Labour unrest could disrupt Air Canada’s peak season, says prof

As Air Canada’s pilots’ union ponders its next step after an aborted ratification vote, the airline on Tuesday briefed flight attendants on plans for a low-cost carrier, reported the Toronto Star April 19.

News of the proposed discount airline that would offer long-haul flights to vacation hot spots like Europe and the Caribbean emerged last week as part of a tentative deal reached with the pilots. The airline is eager to compete in the leisure market with Air Transat and Sunwing, as well as WestJet, but it needs to cut costs.

However, as union officials travelled across Canada to brief its 3,000 pilots on the agreement, it became clear the deal that calls for substantially lower wages at the discount airline and new pension rules wouldn’t fly.

Fred Lazar, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, said the key is whether the leaders of the pilots’ union can get a large majority on side with the tentative deal.

“It probably delays the ratification,” Lazar said. “I would be more concerned if you don’t hear an announcement in the next week or two that there will be a ratification vote.”

The two sides could return to the bargaining table to work out a few issues, but Lazar said if a vote isn’t scheduled quickly, then it could be back to square one and raise the threat of labour unrest during the peak summer travel season.

“Even a strike lasting a few days would have very serious repercussions for Air Canada,” Lazar said. “The airline can’t afford one day of disruption.”

When the airline announced last month that it had reached a deal with pilots, it probably caught other unions by surprise, he said. 

“They expected this would be the most contentious union to deal with and the least likely to reach an agreement. It was quite positive when an agreement was reached and reached early,” Lazar said. “It now appears some that initial euphoria was overreacted.”

How a Harper majority might change the face of Canada

The prospect of a Tory majority government – the polls suggest the Tories are on the cusp – is sparking wide debate about whether it would change Canada as we know it, reported the Ottawa Citizen April 20.

The party’s political opponents and other critics paint a scenario of a prime minister, Stephen Harper, intent on imposing a radical social and fiscal agenda. But others say that answering to the electorate demands a measured approach.

"He’s been governing almost as if he’s had a majority, so I don’t know how much would change," adds Robert Drummond, a York University political scientist [in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

One potential change, should the Harper Conservatives reach a majority, is that backbenchers will be emboldened by a weaker opposition, potentially becoming more vocal about pushing their own agendas, analysts say.

"(Harper) has been fairly clear about not wanting to revisit some social-agenda items, such as abortion or capital punishment, but there may be some pressure from his ranks to rethink that commitment," says Drummond.

Blakeney implemented medicare, nationalized potash, taught at Osgoode

It is a measure of the breadth of his achievements that half a century after then-health minister Allan Blakeney stickhandled medicare past Saskatchewan’s doctors, the health-care issue continues to dominate Canadian politics, began an obituary in the Winnipeg Free Press April 20. Only now, rather than a battle over implementation, politicians of all stripes fight fiercely to promote their particular strategy to save it.

And potash, which he nationalized in 1976, is now considered of strategic interest to the entire country and also remains a dominant issue in provincial and federal politics. While Mr. Blakeney considered, even in his final days, universally available and publicly funded health care as his biggest achievement, it certainly wasn’t his only significant contribution to Canada and his adopted province.

These included battling for provincial rights over resources, adapting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to guarantee the power of elected assemblies and imparting on the national psyche the need to balance fiscal responsibility with caring for the disadvantaged.

It’s a measure of his dedication to public service that, long after he retired from politics after serving as premier from 1971 to 1982, Mr. Blakeney [a 1991 York honorary degree recipient] continued to teach at both Osgoode Hall at York University and at the University of Saskatchewan.

‘Give justice to my daughter’ pleads father of dead York student

The heartbroken father of a York University student whose death police are now investigating as a homicide [was expected to] land in Toronto Wednesday, seeking justice for his daughter, reported the Toronto Star April 20.

Jianhui Liu told the Toronto Star Tuesday from the family home in Beijing that he and his wife were heartened by support extended to them by the circle of friends who knew 23-year-old Qian (Necole) Liu.

“Many of her friends and classmates phoned to inquire about her circumstances,” said Liu, a research director and professor at The Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China – the highest institution in charge of training Communist Party officials.

Qian Liu’s body was discovered by two friends and her landlord at 27 Aldwinckle Heights Friday morning after they were alerted by Meng Xianchao, the victim’s boyfriend in China, who witnessed part of the struggle between the woman and an intruder by webcam the night before.

Meng, the girl’s boyfriend of seven years, made a heartfelt appeal on a Chinese social media website this week asking that people not follow Qian Liu’s death as some kind of passing diversion.

