Wednesday, March 23, 2011

RCI Cyberjournal

Edition 22 March 2011
Canadian International Financial Sports Weather
Canadian

Budget highlights

Canada's finance minister, Jim Flaherty, tabled his latest budget in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Here are some highlights: Single, low-income seniors would get a boost of up to $600 a year under improvements to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, while couples would see up to $840 extra. Parents enrolling their children in arts and recreation programs, those looking after ill relatives, and homeowners looking to cut their energy bills would all see small savings on their tax bill. A $500 tax credit for arts programs for children would save parents $75 a year. Ottawa also introduced a $2,000 family caregiver tax credit that would be worth $300 for caregivers of dependent relatives. The change is expected to help more than 500,000 Canadians looking after their relatives. Homeowners looking to make their homes more energy efficient, whether it be with new windows, high-efficiency furnaces or better insulation, would benefit from the extension of ecoENERGY Retrofit-Homes program by a year. The federal government is ready to do away with mandatory retirement at age 65 in federally regulated industries. The budget says the government will bring in legislation to change the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to prohibit mandatory retirement unless there's a real occupational requirement. Small business got a boost in the federal budget with a break on employment-insurance premiums and an extension of a program to buy new equipment. The moves are in addition to the billions in corporate tax cuts already announced that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has defended as a cornerstone of Ottawa's economic recovery plan. Figures released in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget on Tuesday show he's relying on the Defence Department to rein in spending sharply. He expects Defence to account for up to 26 per cent of the federal government's anticipated $2 billion in spending cuts next year. That figure jumps to 35 per cent in both 2013 and 2014 -- or $1 billion a year. Mr. Flaherty described the budget as a "balanced" blueprint that sprinkles targeted relief to people who most need it, but still stays true to his deficit reduction schedule. Now not only does Flaherty envision his red ink painted black in 2015-16, by then it will be an even bigger surplus, he says. For all intents and purposes, he will achieve balance a year before.



CF-18s hold fire

Canadian military fighters took part in a second day of missions over Libya Tuesday, but officials say they abandoned a planned attack on a Libyan airfield because of the risk of "collateral damage". The mission marked their first offensive operations since arriving in-theatre on the weekend. Six Canadian CF-18 fighter jets along with HMCS Charlottetown, a frigate, have been deployed to the region. Defence Minister Peter MacKay says Ottawa is also sending 25 additional personnel to Naples, Italy, to help co-ordinate the mission - bringing Canada's total military contribution to more than 400 people.



Cannon condemns crackdowns in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Monday condemned crackdowns on anti-government protesters in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. In a statement, Mr. Cannon said "Canada vigourously condemns the increasingly frequent and violent attacks on demonstrators in Yemen. We urge the Yemeni authorities to immediately take measures to prevent any further violence against civilians." He also said, "Canada is also deeply concerned by the recent actions taken by the government of Bahrain in response to protests in that country" and "condemns reported human rights abuses against the Bahraini population and violations of international humanitarian law." As well, "Canada deplores the multiple deaths and injuries following protests in several Syrian cities over the weekend," the minister said in urging a stop to the use of force against peaceful protesters.



Court rejects stiffer sentence for Tamil

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has upheld a six-month sentence handed to a Sri Lankan man convicted of raising money for the terrorist Tamil Tigers. The court rejected the Canadian government's appeal for a longer sentence against Prapaharan Thambithurai. The Ontario man pleaded guilty last year to raising $600 for the Tamil Tigers and collecting pledges for another $2,000 from Sri Lankans in the Vancouver area in March 2008. He became the first person convicted under Canada's post-9-11 law against raising funds for a terrorist group. The federal government had asked for a sentence of three years in prison, arguing that a six-month sentence didn't properly reflect the seriousness of the crime of financing terrorism.



Taiwan tops junket list

Canadian Members of Parliament routinely accept expenses-paid trips to foreign lands, with Taiwan the most popular destination in 2010. According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, MPs made 20 trips there last year. Israel was the second most popular destination on the list, with 10 visits. The Taiwan junkets were paid for by the Chinese International Economic Cooperation Association, a private Taiwanese lobby group. The lion's share of the free travel was done by members of the governing Conservative Party. At present, there is no parliamentary budget to subsidize foreign travel for Canadian Members of Parliament.



Avalanche survival compromised

Compared to Switzerland, Canada is a more dangerous place to be caught in an avalanche. A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal speculates that the greater prevalence of trees and denser snow in Canada's western ski regions increase the risk of dying from trauma injuries and suffocation within the current rescue guidelines. They recommend rescue within 18 minutes. The report's author suggests tightening up that rescue period.





