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14 of the week’s best long reads from the Star, Oct. 29 to Nov. 4, 2022 – Toronto Star

by Nov 8, 2022Blog0 comments

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From the Third Act of our lives series, to the Star’s 130th anniversary, we’ve selected some of the best long reads of the week from the Star.
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1. Are you going to die alone? Be a burden to your family? In New York they do aging better. Why is Ontario missing the obvious?
Gert Hartmann’s hands are shaking.
She’s standing by a bed in her modern country bungalow, in a spare room with white walls, looking down at her father.
He is lying in wait, his face clenched.
Born in Transylvania in 1924, the longtime fire inspector at the University of Waterloo and perpetual fast walker is working hard for these, his final months.
So is Gert.
In his 99th year, her father is so skinny, and, like most patients officially deemed palliative by Ontario’s home-care system, too fragile to move on his own.
That has been the hardest change to accept. Martin Hartmann spent his life in motion, walking to work, walking when he lived alone in a condo and, later, walking (with a walker) near Gert’s house, where neighbours would stop him, to say hello.
Gert’s sister, Jinni, stands on the opposite side of the black metal bed.
The father and his daughters usually share the same wryish grin, but right now they’re locked in the moment as Gert counts down … three, two, one.
2. An explosion in A+ students: Grades are rising at GTA high schools — here’s what it means for your kids
Danica was an exceptional student. For the popular teen, a Grade 12 average in the 90s seemed a given, even as she juggled a long list of extracurriculars at her Mississauga high school. Three Ontario universities had already made her offers of admission. Another had shortlisted her for a prestigious and competitive program, but there was one thing standing in the way: biology.
She struggled with the science, and when her midterm mark landed, it did so with a thud: 76 per cent — respectable for sure but Danica was distraught, fearing it would torpedo her chances.
What followed was a sequence of events that resulted in Danica’s midterm biology mark being falsely inputted into the university application portal as a 91, effectively ending the career of a guidance counsellor while another teacher awaits her fate following an Ontario College of Teachers hearing in August.
The saga, under a publication ban that is the reason Danica is not the girl’s real name and the Star cannot report several specific details of the case, illustrates the immense pressure in the race up the grade scale, one in which Grade 12 averages are on a steady slope upwards and the number of kids entering university with a 95+ average has exploded, according to data collected by the Star.
If it seems like kids today are getting higher marks than in the days of yore, well, they are. The question is why? And does it matter?
3. For 130 years the Star has been telling the stories of the city and beyond. To mark the milestone, here are 130 memories of its marvels, mischief and missteps
Memory No. 58: Once, during the Vietnam War, correspondent Jack Cahill and Boris Spremo had made their way through mine fields, talked their way onto a flight to Saigon and arrived, exhausted and filthy, minutes before deadline.
“When I got through to the foreign desk in Toronto, a young editor who had just come on shift was grumpy.
‘I wish you’d learn to file earlier, Jack,’ he said.
‘It’s only an hour before deadline. It’s a hell of a busy day. And I had a tough time getting to work in the traffic’.”
4. Want an EV in Toronto? Star investigation finds shockingly long waits compared to anywhere else in Canada
Around the world, from China to California, the number of people buying electric cars is doubling every year.
Car manufacturers are ramping up production and announcing new zero-emission models at a rapid pace.
But if a Torontonian wants to join the electric-driving revolution, they’ll have to wait.
And wait and wait.
Wait-lists for a new zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) in Toronto are almost 11 months long on average, according to a Star survey of dealerships from every major brand and company in the city.
That’s far longer than prospective ZEV buyers have to wait elsewhere. In Quebec, no dealership wait-list was longer than six months, according to a nationwide survey done for Transport Canada last year.
5. Will Danielle Smith end up being Alberta’s Liz Truss? Don’t reach for the lettuce just yet, observers say
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s first few weeks in office have, in the eyes of some, been like watching a bull walk around a medical laboratory.
All the medical experts — meaning her cabinet and deputy ministers, to stick with the analogy for a second — are eyeing her every move, nervously hoping everything in the lab remains intact.
However, there are also political observers who say Smith could prove to be quite tactful when it comes to governing, making decisions and pushing for policy, even if her first weeks have been marked by walking back controversial public comments.
