Safety blitz removes trucks from road

Officers from South Simcoe Police (SSP) and the OPP worked with enforcement personnel from the Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of the Environment on March 11 to conduct a commercial motor vehicle blitz in the Town of Innisfil and the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury. In all, 18 officers set up in three locations, including County Rd. 89 near Cookstown. Out of 14 vehicles inspected, 10 were removed from service, reports Sgt. Steve Wilson of SSP, a failure rate of 71 per cent. A total of 20 charges were laid under the Highway Traffic Act. On Dissette Street in Bradford, 13 out of 17 vehicles inspected didn’t make the grade, a 76 per cent failure rate. There were 35 infractions of the Highway Traffic act uncovered. Only seven out of 27 vehicles stopped on the 10th Sideroad in Bradford were found to be not roadworthy, according to Wilson. In this instance, police issued 16 Highway Traffic Act charges.


Solar farm steams residents

A multi-million dollar solar energy project proposed for Oro-Medonte farmland is receiving less-than-sunny reviews from neighbouring residents. Homeowners along the ninth line say their picturesque views will be permanently obscured, should Helios Energy blanket a nearby field with large solar panels that at times could reach nearly 14 feet in height. “We bought here because the view is perfect, it is nice, open country,” said Carl Swanson, a retired police officer who moved to the area 15 years ago. An application for the solar energy project is now before the township, said Mayor Harry Hughes. “I don’t think anyone has a disagreement with creating energy from sunlight,” Hughes said. “Everyone recognizes we have to have hydro produced from some source. It is a matter of which source people have a preference for.” Hughes supports the call for environmentally friendly energy sources, but wants to learn more about the project that is said to represent an investment of more than $200 million. “I haven’t got all the data yet,” he added. “Whenever you bring something in, it is going to have an impact one way or the other. And we have to decide that as a council.” Power generated by the massive solar field would be fed directly to the provincial grid through the Orillia transmission station, according to the planning firm representing Helios Energy. The panels would cover about 60 per cent of the property’s 380 acres and produce enough power to supply about 3,000 homes. “This is a major investment,” said Ray Duhamel, of Jones Consulting Group Inc. The property, which Helios Energy has leased, is south of Highway 400, between the eighth and ninth concessions. A flat site with access to the highway made it an ideal candidate for the project, Duhamel said. “Simcoe County has reasonable sunshine to make it fly,” he added. The county’s new Official Plan recognizes “green” energy as an acceptable use for farmland, though Oro-Medonte’s plan does not. Whether township council approves the necessary rezoning may prove irrelevant if the province passes the Green Energy Act, legislation that would pave the way for such projects and supercede municipal planning policy. “There is every indication it is going to be passed,” Hughes said. Duhamel said the company is aware of local concerns, and has offered to plant a thick vegetative border to lessen the visual impact of the solar farm. “Some people just won’t like (the project) because it is change,” he said. “Some people like looking at that agricultural field and don’t want to look at solar panels.” Residents were meeting with township officials on Wednesday evening to discuss their concerns. Swanson, who enjoys a view of nearby ski hills, forests and the escarpment, said he and his wife passed out about 100 flyers inviting area residents to attend the meeting. “We are concerned this (project) is going to ruin our views and depreciate our property values and cut down on the enjoyment of our properties,” he added. “The whole field would be like a glass pond.” Hughes said the public would have an opportunity to weigh in on the matter in future. “People don’t have enough information yet to make up their mind one way or the other,” he added. The panels follow the sun’s movement by way of small electric motors that do not operate in the evening. The noise generated by the motors “falls below the Ministry of the Environment noise guidelines,” Duhamel said.


