Saturday, May 23rd24.0°C

Firefighting plane crashes


A small air tanker used for fire suppression crashed Friday afternoon about 100 kilometres east of Lac La Biche, Alta., killing the 37-year-old pilot and sole passenger.

Jeff Barry of Conair Aerial Firefighting, a contractor for the Alberta government, said the pilot was in his fourth firefighting season with the company.

"We've sent our accident investigation team and we'll be co-operating with the Transportation Safety Board and the Alberta ESRD (Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) folks will be there as well," said Barry.

Barry said the plane was a single-seater Air Tractor 802, known in the company as the "Fire Boss." The company's website said the amphibious plane is used to scoop up water from lakes or deliver fire retardent.

Incoming premier Rachel Notley offered her condolences to the pilot's family, friends and colleagues.

“First responders like this pilot, and our many other dedicated wildland fire fighters, put their lives on the line every day to ensure that our homes and families are safe," Notley said in a statement.

"We owe them our most sincere gratitude. Even as they mourn the loss of one of their own, I know they will continue fighting the many fires burning within our borders."

Notley also appealed to residents to respect the fire restrictions that are now in place in the province.

Crews in northern Alberta have been fighting wildfires for more than a week. As of Friday, more than two dozen fires were burning but none were listed as out of control.

Warm and dry conditions have increased the fire hazard to high or extreme in some areas.

The TSB said Friday it would send investigators to the scene on Saturday


A small airplane used for fire suppression has crashed near Cold Lake, Alta.

The Transportation Safety Board reported the crash late Friday, but would not release further information, including whether there were any fatalities.

Cpl. Mike Dunsmore of RCMP K-Division said they were still collecting information on the crash and would issue a news release at a later date.

A TSB spokeswoman identified the craft as a Conair Air Tractor, which the company's website described as a "light airtanker" used for forest fire control.

The website said the air tractor comes in single-seat and dual-seat versions.

Crews in northern Alberta have been fighting wildfires for more than a week. As of Friday, more than two dozen fires were burning but none were listed as out of control.

Warm and dry conditions have increased the fire hazard to high or extreme in some areas.

The Canadian Press


Hana the dolphin 'critical'

One of two Pacific white-sided dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium is in critical condition after groundbreaking emergency surgery for a gastrointestinal disorder.

Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena said that while the procedure was successful, 21-year-old Hana is being watched around the clock and the prognosis is grave.

"It is hour by hour," he told a new conference Friday. "She is in very intensive care."

He said the normally energetic dolphin was found suddenly ill on Monday morning, avoiding food and trainers. She had fluid in her abdominal cavity and veterinarians suspected she had severe gastrointestinal problems.

The aquarium flew in a team of experts from San Diego, Colorado and Florida, and they confirmed on Wednesday night that she had gastrointestinal distension and inflammation.

The cause of Hana's disorder is not yet known, as the team is waiting for the results of biopsies.

Haulena said he suspects a commonplace germ that is not infectious is involved and that it affects both animals in captivity and in the wild.

As Hana's condition deteriorated Thursday evening, the team faced losing the dolphin or trying surgery using general anaesthesia — among the first such procedures performed on a Pacific white-sided dolphin.

Haulena said the surgery also marked the first exploratory laparotomy — an incision in the abdomen — and intestinal surgery on a whale or dolphin of any kind.

He said seven veterinarians participated in the surgery and more than 40 people helped overall.

"It was very groundbreaking," said Haulena, adding he had barely slept in days.

"The degree of professionalism and skill in that room was inspiring. It was a very cool experience, if you could detach yourself from the fact that this is Hana, who is our friend and we're doing the best we can."

Hana was rescued in 2003 by Japanese officials who deemed her unreleasable due to injuries she suffered from getting tangled in a fishing net. She has been at the Vancouver Aquarium since 2005.

Haulena said the aquarium's other dolphin, 27-year-old Helen, was in good health and staff would likely consider bringing in a new companion or finding her another home if Hana dies.

The Canadian Press

Big Oil going green?

