to enter the mosque.

"The response from the people who were trying to get inside was very sort of 'Oh well, they're entitled to their opinion' and 'Oh well, I guess that's just part of life,'" Goldblatt said.
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The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer argues that recent immigration raids in the United States, which have been high-profile but actually have not taken that many people into custody, might be a sort of political theatre for Trump's voters. (Or, they might be more than that.)

So what is the point? Two possibilities.

1.This is just the start of a massively stepped-up program, including those National Guard mobilizations and lots of new federal spending.

2.This is intended to give Trump voters a sense that something dramatic is being done. The terror that it strikes among immigrants is collateral damage. (Or maybe collateral benefit, from Steve Bannon’s point of view.)

Considering that this administration appears to be the opposite of a well-oiled machine in terms of management ability, but does seem to be taking the permanent campaign to a new level, I would bet on the latter. Like the infamous taco bowl tweet from the campaign, this is aimed squarely at angry white voters.
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Anthropologist Nadia El-Shaarawi, writing at Savage Minds, describes her experiences interviewing Middle Eastern candidates for refugee status and frames them in the context of the anti-refugee sentiment and exclusionary state structures.

As a volunteer legal advocate working with refugees who were seeking resettlement, I learned to ask detailed questions about persecution. These were the kind of questions you would never ask in polite conversation: Who kidnapped your best friend? Were they wearing uniforms? What did those uniforms look like? Where did they hit you? Did you pay a ransom for her release? How did you identify her body? Questions like these, which refugees are asked over and over as part of the already extreme vetting that they undergo to be granted asylum and resettlement, are personal, intimate, painful. They demand a precise and consistent command of autobiographical detail and the strength to revisit events that one might otherwise want to forget. They try to get to the heart of what happened to a person, what forced them to leave everything behind.

On a more cynical level, these questions try to catch a person in a lie, to identify those who are not “deserving” of refuge. The answers are checked and cross-checked, asked again and again across multiple agencies and organizations. In separate interviews, family members are asked the same questions. Do the answers match up? Do the dates and places make sense? Were you a victim of persecution? Are you who you say you are? While these questions and their answers shape the narrative of an individual resettlement case, there is a way in which they don’t get to the heart of what happened to a person, why someone was forced to flee, cross at least one border to enter another state, and is now seeking resettlement in a third country.

Vetting, extreme or otherwise, is about inclusion and exclusion. But before someone even gets to the arduous, opaque process of being considered for resettlement in the United States, decisions are made at the executive level about who to include in a broader sense. While the Refugee Convention provides protection for any person with a “well-founded fear of persecution” on specific grounds, this has never been the full story of the US refugee program, where a presidential determination each year decides how many refugees will be resettled, and from where. Some die-hard advocates and detractors aside, refugee resettlement has historically had bipartisan support and mostly stays under the radar of public attention, except, it seems, in moments where it becomes a reflection of broader anxieties and struggles over belonging and exclusion.
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Torontoist reposted a Jamie Bradburn Historicist feature from 2013 describing how Toronto contributed to the fight against South African apartheid, culminating in Mandela's triumphant 1990 visit to the city.

At first glance, the space above Asteria Souvlaki Place at 292A Danforth Ave. drew little attention to itself. Until February 11, 1990, its occupants were happy to keep it that way. Not advertising to the world that this was the local office of the African National Congress (ANC) was intended to protect staff from potential harm. When word arrived that day from South Africa that Nelson Mandela was free after over 27 years of imprisonment, 292A Danforth went public by offering itself as a place for Torontonians to celebrate the news.

Politicians and union leaders spoke to over 1,000 people gathered on the street that evening. Mayor Art Eggleton, who had proclaimed February 11 as Nelson Mandela Day, told the crowd that “the people of Toronto have joined with freedom-loving people the world over.” Chants of “Long live Mandela” rose from Danforth Avenue.

Mandela’s release was viewed as a positive sign in the battle against South Africa’s apartheid policy, a fight for which Toronto was a hotbed of activity during the 1980s. Boycotts and divestitures of holdings in companies with ties to South Africa became the norm for educational institutions. Protests targeted businesses that continued to operate in the increasingly demonized country. The Toronto Board of Education organized annual anti-apartheid conferences for high-school students.

One high-profile effort during this period was the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival. Poet Ayanna Black raised the idea during a United Way of Greater Toronto Black development committee meeting earlier in the year. “We wanted to galvanize the community and emphasize this was something to concern everyone, not just blacks,” she told the Star. A foundation for the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival, headed by Toronto Board of Education consultant Lloyd McKell, began working on who should appear. They secured singer Harry Belafonte as honorary chairman and scheduled an appearance by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. Though criticism of its perceived involvement in a political activity forced the United Way to change its role from festival sponsor to supporter, the charitable organization continued to play a key organizing role.
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Torontoist's Andre Proulx looks at how Ontario's wine industry is continuing to develop.

