Laurier professor, president apologize to TA over video sanction

The president of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., has apologized for how faculty handled complaints made against teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd after she showed a controversial video in a communications tutorial class.

Laurier president and vice-chancellor Deborah MacLatchy apologized to Shepherd on Tuesday after media outlets carried the full audio of a conversation between her, her supervising professor Dr. Nathan Rambukkana as well as another professor, Herbert Pimlott, and the manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support, Adria Joel. Shepherd recorded the conversation in secret. 

“After listening to this recording, an apology is in order,” MacLatchy wrote.

“The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd.”

MacLatchy said she also planned to apologize to Shepherd in person.

Sanctioned for video

Shepherd was sanctioned by Rambukkana after screening an episode of the TVOntario current affairs program The Agenda, which showed a debate between two University of Toronto instructors — controversial psychology professor Jordan Peterson and Nicholas Matte, a lecturer in the sexual diversity studies program.

Peterson is known for being outspoken on issues, including his views on genderless pronouns.

Rambukkana told Shepherd showing the video without denouncing Peterson’s views was like “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”

Deborah MacLatchy

Deborah MacLatchy is the president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Shepherd was told one or more students complained about the video. Shepherd told CBC News she told students it’s important to listen to all sides before you form an opinion on any issue.

“I very clearly stated, watching debates like these are so important for getting yourself out of speech bubbles,” Shepherd told CBC News last week.

“This was on TVO,” she added; a public broadcaster known for educational programming. “It’s crazy to me that it can’t be shown in a classroom with adults.”

Professor apologies

MacLatchy said Laurier has called in an independent party to “assess the facts of the matter, including a review of related processes going forward.”

Rambukkana also issued a written apology Tuesday.

“While I still cannot discuss the student concerns raised about the tutorial, everything that has happened since the meeting has given me occasion to rethink not only my approach to discussing the concerns that day, but many of the things I said in our meeting as well,” he wrote.

In a tweet after the apologies were released by Laurier, Shepherd said, “Moral of the story: A university must be repeatedly publicly shamed, internationally, in order to apologize (oh, but keep the task force and investigation). Even then, ambiguous about free speech. Also, make sure to secretly record all meetings or they won’t take you seriously.”


Apology from Laurier President and Vice-chancellor Deborah MacLatchy

Nov. 21, 2017

I’m writing to make an apology on behalf of the university.

Through the media, we have now had the opportunity to hear the full recording of the meeting that took place at Wilfrid Laurier University.

After listening to this recording, an apology is in order. The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd. I will convey my apology to her directly. Professor Rambukkana has also chosen to apologize to Lindsay Shepherd about the way the meeting was conducted.

I remain troubled by the way faculty, staff and students involved in this situation have been targeted with extreme vitriol. Supports are in place at the university to support them through this situation.

The university has engaged an independent party to assess the facts of the matter including a review of related processes going forward. The review is intended to support improvement in our processes. The university is committed to ensuring that the vitally important role of Teaching Assistant supports an enriched learning environment for all students.     

Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Giving life to these principles while respecting fundamentally important human rights and our institutional values of diversity and inclusion, is not a simple matter. The intense media interest points to a highly polarizing and very complicated set of issues that is affecting universities across the democratic world. The polarizing nature of the current debate does not do justice to the complexity of issues.

Laurier is prepared to engage with these important discussions in a thoughtful and determined way. I have announced a task force to delve into these issues. Further details will be announced in the days ahead. I look forward to the process and I am confident that the outcome will contribute to a better understating of these issues for Laurier and the broader community.

‘There were no brakes’: Lac-Mégantic expert witness describes how fuel-car convoy became runaway train

An expert witness in railway accidents told the judge and jury in the Lac-Mégantic trial none of the ill-fated train’s 73 tanker cars had handbrakes applied, so once the runaway train broke away from its locomotives, it had with no brakes at all.

Left idling overnight at Nantes on July 5, 2013, the train laden with crude oil rolled 12 kilometres down the track into downtown Lac-Mégantic, where it derailed and exploded, killing 47 people.

Locomotive engineer Thomas Harding, 56, rail traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53, are on trial on 47 counts each of criminal negligence causing death.

