Huricane Juan
Toronto Star
  • Backing up surprisingly tough for Toronto police

    Toronto police vehicles face many perils on city roads, from chasing after suspects to driving through red lights. But the number one reason for collisions on the force is something much more mundane.

    According to data obtained by the Star, “improper reversing” is the most common cause of police vehicle crashes in Toronto, accounting for 518 since 2009.

    That’s out of roughly 3,500 collisions racked up in six years, for reasons ranging from speeding to bad U-turns to unsafe lane changes.

    “Improper reversing usually happens in a parking lot-type situation, where they hit a pole or some other inanimate object,” explained police spokesperson Meaghan Gray.

    Councillor Chin Lee (open Chin Lee's policard), a member of the Police Services Board, said “we need to bring that number down.”

    “I guess they need to more careful when they’re backing up,” he added, laughing. “Maybe our parking lots are too tight for these big cruisers.”

    Officers were deemed “at fault” in 323 of the reversing crashes.

    The 3,568 total accidents run the gamut from forgetting to put the car in park (there were 45 of these) to the kind of collisions that stem from dangerous car chases.

    For example, 79 crashes in the past six years resulted from “intentional contact,” a category that covers cruisers using aggressive ramming or boxing-in tactics. Police were deemed at fault in 50 of those cases.

    The collisions span the period from 2009 to Jan. 6, 2015. Police were found to be at fault in 1,798 crashes, or slightly more than half of the total.

    That ratio is considerably higher than that of TTC drivers. A Star report last July found that fewer than one-third of bus and streetcar collisions were deemed preventable by the transit commission.

    Gray defended the force’s drivers, noting that they often take to the road in high-pressure situations.

    “We do train our officers, but they are involved in a number of different driving situations, responding to emergency-type situations, that can leave them susceptible to getting into various types of collisions,” she said.

    Police union president Mike McCormack declined to comment.

    The collision total includes incidents involving police trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, ATVs and buses, as well as the regular fleet of cruisers.

    In 2012, the last year for which figures are available, Toronto police cars and motorcycles travelled 36,770,875 kilometres. With 611 collisions that year, the force had about half as many crashes per kilometre as the TTC.

    Toronto police collisions have been in steady decline since 2009, when cops racked up 650. In 2014, the number was down to 493. Gray attributed the slide to better training.

    In some road collisions, police are victims. In the summer of 2013, a bike cop was “doored” in a No Frills parking lot, throwing him to the pavement. The officer broke his sternum. (He later wrote to the Toronto Police Services Board asking that the force resume tracking such incidents, which it has since done.)

    When police cruisers do crash, they can do serious damage. Between 2000 and 2013, the force paid out settlements in 15 civil lawsuits involving car crashes, the biggest for nearly $2 million.

    Councillor Lee also noted that collisions can add to insurance costs.

    “How much of our budget is going to fixing things up and paying the other party in the collision?” he said.

  • Too many Ontario workers exploited; laws need quick overhaul, study urges

    Ontario employers routinely exploit lax employment laws to avoid paying people in precarious jobs basic entitlements such as overtime pay and even minimum wage, according to a new report by the Workers Action Centre.

    The Toronto-based labour rights group will release a study Tuesday that makes sweeping recommendations for closing legislative loopholes it says allow employers to evade their responsibilities under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.

    Common tactics include outsourcing work, hiring through temp agencies, and misclassifying employees as independent contractors — all of which may exclude workers from any entitlements under the Act. That leaves them with little control over their schedule and offers them with few prospects for full-time permanent work.

    “The report is about saying: Enough of waiting. How low do we have to go in terms of working conditions?” said Deena Ladd, who heads the Workers’ Action Centre.

    “We can make sure the jobs out there are decent jobs,” she added.

    The organization produced the province’s first comprehensive picture of precarious work in its 2007 report, “Working on the Edge.” Since then, things have “absolutely worsened,” according to Ladd. The latest study, titled “Still Working on the Edge,” notes that 41 per cent of work in Ontario now lies outside a standard, full-time permanent employment relationship with a single employer.

    But Ontario’s employment standards legislation contains some significant caveats and exemptions that leave part-time, casual and self-employed workers vulnerable to abuse.

    Independent contractors, for example, are not designated as employees under the Act and therefore not eligible for its entitlements. Campaigners say employers deliberately misclassify regular workers as independent contractors to avoid having to provide overtime pay, paid leave and benefits.

    The Act is also silent on the matter of equal pay for equal work for temporary and part-time employees. As a result, such workers earn between 30 and 40 per cent less on average than their full-time counterparts.

    Justin Kong spent four months working for a GTA employer through a temp agency. Some of his colleagues, he said, had worked for the same company for more than a decade but were still technically temporary and earned far lower salaries than permanent staff.

    “It’s one of those situations where you know you’re being ripped off but you can’t do anything about it,” he told the Star.

    In the coming months, the Workers’ Action Centre will organize awareness campaigns around some of the report’s specific recommendations, including the demand for a higher minimum wage.