Cave Spring Cellars made their first vintage in 1986. It was a small 500-case batch of wine. This date is a reminder of how early we are in the history of wine in this province. It was one of the first eight wineries in the province and second on the Beamsville Bench.

I recently had a chance to speak with Len Pennachetti, the president and founder of Cave Spring Cellars (and brother of Toronto’s former city manager). He got his start in the wine industry when he was tasked with working vineyards that were purchased by his father.

Not all grapes are created equal; neither are Canadian wines. Prior to the founding of Inniskillin in 1974, Ontario wines were made using labrusca grapes—those Concord grapes found in farmers’ markets at the twilight of summer.

Today, the European grape, vinifera, is used to make most fine wines. Even by 1986, 10 years after Inniskillin had been founded, there were still only a handful of farmers who had made the switch. The challenge with growing vinifera in Ontario isn’t so much the summer but the punishing winters. When the temperature starts to dip below -15, frigid temperatures begin to cause damage or even kill vines.

As one of the founding members of VQA, Pennachetti had a hand in crafting the rules that determine the quality of Ontario wines. The VQA ensures not only that the grapes are 100 per cent Ontario grown, but also that the grapes are vinifera.
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blogTO reports on the remarkable retrofitting of 488 University Avenue, once an office tower, into a condo.

If there's a common criticism of Toronto condos, it's that they're accused of being bland glass boxes with little regard to the nuances of architecture and design.

There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but few projects have quite the technical appeal of the one rising at Dundas and University right now.

Once a 1968 office tower, 480 University Ave. has been reinforced and given a new shell, which paves the way for the construction of a 37 storey condo atop the existing structure. When complete, its new address will be 488 University.

When we last checked in on the site, the exterior of the old building was being stripped and bolstered with a new steel frame. Now, just over a year later, the building has been almost entirely remade as the base of the condo to come.
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CBC News notes BMO Capital Market's argument that Toronto is in a housing bubble.

Housing prices in Toronto and surrounding cities are rising at a "fiery" rate not seen since the late 1980s, according to the chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

"Let's drop the pretence," Douglas Porter wrote in a commentary. "The Toronto market — and the many cities surrounding it — are in a housing bubble."

"Everyone may have a slightly different definition of what a bubble is, but most can agree it's when prices become dangerously detached from economic fundamentals and start rising strongly simply because people believe they will keep rising strongly, encouraging more buying," he said.

[. . .]

Porter downplays industry suggestions that a lack of new housing is the reason behind the big appreciation in prices in the GTA, pointing to strength in housing starts.

"The massive price gains are being driven first and foremost by sizzling hot demand, whether from ultra-low interest rates (negative in real terms), robust population growth, or non-resident investor demand," he wrote
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Steve Munro quite dislikes Metrolinx's willingness to consider the idea of a fare-by-distance toll system.

On Friday, February 17, the Metrolinx Board will consider yet another update in the long-running saga of its attempt to develop an integrated regional fare policy.

It is no secret that for a very long time, Metrolinx staff have preferred a fare-by-distance system in which riders pay based on the distance travelled, possibly at different rates depending on the class of service with fast GO trains at the top of the pile. The latest update tells us almost nothing about the progress their studies, but does reveal that a fourth option has been added to the mix.

Option 1, modifying the existing structure, simply adds discounts to smooth the rough edges off of the existing zones between service providers. This has already been implemented for GO Transit “co-fares” with systems in the 905, but it is notably absent for trips to and from the TTC. Riders face a full new fare to transfer between a TTC route and GO or any of the local 905 services.

Option 2, a more finely grained zone structure than exists today, would provide a rough version of fare-by-distance, but would still have step increments in fares at boundaries. Note that this scheme also contemplates a different tariff for “rapid transit”.

Option 3 is a “Hybrid” mix of flat fares for local services and fare-by-distance for “rapid transit” and “regional” services for trips beyond a certain length. The intent is to charge a premium for faster and longer trips on services that are considered “premium”.

Option 4 is new, and it eliminates the “flat” section of the Hybrid scheme so that the charge for a trip begins to rise from its origin and there is no such thing as a “short” trip at a flat rate. The rate of increase would vary depending on the class of service.
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The Toronto Star's Ben Spurr takes issue with John Tory's contention that this budget's 80 million dollar increase in the TTC budget is the largest in the organization's history.

Mayor John Tory has hailed this year’s TTC budget as a “record investment” in the public transit system.