Steven Callaghan

The Crown’s expert witness, Steven Callaghan, testified the only way to secure a train is ‘to apply a sufficient number of handbrakes to prevent movement.’ (Marie-Helene Rousseau/Radio-Canada)

Steven Callaghan, who was hired by provincial police to scrutinize the devastation in the aftermath of the rail disaster, is the Crown’s 27th witness in the trial underway at the Sherbrooke courthouse.

Deemed an expert witness by the court, Callaghan is the only witness allowed to testify based on his opinion.  Dumas has given strict instructions to all other witnesses to testify only on known facts.  

Callaghan pored over a document entered as Crown evidence, in which François Daigle, the engineer who drove the notorious locomotive 5017 a day before the tragedy, noted mechanical problems.

He testified that the mechanical breakdown of the ill-fated train’s lead locomotive was a problem which “required attention of maintenance people.”

He said that in his opinion, the defective locomotive should have been replaced.

Earlier in the trial, the court heard that a fire, which broke out in the smokestack of that locomotive about an hour before the deadly derailment resulted in firefighters shutting down the engine. That also shut off the air brakes which were securing the train.

Callaghan told the court the mechanical breakdown didn’t cause the fire on the locomotive, but he said, “If the locomotive has a mechanical problem even before the fire, you minimize your potential problems by placing it in a position where it will not be the lead locomotive.”

No handbrakes applied on tanker cars

Callaghan testified when he arrived in Lac-Mégantic a week after the tragedy, his first task was to examine the locomotives, the buffer car and the first 10 cars in the convoy.  

“I was looking for pre-existing damage if possible, and in this particular case, whether or not the handbrakes had been applied,” he said.

‘There were no brakes, hand or automatic, applied to the train.’ – Expert witness Steven Callaghan, describing ghost train once it became detached from its locomotives

Callaghan told the court all of the locomotives and the buffer car had handbrakes applied to them, but he explained the handbrakes on a locomotive are not as efficient as the handbrakes on a wagon like a tanker car.

“They are different, in that they may only apply brakes on one or two of the brake shoes,” he said.  

Callaghan explained on wagons, handbrakes secure all eight wheels.

He told the court he saw no sign of the handbrakes being applied on any of the tanker cars.  

“With the seventh wagon, I couldn’t tell because it was too damaged,” he said, but added, “with no handbrakes on the first six tank cars, and no handbrakes on eight, nine, ten, the probability there was a handbrake on the seventh is low.”

Callaghan testified he inspected other fuel cars for signs the handbrakes had been applied and found no evidence of wheels having been overheated by braking.  

When asked by the Crown what that meant, Callaghan answered, “There were no brakes, hand or automatic, applied to the train.”

Air brakes not sufficient to secure train

Earlier in the trial, the court heard testimony from a railway traffic controller who said it was common practice for MMA employees working in Farnham to leave the lead locomotive running when a train was parked and left unattended.  

Last week former MMA employee Steve Jacques testified that leaving the head locomotive running added extra insurance in securing the train, because it allowed the automatic air brakes to stay engaged.

The Crown pressed Callaghan on that issue Tuesday, asking him whether locomotive engineers are supposed to rely on air system brakes to secure a train.  

“No,” said Callaghan. “The only sure way to secure the train is to apply a sufficient number of handbrakes to prevent movement.”

Callaghan’s testimony continues.

Proposed pot regulations open door to craft growers, licensing non-violent offenders

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor has released the Liberal government’s proposed cannabis regulations, giving Canadians until Jan. 20 to offer opinions on the measures before they are implemented.

“This proposed regulatory approach is informed by the extensive consultations to date, and it supports our overarching goal of protecting public health and safety,” she said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing the views of Canadians from across the country.”

The proposed regulations set out how the federal government will restrict and control the production and distribution of marijuana once it becomes legal in July 2018.

The six broad areas that will be subject to government regulations include: licensing, security clearances, cannabis tracking, cannabis products, packaging and labelling, medical marijuana and health and cosmetic products that use cannabis.

Health Canada is setting out a number of different licensing regimes and permits to allow for a range of different activities including cultivation, processing, sale, testing, research and importing and exporting.

The licensing for cultivation, for example, will allow producers to apply for authorizations that fit their business model, whether it be growing pot on a large scale for recreational use, or regulating producers who want to start a nursery that produces seeds and seedlings.

The consultation document also sets out guidelines for micro-cultivators, producers growing on a small scale, much like the craft beer producers, who could produce boutique strains.