International

Libya - latest

Western forces pounded strongholds of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for a second night but doubts grew Tuesday over the next stage of the campaign and where it is leading. Coalition officials expressed satisfaction with progress so far in reducing Col. Gadhafi's defence capabilities. A senior US general said the strikes--begun on Saturday night--could diminish, but the UN-mandated no-fly zone would be spread to the whole country. Fighting continued on the ground as the rebels fighting Col. Gadhafi's forces said they were under intense attack in their enclave of Misrata near Tripoli. And despite the destruction by coalition warplanes of dozens of Libyan army tanks in the east of the country, the rebel fighters were beaten off as they tried to retake the town of Ajdabiya on Monday. Gen. Carter Ham, chief of the US Africa Command, told reporters in Washington on Monday that US forces had no mission to support a ground offensive by the rebels, who are still weak and disorganised compared with Col. Gadhafi's army. Coalition forces, led by the United States, France and Britain and including Canada and a number of other European states and some Arabcountries, are acting under a UN Security Council resolution authorising all necessary means to stop Col. Gadhafi's forces harming civilians as they battle the rebellion. On Tuesday, two crew members ejected from an American fighter jet that crashed. The US military said an air force F-15 Strike Eagle crashed, but that it was not shot down. Both crew members ejected and sustained minor injuries and were recovered.



UN - Libya

The UN Security Council has rejected a Libyan request for an emergency meeting to halt what it called "military aggression" by France and the United States. Council members held closed-door talks Monday in response to a letter dated Saturday from Libya's foreign minister who claimed "an external conspiracy was targeting" his country. The Security Council late Thursday adopted a resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians from attacks by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces and imposed a no-fly zone over the country. On Saturday, US, French and British forces launched airstrikes against Libyan air defences, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other military hardware.



United States - Libya

US President Barack Obama says Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "has to go." Speaking Monday in Chile while on a state visit, Mr. Obama said that's not the goal of the international military effort against Libyan government forces. The United States has fired close to 150 cruise missiles against Libyan targets in the past three days, including one that hit inside the compound in Tripoli where Colonel Gadhafi and his family live. Mr. Obama has said the strikes are carrying out the UN mandate to establish a no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians from massacre by forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi. Mr. Obama said Col. Gadhafi has been carrying out murders of civilians and has threatened more. The US president said he's had no second thoughts about beginning the air offensive while he was travelling outside the United States. But he said the US will transfer leadership of the operation to other, unnamed participants within a matter of days.



Russia - Libya

In an unexpected dispute that shattered three years of harmony, Russia President Dmitry Medvedev has publicly broken ranks with Prime Minister Valdimir Putin over Libya. Mr. Medvedev publicly rebuked Mr. Putin for comments comparing the UN resolution that allowed air strikes on Libya to a medieval call to crusade. Mr. Putin said the resolution was flawed and an example of an increasing trend of US military intervention, in direct contradiction of Russia's decision to abstain in the vote which in essence allowed the resolution to be passed. Analysts said the comments essentially marked the start of Russia's 2012 presidential election campaign where many expect Mr. Putin to seek to return to the Kremlin after handing over the presidency to Mr. Medvedev in 2008.



China - Libya

China on Tuesday reiterated its opposition to the use of force in Libya amid Western air strikes there and called for an immediate ceasefire in the country's conflict. However, a government spokeswoman did not make clear whether she was referring to a ceasefire by Western powers or repeating China's earlier calls for a halt of hostilities between the government and rebels in the North African state. She had been asked for China's position on the current situation, in which multinational forces including Britain, France and the United States have begun bombarding Libya. The missile bombardment from air and sea began at the weekend to enforce a United Nations-mandated no-fly zone and to protect rebels from Col.Moammar Kadhafi's forces. China and Russia were the most prominent voices in opposition to military action in Libya within the 15-member United Nations Security Council. However, neither used their veto to block the UN resolution authorising the operation, instead abstaining in the Security Council vote on the issue.



Japan - latest

The operator of Japan's leaking nuclear plant says power lines have been hooked up to all six reactor units, though more work is needed before electricity can run through them. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, announced the hook-up Tuesday but cautioned that workers must check pumps, motors and other equipment before the electricity is turned on. Reconnecting the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex to the electrical grid is a significant step in getting control of the overheated reactors and storage pools for spent fuels. But it is likely to be days if not longer before the cooling systems can be powered up, since damaged equipment needs to be replaced and any volatile gas must be vented to avoid an explosion. Meanwhile, a Japanese nuclear safety official said Tuesday a pool for storing spent fuel at the crippled nuclear plant is heating up, with temperatures around the boiling point. The official said that the high temperatures in the spent fuel pool are believed to be the cause of steam that has wafted from Fukushima Dai-ichi's Unit 2 since Monday. The hot storage pool is another complication in bringing the plant under control and ending a nuclear crisis that followed the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast coast. If water in the pool bubbles away and exposes fuel rods, more radiation would be thrown off. Japan's national police agency said more than 8.900 people are now confirmed dead after the devastating earthquake and tsunami earlier this month. Another 12,600 people are missing. Those figures are likely to overlap, but police officials estimate that the final figure will likely exceed 18,000 deaths. A police spokesman from hard Miyagi prefectures estimates the number of deaths will top 15,000 in that region alone. Police in other devastated areas aren't estimating eventual tolls, but say the confirmed deaths in their areas already number nearly 3400. The disasters have displaced another 452,000 people.



