Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Schools will feel junk food ban in pocketbook

Lucrative contracts with pop companies help support student activities.


MARISSA NELSON, Free Press Reporter2003-12-31 04:10:27

Area elementary schools -- and kids who attend them -- could feel the pinch if the province bans junk food. Both the Thames Valley and Avon-Maitland district school boards have lucrative contracts with big pop companies, contracts that provide money for sports programs and other school activities.

Thames Valley schools collectively earned $538,000 last year from an exclusive Pepsi vending machine contract. That makes the five-year deal worth about $2.5 million. Most of the cash comes from high school sales, but 64 of 156 elementary schools have drink machines.

Last year, Ingersoll District collegiate institute made the most at $28,591, while South secondary school got $12,891.

Elementary schools make less, but they, too, cash in. Bonaventure Meadows elementary school made $4,204 last year and White Oaks public school made $3,379.

But at White Oaks public school, principal Ian Bennett said none of the three vending machines in his school carries pop. Instead, they carry water and sports drinks.

"I don't let my kids drink at the dinner table so why have it in the school," he said.

Bennett admits money from the vending machines is helpful. It pays tournament fees, helps buy grad photos for low-income children and leather basket balls for games.

He also hopes to buy computerized musical equipment, which could help "catch" kids.

"It could hook them into the arts program. It could be that little hook for a kid who is reluctant or who needs encouragement," he said. "The results can be powerful."

Bennett knows the benefits of getting pupils active every day, but said it's a matter of choosing the battle. Right now, his school is focused on reading and writing.

White Oaks has scored well-below provincial averages on Grade 3 and 6 tests.

If the province does ban vending machines, the school will have to look to parents for more support and shorten the wish list, he said.

"The solution might be hard. We'll come up with a way to deal with it if we can't get money from that source."

Heather Thomas, a dietitian with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, fought the Thames Valley's Pepsi contract in 2000. She said the province's move is a "step in the right direction."

"It's a huge deal. The more accessible you make junk food, the more likely children are to choose it," she said. The only healthy option is to serve water, milk or 100 per cent fruit juices.

While taking the machines out of schools may mean less money for basketballs, Thomas asks: "What value do you put on children's health?"

It also affects learning, she said. Kids on caffeine are bouncing off walls instead of learning a new math equation.

"It will be a big fight because the machines are a fundraiser for schools," Thomas said.

"But it's not worth it. It's more worthwhile to have happy and healthy students. We need more principals to say that the health and happiness of my kids is more important than $3,300."

DISTURBING FACTS

Middlesex-London Health Unit dietician Heather Thomas provides disturbing facts:

- Soft drink consumption has tripled since 1967 while milk consumption has decreased by half. Today, teens consume twice as much carbonated beverages as they do milk.

- Consumption of milk is 30 per cent lower in schools that sell soft drinks.

- Each can of cola is the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar and about
250 calories. One can of cola is to a child what four cups of coffee is
to an adult.


Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Party hosts face sobering risks

Before they start popping champagne corks tonight, New Year's party hosts should consider the sobering risks they could face if their guests get drunk and out of control. Besides criminal penalties that await those who drink and drive, hosts can face costly lawsuits if their guests' behavior causes injuries, death or other damage.

"The law has increasingly imposed a duty on alcohol providers to exercise greater care," said Robert Solomon, an alcohol liability specialist at the University of Western Ontario's law school.

"It's long overdo," he said.

Aaron Fredicton, 23, needs no reminders about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Loading up on party supplies yesterday at That Party Place in London, he recalled when his car was struck by a drunk driver two years ago.

Tonight, he is hosting eight friends for New Year's Eve and will call cabs or offer his couch to guests unable to walk or drive home. He is not concerned about being sued for an alcohol-related injury.

"I'm not worried about my friends getting drunk," he said combing through the aisles. "I'm kind of a Nazi with drinking and driving."

Another customer, Jad Farhat is equally at ease with his party plans. Farhat and his wife are regular party givers and this year their guests have mushroomed to 50. He said experience has taught him to take car keys from all guests, no exemptions, when they arrive.

He calls them a cab to get home, arranges for someone to drive them or lets them sleep over.

"When I'm a host, I don't drink at all," he said, balancing on armful of paper plates, napkins, and party hats in his arms. "It's a responsibility you have to take seriously. You need to be aware of everyone all the time."

