Thursday, February 16, 2012

RCI Cyberjournal

Edition 15 February 2012
Canadian International Financial Sports Weather
Canadian

Drastic economic medicine prescribed for Ontario
Economist Don Drummond warned Wednesday that bigger class sizes, higher electricity and water bills and new parking fees at public transit stations are among the bitter pills deficit-ridden Ontario must swallow to avoid the fate of Greece. He says unless all 362 of his recommendations are implemented, Canada's most populous province will wind up doubling its deficit by 2017-18 and increasing its debt to a staggering $411.4 billion, a little more than half its gross domestic product, he predicted in his long-awaited austerity blueprint for Ontario. He says that even if the governing Liberals stick to their current plan to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18, the province will still end up with a $30 billion shortfall. Annual spending growth in health care must be capped at 2.5 per cent, education at one per cent, post-secondary education at 1.5 per cent and social programs at 0.5 per cent. About a third of the former TD Bank chief economist's recommendations were directed at health care, which will need to become more efficient in order to maintain services without the generous budget increases of past years. Household bills could also take a hit, with the economist recommending that the province scrap a 10-per-cent rebate on electricity bills and charge more to recover the full cost of water and wastewater services.


Commons set to pass gun registry abolition
The Conservative Party federal government was set to realize a long-sought goal as a bill to end the long-gun registry comes to a final vote in the Commons Wednesday evening. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says it's an important day for Conservatives, who have opposed the registry for shotguns and rifles for years. Mr. Toews says the registry is a waste of money, which does nothing to fight gun crime or save lives. The minister says the registry does penalize law-abiding hunters and farmers. The Conservative majority in the Commons means the legislation will pass easily and go on to the Senate, where the Tories also have a majority.


Ottawa faces new court action over abolished wheat monopoly
Several farmer organizations that support the Canadian Wheat Board's grain marketing monopoly are launching a court action aimed at
restoring farmer control of the board and collecting $17 billion in damages for farmers. The lawsuit will present constitutional arguments to try to remove the CWB from government control, and collect damages farmers may incur from the board's weakened market clout. The move follows the launch of a similar, $15-billion class action by a Saskatchewan lawyer last month. That suit does not attempt to change who controls the CWB. The Conservative government passed legislation in December ending the CWB's marketing monopoly over Western Canada's wheat and barley for milling or export, as of August 2012. Once the law passed, the government took control of the board by removing eight farmer-elected directors. The latest court action comes with the Canadian grain industry waiting for a Manitoba court to rule whether it should suspend the new law while deciding whether it is valid. In December, Federal Court of Canada ruled Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the existing law by not allowing a farmer referendum before moving to end the CWB monopoly. However, the judge also said that the ruling did not affect the government's new legislation.



Alberta oil wealth called boon to whole country
Alberta's finance minister says the province's oil success story is not only a boon for the western economy but can be a strong contributor to all of Canada. Ron Liepert told a Toronto business audience that even oil-rich Alberta, whose economy is expected to lead Canada in growth, needs the support of other provinces to succeed. Mr. Liepert petitioned Ontario and other provinces to support the planned expansion of the oilsands as well as helping Alberta gain access to new markets in the United States and Asia. Much of the opposition to planned pipelines to the West Coast and bigger oilsands projects has come from environmentalists and other critics, many from outside Alberta. Mr. Liepert noted that that support would benefit all of Canada because one-third of economic impact created by the oilsands occurs outside of Alberta. In Ontario, everything from steel pipes to construction materials, precision machinery and other products are made and sold to oilsands companies. He says the greatest risk to Alberta's economy by 2020 is that regulatory red tape could prevent its oil from being shipped to Asia
and other markets. The minister argues that allowing new pipeline projects to ship oil to Asia would deliver huge benefits to the entire country.



Arctic territory sues Ottawa.
A judge is considering whether to rule that Ottawa didn't live up to the Nunavut land claim after hearing evidence from a federal bureaucrat admitting his department for years ignored one of the treaty's main promises. A two-day hearing on the issue, completed in Iqaluit this week,
concerns one part of a massive lawsuit brought against the government for failing to follow through on its part of the 1993 deal that eventually created the estern Arctic territory. Part of the Nunavut land claim included a promise to create a single agency that would track environmental, social and economic changes in the new territory to provide baseline data and guide development. The agency was to be in place by July 2003. But nothing was done, a fact freely acknowledged by a bureaucrat in the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. NTI, the body that ensures that promises made under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement are carried out, is asking Nunavut Court of Justice for nearly $15 million in damages for this part of the lawsuit. The lack of a monitoring plan is only one aspect of a lawsuit that makes much larger accusations over Ottawa's failure to live up to the Nunavut land claim. That lawsuit argues that while the federal government promised Inuit would take up a representative share of civil service jobs in the new territory, it failed to provide education adequate to allow them to do that.



