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Tories relieved by Court of Appeal ruling that negates need for notwithstanding clause

The relief at Queen’s Park was palpable.

Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government dodged a constitutional bullet thanks to the Court of Appeal on Wednesday. The court approved a stay of a Superior Court judge’s decision that struck down Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, which cuts Toronto council to 25 seats from 47. The stay means the Tories no longer need to steamroll ahead with the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to pass Bill 31, the Efficient Local Government Act, and the replacement for Bill 5.

While that means Monday’s historic midnight-to-7 a.m. Bill 31 debate was for naught, Government House Leader Todd Smith could barely contain his glee on Wednesday.

“Bill 31 is no longer necessary as far as we’re concerned,” Smith told reporters.

“We’re really happy with the decision. We felt like we were right all along,” the minister said.

“The judge’s decision opened up a can of worms that turns to have completely been unnecessary. We feel great with the fact that we no longer have to debate Bill 31,” he said.

“Had we had to go ahead with Bill 31, we were prepared to do that. Fortunately for all involved, we won’t have to do that now.”

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, unflappable while steering both Bill 5 and Bill 31 since late July, said “we’re pleased that Bill 5 can move forward.”

“We’ll continue … to work with the (city) clerk (Ulli Watkiss) and get this done for the Oct. 22 election,” said Clark, adding Toronto municipal candidates will have two more days to submit their nomination papers.

“The clerk has made a recommendation and we certainly support that — that would extend the deadline for 48 hours,” he said.

Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers, co-author of the 1,168-page Oxford Handbook of the Canadian Constitution, said the Tories are fortunate to survive a self-inflicted wound.

“Today, everybody is breathing a little bit more easily that they didn’t have to invoke the notwithstanding clause, because it really was a very dangerous tool to (use). The stay helps them tremendously,” said Des Rosiers (Ottawa-Vanier).

“It’s good for Ontarians. But the fact that (Ford) raised the prospect of using the notwithstanding clause is still there and we are wanting to ensure that there’s parameters,” she said.

Des Rosiers said the political damage has already been done to the premier because he threatened to use the provision, which allows governments to override the courts, for the first time in Ontario history and on a relatively minor matter.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford made a rookie blunder.

“This falls into the category of ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should,’” said Horwath.

“After never mentioning it once on the campaign trail, the premier decided to rewrite the rules for municipal elections that were already under way, throwing municipal elections into chaos and trampling people’s basic rights,” she said.

“Now, many doubt at this point in time that free and fair elections can actually be conducted in the city of Toronto, and the courts have yet to give their final determination because now the appeal is stayed. But the government continues to plow ahead. Is that what constitutes success in Doug Ford’s Ontario?”

Green Leader Mike Schreiner blasted Ford for squandering public money on lawyers and legislative employees’ overtime for no good reason.

“Regardless of what the courts decide there’s still a cloud of illegitimacy around this election because of the chaos the premier has manufactured with this crisis,” said Schreiner.

“How many tax dollars is this premier prepared to waste in order to pursue his own personal political agenda against the city of Toronto?”

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie





Edward Keenan: For Doug Ford, fairness means giving him exactly what he wants

Catching up on the all-night debate hosted at Queen’s Park earlier this week, one point jumped out at me.

“All city council wants to do is build bicycle lanes,” Progressive Conservative MPP Roman Baber said, as justification for slashing the size of Toronto city council against its own will, and doing so in the middle of an election campaign, thereby throwing that election into chaos. And, as he was arguing at the time, for using a constitutional override to do so.

It isn’t remarkable because he hates bike lanes — that’s a Fordinista litmus test. It wasn’t remarkable because it was patently false — as my colleague Samantha Beattie wrote this week, council passed more than 3,500 items this term, on topics ranging from street parking to heritage conservation to rebuilding the Gardiner Expressway. And it wasn’t even remarkable because that very day, two different cyclists were struck and injured by vehicles in Toronto, indicating that perhaps city council should have spent more time building bicycle lanes.

The reason it jumped out at me is that it was an argument that the reason for restructuring Toronto’s elected government, and for doing so in such a way as to effectively ruin the ongoing election, is simply about rigging the game so people who disagree with Premier Doug Ford and Baber lose. The people fairly elected by Torontonians do things we think are bad policy — things like building bike lanes — he seems to be saying, so we need to change the rules to get the people we agree with elected.

He dispenses with even the pretence that democracy, fairness, or even efficiency have anything to do with how an election or a system of government should operate. He isn’t even willing to conceal how he and his government are operating in bad faith.

He’s embracing it. Bragging about it.

Read more:

Stay granted on previous Bill 5 decision, paving way for 25-ward election

Opinion | On the absurdity of Doug Ford causing crises, then holding himself out as the solution

A look at what might happen next in the battle over the cuts to Toronto council

Baber is taking his cues from his leader. How many times in this whole fiasco has Premier Ford stood up to relish how he’s putting the boots to “downtown NDP councillors” — going so far as to name those on his hit list (Joe Cressy, Gord Perks, Mike Layton, Paula Fletcher). He makes token nods, sometimes, to ideas like “efficiency,” but when the argument picks up, he always turns to how he’s turning the screws on his political opponents.

And, of course, how he’ll make it rain for his friends. Ford has the unique habit of repeating that he is going to deliver for “2.3 million people that elected this government.” Now, the job he has is to govern on behalf of all Ontarians. That’s 13.6 million people. But there’s Ford, boldly insisting he’s there to serve the minority who voted for him. He says “the people,” but then makes it pretty obvious he means “my people.”

And that he is so shameless about it suggests it seems normal to him. That it never even occurs to him that “fairness” and “giving me what I want” are not exactly the same thing.

Consider his response when a judge initially struck down Bill 5 as unconstitutional back on Sept. 10. He was aghast that an “appointed” judge could strike down a law passed by an elected legislature. He said it was undemocratic. But the same week, he launched a court challenge asking an appointed judge to strike down any carbon tax law brought forward by the elected federal government.