That kind of stand is music to Solomon's legal ears.

"The public has to understand it's not just the person drinking with the responsibility," he said. "(Party hosts) have potential liability if they serve or provide alcohol to their guests, or if an alcohol-related injury occurs on their property."

Because hosts can be sued even if they don't provide the alcohol, Solomon said they should ensure their property is safe. For example, the gates to the pool should be locked.

Solomon said the rules do not absolve a drunk guest from personal responsibility since hosts have to be responsible for their conduct as well.

"No one is held responsible if he or she serves alcohol responsibly, but it's illegal to give alcohol to someone who is already drunk," he said.

Since few hosts own breathalysers, hosts should watch for slurred speech, glassy eyes, aggressive behaviour and trouble standing or walking before calling a taxi.

SAFE PARTY TIPS

Tips for party hosts, recommended by UWO expert Robert Solomon, to reduce liability from New Year's bashes:

- Watch guests' appearance and behaviour and don't serve alcohol to anyone who's drunk.

- Have a plan for guests with a reputation for excessive drinking at parties.

- Check premises for potential hazards, such as an unlocked gate around a pool.

- Don't allow drinking games or competitions.

- Don't make drinking the focus of the party.

- Offer food, non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks.

- Stop serving alcohol long before the party is over.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Gord Hume


PUBLISHER of "The Londoner"

Our wish for you: Peace, joy and good reading


On behalf of everyone at The Londoner, Philip McLeod and I want to wish you and your family a warm, peaceful, happy and joyous holiday season.

We hope you are enjoying the sounds, smells and sights of this time of year. Most of all, we want to thank you for allowing us to come into your home each week, as we tell the stories of your neighbours, your city and your community.

Our next edition of The Londoner in January will see the number "3" on the top of the front page, meaning we are beginning our third year of publication. In the history of this city, it is a significant accomplishment, all the more so when you consider the odds were stacked against our surviving months, let alone years.

Fortunately our readers and advertisers know the value of an alternative newspaper voice in the city and continue to support us.

London is a very special and often quite wonderful city. Phil and I started this paper because we felt strongly that our community needed a positive voice, and one that would reflect parts of our community that often don't have a voice in the media.

We also believed then and now that people can make a difference in our city, and that a weekly newspaper can contribute to that positive growth and development.

People tell us that we are making a difference and that the community and their neighbourhoods are a little bit better for what we're trying to do and the stories we try to tell. We've sharpened our editorial pencil in recent months, and we continue to bring you columnists and writers that are only found on our pages.

Just as London has been steadily becoming more diverse, so should the voices found in the local media.

As we begin our third year of publication, we have seen The Londoner grow and develop. The feedback from you continues to drive us in new and better directions.

We are now the largest Ontario Community Newspaper Association member in the province outside of the Toronto area.

We'll again be reaching out soon to get your opinions and suggestions with our second annual Readership Survey.

And as always, we invite your comments, letters, criticism and yes, even praise.

Our acceptance in the community has been wonderful. We treasure our readers and thank you so much for your involvement with our paper. We particularly thank our advertisers, because without their wise investments we simply could not continue to publish. We urge you to support them and to tell them where you saw their messages.

The New Year is always a time of hope, optimism and looking ahead. Like you, we seek more good times than bad, more joy than despair, more happiness than sorrow.

All of us at The Londoner wish you and your family a wonderful 2004. We hope you enjoy the love of family and friends in your life throughout the New Year, and that peace and comfort will be yours.

From our place to yours, the best of the season.

The Londoner 2003.

 

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"Many kinds of insects and some animals seem actually to be controlled by an Authority outside themselves.
A honey bee, for instance, behaves as a cell behaves in a human body. A bee apparently has no desires and makes no choices; a Will of the Masses seems to control it. A bee is ruthlessly exhausted, discarded, replaced by another to be worn out in the same changeless labor for the Swarm, just as cells are worn out and replaced. It appears that a bee has no individual life; the Swarm is the living creature.
The nearest human approach to the bee-swarm is communism."

Rose Wilder Lane in "The Discovery of Freedom", 1943

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ONTARIO
GAMES

London
games will build pride

This article was written by Sport Alliance of Ontario, a partner in the 2004 Ontario Games in London.

