From the ‘Freedom Convoy’ to a gloomy forecast for Toronto’s housing market, we’ve selected some of the best long reads of the week on

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1. What’s next for Toronto’s housing market? Why experts are predicting the biggest slump in 40 years

If there’s one hint that Justin Beaudoin is selling his home — a two-storey townhouse on the edge of Barrie, Ont., replete with fresh laminate floors and refurbished kitchen cabinets — it’s that the main floor is remarkably tidy.

The couch cushions are plump and the surfaces lack crumbs. When a prospective buyer rings the doorbell, they might see a glimmer of their reflection in the newly refinished door.

If anyone rings the doorbell, that is.

Since Beaudoin put his home on the market early in June, few have visited and not a single offer has been made. The public relations manager fought tooth and nail for this property back in July 2020, when interest rates were low and bargain hunters scrambled for the best deals on single-family homes. But ever since the Bank of Canada started hiking interest rates in March of this year, few Barrie-dwellers have been in the mood to spend.

“Every time the Bank of Canada raises interest rates I want to bang my head against a wall,” said Beaudoin. “Because every time those rates go up, the longer I have to wait for someone to buy this place.”

2. Where has the so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ gone? Don’t look at us — but let’s talk about it, says a new Ottawa group

The United People of Canada, a new organization now operating out of a historic former church in downtown Ottawa, is very keen to talk about last winter’s so-called “Freedom Convoy,” writes National columnist Susan Delacourt.

It is so keen, in fact, that TUPOC (as it calls itself) has booked two whole weeks of discussion to take place in August, in something billed as “The Freedom Convoy: A Community Conversation.”

“The last two years have seen great divide within Canada and throughout the world,” states the event notice. “The United People of Canada will be hosting a community conversation at the embassy in Ottawa to provide an opportunity for the community to come together on a mission of truth-seeking and healing.”

The “embassy” is what used to be known as St. Brigid’s Church, with a pending sale for nearly $6 million and in the process of being transformed into a headquarters for TUPOC. According to an article in the Irish Times a few years ago, incidentally, it is also the church Justin Trudeau attended as a child and where he received his confirmation ceremony.

This week, one of the major financial backers of the church intended purchase revealed himself to the Ottawa Citizen: Anthony Tony Cuzzocrea, described as “a 78-year-old investment adviser and financial planner from London, Ont.,” where TUPOC is also based.

3. Stephanie Coulter died at 31 of a fentanyl overdose. But her life shows how Ontario’s mental health system failed

On a frigid December morning, Flo Coulter drove an hour north from her Richmond Hill home to Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie.

She had just received a call that her daughter, Stephanie, had spent the night at the psychiatry unit after being dropped off by police. Coulter was worried. Stephanie had long struggled with her mental health, and had recently suffered a string of life-altering hardships. Her relationship of five years had ended; her Ontario disability payments had been cut due to a paperwork error; and she was on the verge of being evicted from her rented home.

The night before, Stephanie had left her home and sought to walk in the cold for an hour and a half towards Alcona, south of Barrie, stopping 20 minutes at a Tim Hortons to take off her shoes after getting blisters. The employees called 9-1-1 to get her help, and police arrived to take Stephanie to the nearest hospital.

When Coulter arrived at the hospital the next morning, she found her 31-year-old daughter standing at the front doors by herself in the cold. Stephanie slowly entered the car and curled up in the back seat. She seemed disoriented, and Coulter grew more concerned.

“She said, ‘I don’t feel anything. Am I even here? Am I alive?’ ” Coulter recalled. It was clear to her that Stephanie was still in distress.

4. Thousands were laid off from tech companies this summer — we talked to several workers to find out what it was like

The technology sector has been a saviour for thousands of Toronto workers during the pandemic: as service workers were laid off during lockdowns, the tech companies sucked them up, giving many a chance at new, more lucrative careers.

But now it’s the tech sector that’s under duress: Over the past few months, major companies like Wealthsimple, Thinkific Labs Inc., Clearco and Coinsquare have laid off hundreds of workers each, and total layoffs number in the tens of thousands sector-wide. With talk of a recession, a sharp downturn in online shopping and inflation cutting into bottom lines, technology sales have been sagging and stock prices have been slumping.

According to data tracker, so far in 2022 448 startups have laid off a sum total of almost 62,000 people. Ritual, Wealthsimple, Clearco and Touchbistro had by far the biggest layoff rounds in Toronto this year, but none of the Canadian companies cut as deeply as Ottawa tech darling Shopify.