The governing logic is obvious. What’s fair depends on who wins, he seems to think.

By now a lot of people will be rolling their eyes and claiming that this is just what everyone does.

But it is not true. I am among those who still actually believes in the importance of a fair and democratic system and the rule of law.

I mean look at recent history: I do not defend the current system because it has given me the policy outcomes I want. Over the past eight years (pick a topic: Scarborough subway extension, Gardiner East, tax rates ...), on most major files, city councils under Rob Ford and John Tory have made decisions I strongly disagree with.

I don’t think the system is perfect, but I think it does a better job than many alternatives at fairly reflecting the will of the voters of Toronto. I make policy arguments to try to change people’s minds. But I do not think — and never have thought — the rules should be changed just so I can get my way.

The changes I support — like ranked ballots for elections and more active community or neighbourhood councils — are ones I like not because I think they’ll give me the policies I favour. In many cases I suspect they may accomplish the opposite. But I think they’ll do a better job of fairly and accurately representing the wishes of the people of Toronto. And that, I think, is fundamentally important.

Which is just to say I believe in democracy.

Ford and his government, in pretty blunt language, keep telling me they do not.

Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire





Police release security images of man wanted in sex assault investigation

Toronto Police have released security images of a man wanted in a sexual assault investigation.

On Monday at approximately 6:50 a.m., a 22-year-old woman was in the area of Bay St. and Gerrard St. W. when a man approached her and sexually assaulted her, police said.

The man is described to be in his 30s, five-foot-six and clean shaven. He could also possibly be bald with a red left eye, police said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-5200 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).

Marjan Asadullah is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @marjanasadullah





Seth Meyers expects to get a little more personal in Toronto standup show

Seth Meyers sounds so cheery you can almost hear his smile across the phone line. As he would say: Really? Really.

And why not? As he comes to town this week to perform standup on Saturday as one of the headliners for JFL42, he just recently celebrated almost five years since he took the reigns as the host of The Late Night with Seth Meyers, and the years honing his skills as deadpan anchor hosting Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live are being put to good use as he skewers the Trump administration nightly from his talk show host pulpit.

Despite how it looks, he says the gig is still about telling good jokes — and there’s more than enough material — than it is about speaking truth to power.

“(Is Trump) good for comedy? You know, I can’t judge if it is good or bad for comedy, but I can tell you that when I first starting doing a late-night talk show, my biggest fear was ‘what are we going to talk about tomorrow?’ I don’t have that fear any more,” says Meyers. “It’s still all about the jokes, but I think what’s changed with the Trump administration is that there is more content coming out every day, than any of us were used to before this Trump moment happened. So many things that would have been the lead story for any other administration often get pushed farther down, and that’s the part that totally different.”

Meyers has admitted that when he started on Late Night, he was concerned with being too political, and also avoided performing his monologue from behind the desk because he was fearful that it would compared to closely to his last gig.

“Well, I will say, at the beginning, we didn’t start behind the desk because I wanted to prove to everybody that I wasn’t just the Weekend Update guy. And about a year and a half into it, I was like, ‘You know, I put a lot of years getting good at being the Weekend Update guy, I don’t know why I want to be Michael Jordan the baseball guy.’ ”

While his comedic background started more in the sketch and improv world, he still enjoys the excitement of a gig like Saturday’s two shows at the Sony Centre. It’s clearly not something he needs to do, but he appreciates the chance to talk about things that might not fit on his show.

“I really like doing it. I remember talking to Craig Ferguson one time, and he still goes out and does shows, and he basically said, ‘Look, if you stop for a year, you just probably won’t ever start ever again.’ A lot of it for me is because I do it less, so it’s exciting. During my SNL years, where we had a lot of weeks off, and I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids, so I was doing a ton of standup. There are still things that occur to me that I want to talk about that don’t really fit into the framework of the show,” he says.

“It’s an opportunity to talk more about personal things, like having a family and having kids, and being married. I’ll say there will be some Trump, but a much smaller percentage than what people have come to expect on my show.”

I ask Meyers what he thinks about the state of standup right now, and he’s careful to say that it’d be better to ask a full-time practitioner of the art, but as a fan, it feels like it’s a healthy time, as streaming companies try to corner the market on funny people.

“It seems exciting and interesting that Netflix is experimenting with shorter specials. That strikes me as a cool idea,” he says. “I am lucky that I can go out and do standup on the back of having (my) show. But it strikes me as a good time right now, and it certainly strikes as an interesting time in that standup is diversifying as far as the people who are doing it and they way people are playing with the form, So I will say it’s an exciting time for the consumer of standup comedy.”





After Court of Appeal grants stay on 25-seat council plan, Mayor Tory says 'we need to get past this'

The Court of Appeal has granted the provincial government’s request for a stay of an earlier court ruling, returning Toronto’s election to a 25-ward race.

Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is now expected to abandon new legislation it was pushing through Queen’s Park. That would also bring an end to Ford’s unprecedented and controversial use of the “notwithstanding” clause to override Charter rights.

Wednesday’s decision came less than 24 hours after a daylong court hearing that saw provincial and city lawyers once again pitted against one another over the council cut.

The panel of three judges — Associate Chief Justice Alexandra Hoy, Justice Robert Sharpe and Justice Gary Trotter — said in a13-page ruling that because their decision would effectively decide the ward structure for the election, they had to look at the issues raised in a court appeal made by the province.

In that appeal, which has not yet had a hearing, the province argues Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba erred in law when he ruled Sept. 10 that the original Bill 5 was unconstitutional and that it violated candidates’ and voters’ Charter rights of freedom of expression.

“The question for the courts is not whether Bill 5 is unfair but whether it is unconstitutional,” the decision says. “On that crucial question, we have concluded that there is a strong likelihood that application judge erred in law and that the Attorney General’s appeal to this court will succeed.”

They continued: “It is not in the public interest to permit the impending election to proceed on the basis of a dubious ruling that invalidates legislation duly passed by the legislature.”

