‘Raccoon capital of the world’

We all know they’re out there, prying open garbage cans, scurrying across fences and maybe even bunking under your deck, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 10. But urban raccoons – who look just like their country cousins but live very different lives – are rarely studied, leaving humans in the dark about what the nocturnal animals get up to while we’re sleeping.

A new CBC documentary will change that. “Raccoon Nation”, airing Feb. 24 at 8pm on “The Nature of Things”, was filmed largely in Toronto, the apparent “raccoon capital of the world”.

The documentary follows two researchers from York University who embark on a study that produces fascinating portraits of the lives of five raccoons that live in Toronto.

Psychology and biology Professor Suzanne MacDonald and PhD student Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux tagged the raccoons with GPS collars to log their travels throughout the city, recording them at up to 1,500 points over six weeks. They found that the raccoons live in small territories and avoid crossing major streets – which, given the risk of becoming road kill, is a key survival strategy.

Protests at York University’s Iranium screening

An “unspecified threat” and a clutch of protesters came as York University campus groups screened Iranium, the documentary the Harper government ordered to be screened at the National Archives of Canada last month after the Iranian Embassy shut it down, wrote the National Post Feb. 11 in its blog Posted Toronto.

About 50 to 60 protesters, organized by the Iranian Students Association at York, voiced concerns about the film Thursday ahead of its screening at York’s Computer Science & Engineering building. York Security had already relocated the screening from campus central Vari Hall because of security concerns brought forth by the Toronto Police service, said Susan Webb, York’s executive director communications & public affairs.

“The Toronto Police Service advised us that they had received an unspecified threat. And so, based on the information they had, they advised us on measures we should take to ensure viewing happens both safely and with minimal disruption,” Webb said.

That included moving the venue and dispatching about 11 police officers to mill about the entrance of the [CSE] Lecture Hall A should anything suspicious arise. A flock of red-jacketed York security staff also surrounded the doors as about 150 people watched the documentary inside.

The event organizers were undeterred by the protests, which lasted about a half an hour.

“Especially at York University, we have an environment of academic openness and free expression, so we felt it was important to show [Iranium] here,” said [York student] Eliana Grosman, who is with Hasbara at York, a pro-Israel campus group.

Viewers leaving the film, which was screened in conjunction with the York Campus Conservatives, Human Rights Activists at York and the Jewish Law Students’ Association, said they were glad to have seen it in light of the recent hoopla in Ottawa over its cancellation.

[Iranian Students Association] president Mehras Shah said…the association sent a complaint to the York administration, and expressed his concerns directly to Adir Dishy, the president of Hasbara.

Airlines worldwide flying high again

Air Canada’s bottom line has been pushed by a strong cost-cutting drive, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 10, in a story about profitability in the airline industry.

In the past, Air Canada – and most other airlines – would have done almost exactly the opposite, according to longtime industry watcher Fred Lazar, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

“Any time they would get a bit flush with cash, they would go out and buy more planes. By the time those planes would actually get into service, the economy would have come back down again, and they’d have too much capacity,” said Lazar. “A lot of the airline industry’s problems have been self-inflicted."

Lazar says the airlines’ new-found discipline could lead to a sustained period of profit growth, but there are a couple of caveats. First, as airlines increase cooperation such as code-share agreements allowing them to sell tickets on each other’s flights, competition regulators could take notice. Also, says Lazar, there are a few airlines – such as Qatar Airways and Emirates Airlines – which are boosting capacity even when there isn’t enough demand. That could, eventually, cut into all airlines’ profits.

“Not everyone is playing by the same rules,” said Lazar.

Lawyers call for criminal investigation into G20 takedown

Experts say the onslaught of public complaints after the G20 summit is altering the legal landscape, raising expectations for actions expected on the part of police, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 11, in a story about a lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board and 10 unidentified officers by Montrealer Natalie Gray.

“What is legally required and what is simply part of the honour of the police that serves the public interest and ought to willingly, and in a good faith, embrace any process of oversight?” said Lorne Sossin, dean of [York’s] Osgoode Hall Law School.

Sossin believes that the multitude of complaints that arose from the G20, including private civil matters like Gray’s, may combine to forge a legal precedent. “If this is a way of compelling information that leads to a public process, that’s great,” he added.

What to do when the urge to merge strikes

Experts advise that even if you feel secure in your role, it’s prudent to develop a strategy that will help you get beyond the uncertainty of a merger as quickly as possible and come out a survivor, wrote The Globe and Mail and CTV News Feb. 11.

Any kind of job that is duplicated is at greatest risk in a merger. “There are not going to be two people sharing the executive suites in the new organization. And any kind of shared services will not have two operations, so as much as half of the staffs in areas like legal, finance and human resources will probably end up being eliminated,” said Douglas Cumming, professor of finance and Ontario Research Chair at York University’s Schulich School of Business, who studies corporate reorganization in venture capital acquisitions.

In most mergers, executives of the smaller organization and their management team think of leaving anyway, because they will no longer be able to control the direction of the company, Cumming said. “However… if you are able to survive the early job cutting, and the resulting organization becomes more efficient, evidence of large research studies shows mergers can increase employment and opportunities beyond the first year.”

Schulich prof says investing in labour-sponsored funds is ‘irrational’

Financial advisers routinely caution against buying any investment purely for a tax credit. Instead, the gains must be factored into the entire investment opportunity, wrote The Canadian Press Feb. 11.

Labour fund critics say the tax credits mask the poor quality of the investment returns. “It’s totally irrational to invest if you don’t have tax breaks,” says Doug Cumming, a finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University.

A fervent critic of such venture capital funds, Cumming said they generate anemic returns, have excessive management fees and are a drain on government revenues.

Cumming said the tax-subsidized funds crowd out private investment. Better ways for governments to stimulate venture capital funding include reducing capital gains tax rates and more generous treatment for employee stock options, he added.

Osgoode author defends book on billionaires

We’re pleased that Ben Eisen doesn’t take issue with our main point in The Trouble with Billionaires – that in recent years there has been dramatic income growth for those at the top, and almost no income growth for the rest of society, wrote Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks [professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School], in the Vancouver Sun Feb. 11.

Eisen implies that we are advocating an outmoded agenda [of increasing taxes on the rich] from a bygone era. The truth is the early postwar period provided Canadians and Americans with a level of prosperity – and equality – that they haven’t enjoyed since. Ironically, Eisen and his conservative colleagues seem determined to push the clock back even farther – to the much harsher era of low taxes and extreme inequality that prevailed throughout the Gilded Age in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We doubt that’s where Canadians want to go.