Sunday, February 29, 2004

Hockey's youngest fans suffer most, parents say Israeli missiles kill Jihad militant

HANK DANISZEWSKI, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-29 04:27:23
AP 2004-02-29 04:27:23

Try explaining labour negotiations to a bunch of Timbits. An Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at a car in the Gaza Strip yesterday, obliterating the vehicle and killing an Islamic Jihad militant along with two other people, doctors said. The tiny hockey players age four to six were skating around Kinsmen Arena yesterday unaware of a looming strike that could shut city arenas tomorrow. Fifteen Palestinians were wounded, three of them critically, in the attack in a densely populated area between Gaza City and the Jebaliya refugee camp.

Worried hockey moms and dads looked on, wondering how they would explain to their kids the sudden end to the season if workers walk off the job. Three children were among those hurt, including a girl who was in critical condition, hospital officials said. "It's frustrating for the kids because they love hockey and it frustrating for the parents -- we pay a lot of money for them to play," Kim Lofgren said.

The missiles hit with a thunderous explosion.

Some parents voiced suspicions their children are being used as pawns. Palestinian security officials strained to keep order as crowds gathered around the wreckage.

They speculate the union representing 500 outside city workers, including those who work at arenas, timed a possible strike to disrupt upcoming minor hockey and high school playoff games. One man held up a bit of charred flesh and screamed for revenge.

Members of Local 107 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees have been in a legal strike position since Thursday. Israel said the car carried senior Islamic Jihad militants responsible for planning several attacks on Israelis.

If members walk off the job, city arenas and pools will close, a city official said last week. There has been some expectation Israel would step up its strikes against militants ahead of a possible withdrawal from much of the Gaza Strip, to prevent militants from making the claim that they drove out Israeli forces.

Figure skating and learn-to-skate programs would also be disrupted by a strike. Two advisers to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were leaving for Washington late yesterday to discuss his unilateral withdrawal plan with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Hockey is a way of life for Ross Townsend, who coaches a Junior Knights team and also has four boys playing the game. Sharon has said he would co-ordinate any pullback with the United States.

The Junior Knights playoff games had to be relocated to the Western Fair Sports Centre, which will remain in operation, he said. Islamic Jihad identified two of those killed in yesterday's strike as a member, Ayman Dahdouh, and Dahdouh's cousin, who did not belong to the group.

"We displaced the kids that were there. At the end of the line, they are the ones who are going to suffer." The third body was badly disfigured and could not be identified.

In the event of a strike, he said adult recreational leagues should give up any available ice time to allow kids to play. Israel has frequently sent helicopter gunships and warplanes to kill Palestinian militants in targeted missile strikes throughout more than three years of fighting.

Al Moir was having a fast food lunch on a bench with his five-year-old son, Drew, who plays hours of road hockey after coming home from the arena. The last such strike was Feb. 7, when an Islamic Jihad leader and a 12-year-old boy were killed.

Moir was hoping for a last-minute settlement.

In other developments yesterday, Palestinian gunmen in black ski masks burst into a Gaza office of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp. and demanded work, a day after the mayor of the West Bank's largest city resigned to protest Yasser Arafat's failure to stop such anarchy.

"I don't think anyone wins in a strike," he said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003
revision © editors of thelondon fog

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I don't see why they don't just build the "JLC West" (Guy Lombardo's SkyDome?) with condo and shopping developments - perhaps a major league team of some kind. Another 12% tax increase next year will help pay for it all, especially when the inevitable 100 000 new tax paying Londoners rush to live in this exciting, growing city. Perhaps some large corporation will subsidize it, having been lured here by the competitive tax rates . . .
What's next for Wonderland?

A Free Press sounding reveals Londoners may differ on what to do with the former riverside entertainment complex, but they agree on one thing: no development on or near the site.
RANDY RICHMOND, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-29 04:27:24

Pick a tune, any tune. There are as many ideas for the former Wonderland Gardens as there were kinds of music played at the dance hall for 70 years.

City council now must find some harmony in suggestions Londoners will give over the coming months.

A slight majority of people who responded when The Free Press asked what should happen to Wonderland want the city to keep the site the way it is, with repairs.

But the only real common chord running through the responses was no one wants to see development on or even near the site.

"I am incensed at the suggestion that any of the high ground between Springbank Drive and the Thames River be opened to private development," said Londoner Carl Crober. "That is the most scenic drive in the city."

Many callers were angry the city got itself in this situation in the first place.

"Redevelopment of the sight is ridiculous. They had an operator for the site and he was driven away by one of the . . . morons at city hall that needs to be fired," said an angry Jeffery Pigden.

Ha, ha, I'd love to know what was left out of that ellipsis!

A lease dispute prompted former operator Chuck Jones to give up a business his family had created and built up for almost 70 years.

The city, which always owned the property, this year gained ownership of the buildings.

Jones was at first hoping to extend his family's contract, but said city waffling and demands made it impossible to continue operating.

Councillors were under the impression he retired without any problems and approved the deal without talking to Jones.

Instead of getting about $60,000 a year in taxes and rent from Jones, the city now has to spend money to fix the place.

A consultant's report released last week recommended five options for the 1.75-hectare site:

- Spend about $2.5 million to repair the existing buildings -- a bandshell, enclosed banquet hall and dance pavilion and restaurant.

- Spend $324,000 to demolish everything but the bandshell.

- Spend about $1 million to strip the ballroom, bandshell and restaurant to its 1930s, open-air appearance.

- Spend about $3.8 million to rebuild the structures to modern standards.

- Spend just less than $1 million to renovate the bandshell and restaurant, but demolish the ballroom.

Board of control agreed last week to spend $250,000 next year to improve the grounds.

Controllers also agreed to ask Londoners for proposals on redeveloping the site.

What you said...

recall going there in the late '40s, early '50s and the elder Mr. Jones gave the staff tickets to attend there. The city should just keep running it the way it was.

Betty Henson

I am a property owner here in London. In my opinion, you should look into selling the property and put that money into keeping taxes down. We have the (John) Labatt Centre, what more do we need?

Louise Harrison

Now that the buildings have been stripped to the bare walls, why would any right-thinking businessperson contemplate renting the building at current market rates? Heritage sites are one thing, old and shabby quite another. Sell it and, to paraphrase our mayor, "move forward," not backward.

Sharon Farndale

Wonderland Gardens shouldn't be developed. The land should be used to reduce the taxes. It's all about spending money. These guys have no concept about how to reduce costs. It's appalling.

Tony Stone

I think they should spend $3.8 million to rebuild the structure to modern standards. Don't tear anything down. Just refurbish and rebuild. People will come if that's what happens.

Pamela Smith

I think the city should refurbish the site and it would be an ideal venue for the various dance studios in London . . . (and) a wonderful place for summer school theatrical dance classes with the beautiful outdoor setting. Don't dance around this one city council, high step right up and save Wonderland.

Noel Martin

Board of control should add a sixth option and lease the property back to Chuck Jones. It is the least-expensive option and it should have been done in the first place . . . The City of London was receiving income from the operation of Wonderland Gardens. Is anyone being held responsible for the loss of income?

Debbie Willsie

Wonderland should be offered to the Jones family for five years at no cost to apologize for the gross stupidity of the city. The city should help them rejuvenate the big band festival and do other promotions to revitalize that venue.

Ed Forbes

I say spend the million, strip the ballroom, bandshell and the restaurant to its '40s appearance. My parents were there when they were dating and for many years after would celebrate New Year's Eve. I just can't imagine it not being there.

Gwen Losee

I just can't figure out why you people didn't discuss this with Mr. Jones. He's a very experienced operator and knows how to run a business. As far as city hall is concerned, I can't see how they could ever run a business.

Gord Feagen

Doing any major construction would be too expensive. So possibly you could have a small restaurant . . . If that's too expensive, landscape and put statues of times gone by.

Jim Angood

Wonderland Gardens should be preserved. . . The last thing they should do is tear it down and put up a building or retail building or apartments.

Steven Thompson

Do whatever needs to be done to the bandshell, turn the grounds into parkland and use it for concerts and open-air dances. This will take some of the pressure off Victoria Park.

Sheila Greenslade

Although heritage designation is unlikely, why can't we preserve something from our parents' generation? One hundred years from now it will have historical significance, especially to the city of London.

Linda Ross

Keeping the bandshell for summer-time concerts might be a good solution and, at $324,000, seems to be the least-expensive option.

Harold and Katherine Keeling

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Waiting game

Londoners are sitting on the sidelines, wondering if outside workers will accept the city's final offer, strike or be locked out.

HANK DANISZEWSKI, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-29 04:27:23

Londoners should find out tonight if the city's outside workers will go on strike, halting garbage collection and forcing the city to close arenas and pools. About 500 members of Local 107 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees will vote at 6 p.m. on what city officials have described as the city's final contract offer.