The province’s last-minute position in court on Tuesday — that it would pull new legislation, Bill 31, off the table if it won the request for a stay — played “no part” in their decision, the ruling says.

In the legislature at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said the stay “finally allows us to move forward and give that certainty” to Toronto.

“It's going to provide a more efficient council,” said Clark.

MPP Stephen Lecce, the premier’s parliamentary assistant, said the Court of Appeal’s ruling means that Bill 5 is again the law of the land and the government does not need to use Bill 31, which has not yet passed, with its controversial invocation of the “notwithstanding” clause to override Belobaba’s earlier ruling.

“The determination by the courts is very positive. We’re proceeding with 25 wards,” said the King-Vaughan MPP.

Despite the decision, there are more legal challenges expected.

The appeal must still be considered, although the province has said it should not be until November at the earliest — after the Oct. 22 election — to allow time to prepare arguments.

Chris Moise, a Toronto District School Board trustee who was planning to run in the 47-ward model and is one of the people who challenged Bill 5 in court, said he would join other applications to challenge the validity of the 25-ward election after it is held.

“Under the 25-ward scenario, we are going to have less diversity. We are going to have a lot of perhaps middle-aged white men ruling this city, not really advocating for my community and what we need,” said Moise, a gay Black man who was campaigning to represent the downtown ward that contains the Gay Village. “But the fight is not over yet. It’s just beginning.”

Councillor Janet Davis, who is retiring from city politics, said this stay doesn’t eliminate uncertainty.

“The appeal is going ahead in any event,” Davis said. “If Judge Belobaba’s decision is upheld, then what? Will we hold another election?”

If the Court of Appeal upholds Belobaba’s earlier decision that Bill 5 is unconstitutional, one possible outcome would be for the 25-ward council to remain in place until a 47-ward election was called, said Greg Flynn, an assistant professor of political science at McMaster University.

“I don't imagine the Court of Appeal would allow the city to not be governed,” Flynn said. “I think they would probably allow that (25-ward) council to stay in place until a new election could be held.”

If the appeal is decided against the province, its lawyers have asked they be given an opportunity to come up with some alternative solution through further legislation, rather than a 47-ward structure being again imposed by the courts. Their written materials offered an example of what they say is a potential fix: doubling the number of councillors in the 25-ward structure, resulting in 50 councillors (three more than the city’s proposed 47). That would be up to the court to decide.

There were mixed emotions from councillors who do plan to run in the upcoming election.

Joe Cressy, the Trinity-Spadina councillor who has championed a 47-ward election, conceded minutes after the ruling was made public that Ford has got his council reduction for this election at least.

“Unfortunately, confusion continues for far too many voters and far too many Torontonians, but that’s the order of day with Doug Ford in power,” Cressy said in an interview.

“There is uncertainty and confusion every step of the way. It seems clear to me now that there will be a 25-ward election and, as such, I will be running and spending the next 12 hours knocking on doors.”

Cressy, who now represents Ward 20, plans to run in Ward 10 (Spadina-Fort York). However, he is not yet officially registered as a candidate in the 25-ward scenario.

“Last Friday, I formally attempted to register in written correspondence with the clerk … and so I anticipate that the process to confirm my registration will be clarified imminently,” he said.

Councillor John Campbell has been running his campaign for re-election under the assumption there would be a 25-ward election.

“The province made it abundantly clear, by hook or by crook, it was going to be 25 wards, and we just press on,” he said.

Campbell has yet to register to run in one of the 25 wards — he’d planned to do so the same week Belobaba’s ruling resulted in the city reverting back to 47 wards and pre-emptively closing the 25-ward nominations —and is anxiously waiting to hear when he can do so, saying he'll be the first in line.

It’s expected that a judge’s order will briefly reopen nominations for candidates who have not yet registered for a 25-ward election. Clark said a new nomination deadline would be two days from Wednesday.

The ruling will means many veteran councillors will go head-to-head in re-election battles.

In an interview before release of the decision, Mary Fragedakis, the councillor for Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth, said she planned to run in the new Ward 14 (Toronto-Danforth) in a 25-ward election.

That likely puts her in a fight with Paula Fletcher, a fellow New Democrat, council ally and friend.

“I'm running in the area where I live — Toronto-Danforth,” Fragedakis said, adding she has talked to Fletcher about the possibility of being rivals after working together since 2010 — initially fighting then-mayor Rob Ford’s budget cuts and more recently helping residents deal with trauma from the July mass shooting on the Danforth.

"We’ve gone through a lot in the last eight years, but we’ve really gone through a lot together in the past while,” Fragedakis said. “Nobody thought we'd go from grieving on the Danforth to the chaos that Doug Ford has plunged us into.”

Jim Karygiannis, who now represents Ward 39 (Scarborough-Agincourt) was overjoyed that the 25-ward model has prevailed. He will run against veteran Councillor Norm Kelly and other candidates in the new Ward 22 (Scarborough-Agincourt).

“Let’s go for it. I’m delighted, I’m ecstatic, let’s have an election,” said Karygiannis, who as a federal MP represented the same voters he will now be courting. “I believe that it will be equitable and good for my residents.”

Since Ford announced legislation to cut the size of council to 25 wards on July 27, the city has opposed the province’s interference in an election campaign that was already three months underway. Council approved a 47-ward structure for the election in 2016 after years of review by independent consultants.

After Belobaba overruled Bill 5, the province asked the Court of Appeal to grant a stay to put Belobaba’s decision on hold until its appeal could be heard.

Last week, city clerk Ulli Watkiss became actively involved in the court challenge, saying she was reaching a point where she would not be able to hold the election with either a 25- or 47-ward scenario.

In written materials filed with the court, Watkiss said she would continue to keep a contingency plan for 25 wards if the stay was not granted with new legislation moving through Queen’s Park to cut the size of council. But there are now several timeline issues that need to be worked out, with advanced voting set to start Oct. 10 and several deadlines in Bill 5 already passed.

The Court of Appeal ruling says further orders from the court “required to conduct the election in an orderly manner” will be forthcoming.

