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Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Maven’s Election Diaries | The Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t know squat about managing an economy

In Election diaries, The Maven on March 31, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Jim Flaherty of the Conservative Party is Canada's biggest spending Finance Minister of all time | Photo by Joshua Sherurcij

By The Maven | When Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party of Canada first came to power in 2006,  they inherited a budget surplus that had been hard-won by the earlier Liberal government. The Liberal budget for 2005-06 was not only balanced, but for the 8th straight year under Liberal rule, boasted a sizable surplus. This was delivered along with significant new money for defence and the environment, and some modest tax reductions for individuals.

As we know, the Liberal minority government was forced to the polls by the NDP in 2006, ushering in the Stephen Harper era as Prime Minister.

Harper’s first budget in 2006 lowered the GST by 1% to 6%. In January of 2008 it was cut again to 5%–this despite the protests of almost every economist in the country that the cut would take billions out of Federal coffers just when it appeared world economies were slowing.  A year later, the Liberal surplus had been turned into a Conservative $34 billion dollar deficit.

Now, mind you, this was before the recession’s impact. Indeed, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was still saying in early 2009 that Canada would not experience a recession.

He made no plans for it either to stimulate the economy nor to reign in spending. Indeed the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has raised spending to unprecedented levels while cutting corporate and income taxes, and managed to erase all the surplus built into Paul Martin budgetary planning.  And don’t forget that the very same Jim Flaherty was finance minister in Mike Harris’s ultra-right government whose Common Sense revolution left Ontario badly in debt after they got through with it.

With Jim Flaherty and the Conservatives jauntily denying the extent of the economic downturn, they were forced by the NDP, Liberal and Bloc to bring in a budget for 2009 that incorporated stimulus spending. This was the Economic Action Plan (as conceived of by the opposition parties and initially vigorously opposed by the Conservatives) that is now advertised by the Conservatives as proof that they should stay at the helm to ride out the last vestiges of the economic storm.

But from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush in the United States, to Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper in Canada, the right has been a disaster for slowing economies with their reliance on supply side economics.

Hell, even the Conservatives in oil rich Alberta can’t even manage a budget with all the oil royalties they are they are blessed with.

So why does the Canadian voting public still say in public opinion polls that they trust the Conservatives more than other parties to manage the fiscal situation in difficult times? It certainly isn’t based on reality.

We need more of this economic history to get out there. Why aren’t the opposition parties pushing the Conservative’s dismal record more volubly?

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In Election Diaries, The Maven comments on the leaders, the parties, the issues and the campaigns for Canada’s 41st federal election.

Read more of The Maven’s Election Diaries at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For past articles by The Maven on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

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Communication Art Gallery | 209 Harbord Street

In Arrivals & Departures, Coming events on March 30, 2011 at 3:05 PM

Communication Art Gallery | 209 Harbord Street just east of Bathurst

By West Annex News | Before the spectacular success of Prisoners, National Post photographer Brett Gundlock‘s compelling show combining portraits and stories of G-20 detainees, it was easy to overlook the Communication Art Gallery at 209 Harbord Street.

Prisoners at Communication Art Gallery: Emily Berriger, age 23 | by Brett Gundlock

We take pride in exploring the less-travelled corners of the neighbourhood, but the last block of Harbord Street before Bathurst, opposite the Central Technical school playing fields, has attracted only B-list chains, convenience stores and local amenities for years. After the departure of La Carrera Cycles to larger digs closer to Spadina, there seemed to be no reason to walk west of Lippincott Street on Harbord.

209 Harbord's previous incarnation, Maya Cleaning | Google Street View screen capture

But not in the imaginative mind of James Binnie, owner of Paint It Green, an environmental house painting company. Binnie, 36, grew up on nearby Albany Avenue and says he’s spent half his life between Harbord and Dupont, Bathurst and Spadina. Driving on Harbord with a friend in 2009, they spotted an empty storefront at 211 Harbord, and mused that it would make a good art gallery.

