Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Vancouver, Toronto building ‘poor doors’ viewed as opportunity, not segregation

    It’s hard to think of anything more likely to inflame Canadians’ sense of fairness than the idea of a residential building where those of modest means have to use an entrance separate from their economic betters.

    So it’s surprising an eruption of the so-called “poor door” controversy didn’t get more traction in Vancouver after word got out a new condominium planned for downtown had just such segregation between those who’d be living in subsidized “non-market” apartments and those paying top dollar for luxury suites.

    The debate flared for a few days after a contributor to the civic watchdog group CityHallWatch tweeted that the project proposed for the prime West End location on Jervis and Davie streets would have separate entrances for condo owners and non-market renters.

    But it soon became evident

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  • Taking a fuel-cell vehicle for a test drive: Quiet, familiar ride, for a price

    On the outside, it looks like a typical CUV... (Courtesy Hyundai)On the outside, it looks like a typical CUV... (Courtesy Hyundai)

    The story of the hydrogen fuel-cell car has a frustrating chicken-and-egg quality.

    The FCEV, short for fuel-cell electric vehicle, has been touted as the future of personal zero-emission motoring for the last 20 years.

    And why not? It takes the most plentiful element on Earth, hydrogen, combines it with air and passes them through chemically-activated membranes in the the fuel-cell stack to produce electricity to power the car. The only byproducts when pure hydrogen is used are water and heat.

    The hype around fuel-cells led many to believe we would all be able to buy an FCEV by now. Technological and cost hurdles proved more formidable than expected and public attention shifted to hybrids and battery-powered EVs, such as the Nissan Leaf and the luxury Tesla.

    But the major automakers have stuck with it. They believe FCEVs will offer the range and flexibility of a conventional automobile, something battery EVs can’t do, even with the fastest recharging setups.

    Players such as Honda,

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  • Auto recalls and lemon cars: It’s still a case of buyer beware in Canada

    There's no lemon law in Canada, meaning dealers don't have to take back dud cars. (Thinkstock)There's no lemon law in Canada, meaning dealers don't have to take back dud cars. (Thinkstock)

    You have to feel for Danielle Champagne, who’s living every car owner’s nightmare.

    The Winnipeg mother paid top dollar for a new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze sedan but told CBC News it’s been nothing but trouble, apparently subject to 15 manufacturer’s safety recalls and another 15 warranty-related problems.

    Canada has no U.S.-style lemon laws, which give owners the right to demand a refund or replacement vehicle if it’s suffering from chronic mechanical problems. Customers here have to go through an auto industry-sanctioned arbitration process to deal with complaints.

    It’s not clear whether Champagne is involved in that process. She could not be reached and calls by Yahoo Canada News to the service manager at Vickar Community Chevrolet, which sold her the car for $34,000 (current base asking price for a Cruze is about $17,000), were not returned.

    Champagne’s problems highlight the fact Canadian consumers are largely on their own when it comes to dealing with defective vehicles. Even if you

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  • The Ontario sex-ed debate: Catching up with Canada or hidden agenda?

     

    The protest against a new sex-education program in Ontario schools continues with no sign the provincial government is ready to revisit the controversial curriculum.

    Parents opposed to the new curriculum on cultural and religious grounds are staging a boycott, pulling their children out of school and holding rallies. The protest is centred mainly in Metro Toronto, where CBC News reported more than 40,000 kids were absent on Monday.

    Andrew Morrison, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Education, said pockets of absences have been reported in other communities, including London, Windsor and Ottawa, but had no figures.

    Not everyone opposed to the new program is keeping their children out for the whole week.

    “Today we’re not doing protest,” Christine Liu of the recently formed Parents Alliance of Ontario, told Yahoo Canada News on Tuesday. “Among the Chinese community we’re only doing protests for one day in May but we will do protests in September in a bigger scope.

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  • Super high-end car sales on the upswing in Canada

    McLaren 570SMcLaren 570S

    The numbers Chris Green tosses out as he leads a walk-around tour of McLaren’s new 570S sports car would cause any gear head to geek out.

    The orange waist-high, scissor-doored road rocket weighs about the same as a Toyota Corolla, which is unremarkable unless that Corolla is packing the British car’s 562 horsepower turbocharged V-8 engine.

    It’s enough to propel the McLaren to 100 kilometres an hour in a blink over three seconds, says Green, McLaren’s national brand manager. It will reach 200 km/h in 9.5 seconds, about as long as it takes the Corolla to get to 100, and has a top speed of 328 km/h (204 mph).

    Fuel economy, if you must know, is estimated at around 11 litres per 100 km, possibly achieved by putting a raw egg between your right foot and the gas pedal.

    But it’s the car’s price (not official since deliveries won’t start till fall) that will keep the 570S literally a dream machine for all but a few lucky Canadians – roughly $215,000-$230,000. It is, says Green, McLaren’s entry

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  • 'Decapitation strikes' on terrorist groups may bolster attacks against civilians: study

    A man inspects the remains of what ISIS militants say was a U.S. drone in Raqqa Sept. 23, 2014. (Reuters)A man inspects the remains of what ISIS militants say was a U.S. drone in Raqqa Sept. 23, 2014. (Reuters)

    The United States’ controversial program of using drones to target terrorist groups overseas, especially their leaders, came into sharp focus again in recent days after President Barack Obama was forced to apologize for a drone strike in Pakistan that killed two foreign hostages held by al-Qaeda.