WHO - Japan

The World Health Organization says Japan needs to act quickly to ban food sales from areas around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant if the food there is found to contain excessive levels of radiation. A WHO spokesman said Tuesday radiation in food can accumulate in the body and poses a greater risk to health than radioactive particles in the air, which disperse within days. The global body doesn't have any radiation experts of its own in Japan and says any policy decision must be taken by the Japanese government.



Yemen - movement

A top Yemeni official says the country's embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has agreed to leave office by January 2012 after a parliamentary election. That is 20 months earlier than planned. Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Saleh warned that a coup attempt could spark civil war, as pressure mounted for him to step down and two soldiers were reported killed in a clash between rival units. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, warned that Yemen's political crisis could distract attention from its fight against Al-Qaeda. The warnings came as army units with mixed allegiances deployed in the capital, Sanaa, as more military and political defections increased the pressure on Mr. Saleh to step down. One after another, soldiers and officials announced their support for the "youth revolution" at the square near Sanaa University where protesters calling for the president's ouster have kept vigil since February 21st. The defections came after some top military officers, including Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the northwest region which covers Sanaa, and eastern region commander Gen. Mohammed Ali Mohsen, pledged support for the protesters.



Israel - Katsav

An Israeli court sentenced former Israeli President Moshe Katsav to seven years in prison on Tuesday for rape and other sexual offences. In December, Mr. Katsav was convicted of raping a former employee and sexually harassing two other women who used to work for him. Mr. Katsav maintains his innocence.





Financial

Markets

The Toronto stock market drifted to a slightly lower finish as energy stocks failed to respond to sharply higher oil prices. The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 13.7 points to 14,000 with investors disinclined to build on Monday's big 220-point surge. The Canadian dollar closed down 0.02 of a cent to 102.05 cents US, well off earlier highs as data showed retail sales decreased by 0.3 per cent in January. Oil gained $1.67 to US$104 a barrel as coalition forces continue to launch air attacks to enforce a no-fly zone against Libya. While markets may be reconciled to Libyan oil production staying offline for some time to come, investors are becoming more concerned about unrest spreading to other countries such as Saudi Arabia. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 17.9 points to 12,018.63. The Nasdaq composite index was off 8.22 points to 2,683.87 while the S&P 500 index moved down 4.61 points to 1,293.77.



Composite leading index up in February

Canada's composite leading index rose 0.8 per cent in February, double its gains in each of the previous three months and its largest advance since last May. Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that the increase was broadly-based, with nine of the 10 components posting gains in February compared with five in December. The agency said a turnaround in manufacturing contributed to the overall increase in the index. In manufacturing, new orders for durable goods rebounded one per cent after three straight declines. Statistics Canada said some of the upturn reflects the marked improvement in exports in December as the ratio of shipments to inventories posted its first gain in five months. It said manufacturers appeared optimistic that the improvement in demand was sustainable, as they extended the length of the workweek and substantially boosted employment levels over the last three months.



Retail sales down in January

Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that retail sales decreased 0.3 per cent to $37.1 billion in January, the second decline in two months. The agency said lower sales at new car dealers were the main contributor to the decline. Sales in volume terms fell 0.6 per cent. Lower sales were reported in seven of 11 subsectors, representing 55 per cent of total retail sales. Lower sales were reported in four provinces, representing 85 per cent of total retail sales. The largest dollar decrease among all subsectors was registered by motor vehicle and parts dealers--down 1.5 per cent.





Sports

Figure skating

Canada is among six countries bidding to replace Japan as the host of this year's figure skating world championships. Skate Canada has suggested holding the event in Vancouver. The other countries vying for the event are Russia, the US, Finland, Croatia and Austria. A vote will be held tomorrow or Thursday on the winning bid.





Weather

Wednesday, March 23rd

Sunshine returns to Vancouver Wednesday, with a high of 12. Snowflurries for Alberta, with highs of minus 1 in Edmonton and minus 4 in Calgary. Back to sunshine in Saskatchewan, with minus 8 in Saskatoon and minus 7 in Regina. Sunny in Winnipeg and minus 3. Toronto will see a few flurries and minus 2. Ottawa and Montreal will see some sun, with highs of minus 1. Variable skies for Fredericton with a few flurries. High 2. Halifax, sunny and 3. Charlottetown, mainly sunny and 1. St. John's, snow and zero. Mainly sunny skies across the far north, with highs of 3 in Whitehorse, 1 in Yellowknife and minus 21 in Iqaluit.





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