The licensing proposals say that these micro-producers “would not be able to sell directly to the public or to federally licensed or provincially or territorially authorized sellers,” but the Liberals point man on pot, Bill Blair, contradicted that proposal under questioning Tuesday.

“Actually, they will be able to participate in the market through provincial sellers,” Blair said. “The provinces will be able to obtain from any licensed producer within their jurisdiction.”

Security

Anyone with a licence for either cultivation or sale under the proposed Cannabis Act now working its way through Parliament will need to have security clearance issued by the health minister.

The proposed regulations suggest the minister would be given the ability to refuse security clearance to people with links to organized crime, or past convictions associated with drug trafficking or violent offences.  

But the proposals state that the federal government is seeking Canadians’ opinions on whether or not it should allow people who have been convicted of nonviolent or low-risk crimes, such as possession of pot, to qualify for the security clearance necessary to participate in the industry.

“We have over 500,000 Canadians with minor drug offences on their criminal records,” Petitpas Taylor told reporters. “We’re just asking the question: should these people with a small amount of personal possession, should they be excluded from the market or should we consider them.”  

The proposals also include strict requirements for securing premises that produce or sell marijuana, and a cannabis tracking system, to ensure that pot grown for the legal market does not find its way onto the black market.

Keeping to the timeline

The federal government has shown no interest in budging on its July 2018 deadline, despite calls from some Indigenous groups, police forces and provincial governments asking for more time to prepare.

In fact, in a bid to speed up the process of passing the new law itself, the Liberals moved to limit debate on the remaining stages of C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act. The Conservatives and NDP voted against the shortened schedule, but they were outnumbered.

The bill is expected to pass the Liberal-dominated House of Commons easily, but the situation may become more complicated when the proposed law reaches the Senate. Several senators have warned that because of the complexity of the issues at play, that process could take months.

StatsCan studies recreational pot

Some have suggested the Senate might not be ready in time for the government’s July 2018 deadline.

With the deadline up in the air, Statistics Canada is getting a jump on measuring the economic and social impacts of legal pot.

To prepare for legalization, the agency says it will try to measure Canada’s current production, sale and consumption of recreational cannabis, despite the lack of data and the fact it remains illegal.

The agency says collecting data both before and after marijuana becomes legal will allow Canadians, governments and businesses to form a clearer picture of the economic and social consequences of lawful pot.

Another lawyer quits MMIWG inquiry as resignations, firings mount

Another lawyer for the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls has resigned.

Iqaluit lawyer Joseph Murdoch-Flowers sent a short email to reporters on Tuesday morning saying he was no longer with the inquiry.

“I have resigned from the inquiry,” said Murdoch-Flowers. “I will not comment further.”

Murdoch-Flowers is the third lawyer to leave the inquiry in the last two months. Lawyer Karen Snowshoe tendered her resignation this month and it will take effect at the end of December. Former MMIWG lead lawyer Susan Vella left in October.

The departure of Murdoch-Flowers raised the number of people who have either resigned, quit or have been laid off to at least 22.

Murdoch-Flowers is also the eighth departure that has hit the inquiry following the appointment of Debbie Reid as executive director. Reid is a former adviser to former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine.

Reid’s appointment followed the resignations this summer of former inquiry commissioner Marilyn Poitras and former executive director Michèle Moreau.  

The inquiry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Staff told to protect commissioners

Shortly after she was hired, Reid sent an email to all staff telling them their top priority was to protect the commissioners from “criticism or surprises.”

Reid sent the email on Oct. 12, a little over a week after she was named to the position and made it clear she was brought in to create order within the inquiry and told staff, “I don’t mince words.”

She said her job was to “protect” the commissioners and it was something all staff should also prioritize.

“All staff are here to work to support four people,” said the email obtained by CBC News from a source inside the inquiry. “All focus of staff must be to ensure that our commissioners are not exposed to criticism or surprises and that they are fully confident that we have their backs.”

Debbie Reid

Debbie Reid, a former adviser to Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, was named the new executive director of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Oct. 6, 2017. (Debbie Reid/LinkedIn)

Three fired staffers recently went public with criticism of the inquiry saying they faced a toxic, high-pressure work environment with long hours and little support.