The City of London is fast becoming the sport tourism centre of Ontario, if not Canada.

There is hardly a month that goes by that London isn't hosting an international, Canadian or provincial championship.

And now London is on the verge of hosting the two largest Ontario Games within a five-month time frame - Ontario Winter Games March 11 to 14, and the Ontario Summer Games, Aug. 19 to 22.

The London 2004 Ontario Games organizing committee is contributing to athlete and sport development in every corner of the province by providing the volunteers, services and facilities to stage the Ontario Games in 2004.

The London Games will build pride and celebrate the achievements of Ontario's youth in action. It will enhance the experience of the Ontario Games for all who attend - athletes, officials, volunteers and spectators.

The Ontario Games program, started in 1970, is a showcase for amateur sport. As the province's largest multi-sport events, the Ontario Games provide the athletes of the province with a developmental and competitive opportunity that prepares them for the Canada Games (such as those held in London in 2001) as well as world and Olympic competitions.

The Games will also give Londoners a chance to see some of Ontario's best amateur athletes compete at a provincial level.

The Ontario Games play an important role in Ontario sport and community development. The Sport Alliance of Ontario and the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation recognize the importance of multi-sport games as a means of encouraging sport participation, developing amateur athletes, developing community sport programs and stimulating local economies.

The Ontario Games program includes the winter and summer games, the Ontario Senior Games, and the Ontario Games for the Physical Disabled. The Ontario Winter and Summer Games are held every two years in even numbered years as a prelude to the Canada Games.

Sport Alliance applauds Jane Peckham and Michael Murphy, the co-chairpeople, and the many highly motivated volunteers, for their leadership and organizational skills in hosting Ontario's Games in London.

Sport Alliance is a not-for-profit sport organization that delivers sport development programs and services throughout Ontario in partnership with provincial and community organizations. The Sport Alliance is contracted by the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation to deliver the Ontario Games program.

Some other Sport Alliance programs include the Ontario Sport Leadership Conference,
scheduled for May; development of a Community Sport Council Network in more
than 52 communities including London; and KidSport Ontario, which provides
financial support to kids to help them participate in organized sport, with
a new chapter opening on Feb. 4 in London.

The Londoner 2003

 

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Demand down for New Year bashes


APRIL KEMICK, Free Press Reporter 2003-12-30 04:45:20


Indoors or out, upscale or low-key, Londoners have a variety of options this New Year's Eve as all the usual hosts and some newcomers get set to ring in But whether it's because of the city's tough non-smoking bylaw, the numerous entertainment events available, or the longing to stay home with Christmas toys such as DVDs and stereos, some event organizers say ticket sales are slow for the big night.

"We're pretty much at where we were last year -- definitely not up," said Robert Giorgini, director of sales and marketing for the London Convention Centre.

"Sales are going well, but people do have a lot of other options to spend their entertainment dollar on."

While the centre expects as many as 1,700 party-goers for its bash, Giorgini said London's developing reputation as a concert and entertainment venue could affect typically big-ticket New Year's events.

When people spend on entertainment year-round, they're less likely to shell out for an end-of-the-year bash, he said.

Marc Lalonde, food and beverage services manager at London's Delta Armouries hotel, agreed.

"The JLC (John Labatt Centre) has got to be taking money away from everybody," he said of the new downtown arena, which already has attracted many big-name acts.

Ticket sales for the Armouries, whose event features a buffet dinner and dancing, are "much slower" than last year, Lalonde said, citing the new smoking bylaw as another put-off for partiers.

"We don't have a patio and there's no smoking allowed," he said.

Shirley Sommerville, manager of That Party Place on Southdale Road, said she has noticed fewer bar owners buying party favours and decorations this year.

"We've been selling an awful lot of stuff for home parties, but I'm finding I haven't had as many clubs in as I normally do," she said.

But Giorgini added there's typically a spike in sales just before New Year's Eve.

"Usually the rush does come after Christmas," he said. "People can buy tickets right up until tomorrow."

Vic Soga, operations controller for the Western Fair, said he's optimistic about last-minute sales. Two of the fair's parties, Top of the Fair and the Carousel Room, have sold out, but there are still tickets -- $25 and $30, on sale until tomorrow -- for the Planet Party at the Progress Building.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003




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New cameras auditor sought
A partner is needed to monitor the downtown camera surveillance system.

