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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    End of HST on April 1 means some things will be cheaper, and average B.C. family will save $350 a year

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

Canada stands alone as only country outside of UN droughts and deserts convention – National

OTTAWA – The Harper government is pulling out of a United Nations convention that fights droughts in Africa and elsewhere, which would make Canada the only country in the world outside the agreement.

The federal cabinet last week ordered the unannounced withdrawal on the recommendation of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, ahead of a major scientific meeting on the convention next month in Germany.

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The abrupt move caught the UN secretariat that administers the convention off guard, which was informed through a telephone call from The Canadian Press.

The cabinet order “authorizes the Minister of Foreign Affairs to take the actions necessary to withdraw, on behalf of Canada, from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in those Countries Experiencing Severe Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa.”

Canada signed the convention in 1994 and ratified it in 1995. Every UN nation – 194 countries and the European Union – is currently a party to it.

The UN body has a research committee dedicated to finding ways to stop the spread of droughts that lay waste to farmland across the planet, particularly Africa.

Scientists, governments and civil society organizations are headed to Bonn next month “to carry out the first ever comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought,” says a notice from the United Nations Environment Program.

“Also, for the very first time, governments will provide concrete data on the status of poverty and of land cover in the areas affected by desertification in their countries.”

The issue of encroaching deserts has become urgent because of renewed droughts that have plunged millions into poverty in Africa’s Sahel belt last year and in East Africa the year before.

The Bonn-based secretariat for the UN body said no Canadian official had contacted them about the withdrawal.

“We cannot comment on something that is not communicated officially to the secretariat or to the United Nations,” said a spokeswoman, who added she planned to contact the secretariat’s legal office for advice.

Baird’s office referred questions to the Canadian International Development Agency, which rejected a request for an interview.

A spokesman for International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino said in an emailed statement that “membership in this convention was costly for Canadians and showed few results, if any for the environment.”

Fantino’s office refused to answer follow-up questions, including how much money was being saved by the move, and when Canada planned to notify the UN of its decision.

Government documents show Canada provided a $283,000 grant to support the convention from 2010 to 2012.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the decision “shows … that the government is clearly outside of what is international norms here. We’re increasing our isolation by doing this.”

He also questioned why the government didn’t announce the decision.

“The questions are Why are we doing this? Who is behind this? And it would appear they just got caught doing this. They didn’t make an announcement about this,” said Dewar.

“Was this something they were hoping no one would notice?”

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians said drought is now “a life and death issue” for millions around the world.

“Pulling out of these talks is simply the worst thing Canada could do and this is the worst time for the Canadian government to be pulling a stunt like this,” Barlow said in an email.

The decision could stoke more criticism of the Harper government’s record on the environment.

Canada, along with Japan, Russia and New Zealand, joined the United States in opting out of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The government has also faced widespread criticism for muzzling scientists, leading to a recent complaint to the federal information commissioner to look into the matter.

Its decision to cut the funding for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy has also sparked an outcry.

Baird has suggested the closure of the think-tank was because the government did not want to pay for advice that did not fit with the government’s general direction.

The roundtable had warned repeatedly that the federal government would not be able to meet its targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions without putting a price on carbon, an idea the Conservatives vehemently oppose.

“Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit,” says the secretariat’s description of the 1994 convention.

It calls the convention the “sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.”

Canada has also been an active participant in the convention, and has said it was in the country’s national interest to be a party to it.

The Canadian International Development Agency – soon to be merged into the Foreign Affairs Department – has administered Canada’s participation and affirmed that fact in an undated, 40-page report, titled “Canada’s First Report on Domestic Activities Relevant to the United Nations Convention to Combat Diversification.”

The report says that Canada is an “Affected Party” under the treaty because of “the existence of drylands in the Canadian prairies.”

The convention, the report states, requires Canada “to ensure that desertification issues are integrated into its national sustainable development plans and policies.”

The convention also obliges its parties “to report on activities undertaken to address the problem,” says the CIDA report.

“Our status as Party to this Convention is in our national interest because this Convention (and related issues like biodiversity), and the global thinking which is emanating from it, will benefit our own vision and approach of how we address our own, and the world’s drylands,” the report concluded.

In a May 2008 speech to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, Canada’s representative said in a prepared text that “Canada has been a strong supporter” of the convention.

The text said that “Canada applauds” the efforts of the convention’s executive secretary “to elevate the profile of desertification as a key environment and development issue, and will continue to support activities to combat desertification, land degradation and drought” in keeping with the goals of the convention.

