Sacramento, Calif., OKs NBA Kings arena deal

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – With the clock clicking down, Sacramento city officials took their last shot at keeping the NBA Kings in California’s capital by approving a public-private deal to build a new 18,500-seat arena and retail centre downtown.

The city council’s approval of the arena Tuesday was the last step in what has been a full court press by Mayor Kevin Johnson to keep Sacramento’s only major league sports team from bolting to Seattle, where a new ownership group and arena deal awaits. He now must convince NBA owners to block the Maloof family from initiating the move, a deal made public in January.

Since then, the mayor, himself a former NBA All-Star, has scrambled to assemble a group to buy the team, convince Commissioner David Stern to consider a counter offer, and get approval for the financial deal that would build a $448 million arena on the site of a shopping mall — a development many say will revitalize a problem area in its bustling city core.

Next week, Johnson will present the arena plan and purchase offer to an NBA committee. The following week, the NBA Board of Governors will vote on whether the team can be sold, and whether it will stay or move.

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“We want the folks of Seattle to get a team, we wish them well, but we want to keep what’s ours,” Johnson said after the 7-2 vote to approve the arena. “We’re going to New York to talk about the viability of this market and the love affair we’ve had with our team.”

The Sacramento investment group includes Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire Ron Burkle, co-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Johnson announced late Monday that Paul Jacobs, CEO of the international technology company Qualcomm, also agreed to become part of the Sacramento bid.

“We have four billionaires who have said that Sacramento is worthy. It’s been a long time since people have validated us in this way,” said city councilmember Steve Hansen, who voted in favour of the deal.

The NBA has said the aging Sleep Train Arena in the suburbs four miles north of downtown no longer is adequate.

“We’re in competition to keep the Sacramento Kings from being taken away from us,” said City Manager John Shirey as he began outlining the arena plan for council members. “We’ve known all along that we need to present the NBA a first-rate, quality place for them to play.”

The Seattle group, led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, has had a deal to acquire a 65 per cent stake in the team for $341 million.

The Chamber of Commerce, labour groups and fans spoke in favour of the arena deal, saying that keeping the Kings saves 800 jobs and creates 6,500 more during the construction and downtown revitalization process.

The plan was opposed by several groups and speakers, some of whom asked the council to take more time to study whether the deal is good for the city. City officials reached a preliminary arena agreement Saturday with the investment group, but the late negotiations left little time for community members to study the proposal before the vote.

“Mr. Mayor, your attempts to pull off an upset win could adversely affect this community for decades,” said attorney and professed Kings fan Jeffrey Anderson, who asked the council to put the plan before voters or he would file a lawsuit to stop it.

Other speakers said the timing of the deal was ironic given that nearby Stockton is in bankruptcy court after over-extending itself with debt, including a minor-league hockey arena.

Development partners compared their vision of a downtown arena to other projects that have revitalized urban areas such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the new Barclays Center where the Nets began play in Brooklyn this season. Architect AECOM, tapped to build a new Kings arena, recently completed the Barclays venue.

“I have a lot of faith in this site. It’s nothing short of world class,” said AECOM’s Bill Crockett.

The arena will be built on the west end of city centre on the site of the Downtown Plaza, an aging mall that has lost more than half of its sales revenue in the last 10 years as stores have moved to the suburbs. It’s just blocks from Interstate 5, a short walk from Amtrak and sits at a gateway to downtown and the city of 475,000.

The city’s share is $258 million, the bulk of which would come from event parking collections and ticket surcharges. Nearly all of the city’s parking lots are used by government workers who vacate downtown after 5 p.m. The city would own the arena.

The investment group will contribute $189 million to the arena construction and would be responsible for all capital improvements.

The 18,500-seat downtown arena also could host hockey, concerts and family entertainment. The development would include 475,000 in office space, 300,000 in retail space, 250 hotel rooms and 600 housing units.

The arena term sheet includes a 35-year non-relocation agreement with two five-year extensions that would keep the Kings in the city until the last quarter of the century.

Best-kept secret in B.C. is good news for drinkers: Booze prices will remain unchanged when HST ends

Liquor prices in B.C. are not going up on April 1 despite a three-per-cent increase in sales tax.