An internal inquiry source, who requested anonymity, said Reid repeatedly tells staff at meetings that their job is to support the commissioners.

“I thought the national inquiry was created to honour and investigate MMIWG,” the source told CBC News. “I thought it was going to be a safe space for families and survivors? Instead, it’s become about self-image and protecting the commissioners.”

Quebec Liberals offer big tax cuts with elections less than a year away

Quebecers will be getting $1.2 billion worth of additional tax cuts this year thanks to a hefty surplus generated by a healthy economy, the provincial finance minister said Tuesday in an economic update.

With less than a year to go before the next scheduled election, Carlos Leitão announced annual tax relief that could range from $278 for individuals to $756 for a family of four with a combined income of $88,000.

The cuts take two forms. One is through a reduction in the lowest tax rate on earned income, which will drop from 16 per cent to 15 per cent in time for tax season. The other is a $100 per child supplement for school supplies. 

Together with the elimination of the health contribution — contained in the March budget — the Liberal government said, all told, it has delivered $2.3 billion in permanent tax cuts over the course of its mandate. 

”Tax cuts are intended to give the population some breathing space. It’s something we said we would do,” Leitão told reporters in Quebec City. 

​Helping to finance the latest round of tax cuts was a $2.4 billion surplus for the 2016-2017 fiscal year — $2.1 billion more than initially forecast. That surplus, according to Leitão, was driven by stronger than expected economic growth, resulting in higher revenues. 

In the March budget, Leitão had projected GDP growth of 1.7 per cent in 2017. That figure is now expected to be 2.6 per cent, due to higher household consumption and non-residential business investment.

”[The economy] is growing at unprecedented levels,” said Premier Philippe Couillard. “Quality jobs are being created. That is why there is more money in the government coffers. Quebecers have a right to their share; they will get their share.”

However, a closer examination of the figures released on Tuesday indicates that most of the surplus — $1.3 billion worth — comes from reductions in program expenditures.

2017 Quebec fall economic update

What’s behind the surplus

Along with the tax cuts, Leitão is using the surplus to reinvest in social services that were subject to harsh belt-tightening measures in the early part of the Liberals’ mandate. 

Health and education will see their budgets increased by $630 million and $444 million respectively, but those amounts will be stretched over six years.

Those investments, he said, will enable the province to hire 500 elementary school professionals, such as speech therapists.

The money earmarked for the health sector will go to improving residential care services for seniors, as well as improving mental health services for vulnerable clienteles.

QUEBEC FINANCIAL UPDATE 20171121

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao outlines details as he presents a financial update, at a news conference, Tuesday, November 21, 2017 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

$25 million a year will be spent informing the public of the risks of cannabis use, in response to the federal legalization coming into effect in July 2018.

“They were acting out of caution when they decided to clean house,” said Marie-Soleil Tremblay, accounting professor at the École Nationale d’Administration Publique. “They decided to take everything out, and now they’re deciding to put things back in.”

Leitão, for his part, was unapologetic about having reigned in spending so dramatically in previous budgets. 

”I regret nothing because we had to do it,” he said. 

An electoral ploy

The Parti Québécois’s finance critic, Nicolas Marceau, said the tax cuts would do little to compensate for the suffering Quebecers underwent during the lean years of Couillard’s government.

”Quebecers would have preferred better services for the sick and for children, rather than $278 per year,” said Marceau.

The right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Québec, which has surged in recent opinion polls, welcomed the Liberal government’s decision to cut taxes, but decried its timing, coming as it does during an election year. 

“My cynicism meter is at 100 per cent today,” said the CAQ’s finance critic, François Bonnardel. He described the tax cuts as the Liberals ”playing their last card before the election.”

​The Liberals are hoping the economic update will reinforce their claims to be sound managers of the public purse and able stewards of the economy. 

The document is sprinkled with claims about their success: 201,800 jobs created since 2014, an unemployment rate at a record low, rising wages.

Moreover, the update lands at the end of several difficult weeks for the government. It was forced to backtrack on its promised systemic racism commission; it’s been criticized from all sides for its religious neutrality law, and it lost a byelection in a riding once considered a stronghold.

Later this year, the Liberal government will release details of its long-awaited anti-poverty plan — another opportunity for it to soften its image ahead of next year’s election.

