Huricane Juan
Toronto Star
  • Ontario government to encourage plug-in hybrid vehicles in climate change strategy

    The Ontario government is plugging electric cars to jump-start its strategy to reduce ‎the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

    On the eve of next week’s United Nations summit in Paris to tackle global warming, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Environment Minister Glen Murray released a hastily cobbled-together, 37-page climate change strategy.

    Wynne conceded that Tuesday’s announcement was “not the chapter-and-verse details of the strategy” coming next year.

    “It’s not the final design features of the cap-and-trade system . . . those are underway,” the premier told reporters at the Royal Ontario Museum news conference.

    “But we need a framework within which to do, yes, the cap-and-trade, but the other things that we know are necessary,” she said, stressing “the cost of not doing this” far outweighs any other expenses consumers may have to bear in terms of higher fossil fuel costs.

    “Insurance costs alone — you think about the tornadoes, you think about the flooding, you think about the fires that are happening in the West. People understand that there’s an immediate and a mid- and long-term cost if we do not take action.”

    To that end, there will be legislation in the new year implementing a carbon-pricing system that impose caps on greenhouse gas emissions so industries that come in under theirs can sell or trade credits. That creates an economic incentive to pollute less.

    New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto Danforth) said the Liberals are coming to the table in the eleventh hour of their twelfth year in power.

    “We don’t know anything from what they have said today. This is a re-announcement of an announcement to come,” said Tabuns, bemoaning the lack of detail on what this will mean to Ontarians.

    The government, which already has hefty subsidies for buyers of electric cars, will further promote zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles by encouraging new charging stations for motorists.

    “We have to rapidly deploy that,” said Murray. “We want you in your next car selection to drive an electric vehicle or a hybrid.”

    Only two per cent of vehicles on Ontario roads now are electric or plug-in hybrids, compared with four per cent in California and 20 per cent in Norway, said Murray.

    Motorists need more encouragement to take the leap and that will requires a concerted effort given obstacles now in the way, said David Paterson of General Motors.

    “We have low gasoline prices, we have lack of re-charging . . . at home and at work,” he said, calling for new condos to be built with charging stations, for example.

    Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said any revenues from the cap-and-trade system — which could be billions a year — must not just go into the cash-strapped government’s coffers.

    “All the revenue from the carbon-pricing plan should be returned to Ontarians so they can afford to reduce their carbon footprint,” said Schreiner.

    Murray said that’s the intent.

    “Is there a cost that’s being passed on to consumers because of this? . . . We’re hoping not,” he told reporters.

    “We’re managing a major transition, which means that the money that’s coming in has to . . . go back to families and businesses so that they can make their choices. We can’t rush this ahead so we’re driving costs into families’ lives. That’s the wrong way to do it.”

  • Liberals push back deadline on Syrian refugees

    OTTAWA–The Liberals will miss their self-imposed deadline to resettle 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, instead pledging to meet the target by the end of February 2016.

    The government will also count privately-sponsored refugees against the total goal of 25,000 people, as well as any Syrian refugee who has arrived in Canada since Nov. 1. The government expects 10,000 will be privately sponsored — 40 per cent of its goal.

    Officials cite several challenges, including getting exit visas from host countries and ensuring Canadian communities are able to accommodate the refugees, as factors for pushing back the deadline.

    In a media briefing today, officials said the government still intends to get the refugees to Canada as quickly as possible, but conceded that 15,000 are expected to have to wait until the first weeks of the new year.

    “Yes, we want to bring them fast, but we also want to do it right,” said John McCallum, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, speaking at a press conference Tuesday.

    McCallum said Canadians will welcome refugees “with a smile, but a smile alone is not sufficient.”

    He said the delay would allow more time to ensure homes and language training for refugees would be in place when they arrive.

    The overall plan is expected to cost as much as $687 million over six years, with the bulk of the money spent in the first two years. Some departments involved in the resettlement project will be asked to absorb the costs, but officials say most will be new money.

    The refugees will be drawn UNHCR camps in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as refugees registered with the government of Turkey. Especially vulnerable groups – families, women at risk, and LGBT refugees – will be prioritized. Single men accompanying their parents can also be admitted.

    The refugees will be subject to extensive security and health screening at multiple stages on their journey to Canada. The first layer includes registration with the UNHCR or the Turkish government, followed by interviews, biometric and biographical data collection, and checks against public safety databases in Canada and United States.

    As many as 500 federal personnel – including Canadian Forces members – are being deployed overseas to aid in the processing.

    With files from David Bateman

  • Corruption in Quebec construction industry ?far more widespread than we originally believed?

    The infiltration of organized crime groups into Quebec’s construction industry is far worse than originally feared, Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau said Tuesday as she released her much-awaited report.