The province surprised legal teams in an Osgoode Hall courtroom Monday when lawyer Robin Basu announced the province would abandon Bill 31 if it got its way in court — what it said would provide the most certainty for the clerk going forward.

That position, the city and others argued, amounted to a threat, that the province would only abide by the court’s ruling if it won.

At Queen’s Park, interim Liberal Leader John Fraser noted that Ford has already threatened to use the notwithstanding clause in the future.

“I’m very concerned that he’s prepared to do that at any time … that should be concerning to all of us,” Fraser told reporters.

“It’s not some get out of jail free card to pull out the notwithstanding clause any time you don't like the decision of the court.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner questioned how many tax dollars Ford has wasted to pursue “his own personal political agenda against the city of Toronto.”

“Regardless of what the courts decide, there’s still a cloud of illegitimacy around this election because of the chaos the premier has manufactured with this crisis,” Schreiner said.

Read more:

A look at what might happen next in the battle over the cuts to Toronto council

Is Toronto council inefficient? Maybe not compared to other levels of government

The cost of fighting Ford? Good question

With files from Robert Benzie, David Rider, Rob Ferguson, Samantha Beattie and Jacques Gallant

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags





Nearly three-quarters of Canadians support taking in refugees, poll shows

Three out of four Canadians support taking in refugees — numbers that place Canada among the world’s most welcoming nations on the question of people fleeing violence and war — according to a new survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

The Pew survey of global attitudes on migration, released Wednesday, pegged Canadian support for refugees at 74 per cent, with 22 per cent opposed and 4 per cent of adult respondents saying they didn’t know or refused to say.

The views from Canada match similarly strong majorities in many EU countries, according to Pew, where three-quarters or more of adult respondents in Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and the Netherlands all back taking in refugees from countries where people are fleeing violence and war.

But Pew’s new EU data came with a caveat: while strongly supportive of refugees, a significant majority of European adults disapprove of the way the European Union has dealt with the refugee crisis.

Yet three years after a record 1.3 million migrants sought asylum in Europe, including large influxes of people displaced by war in Syria and Iraq, the 2018 Pew survey even found majority support for taking in refugees in Greece and Italy, two of the main entry points during the 2015 migration surge. The 2018 findings sharply contrast Pew data gathered two years ago, when respondents in those countries expressed negative views toward refugees.

Poll respondents in the U.S., though measurably less welcoming than Canada, backed supporting refugees at 66 per cent with 29 per cent opposed, and 6 per cent offering no opinion. The findings follow a decision earlier this month by the Trump administration to resettle a record-low 30,000 refugees during fiscal 2019.

Elsewhere, Pew’s 18-country snapshot of attitudes on refugees showed predominantly negative views in South Africa (48-50), Russia (41-47) and Hungary (32-54). Hungary, the Pew Center summary observed, passed legislation in June that made it a crime to assist asylum seekers and refugees — “One reason the European Parliament recently voted to pursue sanctions against Hungary for not upholding European Union values.”

Opposition to refugees measured highest in Israel, where questions of violent displacement inevitably snag upon the Gordian knot of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There, 37 per cent of Israelis expressed support for refugees versus 57 per cent opposed and 6 per cent declining to answer.

The findings suggest Canada continues to stand among the world’s most welcoming nations on the question of refugees, despite other polls that show deepening divisions on the broader issue of immigration as the country approaches a federal election in 2019.

The Pew Center’s Canadian findings on refugees — based on a survey of 1,056 adults between May 23 and June 21 with a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points — follow an Angus Reid poll in August that showed deepening concern over Ottawa’s handling of asylum seekers. The findings underscored the rising political stakes for the federal government as it readies to enter an election year.

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites





We went undercover as ticket scalpers — and Ticketmaster offered to help us do business

LAS VEGAS—Inside a Caesars Palace conference room filled with some of the world’s most successful ticket scalpers, a row of promotional booths pitch software programs that help harvest thousands of sport and concert seats to be resold online at hefty markups.

Clustered around demonstration tables at the three-day Ticket Summit 2018 convention in July, discussion among scalpers inevitably centred on Ticketmaster, the world’s largest ticket supplier that has a near monopoly on major event seating in North America and the United Kingdom.

As gatekeeper to the entertainment industry’s most coveted events, Ticketmaster implements strict purchasing limits designed to prevent scalpers from using bots to buy tickets on a mass scale. In the past, company officials have publicly disparaged the resale ticket market, calling scalpers “pirates” and a threat to fans — even urging governments to criminalize the activity.

But in one corner of the Las Vegas convention floor sat a conspicuous Ticketmaster booth welcoming scalpers with a solemn reassurance: Ticketmaster wants to share in the profits of the resale market by facilitating the mass scalping of its tickets — in direct violation of its own terms of use.

Read more:

We tracked every ticket for Saturday's Bruno Mars concert to uncover how fans are being gouged

Montreal scalper scooping up tickets by the hundreds at lightning speed — then selling them back to you at huge profits

Jays getting a cut from online scalpers

Price cap on ticket resales delayed by new Premier Doug Ford

Reporters from the Star and CBC, posing as small-time scalpers from Canada, listened as sales staff pitched a proprietary Ticketmaster software program designed to help bulk buyers resell thousands of tickets.

“I have brokers that have literally a couple of hundred Ticketmaster accounts,” said a sales executive with Ticketmaster Resale speaking to the undercover reporters.

The web-based tool — called Trade Desk — allows scalpers to seamlessly sync their Ticketmaster accounts (where they buy their tickets) with their online resale operation, quickly posting each seat to ticket reselling websites including StubHub, Vivid Seats and ticketmaster.com.

It also gives Ticketmaster a new revenue source: a second commission on every “verified resale” ticket sold on Ticketmaster.com (on top of the commission it collects on the original purchase of each ticket).

Ticketmaster’s terms of use prohibit customers from buying “a number of tickets for an event that exceeds the stated limit for that event.” That limit, which is posted when tickets go on sale, is typically six or eight seats per buyer.