$2.3B worth of tax cuts for Quebecers, government announces in economic update

A healthy economy has buffeted Quebec government coffers, a largesse that will be shared in the form of wide-ranging tax cuts.

In his fall economic update, Finance Minister Carlos Leitão said Quebecers can expect a $200 reduction on their income taxes beginning this year. 

Parents, as well, will receive $100 annually for each child between the ages of four and 16.

In all, the provincial government is offering tax relief totalling $2.3 billion. 

The cuts were enabled by stronger than expected economic growth and past budget-tightening measures, Leitão said.

In the March budget, he had projected GDP growth of 1.7 per cent in 2017. That figure is now expected to be 2.7 per cent.

“All Quebec families must be able to reap, and will be able to reap in the years to come, the benefits of growth,” he said during a news conference in Quebec City.

The Quebec government posted a $2.4-billion surplus for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Roughly half of that went to financing the tax cuts. 

Leitão is using the rest of the surplus to reinvest in social services. Health and education will see their budgets increased by $630 million and $444 million respectively, but those amounts will be stretched over six years.

Those investments, he said, will enable the province to hire 500 elementary school professionals, such as speech therapists.

The money earmarked for the health sector will go to improving residential care services for seniors, as well as improving mental health services for vulnerable clienteles.

$25 million a year will be spent informing the public of the risks of cannabis use, in response to the federal legalization coming into effect in July 2018.

More to come.

Are the Olympics worth the risk for Calgary?

It’s been nearly 30 years since the city of Calgary welcomed the world to the 1988 Winter Olympics. Now, civic leaders are flirting with the idea of doing it again.

A potential bid for the 2026 Winter Games has already passed a number of political hurdles at city council, including Monday’s vote to spend up to an additional $2 million on bid exploration.

The city has already spent millions analyzing whether hosting another Olympics is feasible. In June, the Calgary Bid Exploration Committee (CBEC) presented a rosy final report to council that envisioned thousands of new jobs and a significant infusion to Calgary’s economy in the years leading up to the Games.

The committee estimated another Calgary Olympics would cost around $4.6 billion — a far cry from the $7.7 billion spent on hosting the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The CBSE’s report acknowledged operating costs would exceed operating revenues by $425 million. It also assumed a $1.2 billion contribution from municipal and provincial governments, and that the International Olympic Committee will make good on promises to reduce the cost of bidding on and hosting the Games.

One factor that could help Calgary keep costs down is that much of the infrastructure from the 1988 Games remains functional. But venues like the Olympic Oval for speed skating would require significant upgrading, and some other facilities would likely need to be built from scratch.

calgary-olympic-oval-460

Calgary’s Olympic Oval remains a world-class speed skating venue, but it would likely need significant upgrades before hosting another Olympic competition. (Carlo Allegri/AFP/Getty Images)

Dale Henwood, who is the CEO of the Calgary Sport Institute and was part of the committee, said the CBEC asked several key questions beyond what the Games would cost.

“Are there benefits? Does it move the city agenda forward? Does it help with the vision of where the city is heading? If there are benefits, where does it fit in with other things you want to try and do? I don’t think the first thing you look at is the cost.”

The IOC is talking up the prospect of a Calgary bid, calling it an opportunity for Canada to build on its “passion for winter sport.”

“When you have hosted the Games before, you have a great expertise throughout Canada, especially after hosting the 2010 Games and the [2015] Pan Am Games [in Toronto],” says Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s Executive Director of the Olympic Games.

“You have a combination of assets that is unprecedented. You have the positive energy of a legacy that is a very strong and a population that is behind [the Games].”

Not everyone in Calgary agrees.

“I wouldn’t say there is an enthusiasm around this bid,” says Brian Pincott, a former Calgary city councillor who voted against hosting the 2026 Olympics before deciding not to seek re-election this fall. “When we have polled Calgarians, it’s kind of split. A little more support [a bid] but it’s a cautious support.”

Druh Farrell was one of the councillors who voted Monday against providing more funding for bid exploration (the final tally was 9-4).

“You’ve highlighted the benefits. In fact, there’s a whole presentation on them,” she told CBC Calgary’s Scott Dippel. “I see no detail on risks.”

Money pit?

Despite promises to rein in costs and do things differently, the Olympics have historically been a money-losing proposition for host cities.