Calls for tougher carbon pricing are coming from what may, on the surface, seem like an unlikely source: Calgary business leaders, including the boss of Canada's biggest oilsands player.

"Climate change is happening," Suncor Energy CEO Steve Williams said in a speech Friday. "Doing nothing is not an option we can choose."

Williams made his remarks at an event hosted by Canada's Ecofiscal Commission, a group focused on environmental and economic policy.

"We're trying to move Canada toward a position of leadership," he said. "That's not how we're viewed around the world at the moment. We're viewed to be quite the opposite."

The carbon footprint of the oilsands has been a big factor in the debate over whether new pipelines that would bring that crude to market, such as Keystone XL, ought to be built.

Some observers have said a more stringent climate policy under Alberta's newly elected NDP government may actually help the industry on that score.

Alberta has had a carbon pricing mechanism in place since 2007 — the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation — that expires at the end of June. It charges a $15-per-tonne levy to large emitters that go above a certain intensity threshold.

Williams told reporters the policy, the first of its kind in North America, was a "great start," but there's "an opportunity to move on."

The discussion at the event centred on provincial rather than federal climate action, even after Ottawa's announcement last week that it's aiming to get emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

"The truth is that a federal government of any political stripe would face significant challenges instituting a top-down, one-size-fits-all carbon pricing policy, especially if associated revenues would then flow out of the provinces," said Ecofiscal Commission chairman Chris Ragan.

Justin Smith, director of policy, research and government relations at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said Alberta's current climate policy is not as effective as it should be.

"It's just a misallocation of resources," he said.

Smith said he understands why businesses might have some "trepidation" about a higher carbon price. But he said the notion that environmental reform necessarily threatens businesses' competitiveness represents a "false choice."

Smith cited as an example restaurants that resisted smoking bans at first but continued to thrive.

Any change to the policy must be "broad-based" — applied to energy consumers and producers alike, said Suncor's Williams.

And although there's a sense of urgency, Williams cautioned against rushing any climate policy changes through.

"We could do an awful lot of damage over the next few months and years if we get this wrong," he said.

Amin Asadollahi of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank, says a $30-per-tonne carbon price like in British Columbia would be a good starting point, as it's likely to deliver results without harming industry returns.

He said it makes sense to move on it sooner rather than later.

"Inaction results in increased costs. That's costs that my generation will have to take on and pass to future generations."

The Canadian Press


2 Canadians die on water

There are reports that two Canadians have died in a boating accident in Mexico.

Two Mexican media outlets are reporting the Canadians were on board a sailboat that ran into strong winds earlier this week on Lake Chapala near Guadalajara.

The Guadalajara publication Informador reports on its website that authorities have found the bodies of two Canadians, while a third remains unaccounted for.

Foreign Affairs says it's in contact with local authorities and is providing consular assistance to the families.

The department isn't releasing the identities of the Canadians.

The Canadian Press

Charges mount for ski coach

A new charge has been laid against a former national ski coach who is already facing a host of sex-related accusations.

The Crown introduced the single charge, involving a new alleged victim, during Bertrand Charest's brief court hearing Friday.

It brings the total number of alleged victims to 12 and the number of charges, including sexual assault and breach of trust, to 57.

The latest alleged victim came forward recently and says she was sexually assaulted in Whistler in the late 1990s.

The initial incidents allegedly took place between 1991 and 1998 in Mont-Tremblant, north of Montreal, and in France, Austria, New Zealand and the United States.

The alleged female victims were all between 12 and 18 and Charest was in a position of authority as a coach.

Charest worked with Alpine Canada's women's development team between 1996 and 1998.

He has been detained since his arrest on March 10 and has announced his intention to fight a decision to deny him bail.

A hearing before Quebec Superior Court is scheduled for June 25.

The Canadian Press

Rookie MLA suspended

Incoming Alberta premier Rachel Notley has suspended a rookie member of her caucus over a controversial photo.

Notley says in a release that Deborah Drever will sit as an Independent after the new NDP government is sworn in on Sunday.