©2013The Canadian Press

Auditor general delivers damning report on B.C.’s carbon trading system – BC

The B.C. auditor general has delivered a damning report on the province’s controversial carbon trading system and the Crown corporation Pacific Carbon Trust.

The report concludes the government has not reached its goal of “carbon neutrality,” and says the two projects examined in the audit should never have been given public money.

The Encana gas drilling project in northeast B.C. and the Darkwoods forestry conservation project in the Kootenays were provided $6 million in 2010 for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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“Offsets can only be credible in British Columbia if, among other things, the revenue from their sale is the tipping point in moving forward on a project. It must be an incentive, not a subsidy, for the reduction of GHGs,” said Doyle in a news release. “However, neither project was able to demonstrate that the sale of offsets was needed for the project to be implemented.”

Encana’s project was projected to be more financially beneficial to the company than its previous practices, regardless of offset revenue, while the Darkwoods property was acquired without offsets being a critical factor in the decision, said Doyle.

“In industry terms, these projects would be known as ‘free riders’,” said Doyle. “Together, they received $6 million in revenue for something that would have happened anyway.”

Under the province’s carbon system managed by Pacific Carbon Trust, public institutions such as hospitals and universities must pay for their sin of carbon emissions. The money paid to the trust is then used to fund greenhouse gas reductions projects at private sector pulp mills, sawmills, gas drilling rigs, hotels and greenhouses.

The idea is the reduction projects in the private sector offset emissions in the public sector to zero, which is why the B.C. Liberal government has claimed it is “carbon neutral.”

The test of whether the private-sector projects are legitimately offsetting greenhouse gas emission in the public sector — and therefore should get the public money — is whether the projects would not have gone ahead without the cash injection from the trust.

Doyle also noted there had been an unprecedented level of interference by an audited organization and industry in the audit.

“Of all the reports I have issued, never has one been targeted in such an overt manner by vested interests,” he stated. “Nor has an audited organization ever broken my confidence as did the senior managers at the Pacific Carbon Trust by disclosing confidential information to carbon market developers and brokers.”

“I was astonished to have to expend my Office’s limited resources responding to an orchestrated campaign of delay and interference, led by a public sector entity on behalf of market interests,” he said.

‘Prosperous decade’ over for retailers, ‘disruption’ awaits, CIBC says

A “prosperous decade” for Canadian retailers is drawing to a close this year, and in its place comes a period defined by a word businesses generally don’t like: “Disruption.”

After a record run of debt accumulation and retail spending, Canadians are getting frugal, economists say. Combined with the arrival of U.S. department store powerhouse Target, the pressure will be felt far and wide across the retail sector, CIBC says in a report released Thursday.

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Spending grew just 2.5 per cent last year, the second year of a slowdown and half the clip seen in 2010 “when households were much more eager to borrow at low rates to finance their shopping spree,” the bank said.

While mid- to higher-end stores like Canadian Tire and Hudson’s Bay Co. have thrived in the low-interest, easy credit environment that’s typified the retail scene in recent years, it is discount department stores like Target who are best positioned to suit the new needs of spendthrift shoppers, the report suggests.

“In that climate, discount stores will continue to grab market share, particularly given the entry of a major U.S.-based player this year,” Avery Shenfeld, CIBC’s chief economist said in note prepared for an investor conference held on Thursday.

But it won’t be a cakewalk for Target either. Fierce competition is anticipated from discount rivals like giant Wal-Mart Canada, while Canadian Tire, Hudson’s Bay and even grocers like Loblaw will take measures to better compete like boosting loyalty programs, consolidated real estate, enhancing e-commerce, and – not least – drop prices.

Minneapolis-based Target, which has opened 20 stores in Ontario this month and plans to unveil dozens more across the country, is providing the first real jolt of competition to the market since Wal-Mart entered Canada two decades ago.

But CIBC said that other foreign retailers may be enticed to the party, including high-end U.S. retailer Nordstrom and international “specialty retailers.”

The intensifying market place could result in further consolidation, CIBC said, notably among ethnic grocery chains or regional grocers as well drugstores.

“It has been a largely peaceful and prosperous decade for Canadian retailers. But that type of environment inevitably invites disruption,” Caicco said. “Disruption has certainly arrived.”

Other predictions from CIBC:

 The “rising power of Asian and South Asian consumers” will see the expansion of large-format ethnic grocery stores. The groups are expected to account for 70 per cent of retail spending growth over the next decade.A weakening Loonie means purchasing costs will be higher for retailers, but in a competitive environment, they will have to absorb more of the burden instead of passing on to shoppers.

