The National Today

Ontario still adjusting to Doug Ford's fast and furious governing style

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

After winning election in June, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has moved to quickly enact a number of policies. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and we'll deliver it directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he wants to significantly reduce the number of councillors at Toronto city hall, the latest whiplash move from his still-young government.
  • Italy's new government has been resisting calls to increase the number of migrants it takes in, but a deal negotiated with the EU may change that — if only temporarily. 
  • Canadian comic actor Seth Rogen is set to become the reassuring voice of Vancouver public transit, after he volunteered for the temporary gig on Twitter.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here


Ford's focus

​It has only been four weeks since Doug Ford was sworn in as premier, but his shock and awe approach to governing has some Ontarians feeling dizzy.

This morning, the former Toronto city councillor and brother of the late mayor Rob, unveiled plans to cut the number of elected city representatives from 47 to 25, throwing the scheduled Oct. 22 municipal vote into disarray.

"People care about getting things done, they don't care about politicians," he told a news conference, calling Toronto the "most dysfunctional political arena" in the country.

(Ford is also cancelling regional chair elections in four areas outside of the city, most notably Peel, where Patrick Brown, the former leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives — and a potential rival — was attempting to make a political comeback.)

Toronto's mayor, John Tory, isn't happy about the sudden changes, and is accusing Ford of "meddling" in an election that was already well under way.

"You just don't change the rules in the middle of the game," Tory told his own news conference this morning.

Ford frequently vowed to cut the size and cost of government during the provincial election campaign. But most people assumed he was talking about Queen's Park, and no mention was ever made of reducing the size of Toronto City Council.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has characterized Premier Ford's plan to cut the number of councillors at Toronto city hall - in an election year, no less - as 'meddling.' (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

In fact, Ford's platform only contained one Toronto-specific promise, a pledge to add $5 billion in new subway funding and upload responsibility for building and maintaining underground lines to the province.

Yet perhaps the move shouldn't come as a surprise. Like his brother, Ford was always critical of the "gravy train" at Toronto city hall, finding almost everything council did to be a waste of taxpayers' money.

Still, the pace of change over his first month in the premier's office has been fast and furious.

Ford has turfed the CEO and entire board of Ontario Hydro, rolled back the clock on sex ed in public schools, legislated striking York University staff back to work, taken steps to dismantle a carbon cap and trade system and launched a 30-day speed-inquiry into the former Liberal government's books and spending.

And there are reports that legislation to allow private retailers to sell pot — another surprise — will be tabled as early as next week.

Action on some other marquee election promises such as tax cuts, a 10-cent-a-litre reduction in the price of gas and lower electricity bills will surely follow.

Perhaps he will even get around to his vow to lower suds prices to a "buck-a-beer."

And at this rate, people in Toronto might be wise to start bracing themselves for the monorail and Ferris wheel.


Uneasy solutions for Mediterranean migration

More than 50,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in 2018. (Mission Lifeline via Associated Press)

​Italy's attempt to create an unwelcoming climate for migrants appears to be working.

New figures released today by the UN's International Organization for Migration show that arrivals in Italy are down more than 80 per cent compared to 2017, as the bulk of migrant boats head for Spain and Greece.

Some 55,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, well below the 118,000 who had made the perilous journey by the same point in 2017.

Spain has received almost 21,000 of the asylum claimants, while 18,000 have landed in Italy and 15,500 in Greece.

But as Italy's new populist government tightens border controls and ratchets up the anti-immigrant rhetoric, the gap between Italy and Spain is widening. So far in July, 5,916 migrants have arrived on Spanish territory, compared to Greece's 2,014 and 1,553 in Italy.

The IOM has documented the deaths of 1,504 people who failed to make the crossing this year.

The growing disparity between Spain and Italy will probably shrink following the events of the last few days. Under pressure from the European Union, Italy this week agreed to "temporarily" allow migrant rescue boats to start docking again, while the bloc works out a new migration policy.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been one of the most prominent anti-immigrant voices in Europe. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

It's not clear whether Giuseppe Conte's government will take the €6,000-per-migrant payment that Brussels is offering to try and entice more member nations to settle the arrivals. "Every asylum seeker costs the Italian taxpayer between €40,000 and €50,000," Matteo Salvini, the country's far-right interior minister snapped. "We don't want money. We want dignity."

But the Spanish government also seems keen to put away the welcome mat.

Yesterday, during a meeting in Madrid, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and French President Emmanuel Macron hammered out a joint immigration declaration calling for "disembarkation platforms" — essentially, migrant holding camps in North Africa — and "control centres" in Europe where arrivals would be processed or held for deportation.

Their meeting came just hours after 700 African migrants stormed the border fence that separates Morocco from the Spanish territory of Ceuta. The coordinated, early-morning jump saw migrants battle Spanish police with sticks, stones and spray bottles filled with quicklime and excrement.