Doug Wheeler, president of the local, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said yesterday she hopes the union members ignore the recommendation of their executive and accept what she insists is the city's final offer.

"It will be the pivotal point. Members will be able to see what's on the table . . . I don't believe they want to go on strike," said DeCicco.

The city tabled the offer early Friday after 18 hours of negotiations.

The workers handle services such as garbage collection, snow removal and arena and pool maintenance.

The union has been in a strike position since last Thursday, but it has not set a deadline. The city also could lock out workers.

Controller Russ Monteith said council's priority is to get a settlement. But if a strike happens, he said the city has learned a few lessons from 2001, when outside workers were on strike for 29 days.

"We do have new people on our management team and a council that has gone through the last episode," Monteith said yesterday.

In 2001, striking workers complained a newspaper ad placed by the city misled the public about the wages paid to workers.

There was also anger over the picket-line tactics used by the security firm hired by the city.

The city's strategy this time would be "carefully considered," Monteith said.

"They are our workers . . . If there is a strike, we want to minimize the friction so we could get back to the bargaining table."

Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell said the city has contingency plans in place to handle garbage collection, sewage and other services.

But details won't be released to the public until a strike is a certainty, he said.

"We don't want it interpreted that we've been waiting and hoping for a strike . . . We have to have a contingency plan, but we don't want this to happen."

DeCicco agreed releasing contingency plans in advance of a strike could offend workers, as well as confuse the public.

City officials said management will maintain essential services such as sewer and water, but arenas and pools would close in the event of a strike.

The main sticking point in negotiations remains benefits. The outside workers are demanding the city pay 100 per cent of health benefits as it does for inside workers and managers.

The workers' last contract, a three-year deal, expired Dec. 31.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Make no mistake, they really are vampires!

Statistics Canada wants to collect blood, urine samples

They would be used in search of dozens of key health indicators.
CP 2004-02-29 04:27:23

OTTAWA -- The next time a Statistics Canada pollster knocks at the door, he may be out for blood. The federal agency plans to collect blood and urine samples from volunteers beginning next year in a radical departure from its usual question-and-answer checklist approach.

The $20-million project would involve a battery of lab tests on the blood and urine of as many as 10,000 Canadians in search of dozens of key health indicators.

Researchers would look for diabetes, cholesterol levels, lead, pesticides, SARS, HIV, herpes, West Nile virus and many other measures of the health of the general population.

The survey also would include direct measurements of weight, which people tend to underestimate when answering pollsters' questions, blood pressure, fitness, back strength and many others.

The urine and blood samples -- and possibly saliva samples -- also may be stored for years so other tests that have not been developed can be performed later.

"There's enormous potential for this to inform policy at all kinds of levels," says Mark Tremblay, one of the directors of the four-year project known as the Canadian Health Measures Survey. "It's very, very important."

The last such national survey in Canada was carried out in 1978-79, but many other countries routinely collect bodily fluids for testing, including Britain, New Zealand, Australia and some European countries.

The United States runs the most sophisticated program, which determined among other things that the American population had high blood levels of lead. The finding was instrumental in getting lead additives banned from gasoline in that country.

During the late 1980s, Australia's national survey discovered the number of diabetics in the general population was double previous estimates based solely on questionnaires.

Such fluid-sample surveys also record statistics for healthy individuals, who frequently don't appear in existing medical records of hospitals and doctors, allowing statisticians to analyse the effect and importance of healthy habits.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Saturday, February 28, 2004

Protesters shout down MP announcing housing plan

CP 2004-02-28 04:29:26

TORONTO -- A news conference to outline a proposed plan for Toronto's waterfront was broken up temporarily yesterday when anti-poverty protesters shouted down Liberal MP Dennis Mills and demanded his resignation. Mills, who was appointed to help Toronto develop its waterfront, was about to present the plan when he was drowned out by about 20 protesters, most with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

"You have no respect for the homeless," one protester shouted after the event was stopped because Mills couldn't be heard.

Coalition spokesperson John Clarke said anti-poverty groups are upset that Mills' promise to convert an abandoned Toronto building into social housing hadn't been kept.

Last November, Mills promised to resign his Commons seat if he failed to transform the building in his riding into low-cost housing within 30 days. Days before the deadline, he announced he had a deal with the province to turn over the building to a community group.

But Clarke said winter is almost over and the building is still empty.

Protesters left when police arrived and there were no arrests. Mills, resumed his news conference, saying later he had written commitments for the cash needed to convert the building, but he added such a project takes time.

The waterfront proposal made public yesterday would require $78 million in new money and will be presented to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

It calls for 6,000 mixed-income housing units, extensive parks, tourist attractions and sports and recreation facilities.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Origins of obesity studied

CP 2004-02-28 04:29:26

HAMILTON -- McMaster University was given a $1.2-million grant yesterday to help with a five-year investigation into fetal origins of obesity.

Researchers will follow 1,000 children and their families from before the 24th week of pregnancy until a child is five. Their goal is to gain a better understanding of genetic and environmental influences that lead to obesity.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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DeCicco rebuffs criticism of cost of cafeteria

JONATHAN SHER, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-28 04:29:27

London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco took to the airwaves yesterday to defend the city's cafeteria without mentioning how taxpayers subsidize pricey meals for politicians. Speaking briefly on AM 1290-CJBK's Talk of the Town, DeCicco defended council and criticized how media have covered a cafeteria that has chronically lost money.

"We (council) sent a direction to break even and that's very clear . . . I know there may be still people that are not satisfied, but at least they know that council has taken some very decisive action," said DeCicco, who didn't field questions from callers.

How could London City Council be more absurd! How can you break even when you are giving out food for free! 'Very decisive action' Indeed! And of course, Ms. Worship refused to engage in serious debate - closed door meetings and prepared speeches for this Queen of the rubber room!

"It has not properly been reported yet. I'm not saying it's anyone's fault, it just hasn't been reported," she said.

Please tell us readers, who need not have a better than grade four reading level, what the hell Ms. Worship is claiming has not been properly reported yet. Perhaps the reporter hasn't properly been reporting.

Council decided last week not to eliminate a cafeteria that lost $57,000 last year.

Gord Hume's stomach growls. To leave him hungry would disrupt the closed door council meetings.

The subsidy upset some Londoners, whose anger deepened after they learned the city pays $22 a plate to feed elected officials and senior managers who attend evening meetings. That's far more than what municipal politicians receive in Ottawa, Hamilton, Waterloo or Windsor.

Council told staff this week to find ways to make the cafeteria break even by July, as reported in The Free Press.

DeCicco didn't respond yesterday to requests to speak about the cost of subsidized meals in London.

Ms. New Shoes doesn't respond to too much does she?

On the radio program, she blamed the Ontario and federal governments for a city budget that, as it stands now, would raise taxes 11 per cent.

Pass the buck! Scapegoat the federal and provincial governments (your bedfellows) - contribute to further taxation! Of course, increased federal and provinicial taxation to support politicians political agendas doesn't raise taxes for municipalities - London resides on the planet Mars and hence is free from Ontario and Canadian taxation laws. Something from and for nothing - that's Londoner's motto!

"I wish we could get that same kind of support to put the feet to the fire of provincial and federal governments on issues that impact this budget and our tax increase the same way we had people concerned about the cafeteria," she said.

Coun. Paul Van Meer-bergen has said the city's fiscal crisis is self-inflicted, caused by excessive spending by previous councils.

HEAR HEAR! I wonder why that isn't obvious to the pen dwellers of London Ontario.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Martin touts 'true democracy'

CP 2004-02-28 04:29:29

VANCOUVER -- Prime Minister Paul Martin laid out the process yesterday that will allow parliamentarians a greater chance to vet candidates for key appointments such as those to the Supreme Court of Canada or to Crown corporations. But Martin said he won't allow American attack-dog style grilling.

In the coming weeks, Martin is also going to have to appoint a judge to the Supreme Court.

The prime minister detailed the options for more parliamentary involvement during a live phone-in show in Vancouver, another chance to tout his aim to restore what he calls Canada's democratic deficit.

"There are a number of suggestions. One is a direct review by the parliamentarians themselves. Another suggestion is that the parliamentarians might want to designate a panel of experts who would then do the interviews," Martin said.

Martin said to adhere to true democracy, there will be checks and balances on everything including appointments.

"I don't think the prime minister should have the unparalleled power that he has now," he said.

"I don't think people should just be plucked out of thin air and put into a Crown corporation. I think that, in fact, democracy says there should be a parliamentary review and where we're going to start is with appointments to the Supreme Court."

Martin, however, will still have the final say on who is appointed.

He said the government will put forward names and MPs will review the candidates, but Martin stressed he doesn't want candidates to be judged on details of their personal lives or savagely questioned as is often done by politicians in the U.S.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Yet another shameless governmental scandal. New classifications for those that produce maple syrup! Give us your labour, your money and your product and you will receive equal treatment.