JOE BELANGER, Free Press City Hall Reporter 2003-12-30 04:45:2

London is looking for a new partner to help maintain London's downtown camera surveillance system. Neighbourhood Watch, which has performed quarterly audits on the operation since it began in November 2001, has pulled out.

"It's a manpower issue," said Norm Wilson, president of Neighbourhood Watch, who sent a letter this month notifying the city of its withdrawal.

"It just got to the point where we have more roles than people available on the board. And we have to protect our core (Neighbourhood Watch) programs ."

Wilson said though the auditing job takes an hour or less every three months, with only eight board members, it is becoming increasingly difficult.

"We have no problem with the project. We just can't do it any more. Being a voluntary board, we'd end up burning our people out."

The audits include viewing tapes and logbooks.

Coun. David Winninger, chairperson of the community and protective services committee, said city administration has been asked to seek alternatives.

"There's no point having a surveillance system without having the resources to do audits," he said in an interview.

He praised the efforts of Neighbourhood Watch.

"It's a wonderful organization and they do a lot to prevent crime," he added.

Winninger said it's clear the cameras are helping to make the downtown safer.

"I think (the camera surveillance system) has been given credit for preventing crime, but also helping police solve some crimes," he said.

The 16-camera system, purchased at a cost of $200,000 through donations, costs about $240,000 to operate annually.

The cameras are mounted on light poles in an area bounded by York, Ridout, Dundas and Clarence streets. There are also four cameras outside the area.

The cameras are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by commissionaires at city hall. Each remotely controlled camera can zoom, tilt and pan. And in the event of an emergency, camera images can be fed instantly to the police department's communications centre.

Installed after a spate of downtown stabbings -- two of them fatal -- the cameras were supposed to help police respond more quickly to a crime and help identify suspects.

In a 2002 report to council, London police Chief Brian Collins said the cameras were a benefit in 45 per cent of cases, including assisting in identifying a bank robbery suspect, a purse snatcher and assault suspects, and helping in a break-in investigation. At that time, there were also 168 instances of technical failures.

In a report about two months later, the cameras were determined to be a factor in 25 investigations that led to charges.

There is no evidence, yet, the cameras have helped reduced crime.

Chief Collins said yesterday there is ongoing study of the effectiveness of the cameras, but he said there's "no doubt" of their value to police.

"We find it of great use on a day-to-day basis," Collins said.

"If anything happens in the downtown area, the first thing we do is review those tapes, especially when it involves robberies or assaults."



Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Monday, December 22, 2003


City landlords given reprieve: Board of control will wait until July on a plan to hold landlords responsible for unpaid utility bills.
Mary-Jane Egan, City Hall Reporter
London Free Press 2003-12-11

City landlords won a six-month reprieve yesterday on a proposal they pay the unpaid utility bills of their tenants.

With a group of angry landlords looking on at city hall, board of control agreed the thorny issue should not go to city council on Monday as originally planned, but will come up in the new year for a report.

Controller Russ Monteith proposed the delay, noting that many of the landlords provide affordable housing that London can't afford to lose.

Council will be asked to uphold the controllers' view that no such policy be implemented until at least July 1 so that a number of legal questions can be addressed.

However, the delay will come with a cost, council members are being warned.

Instead of collecting an estimated $240,000 in tenant arrears starting Jan. 1 on outstanding water and sewer bills, the delay will mean that only about half that amount will be collected.

With council about to tackle one of its most challenging budgets in memory, the loss is significant.

Vic Cote, the city's acting manager of finance, told board of control it was preferable to "get it right" on a legal footing than to swiftly implement a change that had outraged landlords, many of whom warned that the unexpected costs could put them out of business.

Paul Cappa, vice-president of the London Property Management Association, which represents about 300 city landlords, welcomed the deferral.

"It gives us more time to really delve into this issue because there really was no consultation (with landlords)," he said.

Although changes in the Ontario Municipal Act appeared to give the city authority to shift the burden of water and sewer bill arrears to landlords' property taxes, Lynn Marshall of the city solicitor's office cautioned the change was so new, there was no case law to back it up.

Still, city treasurer Mike St. Amant noted that several cities have implemented a similar policy, including Hamilton, Toronto, Oakville, Burlington, Sarnia and Orillia.