Then on his way to BC to work, Binnie says the idea preyed on his mind while he was away. But when he returned to Toronto, the space was rented. Eventually, Krispy Kreme took it over. Binnie felt his dream was not to be.

But then he heard that the owner of Maya Cleaning, right next door at 209 Harbord Street, had passed away and her space had become available to rent. Binnie snapped it up, and renovated it himself. He raised the ceiling, and installed hardwood floors and track lighting.

The opening show in September of 2010, Garth Scheuer New Constructions | photo credit James Binnie

He opened the gallery in September of 2010 with Garth Scheuer’s New Constructions, with the intention of bringing in a new show every month.  Brett Gundlock’s Prisoners is the gallery’s sixth show. After it completes its run tomorrow, March 31st, Leah Rainey’s Edits, featuring her abstract paintings, moves in. The opening will be on April 7, 2011 at 5:00PM.

Uros Jelic Oil at Communication Art Gallery in January of 2011 | Photo by James Binnie

Binnie hopes that like Gundlock, other artist will come and pitch ideas to him.  He hopes to see shows of installations, sculpture, and mixed media  join the photography and paintings he has displayed.  Communication is the underlying theme of all the shows; Binnie sees his gallery as a place for artists to have their message transmitted, witnessed, and appreciated.

Outside the Communication Art Gallery on Harbord Street | The shallow gallery space helps it become part of the street

The gallery itself is a relatively shallow space, which greatly enhances its impact. The gallery becomes part of the street with the works clearly visible to bypassers.

Communication Art Gallery is a welcome and lively addition to the street life of Harbord Street between Lippincott and Bathurst Street.

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In Arrivals & Departures we document the changes in the commercial/retails strips of the West Annex.

See the Arrivals & Departures archive for other articles like this one.


about Design Corp. at 1042 Bathurst Street

In Arrivals & Departures on March 27, 2011 at 12:05 AM

about Design Corp., where interesting things began to happen in late 2010

By West Annex News | Last month while reviewing the John Cadiz show at Ideasincorporated gallery, we commented upon the exciting mix of galleries, indie coffee houses, shops and restaurants suddenly appearing on Bathurst Street south of Dupont.

Since then we have watched while several more building on this rapidly gentrifying strip have been transformed. None has been more intriguing than 1042 Bathurst Street. Following the departure a few years ago of Apollo Volvo Specialist mechanics in the rear and Das Autopro, a European auto accessories shop in the retail space in the front, this double-wide space had been occupied by a number of short-lived tenants. By mid-2010 the space was empty, and stayed that way for some time.

Then in the late in 2010, interesting things began to happen. First the space was stripped down to white walls and hardwood flooring. Some time later a black curtain appeared across the entire width of the back of the store, and then stark fluorescent tubes were installed on the floor and a wall.  Finally a clothing rack arrived in one window, from which hung beautifully tailored white shirts. But were they shirts? On closer inspection, the shirt tails were sewn together at the bottom, and straps wrapped around them. Were these stylized strait jackets? Was this a gallery? An art installation? A performance space?

Then cryptic information appeared in small letters  in the bottom left corner of the front window.  A name, an email address, and a website, for about Design Corp. We visited the website, which featured moody, enigmatic videos which only deepened the mystery.

To add to the intrigue, the front door were always locked, no matter the time of day we went by. That is, until last Saturday, when we tried the door, and it opened. Inside we met the charming Dean Hutchinson and Yunchieh Chang, the fashion designers and principals behind about Design Corp, who ushered us into their spare, elegant, and now-opened shop.

Yunchieh Chang and Dean Hutchinson of about design corp.

Hutchinson is returning to Toronto after many years in the San Francisco fashion scene. A Canadian, he headed to California immediately upon his graduation from the University of Saskatoon Fine Arts program to learn the fashion business. He quickly built a following for the strong, beautiful architecture of his designs.