Bottlenecks and parking main complaints from survey on downtown Toronto traffic – Toronto

TORONTO – Bottlenecks caused by public transit vehicles, parking and construction are the top complaints filed so far by Toronto residents taking part in an online survey on downtown traffic.

The survey is part of a city-led study that aims to help find solutions to the ongoing congestion in the area between Bathurst and Jarvis streets south of Queen Street.

The city held a drop-in event at Metro Hall on Wednesday to drum up participation for the study and encourage feedback on traffic issues.

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“When we’re looking at fixing problems, a solution for someone who drives downtown every day is going to be different than one for someone who takes transit,” said Andre Filippetti, the city of Toronto’s manager of traffic planning. “We’re trying to get a sense of what the priorities are for people in the downtown core right now.”

The survey went live Friday and asks residents to weigh in on eight types of traffic problems, including cars and transit vehicles jockeying for space and Gardiner Expressway capacity constraints.

Filippetti, who hears traffic-related concerns on a regular basis, said he wasn’t surprised to see many complaints about King Street fall under the legal lane and road occupancies category.

“A lot of these blockages are due to development… we’re going through a period of unprecedented growth in the city,” said Filippetti. “You have to crack an egg to make an omelette, and there are a lot of eggs cracking right now. These are the growing pains of development.”

More than 800 people have filled out the survey so far, and it will remain active until April 10.

The event came only two days after Premier Kathleen Wynne called for a dedicated revenue stream to fund transit and other infrastructure projects such as road and bridge repairs.

While infrastructure was not addressed on the survey, it didn’t stop people from complaining about it.

Robert Lunney, a retired Peel Region police officer who lives near the intersection of King Street and University Avenue, indicated on his survey that he would like to see more transit options across the GTA.

“Our biggest concern in downtown Toronto is simply going in and out,” said Lunney. “I take public transportation whenever I can, but when you’re going to Mississauga or farther, you have to take your car to save time.”

©2013The Canadian Press

UFC pushing federal government to amend prize fighting laws – National

As the president of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Canada and the former commissioner of the CFL, Tom Wright is certainly no stranger to hard knocks.

So he’ll likely feel right at home in the House of Commons.

Wright is in Ottawa Wednesday to testify about Bill S-209, a private members bill aimed at providing federal regulation and oversight of mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts, as well as other combat sports contests.

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“We want to provide a regulatory environment [for MMA] across all of Canada,” Wright told Global News. “We want to ensure that the ambiguity in the law is cleared up. People want clarity, municipalities want clarity, and the athletic commissions want clarity.”

The UFC and the sport of MMA have exploded in popularity over the last several years, especially in Canada.

Canadian UFC champion Georges “Rush” St. Pierre is the company’s top draw, and a St. Pierre-headlined card at Toronto’s Rogers Centre set the all-time UFC attendance record. UFC President Dana White has repeatedly called Canada the “Mecca” of MMA.

Yet as it currently stands, section 83.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada defines prize fighting as “an encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons.” That definition essentially confines the definition of “prize fighting” to mean boxing.

“The challenge that we have is the criminal code was written back in 1935, and it hasn’t been updated since,” Wright said.

That means technically speaking, every professional MMA bout in Canada is, according to a strict interpretation of federal law, illegal. This, despite the fact that the UFC has held several events in Canada.

“Basically, the term ‘boxing’ is not clearly defined in the law,” Ken Hayashi, athletics commissioner of Ontario, told Global News.

“You have Chinese boxing, Thai boxing, and so on. They never described what a boxing contest consists of, so one could interpret that many ways.”

“In essence, the challenge was that those provincial and municipal governments had to turn a blind eye to the potential illegality of it,” Wright said. His hope with bill S-209 is to remove any ambiguity or “grey areas” from the federal prizefighting regulations.

“We’re talking about simple language additions, like adding the word ‘feet’ [to the law], adding Olympic and Paralympic sports, trying to expand the regulatory framework,” Wright said.

Wright will testify Wednesday before the house Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where bill S-209 currently sits after it passed its second reading (by a vote 283 to 4) before being moved to committee.

For Wright and for the UFC, this is just the latest stop in a long campaign to change both laws and minds when it comes to MMA.

“We’ve been at this for the better part of three years,” said Wright, who was hired to be director of operations for UFC Canada in May of 2010.

A big part of his job has been leading the lobbying efforts to establish a regulatory framework for MMA in Canada, and across the provinces.

“To use a football analogy, we’re in the red zone, close to the goal line,” the ex-CFL commissioner joked. “One more big push, and we should be there.”

