New hope for subway extension to York

Toronto-area transit projects, such as a subway to York University, have been only a gleam in the eye of proponents for years. But transit advocates now say there’s reason to hope that new subways and light-rail service may finally see the light of day with the province’s transit-friendly investment philosophy, espoused again this week by David Caplan, the provincial minister of public infrastructure renewal, reported The Globe and Mail July 29.

On Tuesday, Caplan unveiled the government’s strategy on when to use public and private dollars for infrastructure projects. This fall, the government will unveil a 10-year plan for spending priorities. “One of the most visible ones will be transit,” Caplan said after his announcement. “It is a huge priority for us.”

The Toronto Transit Commission has some pricey projects on the drawing board, including $4 billion over the next 10 years to keep the current system running well and an additional $2.5 billion for growth-related expansion, such as subway service to York University.

But precisely which projects actually stand first in line, and how they will be funded, have yet to be determined. This fall, for example, the province promises to share its gas tax – starting with one cent a litre earmarked for municipalities. However, it is not yet clear whether the money will be divvied up based on transit ridership, making Toronto a big winner, or on population, which would help fast-growing regions such as York. Either way, backers of a subway line to York University see glimmers of hope for their long campaign.

“All indications are that subway expansion is something they want to do and clearly we are one of the groups they want to assist,” said Ted Spence, senior policy adviser to York University President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. The two officials have led York’s seven-year campaign to provide public-transit options to students who arrive from both York Region and Toronto.

The provincial Environment Ministry recently completed an assessment of a proposed rapid bus route between Downsview subway station and the University. A similar environmental assessment will begin shortly for the subway line. Ideally, Spence said, the subway project would get a green light in the fall of 2005, with construction to follow in 2006.

York Region chairman Bill Fisch said he’s pleased with the government’s proposed framework because it opens the door for pension funds and other private-sector plans to invest in and potentially own certain kinds of projects, such as transit, but not schools and hospitals. “Some of the projects we are already working on will fit with the criteria,” said Fisch, citing his region’s plans to wean commuters off cars with new bus and light-rail service that could cost more than $3 billion over the next 20 years. Part of that system, which has already received $50 million from each of the federal and provincial governments, would be developed with private-sector funds.

The Americanization of political advertising

“It has often been said that Canadian election advertising is becoming more ‘Americanized’. I’m not sure what that means, but if it means more focus on the attack of the opponent and less on the establishment of a platform or manifesto of ideas to vote for, then I would agree,” wrote Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, in an opinion piece for the July 26 issue of Marketing Magazine. “While we Canadians may feel uncomfortable at the bluntness of the attacks on person, party and idea in US advertising, the same trend was evident in our recent Canadian election. Someone needs to perform a thorough content analysis of the messages of the three major English-Canada parties, but judging from a one-week count and classification that I did at the end of June, over 85 per cent of them would have to be classified as attack ads.”

Bench pressed

With the June departures of Justices Louise Arbour and Frank Iacobucci, there are two vacancies to be filled on the nine-member Supreme Court of Canada, reported Maclean’s in its Aug. 2 issue. Ideally the new appointees will be in place before the court’s fall session opens in October. But back in January, as part of his plan for reducing the so-called democracy deficit, Prime Minister Paul Martin promised members of Parliament an opportunity to review those appointments. So the question facing Martin is which comes first – people or process? Many legal experts hope Martin will take a cautious approach to reform. Ian Greene, a political science professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, fears that with so many issues confronting Martin and the new cabinet, the court question may not get “the attention it deserves.”

LCBO flouts regulations when it gives out loyalty rewards

Earlier this month, after a decision by the Ontario Superior Court, Ontario consumers found out they could no longer collect loyalty rewards such as Air Miles when purchasing prescriptions at pharmacies. But there is a far more appalling ethical (and even fiscal) breach occurring in Ontario regarding a loyalty scheme: The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which has a mandate to promote socially responsible drinking, doles out Air Miles to its customers, suggested National Post columnist David Menzies July 29.

Professor Donald N. Thompson, holder of the Nabisco Brands Chair in Marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University, finds the LCBO’s marketing initiative both inexplicable and irresponsible. “Why does the LCBO give Air Miles?” he asks. “The LCBO is, in most of what it does, a monopoly. Where else are customers to purchase alcoholic beverages?” The costs associated with participating in Air Miles are huge. Thompson notes that Air Miles, on average, costs a retailer 2.65 cents per mile dispensed (plus an administrative charge.) Thus, if only half of the LCBO’s customers use Air Miles – and assuming the LCBO gets a preferential rate because of its size – Thompson calculates this loyalty program costs the LCBO about $20 million a year on sales of just under $3 billion. That’s $20 million a year going into the coffers of The Loyalty Group (the company that administers Air Miles) as opposed to, say, health care, education, roads and whatever else the provincial government spends LCBO revenues on.

No need for York to revisit Israel study policy

The University of Toronto has lifted a two-year restriction on undergraduate students wishing to study in Israel, and the University of Western Ontario is reassessing restrictions on funding for study at Hebrew University that have also been in place for the past two years, reported the Canadian Jewish News July 29. York University, which has more than a dozen students going to Israeli universities this year, has never had restrictions, said Martin Lockshin, director of York’s Centre for Jewish Studies. “My feeling is that students are adults,” he said. “There are many decisions they make about what type of risks they will take.”

A pacemaker for the brain

Brain surgery isn’t something people normally volunteer for. But for Parkinson’s sufferer Kenneth Golby, 63, the hope of getting some mobility back was worth the risk, reported Maclean’s in its Aug. 2 issue. After reading about deep brain stimulation (DBS) – a treatment where wires attached to a pacemaker-like device are implanted in the centre of the brain – Golby spoke with the specialists at Toronto Western Hospital and had the operation in 2000. “I was absolutely terrified,” recalled the retired York University Spanish professor, who had been struggling with Parkinson’s for at least 14 years. “The thought of someone opening up your head is very different from somebody opening up your stomach.”