A photo of Tory Premier Jim Prentice and one of his cabinet ministers, Ric McIver, was circulating Friday on Twitter. It features doodled speech bubbles that appear to suggest the two men are gay. A comment from the account "drevfever" says: "Gay boyz."

It's unclear when the Instagram image was posted, but the doodles appear to have been added to a photo that appeared with an article published during the Tory leadership race last year.

NDP spokeswoman Cheryl Oates said the party had no idea the photo was out there until Friday. She said it was on a closed Instagram account.

"We became aware of it this morning when we saw it on social media," Oates said. "We had no idea about this photo."

Oates said the party confirmed with Drever that she posted the photo and made the comment.

Notley said she may review Drever's status in caucus within a year.

"I apologize to all Albertans for the homophobic statements contained in this image, which are completely contrary to the views of our party and our future government," Notley said in the release.

"I hope Ms. Drever will take to heart our conversation earlier this week about her responsibility to speak out clearly on issues of violence against women and homophobia.

"If she does so as part of her duties to her constituents, I'll review this matter in the coming year and consider whether she has a future in our caucus."

Several controversial photos with Drever, 26, have surfaced since she won the Calgary Bow seat in the May 5 election. The pictures have sparked petitions demanding that she quit or be removed.

One shows her pretending to be assaulted with a bottle for a garage band cover photo. Another one on Facebook is of Drever at age 19 and in dark glasses as she hams it up beside a marijuana T-shirt. Still another shows a disembodied hand, not Drever's, giving the middle finger to the Canadian flag.

Drever told The Canadian Press on Thursday that the garage band photo taken three years ago was an inexplicable error of youth, but one she was determined to turn the page on.

Earlier this week, Notley said she had spoken to Drever, had accepted her apology and told her to come up with a plan to educate people about violence against women.

The Canadian Press

New runaway teen trial

The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered a new trial in the case of two Edmonton men who made child pornography after videotaping two 14-year-old girls performing sex acts.

Donny Barabash and Shane Rollison were acquitted at their 2012 trial of making child pornography because the judge accepted that the so-called private-use exception was available to them as a defence.

The Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal and convicted the men, but it was not a unanimous decision, with one Appeal Court justice saying the private-use exception was available because the videos were consensual and for private use.

But the Supreme Court was unanimous in its ruling that the private-use defence cannot be used if it is determined that the girls were sexually exploited.

The high court ruled that the trial judge focused too much on the question of consent, and not the broader issue of whether the girls were exploited.

The two 14-year-old girls ran away from home, fell into prostitution, and abused crack cocaine and marijuana.

They went to stay with Barabash, then 60, and Rollison, then 41, who supplied them with drugs and a roof over their heads.

The girls also performed explicit sex acts on video, which Barabash kept and never showed them.

One of the girls was asked if she wanted to do what she did, according to the federal attorney general's factum.

"I wanted the drugs," the girl replied.

The girls had reached the legal age of consent, which is 14.

The trial judge and the one Appeal Court judge supported an acquittal for the men on the basis that the sex acts and the recording were "ostensibly consensual," and that the pornography created was privately held.

But the federal attorney general disagreed.

"The presence of ostensible consent does not change that fact, since it is a prerequisite to a finding of exploitation. Child pornography directly harms the children used in its making, and may less directly harm others," its factum stated.

"In short, the narrow interpretation is a recipe for the exploitation of vulnerable youth."

The Canadian Press

Blood clinics to close

The non-profit agency that operates Canada's blood donor clinics is shutting down four permanent sites and eliminating 16 mobile clinics across the country, saying the cutbacks are needed because Canadian Blood Services is collecting too much blood.

Ian Mumford, the agency's chief supply chain officer, says advances in medicine have prompted Canada's hospitals to reduce their demand for blood products.

The agency collected 870,000 units of blood last year, but it needs only 830,000 units this year, a 4.5 per cent drop.

Four permanent clinics — in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador — will be closed as of June 1. The 16 mobile clinics will be sidelined by June 30.

