Pension funds could help pay for subway

Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara said he was eyeing teachers’ pension funds, among others, as a way to pay for the subway expansion to York University, reported CanWest News Service Nov. 6. The giant pension fund could be the very partner the Ontario government is looking for as it tries to boost public transit investments in Toronto, Ottawa and other cities, Sorbara said after a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade. He said he’s already talked to some pension funds about involving them in expansion of Toronto’s subway to York. According to a Canadian Press story Nov. 6, he singled out as possible financiers two of Ontario’s largest pension funds: the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, which invests nearly $33 billion on behalf of 340,000 employees, and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, which has $79 billion in net assets and serves 250,000 of the province’s teachers.

Sorbara refused to speculate on when work might start on the Toronto subway expansion. He suggested one financing arrangement might involve a private sector investor providing money for the capital investment and then getting a return in the form of future revenue generated by the project. Sorbara’s remarks were also covered by CBC Radio and CFTO-TV news programs.

Lee Fullerton, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, told CanWest the fund has not invested in transit anywhere in the world because its advisers “haven’t seen an opportunity in public transit yet that offers low enough risk and the long-term stability that we are looking for in an infrastructure investment. Ontario has not offered that opportunity so far.”

Ontario Conservative Leader John Tory said Sorbara’s suggestion that pension funds get involved in the York University line is “too timid.” “I would do it in a bolder way,” he said. “I would put out a totally open proposal saying anybody that wants to come in and propose a means of getting a subway built should come in and tell us how they would do it, with the clear understanding that it will be owned and operated by the TTC.” Tory said investors might be tempted if they were given development rights for condominiums and other projects on the land above the subway line.

Fan is game for new stadium locale

In response to a Nov. 5 Toronto Star column by Royson James criticizing the York location for the new Toronto Argonauts stadium, one reader wrote Nov.8 that he feels fans are more likely to attend Argo games at York. Bill Soles wrote that “Royson James, like David Miller, seems to forget that York University is located in Toronto. They also attach far too much importance to subway access. There is a substantial population living outside of Toronto that won’t travel into the city to watch sports contests because of the traffic jams and expensive parking. I would be far more likely to watch an Argo game at York than I would be to travel to downtown Toronto for any reason.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star reported that CFL attendance keeps on growing with both the Argos and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats making big gains in attendance levels.  Growing attendance is a good omen. Argo owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon recently announced plans for a new stadium at York University to be ready in 2006, and are selling season’s tickets and using the new venue as a drawing card, reported the Star.

Marsden among Canada’s top 100 women

Who are Canada’s top 100 women? According to a Nov. 8 Globe and Mail article, York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden is among them, as chosen by The Women’s Executive Network. It singled out 100 women to honour at the Canada’s Most Powerful Women Summit. The list of 2004 award winners was broken down into various categories. Marsden appeared under a public sector category.

Middleton to join Marketing Hall of Legends

An Adnews story Nov. 8 noted that Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, is among those to be inducted by the Toronto-based Marketing Hall of Legends in its first group of members. Along with achievers described as “Visionaries”,  “Builders” and “Enablers”, the list includes one “Mentor”: Middleton, who is also executive director of the Executive Education Centre at Schulich.

Middleton was also quoted in a National Post article Nov. 8 on Showcase television’s new ads which, some people feel, “push the boundaries” of good taste due to their “shock” factor. The ads include office clerks declaring their homosexuality for a day, a grandmother with a potty-mouth and – perhaps the most risque of all – two seniors in bed with the caption, “Showcase is our safe word.” Middleton said that in today’s cluttered world, the Showcase ads aren’t necessarily shocking, but instead are an “intrigue” campaign that does its job to get your attention. He added that the ads are effective because the theme – pushing personal boundaries – is relevant to the Showcase brand. “Shock alone is a vastly overrated strategy and it only works if the shock is directly related to the product,” he said.

Assisted suicide ruling troubles York professor

Ian Gentles, Glendon history professor and editor of the book Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide – The Current Debate, said he was troubled by the recent ruling by the British Columbia Supreme Court, reported The Globe and Mail Nov.6. The court handed down a verdict in which a great-grandmother was found not guilty of assisting in the suicides of two women. Gentles said, “People who care for the dying say a request for suicide is often a cry for help. Quite often people asking to commit suicide are depressed or mentally ill and what they really need is help to get over their depression.” He said he hopes the Crown won’t hesitate to prosecute future cases.

B’nai Brith action ‘very destructive’, says Jewish leader

In taking its fight against Concordia University to the Quebec Human Rights Commission, B’nai Brith is being “very destructive”, says the president of the Canadian Jewish Congress’s Quebec branch, Jeff Boro, according to the Montreal Gazette Nov. 6. The dispute broke out after B’nai Brith Canada said it is going ahead with a complaint to the commission, saying Concordia has “poisoned” the atmosphere for its Jewish students who support Israel. It cited Concordia’s decision last month not to accede to the Hillel student group’s request that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak be invited to speak at the university. B’nai Brith officials also issued a “warning” that they might extend their criticism to other universities in Canada – including York and the University of Manitoba – if the Concordia case is successful. B’nai Brith represents only its membership, not Jews generally, Boro said. “They’re not speaking on behalf of the Jewish community.” 

Defining Canada’s trade role

In an opinion piece appearing in the Toronto Star Nov. 8, Chuck Gastle, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote about Canada’s recent marginalization in global trade negotiations. Gastle maintained that “our dependence on bilateral trade makes it clear that secure access to the United States should be Canada’s most important trade objective.” He also noted that “this loss of influence is a result of economic trends, by which Brazil, India and China have become central players in the multilateral negotiations now taking place between the developed and developing world.”

Tiff over TIFs

James McKellar, associate dean and director of the Program in Real Property at York’s Schulich School of Business, was quoted in the Calgary Herald Nov. 8. McKellar noted that TIFs – a financing tool – make sense in certain development circumstances. He was referring to a plan by Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier to borrow $70 million using tax incremental financing, or TIF, in a special tax scheme to redevelop the east end of the city’s downtown. A critic of the scheme said the debt financing tool (never before tried in Calgary) is too risky. “Today’s market is a much better market for Calgary than it was a few years ago. I’m surprised Calgary has to depend on that . . . given the strength of its economy,” McKellar said. “Why don’t they just borrow the money and repay it out of the sale?”