The story is a familiar one — the Olympic party swings through town for a couple of triumphant weeks, but when it’s over local taxpayers are left with millions of dollars in bills and new facilities they may not have much use for. These days, fewer cities seem willing to buy in, and the IOC has been faced with a dearth of candidates willing to bid for the Games.

In 2015, a group of citizens in Boston calling themselves “No Boston Olympics” worked tirelessly to convince the public that hosting the Olympic was a bad idea. The city’s leaders eventually backed down from a potential bid for the 2024 Summer Games.

“The question Calgary should be asking is not can we do this, but should we do this?” says Chris Dempsey, an organizer with No Boston Olympics. “Is this really what we want to focus our civic energy and attention and financial resources on when there are still so many other challenges they may want to address.

“They need to be aware they are making a real trade off. When you sign up for the Olympics, you are making that your number one civic priority for a decade or more.”

no-boston-olympics-1180

The “No Boston Olympics” group was able to convince the city its money was better spent elsewhere. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

Sweeter deal

The IOC seems to recognize that the allure of hosting the Games is fading. It has introduced what it calls “Vision 2020,” a set of reforms designed to make bidding on and hosting the Games more attractive — and less costly.

But Dempsey says the proposals do little to reduce the financial risk for host cities. He calls many of the initial recommendations “cosmetic” and says they don’t fundamentally alter the key financial arrangement, under which taxpayers take on most of the risk while the IOC pockets the bulk of the revenue from its lucrative international sponsorship and broadcast-rights contracts.

The IOC is promising to sweeten the deal for host cities. Dubi says the organization is willing to provide a slice — $925 million — of the billions it collects from TV rights deals and advertising to help Calgary offset operating costs. He also says a new set of recommendations will soon be released that could help mitigate risk and cost overruns for host cities.

One is around new venues.

“There will no investment in new venues. We want to be very clear about that,” Duti says. “If you have venues elsewhere in the country, they could be used. What we want is only venues in use to be renovated, if needed, or temporary venues.”

For Calgary, Duti says, that could mean holding some Olympics events at Vancouver’s venues.

vancouver-olympics-snowboarder-1180

The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee projects the 2026 Games would cost the city far less than the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, which were a hit in Canada. (Gerry Broome/Associated Press)

Last city standing?

Despite the promises, Pincott, the former city councillor, says Calgary should be cautious.

“We need to see proof on the ground of the reforms that the IOC says it’s committed to, and we need to see it as part of this bid process. My personal opinion is we should wait until 2030 to see actually if any of the reforms are landing on the ground.

“They say they want to refocus on reusing venues, but then they put in specs that are actually a complete barrier to reusing venues. The Olympic Oval is an amazing venue, world class, but the seating is about a third of what the IOC is demanding.”

Dubi promises flexibility there too.

“We don’t have a minimum seating capacity anymore,” he says. “In Pyeongchang a few months ago we actually reduced capacity in some venues to make sure we right-sized them. That could help Calgary as well.”

For now, Calgary’s dance with the IOC will continue. The next step will be forming a bid corporation, and then a formal bid would have to be submitted to the IOC by late 2018. It’s estimated that alone would cost about $30 million.

So far, no city has been convinced to formally seek the 2026 Winter Olympics. Stockholm, Sweden and Innsbruck, Austria both recently decided against pursuing a bid.

Farrell, the city councillor, wonders whether Calgary will ultimately be the only suitor left.

“Are we going to be the only ones wanting to date the IOC,” she asks, “because everyone sees the relationship as toxic?”

Phoenix payroll mess will take several years and more than $540M to fix, spending watchdog says

It will take several years and far more than the $540 million the Liberal government has set aside to fix its troubled payroll system, Canada’s spending watchdog said Tuesday.

In his fall slate of six audits, Auditor General Michael Ferguson finds that successive governments have failed to address the Phoenix payroll mess, leaving thousands of employees overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

Ferguson said the government is lowballing both the timeline and the true costs for a long-term, efficient solution, and called on the Treasury Board of Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada to track and publicly report on the plan.

“In our view, it will take years to fix the pay system, and it will cost much more than the $540 million the government has so far identified that it will spend,” Ferguson said in a release.

It was one of six audits released as part of his fall report to Parliament. He will discuss his findings at a news conference at 11 a.m. ET. CBCNews.ca will carry it live.