Under pressure from the EU, Italy has agreed to 'temporarily' allow migrant rescue boats to start docking again. (Salvatore Cavalli/Associated Press)

Officials stopped a second incursion, and returned one large group to Morocco. But a total of 602 people made it onto Spanish soil. Many kissed the ground and cried with joy.

Meanwhile, a rescue ship carrying 40 migrants from Libya is entering its third week stranded at sea after Malta, France, Tunisia and Italy all rejected the captain's request to dock and unload his human cargo.

The Sarost 5, a Tunisian-flagged supply ship, plucked the migrants from the water on July 13, after their over-crowded wooden boat started to sink.


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The voice of (transit) authority

​If you ride Vancouver's SkyTrain or city buses, you'll soon experience the pleasure of Seth Rogen nagging riders about keeping their feet off the seats.

Actor and Vancouver native Seth Rogen will soon be the voice of public transit in his hometown. (Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

The Vancouver-born comedian replaces another scheduled guest, actor Morgan Freeman, whose transit announcements/Visa commercials were pulled in late May, following #MeToo allegations of harassment and inappropriate behaviour from women he had worked with.

A readers' poll conducted by the Georgia Straight suggested that Vancouverites would prefer Mission, B.C.'s Carly Rae Jepsen or People magazine's 2010 "Sexiest Man Alive," Ryan Reynolds, to do the job. But Rogen did place third, ahead of Nardwuar the Human Serviette. And he was the first to volunteer for the temporary gig on Twitter, moments after Freeman got canned.

The usual voice of Vancouver TransLink is Laureen Regan, a Calgarian who runs a company that manages employee reward programs. She kind of fluked into the gig, but it has since become a nice sideline, and you can also hear her voice announcing stations in San Francisco, Salt Lake City and in her hometown.

Freeman's short-lived voice cameo touched off some celebrity envy in other Canadian cities. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson expressed a hopeful wish that Sir Patrick Stewart might agree to "Make it so" when bus passengers pulled the cord for the next stop.

The reality, however, is that the vast majority of transit voices are heard, but rarely seen.

The announcements for Ottawa's buses and new Confederation Line LRT are done by actor and voice-over specialist Julian Doucet, who you might remember from such roles as "voice of computer" and Canada Post plugged-in mailbox.

Even the biggest cities tend towards lesser-known artists for their transit needs.

When asked which of their hometown stars should be the voice of public transit, readers of a local Vancouver paper put singer Carly Rae Jepsen first, followed by Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds. (CBC)

London, England,uses a number actors or TV presenters to help differentiate between its 11 Tube lines. Some aren't even alive anymore.

In New York City, the "stand clear of the closing doors, please" message has long been delivered by radio veteran Charlie Pellett. But when the MTA went looking for a new voice to record other public service announcements last spring, they choose an in-house candidate, Velina Mitchell.

Some don't even get paid.

Randi Miller, the voice of Washington, D.C.'s metro, was picked from among 1,200 entrants in a 2006 contest, receiving a baseball hat, a board game and a $10 fare card in exchange for her recordings.

Today, many systems are moving to automated voices or settling for a standard, internationally shared sound.

Carolyn Hopkins is the flat, American voice of more than 200 transit systems and airports around the world, including Paris' Charles de Gaulle and Lester B. Pearson International in Toronto.

She records all the messages from her home studio in a tiny village in northern Maine.


Quote of the moment

"There isn't an obvious checklist or indicator to detect a health care serial killer."

- Anne Coghlan, head of the College of Nurses of Ontario, tells the Elizabeth Wettlaufer inquiry that there is "no existing methodology" that would have helped catch the admitted killer of eight elderly nursing home residents.


What The National is reading

  • Doug Ford's plan to cut Toronto council brings accusations of 'meddling' (CBC)
  • North Korea hands over remains of fallen U.S. soldiers (CBC)
  • French city offers women self-defence classes ahead of its summer festival (RFI)
  • Facebook suspends Infowars' head conspiracy theorist (Guardian)
  • Ecuador, UK look to end Assange embassy stay (SBS News)
  • Made in China: Trump campaign rushes to get 2020 swag before his tariffs hit (Reuters)
  • Facial recognition software wrongly identifies 28 lawmakers as criminals (NPR)
  • Tortoise found wandering streets of downtown Edmonton (Edmonton Journal)


Today in history

July 27, 1984: Hockey Knights and Harold Ballard in the Toronto subway

The late, chronically dyspeptic owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs rarely passed up an opportunity to make an ass of himself. Here, he picks a fight with artist Charlie Pachter over two new murals that were scheduled to be installed in the College St. subway station, close to Maple Leaf Gardens. Ballard objected because one side of the platform would feature the Leafs, and the other the Montreal Canadiens, and he threatened legal action. The unaltered murals are still there, 18 years after Toronto's team moved into a new rink down by the lake.

A mural for the subway station at Maple Leaf Gardens has the team's owner seeing red. 1:58

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.