In the late 1990’s he established Dean Hutchinson (Design) Inc. where fashion designed and manufactured in Toronto was sold at his San Francisco retail stores.

In California, Hutchinson met Cheng, an American born in Singapore and a winner of a prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America fashion design scholarship.

Beautifully draped, asymmetrically designed jackets come in fabric or leather

About Design Corp. is the product of their collaboration. Their Bathurst Street atelier contains immaculately constructed classic wardrobe pieces in black, white and gray, together with asymmetrically designed jackets in fabric and leather. The leather is luxurious and buttery soft; it drapes like fabric.  On some pieces exposed zippers add an edge to the feminine designs.

Chang and Hutchinson decided that there would be no labels in the clothing. “We want you to create what you think it is” said Hutchinson, explaining their design philosophy. “We want to be both respectful of the heritage of clothing making, and create a design-centric, artisan collection.”

“New idea need old buildings” Jane Jacobs said. And about Design Corp. and Bathurst Street exemplify this maxim.  The still relatively low rents on the street allow Hutchinson and Chang to locate their design studio, manufacturing facility, and showroom all at in the same building.

Exquisitely constructed, label-free classic wardrobe pieces

Chang and Hutchinson were kind enough to part the black drapes that so dramatically frame their showroom, and give us a behind-the-scenes tour.

Hutchinson and Chang in their design studio at 1042 Bathurst Street

The design and manufacturing area is down the stairs from the showroom. It’s an exciting space bursting with creativity, with paper patterns lining the walls and works in progress partially assembled on dressmaker dummies and spread out on large tables.

About is the latest of a number of new shops, galleries and cafes which have been garnering rave reviews from the media, like Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice CreamRapidoBurnettJava Mama, ideasincorporatedBarbara Edwards ContemporaryEwanika, and Scoop and Bean, and which have joined with neighbourhood stalwarts like Annapurna VegetarianLa Parette Gallery and the unspoiled vintage diners Apollo 11 and Vesta Lunch to form a vibrant new neighbourhood. For lack of a better name, we called the neighbourhood the upper West Annex in our last article. Since then we’ve heard that local merchants–who are banding together and hope to form a business improvement area–are branding the area “Bathurst-Dupont Village”.

We’re glad to see such efforts towards a BIA. The stretches of interesting new shops on Bathurst are still broken up by tough, gritty sections that discourage pedestrian traffic. Merchants and their landlords have to work together to try to steward the gentle gentrification of the street, to entice shoppers to travel up the street from Bloor.

But care must be taken that the area does not undergo explosive growth like Ossington Avenue experienced, where the pioneers of the gentrification are quickly priced out of the mix by rapidly rising commercial rents.

For all gentrification that has taken place, Bathurst Street between Bloor and Dupont still sports some tough, gritty sections

About are welcome new members of the vanguard who are transforming Bathurst street for the better. We’d like to see them stick around.

Postscript: Before ending our interview with Hutchinson and Chang, we asked about the stylized strait jackets that had so intrigued us for months.  Hutchinson laughed. Neither strait jackets nor art installation: those perplexing white garments are about’s custom-made garment bags.

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Read Karen van Hahn’s Bathurst and Dupont is the newest style mecca in thestar.com, and Bert Archer’s Bathurst Street’s gorgeous bones in YongeStreet.

In Arrivals & Departures we document the changes in the commercial/retails strips of the West Annex on Bloor, Bathurst, and Dupont Streets.

See the Arrivals & Departures archive for other articles like this one.

Election diaries: Me vs Us

In The Maven on March 26, 2011 at 5:23 PM

What’s the real message behind some of the election goodies on offer?

The Conservatives' income splitting promise encourages traditional families with stay-at-home moms. What about other kinds of families?

By The Maven | All the political parties are offering tax breaks or programs to enhance some level of family life. The focus is very much on families again this time around. Never mind that the definition of families for most of these programs is a rather outmoded one…one described by two opposite gendered heads with children living at home. In fact, the latest gambit by the Conservatives–their income splitting proposal–goes one step further by assuming (or encouraging) one income families. In fact, it is a subtle discouraging of two incomes. Yes, the Conservatives do have a social agenda.