Asphodel-Norwood - MPAC edict to face stiff opposition from maple syrup producers
by Mark Hoult
The owners of Linlor Farm west of Hastings are warning that a change in how Ontario maple syrup operations are assessed could result in many producers closing their taps and shutting down their equipment.
Changing the tax assessment classification from farm to industrial would also prevent potential producers from entering the business and stop existing operators from expanding and upgrading their facilities, Lindsay and Lori Burtt told a sympathetic Asphodel-Norwood council this week.
Council members passed a resolution in support of local maple syrup producers and the efforts of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association to convince the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) to reverse its decision to assess maple syrup operations under an industrial tax classification.
The Maple Syrup producers association has been receiving numerous calls from Ontario producers who are confused and upset over recent reassessments of their maple syrup boiling and packing operations by MPAC. A position paper released by the association disagrees strongly with the decision made by MPAC to change the assessment. “The evaporation and bottling of maple syrup is a ‘farming activity’ necessary to prepare maple syrup for market and as such should be included in the farm classification,” the association says.
The maple syrup producers association will meet with the Ministry of Finance and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food this week to discuss the issue. The association has asked the finance ministry to direct MPAC to reverse its course and change all reassessments back to the original agricultural classification until the Minister of Finance can provide “a clear definition” of “farming activity.”
The Maple Syrup Producers Association points out that under the Income Tax Act maple syrup income is classified as farm income. They argue that evaporating and bottling maple sap on the farm is normal practice, largely because of the perishable nature of the product. The sale of raw maple sap is so rare that Statistics Canada does not even have a category to report amounts sold, the position paper says. Ontario maple syrup producers also stress that they will be unable to compete against producers from Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the United States if the assessment changes are not reversed.
In an interview Lori Burtt said she and Lindsay received a reassessment of their maple syrup building and production facilities late last year. If MPAC does not reverse its decision, the reassessment will take effect in the 2004 tax year. The Burtts have applied to MPAC for reconsideration of their assessment and are prepared to launch an appeal if they do not receive a decision by mid-March. “We’ll do everything in our power to stop this,” she said.
Burtt said it is too early to determine how a change in assessment will affect their taxes. However, the maple syrup producers association says taxes on some production facilities could increase as much as 1,738 per cent. Because the profit margin on maple syrup is small, most producers won’t be able to absorb the increased taxes, the association says.
Burtt said that MPAC is using the argument that because maple syrup producers change a raw product by removing the moisture from sap, they are producing a value-added product. But producers don’t buy this argument, because many agricultural activities involve making changes to a raw product—for example, storing and drying out corn.
“Maple production production facilities do not resemble industry regarding the use of public roads, waste management services and manufacturing by-product disposal, energy consumption or intensity of production,” Burtt told council Monday. “Our own operation is used for such a limited time. Since building our own new facility five years ago, we have boiled from 12 to 20 days of the year.”
Burtt also pointed out that the government has encouraged farmers and rural residents to create employment opportunities. As a result farmers and entrepreneurs have created a number of “part-time” enterprises that help them make a living on the farm. “Maple syrup production often falls into this category,” she observed. And if maple syrup producers are driven to shut down their operations the resulting impact on the environment could be devastating, Burtt said, pointing out that maple bush owners could start cutting down their trees to help with their cash flow. Maple syrup producers have traditionally been “stewards of the land, with long-term sustainability a primary goal,” she said.
In addition, many area maple syrup producers are involved with their communities, holding educational tours for schools and youth groups and holding annual maple syrup festivals that raise funds for local community service organizations. In Warkworth, George and Alice Potter host a now famous annual Maple Syrup Festival, and the Burtts in Asphodel-Norwood Township host the Norwood Lions Club, which holds its annual fund-raising Maplefest.
Burtt said that although Maplefest does not generate huge revenues, “it is a way to educate consumers, promote our community and support our local charities. Above all, everybody has fun.”
She said admission currently covers the cost of insurance so that the public is able to tour the property. But “very few families could afford the admission if we tried to cover our industrial taxation costs as well.” Burtt also pointed out that taxing maple syrup production at an industrial rate is “just the beginning.” Managed woodlots and other primary farm production sectors will also be targeted, she said.
“The assessment issue seems to be just bubbling right over,” said Councillor Cathy Turner, agreeing with Burtt that there is a wider environmental issue that must be taken into account.

And these guys are responsible! Reprehensible!

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Hero warned of Grit scandal

ALEXANDER PANETTA, CP 2004-02-28 04:29:32

OTTAWA -- An Olympic hero took on the Liberal government yesterday by offering to testify in a probe of the sponsorship scandal and slamming the head of Via Rail, who was once the top aide to former prime minister Jean Chretien. Two-time gold-medallist Myriam Bedard announced she was forced from her marketing job at Via Rail after asking too many questions about the federal sponsorship scheme in January 2002.

She said she raised questions when Via Rail paid Groupaction -- one Liberal-friendly ad firm involved in the sponsorship scandal -- thousands of dollars for work completed in just a few seconds.

"I was refusing to do things that are illegal and I'm just a victim of that," Bedard told reporters in Montreal.

She said she has chosen to come forward now because Prime Minister Paul Martin launched a plea for anyone with knowledge of the scam to stand up and share their information.

She wrote a letter to Martin on Feb. 13, the day after she saw the prime minister make his request on the TV news.

Two government ministers were examining her complaints yesterday and the chair of a House of Commons probe suggested Bedard might be called to testify.

Bedard's sharpest barbs were reserved for her former boss -- Via chairperson Jean Pelletier, who was previously the chief of staff to Chretien. He had called Bedard a "pitiful" single mother seeking publicity.

"She wants to take advantage of the situation," Pelletier told La Presse on Thursday. "I don't want to be mean, but this is a poor woman in a pitiful state, a woman with no husband that I know of. She's feeling the pressure of being a single mother with financial responsibilities. Basically, I find it pitiful."

Bedard called the remarks reprehensible, pointing out that she has been married for two years.

"Can you imagine all the single (mothers) that read the paper this morning, how they felt?" she said.

"I found that very, very low. And you have to be very limited in your head to speak like that. Limited intellectually."

Opposition parties demanded Pelletier be fired for the remarks and Prime Minister Paul Martin called for him to apologize. But the prime minister would not say whether the Via boss faced disciplinary action.

"In terms of the comments attributed to Mr. Pelletier, if he really said that, that is just completely unacceptable," Martin said during a visit to Vancouver. "I would expect he would want to withdraw the comments and I expect he would want to apologize."

Pelletier heeded that request later in the day, agreeing that his comments were inappropriate.

"I regret making those comments and want to apologize sincerely to Ms. Bedard for any embarrassment or hurt I may have caused her," he said in a statement.

Some cabinet ministers suggested Pelletier was skating on thin ice. Three Crown corporation heads cited in the sponsorship affair have already faced discipline or possible firing.

Martin has already hinted he blames Chretien's inner circle for the sponsorship fiasco, saying tensions with his ex-boss forced him out of the loop during any of the wrongdoing.

The head of a House of Commons inquiry into the sponsorship scandal said he hoped Bedard would be called to testify and demanded Pelletier's resignation.

"This is outrageous that Canadian icons are to be trashed by . . . public servants because they blow the whistle on illegal activities that are going on in their organization," said Conservative MP John Williams, head of the Commons public-accounts committee.

Bedard said she started having problems at work when she complained to a colleague about the exorbitant fees being paid to Groupaction for work done on Via ads.

She said she took graphic-arts classes in school and couldn't believe the fees Via was paying for work that could be done by any 12-year-old with a photo-editing computer program.

"You change the colour of the sky in an ad. Instead of being white, you make it blue," Bedard said.

"You know it's very simple. It's (basically) a photocopy of the same ad -- and you have a bill of $2,000 or $3,000 for that. This is way too much."

She said she was rebuffed when she asked whether the ads could be handled elsewhere at a lower cost.

Bedard, a biathlete, won two gold medals at the 1994 Winter Games in Norway.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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City union preparing to strike

Outside workers are being urged to reject the city's offer.
RANDY RICHMOND, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-28 04:29:32

London's outside workers union is recommending its 500 members reject the city's final contract offer tomorrow night, setting the stage for a disruptive citywide strike. "We're recommending it be rejected," Doug Wheeler, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 107, said yesterday.

"We are mobilizing."

Asked if that meant a strike, Wheeler replied, "That is one of the things we're doing."

Members are to vote on what the city insists is its final offer at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Centennial Hall. There is still no strike date set, although the union has been in a legal position to strike since Thursday.

"We're frustrated with them (the city). That is to be expected in dealing with this city," a tired Wheeler said.

Talks broke down at 3 a.m. yesterday after 18 hours, when the city tabled its final offer.

