Junior Kindergarten information night at Weston PS

Weston Public opened its doors to its youngest class yesterday. The school hosted an information night for its incoming class of junior kindergarten students—and their parents.

Next year’s kindergarten class is an important one: it is the first year that Ontario will have full-day kindergarten. Both local elementary schools, Weston Public and HJ Alexander, will be part of the pilot project.

The information night started with an open house, and students and parents were allowed to tour the building. At 7:30, the principal and some faculty spoke to the assembly.

Weston Public is, according to Principal Baglione, “the best little school in the city”. Ms Di Vincenzo emphasized the educational philosophy of the school, and how the kindergarten class will be play-based and fun. “Kindergarten children learn through play”.

While the mood was upbeat, there were two portions of the assembly that were disappointing to parents. Baglione said that the before- and after-care, which was supposed to be affordable, would cost between $25 and $35 a day. He said that interest in the program had diminished considerably once the price had been announced. Baglione also said that classes would have a cap of 26 students—6 more than the cap in grades 1 through 5. The kindergarten classrooms, though, will have two faculty: one teacher and one early-childhood educator. “Your little ones will be well taken care of”, he said.

Local connection to BP disaster

Alan Tonks, the federal MP for York South-Weston, sits on the Standing Committee for Natural Resources, a federal committee that oversees drilling for oil and gas. For the past two weeks, the SCNR has been interviewing experts and industry representatives and questioning their preparedness for a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon.

On May 13, the committee’s most notable guests were Anne Drinkwater, the CEO of BP Canada, and Gaéton Caron, the CEO of the National Energy Board, the federal agency that regulates drilling. Both Drinkwater and Caron were given some rough handling, particularly by the NDP’s Nathan Cullen.

Cullen unsparing questions of Caron and accused the NEB of being a booster for big business, saying it is  a “promoter of the oil and gas industry” and has been replacing regulations with guidelines.

Cullen asked Drinkwater and Caron about the oil industry’s plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean. The most contentious issue was the oil industry’s desire to reduce regulations, in particular the requirement for relief wells (used to end spills) to be drilled in the same year as leaks Because the summer is short and drilling can only be done where there is no ice, wells could leak catastrophically from one summer until the next if the industry is allowed this reduction in oversight.

Cullen hammered Drinkwater with tough rhetorical questions, saying, “two weeks before your rig caught fire… your company was in front of Canadian regulators asking for the relief well requirement to be lifted… Do you think that was a bad thing to ask for? And do you still support British Petroleum and other oil companies’ request to remove that safety regulation?”

The Bloc’s Paule Brunelle also asked tough questions of the Association of Energy Producers and BP but spread her fire over many targets. The Conservative and Liberal members were not particularly offensive to the delicate sensibilities of their guests. Tonks, unfortunately, said very little, leaving most of the work to Larry Bagnell, the Liberal MP from Yukon.

Speed bumps on MacDonald Ave

InsideToronto.com is reporting that speed bumps will be installed along MacDonald Avenue in response to many years of reckless driving along the street.

The vote of the community council was contentious; the councillors overruled city bureaucrats’ recommendations. 40% of residents voted in a survey on the subject. Staff require 50% of residents to respond to give their blessing.

Gerard Kennedy joining Blue 22 opposition

InsideToronto.com is reporting that Gerard Kennedy, a powerful Toronto MP and Weston resident, will be creating a group to lobby for electrification of GO Transit trains.

The group appears to be comprised of politicians, not citizens. So far, 12 MPs are members, but the group will be open to “representatives of all levels of government, including the school board”. While InsideToronto does not name the MPs, they are likely the same ones that opposed Metrolinx in the past. If so, Alan Tonks will be included.

In the past, Kennedy has been reluctant to oppose the Blue 22 train. It was only in October of last year that he voiced his opposition to the airport rail expansion; even then, he was irresolute. To now have him organizing opposition (and not merely joining it) will likely bring joy to advocates. It will also put Alan Tonks under pressure. Tonks has not fully opposed Metrolinx’s plans and has even supported the airport link in the past. Gerard Kennedy could end up representing Weston better than its elected MP does.

Nunziata concerned about payday loan shops

Weston likely has more payday loan shops than any other part of Toronto. That may change, if only a little, as loan businesses come under increased pressure from local government.

For a large fee, payday loan shops will convert a post-dated cheque into cash. They are often used for short-term ‘cash crunches’, when a person is employed but does not have enough money to meet immediate expenses. The loans, however, are very expensive: Cash Money, a very popular franchise with 350 locations in Canada and 5 locations within 5 km of Weston, charges $21 for a 14 day loan of $100, the maximum allowed by law.

Payday loan and cheque-cashing business have been expanding rapidly but have recently been subject to much more regulation. Last year, the province restricted the amount of interest lenders could charge and limited their ability to ‘rollover’ loans—paying off one loan with another to the same client. These practices made it difficult for clients to get control of their debts.

The Etobicoke York Community Council (which covers Weston), heard a report today about payday loan stores. The report was commissioned because the council identified a “proliferation” of payday loan stores in the neighbourhood and because of concerns that these stores were operating without the correct permits. The council was concerned that some payday loan stores were accepting collateral (like old gold).

The report was referred for further review.

Metrolinx wants another (and better) link to the airport

Yesterday Metrolinx affirmed its plan to build a rail link to the airport. But they weren’t endorsing the Blue 22, the private airport train that will run through Weston. Metrolinx will be building competing train line: a light rail link to Pearson.

Metrolinx’s “Big 5”  program will complete 5 major transit projects over the next 10 years. One of these is the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which will run from Scarborough to the airport. The line will be high capacity (about 5000 passengers an hour), frequent (every 3–6 minutes) and cheap ($3 or so). Light rail isn’t the same as rail-rail; it’s more like a subway crossed with a streetcar.

The LRT will make connections to the Yonge and University subway and to the proposed Jane St LRT. Thus it will serve the same locations as the Blue 22, if less directly. It will also be quite fast, especially for travellers heading midtown and not to Union. For $3, the Eg train will get you to the Yonge subway station in 48 minutes. In contrast, the Blue 22 would save 19 minutes but cost $20 more.

Both will be fast, frequent, and comfortable. But only the Eglinton LRT is cheap, connects directly with the subway, and takes riders midtown.

The private nature of the Blue 22 may yet be its undoing; the Eglinton LRT is the better way.

Route of the Eglinton LRT

Grattan park restoration nearly complete

Some things are great because they’re retro-cool and undiscovered. And then some things are just plain great.

The Grattan Street park used to be great because it was small, unused, and stuck in the 70s, with old, clunky swings and stubby beer bottles lying around. Now it is one of the smallest, cutest parks in all of Toronto. It’s just plain great.  Over the past month, this urban gem has been completely renovated, improved, and made modern. The old wood benches and rusty swingsets are gone; new, safe, high-quality play-structures have been brought in and landscaping has been done to remove an ugly concrete water tower base.

Westonian Mark Dos Reis says, “It was a really great park back in the 70s and 80s, but it fell into a state of disrepair.” In consultation with the community and architects, the city of Toronto improved the landscaping by making it more level and removed the decaying concrete and wooden structures around the park.

The neglect had made the park something of a hangout for teens who took to smoking pot and drinking beer. While Dos Reis was generous about the teens, he did say that the effect of the renovations has been positive: “I like it. I’d rather have little kids. There’s a lot of little kids in the neighbourhood and a daycare.” The park will be very nice for them, he noted, as it has only one entrance and exit, so the minders can be sure the kids won’t wander.

Before the renovationBefore the renovation
Before the renovation
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After the renovation