Those facts may be the best-kept secret of 2013, says Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers Association of Canada.

“We know consumers have been very concerned about this,” Cran said Tuesday. “It’s strange that B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch has a piece of good news, yet it’s not well-publicized.”

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According to the provincially owned Distribution Branch, liquor prices will “generally remain unchanged” when sales taxes rise from 12 to 15 per cent on April 1 as the Harmonized Sales Tax is eliminated.

The Branch says its liquor markups at the wholesale level, which were increased in 2010 to compensate for a three-per-cent drop in sales tax under the HST, are being reduced to their former levels.

Liquor taxing and prices will return to their pre-2010 regime on Monday when B.C. goes back to a combination of the Provincial Sales Tax and the Goods and Services Tax.

The branch published its news on Feb. 15 at on bcliquorstores南京夜网, but the information was not widely picked up.

“Liquor markups will be reduced,” the branch said. “To minimize the impact on current shelf prices, the Branch will revert to pre-HST markup rates that were in place on June 30, 2010.

“Total provincial revenue from the sale of liquor products will generally not change.”

Vancouver lawyer Mark Hicken, who operates a website called winelaw.ca, said the bulletins on that site are mostly reviewed by those in the liquor business.

“It’s kind of bizarre. The message does not appear to have been broadcast,” Hicken said.

Cran said the Consumers Association inquired last week but wasn’t given the information.

“We didn’t pick up on it. The distribution branch didn’t seem to have anything in place to inform the public,” he said.

Taxpayer Allan Galajda, who belongs to a wine-tasting club, was under the impression until Tuesday that the branch would keep its price markups and pocket the increased taxes.

“Why didn’t they say something? This is government’s inability to communicate with the taxpayer,” he said.

Now that the word is finally out, he’s pleased.

“It’s a level playing field. What they did on one hand they’re reversing on the other. It’s a good thing,” he said.

©2013Postmedia

Tories claim Liberals gave ETFO a special deal – Toronto

TORONTO – The governing Liberals must have given Ontario’s public elementary teachers a special deal to resume extracurricular activities, the Progressive Conservatives charged Wednesday.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is refusing to tell taxpayers what’s going on behind closed doors with the teachers’ unions, said Tory education critic Lisa MacLeod.

“She talks about clarity, yet she refuses to provide any details,” she said.

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“Is she prepared to water down standardized testing in the province at the behest of teachers’ unions? Was there a promissory note for future negotiations to talk about future increases to teachers’ salaries?”

But Wynne insists there’s no special deal and no new money for public high school and elementary school teachers.

The Liberals are working with the unions on a new process for collective bargaining and how it will be implemented for the next round of negotiations once the current contracts expire in two years, she said.

“As I’ve said, implementation details, no new money and what’s the collective bargaining process going to look like going forward,” Wynne said in explaining the content of the talks.

“So that is really what we have been talking about. And whether you buy it or not, that’s the reality.”

The aim is to have a “clear bargaining process that has a provincial component and a local component,” she said.

Over the last few years, new contracts with teachers have been reached through a so-called provincial roundtable, where representatives for the government, school boards and unions hammer out a framework agreement.

That template is then used in local negotiations to fine-tune a final agreement, as the school boards are technically the teachers’ employers.

But talks with the unions need to remain confidential for now to create trust between all the parties so they can come to a resolution, Wynne said.

No details will be released until an agreement is finalized, said Education Minister Liz Sandals, a former school board trustee.

“What we know is that you don’t negotiate with the media, with the cameras,” she told reporters. “And as persistent as you may be, we’re not changing that rule.”

Students have waited long enough for the Liberals to clean up the mess they created, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

“They’ve thrown the whole school system into chaos,” she said.

“They’ve put kids and families and parents and education workers through the wringer, and now they’re trying to clean up the mess. So God bless, clean up the mess and let’s move on.”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said late Tuesday night that it was lifting a ban on voluntary activities, citing progress in talks with the government.

ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement that the talks will continue and the union is confident the government “has demonstrated a commitment to dealing with concrete items of importance” to its members.

Public school teachers withdrew from extracurricular activities in the fall to protest a controversial law that freezes wages, cuts benefits and stops strikes. It was used in January to force new two-year contracts on them.