"We didn't think negotiations were actually completed," Wheeler said.

There's still a chance the union and city could go back to the table, but it's unlikely to happen over the weekend, Wheeler said.

Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said yesterday the city is prepared to go back to the table "any time."

But the city's offer is final, she said.

"What we put on the table is extremely fair. We hope the membership will also believe it is fair," she said.

"A strike doesn't benefit the employees or their families on strike, the corporation or the city at large."

A strike by outside workers would shut down garbage collection and affect snow removal.

Public rinks would close just as minor hockey playoffs for thousands of children begin. A strike would also shut down public pools, with the March break looming.

CUPE 107 represents employees in transportation operations, sewer and road works, solid waste collection, landfill operations, facilities and fleet services and recreation and pollution control.

The city has a contingency plan in place and essential services would be maintained during a strike, DeCicco said.

"The health and safety of Londoners is going to be the prime issue for us."

The main sticking point in negotiations remains benefits.

The city pays 100 per cent of benefits for inside workers and managers, but only 80 per cent of benefits for CUPE 107 members, Wheeler said.

"It is just a matter of fairness. It is not a hard concept."

Health benefits are key to employees doing often challenging work outside, Wheeler added.

The union tried to work with the city to solve the benefits problem, he said.

"There are different things we can do with that."

This is second time in 2 1/2 years the city has gone down to the wire in contract talks with its outside workers.

The last time, the dispute was settled only after a bitter 29-day summer strike.

The failure at the bargaining table again doesn't mean the city has bad labour relations, DeCicco said.

"I'm not going to go down that road of trying to compare the last strike with the current discussions. We take each contract and bargain in good faith."

Before the last strike, city officials laid out contingency plans for the public.

This time, no plans will be released until a strike is called, said Jay Stanford, head of waste management. "There is no need to," he said.

There is no need to inform the taxpayers, the payers of your gross salaries, about any policies etc. that concern them. City council knows what is in the best interest of all Londoners! I wonder why these bearers of wisdom and common sense are so secretive about it all. Hmmm.. makes you wonder. However, the good London sheep of London did reelect these corrupt buffoons.

Before the last strike, there was a clear indication when workers were going to walk and the Canada Summer Games were days away from starting, Stanford said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Rat race a reason for birth dearth

By Li Xueying

In Friday's Budget statement, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed that Singapore's birth rate last year fell to a nadir of 1.26, one of the lowest in the world. The Sunday Times takes a look at what can be done to fix this

THE Straughans should have been the poster parents for those who 'have three, or more if you can afford it'.

After all, both are well-paid professionals, have an experienced maid to help out with chores, and a loving mother to baby-sit their kids.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan, an expert in population and family life, realises, more than most people, the need for Singapore to arrest the slide in its birth rate.

But despite the temptation of having a girl to add to their sons, Robbie, 12, and Timmy, nine, they are stopping at two.

'Given our circumstances, we should have been very comfortable. But we still find it difficult, and we're struggling to give them all the time and attention that we want,' said Professor Straughan, 40.

'Things are just about manageable now, but if we have one more, it will tilt the balance. It will also take away the time we're now giving our sons.'

Their situation is hardly rare.

Singaporeans' pursuit of excellence is leading, ironically, to the dearth of births.

Parents here want the best for their children, and if that's not attainable, they'd rather not have them, said Prof Straughan.

The nub lies in the cost - in terms of money and time - needed to bring a child up.

There are two areas of monetary cost - the basic one that provides for necessities, and the 'value-added one which you aspire for your kid for him to be at the front', said Prof Straughan. These are the extras, such as tuition and music lessons, which have become 'must-haves' for many parents.

'The race is competitive and that head start can be crucial,' said Prof Straughan. 'There is very little room for late-bloomers. And unfortunately, if you fall out of the education system, you're marginalised in our society.'

A 2002 Straits Times survey found that the education costs for a child, from pre-primary to university, totalled $77,353.

Education policies such as Primary 2 streaming and four exams in a year mean it has also become crucial for parents to invest time and attention in guiding their kids through the minefields.

So what can be done?

Prof Straughan says monetary incentives are a 'superficial, short-term' measure. What's more important is a hard look at the root of the problem.

Policymakers, in areas from education to labour, have to consider how their policies may affect the family function.

Companies should be family-friendly, by instituting a five-day work week, and be more flexible by allowing parents to take an hour off to collect their children from school, she said.

'It's all about balance.'

The problem is less severe among Malays, the only group reproducing enough to replace its population. Its 1999 birth rate is 2.42, compared to the Chinese group's 1.3 and the Indians' 1.58.

This is because Malays tend to be more traditional on the gender division of labour, said Prof Straughan. This stems from a strong community network - a result of a common religion - leading to greater social policing.

As Chinese and Indian women tend to be more highly-educated, the opportunity costs are higher if they give up their careers to have children.

The Straits Times 2004

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Ohio city sets up doghouse standards

OLMSTED FALLS, Ohio - Dogs in Olmsted Falls have something to bark about.

The City Council passed a law Tuesday requiring doghouses to be waterproof and lined with bedding that resists dampness. The houses also must be equipped with self-closing doors or flaps.

Violators of the law, which will take effect within 10 days, can lose their dogs and face maximum penalties of 90 days in jail and a $700 fine.

Councilman Joseph Vitale, a beagle owner, said he supported the measure because, "There are more laws on the books about how to hunt animals than how to take care of them."

The law was prompted by residents who called police because they were concerned that a woman was leaving her golden retriever tied up outside.

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.
Many London City Council had something to do with this - anything to justify the existence of more police and bureacrats. What a tax grab!

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Friday, February 27, 2004

More time set for city budget

Free Press Staff 2004-02-27 04:58:55

London politicians will take another crack at the city's $50 million capital budget March 3 after making little headway this week. Council slogged through about one-quarter of the budget Wednesday night, said planning director Vic Cote yesterday.

"I couldn't really tell you if there is a shift in the tax increase," he said.

Besides the fact three-quarters of the capital budget remains untouched, capital costs have less effect on taxes than operating costs, Cote said.

Council passed a motion to give Fanshawe Pioneer Village a one-time $250,000 operating grant, only if the money can be found without affecting taxes, Cote said.

The tourist attraction withdrew a request for $200,000 in capital improvements until next year, he said.

Council members are getting worried about council's inability to cut money from this year's proposed budget, expected to be approved early next month.

"It seems like we're just going through the motions," controller Bud Polhill said.

Council still gets to review decisions made on capital and operating costs.

"I think people are going to have second thoughts on a number of things," Polhill said.

Council plans to meet as committee of the whole at 9 a.m. March 3.

Board of control meets after that meeting, then council gets one last kick at the budget March 9.

Taxpayers are facing a projected 11-per-cent tax hike.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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TVO supporters oppose any sale

A petition has been launched against privatizing TVOntario.
ALAN FINDLAY, Free Press Queen's Park Bureau 2004-02-27 04:58:55

TORONTO -- The Ontario government is being petitioned from both sides, to cut spending and to prevent the privatization of Polkaroo. The signature campaigns began yesterday when New Democrat MPP Rosario Marchese announced a petition to stop rumoured plans to sell TVOntario.

"(Premier) Dalton McGuinty should stop playing peekaboo with selling the Polkaroo," Marchese said.

An hour later, Tasha Kheiriddin, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, launched her group's own petition, demanding the governing Grits balance next year's budget by trimming between 15 per cent and 22 per cent from all but the big two ministries of Health and Education.

The group's concerns stem from recent remarks by McGuinty and Finance Minister Greg Sorbara that people are more concerned about how the budget is balanced rather than how fast it is balanced.

"We're concerned if he does not keep his word this time around . . . the budget might not be balanced this term, which would be a disaster," said Kheiriddin.

During last fall's election, McGuinty signed a federation pledge he would balance his government's budgets and not raise taxes without a vote.

Since then, the Liberals discovered a multi- billion-dollar projected deficit that they now project to reach $5.6 billion by the end of this year.

The government has floated several possible scenarios to help balance the budget, including asset sales such as TVO or the LCBO.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Centre among Gardens' victims

Ian Gillespie, Free Press Columnist 2004-02-27 04:59:06

In wartime, it's called "collateral damage." I'm not sure what to call it in this case. But two months after the closing of Wonderland Gardens, it's clear the casualties include more than just the dance-band fans, newlyweds and revellers who regularly rented the old riverside hall.

The closing also has delivered a sucker punch to some of our most vulnerable residents.

Since 1975, the dance pavilion at Wonderland Gardens has been the annual site of a money-making fashion show for the Thames Valley Children's Centre.

But with the closing of the 69-year-old hall, the centre -- which every year serves more than 5,000 children afflicted with a variety of physical and mental disorders, including cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy -- has been left in the lurch.