Tax harmony has pros/cons

Taxes may be unpalatable and inevitable, but how to best serve them up is anything but simple. After turning away from the issue repeatedly throughout his tenure as premier, Dalton McGuinty was compelled to take a stand on harmonizing the two sales tax systems in Ontario. The change takes effect in July 2010. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), a lobby group aiming “to foster sustained economic growth,” released a commissioned report entitled “Made in Ontario – The Case for Sales Tax Harmonization” at the end of January this year. The 110-page report strongly suggested McGuinty’s government institute a harmonized system to stimulate the flagging economy. “Tax reform options exist that yield benefits to households, businesses and even governments in terms of reduced costs, higher incomes and improved productivity,” states the report. “While tax reform will not solve all the economic challenges confronting the province at this time, it is an essential element in a strategy to confront these challenges.” McGuinty had no choice but to address the issue in the March budget. “He’s resisted it to this point. But (the OCC has) made it a priority issue in the public eye, so they’re being forced to deal with it,” says Orillia District Chamber of Commerce president Doug Downey. “They have to do something.” Since the goods and service tax (GST) was introduced in 1991 by then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have all adopted amalgamated methods of collecting federal and provincial sales taxes (PST). With the exception of Alberta and the territories (which have no regionalized sales tax), the remaining provinces maintain parallel procedures. Instead of a simple PST-plus-GST calculation, each maritime entity with HST has customized their formula taking into consideration the needs of regional economic engines. The customization factor is a key point of contention in Ontario. While the suggestion for tax reform is being supported in general by business leaders across the province, the sectors facing potential tax hikes under a straight-forward switch have quickly responded with reports of their own recommending exceptions to the new rules. The most vocal in this effort is the industry with the most money at stake. Representing new-home builders (and including new retail properties and renovations in the package), the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) had real-estate consulting firm Altus Group research its own case. The extensive document entitled “New Housing is Different: Implications for Sales Tax Harmonization on New Home Buyers in Ontario” was released in early March. Because the industry now enjoys a largely PST-free existence, and most HST models take their lead in the GST, the new combined tax could mean an additional eight-per-cent tacked to the price of new homes. The BILD report states this as counter-productive to an economic stimulus agenda. “All told, harmonization of PST and GST without any offsetting measures by the provincial government would rip $2.4 billon dollars out of the pockets of new homebuyers, slamming the homeownership door shut in the face of many Ontarians," said Stephen Dupuis, BILD’s president. The OCC reacted to the follow-up report saying the two proposals were not mutually exclusive. Two days after the BILD report, the OCC sought to remind Ontario that it was only the implementation model that was at question, not the concept of HST in general. In the release introducing the report, Dupuis says builders are not fighting harmonization, but for fair treatment of housing under a harmonized sales tax regime. “The reason housing gets hit so hard is that it is the biggest of the big-ticket items and it’s not currently subject to PST for good reason,” he said. “First of all, the housing industry bears costs other industries don’t bear,” says Sheila Hissa, executive director of the Greater Barrie Home Builder Association. Municipal taxes and fees, for example, add to the high cost of doing this business. “We’re the most heavily taxed industry after alcohol and tobacco.” Agreeing with the BILD report, she says new-home sales are not a one-time benefit for the province. It’s a sale that continues to produce economic benefits (through property taxes and home maintenance) for the lifetime of the house. “Taxing the full price of new housing would fail to recognize that new housing is an investment good,” says the report. “A new home provides shelter services not only in the year of purchase, but for many years into the future. “Full taxation of new housing also is in conflict with the non-taxation of business purchases of buildings, machinery and equipment, which is touted as a significant benefit of the HST over the existing PST.” “The housing industry (has been recognized) as the economic engine that drives the province,” says Hissa, who has supported BILD’s position by meeting with local MPP Aileen Carroll, and making supporting submissions. “That’s the only way in a practical sense that it could be applied,” comments Orillia chamber president Downey. “Because you couldn’t increase provincial revenue that significantly and not have it affect the economy.” Across sectors, however, the push for HST is sound, says Rob Newman of Newman Accounting Solutions, who provides out-sourced chief-financial-officer services to business. “It would be a good idea to have it come in,” he says.  In addition to reducing the paperwork and labour necessary for compliance at the business level, Newman says it would also decrease bureaucracy at the government level.  “It would also save the Ontario taxpayers because it wouldn’t need the retail sales tax department anymore and it would eliminate one level of audit,” he explains, regardless of which government would administering the HST. Although some prices will go up as a result of a new system, others will come down resulting in what’s projected to be a less-than $100 tax increase overall. The OCC says this out-of-pocket expense would be more than compensated by other savings. Newman also says lower-income families who are currently receiving GST rebates, are also being mentioned in the new proposal, which suggests a similar consideration. Downey, who is a lawyer by trade, says McGuinty needs to be decisive in his handling of the economy. Uncertainty breeds hesitation and that’s not in the best interests of the province right now, he said.