Former premier Dalton McGuinty maintained the move was necessary to fight Ontario’s $12-billion deficit, but teachers said it violated their constitutional rights.

Talks with the unions started anew after McGuinty stepped down and Wynne – a former education minister – replaced him as Liberal leader at the end of January.

ETFO’s decision to lift the ban comes a month after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation told its members that they could go back to extracurricular activities.

But OSSTF president Ken Coran noted a majority of public high school teachers may not return to extracurricular activities.

©2013The Canadian Press

Kenney: Canada working on ‘contingency plans’ if called to harbour Syrian refugees – National

OTTAWA – Government officials are bracing for the possibility Canada is asked to take in people fleeing the ongoing conflict in Syria, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

But a large-scale resettlement program won’t resolve the growing refugee crisis, Kenney admitted.

“We’re talking about millions of either convention refugees or non-registered de facto refugees or internally displaced persons in Syria,” Kenney said after announcing the expansion of a resettlement program for Bhutanese refugees.

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“And anyone who thinks we can just bring people in by the tens of thousands doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation.”

Kenney has come under repeated criticism from Syrian-Canadian groups and refugee advocates for failing to provide a concrete strategy for the growing refugee problem caused by the two-year-old civil war.

The United Nations estimates more than a million people have left the country since 2011 – a number they say could eventually triple if no solution is found.

Kenney said officials from his department were recently in Lebanon and Jordan assessing the situation of Syrians who’d fled there.

“We are thinking forward in case at some point the United Nations does come to us and other countries to ask us to participate in resettlement,” Kenney said.

“We’re already making contingency plans for that.”

He stressed, however, that the UN hasn’t made that request yet and hasn’t signalled that it will.

The focus right now is on humanitarian assistance, Kenney said, hinting that Canada is likely to contribute more to ongoing efforts in that field.

Kenney also cautioned that if a resettlement program were created, there would be strict controls.

“There is a terrible bloody war going on and there’s frankly blood on a lot of people’s hands, both on the part of the regime and many of the opposition militias,” he said.

“We would have to be very careful about security screening and admissibility for anyone seeking to come in to a program like that.”

Critics of Canada’s actions to date have complained of delays in processing applications from Syrians already in Canada who have applied to bring their family members to Canada since the uprising began in 2011.

Kenney says the backlog is expected to be cleared by May.

Thousands of non-Syrians seeking resettlement in Canada as refugees have also been affected by the war there.

The conflict forced the closure of the Canadian visa office in Damascus, which was the processing centre for refugee applications from a number of surrounding countries.

The shutdown saw the number of refugees admitted by Canada last year drop well below targeted numbers.

©2013The Canadian Press

Saint Mary’s to go smoke free by September – Halifax

HALIFAX – The clock is ticking at Saint Mary’s University for smokers. It’s part of a movement to convince young smokers to butt out.

Dalhousie and Acadia Universities are smoke free, but Saint Mary’s is taking it one step further says the Vice-President of Finance at the university, Gabe Morrison. “I am delighted to announce that Saint Mary’s is moving to becoming a tobacco free campus by September 1st, 2013.”

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Morrison says the university has been hearing concerns about second hand smoke for years. Saint Mary’s President, Dr. Colin Dodds, is a former smoker. “I did inhale.” says Dodds, whose comments were greeted with laughter. “I didn’t have President Clinton’s problem, but it was only cigarettes,” adds Dodds. He says he doesn’t just want to remove smokers from the campus, “but in fact for people to consider quitting.”

All tobacco products will no longer be allowed to be used or sold on Saint Mary’s campus.

That includes the use of e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer, says although the number of smokers in Nova Scotia has dropped to 20 per cent, the university age bracket is still high. “Our smoking rate in the 20-24 year-olds, remains unacceptably high – 29 per cent.”

The program is welcomed news by Saint Mary’s Student Life Vice President Carrigan Desjardins. “We are definitely looking forward to being the first university here in Atlantic Canada to taking the steps to become tobacco free.”

Robert MacDonald of the Nova Scotia Lung Association agrees. “That’s absolutely a big win for Saint Mary’s.”