"It's going to be tough," says Debbie Hanisch, past president of the centre's fundraising auxiliary. "It's going to leave a void."

For 28 years, the Thames Valley Children's Centre's annual fashion show has been a full-blown hit, drawing a capacity crowd of about 600 people to see clients, staff, supporters and local firefighters model clothes donated by local merchants.

Local radio personalities Rich Greven and Elaine Sawyer, hosts of Q 97.5 FM's weekday morning show, acted as the masters of ceremonies for more than a decade.

"It was a riot," says Sawyer. "They didn't have women with legs up to their necks. It was always so much fun because it was real people doing it and real people organizing it."

"It's really going to be missed," Sawyer said.

Hanisch says the Wonderland venue was provided free by operator Chuck Jones, with only a nominal fee of about $400 for cups and linen. And she says renting a similar site would cost the children's centre about $6,000.

In recent years, the event raised about $12,000. That money was used to help pay for the centre's summertime Opportunities to Participate program, which enables disabled children to enjoy recreational activities ranging from soccer to drama.

Thames Valley Children's Centre chief executive John LaPorta says proceeds from the fashion show were often used to buy new equipment and the loss of those funds will diminish the summer program.

With about $1.4 million brought in each year from the centre's trust fund and fundraising efforts, the $12,000 or so raised by the fashion show might seem like a drop in the bucket.

But LaPorta says the show brought more than bucks.

"It was much more than just the money. I think it was the first (event) to utilize our clients in such an active, respectful, but fun way."

Hanisch recalls an instance in which one of the show's young models enjoyed a special moment in the spotlight.

"He came out with his dad," recalls Hanisch. "And he used two canes, one in each hand, to walk with. And he came about halfway down the runway with his canes and then he just threw his canes aside and walked the rest of the way.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the place."

Clearly, the annual spring fashion show gave some kids a chance to shine.

"This was something nice for them because they could be actively involved," says Hanisch. "And it was a nice way to make people aware that these kids do have abilities, not just disabilities."

But with the doors at Wonderland Gardens shut, folks at the children's centre are at a loss.

"It's really made us sit back and say, 'What do we do now?' " says Hanisch. "We really don't know where to go from here."

Even if a suitable site turned up today, Hanisch says, it would be too late for this year's show, which is usually staged in April and involves at least four months planning.

"It's too late to get something going for the spring," she says, adding the summer is a poor time to stage such an event and the fall is devoted to organizing the centre's Holiday Home Tour fundraiser. "So we're probably looking at planning an event for 2005."

Any way you cut it, it's a downer.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Sorbara undeterred by probe

CP 2004-02-27 04:59:16

TORONTO -- With the backing of Ontario's premier, Finance Minister Greg Sorbara refused to step down yesterday, despite opposition calls for him to resign because of an ongoing criminal investigation into a company he once directed. Instead, Sorbara asked Premier Dalton McGuinty to assign responsibility for the Ontario Securities Commission to another cabinet minister until the investigation by the OSC into the financial affairs of Royal Group Technologies is complete.

McGuinty agreed and stood by his chief money man.

"I have every confidence in our finance minister," McGuinty said late yesterday.

"I think he's doing a great job for the people of Ontario and I see no reason whatsoever why he should stop doing that job."

McGuinty said he did not ask for Sorbara's resignation, but would not say whether Sorbara offered it.

"He is not the subject of an investigation and the commitment he has made to me and to the Ontario public is that should he become the subject of an investigation then he will step aside from his ministerial responsibilities," McGuinty said.

In addition to the OSC, the RCMP and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency are conducting multiple investigations into the financial affairs of Royal Group, a major supplier of plastic building products.

Sorbara joined Royal Group as a company director in November 1994. He resigned as director and member of the audit committee when he was sworn in as finance minister last October.

"There's no need to step aside," Sorbara said at a news conference. "I'm in the midst of preparing a budget for the province of Ontario, we've got a tremendous amount of work to do. This issue does not impinge on my ability to discharge those responsibilities."

Sorbara said the OSC told him in December that there was an ongoing investigation into Royal Group Technologies. But because of securities laws he could only discuss the issue with McGuinty once it was made public by the company, which occurred late Wednesday.

To date, no authorities involved in the investigations have contacted him, Sorbara said.

The ministerial shuffle did nothing to assuage the concerns of opposition members who criticized the government's handling of its first major scandal since last fall's election.

McGuinty "is making a huge mistake" by not asking Sorbara to step aside while the investigation is ongoing, said NDP member Marilyn Churley. "This is a very serious problem and I'm astounded that the premier just didn't do the right thing, which he's going to have to end up doing anyway, instead of being forced into it."

Sorbara should have spoken to McGuinty or the integrity commissioner about the fact he was aware of an OSC investigation into a company he was involved with, Churley said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Housing funding approved

The province released $2.7 million in funds for affordable city housing.
RANDY RICHMOND, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-27 04:59:17

Thousands of Londoners caught in a housing crunch got a small lifeline yesterday with the long-awaited provincial release of $2.7 million for social housing. "We are thrilled. It's been a while," said Greg Playford, president of Homes Unlimited.

"I am so excited. This is our first success story," said Coun. Susan Eagle, a longtime advocate of affordable housing.

"It's the tip of the iceberg in terms of the needs of the city."

Ontario announced yesterday it had approved long-delayed federal and provincial funds for housing, $56 million in total, to build 2,300 units across Ontario.

London will build 112 units.

There hasn't been a non-profit unit built in London since Mike Harris's former Tory government cut social housing funding in 1995.

Meanwhile, the waiting list for affordable housing has grown to 4,682 families.

A pilot project, involving all three levels of government, and developed several years ago, led two London groups to develop housing proposals.

But those proposals had been stalled for months at the provincial level.

With yesterday's announcement, construction of a $12-million, 90-unit apartment building on Burwell Street near King Street could start in July with completion by the fall of 2005, Playford said.

"This announcement will allow us to go full steam ahead."

About half the tenants will pay rent geared to income.

A $1.7-million, 12-townhouse complex in Pond Mills could begin this spring, said Sister Joan Atkinson of the London Affordable Housing Foundation.

"It will be a great relief and it will energize our efforts to keep going on affordable housing."

The group will have to renegotiate costs and schedules with its contractor, she said.

"The project will still go ahead."

All tenants in the townhouses will pay rent geared to income.

The federal government is contributing about $2.5 million and the province about $200,000 in sales tax rebates to the London programs.

The city is putting in about $3 million in grants and property tax rebates.

The groups have raised more than $1 million for their projects and will have to get mortgages for the rest.

The city money was approved last fall and is not part of the money at the centre of this year's budget talks.

Facing a projected 10-per-cent tax hike, city staff recommended $2 million be cut from the affordable housing budget this year.

But council decided this week the housing crunch in London has grown so bad the $2 million should go back, as long as advocates can find federal and provincial support.

Yesterday's announcement proves the city is right to keep the $2 million in the budget, Eagle said.

"It provides us leverage for the next program," she said. "It took us putting money on the table to start off the process for the 112 units."

London and other municipalities will continue pressuring provincial and federal government levels for help, said Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Arena surcharge fails to deter violence

Violence frustrates cabbies
One man is charged in two recent assaults, but drivers say better protection is needed.
JENNIFER O'BRIEN, Free Press Reporter   2004-02-27 04:59:07  

In the latest in a string of crimes against taxi drivers, a 22-year-old London man faces charges after two taxi drivers were attacked through their car windows. The assaults -- which occurred one after the other in a northeast London parking lot -- are typical of the risks cab drivers in this city face every night, said the head of London's Taxi Association.

"In the last two months there were at least 15 incidents like that, that I know of," Aboutown driver Hasan Savehilaghi said yesterday.

"Violence is one of the most important issues cab drivers face here."

Wednesday night's assaults began shortly before midnight, while a Checker cab driver was parked outside a plaza at 1299 Oxford St. E.

A man approached the cab, grabbed the driver's shoulder through the window and started shaking his fist like he was going to punch him, police said, but the victim drove off.

Moments later, the same man flagged down a U-Need-A Cab.

Again, the man approached the window of the car and became violent. This time he punched the driver in the head several times while kicking the car, police said.

"Ninety-five per cent of the night drivers in London worry about what is going to happen tonight and how to avoid those types of incidents," said Savehilaghi, adding he was attacked two weeks ago by a patron he'd picked up outside the Phoenix nightclub.

After driving a couple of blocks, the customer began hitting Savehilaghi on the shoulder, he said.

Shortly before that, Savehilaghi said he ran into another driver who had a burst vein on his neck from a customer.

"(Cab drivers) are a group that at times don't gain respect of some people for whatever reason," said London police Supt. Rob Brown.

"But we will take a zero- tolerance approach to any violence or any inappropriate activity against cab drivers."

Brown was one of a handful of officers who attended a taxi association meeting this week to discuss crime prevention and safety.