Leaving that aside, there are significant differences in how we can enhance life for families. Programs favoured by the Conservatives lean towards personal choice and the ability to purchase services. An example of this is their child tax credit to recoup daycare costs. Approaches like health care vouchers and charter school initiatives fall into this category.

At first blush, it seems reasonable to give people money to make choices appropriate to their needs. Isn’t it empowering and more democratic to allow people to direct the social service sector by their spending choices?

Well, yes, if you see the world through a seller/consumer versus society/citizen lens. I have written elsewhere about how this applies to the education system.

The other approach is a societal or system approach. Instead of giving money to families to go and buy, say for instance, daycare services, government can set the same amount of money aside and develop a comprehensive daycare system. An excellent example of a comprehensive program is the health care system. The Canadian system is about 30% cheaper to run than the American system. By most measures our health care system is as advanced technologically as the American (taking into account the much larger volume in the American system). Our system is certainly much more egalitarian in providing a wider range of services to a far greater percentage of people.

Now that isn’t to say that there are not problems. Waiting times are an issue in our system. The delivery of services is not always equitable. Sometimes our system is less innovative in finding new ways to offer services. But the American system has larger issues. Aside from the obvious disparity in the provision of services to different economic groups, the American system is also far more wasteful administratively (spending a far higher percentage on admin than our ‘wasteful’ public system) and the complexity and confusion of paperwork in the U.S. is overwhelming.

There are real economies of scale to be achieved by a society approach to such issues as daycare. The same amount of money given to families to buy daycare (when none may be available) is better given to establish a comprehensive structure to set up and administer daycare.

Will there be shortcomings in such an approach? Certainly. But fewer than encouraging the individual purchase of services. And while there may be some fear of a homogenous one-size-fits-all approach, at least there would actually be a system. And political agitation has always provided the impetus for creativity within a public system in a way that private purchase never quite does beyond superficialities.

So when the political parties offer incentives and tax deductions for certain social programs, take a closer look at what they really intend to achieve. For the Conservatives, individual ‘family based’ tax credits further their agenda of less government and more individual choice in the narrow sense. But just as importantly, they are less likely to actually achieve the provision of services intended.

Another approach, and I would suggest, more efficient, more equitable, and certainly more likely to meet its goal of actually delivering a service, is to deliver a program in a comprehensive way.

That is why we fund public transit, public schools, public utilities this way. They are all public. Do we give up consumer choice by doing this? Yes. Do we get a better and cheaper provision of services this way? Yes, I think we do.

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In Election Diaries, The Maven comments on the leaders, the parties, the issues and the campaigns for Canada’s 41st federal election.

Read more of The Maven’s Election Diaries at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For past articles by The Maven on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

The weekly wrap for March 25, 2011

In This week in the neighbourhood on March 25, 2011 at 12:05 AM

In 2008, we labelled Earth Hour “when you care enough to make a token gesture.” Then we found some local businesses didn’t even care that much. See who earned the A’s and F’s on our inaugural Earth Hour Report Card. [West Annex News]

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A nine-storey, 163 unit condo is coming to Bathurst and Bloor. The old Loretto College property at 783 Bathurst Street will have 163 units and ground floor retail. [Keeping It Real Estate]

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Skirt gets the Urback treatment. And as usual, blogTO’s crack Annex reporter has more questions than answers. [blogTO]

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The most vibrant cities share one thing in common: They are messy. Trying to clean up and remove the clutter of the city is to throw away the lifeblood of the city itself. [The ABCs of Urbanism]

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The Tarragon announces its new season. Richard Ouzounian says it’s “a nicely balanced mixture of Canadian works, old and new, with cutting-edge drama from the rest of the world.” [thestar.com]

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What is inclusionary zoning? Paul Carlucci interviews Adam Vaughan and others about the answer to Toronto’s housing problem. [YongeStreet]

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Getting Real 4. An event to unveil an in-depth report on the Canadian documentary industry’s bill of health, presented at the Annex Live March 31, 2011. [DOC Toronto]

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Av & Dav, then and now in pictures. Lost Toronto compares the intersection 50 years apart. [Lost Toronto]

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Theodore 1922. Catherine Lash gives a rave review for the men’s fashion store at 497 Bloor Street West. [The Wedding Co.]