But not all students are happy with the new rules. Richard Gould is one. “I pay to come to this school and now they’re telling me I can’t smoke in a place that I pay to come to. It’s public property. If they’re going to ban smoking here, ban it everywhere else.”

Carrigan Desjardins was joined by Dr. Dodds to begin the countdown clock to September 1st. “So ladies and gentlemen,” says Dodds, “three, two, one, start the clock.” And the seconds ticked off to a rousing ovation from the crowd in attendance.

While the countdown is on, the clock will also display daily tips for smokers to help them butt out.

Romantic frauds stealing hearts and much more – Saskatoon

SASKATOON – Once a fraudster has a victim under their spell, next they will reach for the wallet, all the while declaring their ‘undying love’ for them.

Lying about love is not a crime, but if a con man/woman defrauds or steals, justice can be served.

A romance fraud involves feigned amorous intentions towards a victim to gaining their trust before taking financial advantage of that person.

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Fraudulent acts may involve gaining access to the victim’s money, bank accounts, credit cards, passports or email accounts. They can also acquire personal information to commit fraudulent crimes in the victim’s name.

Con men/women are targeting anyone looking for love or companionship.

Poetry and gifts are being used to lure people in a false sense of companionship before their money disappears along with the relationship.

Perpetrators of romance fraud can strike anywhere: at work, on vacation, online, at the bar or even places of worship.

In order to protect against romance scams, the province’ fraud investigators are asking people to acknowledge that any lonely person can be a target.

A con artist’s optimum victim is trusting and emotionally vulnerable.

If a strong social, sexual or financial relationship starts to develop rather quickly, be cynical. If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

Introduce friends and family to new relationships and ask for feedback. They can be objective and may see things that have been clouded by emotion and excitement.

Remember, fraudsters will meet the victim’s relatives/friends, but any attempt to meet with theirs is often halted by excuses. Be cautious of men and women who have no apparent connections with relatives, friends or colleagues.

If a con is suspected, end the relationship immediately and change locks, pin numbers and passwords.

Contact the local police department and also report the con to The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.

Police are not there to judge, but to investigate and prosecute fraudsters.

Although it may be difficult to admit they’ve been fooled, overcoming that reluctance could stop this from happening to another victim.

Bomb explodes in Acropolis, Greece, no injuries reported – National

ATHENS – A bomb exploded outside a Greek ship owner’s house near a crowded pedestrian area under the Acropolis in central Athens on Wednesday night, causing minor damage but no injuries, police said.

The explosion a few hundred meters from the country’s most famous monument occurred at about 8:30 p.m. (1830 GMT), after a warning call to a Greek newspaper.

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There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which follows a string of bomb attacks in the financially-struggling country by anarchist groups that have caused no major injuries or loss of life.

Police spokesman Panagiotis Papapetropoulos said officers were able before the blast to evacuate one or two people from the building and to seal off the area.

“Judging by the minor extent of the damage, it can’t have been a very strong explosive device,” he said.

The house belongs to a member of the Tsakos ship owning family, police said.

The blast, which was heard across the city centre, occurred very close to one of the Greek capital’s favourite pedestrian walks that skirts the key tourist site of the Acropolis. At the time of the explosion, the walkway was busy with strolling families and tourists.

Greece is suffering an acute financial crisis, and imposed deeply resented austerity measures over the past three years to secure international bailouts that are shielding it from bankruptcy. Domestic anarchist groups have carried out dozens of attacks on police and other symbols of state authority or wealth in recent years, especially following the 2008 fatal police shooting of an Athens teenager and during the financial crisis.

The attacks have continued, albeit slightly abated, despite the arrests of more than 20 young Greeks accused of belonging to the most active group – Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire.

Earlier this month, militant anarchists claimed responsibility for a bombing at a package shipping firm in Athens, and threatened further attacks on judges, police and prosecution witnesses in a terrorism trial.

In January, another such group planted a bomb in an Athens shopping mall that lightly wounded two security guards.

No holes barred on ‘Donut Showdown’

TORONTO – Forget the traditional coffee/doughnut combination for culinary expert Maggie McKeown.

