At Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro shook hands for the first time. That was indeed an unplanned gesture from sides. Shortly after that Cuba and the US also announced the resumption of official talks on immigration and postal services between the two countries.
However, the realignment of strained equations between the traditional foes was not in true spirits. Their mutual hatred and cross fears have remained intact even while trying for some friendship at some point.
Recently, the Cuban government has suspended consular services in the United States after an American M&T bank decided to withdraw its facilities. The M&T bank announced last year that it would stop accepting deposits from 17 February, which is a public holiday in the US.
The bank said its decision was taken for business reasons.
Cuba says it will not be able to renew passports and process visas unless it finds an alternative to the M&T bank.
The US broke off diplomatic relations with the communist-run island in 1961 and imposed an economic embargo a year later. In the absence of bilateral contacts, consular services have been handled by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
More than 40,000 people on average travel to Cuba from the US every month, most of them Cuban-Americans, according to the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group. Americans who do not have Cuban nationality are also allowed to travel if they are taking part in cultural exchange programmes.
The suspension of consular services comes amid a recent slight thaw in relations. The move is likely to prevent tens of thousands of people travelling from the US to Cuba every month and could have a big impact on the economy there.
Earlier this week, the European Union agreed to open negotiations aimed at restoring full relations with Cuba. Last week, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said President Obama should proceed with a similar gesture and follow the example of the EU.
Possibly the USA does not fully trust the former foe of the Cold war era.
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Nova Scotia’s Film Inudstry Needs Fixing
Darlene Lewis is a set decorator who lives in Boutiliers Point. She has always worked in the arts. She began her career in theatre, eventually moving over into film and television.
The making of films in Nova Scotia has been a part of the artistic and business landscape since 1913 when Evangeline, one of Canada’s very first films, was shot here.
Thousands of Nova Scotians have been employed in this industry over the years. They and their families were a vital part of the Nova Scotia economy. Students graduating from our colleges and universities stayed in Nova Scotia to work in film. Trained technicians and craftspeople moved to Nova Scotia to participate in the industry.
The making of films and TV shows is like any other manufacturing venture. Investors bring in capital and purchase goods and services from local businesses. They hire Nova Scotian carpenters, painters, electricians, caterers, hairdressers, make-up artists, prop builders, decorators, graphic artists, editors, animators, designers, drivers, actors, directors and producers and more to create the production. A finished product is shipped out to market.
During the 2013 election, the Liberal government promised stable funding for the film industry until 2020. Yet, in April 2015, they abruptly axed the film industry tax credit that was so vital to the industry.
Businesses closed. Millions of dollars’ worth of film projects that were lined up to shoot here went away. A combined workforce of over 2,700 Nova Scotians was thrown out of work. We then turned to our provincial government, asking them to work with us to fix this situation.
“Get back to work,” McNeil said.
But there is no work.
The tax credit made money for the province. From 1993 through 2014, the film industry showed a steady increase in revenue. The tax credit was replaced with a Film Incentive Fund with no time for the industry to transition to the new formula. Now, with the Canadian dollar so low compared to the American dollar, film in other provinces is booming. Yet in Nova Scotia, we remain dead in the water. Broadcasters and film studios are wary of Nova Scotia’s new system, reluctant to invest millions in something unproven and untried.
The loss is palpable. Throughout the province, businesses that supplied the film industry have been hit hard in the bottom line and many have closed shop. Infrastructure that took 30 years to build has been destroyed—victims of misguided political policy.
Talented people in their prime with young families, so badly needed in this aging province—people who helped build our economy and support our communities—are packing up and heading off to find work in other provinces where the benefits of film production are recognized and nurtured. For many of these families, this is a permanent move, and our loss.
We must protect industries like film that offer proven growth and jobs. We ask all Nova Scotians to talk to their elected officials. Make sure they understand the importance of the Nova Scotia film industry to the future of this province. Urge them to work with the industry to amend the Film Incentive Fund to bring it up to industry standards. We believe that it can be made to work. We believe that if the government and the industry pull together in the same direction, we can rebuild our industry for the benefit of all Nova Scotians.
Homelessness and Poverty Remain a Needless Plague
With the winter holidays behind us and a New Year ahead of us we now have a chance to ask ourselves how we want 2016 to be defined.
It’s a time when we celebrated the arrival of thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria. How is it that Canada has a national refugee policy and no national strategy for dealing with poverty and homelessness?
Although there was no discussion about poverty in the Liberal platform for the federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his mandate letter to Jean-Yves Duclos (http://bit.ly/1O7l9kn), the Minister for Families, Children and Social Development asked Duclos to, “Lead the development of a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy that would set targets to reduce poverty and measure and publicly report on our progress, in collaboration with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. Our strategy will align with and support existing provincial and municipal poverty reduction strategies.”
A federal policy for poverty would help address the growing divide between those who have and those who don’t in our society.
We need to rethink how we understand poverty and homelessness in our society. As Franklin D. Roosevelt argued, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
Presently resources and policies to address homelessness fall predominately on municipal governments. This means that cities are responsible not only for the costs of short-term housing but also any other homeless strategies including emergency shelters. The politicians at city hall are debating the budget for 2016 and already have jettisoned funds for some of the emergency shelters that were funded in 2015 after three people died on the streets in Toronto. Coun. Joe Cressy reports that last year brought the number of homeless deaths in Toronto since 1985 to 792 people. Deaths like these, that can be prevented are a sad comment on us as a society.