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

Read last week’s wrap (click image to open):

For columns from earlier weeks, visit the Weekly Wrap archive.

Ask the Bike Maven: How to lock your bike

In Ask the Bike Maven on March 21, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Nothing is sadder than coming across the remains of an improperly locked bike. The mistake here? Locking only the front wheel to the bike ring. The thief just flipped the quick-release lever on the wheel, and bye-bye bicycle.

By the Bike Maven | Spring is here and with it legions of cyclists are venturing back out on the streets. Which reminds me of a subject of perennial puzzlement: in a city as bike-mad as Toronto, why do so few cyclists know how to properly lock their bikes?

Bicycle theft is a major deterrent to cycling in Toronto. Even with Igor Kenk out of business, Toronto is still one of the bike theft capitals of the world. And don’t think your cheap beater bike is immune to the vermin bike thief. It can and will get stolen if you aren’t careful.  A bit of thought goes a long way to deterring bike thieves. I say deterring because there is no way to make your bike completely theft-proof.

I’m going to talk today about how to secure your bike with a single lock. Yes, you can nail it down even further with multiple locks, chains and cables, but who wants to ride around the city burdened with all that heavy paraphernalia?

Replace your quick release skewers, right, with a set that requires a wrench or allen key to remove, left.

So let’s start by at least making it a little harder for thieves to take your bike or its parts. First, replace the quick-release skewers on your wheels and seat post with a set that needs a wrench or an allen key to remove. Conversion kits are available at your West Annex LBS: Bateman’sCurbside, and Sweet Pete’s. There are fancy anti-theft skewers out there for $45 a set and more, but the simplest sets starting at about $20 will do.

Next, invest in a good quality lock. U-locks (like Kryptonite) are more secure than cable locks. And I believe the smaller the U-lock the safer it is. Why? Because smaller makes it harder for a thief to get an instrument in the U to lever it open. My lock of choice is the Kryptonite Evolution Mini. For a U-lock, it’s light and easy to carry.

So what’s next?  The biggest mistake most cyclists make when locking their bike comes when selecting which part of the bike to lock to the bike ring. The most expensive part of the bike is the frame, followed by the rear wheel with its cassette of gears. In fact, if you have an internally geared hub on the rear wheel as is becoming popular these days on city bikes, the entire (and expensive) gear system is in the rear wheel. Really, relatively speaking, the front wheel is pretty cheap to replace compared to the rest of the bike.

So why do some cyclists insist on locking the front wheel and leaving the frame and the rear wheel unsecured? I think the answer is that most non-mechanically inclined riders find it harder to remove the rear wheel than the front since they have to disengage the chain from the cassette. They reason that the rear wheel is less likely to get stolen.

Wrong. Anyone with a bit of experience can remove the rear wheel in a snap.

So how to lock your bike?

The proper way to lock your bike: within the bike frame's rear triangle, lock your back wheel to the bike post.*

Close-up detail of the image above. Note that only the rear wheel--not the bike frame--is locked to the bike post.*

The best way to lock your bike securely? Within the bike frame’s rear triangle, lock your back wheel to the bike post. Yes, I know, it seems a little freaky at first because the bike frame itself is not locked to the post, only the rear wheel is.