It was the first meeting of its kind, showing a growing concern over a segment of society police consider particularly vulnerable, Brown said.

Several drivers expressed frustration over the risk of violence they face.

Several said they're on guard at all times and take measures -- such as removing seatbelts to avoid being choked by back-seat passengers.

Drivers said they have an informal system as well, through which a distress call will attract dozens of cars.

Drivers said they would feel safer if they could get support for devices such as in-car video cameras or special alarm systems.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Parent fighting safety plan for gays

MARISSA NELSON, Free Press Education Reporter 2004-02-27 04:59:17

Opposition is growing to a Thames Valley District school board plan to make schools safer for gay and lesbian students, with some parents fearing that will lead to class materials promoting a gay lifestyle. Kimberley Cartwright, a mother of six, helped form Simple Truths Our Priority, which is circulating a petition against the board's plans on the Internet and in churches.

Cartwright said while her children know what homosexuality is, she also teaches them it's a lifestyle that's against the tenets of their religion and the Bible.

The London woman fears if the board moves ahead with its plans, her children will get conflicting messages.

"To me, it's inappropriate to discuss lifestyle in elementary schools," she said. "Tolerance, love, kindness and respect should be taught, but not a lifestyle."

The petition says the board must respect the right of parents and students "not to be subjected to any biased presentations on morally sensitive topics such as homosexuality, bisexuality . . . or other non-heterosexual alternatives which may be offensive."

Cartwright said she has contacted more than 70 churches and has strong support.

Julie Glaser, who worked with students who pushed the board to address homophobia in schools, said she's unsure why Cartwright's group didn't take part in the process last year, when it was "all over the media."

"I guess this just proves there are people out there who want to promote fear about diversity," she said. "If they're so intent on keeping the world view so narrow, then they should start their own school, but the public school system is for everyone."

Glaser said there are children in the system from gay and lesbian families and they deserve to be treated equally.

After students picketed the board's head office in 2002 and 2003, voicing concerns about homophobia in schools, the board formed a special committee to look at the issue. That committee delivered its recommendations last spring, the same day trustees got a review of the board's much-touted safe schools initiative that called for its expansion.

Trustees gave the nod to expanding safe schools and beefed up its budget by $180,000, but wanted the concerns of gay and lesbian students dealt with under the broader safe-schools umbrella. Meantime, the board referred the gay and lesbian report to staff so they could come up with a plan to put it in place.

Superintendent Karen Dalton said a safe schools sub-committee, made up of staff, parents and politicians, will release that plan next week, and opponents should wait to see what is proposed.

"When they actually see the report and what is being proposed under safe schools, some of the fears will be quelled," she said. "In order to have a safe school, we have to address all forms of harassment and bullying."

She said the gay-lesbian part of safe schools is part of a larger program intended to ensure all students, regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual orientation, have a safe school.

But Cartwright wants the board to change last year's decision. She said if the board moves ahead with the plan, she'll pull her children out of school when material she deems inappropriate is taught.

"The school board should be value-neutral. It isn't their job to be teaching morals."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Gatten joins Conservative nomination race in area

CHIP MARTIN, Free Press Politics Reporter   2004-02-27 04:59:23  

The Conservative nomination race in the federal London-North-Centre riding became a three-way affair yesterday when Tim Gatten entered the fray. Gatten, 49, former executive assistant to mayors Dianne Haskett and Anne Marie DeCicco, said it's time the riding elected a new face with new ideas.

Gatten joins real estate agent Lorie Johnson and insurance broker John Stirling to contest the nomination in the riding, held since 1988 by Liberal MP Joe Fontana.

The nomination meeting for the London- North-Centre Conservatives is March 11.

Gatten nearly won a seat on London board of control last fall, pulling in 28,835 votes to finish fifth, 6,500 votes behind the final elected controller.

Gatten teaches psychology courses at Fanshawe College and works with the Canadian citizenship office in London.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Outside workers, city still talking

The city and the union for 500 outside workers were talking late into the night.
RANDY RICHMOND AND DEBORA VAN BRENK, Free Press Reporters   2004-02-27 04:59:23  

An entire city waited on tenterhooks last night as London contract talks affecting everything from trash collection to minor hockey playoffs dragged on late into the night. "They've been talking all day, going back and forth all day, and that's a good sign," Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said last night. "We'll let you know if something changes."

The city and the union for its 500 outside workers were still talking late into the night at a downtown hotel under a news blackout and against a midnight strike deadline.

It's the second time in 2 1/2 years the city has gone down to the wire in contract talks with its outside workers.

The last time, the dispute was settled only after a bitter, 29-day summer strike that led to more controversy after it was revealed some city managers were paid overtime to fill in for striking employees.

From all corners last night came the same message to the public -- wait.

"It is uncomfortable for everyone," said Jay Stanford, London's solid waste manager. "They're talking about doing an all-nighter."

At press time, both sides were still talking, with brief breaks, negotiator Bruce Janisse said.

About 500 outside workers with Local 107 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees were in a legal position to strike at midnight.

The union represents employees in transportation operations, sewer and road works, solid waste collection, landfill operations, facilities and fleet services and recreation and pollution control.

It was expected no strike would begin, even if a deal hadn't been struck by midnight, while both sides were still at the table.

Londoners in garbage collection zone C (north of Dundas Street between Highbury Avenue and Adelaide Street), whose weekly pickup day is today, would be the first to feel the effects of a strike or a settlement this morning.

Londoners can check the city website at to see if there's a strike or settlement today, Stanford said.

In sharp contrast to the situation in 2001, when the public was told of backup plans ahead of time, city officials yesterday were mum on what they'd do and what the public should do in the event of a strike.

"We've thought through every contingency," DeCicco said. "We've got news releases for everything."

But she wouldn't say how Londoners would be able to get rid of their garbage, compete in swim meets or report potholes.

"To put out a whole bunch of information about arenas and pools and emergency services is more defeatist than trying to put out a solution," she said.

Before the 2001 strike, the city said it would set up 17 temporary garbage depots and maintain essential services using non-union staff.

Pools and park programs, except those used for the Canada Summer Games, were shut down for the duration.

But DeCicco and city staff insisted yesterday they'd let the public know if anything happened, when it happened.

She said the negotiation team was keeping her updated "either way" and she'd pass on any details to city council.

"My hope is that they're just going to keep working until they resolve it," DeCicco said.

A strike would shut city rinks, just in time for minor hockey playoffs, and city pools just as the busy March school break looms.

"All of our pools will be closed. All of our ice surfaces will be closed," said Janie Romoff, director of recreation and neighbourhood services.

The Ontario Winter Games, March 11 to 14 in London, will go ahead as planned, said co-chairperson Jane Peckham.

"We are in very good shape."

City officials have assured Games organizers that event facilities will be open in the event of a strike, Peckham said.

Spectators, though, might find delays getting into venues and some volunteers might back out rather than cross union picket lines, she said.

Union representatives have complained the city is trying to erode gains to workers' health benefits.

The workers' last contract -- a three-year deal in 2001 -- expired Dec. 31.

Six meetings with a conciliator failed to resolve key issues of money and benefits.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Mounties, regulators investigate Royal Grp.
Controversy dogs building products firm

With files from Paul Waldie
Thursday, February 26, 2004 -

The RCMP, Ontario Securities Commission and federal tax authorities are conducting multiple investigations into Royal Group Technologies Ltd.'s financial affairs, disclosure practices and suspicious trading in its shares.

The Woodbridge, Ont.-based building products company, which has been dogged by controversy, said last night the probe centres on its dealings with a resort development on the tropical island of St. Kitts. The luxurious resort is controlled by Vic De Zen, the company's chairman, founder and controlling shareholder. The 1,000-room beach resort, spa and casino purchased goods and services valued at $32-million from Royal Group over the past five years, the company said.

The OSC went further last night, however, saying the probe included the company's disclosure practices, financial statements and trading in its stock.

It was not clear what effect, if any, the bombshell announcement could have on Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, who was a company director and audit committee member until just last October, when he was sworn into Premier Dalton McGuinty's cabinet. He had been a director since the housing materials manufacturer went public in 1994.

The OSC's announcement also was notable in that it marked the third time in recent weeks that the securities regulator has gone on the offensive publicly. Earlier, it disclosed probes into Hollinger Inc. and Biovail Corp.

Royal Group said in a statement that it was told by the OSC to disclose the probe, which has been under way for several months.

The company said the regulators informed it yesterday morning that the RCMP and Canada Customs and Revenue Agency have also launched their own investigations.

The announcement followed a day-long trading halt in the company's shares. OSC enforcement director Michael Watson said in an interview that his staff initially wrote to the company last December, suggesting the time had come to publicly disclose the investigation. "We advised them on Dec. 22 that it had reached the stage where it was material. It had been going on for several months before then," he said.