In some ways, they say, she has to be. In seven months, her party will go to the polls against Rachel Notley and a well-funded, organized NDP in a provincial election. Smith, who has faced low public opinion polling numbers, has to convince the majority of Albertans to support her after winning the United Conservative leadership race on Oct. 6 and becoming premier.
6. Education workers in Ontario are the ‘backbone’ of schools. In their words, here’s what they do
They test the drinking water, repair ragged textbooks, track the safe arrival of every student, check the yards for tossed needles, supervise lunch and repeat lessons to kids who need help comprehending a teacher’s instructions.
They are education workers. And there are 55,000 of them in Ontario represented by CUPE-OSBCU (Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario School Boards Council of Unions) currently in tense contract negotiations with the province. They fall into some 600 job categories and their titles, responsibilities, hours and pay differ from board to board.
But what they have in common is that their work keeps schools open.
7. ‘Freedom Convoy’s’ intelligence reports reveal organizers knew they could close Ottawa
Near-daily reports styled as intelligence briefings for the so-called “Freedom Convoy” updated protesters on police actions, included unfounded claims and conspiracy theories, and showed organizers knew they could “block all downtown Ottawa” before they arrived.
The reports include several unsubstantiated claims that are presented as fact or based on the assessment of “Freedom Convoy 2022” organizers. Throughout, they stress how protests should stay focused on COVID-19 measures, particularly vaccine mandates, and that the demonstrations are meant to be non-violent.
The trove of reports — which the Star accessed Monday — is referenced in an Ontario Provincial Police threat assessment tabled at the public inquiry into the federal government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act to deal with the convoy protest crisis last winter.
The OPP assessment, which is dated Feb. 4, said the reports provide “valuable insight into the mindset of the organizers and participants,” as well as their reactions to events that occurred during their occupation in downtown Ottawa.
8. Here’s why it would be so hard to get rid of the controversial notwithstanding clause
The Ontario government’s decision to shield back-to-work legislation from court challenges by invoking the Constitution’s “notwithstanding clause” to override Canadians’ protected rights has sparked widespread outrage, including from the federal government.
The bill, which passed Thursday, imposes contracts on approximately 55,000 education workers in the province and bans them from going on strike. The Canadian Union of Public Employees has said it plans to fight the legislation and go on strike anyway.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Premier Doug Ford in a phone call this week that his pre-emptive use of the clause — before a court could even weigh in on whether the legislation is constitutional — was “wrong and inappropriate.”
The New Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing Trudeau to take action. Justice Minister David Lametti has said there are “a number of different things one might do,” without committing to an option.
So what can be done about the controversial use of the clause? The short answer is that while there are certainly options the federal government could explore, experts believe none of them would be successful.
9. A pregnant Indigenous woman went to the hospital for help. She says she endured a horror story of racism and neglect
Warning: Graphic content
An Indigenous woman in Edmonton alleges that mistreatment, racism and neglect at a community hospital led to her baby dying alone after, the woman says, she was forced into labour with no assistance from doctors or nurses.
Pearl Gambler’s lawsuit alleges that both she and her baby experienced a “complete lack of care or treatment” and that hospital staff asked her what she wanted to do with her “specimen” after her baby died on June 12, 2020.
Gambler, a member of Bigstone Cree Nation, is suing Covenant Health, which runs the Misericordia Community Hospital, as well as a physician for $1.39 million, alleging they failed to provide her with adequate medical care, which she believes was racially motivated.
10. Coyotes love human food. Where they’re getting their meals may surprise you
Angela Stavrakoukas had 40 good years with her husband, and 16 hard ones after the heart attack. Lakis was a good man, she says, picking at the dusty miller plant at his grave, where she placed two balloons for his 84th birthday.
She didn’t bring a slice of chocolate cake, but she has seen other people bring food. Leaving a treat for a loved one is a ritual of mourning and for the coyotes who live inside this sprawling Scarborough cemetery, it is an endless buffet. Stavrakoukas has seen the coyotes many times, especially in winter, when the trees at Pine Hills are bare. On days when they come close to her husband’s grave, she goes into her car and cries there instead. Security drives by every 15 minutes she says, and that makes her feel better.
For the city and the cemetery, it’s an awkward problem to solve. If she wanted to leave Lakis a piece of cake — and she doesn’t — who would tell her she is wrong? Around the world, including countries like Mexico, China and South Korea, a food offering can be part of the grieving process. Some people simply do it just because, leaving behind a coffee, a can of beer, a chocolate bar for a pal on the other side. It’s not against the cemetery’s rules, and food is eventually picked up by maintenance staff. The Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries, which owns Pine Hills, acknowledges it is a difficult problem to address.