One of those changed minds is bill S-209’s sponsor, conservative senator Bob Runciman. Admittedly not a fan of MMA, Runciman was swayed instead by the need for increased safety.

“I’m not a big fan of [MMA]. There are some people who just don’t like that sort of fighting,” Runciman told Global News. “But it is a fast-growing sport, it has a huge following in Canada, and I was convinced in terms of the safety of the competitors that regulation was the right way to go.”

The safety argument is one that rings true for those within the martial arts community.

Joel Gerson is the owner of Revolution MMA, one of the most popular MMA gyms in Toronto. A former MMA and submission grappling competitor himself, Gerson is well aware of the benefits regulation brings for any sport.

“The reality is, if society wants something to happen, and it’s illegal or it’s not regulated, the reality is that society will get access to it one way or another,” Gerson told Global News. “The problem with MMA is that if it’s still going on, and not being overseen by a regulatory body, bad things can happen.”

The UFC made its debut in 1993 and quickly gained a reputation for its extreme, “no holds barred” combat. This led to a backlash in many parts of the U.S. and Canada, with many state and regional governments moving to ban mixed martial arts fights. Senator John McCain once infamously referred to the sport as “human cockfighting.”

But much has changed for the UFC, and for the sport of MMA, since then. The company came under new management, who sought to embrace regulation rather than flee from it.

New rules were introduced to improve the sport’s safety, and government-approved judges, officials, and ringside doctors were added.

Today, the sport enjoys drug testing, supervised weigh-ins, and other regulatory oversight similar to boxing.

“Much worse things will happen if it’s not organized and regulated,” Gerson said. “That’s the number one issue at the end of the day. While it may be well-intentioned, banning the sport actually does a lot more harm than good for the competitors.”

And while some criticize the sport for its ultra-violent image, there’s evidence that’s changing as well.

A study by Johns Hopkins University found the injury rate of MMA competitors was comparable to other major sports, and the knockout rate was actually lower that that found in boxing – a result of the improving regulation and supervision.

“I never count my chickens before they hatch, but we have the support of all the major parties [for this bill],” Wright said. “I’m confident we’re moving in the right direction.”

Retail Council of Canada presents dramatic testimony at Quebec’s Bill 14 hearings – Montreal

QUEBEC — You might say the familiar “Bonjour-Hi” expression used in Montreal shops and malls was on trial.

And it was the retailers association that took up the defence.

Arguing that offering service in the language of their customers is not only a matter for the Charter of the French Language but also a question of respect for the customer, the Retail Council of Canada presented dramatic testimony Tuesday to the commission examining Bill 14.

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And it concluded there may not be as big a language problem in Montreal as some believe.

While the retail council says there is always room for improvement in French-language services in Montreal’s shops, the government would be wiser to find better ways to help new arrivals learn French and train language inspectors to apply the charter more intelligently and fairly.

Coming down on small retailers — studies show 96 per cent of retailers on the island are able to serve clients in French — with Bill 14 is not way to proceed despite pressure from language hawks, the retail council says.

And picking up on the “Pastagate” incidents involving restaurants, the council’s brief to the commission examining the bill bluntly says the government’s own language enforcement bureaucrats could use a tutorial, too — on how to apply the rules in an even-handed, “neutral, stable and predictable” manner.

Even the Office Québécois de la langue française’s web page offering guidelines on language for retailers have not been updated since 2002.

The solution is not to add more costly red tape to retailers’ world or transform the Office into a police force ready to undertake “inquisitions,” with cameras, the power to search and seize and send offenders directly to the courts, says the brief.

“Our members have every interest in the world in serving their clients in French everywhere in Quebec,” council vice-president Nathalie St-Pierre told the National Assembly commission examining Bill 14 Tuesday.

“But the importance of satisfying the clientele is at the heart of a shopkeeper’s trade.”

And the council — which represents 45,000 store owners in Canada, including most of the ones in Quebec employing 500,000 people — laid out the retail landscape in such stark detail and made so many suggestions to improve the legislation that the language minister congratulated them.

“I remind you this is a draft bill,” Diane De Courcy said following the presentation in reference to improvements that can be made. “I find many, many of these proposals very interesting.”

The council jammed a long list of facts in its brief, modestly titled, Bill 14 — Necessary Adjustments.

Most of its member businesses are small; 72 per cent have fewer then 10 employees, which means they have no administrators to apply complicated francization rules.

Noting the minister’s own study, which says the new rules will cost Quebec businesses $23 million more a year, it said that’s money retailers don’t have in the highly competitive retail world.