Cappa said Toronto landlords are equally upset. He agreed the main reason smaller municipalities haven't heard a landlord outcry is likely because the change isn't widely known.

London sent 14,000 letters advising landlords of the change.

The landlords argued they have no way of knowing if their tenants are in arrears on utility bills and would have no avenue to recoup their losses short of rent hikes -- which Cappa noted could become a moot point if the new Liberal provincial government follows through on threats of reintroducing rent controls.

Although London Hydro yesterday proposed a number of initiatives that might assist landlords -- including seeking customers' consent to give landlords full access to their account information -- the city's lawyer noted there would be no way of forcing such consent.

Controller Tom Gosnell suggested that landlords might want to consider establishing an administrative fee that could be used for defaults in utility payments by tenants.

"I'm not telling you what to do but I'm suggesting such a self-insurance reserve may be in your best interest," Gosnell said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001, 2002, 2003

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Graffiti makes city's agenda
JOE BELANGER, Free Press City Hall Reporter
2003-12-22 04:05:51

From a street gang's initials to obscene words and drawings and racist remarks -- graffiti is a part of London's streetscape and it's a problem a growing number of residents have begun to battle. City council's community and protective services committee has asked administration to investigate whether a public forum might help in finding citywide solutions.

"Obviously, as a city, we want to make sure the first impression of visitors is one where they think this is a welcoming place, a safe place and graffiti can take away from that," Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said yesterday.

"It will come down to money and whether we can bring enough people together . . . to find a way to deal with it."

Coun. David Winninger, chair of the committee, said he's hopeful some solutions can be found and implemented.

"There's been a lot of volunteers who have come forward, committed to cleaning up their neighbourhoods, so I think there's a lot of interest in it," Winninger said.

Another idea being discussed at council is a graffiti hotline.

"I think that could be a good thing because you have to nip graffiti in the bud, stop graffiti early and hopefully that will discourage others doing the same," Winninger said.

Groups in downtown London, Old South and Old East Village over the past few years have tried to clean up the graffiti.

In a report last October, city staff said the city's anti-graffiti program doesn't need to be escalated.

That observation sparked frustration among some community activists, such as Mark Burrows, an east London advocate and member of Eyes of East London, which was formed to battle crime and improve the area's image.

Using volunteer labour and donated cleaning materials, his group recently cleaned a large swath of properties between Adelaide and York streets, and Highbury and Central avenues.

He said the city needs to do its part, including a hotline, such as the one his group supports that has led to charges against vandals.

"It's something that needs to be dealt with because it's getting out of control," Burrows said, adding he'd participate in any forum.

The staff report said the city spends about $40,000 a year in staff and equipment to remove graffiti.

High-profile downtown underpasses are regularly monitored and cleaned, and public buildings and park equipment are dealt with when noticed.

The staff report suggests a hotline could be added. A graffiti prevention officer and half-year cleaning crew would cost another $110,000, it says.

Old East businessperson Henry Zupanc, who failed in a bid to win a seat on city council, has also been involved in cleaning up the neighbourhood.

"For years, they (the city) have let an awful lot of stuff happen here more than they do in other parts of the city," he said. "I think it's a good idea to get everyone together."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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City council too secretive, Gosnell says
JOE BELANGER, Free Press City Hall Reporter

2003-12-22 04:06:03

The leaks and bickering on city council continue because too much debate is being done behind closed doors, Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell charged yesterday. The recent controversy over the hiring of a human rights specialist could have been avoided if discussions were held in public, said Gosnell.

"It's not a private corporation; it's a public corporation and the citizens are the shareholders. At the end of the day, nothing should be left in camera. That's being accountable and transparent," Gosnell said in his first interview about the dispute.

The incident revealed the type of behaviour from council members that voters want to see end, he said.

"I was very disappointed.

"It's OK to disagree, but it's not OK to be petulant, rude or unprofessional. We need to do more work on this."

Last week, Coun. Fred Tranquilli said three other councillors had urged administration to hire a woman instead of a man for the post because most city employees facing harassment are women.

The three councillors -- Susan Eagle, Joni Baechler and Harold Usher -- responded by accusing Tranquilli of violating council confidentiality.

Eagle is writing a letter urging council to censure Tranquilli.

Tranquilli in turn countered that the three were upset at being held accountable for their actions.

"It is disturbing to have these issues being dealt with through the media," Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said yesterday.