    Ladd said the report would also be used as a “tool by communities who are struggling with precarious employment” to help them articulate possible solutions. The centre will be helping mobilize workers to contribute to the Ministry of Labour’s public consultations on employment standards, planned for June to October.

    As things stand, entire categories of workers, such as information technology workers, have no right to overtime pay under the Act, while many others, such as farm and residential care workers, are not entitled to minimum wage. Employees also have no right to advance notice of work hours or guaranteed minimum hours, a factor that has a particularly negative impact on part-time and casual workers.

    “These are precisely the sort of workers who often have nothing but the minimum protections required by law,” said Kendra Coulter, a professor of labour studies at Brock University.

    How to quickly improve the lives of workers

    As Ontario launches a review of its employment and labour laws, advocates hope there is an opportunity to effect change, by implementing the following recommendations from the Workers Action Centre:

  • Broadening the Employment Standards Act’s definition of “employee” to ensure people excluded from the current definition, such as independent contractors, are entitled to its protections.
  • Making employers liable for wages and all Employment Standards Act entitlements, even when they use subcontractors, temp agencies and other intermediaries.
  • Instituting scheduling standards, such as minimum three-hour shifts, and requiring all employers to post work schedules with two weeks’ notice.
  • Eliminating existing loopholes and exceptions to workers’ rights to overtime pay and minimum wage.
  • Moving from a passive, compliance-based enforcement system to instituting stiffer penalties for employers found guilty of workplace abuses.
  • The centre’s report also makes recommendations to improve the overall quality of working life in Ontario, such as:

  • Increase minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • Provide guaranteed paid sick days for all workers.
  • Increase minimum vacation entitlements to three weeks.
  • Public-private partnerships key for big projects like Spadina subway: report

    A new economic report supports Premier Kathleen Wynne and others who suggest Toronto could benefit from more public-private partnerships (P3s) on big construction projects like the Spadina subway extension and Union Station. Both are running late and over-budget.

    P3s make more sense than ever because the difference between overall government and private-sector borrowing rates has narrowed, said a report by TD Economics being released Tuesday.

    Called Ontario P3s — Cost Does Not Equal Value, it is a response to a release last fall by Ontario’s auditor general. She suggested that the Liberal government’s P3 contracts were costing taxpayers $8 billion more than if the public sector had managed those projects itself. That’s because private companies charge a premium for accepting the risk of a project going over-budget or over schedule.

    International studies show that construction times are shorter on P3s, said economist and TD report co-author Leslie Preston. Public-private projects take about the same time from approval to completion, but more of that time is spent in the planning stages.

    “Once shovels hit the ground, the construction time is minimized. If you’re a private sector contractor, that’s really when you start to incur your costs and you want to minimize that, the time when you’re digging and building,” she said.

    That’s typically when the public is most inconvenienced by road closures and construction, too.

    It’s been about five years since the Eglinton Crosstown LRT was approved. But it will probably be July before Metrolinx and Ontario’s P3 agency, Infrastructure Ontario, award the $4-billion mega-contract for the 25 stations.

    That contract includes the design, construction and maintenance of the stations and tracks for 30 years. Another Metrolinx project, the $859.2-million construction of a new Whitby train shed, also includes a 30-year maintenance agreement.

    Fewer than half of Ontario P3s include maintenance contracts. But it’s something that might be worth considering more often, says the TD report.

    If a contractor knows it’s going to have to maintain a property, it’s likely they will build it better in the first place.

    “The government is often criticized for not maintaining its assets well enough,” said Preston. “Politicians would rather break ground on a new building. They don’t do photo-ops on painting a building. In tough fiscal times, it’s maintenance that gets cut first.”

    P3s are not a panacea, warned Andy Manahan, of the Residential & Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario. His organization supports public-private partnerships. But there are examples where they have gone wrong.

    Manahan cited Chicago’s 75-year lease of its parking meters to a private consortium.

    But the private sector might have avoided some of the problems that have occurred on Spadina, which is expected now to cost $150 million more than the project’s $2.6-billion budget. Tens of millions more in contractor legal claims have yet to be released.

    “A private sector consortium would not have had six stand-alone subway stations. They would have been integrated into development. Each one of those stations has an individual (competitive bidding process) to say, ‘Give us your best design.’ So they’re standalone architectural pieces, except for the university campus, when it should be like the Bloor-Danforth line, where it’s integrated and almost invisible,” said Manahan.

    Bundling the work in a P3 is critical to encourage competitive bidders and maximize the public benefit, he said. The Eglinton Crosstown, for example, attracted only two qualified construction bidders.

    “It was too big a bundle. If they had broken it down into maybe a station component and a line component, they would have received more bids,” said Manahan.

    “Another project that might benefit would be the Gardiner Expressway (repairs),” he said, adding that the city should consider imposing a toll to pay for the rebuild.

Arts & Letters
Sunday, 12 August 2007