Thirty-three per cent of workers are part-timers, 32 per cent are young, often students. One out of two have no education beyond high school.

The turnover rate in the business is 25 per cent.

And the council says Quebec’s workforce is increasingly multicultural, as retail tends to be an entry-level job for many immigrants who arrive in Quebec knowing English first.

Again, since most immigrants settle in Montreal, the city is bound to reflect that.

Recruitment remains a big obstacle. It is all well and good to ask West Island merchants to offer services in French but many can’t find the workers they need, a council official noted.

In fact, 26 per cent of Quebec’s retailers say they have trouble recruiting employees, leaving them no choice but to take on workers who may not necessarily be able to work in French.

The problem grows in the peak summer and Christmas shopping seasons.

But the council advances a notion not heard often at the commission, now into its third week of hearings.

With 33 per cent of tourist dollars coming from anglophone provinces or the United States, the use of other “complimentary languages,” appears natural and “good for business.”

Francophones too, are increasingly bilingual in a more and more open world, the brief states.

“Giving good service means people adapt to the needs of the customers and not the opposite,” the brief notes at one point.

The council then rips into the bill, describing new hardline clauses for their industry as “imperfect, costly, subject to interpretation and inefficient.”

It said the existing rules, under which the Office helps merchants make changes before taking them to court, are much more palatable. As is, many of the new clauses need to be “withdrawn or revised,” the council says.

St-Pierre mentioned in her presentation clause 151.3 of the bill, stating a retailer has to offer clients “a quality service in the official language.”

“Who will evaluate this? What will we do? Make them (an immigrant trying to integrate) pass a test?”

The brief notes that a proposed new hotline where citizens can register complaints might be used by someone to express hostility or some racial prejudice under the guise of a language beef.

But it was a heavy day for the commission. Moments later, it heard from a hardline language group — the Movement Montérégie français — which said its volunteers, cameras in hand, scoured the South Shore, uncovering 964 violations of the “letter and the spirit,” of Quebec’s sign laws.

The day opened with a respected Quebec demographer, Michel Paillé, telling MNAs he does not believe there will be an exodus of anglophones in the event the law is adopted.

“It’s not as simple as that to leave Quebec and find a new job in the other Canadian provinces,” Paillé said. “And anglophones have an attachment to the place and the community itself.”

©2013Postmedia

Tech bloggers speak out about gender bias in industry – National

Warning: This article contains language that some readers may find offensive

TORONTO – All it took was a joke about the male anatomy to send Silicon Valley into an all-out gender war.

Female developer Adria Richards was sitting ten rows back at a Python programming conference when she heard two males sitting directly behind her making sexual jokes. Feeling uncomfortable, Richards turned around, snapped a picture of the men in question, and tweeted it – asking the organizers of the conference to address the issue.

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Richards was fired from her job days later – her employer stating in a blog post that her decision to “publicly shame” the men by tweeting the photo was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.

The men in question, one of which was subsequently let go from his job at a mobile gaming company, were making sexual references to “forking” (a term used by developers when someone copies coding) and “dongles” (a device that connects to a computer).

Richards took to her blog defending her decision to call the men out.

“Women in technology need consistent messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry,” wrote Richards.

“What has to change is that everyone must take personal accountability and speak up when they hear something that isn’t ok.  It takes three words to make a difference: That’s not cool.”

Unfortunately, Richards’ story is all too familiar to some women in the industry. Last year, Sqoot, a “daily deal” API website, lost multiple sponsors for their API Jam event in Boston after they advertised “women” as a perk of attending the event.

“Women: Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) staff get that for you,” read an event document labeled “perks.”

At a Dell summit in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2012 – at which CEO Michael Dell was in attendance – the emcee Mads Christensen was quoting as saying, “There are almost no girls in this room, and I am happy.”

According to a Danish journalist Christiane Vejlo, one of the few females in attendance, Christensen went on to say, “Gender quotas are still fairly healthy in your industry.”

Dell responded to a story written by CNET’s Molly Wood, called, “Why we need to keep talking about women in tech,” stating that the emcee’s humor did not reflect Dell’s values – but did not stop the outrage surrounding Christensen’s comments.

But sexism and derogatory comments are just the beginning – some of the more shocking stories surrounding women in tech include death and rape threats.

Anita Sarkeesian launched an online campaign to raise money in order to examine gaming and female stereotypes in May 2012. Sarkeesian took to YouTube to explain how she would examine the portrayal of female characters in video games – from the damsel in distress, to using women as “background images.”

But Sarkeesian began to receive backlash – from sexist comments, to death threats. Of the most disturbing comments, read, “I hope you get raped tonight.”

