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Toronto Star

Madly off in all directions, federal leaders go on the hunt for your vote. Have they got your attention yet?

Sep 17, 2019 7:53:00 PM

federal leaders madly off in all directions federal leaders go on the hunt for your vote have they got your attention yet 17 09 2019 federal politics thestar dam content  https:

OTTAWA—The kickoff of the 2019 federal election campaign saw the country collectively shrug while six party leaders threw themselves into a frenzy.

The past seven days had an unfocused feel, after a summer-long precampaign campaign of ads, government spending and politicians popping up everywhere on the barbecue circuit.

Now there was more of it. For politicians, so much more.

Plane trips. Bus trips. A bus trip into a plane.

Photo-ops with babies, schoolkids, parents, autoworkers, builders, clean tech entrepreneurs.

Selfies. Social media blitzes. Announcements. Promises. Speeches. Speeches interrupted by hecklers.

The first debate and a no-show. The Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau chose instead to campaign in Alberta while his main rivals met onstage in Toronto.

Then there was a surprise invitation to allow the People’s party Leader Maxime Bernier into the next one.

There were resignations, and runners — a Conservative candidate fled cameras.

Half-apologies by and for candidates (from all parties) who once posted racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim comments. Half-hearted defences of those who didn’t resign or, in the Liberals’ case in advance of the campaign, didn’t do so quickly enough. They were potentially damaging revelations meant to paint the competing leaders as unworthy because of the unsavoury company they keep. Or a backdrop that became the white noise of the early campaign.

We saw pep rallies that were all politics, and one that wasn’t, and shouldn’t have been: the Mississauga love-in for tennis champ Bianca Andreescu, the first Canadian to win the U.S. Open.

And we heard tepid responses to tragedy: the day after a group of shooters sprayed semi-automatic handgun fire in Mississauga and left a 17-year-old dead and five injured, none of the leaders wanted to talk about, or unveil, new tighter gun control measures.

Nobody had what you’d call real momentum. Nobody seized the imagination of voters.

New doubts about Trudeau’s commitment to transparency dogged him as the RCMP ran into a cabinet secrets roadblock in its SNC-Lavalin queries.

The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh surprised by exceeding low expectations in the debate and looked like the only one really having a blast out on the hustings. Singh rode the bus, seated behind reporters.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer scrummed at the back of his plane, and had an off-the-record drink with a handful of reporters.

Trudeau appeared briefly in the back of his plane, but avoided any unscripted encounter with media covering his tour. His campaign is disciplined, and taking little for granted.

Yet as Week 1 ended, the federal leaders and political operatives sharpened their messages and honed in on household budget challenges for a vast swath of Canadian voters — the (vaguely-defined) middle class, and families struggling to get ahead.

Scheer slapped a big proposal on the table, one his organizers feel is the showpiece of his first week.

Along with reviving tax credits first offered by Stephen Harper’s government for public transit, children’s fitness and arts programs, and boosting Ottawa’s contribution to RESPs to help cover university and college costs, Scheer pledged to bring in a universal tax cut — a campaign promise that echoed the simple appeal of Stephen Harper’s original GST cuts. Scheer says a Conservative government would reduce the income tax rate for the first $47,630 of income for all taxpayers, dropping it over time from 15 per cent to 13.75 per cent.

That means a big chunk of lost revenue for the government treasury, roughly about $6 billion less a year for government operations that will have to be found somewhere. Scheer dodged questions about how he’ll find the savings, saying only we should stay tuned for the full platform. The Liberals accuse him of having a hidden austerity agenda.

But it was a big play for voters who have been nurtured by the Liberals in government.

Trudeau travelled the country from centre to west to east and worked back again in the first week — the only federal leader to do so. The Conservatives say they’ll reach the east this week, what they consider the first real week of the campaign after a mid-week launch on Sept. 11.

The Liberals sprinkled around promises for expanded aid for first-time homebuyers, especially in the hottest housing markets and political battlegrounds of Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria; pledged a national foreign “speculation” tax to deter non-resident owners, and lower or eliminated fees for small business owners.

Then he too dug into the “affordability” challenges of middle-class families, promising Monday to create 250,000 more child-care spaces for before- and after-school needs, and on Tuesday, Day 7, Trudeau upped a Conservative pledge to ease the tax burden on new parents.

Scheer had already pledged a non-refundable tax credit on maternity and parental EI benefits, to reduce the taxes of families at the end of the year. Trudeau says he’d make the benefits tax-free from the get-go. He’d give families the money when the cheque arrives in the mail.

Trudeau said the Liberals would boost the Canada Child Benefit payment by 15 per cent for families with children under the age of 1, and introduce a 15-week leave for adoptive parents — a move that will help gay and lesbian parents who often grow their families through adoption.

Yet the Liberals and the Conservatives didn’t own the conversation about the concerns of ordinary Canadians.

The New Democrats’ untested and cash-strapped leader, Singh, elbowed his way in, a happy warrior who stood before Quebecers suspicious of his turban with a Quebec-oriented suite of promises to respect distinctiveness and provincial autonomy.