"We have more than enough capacity to collect the amount of blood that we need to meet the needs of hospitals," Mumford said in an interview from Ottawa. "However, it is expensive for us to operate more clinics than we actually need to have."

Dr. Antonio Giulivi, head of hematology and transfusion medicine at The Ottawa Hospital, says less invasive surgical methods have reduced the need for blood transfusions.

As an example, he cites robotic surgery techniques used on some prostate cancer patients. The surgery once required up to three units of blood, but now surgeons can get by with only one.

"It's a big change," Giulivi says. "This is a trend worldwide."

As well, doctors are now less likely to ask for a transfusion if a patient's hemoglobin count is low unless they are displaying obvious symptoms.

Giulivi says improved pre-surgery management has made it easier for doctors to increase red-blood-cell counts without the use of transfusions, and better drugs have been introduced to prevent blood loss during surgery.

Some hospitals have made big strides in improving their blood supply management. Giulivi oversees a network of 16 hospitals that routinely share blood products to ensure little is wasted.

Joe Kaiser, president of the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees, says Canadian Blood Services has told the union little about why it is closing its clinic in Cape Breton.

"All we're asking is, be up front with us, talk with us about it," he says.

Canadian Blood Services will continue to operate 36 permanent clinics and 909 mobile clinics across the country.

Still, Mumford says he recognizes the closure of clinics in Sydney, N.S., Corner Brook, N.L., and Prince George, B.C., will be painful. More than 40 part-time staff will lose their jobs and scores of volunteers and donors will be left with no clinic to go to.

"If you're a blood donor, you're emotional about the gift you give," he says. "You recognize the very positive impact it has on another Canadian. You're literally saving their life."

While the permanent clinic in Sarnia, Ont., will be replaced with a mobile clinic, Mumford says the other three permanent clinics are being shut down because they are too far from blood-processing centres in St. John's, N.L., Halifax and Vancouver.

As for the 16 mobile clinics, Mumford says some were serving shrinking, remote communities, while others were located too close to other mobile operations.

The closures will reduce the agency's costs by $2.9 million annually and will have no impact on patient care, Mumford says.

The decisions to eliminate clinics may seem at odds with the fact that the agency reported a critical shortage of blood last fall when supplies reached a six-year low.

However, Mumford says the temporary shortage was caused by conditions that were beyond the agency's control, pointing to low attendance at clinics during late summer.

The Canadian Press

He's finally a citizen

Accompanied by his three children, common-law wife and best friend, Donovan McGlaughlin affirmed allegiance on Thursday to the country that has refused to recognize him for most of his 61 years.

A decision by his anarchist First Nation father and Caucasian mother not to register his birth out of fear he'd end up in a residential school started a life-long bureaucratic tussle.

With no birth certificate, he couldn't get identification, a legitimate job or even medical care.

But a team effort of citizen advocates, a pro bono lawyer, friends and family members, brought together by media attention, altered his plight.

Finally a Canadian, McGlaughlin said he can apply for a Social Insurance Number, health-care card, driver's licence, marriage certificate, then travel to British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest to see the spirit bear and California's redwood forests — a dream of one of his sons.

"All my life, yeah, dogs have had more rights," said McGlaughlin. "They (governments) enact more laws pertaining to dogs and cats than they do to help stateless people. I've always said I should just go buy a dog tag and wear it around my neck, and there. There's my ID. I'm Fido."

McGlaughlin doesn't know where or when he was born, only that it was between Rosebud, S.D., and where his maternal grandparents lived in Guelph, Ont., around Jan. 19, 1954, the day he celebrates as his birthday.

Fearing the government, his parents home schooled him and moved around Canada, he said, adding he broke loose when he was 15 and worked "migrant jobs" on farms.

About 30 years ago, he hitchhiked to the Yukon, where he has lived ever since, supporting himself by hunting and fishing on aboriginal land.

The first in a series of heart attacks struck in 2010 and because he had no health-care card his medical bills rose to about $130,000, he said.