Mr. Watson's comments suggest Mr. Sorbara was still with the company when the investigation began, but neither the OSC nor Royal Group addressed that possibility.

While Mr. Watson said the company "chose not to make a disclosure" in late December, he said the commission has since "come into significantly more information," prompting it to have the company issue yesterday's news release. He said he is not at liberty to disclosure the nature of the new information or where it came from.

"With the information we recently received, we felt it was appropriate to alert the company," Mr. Watson said. "We felt . . . that it would be in the interests of investors to reveal the fact that the investigation was going on."

Mr. Watson would not discuss the nature of the criminal probe, except to say his staff unearthed information that they felt would be more appropriately dealt with by criminal law authorities. He said his staff referred the matter to the new white-collar crime units, known as the Integrated Market Enforcement Teams.

Royal Group said it has been co-operating with the commission and providing information on its relationship with the St. Kitts resort and "past financial transactions."

Mr. Watson said it is too early in the probe to determine who was involved in questionable trading of the company's shares.

Royal Group shareholders did not learn about Mr. De Zen's close ties to the St. Kitts resort until 2001, when Dow Jones reported that it was being developed by Mr. De Zen's brother and nephews. Mr. De Zen told reporters last year that the company supplied tens of millions of dollars worth of goods for the project and got full price.

Last fall, a company spokesman confirmed for the first time that Mr. De Zen and Douglas Dunsmuir, Royal Group's president and chief executive officer, were among partners in a private company that built the resort.

Royal had opened its annual meeting yesterday by presenting shareholders with a mystery. It said it had asked for a halt in trading of its shares while evaluating "certain information." What information? It wasn't saying.

"We have taken this action on the advice of counsel," Mr. Dunsmuir said, warning he would have nothing further to say on the matter.

At that point, the stock was already at a standstill on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges, where halts were imposed at the opening and maintained all day.

On the TSX, the stock traded above $30 in mid-2002 and below $7 in early 2003. It closed on Tuesday at $17.36, just below a 2004 high reached in a three-day spasm earlier this month. Shares changed hands for as little as $12.66 on Feb. 11 and for as much as $17.40 on Feb. 13.

Royal Group has operations in North and South America, Europe and Asia. Its sales totalled $1.9-billion last year.

Mr. De Zen dominates shareholder voting with special shares worth 20 votes each.

In the nineties, Royal Group was able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars through new share issues. By 1998 its stock was cresting at $46 a share, but the good times ended as the company's aggressive expansion left it with excess capacity.

Mr. De Zen has formed alliances over the years with such people as mining promoter Robert Friedland, with whom he proposed to build plastic houses in China, and Liberal stalwart Greg Sorbara, who sat on Royal Group's board of directors until he became Ontario's finance minister last year.

Royal Group donated $6,000 to the Liberals in 1999 and 2000 and a similar amount to the Conservatives. It was also a significant backer of Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal leadership campaign.

Among other oddities, Royal Group is clawing back $2.8-million in bonuses paid to Mr. De Zen and Mr. Dunsmuir after what it calls a "retroactive review."

Globe and Mail 2004

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McGuinty open to plan merging beer, LCBO stores

CP 2004-02-26 03:42:19

TORONTO -- A proposal by private brewers to merge retail stores with Liquor Control Board of Ontario outlets is worthy of consideration, Premier Dalton McGuinty suggested yesterday. "The bottom line is we are open to any suggestions that will help us bring about higher student achievement, shorter waiting lists and stronger communities," the premier said.

The Brewers of Canada, a group representing private beer-makers, believes sales of both liquor and beer would increase if they were sold in the same stores.

The group said its plan would generate at least $75 million in new alcohol tax revenues for the provincial government.

The LCBO is cool to the idea of merging its stores with Brewers Retail. Officials said the LCBO could increase sales and government tax revenues if beer were sold in cases of 12 and 24 instead of just six-packs, another idea McGuinty refused to rule out.

"The end-game here is to ensure that we can deliver better quality public services," said McGuinty when asked if he would let the government-run LCBO stores try to take an even larger share of beer sales away from privately run Brewers Retail.

"I have not seen any specific proposals talking about mergers," said Joe Cordiano, the economic development and trade minister responsible for the LCBO.

An outright sale of the LCBO is one of many options the Liberals put forward for discussion as they hold public hearings on ways to tackle the deficit, projected at $5.6 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31.

Cordiano said "everything's on the table in terms of the public consultation."

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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City alone in providing free meals

JONATHAN SHER, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-26 03:42:20

London taxpayers spend more to subsidize each dinner for city councillors than the the city's home for the aged gets to buy food for four residents for an entire day. And the spread on the top floor of city hall is far more extravagant than what is served to politicians and senior staff in comparable cities such as Ottawa, Waterloo, Hamilton and Windsor.

At $22 a meal, the cost at city hall towers over the $5 a resident Dearness Services receives from the province to buy breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks.

The disparity is shameful, said Jo-Dee Phoenix, chairperson of the Dearness service workers."It's not ethical. It's not moral."

It's also not typical.

"There's no free meals here," said Michael Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for the City of Ottawa.

Meetings begin at 1:30 p.m. and councillors are given coffee and soft drinks, he said.

Meals aren't on the agenda in Waterloo, either -- councillors and staff are expected to buy their own dinner before meetings begin at 7 p.m.

Cookies and drinks are offered, except for the odd time when there are meetings in the afternoon and evening, when there might be a tray with cold cuts, cheese and bread, said communications director Bryan Stortz.

In Hamilton, a tray of sandwiches and soft drinks are provided at evening meetings.

And in Windsor, they don't open the city hall cafeteria at night, choosing instead to support local eateries by ordering out -- at a cost considerably less than the tab in London.

Tuesday night's meal in London was typical, featuring chicken cordon bleu, vegetables in a phyllo pastry, fish served on a red pepper sauce with coconut shrimp, roasted potatoes, steamed vegetable, bread, salad and a wide assortment of drinks and deserts.

Asked after the meal if London was spending too much compared with other cities, Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco became upset, saying, "We had some vegetables and salad and turnovers . . . I'm not going to have this discussion."

Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen said this week he wouldn't eat meals subsidized by taxpayers who face a projected double-digit tax hike.

Council has directed staff to find a way to make the cafeteria break even after years of running in the red.

London's cafeteria appears to stand alone as a money loser. City hall cafeterias in Windsor and Hamilton break even, while Ottawa and Waterloo get money back from the private contractor who manages their kitchens.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Board nixes plan to hire consultant

PETER GEIGEN-MILLER, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-26 03:42:20

Board of control has nixed hiring a U.S. consultant to prepare a $233,728 master plan for the city's fire service and has asked city staff to look at how the study might be done internally instead. The recommendation to hire TriData of Arlington, Va., ran foul of budget concerns at board of control yesterday since it came in well above an original estimate of $80,000.

The fire master plan would have examined how best to provide and finance fire service in a growing London in the next 10 to 20 years and looked at the city's role in providing ambulance service.

TriData's bid was higher than other bidders but was accepted because of the company's extensive experience.

Even though a lower fee was negotiated, it was still too rich as the city searches for ways to reduce a projected 11-per-cent property tax hike.

Controller Gord Hume said the new deputy fire chief hired by the city will come to the job with expertise in strategic planning and will look at the city's fire service needs with fresh eyes.

With that expertise and other help from city staff, it should be possible to do the master plan study as an internal project, he said.

Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell first suggested delaying the master plan study for a year, but later endorsed having it done internally.

Gosnell said the city can use the money it would have spent on the study "to get the budget numbers down."

Meanwhile, city council moved at a snail's pace last night, trimming little from a $50-million capital budget and working into the late hours.

In fact, councillors spent nearly three hours in closed session. They were believed to be getting an update on labour troubles with the city's 500 outside workers, members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 107, poised to strike at midnight tonight.

Last night, council trimmed just $150,000 from the fire department's capital budget. Late Tuesday, $1 million was added to the budget to cover expected increases in social welfare related costs.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Wonderland plans spark clash

Five options are on the table and board of control is seeking public and private proposals as well.

RANDY RICHMOND, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-26 03:42:20

City controllers stepped on each others toes yesterday as they began the long, slow dance over the future of the former Wonderland Gardens. Board of control eventually got in step enough to invite Londoners to submit proposals for redevelopment of the area.

But Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell and Controller Bud Polhill clashed repeatedly over how much land and development should even be part of the proposals -- a sign harmony over the prized city property could be elusive.

Gosnell pushed board of control yesterday to expand the land under consideration to include city property adjacent to the former Gardens.

The Gardens property, home to an historic bandshell and dance pavilion, is on a floodplain, Gosnell noted.

The city could move parking lots and recreational paths off the higher ground onto the Gardens property and open up that higher ground to development, he said.