“If we identify breaches of these limits … we reserve the right to cancel any such orders,” read Ticketmaster’s general terms and conditions. “Use of automated means to purchase tickets is strictly prohibited.”

But ticket resellers who break those rules have no reason to be concerned, the sales executive reassured. A blind eye will be turned.

“We don’t spend any time looking at your Ticketmaster.com account. I don’t care what you buy. It doesn’t matter to me,” said the Trade Desk sales executive. “There’s total separation between Ticketmaster and our division. It’s church and state … We don’t monitor that at all.”

Trade Desk staff are aware their users harvest tickets using multiple Ticketmaster accounts, the sales executive said.

“They have to because if you want to get a good show and the ticket limit is six or eight (seats), you’re not going to make a living on eight tickets.”

Star and CBC reporters asked what happens if staff at Ticketmaster headquarters detect unusual activity in the purchasing patterns of a Trade Desk user, such as the use of bots. Will they ask for information from the resale division?

“No,” he said. “We don’t share reports. We don’t share names. We don’t share account information with the primary side, period.”

Reporters from the Star and CBC attended the ticket scalpers conference in Vegas undercover because media were not allowed into sessions where the collaboration between Ticketmaster and scalpers was to be discussed. For months, Ticketmaster has declined interview requests to address these issues. After attending the conference, the Star and the CBC gave Ticketmaster an opportunity to review what their sales people had said and comment. They declined.

In response to a detailed list of questions, the company provided a statement.

“As long as there is an imbalance between supply and demand in live event tickets, there will inevitably be a secondary market,” wrote Catherine Martin, a spokesperson for Ticketmaster. “As the world’s leading ticketing platform … we believe it is our job to offer a marketplace that provides a safe and fair place for fans to shop, buy and sell tickets in both the primary and secondary markets.”

Ticketmaster has previously claimed to have stopped five billion purchase attempts by bots in 2016 alone.

“In addition to our work fighting the use of automated bots, we have also taken the most restrictive stance on speculative ticketing, not allowing any seller, professional or otherwise, to post tickets we have not validated to our TM+ pages,” Martin added.

Richard Powers, associate professor at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said publicly criticizing scalpers while quietly helping them is “misleading” and “unethical.”

“Helping to create a secondary market where purchasers are duped into paying higher prices, and securing themselves a second commission, should be illegal,” he said.

The monopoly Ticketmaster enjoys “allows them to do pretty much whatever they like and, until a government has the will to end this practice by appropriating resources and establishing significant penalties for transgressions, the practice is likely to continue,” Powers said.

Reg Walker, a leading British expert on ticket scalping, questioned why Ticketmaster would make a program for scalpers.

“Why on earth would you design software to list tickets in bulk on your secondary site for people who could be reasonably suspected of having attacked your primary site?” said Walker, who runs a security consulting firm in London.

“They are facilitating or turning a blind eye to (scalpers) with multiple accounts harvesting tickets in bulk and reselling them, despite the fact they pontificate they do everything to stop this. That needs investigating by the authorities.”

Allegations about Ticketmaster courting scalpers with preferential treatment recently emerged in California court filings as part of a 2017 lawsuit the company filed against three ticket brokering companies accusing them of using computer bots to “improperly procure tickets for the purpose of reselling them at a substantial profit.”

In response, Prestige Entertainment West Inc. alleges that Ticketmaster uses its website to “deceive consumers and line its pockets from double-dip commissions.”

“The vast majority of ticket reseller activity is patently obvious to (Ticketmaster), and yet (Ticketmaster) does nothing to prevent this activity, failing to block or terminate accounts … where account-holders are purchasing tickets in quantities that are obviously not for personal use,” reads the responding filing.

“(Ticketmaster’s) willing embrace of ticket reseller activity on its website is a core part of its business model as is the enhanced profits that (Ticketmaster) obtained from double-dip commissions.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Walker reviewed a transcript of the conversation with a Trade Desk salesperson and concluded: “I think it strips away the PR and the hype and the spin that Ticketmaster acts to protect consumers and give them a fair crack at getting the ticket at face value … and basically exposes what could be extremely dubious activity that disadvantages genuine music and sports fans.”

During a video conference this spring, another Trade Desk sales executive, speaking with Star and CBC reporters who posed as brokers, explained how Ticketmaster does not want to catch scalpers using multiple accounts.

“We’ve spent millions of dollars on this tool, so the last thing we’d want to do is, you know, get brokers caught up to where they can’t sell inventory with us,” he said. “We’re not trying to build a better mousetrap. I think the last thing we want to do is impair your ability to sell inventory. That’s our whole goal here on the resale side of the business.”

Using Trade Desk brings an immediate 3 per cent discount on Ticketmaster’s usual 7 per cent selling fee on a resale ticket. And the more users scalp, the greater the incentives become.

Once they hit $500,000 in sales, a percentage point is shaved off their fees. At $1 million, another percentage point falls off.

“Scalpers get preferential treatment over consumers,” says U.K. expert Walker. “An average consumer would not need this software to list the ticket they could no longer use … This is simply done to assist touts (scalpers) in processing more and more tickets faster and faster and faster.”

In a session closed to media, Ticketmaster Resale senior director Casey Klein stood in front of conference room packed with hundreds of scalpers. An image of a sharply ascending graph illustrating broker registrations over the past five years loomed behind him. It was headlined, “We Appreciate Your Partnership: More Brokers are Listing with Ticketmaster than Ever Before.”

“(We want to) make sure brokers know that they have the ability to sell on Ticketmaster Resale but also that we’re committing significant resources to help you do that,” he said. “I’m confident there is no company more capable of helping you succeed in a mobile world than Ticketmaster Resale.”

That language contradicts what company officials have said about the resale industry over the past decade.

In a 2007 written submission to a U.K. House of Commons committee examining ticket scalping, Ticketmaster U.K. argued that the “unauthorized resale of tickets for profit does not promote fair and equitable distribution of tickets, and drains tickets away from the primary market, thus restricting the opportunity for genuine fans to purchase them legitimately.”