And though Singh had already released the NDP election platform in June, well in advance of the election launch, he took to the road in Ontario and Quebec in a painted bus, touting pledges of universal pharmacare, dental and vision care, billions for affordable housing and big investments to tackle climate change, all paid for by going after the super rich.

Singh says the NDP will slap a new 1 per cent tax on wealth exceeding $20 million — a pledge that could bring in as much s $70 billion over a decade (as long as the superwealthy didn’t flee Canada or stash their money in offshore accounts).

Green party Leader Elizabeth May unveiled her ambitious platform with a wide range of promises, but it and its centrepiece — to double the cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and shift Canada to a renewable energy future — have no price tag yet. The parliamentary budget office, the independent agency that is assessing political platforms, is to provide its costing next week, says May.

The People’s party Leader Maxime Bernier counted a victory in being invited to attend the next official leaders’ debates.

Yet after a week of campaigning, national polls still showed a very tight race between Liberals and Conservatives, the NDP still well behind, and the Greens dipping slightly, with Bernier barely registering.

It was Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who until now stayed out of the federal campaign (denying Scheer asked him to do so), who capped the first week that was with the frankest political statement of all.

“No matter what government gets elected, it doesn’t matter who it is, we’re going to work well with them. And to be very frank, we’ve worked well so far with the Liberal government,” Ford told reporters at the Verner, Ont. plowing match. “We’ll work well with the Liberals moving forward or the Conservative government and we’re there focusing on Ontario and we’ll make sure that we work with them for instance on infrastructure projects.

“I don’t want to interfere in the federal election. I want them to go out there and have a good race and let the best party win.”

With a file from Robert Benzie

Canadian internet rates are falling, and you can thank the CRTC

Sep 17, 2019 3:38:56 PM

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Thanks to a recent CRTC decision, many Canadians are seeing their monthly internet bill shrink — or at the very least, they’re getting an upgrade to faster service at no charge.

Distributel Communications Ltd. on Tuesday became the latest of the independent internet Service Providers (ISPs) to announce an upgrade to internet packages following a CRTC ruling that slashed the rate the telecom giants can charge smaller providers for wholesale access to their networks.

CEO Matt Stein said the vast majority of customers across Canada will see greater value with many enjoying internet speeds roughly doubled for the same price.

“This one’s on us,” he told the Star, suggesting that the initial focus is on providing faster internet speeds at no extra cost “because that’s what our customers tell us they want.”

In a similar move, TekSavvy Solutions Inc., another independent ISP, announced on Sept. 13 that it would reduce prices or upgrade data plans for 85 per cent of its customers starting with their next monthly bill as the company streamlines its retail product line after the Aug. 15 decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

A number of customer who have received notification of the changes took to Twitter to report improvements in their stand-alone or bundled packages. “You just dropped my bill by $6. Didn’t you know this is Canada? You’re doing it backwards!” read a retweet using the hashtag #ThanksAgainCRTC.

On the same day, London, Ont.-based high-speed internet service provider said it would improve its cable, DSL and fibre internet plans across Ontario as of October with existing customers to see their rates go down and/or their speeds increase. chief executive Peter Rocca said the reduced cost for so called last mile network access has allowed savings to be passed on to customers with prices for some home high speed cable internet subscribers falling by $20 to $70 per month, with a speed upgrade.

Distributel also said lower costs for network access stemming from the CRTC decision will also further investment in rural offerings as the company is moving forward immediately to offer services in four additional communities across northern Quebec.

Laura Tribe, executive director of internet access advocate OpenMedia, said the promise to continue investing in rural areas is another really positive step “in filling the gaps that Big Telecom is leaving behind.”

Citing the need to increase competition among internet providers, the CRTC set the final rates that cable and telephone companies can charge for network access at 15 to 43 per cent lower than the 2016 interim rates and required major telecom and cable companies to make retroactive payments to the third party resellers as an offset for the higher prices over the proceeding three years.

Major telecom companies Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor’s Vidéotron, Cogeco and Bragg Communications, who say their investments in expanding infrastructure could be impacted if wholesale rates are set too low, are challenging the CRTC ruling over what they call errors of law and an overstep of its jurisdiction.

“If allowed to stand, [the ruling] will create significant and irreversible market distortions while serving as a powerful disincentive to innovation and investment by the cable carriers. Ultimately, Canadian consumers will suffer the consequences,” the companies said in a court filing.

While third-party resellers argue that the CRTC decision is the result of careful consideration and within the purview of the regulator, a report from TD Securities cites “good odds” for success of the appeal by the big telcos. “We believe...the recent CRTC decision … will be overturned, or at a minimum revised in favour of the [large] telecom and cable players,” Vince Valentini wrote. He also predicted that if the rates are not changed, major telecoms will roll back their investments in broadband networks by $1.7 billion by 2021.

Scotiabank’s telecom and media analyst Jeff Fan had a more moderate view of the effects of the ruling, writing in a note to investors in August that the hit to the major telecom and cable companies may not be quite as bad as portrayed, since they will see increased payments from resellers as a result of greater network usage flowing from the CRTC rate cut.