When it came to being a judge on the upcoming Food Network Canada series Donut Showdown, the chef had to resort to an alternative chaser for the dozens of deep-fried desserts she had to consume.

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“Tums! Well once you eat, like, 100 doughnuts. Or a treadmill, maybe,” McKeown said with a laugh Wednesday at a media event to promote the show.

“I’ve got to tell you, that part was not easy. By the end of it I was like, ‘Oh my God, not more doughnuts!’”

Series host Danny Boome took precautions to avoid that problem.

“I didn’t eat a doughnut,” confided the British chef and former hockey player. “My rule was I wasn’t going to eat one doughnut, and it was really, really hard — really, really hard.

“My attitude was, if I work in a bar, I’m not going to be drunk. … These guys were eating 10 doughnuts a day, so someone onset had to have some self-control. You should see (judge) David Rocco — he ballooned, he really did.”

Toronto restaurateur Zane Caplansky of Caplansky’s Delicatessen is the other judge on the Canadian competition series that premieres April 2.

Each 30-minute episode starts with three competitors making a batch of doughnuts using three unusual secret ingredients.

The judges send the competitor with the weakest doughnut home and then create a doughnut theme for the two finalists to run with. The winner gets $10,000.

The series comes at a time when doughnuts are “huge in the culinary world,” said McKeown.

“I think doughnuts are popular because it’s a food everybody can relate to,” she added. “It’s a food that every part of the world has some version of … (and) doughnuts have a huge history in the food landscape.”

A total of 42 competitors from across North America, including 12 from Canada, are featured in the show.

At Wednesday’s event, three hopefuls from the series squared off to create a spring-themed doughnut display.

Rachelle Cadwell of Toronto’s Dough By Rachelle won the $1,000 prize with an Easter egg “basket” made out of crullers and lemon curd-filled doughnuts resembling Easter eggs. Cadwell said it took about 10 hours to put the whole thing together.

Her competition included Grayson Sherman of Calgary’s Jelly Modern Doughnuts, which plans to open up a shop in Toronto soon. He made a cherry blossom-themed tower of Madagascar vanilla glaze doughnuts.

Also in the running was Amanda Hamer of Toronto Barque Smokehouse, whose carnival-themed offerings included chocolate smoked maple bacon doughnuts, which are the most popular amongst her customers.

Sherman and Cadwell said maple-bacon is also the most popular doughnut flavour combo at their businesses.

“I don’t think you can get much more iconic Canadian than maple and bacon,” said Sherman.

“If we can throw a little beer in there and a hockey game, we’d have a real doughnut that was suitable for Canada.”

For all the dippy depths doughnuts are reaching these days, they’re actually quite simple to make at home, said the competitors.

“It’s really easy, it’s just like making bread dough, just a little bit of a different recipe and then you just cut them out, let them rise like you would a bread and then you just fry them,” said Cadwell.

“The key to doughnuts at home are basically, follow your recipe and treat it with the respect that you treat any yeast dough, like making bread,” noted Sherman.

Food Network Canada is owned by Shaw Media, parent company of Global News.

©2013The Canadian Press

AG calls B.C. carbon neutral plan a sham

VICTORIA – A delayed, discredited, but highly-anticipated environmental audit of the British Columbia government’s carbon-cutting program by auditor general John Doyle says the pollution-reduction plan isn’t credible.

The audit drew immediate fire from the government and operators of the program who accused Doyle of ignoring evidence and lacking proper expertise to examine the carbon-trading system.

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“We concluded that the provincial government has not met its objective of achieving a carbon neutral public sector,” said Doyle’s report.

“An Audit of Carbon Neutral Government,” was released Wednesday after a series of earlier leaks prompted the Speaker of the legislature to delay its release for one day.

Doyle’s report said Crown-owned Pacific Carbon Trust, formed to ensure the province reaches its goal of carbon neutrality, has not purchased credible carbon offsets and it paid above-market rates for the carbon offsets it purchased.

“Government is reporting on its efforts to reduce emissions and its progress in achieving a carbon neutral government,” stated the audit. “However, the PCT has not provided sufficient information in its reporting about the cost and quality of its purchases.”

But barely an hour after the release of Doyle’s report, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake called a news conference to dismiss its conclusions.