The e-commerce company announced it would lay off 10 per cent of its staff last week, or around 1,000 people, and networking platform LinkedIn has been flooded with layoff announcements, job-hunting posts and words of sympathy from those who survived the cut.

5. Bullying, vandalism, fraud: Why hasn’t the province cracked down on ‘outrageous’ behaviour by some GTA councillors?

In her first act as a newly appointed councillor, Raika Sheppard asked her council for more compassion.

Sheppard brought forward a motion in June for the city to affirm the “compassion charter,” which she told council would be “the first step in us treating each other better as colleagues and treating the staff better and working toward the greater good of Richmond Hill residents.”

It was an impassioned plea from the city’s newest ward councillor who had watched — as a resident — as elected officials berated, bullied and interrupted each other at council meetings all year. The motion met some resistance from her peers but eventually passed.

Though aimed at Richmond Hill, Sheppard’s motion could be added to the agenda of municipal councils across Ontario — including several in the GTA — where local politicians have displayed all kinds of bad behaviour, including vicious infighting, harassment and the bullying of fellow councillors, staff and residents.

And it appears to be getting worse: “The environments within the municipal sector and the relationship of staff with council and the public have gotten strained over the COVID period,” said David Arbuckle, executive director for the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario, which represents 2,000 municipal workers. “Staff are concerned with especially harassment from council and the public.”

6. Ontario Health CEO admits system is under ‘tremendous strain’ and talks about 5 challenges rocking hospitals

Back when he was CEO of Lakeridge Health — a busy, five-hospital system in Durham region — Matthew Anderson typically got up at 5 a.m. to start solving the most pressing problems of the day.

Now, as president and CEO of Ontario Health, his days start at 4 a.m.

That extra workday hour is just the smallest indicator of the beleaguered state of the province’s health system.

“There are very, very tough things to solve,” he says. “Right now, job one is to solve things in the here and now. But we do that with an eye to … how we’re going to function going forward, to try and break this cycle once and for all.”

Anderson sat down with the Star recently for a rare interview about the state of the province’s health-care system, which is facing long-running, systemic challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19. The results are increasingly coming into the public spotlight.

Across the province, hospitals are seeing record wait times in ERs, patients languishing on surgical wait lists and exhausted staff fleeing in droves, leaving those who remain defeated, burned out and calling for help.

7. Brampton’s former integrity commissioner is suing councillors for millions in damages over her firing. Mayor Patrick Brown backs her claims

Brampton’s former integrity commissioner is suing the city and the councillors who voted to fire her for $20 million in damages, in a lawsuit that appears to have the support of Mayor Patrick Brown.

In a 22-page statement of claim, labour lawyer Muneeza Sheikh said her March dismissal was part of a conspiracy by several councillors who were upset about previous or ongoing ethics investigations she was pursuing against them. Her claim also alleges the councillors were in conflict when they passed “illegal” motions that resulted in her termination.

She also alleges they defamed her when they publicly said she was overbilling for her work.

None of her claims have been proven in court, but the lawsuit is the latest instance of political turbulence that has rocked Brampton, where the grievances and disputes of a deeply divided city council have played out in the public eye.

In her claim, Sheikh said three councillors had ethics investigations pending when they initiated and voted on the process for her dismissal.

8. ‘There’s just no escape’: As temperatures soar, should air conditioning for tenants be a human rights issue?

In Toronto’s sweltering summer months, Heather Gwinnett sits on the benches outside of her apartment building in St. James Town with other residents to cool off. Not equipped with air conditioning, the 71-year-old’s apartment at 200 Wellesley St. E feels like a furnace.

“Tell me how you’re supposed to breathe or sleep in here,” Gwinnett said, gesturing at her dark living room on the 12th floor where she lives alone. She keeps her curtains drawn to block out heat from the sun, but the air is stifling due to a lack of ventilation and minimal window openings, some of which have been boarded up because of construction outside the building.

“My breathing is worse because of the heat and my hands and feet swell up. I rely on my puffer more than anything else,” said Gwinnett, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which causes airflow blockage. “Sometimes I have to go out into the hallway to get air. It’s horrible and no one seems to care.”

As temperatures rise due to climate change, heat waves disproportionately impact Toronto’s vulnerable low-income communities who have little to no access to air conditioning and live in areas with limited parks and shaded outdoor areas, said Blair Feltmate head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

“In lower income areas of the city, parks are fewer in number and there are less trees available. Heat in these areas can be particularly problematic,” said Feltmate.

9. Suddenly, Barbie is everywhere. And her Dreamhouse is in … Mississauga?

Contrary to legend, Barbie’s dream house is not in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Rather, it is at least for the foreseeable future, located in another waterfront locale known as Mississauga inside an enormous greyish building overlooking the Square One Shopping Centre, writes columnist Emma Teitel.