Bruce Arthur: Bobsled champion Kaillie Humphries has almost nowhere to turn after courtroom power play hits the wall

Sep 17, 2019 7:48:00 PM

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True to her nature, Kaillie Humphries tried. She made it clear at the 2018 Olympics that she was not happy with Canada’s bobsled program. Later that year, she filed a harassment claim against her coach. This year, she filed a lawsuit in the hopes of forcing an exit from Canada to compete for the United States. The lawsuit wasn’t even the equivalent of a bobsled crashing; it was like trying to drive a bobsled on a highway. Still, the three-time Olympic medallist gave it a go. As someone who knows her well once said, she sees almost everyone as competition.

And today Kaillie Humphries should be looking around at piles of ash and wondering, at age 34, if she has run out of bridges to burn.

“She doesn’t even have any bridges,” said one current member of the bobsled program who was granted anonymity due to worries over Humphries’s willingness to retaliate. “She’s on an island.”

The two-time Canadian women’s bobsled gold medallist failed to secure an immediate release from the Canadian program in a Calgary courtroom on Tuesday, one day after it was revealed that her harassment case against Canadian bobsleigh head coach Todd Hays was found to be without merit. She must be released by Bobsleigh Canada before Sept. 30 if she wants to compete for the Americans this year. She is running out of options.

Forget for a moment that Bobsleigh Canada would set a troubling precedent by releasing an elite athlete to a richer nation and program based on unsupported claims. Perhaps the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation would intervene; the existing architecture of sports resolution in Canada is the only other way for Humphries to force a release from Canada. Her lawyer, Jeff Rath, said they would pursue an appeal.

But why would anybody grant it? On what basis? Rath threw a lot of dirt into the air Tuesday, loudly protesting that this was a “pretty dark day, and certainly not keeping in where I thought we were in the context of women’s rights, and taking complaints of this nature seriously.”

He also made several claims that seemed to be wrong, or at least misleading. Team Canada pilot Alysia Rissling specifically responded on Twitter to Rath’s allegations that she was in tears due to Hays at an event last year: she rejected the characterization completely, saying it was because she had crashed twice in two days and felt she had let the team down.

Rath also claimed Humphries’s carding and funding was being withheld, but Humphries relinquished a right to that funding when she announced last year she was taking a year off. He claimed team members had been threatened with blackballing if they decided to pair with Humphries; two team sources pointed out that Olympic qualification is determined by a series of fairly well established standards, and denied it had happened anyway.

Rath claimed Bobsleigh Canada had promised to release Humphries following the conclusion of the harassment suit; no such promise appears to have been made in the evidence presented, and Humphries’s lengthy list of demands — her own coaches, her own sled, back pay for the year she took off and much more — was rejected by the federation. It was a microcosm of the demands she has made within what was otherwise an equitable program under Hays, according to current team members.

That’s also a big reason why the athletes on the current team are united in their contention that the major culture problems within the program came from Humphries herself. A statement from 2018 gold medallist Justin Kripps and endorsed by the men’s and women’s World Cup teams read, “She has a right to compete like anyone else, but she has a lot of relationships to mend within the program, so I think it’s up to her to decide if she wants to be a part of our team culture or not.”

There has been so much damage done. The harassment suit Humphries filed was examined allegation by allegation, and was found to be almost entirely meritless by an independent investigator. Humphries’s lawsuit was similarly specious — the Star has already found most of its allegations to be questionable at best.

What is left is the broad outlines of what appears to be a war against a coach and a program using the mechanisms of safe sport. False allegations of harassment are extremely rare. Safe sport is a laudable priority of this federal government.

But Humphries also allowed her claim to be conflated with something more serious. At one point Humphries’s lawyer sent an email to all parties commending her courage in speaking up, “especially in light of all the U.S. athletes coming out speaking their truth about the extreme and vile abuse athletes suffer at the hands of their coaches.” The comment was retracted and an apology given when it was pointed out that it was potentially defamatory.

But Humphries simply presented no credible evidence of harassment. Sources indicate she called several people throughout the bobsled world to see if they would support her against Hays; almost nobody did. The veracity of the two pending harassment cases filed against Hays by American athletes with USA SafeSport is one thing. In Canada, Humphries didn’t present anything that stuck.

So what now? Bobsleigh Canada says they would take her back, as long as she follows the same rules as everyone else. In Calgary, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton high performance director Chris Le Bihan said, “Our mandate is to develop world and Olympic champions. We want Kaillie in our program. Kaillie is obviously going to be a threat in the next Olympics.” The underlying message — and the most obvious question to the idea that Bobsleigh Canada is deliberately trying to keep Humphries from competing for Canada — is that she wins medals, and medals produce much-needed revenue for the program.

So maybe Humphries finds an escape hatch from Canada and leaves the program with a legacy of winning, and in some disgrace. Maybe she can’t, and has to decide between climbing down and repairing the damage — almost unthinkable, according to those who know her — or effectively retiring.

If so, what an ugly ending that would be to a glorious athletic career. Kaillie Humphries tried. But she is running out of track.

Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

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