The Phoenix system already cost $310 million to create and implement, which means the overall cost to build and fix the program is edging toward $1 billion.

‘Fustrated and angry’

Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, said her own battles with overpayments and underpayments left her “unbelievably frustrated and angry.”

She urged the Canadian public to be patient and understanding as federal government employees consider new steps to force the government to act.

Public Servants protesting

Public servants have held protests against the failed Phoenix payroll system. (Julie Ireton/CBC)

“If we do start to do escalating tactics, just try and understand what it would mean for you and your family if you weren’t getting a paycheque and you couldn’t put food on the table,” she told CBC News. “Try and have empathy for us as we start looking at new options.”

Ahead of today’s audit, Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough sent a letter to federal public servants apologizing for the disastrous pay system last week, as the backlog of cases ballooned to 520,000.

“I am truly sorry that more than half of the public servants continue to experience some form of pay issue. Too many of you have been waiting too long for your pay,” she said in the letter dated Nov. 16.

The backlog of cases includes 265,000 files in which public servants have been underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all, a situation the minister described as “unacceptable” in her letter.

CRA giving incorrect information

Auditors also uncovered dismal service standards at the Canada Revenue Agency’s nine call centres across the country, reporting that nearly a third of all callers were given incorrect information.

And that’s when they actually got through to an agent.

Most had to try several times over the course of a week, as more than half the calls were “blocked,” meaning the caller either received a busy signal or an automated message to call back.

The audit found “traffic teams” in each centre were tasked with ensuring calls were picked up in two minutes.

CRA said callers preferred to be blocked than remain hanging on the line, but did not provide any evidence to support the claim.

Calls to CRA support centres were up 27 per cent between 2012-2013 and 2016-2017, largely due to tax legislation changes including the Canada Child Benefit.

“This audit is important because call centres are a key source of information. If taxpayers cannot get timely access to accurate information, they may file incorrect returns, miss filing deadlines, pay too little or too much tax (and later be subject to reassessment), or miss out on benefits they are eligible to receive,” Ferguson wrote.

Gaps in training were cited as a key reason for erroneous information being routinely handed out to individual and business taxpayers. The government said it plans to bring in new technology in 2018 that’s designed to improve the call centre efficiency.

Other key audit findings:

  • Syrian refugee resettlement: Auditors found the government largely lived up to its commitment to provide services such as language training to the more than 40,000 Syrian newcomers, but did not collect enough information from the provinces to measure key indicators like access to health care and school attendance.
  • Royal Military College of Canada: Auditors found the college is not cost-effective, and that the prevalence of misconduct incidents involving senior officer cadets shows the RMCC had not prepared them to serve as role models for their peers.
  • Oral health for Inuit and First Nations: The government spends $200 million a year on oral health services for these populations, but has never finalized a strategic approach to help improve it.
  • Women prisoners: Correctional Service Canada is not providing enough timely and effective programs to help women offenders successfully reintegrate into the community and continues to place some with serious mental illness in segregation.

Phoenix payroll mess will take several years and more than $540M to fix, spending watchdog finds

It will take several years and far more than the $540 million the Liberal government has set aside to fix its troubled payroll system, Canada’s spend watchdog said Tuesday.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson found that successive governments have failed to address the Phoenix payroll mess, leaving thousands of employees overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

Ferguson said the government is lowballing both the timeline and the true costs for a long-term, efficient solution.

It was one of six audits released as part of his fall report to Parliament. He will discuss his findings at a news conference at 11 a.m. ET.

CBCNews.ca will carry it live.

Auditors also uncovered dismal service standards at the Canada Revenue Agency’s nine call centres across the country, reporting that nearly a third of all callers were given incorrect information.

And that’s when they actually got through to an agent.

Most had to try several times over the course of a week, as more than half the calls were “blocked,” meaning the caller either received a busy signal or an automated message to call back.

Other key audit findings:

  • Syrian refugee resettlement: Auditors found the government largely lived up to its commitment to provide services such as language training to the more than 40,000 Syrian newcomers, but did not collect enough information from the provinces to measure key indicators like access to health care and school attendance.
  • Royal Military College of Canada: Auditors found the college is not cost-effective, and that the prevalence of misconduct incidents involving senior officer cadets shows the RMCC had not prepared them to serve as role models for their peers.
  • Oral health for Inuit and First Nations: The government spends $200 million a year on oral health services for these populations, but has never finalized a strategic approach to help improve it.
  • Women prisoners: Correctional Service Canada is not providing enough timely and effective programs to help women offenders successfully reintegrate into the community and continues to place some with serious mental illness in segregation.