“It’s very male dominated – I think with that male domination comes a sense of entitlement, that these games are made for men, by men and that if women are going to participate they need to shut up,” said Sarkeesian in an interview with Global TV’s 16×9.

Sarkeesian’s Wikipedia page was vandalized with pornographic images, and people tried to hack her website. But the abuse came to a peak when a game popped up online called “Beat up Anita Sarkeesian,” made by an Ontario gamer.

The game allowed users to beat Sarkeesian until the screen turned entirely red with blood.

Similarly, female blogger Kathy Sierra was forced to cancel speaking engagements and take her blog offline after receiving death threats and photographs of her pictured next to a noose.

Richards’ message – that women need to stand up for fair treatment for fellow women in tech – is spreading

Since Richards’ story went viral, other female tech bloggers have spoken up about their experiences of sexism in the industry – including a Google software engineer who, in multiple blog posts, details her negative experiences in the tech industry.

But the blogger, who identifies herself as Julie P. through her blog, is careful to note that women shouldn’t be treated “specially” – but just as equals.

“If the message you took from my posts is that we should treat women special, please understand that you got it wrong. We should be making everyone feel welcome in tech,” wrote Julie P.

©2013Shaw Media

Chiefs required to reveal salaries; protest drowns out announcement – Winnipeg

A native protest disrupted a federal government announcement in Winnipeg Wednesday on the passage of a new law forcing First Nations leaders to disclose their salaries.

Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt was at the Four Points Sheraton airport hotel at noon to announce the First Nations Financial Transparency Act was to receive Royal Assent – the last step before a bill becomes law.

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Ottawa says the law “strengthens transparency and accountability by requiring First Nations to publish the annual audited consolidated financial statements they already prepare, as well as a schedule of chiefs and councillors’ salaries and expenses. The accounting standards are in line with other levels of government in Canada.”

But the event was frequently drowned out, and then cut short, by yelling and drumming by a native protester who attended along with a handful of other protesters.

They drowned out remarks by Phyllis Sutherland, a member of Manitoba’s Peguis First Nation who revealed documents in 2009 showing councillors from the community of 7200 were making as much as $310,000.

Sutherland and the minister eventually gave up and left the room.

“What you witnessed here today was one protestor shutting up an aboriginal woman who tried to speak her mind. If that’s what the movement is about then I’m sorry,” Valcourt said.

But some say the new law is a smokescreen for other issues facing First Nations that the federal government is failing to deal with.

“There are municipal librarians in this country making six figure salaries to manage books, yet we have communities that have housing crises, flooding crises, water crises, and they have to manage the lives of their people on less than that,” said Pam Palmater, Director for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.

Palmater said the average salary for First Nations leaders is only $36,000 a year.

New book shares insights from Steve Jobs’ 1st boss

SAN FRANCISCO – When Steve Jobs adopted “think different” as Apple’s mantra in the late 1990s, the company’s ads featured Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Amelia Earhart and a constellation of other starry-eyed oddballs who reshaped society.

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Nolan Bushnell never appeared in those tributes, even though Apple was riffing on an iconoclastic philosophy he embraced while running video game pioneer Atari in the early 1970s. Atari’s refusal to be corralled by the status quo was one of the reasons Jobs went to work there in 1974 as an unkempt, contemptuous 19-year-old. Bushnell says Jobs offended some Atari employees so much that Bushnell eventually told Jobs to work nights when one else was around.

Bushnell, though, says he always saw something special in Jobs, who evidently came to appreciate his eccentric boss, too. The two remained in touch until shortly before Jobs died in October 2011 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

That bond inspired Bushnell to write a book about the unorthodox thinking that fosters the kinds of breakthroughs that became Jobs’ hallmark as the co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc. Apple built its first personal computers with some of the parts from Atari’s early video game machines. After Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple in 1976, Apple also adopted parts of an Atari culture that strived to make work seem like play. That included pizza-and-beer parties and company retreats to the beach.

“I have always been pretty proud about that connection,” Bushnell said in an interview. “I know Steve was always trying to take ideas and turn them upside down, just like I did.”

Bushnell, now 70, could have reaped even more from his relationship with Jobs if he hadn’t turned down an offer from his former employee to invest $50,000 in Apple during its formative stages. Had he seized that opportunity, Bushnell would have owned one-third of Apple, which is now worth about $425 billion — more than any other company in the world.

Bushnell’s newly released book, “Finding The Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nurture Creative Talent,” is the latest chapter in a diverse career that spans more than 20 different startups that he either launched on his own or groomed at Catalyst Technologies, a business incubator that he once ran.