“Don’t spread the information around lightly. Right now her family and friends are deeply saddened. Don’t allow others to view this as some sort of amusement, OK? That’s meaningless. Whether you knew her or not, please give her some peace. I’m thanking you here. I’m begging you,” Meng wrote.

A graduate of Beijing City College, Qian Liu came to Toronto last September to study English at York, part of a plan to further her university studies here.

Only an hour before she was attacked around 1am Saturday, the victim spoke via webcam to her mother, telling her how much she missed home.

“It was noon Beijing time,” her father told Ming Pao, a Chinese daily newspaper, “the child was chatting with her mom and she said she wanted to come home. But she hadn’t received any university admission (so she) couldn’t. She had sent applications to several universities and was waiting for a response.

“The child’s mom was very upset. She had just spoken with her daughter on webcam and she was murdered shortly after. You can only imagine how a mother feels,” added the father. “We just hope the police can locate the murderer as soon as possible – find the murderer and give justice to my daughter.”

The York Federation of Students says it is concerned about the safety of women following an attack near the campus early Saturday morning. “This year alone, we have seen York students raped, sexually assaulted and even killed on or around our campus,” said Vanessa Hunt, president of the federation, in a news release.

A 22-year-old woman who was offered a ride home from a downtown party was sexually assaulted in the Sentinel Road and Murray Ross Parkway area over the weekend, but police do not believe the incident is connected to the homicide.

  • News of Qian Liu’s death continued to capture media headlines across Canada, the United States and around the world, including China, Australia, Britain, India, Korea, New Zealand and the Philippines.

Student who avoided wheelchair urges more medical innovation

Ashley Caldwell was three when she fell out of bed and was injured to the point of partial paralysis for six months. Her life changed, reported the Toronto Star April 20.

Almost 20 years later, Caldwell did something that drastically altered her life again. After undergoing five major orthopedic surgeries, she had a “baclofen pump” inserted in her right buttock. (A treatment for severe spasticity, the pump delivers liquid baclofen to the fluid around the spinal cord.)

“Doctors said when I was 16 that if I didn’t have the procedures, I would experience chronic pain and be in a wheelchair by 40,” said Caldwell, who is now 28. “But I had to get the surgeries and the pump installed in the US because I didn’t meet the requirements here.”

Canada needs innovation in its health care, she said. “If I had waited for surgeons here, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything,” said Caldwell. “Now, I am working full time and I pay a whole lot of taxes.”

Her point: Innovative, timely healthcare not only improves quality of life – it’s also cost-effective in the long run.

Caldwell, who works with IBM Canada and is pursuing an executive MBA at York University, was a sort of poster child at a lecture organized at the Toronto Board of Trade on Tuesday, titled “Inspiring the Next Banting and Best: Solving Canada’s Healthcare Innovation Deficit”.

Seasoned New York director to present best of Broadway at BlackCreek

On July 9, the best show in town will be under the stars, reported the Toronto Star April 20.

That’s when the inaugural edition of the BlackCreek Summer Music Festival presents what they’re calling The Very, Very Best of Broadway.

Discounting the promoters’ gift for overstatement, there’s a lot to like about the stars on stage: "30 Rock" actor Jane Krakowski is a seasoned Broadway hand, with the trained pipes to show for it; Martin Short is a veteran entertainer; Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell charmed Toronto once upon a time not too long ago in Ragtime; and Raul Esparza is a current darling of the Great White Way.

The leader of this talented pack is versatile New Yorker Marvin Hamlisch. His diverse portfolio of hits includes the modern-classic Broadway musical A Chorus Line and the soundtrack for The Informant. He is a frequent musical collaborator and leads several orchestral pops-concert programs across the United States.

Hamlisch didn’t have to audition the stars of the BlackCreek show because he has worked with all of them before. And he can’t wait to bring them all together in the open-air Rexall Centre at York University.

“From the first time I went to see the Boston Pops outdoors, when I was 8 years old, I’ve always felt that the best way to enjoy music is outdoors,” Hamlisch says. “There’s something wondrous about a beautiful night and you’re hearing these sounds.”

Hamlisch visited the Rexall Centre with festival organizers before he agreed to take on the gig. He was impressed with the excellent sightlines in the stadium, which was designed for tennis tournaments.

“It’s 14,000 people, but it’s an intimate 14,000 people, so I think we can really pull it off. I’m really looking forward to doing it,” he says.

BlackCreek is building a stage structure at one end of the stadium to accommodate a full lighting grid, jumbo video monitors and a state-of-the-art sound system.

“You have to be very aware of who is going to be doing your sound and ensure that those people are really top-notch,” Hamlisch explains. “The performers are really important, too. If they’re going to do an intimate song, they have to know how they’re going to make contact with people.”