    “This investigation confirmed that there was a real problem in Quebec and that it was far more widespread than we originally believed,” Charbonneau said.

    She said that the Mafia and Hells Angels worked their way deep into the industry, gaining access to public and private contracts and worker’s pension funds.

    “A culture of impunity developed,” Charbonneau said, reading from a prepared statement.

    The commission heard of bribes, kickbacks, assaults and even murder.

    She praised the courage of some of the 300 witnesses who testified since the inquiry began hearing testimony in September 2012.

    “Contractors revealed that they were the victims of threats, intimidation and assault,” she said. “Their testimony took us to the heart of our mandate.”

    Charbonneau also sounded a hopeful note, and said that one of the five volumes of her report contains 60 recommendations on how to clean up the construction industry.

    “This report tries to address the problems with concrete solutions,” she said.

    One key recommendation in the 1,600-page report is to set up an independent committee to decide on the awarding of government contracts.

    Another recommendation is for better whistleblower protection.

    “Whistle-blowing must not be seen as an act of betrayal,” she said.

    She noted that New York State’ has a False Claims Act, which makes companies and individuals liable for defrauding the government.

    The report was posted online Wednesday. Some of the testimony won’t be made public because of publication bans, Charbonneau said.

    She did not take questions after delivering the prepared statement.

    Charbonneau and her co-commissioner, former Quebec auditor general Renaud Lachance, did not have the power to assign guilt.

    They were allowed to assign “blame” to companies and individuals in their examination of systemic corruption in the province’s building industry.

    The report was originally due for release in October 2013.

    GTA organized crime expert Antonio Nicaso said that the problems of Mafia infiltration into construction are not unique to Quebec.

    Nicaso, who testified before the commission, said he was surprised that the Mafia skimmed 2.5 per cent from construction contracts, according to testimony before the Charbonneau commission.

    That meant that mobsters got 0.5 per cent less than crooked politicians.

    “That was a bit of a surprise,” said Nicaso, who has studied the Mafia worldwide. “Usually they (Mafia and politicians) share the same percentage.”

    Civil servants and engineers made another 1 per cent, Nicaso noted.

    Nicaso said that he welcomes the creation of an organized crime task force by the Ontario Provincial Police rather than another corruption commission for Ontario.

    Nicaso said he was disappointed that the commission couldn’t compel key criminals involved in construction to testify.

    Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto died of natural causes while the commission was ongoing.

    Rizzuto’s one-time ally Raynald Desjardins went to prison for an underworld hit and never was forced to testify about his construction dealings.

    Nicaso praised the commission for highlighting how the Mafia manages to connect the underworld with the so-called respectable world of politicians, bankers and unions.

    “This is what the Mafia is all about,” Nicaso said. “You can’t have a Mafia without the politicians who help out.”

    Former Quebec premier Jean Charest created the commission in 2011 after months of intense public pressure, sparked in large part by various exposes by investigative journalists on the construction industry and its ties to organized crime and the financing of political parties.

    The inquiry heard testimony over 30 months, beginning in the summer of 2012.

    Witnesses described how some construction companies had links to organized crime and that the widespread collusion benefited political parties and corrupt bureaucrats.

    The commission heard an Ontario mafia expert from York Regional Police saying that his force may be investigating government contracts that have been awarded to organized crime groups.

    York Regional Police Det. Mike Amato declined to talk about any instances he knew of in which mafia groups he had been speaking about were able to win a contract by being the lowest bidder.

    “That question there is too close to something that we are working on right now,” Amato told the commission.

    “The question that he asked brings something to mind in terms of a link that may exist. I’m not saying it does exist, but it’s a possible theory.”

    His testimony came a week after a joint investigation by the Toronto Star and Radio-Canada highlighted the recent rise of the ’Ndrangheta, or the Calabrian mafia, which the RCMP has listed as one of its “Tier 1” threats in the GTA.

    The ’Ndrangheta is one of three separate mafia clans active in Canada. The others are the Cosa Nostra, or Sicilian mafia, and the Camorra, originally from Naples.

    Amato told the commission that the ’Ndrangheta is “stronger and more prominent” in Ontario and tough to infiltrate because it operates along strict bloodlines.

    Amato said they often appear to be legitimate bankers, accountants, limousine drivers, lawyers and operators of banquet halls, nightclubs, garden centres and construction companies.

    “There are persons who are criminals, who are suspects in murders, who … go and coach soccer for kids. They’re integrated into the community and most people don’t even know who they are,” Amato told commission lawyer Sonia Lebel.

    With files from Allan Woods, Canadian Press

Arts & Letters
Sunday, 12 August 2007