More to come

‘You have lied to police’: Dellen Millard grills co-accused’s ex at Laura Babcock murder trial

Accused killer Dellen Millard repeatedly pressed his former best friend’s girlfriend about testimony she gave at the Laura Babcock murder trial — about a night she saw the men “testing out” an animal incinerator — and got her to admit she’d lied to police on several occasions.

Marlena Meneses, 23, is back in the witness box Tuesday in Ontario Superior Court in downtown Toronto.

Her ex-boyfriend, Mark Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., and Millard, 32, of Toronto, have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. They’re being tried in front of a jury.

The Crown contends after Babcock was killed in early July 2012, her body was burned inside an animal incinerator called The Eliminator, purchased by Millard for just over $15,000.

Meneses testified Friday she saw the machine smoking and heard a crackling sound on a warm summer night in 2012.

Follow our live blog for more in-depth coverage. On mobile? View the live blog here.

Lies to police

She told the court Friday Millard and Smich ordered her to stay in the car, leave them alone, and listen to music while they “tested” the machine — instructions they often gave her.

Millard, who is acting as his own lawyer, brought up several conflicting statements Meneses gave to police. In one of them, she told officers she knew nothing about the incinerator.

“You have lied to police in the past, been dishonest with police in the past and you’ve lied under oath?” Millard asked Meneses.

“Yes but I’ve corrected myself after,” she replied.

Millard also attempted to restore his own credibility, after Meneses told jury members Friday that she disliked him because of lewd comments he made about her appearance.

Millard said to Meneses Tuesday, “I smacked your butt once?”

Laura Babcock

University of Toronto graduate Laura Babcock was 23 when she vanished. The Toronto woman’s phone records and bank accounts haven’t been touched since early July 2012. (Facebook)

Meneses corrected him, pointing out it was more than once. Millard maintained he remembered just the one time, “You gave me a dirty look, so I knew you didn’t like it. It was unwanted contact… Sorry, Marlena.”

Millard also admitted to teasing Meneses, who at the time was an 18-year-old high school dropout, asking her trivia questions he knew would make her “feel dumb.” Shortly after, Millard asked the witness to spell, “hangar.”

Crown attorney Jill Cameron quickly stood and Justice Michael Code bristled, suggesting Millard move on.

“Despite the teasing, you learned a lot from me?” Millard continued.

Meneses responded flatly, “Oh I learned a lot from all of this.”

Marlena Meneses and Mark Smich - BABCOCK

Meneses told the court she dated Smich from May 2012 to May 2013. (Court exhibit)

The bad boyfriend

Millard also spent time picking apart Meneses and Smich’s relationship, suggesting Smich was controlling, abusive, and frequently referred to Meneses as his bitch.

Smich’s lawyer, Thomas Dungey, told the court his client and girlfriend were always together, which often led to bickering. Dungey also confirmed with Menenes that Smich’s life goal was to become a rap artist.

“Mark was always talking in a rap manner, playing a part,” Dungey said to Meneses. “He lived it night and day?” She agreed.

Both Millard and Smich seemed to fixate on an iPad that the jury has heard an abundance of testimony about. It belonged to Babcock, a gift from her former boyfriend Shawn Lerner, but shortly after she disappeared, it was renamed ‘Mark’s iPad.’ Meneses testified she saw the two deleting files from the tablet.

Mark Smich ipad WITH BLUR

A police photograph of the iPad seized from Smich’s home. Court heard the device once belonged to Laura Babcock. (Court Exhibit)

Dungey asked Meneses if the iPad was eventually given to her, by both the co-accused, and she agreed.

“You came to court, you came to tell the truth. You’ve admitted at times you did lie, right? But you’re telling the truth today?” Meneses again agreed.

During re-examination, Cameron told the court Meneses gave a total of eight police statements, and testified over three days at another proceeding. The two lies Meneses admitted to, including never seeing the incinerator in use, were given during her first full statement to police.

“It was all fresh, I wasn’t sure, I was scared. I was young,” she explained.

“Since that time, have you lied to police?” Cameron asked.

“No” she answered.