"The public has given us a mandate and they expect us to put the community first, not ourselves."

What's dealt with in-camera should stay in-camera, DeCicco said. "That issue (the hiring of a human rights specialist) was dealt with in confidence where it belonged.

"(Leaks) shouldn't be happening and if this starts all over again, it's not going to be tolerated by the public. This is how it started last time," she said, referring to chronic leaks and controversies of last term.

In Gosnell's view, the dispute is a result of too much information staying in-camera.

"Individuals who disagree have a tendency not to leak when they have a chance to rise and express their support or non-support on an issue in public," Gosnell said.

"If council members, in-camera, say something verbally or in writing that has an impact on a decision, that, ultimately, is public information," Gosnell added, noting some specific information on personnel, legal and property issues can't always be made public.

Controller Russ Monteith said what's discussed in-camera should stay there, unless council agrees to make it public. He, too, is disappointed at the controversy.

"We didn't get elected to agree. We should have good debates. That's democracy," he said.

"But we have to leave our emotions and differences behind us and move to the next issue."

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Sunday, December 21, 2003



New pact for teachers


Free Press staff


2003-12-20 03:59:50



The Thames Valley District school board has signed a new two-year contract with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. The union and school board agreed to the new deal for 650 occasional high school teachers.

The contract runs from September 2002 to August 2004 and includes changes to wages, benefits and working conditions.




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From the London Free Press:



Board pushes surtax for violent media


The Thames Valley District school board is asking the province to study the idea.


APRIL KEMICK, Special to The Free Press
2003-12-20 04:00:26


The Thames Valley District school board is asking the province to consider a surtax on violent media, with revenue directed toward anti-violence programs in schools and communities. In what London trustee Peter Jaffe called a rare unanimous vote, the board agreed Tuesday to ask Premier Dalton McGuinty to undertake a feasibility study and implementation plan for the proposed five-per-cent surtax.


"This tax would have many benefits," Jaffe said yesterday.


"It would force the entertainment industry to wake up to the fact that violence is going to cost more and schools would get money for prevention programs."


A recent national study by the Canadian Teachers' Federation revealed more than half of children over 12 have witnessed someone imitating a violent act from a movie or television.


The same study found nearly half of the children surveyed had a TV set in their room, and many experienced little or no parental supervision of their viewing habits.


Jaffe said the desensitizing effects of violent sports, video games and movies are far-reaching.


"It creates havoc. We all suffer. It affects the hallways, the playground, the public."


He said the proposed surtax would counter an explosion of media violence by making the media and public aware of the issues and by generating revenue for community and school violence prevention programs.


Jaffe, a psychologist, is a special adviser on violence prevention at the Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System in London.


He said the surtax could be applied to anything from admission to NHL games to price tags for video games.


But Jaffe stressed the surtax shouldn't be "hidden."


He said an explanatory note should accompany the purchase of violent media, detailing the reasons for the extra expense.


"At the cash register, parents and adolescents would certainly see the difference."


He said although the province and school boards have recently focused much attention on violence prevention, much remains to be done.


"We're still scratching the surface."


Jaffe said no such surtax has ever been implemented in North America but he is optimistic about the board's move Tuesday.


"It's one fresh idea in terms of raising new revenue, which I think the vast majority of the public would accept."




"Did you see that Bugs bunny episode? Did you see how violent that was? You have to pay us off."


"If you knew how sensitive children are these days, Dave, you'd shut your mouth."

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Saturday, December 20, 2003

Frightening Smokers to Stop


Canada Has Toughest Cigarette Label Warnings


ABCNEWS com: April 16/01


Canada Tries Tough Smoking Labels


Health Canada says pictures make warnings 60 percent more effective.


One shows a brain split in half oozing blood from a stroke, with text saying cigarettes can cause strokes.


Another reveals a shocking close-up of black, decayed gums alongside warnings
that smoking causes mouth disease.


Yet another reveals a heart gruesomely darkened with dead tissue, and cautionary
words about how cigarettes can lead to heart attacks.


Toughest Cigarette Warnings in the World


These graphic images and warnings are among 16 the Canadian government has
required tobacco companies to put on the packages of all cigarettes to be sold
there. The labeling, considered the toughest imposed by any country, is part
of an aggressive government effort to reduce smoking. “I don’t think
there’s any doubt the images shock,” says Dann Nichols, spokesman
for the Canadian Health Department.”Anything we can possibly do to deter
smokers from starting or convincing them to quit is well worth the effort."