"The (Wonderland) buildings have outlived their usefulness. The heritage is more nostalgic than concrete," Gosnell told reporters later.

But Polhill argued the focus of redevelopment should be on the existing buildings.

"People don't want to go down there and see different buildings," said Polhill, who would like the buildings restored in their present form.

"I don't want to lose focus on what we're doing here."

Several times Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco tried to stop debate, but Polhill and Gosnell continued to argue.

"I don't want somebody coming in with an apartment at the top of the hill and parking down below. I'm not going there at all," Polhill said.

"I'm not talking about building a strip mall there," Gosnell countered.

Finally, controllers agreed to allow profit and non-profit groups to submit proposals on not only the former Wonderland Gardens site but the adjacent property.

Those proposals, however, must somehow "enhance" the redevelopment of the 1.75-hectare Wonderland site.

Wonderland Gardens was built in 1935 by Wilf and Charlie Jones, with a bandshell and open-air dance floor. Over the years, the dance floor was enclosed and a concession stand turned into a restaurant. Last year, a dispute over the lease with the city prompted Gardens operator Chuck Jones, Charlie's son, to quit the business.

The land and buildings belong to the city.

A consultant's report released yesterday suggested five options for the buildings:

- Spend about $2.5 million to repair them.

- Spend $324,000 to demolish everything but the bandshell.

- Spend about $1 million to strip the ballroom, bandshell and restaurant to its 1940s, open-air appearance.

- Spend about $3.8 million to rebuild the structures to modern standards.

- Spend just less than $1 million to renovate the bandshell and restaurant, but demolish the ballroom.

Board of control agreed yesterday to put aside $250,000 for the 2005 budget to improve the grounds for public use. Once the expressions of interest are gathered, a short list of groups and individuals will be invited to prepare more formal proposals.

Before the board of control meeting, about a dozen council members toured the site off Wonderland Road south of the Guy Lombardo bridge.

Several council members expressed surprise at the condition of the buildings, which have electrical and plumbing systems below code.

Any new plan must take better advantage of the river, said Controller Gord Hume.

"Frankly, they weren't utilizing the river at all," he said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Hockey players would take first hit in strike

JENNIFER O'BRIEN, Free Press Reporter 2004-02-26 03:42:22

Thousands of young hockey players will be "devastated" if London's outside workers go on strike, say minor league officials. About 500 outside workers with Local 107 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees could walk off the job tonight and effectively shut down the city's ice rinks just in time for high school and minor hockey playoffs.

"The rinks will be closed, but will be maintained by supervisors" if workers walk off the job, Jim Blaxall, the city's manager of operations for recreation, said yesterday.

Public swimming pools will also be closed, said South London Pool manager Lynn Loubert, but it was not clear what other services might be disrupted as most city officials declined to comment.

The city and union are scheduled to meet this morning. Although workers are in a legal strike position at midnight tonight, the union has not called a strike. Union officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"Both sides are trying to work hard for a settlement and the focus is on the settlement," said Jay Stanford, head of waste management. "We don't know what direction we're headed, but once we know, we will let people know what services might be affected."

Growing piles of stinky garbage were a key fallout from the last outside workers' strike -- a 29-day walkout that disrupted garbage pickup in the summer of 2001.

While the same services will likely be disrupted, this time it could be growing piles of snow that cause most headaches, as city snowplow operators are among the workers expected to strike.

However, the first hit will be taken by hockey players, officials said.

"It would be a disaster for the kids, it would devastate them," said Dan Pulham, chair of the Forest City Hockey League.

"A strike could really screw up this season," Pulham said.

The Community Hockey League has started playoffs and Forest City has scheduled games throughout March, said Brad Pope of the Greater London Hockey Association.

"This is the last thing we need, because this is when it really gets exciting," he said, adding the association hoped some of the arenas would stay open for playoffs, even with a strike. "They've worked hard all through the season and that's the whole idea to come to the playoffs and get some enjoyment."

There are about 4,500 athletes, aged eight to 19, in the association.

Skating and scheduled hockey will continue at Western Fair and Brookside arenas, but neither facility can accommodate many extra playoff games, Pope said.

And, he said, turning to out of town rinks at this point is almost out of the question.

"I don't think our options are very good," he said. "At this stage of the game, ice rentals are already rented."

High school hockey convener Brad Fickling said a strike could affect next week's playoff games, but not the city finals, which are scheduled to be played at the John Labatt Centre.

A lengthy strike could leave families with fewer options during the March Break as arenas and pools would be closed.

Union representatives have complained the city is trying to erode gains to workers' health benefits won in their last contract.

Union president Doug Wheeler said the city has proposed the union pay 40 per cent of benefits for which the city now pays 100 per cent.

The workers' last contract -- a three-year deal-- expired Dec. 31. Six meetings with a conciliator failed to resolve key issues of money and benefits.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Chretien approved funds

CP 2004-02-26 03:42:22

OTTAWA -- Former prime minister Jean Chretien personally approved sponsorship funds to Via Rail and several Quebec projects, according to cabinet documents that until this week remained secret. Chretien signed off on a 1997 Treasury Board request for nearly $19 million in sponsorship funding, with an attached list of projects that included a dubious magazine proposal from Via Rail.

The magazine was sharply criticized by Auditor General Sheila Fraser in a scathing report on the program, which was designed to prevent a resurgence of Quebec separatist sentiment.

Chretien's signature on the spending is no indication he knew of any wrongdoing in the use of the funds. But Treasury Board President Reg Alcock said Chretien's intervention was unusual.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Board facing cash crunch

MARISSA NELSON, Free Press Education Reporter 2004-02-26 03:42:22

The Thames Valley District school board will have to chop $3 million to $5 million from its budget for next year as the province's fourth-largest school system is poised to lose 2,100 students. Even more concerning is that by the 2010-11 school year -- just seven years away -- the board's budget is projected to drop $39 million from the current $680 million.

"We will have to make significant reductions in our operations," said Brian Greene, who is in charge of board finances. "($3 million) is less than one per cent of the budget, but it's still a lot of money and a lot of reductions."

The preliminary student and staffing numbers for September reveal there will be 2,095 fewer students. That's made up of a drop of 1,280 elementary pupils, equal to nearly four elementary schools, and 815 secondary students, equal to nearly one secondary school.

Because the board gets per-pupil funding from the province, those students represent a drop in revenue of $12.1 million. But the blow to the board's bottom line will be cushioned by special grants meant to ease declining-enrolment pain and by employing 53 fewer teachers.

Even after that, however, trustees will have to cut an estimated $3 million to $5 million from spending because there hasn't been any reduction in overhead costs.

"The numbers are shocking. It's a wake-up call for all the trustees," said trustee Peter Jaffe. "Every year we bury our heads in the sand and ignore what is happening, the magnitude of the problem gets bigger."

For example, Jaffe said, the board is only funded for 140 elementary school principals, but has 153.

"None of the trustees, including myself, want to be responsible for breaking the hearts of an individual school community," Jaffe said. "Are we to serve 88,000 students the best we can or is our goal to keep every school open at any cost?"

Instead of using transition funding from the province to adapt to a new, smaller reality, the board has used it "to go into denial and pretend it's not happening," Jaffe said. "We've avoided making some tough decisions."

Although there are nine school accommodation studies underway, involving 28 schools -- studies that are often the first step in closing a school -- none are expected to recommend a school closing and the board doesn't have plans to close any schools.

Past stop-gap measures, such as moratoriums on buying new furniture, won't cut it this time, Greene said.

"The bigger problem is ahead of us. If the province wants these schools to stay open, they have to fund them."

Superintendent of operations Peter Gryseels said the problem with reducing staff and not facilities is services eventually get stretched thin.

"The core issue isn't whether we close schools, it's how do you provide the best education for children," he said. "If we're trying to spread our resources too thin . . . then at some point you're not living up to that."

Jaffe and trustee Linda Stevenson convinced their colleagues this week to agree to a massive public consultation process that will get the community involved in a long-term plan for how to deal with declining enrolment.

Trustee Terry Roberts, chairperson of the budget advisory committee, said school closings spark outrage, but "something has to give."

"We've got buildings with no kids and kids where there are no buildings. There's a reality that has to sink in."

The one piece of good news, said director Bill Bryce, is retirements will handle staff reductions so there won't be layoffs.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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Take the Ceaucescu Challenge!

OK... so some Liberal gangsters were suspended with pay. But what is this....

Canadian Criminal Code, Section 380

380. (1) Every one who, by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether or not it is a false pretence within the meaning of this Act, defrauds the public or any person, whether ascertained or not, of any property, money or valuable security or any service,

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding ten years, where the subject-matter of the offence is a testamentary instrument or the value of the subject-matter of the offence exceeds five thousand dollars

$100,000,000 > $5,000

But, this corruption will continue as long as you all keep paying for it.

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