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Newsstand: April 15, 2014

If April showers bring May flowers, then what about snow flurries? In the news: Premier Wynne announces $29 billion for transit, cyclists get $25 million from the province, council contemplates a salary hike, and Toronto Police say it isn’t their fault that U.S. Border Patrol knows about suicide attempts by Ontario residents.

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Yesterday, in a speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a new $29-billion provincial transit fund that will allocate $15 billion to Toronto region transit over the next 10 years. Wynne pledged to dedicate $1.3 billion to the fund annually by redirecting 7.5 cents per litre of the gas tax and the HST on fuel tax, which still leaves a sizeable chunk of the promised cash unaccounted for. Not one for spoilers, Wynne mostly deferred to the spring budget for specifics on how the Liberal government plans on financing the shortfall. She did promise the fund would be created using methods including new revenue tools and re-directed existing revenue, instead of seeing a hike to gas tax, HST, or income taxes—for middle income earners, at least. Wynne also emphasized that this new plan does not replace or nullify the current $50-billion Big Move project that aims to improve transit across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Premier Wynne also stressed that the relief subway is a high-priority project for the province, giving Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford some positive vibes that it is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The provincial government opened its purse up even wider, as Transportation Minister Glen Murray visited the Ontario Bike Summit to announce a three-year, $25-million provincial investment to improve cycling across the province. It marks the first time a provincial budget has included funds specifically set aside for biking infrastructure, which cycling advocates have been fighting for since 2008. In addition to the funds, a new policy will see cycling incorporated into all provincial highway and bridge project moving forward. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), who chairs the public works committee, says that the City is prepared to fight for its fair share of the cash as it prepares a new cycling plan that will be announced next year.

The executive committee will review two proposals from city staff to give raises to city councillors on Wednesday. One proposal maintains current salary levels with adjustments for inflation, and the other would raise salaries by 12.9 per cent in order to fall in line with the 75th percentile of comparable cities, as stipulated by the City’s municipal code. Councillor salaries currently sit at $105,000, which puts them in the 37th percentile currently when compared with other cities within the GTA and across the country. Mayor Rob Ford’s salary would also need to be increased in order to bring it up to the 75th percentile when compared with mayors of other large cities across Canada, although he has typically rallied against such raises for politicians in the past. Council can wave the bylaw and forgo any salary increase, which is likely to happen given that it is an election year.

The province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner says that information about suicide attempts should not be shared with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials. After it came to light that Ontario residents have been denied entry into the United States due to their mental health history, Ontario’s privacy watchdog launched an investigation which determined that there was no legal requirement that suicide attempts be entered into the Canadian Police Information database—which is shared with U.S. officials. Instead, Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian claimed it is a policy of Toronto Police Services to input the information. A spokesperson for Toronto Police denies that it is a blanket policy, and says that details are uploaded on a case-by-case basis, when the information is deemed important for officers to have access to. The spokesperson pointed a finger at the RCMP, saying the Mounties control what access American officials are given to the database.

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