The company urged British lawmakers to make the marked-up resale of event tickets a criminal offence.

That didn’t happen.

Early the next year, in an apparent effort to join the resellers if it couldn’t beat them, Ticketmaster purchased two online resale websites, TicketsNow (Canada/U.S.) and Get Me In! (U.K.).

That move was the subject of regret by 2009, according to company testimony before U.S. lawmakers.

Irving Azoff, former CEO of Ticketmaster, told a U.S. federal hearing he never liked the idea of Ticketmaster being in the secondary ticket sales market.

“I never would have bought it,” he told the hearing. “The whole secondary area is a mess. In a perfect world, I personally would hope that there would be a more transparent, accurate primary that would do away with the need for any secondary whatsoever.”

During discussions of a merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation, Azoff told the committee: “I believe that scalping and resales should be illegal … I don’t believe there should be a secondary market at all.”

The Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger was allowed in 2010 based on an order that the new company enter into a consent decree to avoid anticompetitive conduct.

Four years later, in 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission settled charges with Ticketmaster for using “deceptive bait-and-switch tactics to sell event tickets to consumers.” The federal agency alleged Ticketmaster steered unwitting ticket buyers to its TicketsNow secondary site where seats were sold at inflated prices of up to four times their face value.

Ticketmaster agreed to refund consumers who bought tickets to 14 Bruce Springsteen concerts in 2009 through TicketsNow, and to be clear about the costs and risks of buying through its reseller sites.

In April, the New York Times reported Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation, is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for possible antitrust violations.

Last month, Ticketmaster U.K. shut down the Get Me In! and Seatwave resale sites even as it recruits scalpers in North America for its burgeoning resale division.

“Our number one priority is to get tickets into the hands of fans so that they can go to the events they love,” Andrew Parsons, Ticketmaster U.K. managing director, said in a statement. “We know that fans are tired of seeing tickets being snapped up just to find them being resold for a profit on secondary websites, so we have taken action. Closing down our secondary sites and creating a ticket exchange on Ticketmaster has always been our long-term plan.”

U.K. ticket expert Walker has four words to account for Ticketmaster’s contradictory business approaches on either side of the Atlantic when it comes to ticket reselling: “hypocrisy at its finest.”

Robert Cribb is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @thecribby

Marco Chown Oved is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @marcooved





Rosie DiManno: At a plowing match in Ford country, the premier is a rock star

THE STICKS—Ahhh — big breath — that fresh country scent.

Manure.

Honest fertilizing s---. Not to be mistaken for the malodorous stuff that’s been slung around the Ontario legislature in recent days.

The city girl fills her lungs.

Probably the only person among thousands present who has arrived at the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo by cab.

Here, on Tuesday, as a fly on the wall. Or a fly on the dung.

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“You can catch the shuttle,” suggests a volunteer.

Wow, a shuttle? How very accommodating on a scorching September morning.

Except it’s a wagon, hauled by a tractor, bouncing over the rutted path.

Makes sense, the city girl figures. This is tractor country after all. At many nearby farms, tractors are parked in front yards as decorative displays, along with all the harvest adornments, whimsical scarecrows and such.

The city girl finds herself humming “Farmer’s Song” by Murray McLauchlan: “Straw hats and old dirty hankies/Mopin’ a face like a shoe/Thanks for the meal here’s a song that is real/From the kid from the city to you.”

Dismounting into the middle of a parade, right behind the NDP wagon, where Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath and her lefty colleagues, in bright orange windbreakers, wave at the crowd and toss apples. Trailed by vintage Cougar, atop which perch the Queen of the Furrow and the Chatham-Kent Queen of the Furrow.

Horwath, the city girl is told, is reigning champion of the pol plowing contest. She’s more than just a chronically furrowed brow.

Greeted with homespun warmth at the main stage tent where a band of geezers has been entertaining the audience, stomping country tunes. (The city girl reminds herself — still, younger than the Rolling Stones.)

But Horwath and the Greens — and, somewhere, the rump that is all that’s left of the Liberals — are not the main draw at the vast farm, owned by Jean-Marie (“King of Brussels Sprouts” and Lucille Laprise, hosts this year of the 101st Expo, purportedly the largest event of its kind in the world, and never missed by provincial politicians. Indeed, blocked out on the schedule, forcing an overnight session at Queen’s Park on the weekend for emergency reading of Bill 31, because we can’t have MPPs sending their regrets to farmers.

Premier Doug Ford is the rock star.

Tramping around the grounds of Tented City — not to be confused with Tent City in Toronto, the now-and-then homeless bivouacs that sprout up downtown — in jeans and event polo shirt, posing for endless selfies with well-wishers, shaking hands and patting babies.

We forget, those of us who live in the centre of the universe, most especially the “downtown elites” Ford reviles, that the premier isn’t so dimly viewed elsewhere in the province.

Ford is having a very good day.

“He looks better in person,” one fellow tells a reporter.

Very much a Ford-crowd: White, elderly, conservative, a rural microcosm of Ford Nation.

Which is kind of weird because Etobicoke-raised Ford has zero in common with these good folks, the businessman-turned-politician-turned-premier although he slangs a good game.

The Ontario that’s in Ford’s wheelhouse. No record number of murders here, in a place called Pain Court where even the crabgrass grows in tidy rows. No gangbangers. No support for gun bans.

No raucous protesters either, condemning the government running roughshod over democratic rights by threatening to invoke that “notwithstanding” stuff, although presumably Ford is being kept apprised of matters unfolding at the Court of Appeal, where the government is at this very moment requesting a stay of last week’s lower court ruling which (fleetingly) threw a wrench into Ford’s plan to slash Toronto city council.

Just a couple of guys unfurling a banner that reads: DON’T PLOW OUR CHARTER.

Heads pivoted when a solitary heckler shouted something or other. Ford plowed right through it.