I know this because earlier this month on an oppressively hot July afternoon, I walked through a white archway into the World of Barbie, an immersive experience brought to you by Mattel and American entertainment company Kilburn Live.

The World of Barbie is a life-size version of Barbie’s iconic dream house, surrounded by a 30,000-square-foot Barbie-drenched environment, all scaled to the dimensions of a human being old enough to have a smartphone. Picture Barbie’s camper van, swimming pool, an Astroturf courtyard lined with hot pink street lamps and nearby, a Barbie-themed laboratory, space shuttle, music studio and fashion runway. Each is a nod to Barbie’s 250 careers and counting — and a testament to the miracle that while mortal women can’t and never will have it all, Barbie has it all at once.

I know this because earlier this month on an oppressively hot July afternoon, I walked through a white archway into the World of Barbie, an immersive experience brought to you by Mattel and American entertainment company Kilburn Live.

The World of Barbie is a life-size version of Barbie’s iconic dream house, surrounded by a 30,000-square-foot Barbie-drenched environment, all scaled to the dimensions of a human being old enough to have a smartphone. Picture Barbie’s camper van, swimming pool, an Astroturf courtyard lined with hot pink street lamps and nearby, a Barbie-themed laboratory, space shuttle, music studio and fashion runway. Each is a nod to Barbie’s 250 careers and counting — and a testament to the miracle that while mortal women can’t and never will have it all, Barbie has it all at once.

10. How this 30-year-old paid off nearly $50,000 in debt in less than two years

It was a wake-up call nearly $50,000 in the making.

Between three credit cards, a line of credit, personal loans from friends, account overdraft and a car loan, Eduek Brooks had found herself with tens of thousands in debt hanging over her head — $47,328 worth, to be exact.

Brooks, now a financial educator in the Greater Toronto Area, began experiencing “lifestyle creep” soon after she secured her first “big girl” job. She had been working minimum wage jobs during a 22-month wait for her permanent residency after finishing her master’s degree in chemical engineering. Brooks left the engineering field last year.

“I wasn’t actually being mindful of what was coming in and what was going out. I was thinking, ‘I’m going to get a paycheque next week and put it on the credit card and pay it off,’ and it just kind of spiralled out of control where I had all this debt and wasn’t able to pay it off,” Brooks said.

In 2018, with her 30th birthday looming, she decided to enter the new decade with a clean financial slate and start building her wealth. Then she was laid off.

But that set back turned out to be great motivator.

11. Jean Charest is not the angry guy — and that’s his selling point

Jean Charest positions himself as the voice of moderation — but that’s not as plain vanilla as it sounds, writes Economics columnist Heather Scoffield.

In a Zoom interview about his platform to become the next Conservative party leader, he is charming, full of anecdotes about political history and his place in it, and judiciously saves his sharp words for opportune moments.

Charest aims to evoke seriousness, stability and old-school conservatism even as the world around him — in Canada and globally, but especially within his own party — churns with division and disruption.

But it’s exactly because of that churn and disruption that Charest’s brand of moderate conservatism may not be as benign as meets the eye.

Charest is widely considered to be running second in the race to lead the Conservatives, and so he finds himself in an increasingly harsh war of words and tactics with perceived front-runner Pierre Poilievre, all while taking on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. His team believes the centrist, moderate political space between the two is vast, though, and ripe for the picking.

His pitch to party members, who are now choosing their next leader, is that he is the wise and experienced candidate who fights for “common cause” — with a more serious approach to governing than Trudeau’s, and a less anger-ridden, fear-mongering approach than Poilievre’s.

12. A Pope come and gone, an apology made — and the reality of reconciliation laid bare

Here is a parable you won’t find in the Bible.

Three Innu — two women and a man — sit beneath the stunning twin spires of the Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica near Quebec City. They’ve come to see Pope Francis, to attend a mass meant to atone for the church’s role in residential school abuses.

They arrived days before from the village of Pessamit, 340 kilometres to the north. Like the hundreds of others in the congregation — most Indigenous — they woke in morning darkness to get good seats.

If they crane their necks past a stone column, they can see the altar, maybe 50 metres ahead. Then a church volunteer arrives, promising better spots in a pew up front.

They trustingly follow, but for one reason or another the promised spots don’t exist.

And when they return, their old seats have been claimed by a horde of journalists. (This reporter was, for the record, an uncomfortable member of said horde.)

An Indigenous volunteer intervenes, her frustration quick to flare.

“This space is for the Innu nation,” she says. “They were here first.”


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