Approximately 25 percent of Canadians are smokers, the same rate as the United
States. The Canadian federal government hopes this effort will help reduce the
43,000 deaths each year there due to smoking, according to Andrew Swift, a Canada
Health Department spokesman.


Graphic Images and Gruesome Text


The new law, passed in June and put into effect last month, requires that the
warning label cover half of the front of every pack, with color images. On the
inside flap, firms must put the toxic contents and advice on how to quit smoking.
Warning labels are printed in English and in French, on the back and the front
of the packs, in accordance with Canada’s official bilingualism policy
(the highest rate of smoking per capita is in Quebec, the predominantly French-speaking
province).Each firm has to alternate between the 16 different images on its
product.


Prior regulation in Canada only had a 25 percent-of-the-pack voluntary labeling
requirement.


Public interest groups and the Canadian Health Department lobbied Parliament
to pass the new stringent regulations. Government funded surveys of Canadian
smokers suggested graphic images could help people quit.


Public Responds to Visual Images


“We live in a visual culture,” says Donna Dasko, a senior vice president
with the Environics Research Group, a Toronto-based market research firm that
used focus groups to study the labels. “A lot of people are attuned to
visual images. And when they can see the image, when they can see what happens
to a mouth, or a heart or a lung, it has an impact that is much greater than
just the text.”


Research found that warning labels with pictures were 60 times as effective
than just text alone, Swift says.


Besides the mandatory labeling, the new law requires manufacturers to report
to the government information about cigarette contents, marketing, manufacturing
and sales, as a way to improve cessation programs, Swift says.


Tobacco Companies Fighting Regs in Court


Tobacco companies are not happy with the new regulations and are now in court
trying to reverse them.


“We don’t argue with the notion there ought to be warnings, strong,
effective and regularly changed,” says Rob Parker, the president of the
Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council. “Will these have any effect? And
do they need to be 50 percent of the package, is the essence of our challenge
against them.”


Canada’s ability to get such a tough anti-tobacco measure through, observers
say, has to do with the relatively little influence the tobacco lobby and tobacco
money have on the country’s political system. In Canada, no candidate running
for federal office can spend more than $82,000. When the new cigarette warnings
were first proposed in Parliament, they received the support of all five political
parties.


The picture is quite different in Washington. Last year bills were introduced
in the House and Senate calling for larger, bolder print on cigarette warning
labels. Neither bill received a hearing. But Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., says
he plans to continue the fight.


“We are looking at introducing legislation in the 107th Congress that
will use the Canada standard of 50 percent warning size and text as a model,”
says Bill McCann, a spokesman for Meehan.


Medical Pornography?


This is not the first time Canada has taken the lead on aggressive anti-smoking
tactics. In the early 1990, Canada implemented a series of dramatic tax hikes
on cigarettes, which made equally dramatic dents in teen smoking. But the policy
collapsed after the price got so high — as much as $7 (Canadian dollars)
per pack — that smuggled, illegal cigarettes from the United Sates started
to take over the market, reversing the trend toward less smoking, and collapsing
federal tobacco revenues. The government was forced to roll back taxes. U.S.
officials have studied that experience extensively, and law enforcement on both
sides of the border are still dealing with the fallout of the smuggling.


It is too soon to know if the new Canadian labels are deterring smokers. The
Montreal Gazette reports that teens are puffing on the cigarettes despite the
scary images. Michael Gobelle, 16, told the newspaper that the images echo warnings
he has been told a million times, yet he smokes anyway.


But they are clearly disturbing some people— even an anti-smoking group
is calling the new labels “medical pornography.” The group, the Canadian
Council for Non-Smoking, is offering cigarette pack sleeves with positive messages
about quitting to counter what the organization is calling “unsophisticated,
desperate tactics.” And consumers are buying them.


ABCNEWS' John McKenzie and ABCNEWS.com's Robin Eisner and Ron Dunsky contributed
to this report.


 


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Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Outrage at tax credit reversal

Jonathan Chevreau
Financial Post

Canadian taxpayers are generally an obliging lot, considering the top marginal rate in Ontario is still an egregious 46%.