Whatever floats their cardboard boats

On your marks, get set, float. Staying afloat was the primary goal during the Great Cardboard Boat Race at the Innisfil Recreation Complex Wednesday. Grade 8 students from the public and separate school boards took part in the competition, which was as much about design and ingenuity as it was about paddle power. The program was set up by the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP). Judging of the boats was based on construction, speed, weight and team spirit. “The cardboard boat races are for students who have an interest in design and construction,” said Andrea Brulé, OYAP co-ordinator. “The event involves planning, teamwork, problem solving, and most importantly, it’s a fun and interactive learning experience for our Grade 8 students.” The students worked in teams of four and had two hours to build their boat with the provided supplies, including cardboard, duct tape, contact cement, string and a paperclip. Once they were built, students put their creations in the pool and raced with at least one student occupant. If the boat survived the race, they were entered into the weight competition where the boat must stay afloat for a minimum of two minutes with as many students inside as the teams wish. The record to date is a boat holding seven students for two minutes before collapsing.


Students trapped on crashed bus for two hours

Students were trapped in a school bus for about two hours after it crashed into a hydro pole near Utopia this afternoon. The crash occurred on the 6th Line of Essa between the 25th and 30th Sideroads just after 3 p.m. when the bus entered the ditch and struck a hydro pole, downing power lines and preventing them from leaving the vehicle. Emergency crews had to wait until the hydro lines were shut down before they could remove the students. By about 5 p.m., the students were transferred to another school bus. The bus that crashed was from St. Joan of Arc High School in Barrie.  Police and Essa firefighters are currently on the scene. It is still unclear how many students were on the bus. One person was seen being taken off the bus on a stretcher, and will be taken to Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie. There is no word yet on the extent of the injuries. Police blocked the 6th Line at both the 30th and 25th and are not allowing anyone in. Parents started arriving at the barricades while the children were still in the bus. One woman reported that her daughter was a passenger on the bus and that she called her on her cell phone. The girl reported the bus was “on its side” in the ditch and the students were being kept on the bus at the time.


Foundation to honour top philanthropists

Individuals, businesses and groups that make this community a better place to live will be honoured May 30 by the Huronia Communities Foundation (HCF). The annual Circle of Honour philanthropic awards will be handed out during a gala at the Brooklea Golf and Country Club. The 2009 honorees are: • Individual: David and Michelle Mink • Business: Franke Kindred Canada Ltd. • Groups: Port McNicoll Lions Club, Friends of the Penetanguishene Youth • Youth or Youth Group: Penetanguishene Secondary School Positive Students for Students. For the third year in a row, the event is a sellout, with every last $85 ticket snatched up two months in advance. Thirty dollars from each ticket goes to an HCF fund to be distributed to local charities. One goal of the Circle of Honour program is to inspire leadership in giving and service to the community.


Orillia man faces porn charges

An Orillia man is under arrest in connection with what police are describing as Canada’s largest coordinated investigation into Internet-based child-abuse. Fifty-four people have been arrested and face charges ranging from sexual assault and sexual interference to possessing, making and distributing child pornography. Among them was a 19-year-old Orillia man, who was arrested March 25 and charged with two counts of possessing child pornography, one count of making available child pornography and one count of breaching his probation. Police seized one computer, alleged to contain images of child sexual abuse. The man’s arrest followed a joint investigation involving the OPP Electronic Crimes Section and the Orillia OPP detachment. He was scheduled to appear in Barrie court for a bail hearing on Wednesday. A 34-year-old Innisfil man was also arrested and charged with two counts of possessing child pornography and one count of making available child pornography. The RCMP and the Ottawa-based National Child Exploitation Centre coordinated the investigations in conjunction with law enforcement partners across the country. Police say they targeted individuals who met online to exchange pornographic images of children.


Hamilton man faces weapons offenses

A Hamilton man is facing weapons offenses following his arrest outside Casino Rama. Police say a passenger on a charter bus was causing problems inside the vehicle and had reportedly brandished a pocketknife. Members of the OPP and the Rama Police Service were called to the bus ramp at the casino, and arrested a 75-year-old man. He was charged with possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and unauthorized possession of a weapon. There were no injuries. The suspect is to appear in court on May 12.


Wye Marsh workshop to focus on frogs

Fascinating frogs will be the subject of an upcoming workshop designed to help participants connect with nature. The Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre’s Frog Watch workshop is intended for children and adults alike. The session will teach how frogs – sensitive creatures that can be an early harbinger of harmful environmental impacts – improve our understanding of wetlands. By the end of the one-hour workshop, participants will be able to identify, by sight and sound, a number of frog species. The session takes place April 18 from 11 a.m. to noon. It is free with admission to the Wye Marsh. For more information, call 526-7809 or e-mail [email protected].