“We reject entirely his conclusion that the offsets he examined are not credible,” said Lake.

He noted that international carbon experts have endorsed B.C.’s carbon purchasing and measuring methods, while one of Doyle’s independent expert advisers, University of Ottawa Prof. Stewart Elgie, quit due to concerns about the audit’s direction.

The Pacific Carbon Trust board of governors issued a statement critical of the report just as Doyle’s audit was released.

“The board of directors takes its governance responsibilities extremely seriously and we are concerned by the findings and statements in this report,” said the statement. “We are most concerned that the conclusions are contrary to the auditing opinions provided by eight other independent expert bodies that reviewed these carbon offset projects.”

The statement said the board was concerned that eight other independent entities reviewed and found B.C.’s offsets are credible. The directors also expressed concern that Doyle’s lead investigator told directors at the start of the audit that he considered the offset results weren’t credible.

Lead auditor Morris Sydor, who commented on the audit on behalf of Doyle, said he believed he was the person who raised the concerns with the carbon trust’s board of directors. Sydor, who described himself as a tenacious auditor, said he recalls telling members of the board he was looking for answers.

The audit examined two offset projects, the Kootenay-area Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project and the Dawson Creek-area Encana Underbalanced Drilling Project.

“We found that both offset projects started without showing that the value of offsets was considered to the extent that it provided the incentive for going ahead — an important consideration for demonstrating the eligibility of offset projects,” stated the report. “We also found that neither project had a baseline that could be supported.”

Sydor said the office of the auditor general was prepared for the political and industry backlash the report has received after discovering last summer there appeared to be an orchestrated campaign underway to discredit the audit.

“Basically, it was an attempt to try and negate the impacts of our report before it actually came out,” he said. “We were not surprised when the information started coming out that letters had been sent out indicating concern about issues we were examining and whether we were qualified or not.”

Leaked letters that surfaced before the report’s release showed that carbon trading experts were concerned about Doyle’s report, calling it useless and saying it created controversy where none exists.

The Speaker of the B.C. legislature Bill Barisoff held back Tuesday’s scheduled release of Doyle’s audit, citing a possible breach of Parliament involving distribution of the report prior to Barisoff’s office receiving the document.

Independent MLA Bob Simpson said he received an embargoed copy of the report from the office of the auditor general on Monday and New Democrat attorney general critic Leonard Krog said he was almost certain the NDP also received a copy.

Doyle’s office issued a statement saying he regularly shares embargoed copies of his reports with who he considers interested members of the legislature.

New Democrat environment critic Rob Fleming said the overall thrust of the report questions the use of public money to help private businesses purchase carbon offsets.

“That has never passed the public-nod test,” he said.

Doyle’s report makes six recommendations, including: that the Pacific Carbon Trust provide greater transparency about the cost effectiveness of the offsets it purchases.

“For the projects examined in this audit, we found that the Pacific Carbon Trust had to pay more than market rates for both offset projects,” said the audit.

Sask. government ramping up to deal with flooding

REGINA – The Saskatchewan government is taking steps to deal with potential flooding in the province this spring.

A special cabinet committee has been appointed to oversee preparations and to deal with expected flooding.

The committee will be chaired by Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter and includes Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff, Highways and Infrastructure Minister Don McMorris and Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart.

Reiter says preparations are well underway to deal with the spring melt and potential flooding.

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That includes $182 million designated in the growth and financial security fund to cover flooding costs.

The Water Security Agency announced it will be releasing more water from the Alameda, Boundary and Rafferty reservoirs in the Souris River watershed to prepare for the spring runoff.

The Ministry of Highways has road building material, culverts and bridge replacement components on standby, with 15 emergency flood trailers ready to set up.

Reiter is calling on everyone to help.

“Everyone has a role to play. I strongly encourage each individual to take active measures to safeguard their property and families, so we minimize the impact of flooding as much as possible.”

Earlier this month, the WSA released a report saying most areas of the province may experience an above normal runoff this spring, with some areas north of Saskatoon and around Regina running the risk of a one-in-25-year flood event.