But does the 2017 spending plan really represent a historic achievement for the TTC?

In a speech to council midway through Wednesday’s marathon meeting to finalize the 2017 city budget, Tory noted that the operating subsidy that the city gives to the transit agency was set to increase by $80 million this year. It will rise to about $690 million, compared to the $610 million budgeted for in 2016.

“Eighty million dollars is maybe not the all-time record increase, but it’s maybe the second biggest in all the recent years, and maybe ever,” he said.

However, it appears that despite Tory’s statement, this year’s funding increase may not even be the largest of his term.
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In the Toronto Star, Shawn Micallef wonders whether North York and Scarborough will be able to break through and emerge from suburbia into "downtownness", or if politics will prevent this.

The Scarborough Subway comes with a lot of promise.

Though these political promises include economic benefits and increased mobility, there’s also the implicit and explicit promise of the arrival of downtown-style urbanity to Scarborough City Centre, the cluster of office and residential buildings surrounding the Scarborough Town Centre mall and Civic Centre.

Those who arrive in Toronto via Highway 401 from the east pass it all by, and visitors who know little about our city might be forgiven for thinking it’s actually downtown Toronto: it’s an impressive cluster, especially when driving by, just one of the many dense nodes across this city and region.

However, once the car is parked, this city centre doesn’t feel so downtown; instead, there are large swaths of paved parking lot and open space in between the buildings. Some structures are quite fantastic, like the 1973 Raymond Moriyama-designed Civic Centre and the new branch of the Toronto Public Library.

The promise of the Scarborough Subway, should a plan ever be finalized, is to create a more beautiful and humane public realm here, a “downtown neighbourhood” kind of feel that would connect and transform all these buildings and spaces. Much of our fast-growing city was created this way, and it would not be the first Toronto neighbourhood to go from farmers’ field or village to a dense urban core in just half a century or so.

Downtown North York, or North York City Centre (or maybe we can just call it “Uptown” now), is one of these places. Sometimes called the downtown that Mel Lastman built, just a generation or two ago the strip of Yonge St. between Sheppard and Finch Aves. was a low-rise, mid-century streetscape. It still bears those mid-century traces, and even those of the original villages that were here before, like Willowdale and Newtonbrook, but they are fleeting.
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The Toronto Star's Betsy Powell notes the imposition of a steep fine on a homeowner who accepted far too many short-term renters.

A justice of the peace has imposed a $10,000 fine on the owner of a Willowdale home who violated city bylaws by accepting short-term renters, often using web sites such as Airbnb to find them.

Justice of the Peace Gerry Altobello rejected a submission from the city prosecutor that the fine be set at $1,000 because that was “not enough” to send a message of deterrence to others doing the same thing.

Altobello said the defendant was “thumbing his nose at the community and the city,” by continuing to rent the home at 5 Glenelia Ave., for periods of less than seven days after being told to stop. The maximum penalty for a conviction is $50,000.

[. . .]

Neighbors complained about the high turnover of occupants and loud parties. Last March during one party nearby residents heard four or five shots ring out inside the home, and saw partygoers fleeing. A young man who received a gunshot wound to his head survived, Toronto police say.

Last November, Yan Pan Zhao pleaded guilty on behalf of 2391324 Ontario Ltd., which owns the two-storey home at the corner of Bayview Ave.

Zhao told the Star on Wednesday that he was acting as “an agent,” for the homeowner. He acknowledged his wife, Dan Wei, is the sole officer and director of the numbered company.
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At the National Post, Garry Marr argues, on the basis of the attractiveness of Canada as a destination and the push for all Canadians to acquire property, that the Canadian real estate boom is actually sustainable.

The mayor of Caledon, a town of about 60,000 northwest of Toronto, says government can try all it wants, but the dream of owning a home will persevere.

Allan Thompson should know. His town, like many others that ring around Ontario’s capital, has become a launching site for new communities as people priced out of the core look to the suburbs (or what was once rural) for slightly cheaper housing.

An average new single-family detached home in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was $1,264,604 in 2016, according to the Building Industry and Land Development Association. But housing prices range from an average of $666,220 for a semi-detached home in Durham, northeast of Toronto, to $1.8 million for a detached home just north of the city.

“I remember I had this neighbour who was Portuguese,” said Thompson, who was a Caledon councillor for 11 years before becoming mayor two years ago. “He said to me, ‘For 20 generations back in Portugal, we all lived and rented houses in town. We had our sheep and our goats and our cattle.’ He said to me, ‘I was the first one ever to have a home.'”

That dream of home ownership is central to the escalating prices in Canada’s housing market, especially in larger cities such as Toronto where immigrants tend to settle.

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