Michelle Quigg, a lawyer with the Access Pro Bono Society of British Columbia, which helps people of limited means, said she began to help out after reading a news story about McGlaughlin in which he mused about declaring refugee status.

She helped him apply for citizenship, citing a "special and unusual hardship."

"The ... hardship in Donovan's case is that he has no documents, which is very unusual," said Quigg. "I mean most of us have birth certificates and all kinds of official documentation that Donovan didn't have."

Quigg said she also argued McGlaughlin's health is poor, his children could lose their father, and if he was a foreign national, his common-law wife would have been able to sponsor him.

She learned the application was successful May 5.

"It's really nice that we had a good result in this case," she said.

Don Chapman, the founder of Lost Canadians, a group that identifies gaps in citizenship laws, said McGlaughlin shouldn't have had to experience the ordeal and he may not be alone.

"Apparently, this is a problem in the First Nations community in Canada," he said. "Donovan was just the one who put his head up above the sand."

Kevin Menard, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, didn't respond directly to McGlaughlin case, but said in an email the Conservative government has righted the historical wrong that created so-called Lost Canadians.

"We are proud to have strengthened the value of Canadian citizenship, and proud to have awarded it to a record number of people in 2014."

McGlaughlin said he planned to celebrate his citizenship with friends and family, barbecuing salmon, steaks, ribs and moose meat, and enjoy some 12-year-old rum.

The Canadian Press

Tainted spuds contain metal

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it's looking into three cases of potatoes containing pieces of metal in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

The agency said Thursday evening in an email it is following up with a producer of the product, but it provided no details on the company involved.

Tammy Jarbeau, a spokeswoman at the federal agency, said its officials are looking into the possibility of food tampering.

The RCMP said earlier in the day it is investigating the three cases.

Police say a resident contacted them on May 19 after finding a nail in a potato from a bag of Farmer's Market spuds. The bag was purchased from the Atlantic Superstore in Antigonish in late April or early May.

A nail in another Farmer's Market potato purchased at a No Frills grocery store in Barrington Passage was reported to RCMP on May 20.

Prince Edward Island RCMP also say a customer turned in a potato with a metal object in it on May 18.

Investigators say it was purchased from the Atlantic Superstore in Montague.

No injuries were reported in any of the cases.

The agency says as a precaution, consumers should carefully check potatoes for foreign objects.

The Canadian Press

NDP rookie regrets photo

Rookie Alberta NDP member Deborah Drever says pretending to be assaulted with a bottle for a garage band cover photo is an inexplicable error of youth, but one she is determined to turn the page on.

"What happened three years ago, frankly, was a mistake," Drever, 26, told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday.

"I wasn't aware of the premise of the photo beforehand and I was just asked to do this, and I did it.

"As soon as that picture was taken, I regretted it."

The photo is the latest in several questionable shots to surface since Drever won the Calgary Bow seat in the May 5 election. The pictures have sparked petitions demanding that she quit or be removed.

One Facebook photo is of Drever at age 19 and in dark glasses as she hams it up beside a marijuana T-shirt. Another shows a disembodied hand, not Drever's, giving the middle finger to the Canadian flag.

Drever, a third-year sociology student at Mount Royal University, said she just wants to get on with her new job.

"I am very disappointed in myself that I let (people) down. I really want to prove that I can do a good job."

Incoming premier Rachel Notley has accepted Drever's apology and has asked her to develop a plan to heighten awareness of violence against women.

Drever said she will do that and pointed out that she has been working for a long time with women's groups in Calgary, pushing for women's rights and combating violence.

"I'm passionate about women's issues because of my lived experiences."

Drever said her earliest memories of childhood are of abuse involving her mother and her mother's partner.

"There was a lot of screaming, a lot of scary sounds. Banging and crying, things like that."

She and her three sisters would retreat to a bedroom and close the door to "try and hide."

She was removed from the home when she was five and placed in foster care. From then, until age 16, it was a transient life: in one foster home, back with relatives, back to foster care, back to her grandmother.

"I've had first-hand experience witnessing violence against women," said Drever.