He has often pursued ideas before the technology needed to support them was advanced enough to create a mass market. Bushnell financed Etak, an automobile mapping system created in 1983 by the navigator of his yacht and later sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Bushnell also dabbled in electronic commerce during the 1980s by launching ByVideo, which took online orders through kiosks set up in airports and other locations. In his most costly mistake, Bushnell lost nearly all of a $28 million investment in Androbot, another 1980s-era startup. It developed 3-foot-tall robots that were supposed to serve the dual role of companion and butler. (Bushnell relied on Apple’s computers to control the early models.)

Bushnell’s best-known accomplishments came at Atari, which helped launch the modern video game industry with the 1972 release of “Pong,” and at the Chuck E Cheese restaurant chain, which specializes in pizza, arcade entertainment and musical performances by animatronic animals. It’s an odyssey that led actor Leonardo DiCaprio to obtain the film rights to Bushnell’s life for a possible movie starring DiCaprio in the lead role.

While at Atari, Bushnell began to break the corporate mould, creating a template that is now common through much of Silicon Valley. He allowed employees to turn Atari’s lobby into a cross between a video game arcade and the Amazon jungle. He started holding keg parties and hiring live bands to play for his employees after work. He encouraged workers to nap during their shifts, reasoning that a short rest would stimulate more creativity when they were awake. He also promised a summer sabbatical every seven years.

He advertised job openings at Atari with taglines such as, “Confusing work with play every day” and “Work harder at having fun than ever before.” When job applicants came in for interviews, he would ask brain-teasing questions such as: “What is a mole?”; “Why do tracks run counter-clockwise?” and “What is the order of these numbers: 8, 5, 4, 9, 1, 7, 6, 3, 2?”

Bushnell hadn’t been attracting much attention in recent years until Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography on Jobs came out in 2011, just after Jobs’ death. It reminded readers of Bushnell’s early ties to the man behind the Macintosh computer, iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Suddenly, everyone was asking Bushnell about what it was like to be Jobs’ first boss. Publisher Tim Sanders of Net Minds persuaded him to write a book linked to Jobs, even though Bushnell had already finished writing a science fiction novel about a video game hatched through nanotechnology in 2071.

“The idea is to become a bestselling author first and then the rest of my books will be slam dunks,” Bushnell said. To get his literary career rolling, Bushnell relied on veteran ghostwriter Gene Stone, who also has written other books, including “Forks Over Knives,” under his own name.

Bushnell’s book doesn’t provide intimate details about what Jobs was like after he dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Ore., and went to work as a technician in 1974 at Atari in Los Gatos, Calif. He had two stints there, sandwiched around a trip to India. During his second stint at Atari, in 1975, Jobs worked on a “Pong” knock-off called “Breakout” with the help of his longtime friend Wozniak, who did most of the engineering work on the video game, even though he wasn’t being paid by Atari. Jobs left Atari for good in 1976 when he co-founded Apple with Wozniak, who had been designing engineering calculators at Hewlett-Packard Co.

Jobs and Bushnell kept in touch. They would periodically meet over tea or during walks to hash out business ideas. After Bushnell moved to Los Angeles with his family 13 years ago, he didn’t talk to Jobs as frequently, though he made a final visit about six months before he died.

There are only a few anecdotes about Bushnell’s interaction with Jobs at Atari and about those meetings around Silicon Valley.

The book instead serves as a primer on how to ensure a company doesn’t turn into a mind-numbing bureaucracy that smothers existing employees and scares off rule-bending innovators such as Jobs.

Bushnell dispenses his advice in vignettes that hammer on a few points. The basics: Make work fun; weed out the naysayers; celebrate failure, and then learn from it; allow employees to take short naps during the day; and don’t shy away from hiring talented people just because they look sloppy or lack college credentials.

Many of these principles have become tenets in Silicon Valley’s laid-back, risk-taking atmosphere, but Bushnell believes they remain alien concepts in most of corporate America.

“The truth is that very few companies would hire Steve, even today,” Bushnell writes in his book. “Why? Because he was an outlier. To most potential employers, he’d just seem like a jerk in bad clothing.”

Bushnell says he is worried that Apple is starting to lose the magic touch that Jobs brought to the company. It’s a concern shared by many investors, who have been bailing out of Apple’s stock amid tougher competition for the iPhone and the iPad and the lack of a new product line since Tim Cook became the company’s CEO shortly before Jobs’ death. Apple’s market value has dropped by 36 per cent, or about $235 billion, from its all-time high reached last September.