According to a 2013 survey conducted by the group Homeless Hub there are some 5,200 homeless people in the GTA. While the majority of those surveyed have access to some form of shelter, 450 people live permanently on the streets of Toronto. In a city where condominiums are being built on almost every corner we need to provide housing and access to housing for all our residents. As a society this should be one of our primary goals.
The researchers at Homeless Hub argue that one of the problems is how we look at homelessness.
They say we manage homelessness rather than eliminating it. Looking at plans developed by other communities and governments Homeless Hub advocates a Housing First policy that prioritizes finding stable long-term housing for those in need before addressing the issues that led to the loss of their homes.
At present an ad hoc system of emergency shelters and transitional housing is administered by different groups and agencies results in a tiered bureaucratic system that is difficult to navigate for anyone, let alone those who have been forced onto the streets. The homeless trying to access housing in this system are also required to meet certain criteria that can place strain on their already difficult circumstances.
This can include substance abuse counselling or other behavioural therapies in order to secure housing.
The ideas behind this system are moralistic, dating back to the 19th-century idea of the deserving and the undeserving poor.
The Housing First policy turns this model on its head, arranging first for housing and then for any other supportive services needed once individuals have secured safe homes.
Communities that have adopted the Housing First policy note a reduction in the number of homeless and the cost of administering to those in need. It is a win, win for all involved.
The homeless gain stable homes, the community gains individuals who can contribute again to society and the bean counters in local government see a reduction in overall costs.
OMB Rulings Threaten the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood
The frantic Downtown building boom continues. Three new, tall and very dense Downtown projects are in the news. One is a large office development close to Union Station along Bay Street; two are condos in the sensitive St. Lawrence Neighbourhood.
The Bay Street project by Ivanhoé Cambridge is two very tall office towers with a connecting landscaped bridge spanning the railway tracks between them .The 48-storey southern tower at 45 Bay will include a relocated GO bus station closer to the Gardiner Expressway. This is good for traffic.
Apart from GO buses, other long-distance buses are today farther north close to Bay and Dundas. They are not well connected to city public transit. They add to centretown traffic congestion. There is now a possibility these other buses may also be included in 45 Bay cresting a real central public transit hub. This location will also be connected to the future East Bayfront Light Rail Transit (LRT).
The 58-storey northern 141 Bay St. tower will be on the present GO bus station between the railway and the fine Classical Front St. federal office building. This tower will have a deep, 5-level underground public parking garage for 440 cars and also trucks serving the tower.
The garage access on Yonge Street is a problem. It directly faces The Esplanade leading into the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood. This stable, successful, mixed-income neighbourhood must be protected from more and heavy traffic.
New traffic lights on Yonge will control the garage access. But tricky means must be found to prevent or severely limit garage traffic from entering the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood via The Esplanade, the main street tying together the unique neighbourhood along the linear David Crombie Park.
The wide, landscaped bridge linking the Bay Street office towers seems innovative at first sight. Lush landscape drawings are seductive. But how will trees and plants grow in soil not well protected from winter freezing by the cold underside of the bridge? Also, how will the public be attracted to use the bridge far above pedestrian street level?
Another issue for the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood is a huge condo project by the Pemberton Group. The new project occupies a whole city block formerly occupied by Sobey’s and Acura Motors between The Esplanade, Front, Sherbourne and Princess streets.
Even as revised, this project is totally out of scale and density with the existing low- and mid-rise, well-planned, mixed-income neighbourhood. The project will have four tall towers of 33, 29, 27 and 25 storeys on a 10-storey podium base. This is higher than even the nearby area tallest-yet-to-be-built two 26-storey towers along Front at Sherbourne recently approved by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) against city and community objections.
The developer has successfully used the now common developer tactic of filing an early threatening appeal with the developer-friendly OMB. This appears again to have achieved the desired effect of intimidating overworked city planners and the community to basically accept the ever-so slightly reduced project still not fitting the unique neighbourhood.
Another proposed project threatening the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood is 75 The Esplanade on the south side of the street on the Church Street parking lot. The north side of The Esplanade in this area has heritage designated, 4-storey original waterfront warehouses. They have attracted lively bars and restaurants with busy summer outdoor patios on the wide sidewalk.
The tall, new project of 34 storeys by Harhay and Carttera will shadow The Esplanade for part of the day. Adjoining it is the unusual Novotel Hotel built some years ago according to the then but no longer enforceable city zoning bylaw.
The hotel rises six storeys before sloping back for three storeys to keep sunlight reaching the street. (Novotel’s attractive sidewalk arcade, reminiscent of old European cities, will not be continued along 75 The Esplanade.)
Condos on the back, southern side of 75 The Esplanade will stare across a narrow, busy lane right into the 8-storey city community housing residence built on top of the high, 6-storey open and 24/7 brightly lit city public parking garage.
A better solution would be to replace the lower condos facing the garage with internal parking in its 8-storey podium. Such parking is much less expensive for the developer than a deep 3-level underground garage for 126 cars. Condos in the podium can still face The Esplanade and Church St. The incessant push for more density and height in downtown continues. The question remains: Will the boom continue or bust?
Stig Harvor is a retired architect
Clarification and corrections of Stig’s February profile in The Bulletin:
Stig was born 1929. He spent World War 2 in German-occupied Norway. He came to Canada in 1945 and moved from New Brunswick to Ottawa in 1959.
His Ottawa architectural firm Harvor and Menendez worked in association with Schoeler and Heaton on some notable projects. Later, Stig was involved in the design management of Place du Portage IV in Hull. He moved to Toronto in 1993 and took over retired architect and professor John Flanders’ column in The Bulletin in 2003.
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