"And now that I'm a (legislature member) ... I am just so excited that I can help families like that because I can actually relate to them."

Her interest in politics peaked after high school, she recalled, inspired by listening to NDP MP Niki Ashton and reading "Black Like Me," John Howard Griffin's painfully personal work on race relations.

She was active in Calgary's music scene and agreed to pose for a cassette cover photo for the band Gatekrashor. When she got to the photo shoot, she said she succumbed to peer pressure. She posed on her back, legs apart on the concrete against a chain-link fence, and restrained by one of four men while another stands over her with a bottle.

The title of the album: "Fear of Attack."

"After doing it, I recognized it right away: the problematic imagery of that photo. I think it sends the wrong message to young women."

Now she is preparing for a new life shuttling between the legislature in Edmonton and her home in Calgary, where she lives with her grandmother and helps raise a four-year-old niece.

"I want to help out and help raise that child and be a real good role model for that child because she is very special to me."

The Canadian Press

Duelling debates

The opposition parties might have agreed to a national English debate broadcast by the major TV networks, but the Conservatives aren't budging on their decision to skip it.

The NDP, Liberals and Green party reached an agreement in principle Thursday with the television consortium that has traditionally organized the election debates, for two national broadcasts with simultaneous translation.

The consortium includes CBC's French and English channels, Global News and CTV.

The English-language broadcast will feature Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May, while the French language broadcast will also feature Bloc Quebecois Leader Mario Beaulieu. The Bloc said it was upset to not be included in the English match-up.

If the opposition parties and networks were hoping to nudge the Conservatives into changing their mind, it didn't work. Spokesman Kory Teneycke pointed out that the party already firmly rejected the consortium's proposal two weeks ago, and selected alternative debates.

"From our perspective the slots have been filled with respect to the English debates," Teneycke said in an email.

"We have one left in French. Our response has not changed with respect to the Consortium proposal. It was a decision, not a public negotiation."

But the consortium's proposal appeared to change substantially between a meeting two weeks ago with the parties and Thursday.

The Tories had emphasized the need for the debates to be available on different broadcasting platforms. The consortium responded to that by announcing a partnership with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and YouTube.

Still, it remains unclear whether the TV debates will hold together without the prime minister's participation. And there remains the possibility the Conservatives could say yes to just the French-language consortium debate.

At this point, all of the debates are a bit fuzzy.

Here's a recap of what's been proposed, and who has said yes:

Consortium debates: NDP, Liberals, Greens and Bloc Quebecois agreed in principle, Conservatives firm no.

Maclean's Magazine: Conservatives and NDP firm yes.

Munk Debates, on foreign policy: Conservatives firm yes, NDP agreed in principle.

Globe and Mail/Google Canada, on the economy: Conservatives firm yes, NDP agreed in principle.

CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons): NDP agreed in principle.

Up for Debate, on women's issues: NDP, Green Party firm yes.

TVA Network: Conservatives firm yes, NDP agreed in principle.

The Liberals have yet to agree in principle on anything other than the two consortium debates. The party issued a press release outlining its criteria for participation, including an equal number of debates in French and English, the participation of all parties in the Commons, and the inclusion of a live studio audience with audience participation.

The Canadian Press

CF-18s pound ISIL

Defence Minister Jason Kenney says Canadian jets struck a militant staging area in Syria on Wednesday.

Kenney says the two CF-18 aircraft used precision-guided weapons in the attack and the planes returned safely.

Canadian jets have been hitting targets in Iraq connected to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant since last fall, but have only recently starting bombing in Syria.

The air element includes six CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft, a Polaris aerial refueller and two Aurora surveillance aircraft.

About 600 Canadian Forces personnel are deployed as part of the operation.

Since last fall, the Canadian planes have flown more than 900 sorties, including 600 involving CF-18s.

"These strikes demonstrate our government's firm resolve to tackle the threat of terrorism against Canada and to promote international security and stability," Kenney said of the latest attacks.

He said Canada will continue to support the coalition fighting the Islamic State movement.