Non-profits owed apology: Toronto ombudsman – Toronto

TORONTO – A new report by Toronto’s ombudsman says city staff hiked rents for several non-profit organizations by up to 550 per cent without justifying the increases.

Fiona Crean’s latest report looks into the city’s Below-Market-Rent (BMR) program, which allows certain non-profit community groups to lease space from the city at a reduced cost.

The document says six community groups leasing space in a city-owned building were treated unfairly by staff from the city’s Real Estate and Facilities divisions, who gave “widely varying” estimates but no explanation for the rate changes.

A complaint was filed in February 2012 after the six organizations were informed of the increases. According to the ombudsman’s report, the city failed to justify the rent hikes, even after numerous requests from the occupants.

The real estate division also improperly charged one group more than $20,000 for property taxes over seven years, even though none were owed, the report says. City staff spotted the error in 2008 but no correction was ever made and the charges continued, it reads.

“It’s one of the worst examples of service I’ve seen coming out of city hall in the four years I’ve been here,” Crean said in a phone interview Wednesday.

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“They were told the rate would go up, but they then spent a period of months and then years trying to get accurate information from the city,” said Crean.

She was sharply critical of the city’s inability to deliver on the promises and commitments it makes.

“This is about extremely deficient performance and poor communication to the public,” said Crean. “Staff repeatedly broke their promises and commitments to the agencies.”

In one instance, a promise of information to be given in one week was provided 18 months later. Crean says that is unacceptable and the fact the two city divisions are “under-resource” is no excuse.

“If this were a private business, it would have gone under in six months,” she said. “The public service has a higher level of duty to its citizens and taxpayers.”

Crean says the city manager has found her report to be “comprehensive,” and will implement all 22 of its recommendations, which include a call for the city to issue an apology to the complainants.

The names of the agencies involved have been withheld from the report “to protect the identity of those who might not otherwise come forward,” said Crean.

Montreal police investigate metro drinking marathon photos

MONTREAL – Police are investigating a métro “drinking marathon” that involved a gang of young people urinating, vomiting, drinking, vandalizing, exposing themselves, throwing beer cans and walking on métro tracks early this month.

Photos of the antics went viral after being posted on the Mook Life website Monday. The headline: “Montreal Metro Drinking Marathon – The Orange Line Derby.”

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The event took place over several hours on March 9, with the 20 or so participants — mostly men — getting off at every station to carouse on the platform.

How did the disturbing incidents go on for so long — they covered 18 stations, from Côte Vertu to Berri-UQàM — without Société de transport de Montréal security or the police ever intervening?

“It’s not easy to spot” youths who will act this way, said the STM spokeswoman, Isabelle Tremblay.

“We transport 900,000 people daily and there are often groups of young people who may or may not have been drinking and who laugh loudly, but it’s not written on their foreheads that they’ll do what this group did.”

She called the acts “irresponsible, illegal and extremely dangerous.” Those who walked on tracks risked electrocution.

Tremblay could not say how the activities continued for so long without STM employees or police stopping the hooligans. “This is among the elements that will be looked at as part of the investigation,” Tremblay said. She said the STM will turn over surveillance video to police.

Montreal police Inspector Philippe Pichet said investigators are going through 911 logs to see whether any calls were made about the incidents, and the STM is checking whether any members of the public alerted the transit agency.

“It’s important that people notify us when they see this type of behaviour,” he said. “If people don’t, we can’t be there unless our patrollers happen upon it by chance. We don’t have patrollers in every métro station.”

From the photos, there were many infractions of municipal bylaws and STM rules, Pichet said. That includes the alcohol consumption, public urination and jumping on tracks.

Some participants also appear to have committed criminal acts — indecency, by exposing themselves, and mischief, by drawing graffiti, he said. He said they could also have been charged with mischief if subway service had been affected but it appears the métro was never interrupted.

At the moment, police are not seeking help in identifying the culprits, but anyone with information can contact Info-Crime, anonymously, at 514-393-1133, Pichet said.

Mook Life is a Montreal website that bills itself as the “voice of the streets and the heart of the youth, where ignorance and acting on impulse are not character defaults but celebrated skills.”

The site removed the Orange Line Derby photos on Wednesday but they can still be found online. The faces of some participants were blurred out in the photos but many of those who took part are easily identifiable.