11. Giller Prize 2020 finalists answer five questions about the tour, the prize and little secrets
From finalist Suzette Mayr, “The Sleeping Car Porter
Are there any secret things that you put in this work in order to keep yourself amused?
One of the characters in the book is a little girl named Esme and she carries around a little porcelain horse named Rocky with her throughout the book. My friend Jim Hume had a little porcelain horse named Rocky when he was a kid. I thought it was so adorable I wrote it into the book.
12. Piercing Taiwan’s ‘silicon shield’: Is the semiconductor industry that safeguards the island’s freedom now at risk?
TAIPEI—An alarm flashes, and a chipmaking tool freezes to a halt.
Members of an engineering team must go in to fix the glitch, but before they do, the two change into “clean-room” suits in a contamination control room. Blasts from an air shower whisk away stray particles.
Even a speck of dust can contaminate a semiconductor silicon wafer, which is a thin slice of hundreds of microchips containing as many as billions of transistors. The most advanced chips in Taiwan cost upward of $20,000 (Canadian) a batch, requiring months of painstaking fabrication.
Semiconductors are the “brains” of modern devices, powering everything from cars to computers, smartphones, fridges and more. The most advanced chips are 10 nanometres or smaller, barely visible to the naked eye, and they will be key to the future development of smart cars, 5G communications and artificial intelligence. (A nanometre is a billionth of a metre.)
The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) controls more than half the global market in chipmaking and has a near-monopoly on manufacturing of the smallest microchips.
Taiwan has dominated global chip manufacturing for so long that the industry is called Taiwan’s “silicon shield” — a deterrent to war.
13. ‘The Crown’ controversy: Is the royal drama a ‘malicious’ recounting of history or just escapist TV? Here’s why the distinction matters
The fifth season of “The Crown” won’t be released until Nov. 9, but that hasn’t stopped the denunciations, writes Star contributor Patricia Treble.
“Damaging and malicious fiction” and “a barrel-load of nonsense peddled for no other reason than to provide maximum — and entirely false — dramatic impact,” is former British Prime Minister John Major’s scathing reaction to reports that “The Crown” includes scenes of him and Charles plotting in regard to a possible abdication of Queen Elizabeth II as well as Major disparaging the royals to his wife.
Then George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, complained after being told of a scene in which the late Queen confides to him that the failure of three of her children’s marriages “begins to look like parental failure of the most awful kind.” Carey said, “It bears no resemblance to any conversation I ever had with the Queen.”
Netflix has added the descriptor of “fictional dramatization” to its Season 5 trailer, a label that wasn’t necessary in previous seasons; it is now, since its plots involve events well within living memory, and because people near to the Royal Family are raising concerns about the damage that such a lavishly detailed drama is inflicting on their image.
On Oct. 20, Dame Judi Dench, a friend of King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort, shot up a flare in a quintessential British manner, via a letter to the editor of the Times. “The closer the drama comes to our present times, the more freely it seems willing to blur the lines between historical accuracy and crude sensationalism,” wrote Dench, who has portrayed both Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria during her long acting career. “I fear that a significant number of viewers, particularly overseas, may take its version of history as being wholly true.”
14. Here’s the shady secret behind one of Toronto’s most ubiquitous trees
Trees are arguably the city’s best armour against climate change, and Raynes Crescent is bristling with them — 40 trunks spreading their leafy protection over three dozen tidy suburban houses.
This street in north Scarborough might appear to have hit the jackpot. Trees, always a desirable neighbourhood feature, are becoming ever more critical in a warming city for their ability to cool their surroundings, absorb rainfall runoff from heavy storms and scrub pollution from the air.
But 35 of Raynes Crescent’s 40 trees have a shady backstory: They are Norway maples.
Acer platanoides, the Norway maple, is an invasive species. The Ontario Invasive Plant Council calls these trees “a serious threat to woodlands across Ontario” because of their aggressive spread into forests and ability to suppress native species.
The city no longer plants Norway maples as a street tree and actively removes them when rehabilitating ravines and natural areas like High Park, meaning its long-term goal is to bring their numbers as close as possible to zero.
The short-term goal is more complicated.

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