But the rear wheel rim has tremendous strength. It’s built to carry most of the rider’s weight and to resist the torque placed on it by the chain and the derailleur.  That with the tension created by the spokes means that only the most determined of professional bike thieves are capable of cutting through a wheel rim. And so long as you catch the wheel within the bike frame’s rear triangle with the U-bolt, it’s impossible to separate the wheel from the frame.

I learned this technique from my personal bike guru, the late great Sheldon Brown. His Lock Strategy article is worth a read, as is everything on his comprehensive website.

Yes, thieves can still take your front wheel. But they won’t bother, since the owner of the bike locked next to yours hasn’t read this article, and his rear wheel is available to rip off.

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* Note: the City recommends that you lock to the bike post, not the bike ring as pictured above. Thank you to Jody Levine for pointing this out.

The Bike Maven is a Serotta-certified bicycle fitter who lives, works, and cycles in the Annex. Visit his blog at www.TOmaven.wordpress.com.

Read the Bike Maven’s previous article:

For other articles like this, visit the Bike Maven archive.

Does Mayor Ford even understand his own ideology?

In The Maven on March 20, 2011 at 9:19 AM

Stop the press: Robdoug isn’t what he appears to be!

1:49PM | And thank god for that. Nope,  our ‘stop the gravy train’, ‘cut councillors spending’, ‘I don’t need my councilor’s salary’ mayor, it has just been revealed (Toronto Star, Globe and Mail) is still doing business for his family firm.

Now, not only does this explain why Rob cannot be reached by the press for interviews (he doesn’t feel the job of mayor is full-time) but also why he can afford to forgo some of the financial benefits of his job (he’s got his own private gravy train).

Yep, great gig if you can get it. Keep riding high, Mr. Mayor. You’re setting a great example for the kids.

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By The Maven | Mayor Robdoug is an ultraconservative right wing politician. That would make him an adherent of the right’s favourite economic theory, trickle-down economics. The theory, simply put, is to lower taxes to allow the rich to keep more of their money. In doing so, the rich will spend more on goods and services which will increase economic activity across the board and thereby trickle down to us all.

Never mind that whether practiced by Ronald Reagan, George Bush I or II, Margaret Thatcher or Brian Mulroney, all left behind massive government debt when they exited office. Low taxes have been shown everywhere to be a disaster. Why do politicians continue to espouse these policies and this discredited economic theory? Well it really has nothing to do with economics. It is all ideological. Conservatives believe in less government. Reducing taxes decreases the government’s capacity to provide services, and therefore reduces the size of government. And not incidentally, with lower taxes the rich get to keep more of their money. Yeah, it’s really a gravy train for the better off.

Well now that Robdoug has begun his destruction of Toronto’s economy with his simple-minded approach, we face a massive debt for 2012 (just like right-wing politicians always leave us). His approach of cutting taxes will lead to layoffs in the civil service and privatization of services. That can only mean large pay cuts for thousands of employees. This can only lead to lower disposable incomes for many Torontonians, and–follow the logic here–less spending and less economic activity.

So it seems to me, if you are really a believer in trickle-down economics you should want more people earning more money so there is more money to stimulate economic activity thereby enriching us all. So what we have here is indeed one of those few hidden agenda unhidden moments. Ford’s agenda isn’t about saving money by making the provision of services more efficient. It’s about reducing services, period.

And that is cool with me. As long as Robdoug admits his agenda, we can have an open debate about the issues. No more gravy train stuff. Let’s have the real debate, about whether we think there is a role for government in society.

And lets see those centrist councillors get off their butts and declare where they stand. Do they support civil society or are they in the camp of simply protecting privilege?

That’s a debate I welcome.

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Read last week’s article by the Maven:

For other articles by this author, visit The Maven archive.

The weekly wrap for March 18, 2011

In This week in the neighbourhood on March 18, 2011 at 12:05 AM

O Guu, wherefore art thuu? Steven Davey reports on the latest delay in the much-anticipated opening of Guu SakaBar, and provides the newest projected opening date: Sunday, March 20th. [NOW]

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Better late than never. In 2009, the Clean Air Partnership demonstrated that better bike infrastructure would be a boon to Annex businesses, completing the work that myopic consultants missed in the City-funded Bloor Street Visioning Study.