Under the “rules” of the derby, participants had to drink one beer per station, with “pit stops every six stations to buy more beers.”

Participants are seen drinking and smoking on métro cars and platforms; vomiting in métro cars and on platforms and outside stations; urinating on station benches, tracks and walls; sitting on platform edges; and drawing graffiti outside stations.

One person threw a beer can onto subway tracks. Another walked on tracks. In one photo, two men are at the entrance of a métro tunnel. Several men pulled down their pants, in at least one case flashing a passenger.

At one point, a man holding a can of beer is seen standing on top of a ticket booth at Lucien L’Allier station. Inside the booth, an STM employee is on the telephone.

As the photos spread across the Internet, Montreal transit users reacted with disgust. On some websites, the names and Facebook pages of some alleged vandals were posted.

Some of those shown in the Mook Life photos have active online presences.

Some transit users, like Howard Zinman, contacted the STM to alert them to the event on Wednesday. Zinman was told STM security cameras captured the incidents.

“It’s appalling — they were doing this over the span of three or four hours,” Zinman said. “If your cameras captured everything, how come no one stopped it? How can the STM say that they are actually policing the métro?”

The photos of the drinking binge “just prove what everybody knows,” Zinman said. “The métro is just an unpoliced place; it’s dirty and employees are indifferent.”

Tremblay, of the STM, defended the agency, saying such incidents are rare and she had never heard of anything similar to the March 9 events happening before.

On the front page of the Mook-Life site, a disclaimer was posted Wednesday:

“Mook-Life is in no way responsible and/or affiliated with any of the activities and individuals depicted on this site. This site is for entertainment purposes only.

“The owners of this site do not condone vandalism of public/private/city property nor do they participate in any illegal activities such as but not limited to graffiti.”

©2013Post Media

Calgary court hears baby was born in toilet – Calgary

CALGARY – A Calgary mother facing accusations that she put her newborn baby in a garbage bag and tossed him into a trash bin tearfully told police she delivered the child into a toilet and thought the tiny boy was dead.

Meredith Borowiec, 31, made the comments to Calgary police during an interview taped in October 2010, after the baby was rescued from the Dumpster by passersby.

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Nanjing Night Net

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Borowiec is on trial on two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of two other newborns in 2008 and 2009. Those charges weren’t laid until after a child was found alive in the Dumpster in 2010.

She faces a second trial this fall on an attempted murder charge relating to the surviving child. But the Crown wants the baby found in the trash ruled as similar-fact evidence so it can be used in the murder trial, which is being heard by a judge without a jury.

“I thought it was dead,” said Borowiec in the Oct. 19, 2010 interview in a hospital room at Calgary’s Foothills Hospital. “He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t making any noise.”

Borowiec sobbed as she told police she didn’t know she was pregnant before she gave birth. She said she woke up with severe cramps and as they intensified she went to the bathroom and stood on the toilet.

“He came out. I cut the cord,” she said. “I started crying and freaking out.”

Borowiec told investigators she took the newborn out of the bowl and placed it on a towel. She then put the infant into the bathroom garbage bag and took him downstairs. She placed that bag into a kitchen garbage bag and dropped everything into the Dumpster outside.

Borowiec said she then had a smoke and went upstairs.

“I don’t know why I reacted the way I did. I should have called 911 and dealt with the consequences,” Borowiec said. “I’m sorry. Very, very sorry … I’m not a malicious person.”

As she tossed her child into the garbage bin, Borowiec conceded it crossed her mind that he might still be alive.

“I did have that thought yes,” she said. “I thought it was over, but another part of me said it wasn’t and maybe I would get caught for doing that.”

The trial is scheduled to last six weeks and the judge has yet to hear evidence on the two murder charges.

Borowiec told the interviewers she had a miscarriage the year before in July 2009. She said it occurred in her home and she went to a doctor at a clinic the next day who confirmed the miscarriage.

That’s the same time the Crown alleges she killed one of her newborns.

Borowiec didn’t ask about the welfare of her child during the lengthy interview with police, but did express relief when told by the detective.

“I’m really glad he’s alive and my stupid actions didn’t take a life.”