The incremental steps that Apple has been taking with the iPod, iPhone and iPad have been fine, Bushnell says, but not enough to prove the company is still thinking differently.

“To really maintain the cutting edge that they live on, they will have to do some radical things that resonate,” Bushnell said. “They probably have three more years before they really have to do something big. I hope they are working on it right now.”

Bushnell is still keeping busy himself. When he isn’t writing, he is running his latest startup, Brainrush, which is trying to turn the process of learning into a game-like experience. He says he hopes to fix an educational system that he believes is “incorrect, inefficient and bureaucratic — all the things you don’t want to see in your workforce of the future.”

©2013The Canadian Press

Cancer patient fights Ont. government for at home chemotherapy costs – Toronto

When Greig Derry was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer three years ago, he knew he was in for a fight. What he didn’t expect was to have to fight the government of Ontario as well, over paying for his treatment.

“People who are ill, in battles for their lives, should never have to do battle with the bureaucracy,” Derry said. “The healthcare system should instead be coming to the aid of the ill patient, offering options.”

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An alternative option is what Derry was looking for when his lesions continued to grow, despite receiving intravenous chemotherapy in-hospital.

Given Derry’s background in integrative therapy, he asked his oncologist if he could lower his dose of chemotherapy safely. His oncologist prescribed him Xeloda, a chemotherapy pill he could take at home.

“Never did I think for a minute that the issue would be whether or not I was going to pay for the drugs. I was more concerned about whether or not I was going to be able to get my oncologist onboard with the concept,” Derry said. “He actually was fine with the concept and sort of told me as I was going out the door and by the way you’ll to have to pay for this and I went ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Usually in-hospital chemotherapy treatment comes in intravenous form and takes place in a chemotherapy suite. It is generally covered either by the hospital itself or Cancer Care Ontario. But that isn’t always the case when it comes to coverage for prescription drugs taken at home.

“When they go to a pharmacy and they receive an out-patient prescription it’s like any other prescription in Ontario and all prescriptions in Ontario are not paid for by the government,” said Dr. Leta Forbes, chief medical director of oncology at Lakeridge Health.

Derry estimates he is paying $400 a month for his pills. The drug company had already given him a 25% discount. He wants to know why he’s paying at all. He says he’s freeing up space in the chemotherapy suite and saving the system money by freeing up resources in hospital.

“There’s something seriously broken and deficient about a healthcare system that is undergoing cutbacks in care to save money and reducing access to diagnostic testing to save money and looking for ways to care for patients outside the hospital environment to save money,” Derry said. “But it still makes patients pay instead of saving millions at the stroke of a pen.”

In fact, a 2009 report for the Ministry of Health addressed possible cost savings.

“Based solely on drug costs, the CAPOX (or Xeloda) regimen costs significantly more than the FOLFOX (or intravenous) regimen.  However, because … Xeloda is taken orally and does not require intravenous administration, hospital/clinic resources that would otherwise be utilized could be freed up and reallocated for other intravenous therapies,” said the report.

Some prescription chemotherapy drugs taken at home can be covered under government programs such as the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) program, according to Minister of Health Deb Matthews.

“We have significantly expanded access to cancer drugs and it’s important that people get these drugs, so that’s why we do support them through the ODB and the Trillium Drug Plan,” Matthews said.

Many oral drugs are not be covered by any of these assistance programs. With the number of oral therapies increasing, it’s a problem Dr. Forbes thinks the government will need to address.

“I think a decision to have oral therapy at home can sometimes unfortunately depend on whether or not they can afford the pills and I think that may be something that the system’s going to have to work on for the future,” Dr. Forbes said.

Derry says he was lucky because he was willing to fight.

“I know that if I hadn’t yelled, screamed and been a major pain to somebody that nothing would have happened,” Derry said. “I would have gone home and I would have slowly generated debt.”

While he was rejected previously, he has now been granted coverage for the drugs he’s using under the Exceptional Access Program administered by the Ministry of Health. He credits his local MPP, John O’Toole.

“I can tell you from first-hand experience that the protocol for obtaining approval as an exceptional case under the EAP is highly discretionary, woefully inadequate and extremely slow,” Derry said. “I suspect that John’s staff probably gave somebody an incentive somewhere along the line to move a little faster.”

But he’s still worried about how many others could be facing the same situation.

“I still have serious concerns and worries for the thousands of folks who came before me and those who will come after me, who will simply be told that their drugs are not covered and will go home under the same financial stress and fear for their future as I have experience first-hand, believing they may never get the coverage they need,” Derry said.