Fast forward two years, and Lindsay Tsuji breaks the story of how the Annex Residents Association has finally woken up and endorsed bike lanes on Bloor [Annex Gleaner], while Derek Flack envisions what those bike lanes might look like. [blogTO]

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The last Jewish retail bakery in downtown Toronto. Renee Ghert-Zand profiles Harbord Bakery’s artisan traditions. [Forward.com]

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Local and organic long before it was fashionable, Robyn Urback finds that Kharma Co-op at 739 Palmerston is the neighbourhood’s hidden treasure. [blogTO]

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Since 1913, it’s been known as the Madison, the Midtown, the Capri, and the Eden. Eric Veillette gives us more history of the Bloor Cinema. [Silent Toronto]

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But the photos are nice. Robyn Urback wilts trying to profile the flower shops at Av & Dav. [blogTO]

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

Read last week’s wrap (click image to open):

For columns from earlier weeks, visit the Weekly Wrap archive.

We need nuclear power now more than ever

In The Maven on March 15, 2011 at 9:10 PM

Photo credit: Stefan Kühn/Wikimedia Commons

By the Maven | All the news of the terrible tragedy in Japan has once again focussed the world’s attention on the safety of nuclear energy. Environmentalists are almost chortling over the difficulties the Japanese are having containing their damaged Fukushima reactor.

Well, I’ve gotta tell you guys, nuclear energy is still the least polluting of all signficant sources of power , and best shot at being the saviour of this planet for the short and medium term future.

So called alternative forms of energy–solar and wind– are too inefficient, too expensive and way too unreliable to form a major part of our energy production any time soon.

Except for hydro power (and even that calls on rivers to be dammed  and flood plains destroyed) nuclear power is the least environmentally disruptive generator of power,  in its entire life cycle from extracting uranium from the ground to using it to fuel turbine generation, of all significant power sources.

The two big issues with nuclear power are the cost of building plants and storage of the radioactive products. Most large government projects run way over budget. Nuclear power plants are no exception. We need to properly budget for and build the true cost of generation of nuclear produced energy into the system. That is doable. It only takes a bit of honesty from planners. The honesty part is difficult, but the results still make nuclear attractive.

The issue that has everyone upset is finding a place to store the radioactive waste for thousands of years. When put that way it is a very frightening scenario. And fear is, most of all, what the environmental fear-mongers trade in.

Aside from the fact that some promising new technologies are being researched that may help dramatically cut the length of time for radioactive material to degrade into safe residue, I have but one question that seems to be crucial: would we rather dump our waste in a shaft deep in the ground or spew it into the air in massive amounts to breathe into our lungs? Because the latter is exactly what we are doing right now with carbon-based energy. We have turned our atmosphere and our waters into huge garbage dumps.

I would rather have nuclear power.

What about nuclear accidents?  Well, did you know that no one was ever injured or even exposed to higher than safe radiation levels at Three Mile Island?  So, please let’s not hear any more about the Three Mile Island “disaster” as an example of nuclear power gone amok. Now Chernobyl, there was a disaster–albeit it under a totalitarian regime that ignored safety protocol and refused to respond to early warnings.

As for the tragedy in Japan: if that were a dam that was destroyed by the earthquake or something like, say, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, would people react with the same horror? Nope, we don’t mind dumping untreated sewage into our waters, driving our cars with tailpipes pumping noxious substances into our air. But talk of clean and safe nuclear and out come all the neurotic middle-class comfortable citizens worried about nothing real at all.

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Read last week’s article by the Maven:

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RSGC March construction plans scrubbed

In Royal St. George's construction on March 13, 2011 at 9:35 PM

Royal St. George's construction planned for March 14 to 28, 2011 has been postponed to June after it was unable to obtain a shoring permit from the city. The application for a shoring permit is still under review | Pictured: phase I construction in 2007

By Louise Morin | Unable to get their shoring permit from the City in time, Royal St. George’s College’s March 2011 construction plans have been scrubbed and rescheduled for June 2011, after classes end for the year.