Most of us go along reluctantly with this level of confiscation, play by the rules and plan our financial lives accordingly. We take advantage of the few tax deferment vehicles available, such as RRSPs and registered education savings plans, and make do with comparatively little disposable income.

But when governments change the rules retroactively, as did the Dalton McGuinty Liberal administration in Ontario last week, taxpayers rise up in justifiable indignation.

The public and professional tax experts alike were outraged by McGuinty's move to eliminate the private school tax credit retroactively to last Jan. 1, 2003.

"It is indeed unfortunate that you can't plan your affairs with certainty based on the enacted tax laws in place at the time decisions are made ... without worrying about the law being changed retroactively 11 months later and benefits being taken away," says Paul Hickey, national tax partner with KPMG.

Hickey was genuinely surprised by the retroactive move. "I thought it would have been cancelled from say the date of last week's bill (or going back to the election date at the earliest) or possibly Jan. 1, 2004."

Since the credit has been around since 2002, people would have already taken the credit into account in their financial planning, Hickey says, "and likely in some cases in their decision as to whether or not they can afford to send their children to a private school."

The maximum credit for a child age 6 and over in 2003 was supposed to be $1,400 ($7,000 maximum tuition fees times 20%) and $700 for a child under age 6 ($3,500 maximum tuition times 20%), Hickey says. "So if you had two children in private schools (age 6 or older) this retroactive tax change will cost you a cool $2,800 in 2003."

Parents who put their kids into private schools and planned their financial affairs with the expectation of the credit are understandably dismayed. Ken Klassen is an accounting professor at the University of Waterloo and has two children in private school.

"I'd say it's unfair," Klassen says. He had expected the worst case would be the Liberals would repeal the tax credit effective Jan. 1, 2004. So the retroactive repeal exceeded his most pessimistic expectations.

"You make decisions under the assumption the tax system is as it currently exists in legislation. If they actually implement a new provision you can make a decision based on that. But if they repeal it a year and a half late, you're stuck."

Speaking myself as a parent in the same situation, the private school tax credit has been nothing more than a series of hopes dashed. When it was first unveiled, it was clear you would have to wait five years before the full 50% (on $7,000) would be phased in. Then even the Eves Tories delayed the implementation, so the second year the credit remained 10% instead of rising to the originally promised 20%.

Meanwhile, many private schools raised their fees, on the expectation the promised credit meant parents could better afford their fees. Needless to say, few intend to lower their fees now the credit has been axed.

With the retroactive elimination of the credit, parents now have the worst of all worlds: higher fees and no credit. I can only feel sorry for any single-income family on a budget that took their kids out of the public system on the basis of this ever-receding mirage of a tax credit.

"It is outrageous and morally wrong," says John Williamson, Ontario director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. "The ETC is good education policy, good for kids and gives parents choice. If the government insists on taking it away, fine! But it should have happened not before the next school year so parents could budget for the change."

Because of the new administration's haste in acting on the credit, it was eliminated just in time to be incorporated into tax software programs for the 2003 calendar year, according to Intuit Canada, maker of QuickTax tax software.

Paul McKeever, head of the Freedom Party of Ontario, doesn't lament the demise of the tax credit, but does believe the "education tax" needs a radical overhaul. By that, he means the part of Ontario taxes (or surtaxes) allocated to the public education system.

"The current method of financing education causes and entrenches educational apartheid," McKeever says. "By forcing everyone to pay for government schools, it ensures that only the very wealthy will be able to afford to send their children to schools offering an environment or curriculum better suited for their children. Only the very wealthy can afford to pay two tuitions for one child."

McKeever's vision of choice in education is to eliminate the practice of forcing people to pay for an education their children do not use. But he also views the Ontario Conservative party's tax credit as "deeply flawed."

"It facilitated choice in schools, but allowed government to continue preventing choice in education." The tax credit went only to parents whose children are in schools which teach the curriculum set out by the Ministry of Education.

"By continuing to force everyone to pay eduction taxes, the PCs ensured that government could continue to dictate curriculum: conditions could be placed on which schools were eligible for the tax credit," McKeever says.

Ideally, both the tax credit and the "education tax" should be eliminated, McKeever believes. "However, eliminating only the former certainly leaves us worse off than we would be with the tax credit in place."

jchevreau@nationalpost.com
© Copyright 2003 National Post

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