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Newsstand: May 29, 2014

Apparently Johnny Depp is in talks to play Harry Houdini in a planned biopic. Yay or nay? Here is hoping Winona Ryder would be cast to play his wife Bess. Wino Forever. In the news: The end may be nigh for the current board of the Sony Centre, non-emergency transfers are being quietly phased out by Toronto EMS, and the TTC asks the City to keep their hands off its surplus.

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The City of Toronto is now making swift moves to oust the board of the Sony Centre after an audit revealed that renovation costs ballooned from $28.5 million to $40 million with almost no City oversight. In a recommendation that came down from City Council’s audit committee on Wednesday, the 13-member board would be replaced by an interim group of three city councillors and three senior City staffers. This new temporary board would chiefly be responsible for hiring a new chief executive and conducting a review of the theatre’s operating agreement with the City, which has not been updated since 1968. City manager Joe Pennachetti is a likely candidate for the newfangled board, along with chief financial officer Rob Rossini and deputy city manager Brenda Patterson. City Councillors Gary Crawford (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest), Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre–Rosedale), and Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) would likely replace Councillors Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) and David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale), who sit on the current board. Shiner seemed moderately critical of the move to turf the board, saying that most of the mismanagement occurred under the oversight of the previous board that was in place between 2006 and 2010.

Toronto’s Emergency Medical Services is quietly phasing out non-emergency transfers, saying it no longer has the resources to support this type of ambulance service. While non-emergency transfers made up almost 50 per cent of all paramedic-assisted ambulance rides a decade ago, they currently account for less than 10 per cent. A rep for Toronto EMS says that paramedics and fleet have been reallocated to provide urgent medical assistance, which has increased between 3 and 4 per cent annually in the same time period. The changes have significantly impacted Torontonians like Liisa Lugus, who, due to chronic illness, relies on paramedic assistance to get to and from medical appointments.

Yesterday, the board of the Toronto Transit Commission voted unanimously to ask the City for permission to retain a $47.7-million 2013 operating surplus which will help avoid another fare increase in 2015. Current TTC chair Maria Augimeri said the surplus is proof that the TTC should never have raised fares this year in the first place, while former chair and mayoral candidate Karen Stintz argued that it was a one-off circumstance that could not have been predicted when the 2014 budget was set. Whichever way you choose to look at it, to TTC CEO Andy Byford it still means that the TTC is short on cash. Byford was quick to point out that the TTC is still $3 million short on this year’s operating budget, and that in the long run the $47.7-million cash infusion does not do much to address the TTC’s ongoing capital challenges. $47.7 million just isn’t what it used to be.

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