The March work would have involved the drilling and filling of 30 of the 80 caissons that will shore the perimeter of the planned underground garage.

Word of the delay was not communicated to the neighbourhood until late Friday afternoon, March 11th, and only after various neighbours had made repeated inquiries to RSGC. St. George’s CFO and construction liaison Andy Whiteley apparently left on two weeks vacation sometime before March 11th without bothering to tell the neighbourhood–or his fellow members of the Construction Management Committee–whether the construction due to begin March 14th would actually proceed.

I sent Whiteley an email the morning of Friday March 11th, asking whether the construction was a go for Monday. When Whiteley did not respond, I telephoned RSGC at about 10:45AM.  I used the business hours construction information hotline advertised on the RSGC website. There the run-around began.

I was initially told by a chirpy woman who answered the phone that the construction was indeed proceeding on Monday. When I asked her to confirm that the City had granted all the needed permits, the woman referred me to Whiteley’s colleague in Finance Sarah Skinner. Skinner wasn’t then available, so I left a message for her. When I hadn’t heard from her after about 90 minutes, I rang Skinner back. She told me she didn’t know the status of the permits or the construction, although she was trying to find out. She said Acting Headmaster Paul O’Leary knew, but he was out of the office to attend a memorial service, and Construction Manager Rudy Tomaini hadn’t been around that day to ask.

At this point, RSGC had still not yet released the contact information for the community members of the Construction Management Committee, even though Councillor Vaughan told RSGC, in no uncertain terms almost four weeks earlier, that it was mandatory that they do so.  I then called City of Toronto plan examiner Peter Raynes, whom City planner Barry Brooks told me was responsible for the RSGC permit applications. Raynes did not return my call.

Eventually, at 2:20PM, Skinner called me back.  She had found out that the shoring permit had been delayed, and that the shoring project was being postponed to June. And to her credit, she was calling back all the neighbours who had inquired with her. Under the direction of neighbour and Construction Management Committee Chair Jim Jacobs, Skinner eventually sent out an email and mail bulletin to neighbours later that afternoon, and got the news of the delay posted to the “Update for the Annex Community” page of RSGC’s website.

Skinner also told me that Bell Canada would be on the campus March 14, 2011, to relocate two telephone poles and re-route underground cable on RSGC property. Despite Whiteley’s assurances at the February 16th community meeting that no service interruptions were expected and that all connections would be done live, Skinner’s e-bulletin says “current information is that service interruptions at RSGC and our five neighbours’ homes will be brief.”

Whiteley also left without publishing the minutes of the first meeting of the Construction Management Committee, held on March 4, 2011, in which contact information for the community members of the committee was finally revealed. Under Jacobs’ direction, Skinner also managed to get those minutes posted to the RSGC website Friday afternoon.

When it next meets on April 14, 2011, the Construction Management Committee will no doubt want to investigate this disappointing failure by Whiteley and RSGC to communicate important information to the neighbourhood in a timely fashion. Whiteley’s conduct is a worrying portent that–assurances to the contrary–RSGC’s shameful record of ignoring the neighbourhood and its right to information is not going to change.

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The minutes of the inaugural meeting of the Construction Management Committee contain the following chart with the names and contact information for members of the Construction Management Committee. Jim Jacobs, third name down, was elected the committee chair, and Andy Whiteley, second from the bottom, volunteered himself as the committee secretary.

The See House | 120 Howland Avenue

The Construction Management Committee next meets on April 14, 7PM at the See House, 120 Howland Avenue.  The meetings are open to community members.

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Our previous article about Royal St. George’s construction (click on image to open article):

For other articles about Royal St. George’s College construction, visit the RSGC Construction Archive.