In recent days, the militants have been on the advance, seizing the city of Ramadi in Iraq and the central Syrian town of Palmyra.

Kenney has described the fall of Ramadi as a setback for the Iraqi military, but added that it shouldn't be seen as a sign that the coalition is losing the fight against ISIL.

The Canadian Press

Big money, bigger goals

Mike Babcock took over as Toronto head coach Thursday, saying the Maple Leafs are Canada's team and they need to be put back on the map.

The 52-year-old Babcock, no stranger to coaching Team Canada, becomes the 30th head coach in Leafs' history.

Babcock said he was thrilled and excited to take the Toronto job. He cautioned the journey will be a long one, but promised it will be a lot of fun.

The former Detroit Red Wings coach takes over a 30-44-8 Leafs team that finished 27th in the league this season.

Babcock told the packed news conference in the foyer of the Air Canada Centre that he embraces the job ahead.

"I came here with my eyes wide open," he said.

Babcock made it clear that he is aware of the size of the task ahead and would have no problems operating in the fishbowl that surrounds the Leafs franchise.

"This is going to be a massive, massive challenge," he said.

It was a polished performance from a veteran coach, who managed to talk up his skills without seeming full of himself.

Babcock fever has been full-blown since news of his signing surfaced Wednesday.

TV stations showed footage of the private jet carrying Babcock touching down at Pearson International Airport at 9:28 a.m. ET before Babcock stepped into the sleek Maybach limo that usually ferries MLSE chair Larry Tanenbaum.

He exited the vehicle at the Air Canada Centre at 10:44 a.m.

Babcock arrives with the weight of great expectations, not to mention a reported $50-million, eight-year contract that makes him by far the highest-paid coach in the NHL.

The coach drew laughs when a reporter asked about the huge contract, saying "Well, I'd like to answer that question Shanny (Leafs president Brendan Shanahan)."

Babcock called the mega-deal the Leafs' commitment to success.

"They've made a long-term commitment to me... In turn, I've made a long-term commitment to the Leafs and our plan is to grow the team," he said.

The Toronto Sun tabloid had 14 pages of Babcock coverage in its sports section. The Leafs took out a full-page ad in the Toronto Star, saying "Welcome to Toronto, Mike." The same slogan adorned the electronic backdrop to the new conference.

TSN headlined its live coverage "Babcock Era Begins."

Babcock, who spent the last 10 years behind the Detroit bench, follows in the footsteps of such Leafs coaches as Dick Irvin, Hap Day, Joe Primeau, King Clancy, Punch Imlach, Pat Burns and Pat Quinn among others.

The Leafs' woeful 2014-15 season cost head coach Randy Carlyle, interim coach Peter Horachek and many other team officials their jobs.

Shanahan, who once played for Babcock, has pledged to rebuild the Original Six team that has little to celebrate about in recent decades.

That rebuild has already started.

"We have good people here," said Shanahan. "We're going to acquire good people and we're going to make them better."

Babcock celebrated his fourth birthday during the 1967 Stanley Cup, the last time the Maple Leafs won the NHL championship.

His credentials are blue-chip. His record in Detroit was 458-223-105 and the Wings made the playoffs every year on his watch.

His overall NHL record over 950 games is 527-285-19-119.

The Saskatoon-raised Babcock, who is married with three kids, won the Stanley Cup in 2007-08 and led Canada to gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, the 2004 world championships and 1997 world junior championship.

He is portrayed as a well-prepared coach who communicates what he wants and doesn't like it if it doesn't get it.

Buffalo, San Jose and St. Louis were reportedly among those interested in Babcock, who also got an offer to stay in Detroit.

"No Surprise, But Money Talks as Babcock Walks" was the Detroit News headline.

"But, seriously, folks, are you really going to fault Babcock, 52, for taking a king's ransom to coach a team that he rooted for as a kid?" wrote Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom. "To take the reins of a franchise that is like the New York Yankees of Canada, but hasn't won in so long, you have to have grey hair to remember?"

The Canadian Press

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