    U.S. policy-makers view drones as the best way to disrupt terror groups with minimal risk to American lives. The strategy has created a backlash over unintended civilian casualties and the legality of targeting American members of terror groups.

    Advocates claim it’s effective, making it harder for terrorists to operate in the open and putting a target on the back of anyone who aspires to the leadership.

    But what if the basic premise behind so-called “decapitation programs” (attacks that target the leaders of an organization) is wrong? What if drone attacks or other forms of targeted assassination using special operations hit teams leads to more terror attacks on civilians?

    Max Abrahms, a

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  • How Canada can improve its preparedness following Nepal quake

    A resident tries to clear debris of his house at a village following Saturday's earthquake in Nepal. (Reuters)A resident tries to clear debris of his house at a village following Saturday's earthquake in Nepal. (Reuters)

    With a death toll of at least 4,000 and widespread devastation, the initial response to last weekend’s earthquake in Nepal has been to rush aid to the Himalayan nation and its suffering people.

    But what happened there can also provide lessons for Canada to deal with earthquakes in this country, especially when it comes to preparedness and ensuring older buildings can withstand the shaking.

    The quake that struck Nepal registered as magnitude 7.8, with aftershocks as high as 6.7.

    Although the region is in a zone known for large quakes, the weekend temblor reportedly was the strongest in 80 years. It was enough to crumble many older brick buildings in the capital, Kathmandu, and destroy a centuries-old tower that was a World Heritage Site.

    “From what I’ve seen, this is a very sad illustration of why building practices are so important,” Alison Bird, a seismologist at Natural Resources Canada’s Pacific Geoscience Centre in Sidney, B.C., told Yahoo Canada News.

    “The buildings there are not

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  • Never mind the science: Anti-vaccine tide difficult to stem

    Results of a very large study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found no association between autism spectrum disease and children who received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

    The study, which analyzed health records of more than 95,000 children, should finally put to rest claims of a causal link between autism and vaccination.

    But it won’t.

    This is World Immunization Week (April 24-30), with the World Health Organization (WHO) hoping to close the immunization gap that sees one in five children (about 29 million) going unvaccinated, which the WHO says could potentially avert 1.5 million deaths of children from preventable illness.

    Opponents of vaccination, whether it’s MMR or influenza, seem surprisingly resilient to scientific evidence refuting their claim that ingredients in the vaccines cause anything from autism to bowel disease, auto-immune disease and narcolepsy.

    The phenomenon, especially prevalent in Europe and North

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  • Does Canada’s auto industry have a future?

    In this March 15, 2013 photo, workers assemble cars at the new Toyota plant in Indonesia (AP)In this March 15, 2013 photo, workers assemble cars at the new Toyota plant in Indonesia (AP)

    Canada’s automobile industry may be on a long, slow slide to oblivion.

    The federal budget Tuesday included a $100-million fund aimed at innovation in the auto-parts industry over five years, but no substantive strategy to keep Canada’s biggest single manufacturing sector from long-term decline.

    Automakers have warned that without a coherent strategy, Canada will continue to lose new production capacity to Mexico and southern U.S., where wages are lower and governments offer fat financial incentives and streamlined bureaucracy for new investments.

    There is a lot at stake. According to Ottawa’s figures, the industry, centred in Ontario, was worth almost $85 billion in annual revenue in 2013 and employed 117,000 people, roughly a third of them directly in building passenger and commercial vehicles.

    It isn’t going to disappear tomorrow but there’s increasing evidence it faces shrinkage.

    General Motors of Canada announced earlier this year it was closing one of its two Oshawa, Ont.,

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  • Ahead of 4/20, marijuana losing its rebellious stigma, gaining more acceptance

    A woman smokes marijuana during the 4/20 Rally at the Civic Center in Denver, April 20, 2014. (Reuters)A woman smokes marijuana during the 4/20 Rally at the Civic Center in Denver, April 20, 2014. (Reuters)

    A pungent cloud of marijuana smoke will be wafting over many parts of Canada on Monday. Yes, it’s 4/20 again, the unofficial holiday that openly celebrates pot, reefer, ganga, weed, Mary Jane or whatever you like to call it.

    In most places, though, you’re unlikely to see police swooping in to corral the tokers. Even though pot possession remains illegal, the narcs probably won’t be busting anyone except dealers.

    Part of the reason is practical; charging dozens, if not hundreds of people is a logistical nightmare. Another part is a reflection of the times, the increasing tolerance, if not acceptance, of marijuana as a part of mainstream culture. It’s no longer on the fringe.

    Despite the federal Conservative government’s determination to crack down on illegal marijuana use and sales, the drug has edged steadily out into the open.

    Successive federal governments, including the current Tory regime, have been partly responsible by creating a regulatory framework for medical marijuana since

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