“They hopped in their car from downtown, the NDP, and drove up here,” Ford declared accusingly. Which seems an odd dis for someone who’s so devoted to automobiles over cycles. Not a single pedal-head in sight.

“If you want to see the lifeblood of Ontario’s economy, all you have to do is drive through Southwestern Ontario,” Ford told his audience from the stage “You can see it for yourself, the farmers, the factory towns, small-business workers, local workers working hard to pay the bills, to create jobs and to make ends meet. These are the industries, the farmers and the workers who put Ontario on the map.

“I love farmers.”

Says the man with the strangely big head who’s likely never turned a clump of sod in his life.

Really, who doesn’t love farmers, subsidized or not? They put food on our table. This area alone — No. 1 producer of carrots, seed corn, tomatoes, pumpkins and of course brussels sprouts — kicks $3 billion into the provincial economy.

And the porta-potties are gender-neutral.

The pols then descended on the plowing fields to take their turns in the furrow match, heartily cheered for their competitive style by generously non-partisan spectators. While the city girl pours over the seven-pages of rules for mules, horses and humans, trying to make sense of “splits” and “crowns” and “sighting stakes” and “leave stones plowed up where they are.”

It’s not all about the furrowing, of course. There’s a rodeo, auctions, quilt exhibits, a bewildering display of farming implements, hand-tooled leather kitsch and, this year, several attempts at setting Guinness World Records: Yesterday, Largest Egg and Spoon Race. Over the next four days, largest sugar cube structure, most people bobbing for apples at one time, most people eating corn on the cob at one time, longest quilt binding and world’s largest Caesar, which the city girl is sorry to miss.

But she’s particularly charmed by the dancing tractors, manipulated by men in women’s dresses. In Toronto, we call that cross-dressing.

The city girl sits on a bale of hay, sticks a straw in her mouth — wiping it down first with a tissue — to ponder events thoughtfully.

Mostly, she would like to come back here under cover of darkness and mow crop circles, throw all those rigid rows for a loop.

City girl is an alien.





Susan Delacourt: Ottawa worried Ford’s Washington visit could impact NAFTA talks

Ontario Premier Doug Ford reportedly let Ottawa know late last week that he was headed to Washington on Wednesday to pay a call on the Canada-U.S. trade talks.

Ford also assured reporters on Tuesday that he continues to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in the negotiations over NAFTA’s fate.

But privately, there is some nervousness within the Trudeau government about what Ford hopes to accomplish with his flying visit into the U.S. capital — especially as Donald Trump and prominent Republicans are ramping up the rhetoric this week against Canada.

Any suggestion that Canada doesn’t speak with one voice, or that it’s anxious for a deal at any cost could work against this country at the negotiating table, one federal source close to the talks said on Tuesday.

“We’re only close to a deal because the Americans think we won’t take a bad one,” the source said. “And they think that we can take that stance because the country is united behind us.”

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That’s the big question, then, as Ford heads to the U.S. capital on Wednesday — is there enough goodwill between the Trudeau Liberals and the Ford Conservatives to pull off this diplomatic dance in D.C.?

So far, Liberals and Conservatives generally have been making a great show of patriotic solidarity when they’re talking trade — at least when it’s taking place in the United States. Prominent former cabinet ministers such as James Moore and Rona Ambrose are on the advisory committee and former prime minister Brian Mulroney has been talking regularly to the Trudeau team.

But back here in Canada, federal Conservatives seem increasingly eager to take shots at how the Trudeau government has handled the NAFTA negotiations, lumping the lack of a new deal into what they now call a “summer of failure” by the Trudeau Liberals.

Ford, meanwhile, has not been shy about mixing it up with Trudeau, almost from the moment he took office — willing to take on everything from the carbon tax to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One might be tempted to conclude that the premier is taking that “nation” part of his “fordnation” Twitter handle literally; that he sees his real rivals as the Liberals in Ottawa. Trade seems to be the exception for now — Ford has even managed, like the other premiers, to keep quiet about any updates he’s getting from the federal government.

But people in Trudeau’s office took note last week when the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief, Robert Benzie, reported that Ford was making his controversial move on the Charter of Rights to contrast himself with Trudeau.

Sources told Benzie that Ford’s people were keen for people to contrast the premier’s “bold leadership” against Trudeau’s leadership style — specifically on how they handle negative court rulings. While the prime minister’s pipeline plans have been thwarted (at least temporarily) by a court ruling halting construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline, Ford has pulled out all the stops, legally, to go through with his plans to cut Toronto city council.

Trudeau, meanwhile, clearly sees Ford as the Ghost of Elections Future. While he didn’t mention Ford by name in his town-hall interview with Maclean’s Magazine’s Paul Wells on Monday night, the prime minister took some shots against Ford’s brand of play-to-the-base politics (which is also Trump’s brand.)

“When you’re not too worried about constitutional niceties and courts and what have you, you can take a mandate and make those grand gestures and satisfy your base in a very loud way,” Trudeau said.

These are glimpses into what’s emerging as a gaping, relational abyss between the Ford and Trudeau governments; one that’s only going to get deeper as the 2019 election looms. It’s worth noting that many of the people around Ford’s new government trace roots back to Stephen Harper’s decade in power, and that Trudeau’s Ottawa has many veterans of Kathleen Wynne’s former provincial government. Very recent grudges and defeats are all part of the current mix of Ontario-Ottawa relations.

Throwing that dynamic into the trade-negotiation pressure cooker in Washington on Wednesday could make things unpredictable — or more unpredictable than they already are. The Ford and Trudeau governments will say they are solely focused on the trade talks in the U.S. capital on Wednesday, but they’re also keeping one eye on each other.

Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: sdelacourt@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt





Realtors allowed to post sold prices — finally

The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) has turned on the sold data tap, officially allowing brokers to post the selling prices of homes on their password protected websites, it told its members on Tuesday.

That means consumers should soon be able to access the selling prices of homes directly through a broker’s website, rather than calling a real estate agent.

The move, announced by the real estate board to its 50,000 members on Friday, came following a seven-year legal battle that ended more than three weeks ago.

On Aug. 23, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed TREB’s application to appeal earlier rulings that said it must allow sold data and other information to be published online as long as consumers used a password to get to the data.

TREB had originally announced it could take until Oct. 22 to establish a new data feed with sold, withdrawn, expired, suspended or terminated listings — information that was part of its dispute with Canada’s Competition Commissioner.

So the announcement that the delay would end Tuesday was “amazing” said John Pasalis, a Toronto broker who helped the Competition Bureau argue that by restricting the information, the real estate board was stifling innovation and competition.

Read more:

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“There’s just been so many delays. Even TREB’s lawyers in recent media (reports) are making it sound like they’re trying to find ways to protect sellers’ privacy,” he said. “They might still try to introduce some measures to restrict the sales data but it’s just mindblowing that it’s actually happening right now.”

Since the Supreme Court dismissal Aug. 23, realtors have expressed frustration about the delay and the confusion surrounding the sold prices. Some brokerages posted the data on their websites only to receive cease-and-desist letters from the board, prompting them to pull it down.

Desmond Brown of Royal Lepage sent an email to his clients last week telling them precisely how to search solds on his website, which is hosted by a company called Fourwalls Digital, only to receive a letter from Fourwalls saying that it had to turn off the solds until TREB turned on the official feed.

“For some reason (TREB has) this prehistoric notion that a realtor’s value ties into information and the more they hold back the information the more value a realtor will have,” he said.

On Monday, Interim Commissioner of Competition Matthew Boswell released a statement saying he would be watching that the real estate board was complying with a June 2016 Competition Tribunal order addressing TREB’s “anti-competitive conduct.”

But some real estate executives downplayed the significance of providing public access to sold information.

“With the speed the market changes and the great variances you can have with two properties even side by side, the data is interesting but it’s not that useful on its own,” said Phil Soper, CEO of Royal LePage.

“The real test will be, do (real estate brokerages) invest the time and effort to train their agents and build the systems to make it useful for agents to explain to consumers or for consumers to use themselves,” said Soper.

Sotheby’s International Realty Canada CEO Brad Henderson said his company doesn’t plan to post the sold prices “for the time being.”

“Our clients aren’t looking for that data. They’re looking for a more bespoke approach,” he said.

Henderson said he thinks some of the real estate board’s statements about protecting consumer privacy are legitimate.

“Why should I know the value of your home any more than your income tax or stock portfolio?” he said.





‘People just suck sometimes:’ Uproar over a big red sunflower being ripped from Nova Scotia field

HALIFAX—Instagram and Facebook are full of fun photos featuring a sea of sunflowers from Nova Scotia’s Dakeyne Farm, but between Sunday and Monday night one special flower was plucked and the internet is reacting.

Big Red was an unusual deep red sunflower who stood out in a sea of yellow at the Mount Denson farm field. The sunflower maze where she once swayed is now hosting an “online memorial service” encouraging visitors to post their photos of the fallen flower. The most liked or loved photo wins two free passes to the farm’s zombie chicken maze.

“We are sad to announce. an unkind soul selfishly picked the one beautiful red flower in the back for themselves,” notes a Dakeyne Farm Facebook post. “We are so sorry that human didn’t love you enough to leave you to live and become seed for next year or care enough to leave you be so that others could love your beauty too.”

While not on par with the disastrous crowd of more than 7,000 selfie seekers who overran a sunflower farm near Hamilton, Ont. forcing it to shut down, visitors to the Nova Scotia farm reacted with disappointment.

“Unreal. People just suck sometimes,” Merle Rose wrote on the farm’s Facebook page.

“Not only sad but stupid. A smart person would have asked if they could have or buy a seed from this flower which would allow them to grow their own,” Appleby Davidson said.

“What?!!!! This is so sad! It’s awful that one person ruins it for everyone,” wrote Josette McCauley.

Jen Wilson and her husband own Dakeyne Farm and started the sunflower maze seven years ago. Each year, she and her children pick out a few different seed varieties to throw out in the field while planting the bright yellow sunflowers that draw huge crowds every fall.

The only unusual sunflower to pop up this year was Big Red, and Wilson said she left an impression.

“It is nice to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought that she was a bit special … She was different. There are so many people in this world and we all feel a little different sometimes,” Wilson said.

“Big Red was out there reminding you that you know, you’re not the only one. Other people are different too, right? It made you smile to see her proudly standing up out there. It was beautiful to see her red colour against that yellow back.”

Wilson first noticed Big Red was missing while on her nightly stroll around the maze Monday night looking for things visitors may have dropped or lost.

“It was sunset so I was hoping for a really nice photo and so I get there and she was gone,” Wilson said. “Where she was living, it was all trampled. So somebody went in there and they broke her head off and walked away with it.”

Wilson said if given the opportunity to speak to the person who took Big Red, she’d ask “why they felt they deserved that flower over everybody else who’s come to visit us.” She would also invite them to return next year to help her family plant the maze.

“I would want them to see how we put our love into our field for our kids and for our family so that they understand,” she said. “I think whoever took it was probably someone who wasn’t taught that you shouldn’t take things that aren’t yours.”

Wilson’s youngest daughter, who’s 8, asked her mother if it was possible to have a photo contest in honour of Big Red. Using it as an online memorial and an opportunity to give free tickets to the farm’s upcoming Halloween-themed maze seemed fitting.

“We love turning lemons into lemonade,” she said.

“People need a little bit of education as to why you shouldn’t take the special one and this is a good way to do it. We’re just trying to be a little spot of positivity.”

Once the sunflowers are done, the field will become a zombie chicken maze that will welcome visitors every weekend throughout the month of October.

“We’re going to let guinea hens go in the field and as you’re walking through the (sunflower) seed heads, they’re going to pop out and squawk out at you so it’ll be scary but it won’t be too scary,” Wilson explained.

Yvette d’Entremont is a Halifax-based reporter focusing on health and environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ydentremont





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