Manitoba native flood victims to get new homes
About 100 people who were forced from their Manitoba reserve by flooding nine months ago will soon move into new homes. There are some 800 people from Lake St. Martin reserve who still haven't been able to return home since the spring flood. The reserve has been deemed a write-off and evacuees have been living in Winnipeg hotels. The province is now paying for 43 temporary homes at a former radar base close to the flooded reserve. The homes will house about 100 people while officials search for a new site for the reserve. The province is hoping more evacuees will chose to move to the site even though it has been condemned by the First Nation's chief.



Thief makes off with archeological treasures in Montreal
A thief hurdled motion detectors, video surveillance and round-the-clock guards at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to pocket two rare and valuable archeological artifacts last year, the museum announced Wednesday. Details of the theft late last year of the archaeological fragments, an Assyrian low relief and a marble head dating from the Roman Empire, were withheld to avoid compromising a police investigation. Now the museum's insurer AXA Art is offering a $10,000 reward for help identifying a male suspect in his 30s from surveillance video footage, and an additional "substantial reward" for the artifacts' safe recovery. The museum has security guards on the premises at all times. Exhibits are protected by motion detectors and all of its pavilions are monitored by video surveillance. Yet, the suspect carrying only a satchel managed to slip away with the items, each smaller than a loaf of bread.




International

Hundreds perish in Honduras prison blaze
Trapped inmates screamed from their cells as a fire swept through a Honduran prison, killing as many as 356 inmates in one of the world's deadliest fires in decades. Some 475 people escaped from the prison in the town of Comayagua and 356 are missing and presumed dead, said Hector Ivan Mejia, a spokesman for the Honduras Security Ministry. He said 21 people had been injured. Dozens were trapped behind bars as prison authorities tried to find the keys, officials said. Honduran authorities said the fire had been started by a prisoner who set his mattress ablaze in his cell. Outraged relatives of dead inmates tried to storm the gates of the prison Wednesday morning to recover the remains of their loves ones. The crowds were driven back by police officers firing tear gas.



Likely future leader of China addressed U.S. business elite
Chinese heir apparent Xi Jinping told U.S. business leaders Wednesday that relations between the two powers were at "a new historical starting point." Speaking during a lavish ballroom lunch aimed at wooing the top crust of corporate America, Deputy Prime Minister Xi described Sino-American ties as an "unstoppable river that keeps surging ahead" despite twists and turns. Mr. Xi is on a high-profile visit to the United States, which many hope will close an acrimonious chapter in relations characterized by mistrust and mudslinging, particularly in the commercial sphere. With Mr. Xi widely tipped to get China's top job next year and U.S. President Barack Obama in a November re-election battle, Mr. Xi's US visit is being seen as a dress rehearsal for what could become the world's most crucial political and economic relationship.



Embattled Syrian leader calls referendum
Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered a referendum for later this month on a new constitution that would allow political parties other than his ruling Baath Party, the centerpiece of reforms he has promised to ease the crisis, even as the Syrian military on Wednesday besieged rebellious areas. The opposition quickly rejected the move, saying that the regime was stalling and that Syrians in the uprising would accept nothing less than Assad's ouster. The referendum call also raises the question of how a nationwide vote could be held at a time when many areas see daily battles between Syrian troops and rebel soldiers. The referendum, announced on Syrian state TV, was set to take place Feb. 26. The current Syrian constitution enshrines Mr. Assad's Baath Party as the leader of the state. But according to the new draft, "the state's political system is based on political pluralism and power is practiced democratically through voting."
The draft also says the president can hold office only for a maximum of two seven-year terms.



Somalia wants arms ban ended
Somalia's president asked the United Nations on Wednesday to lift the arms embargo against his country, saying the recent merger between al-Qaida and al-Shabab has made the dropping of the arms ban necessary. Thousands of Somalis marched through the capital during an anti-militant protest attended by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The Somali militant group al-Shabab has long had close links with al-Qaida, but the two announced an official merger last week. The UN imposed an arms embargo on Somalia in 1992, one year after warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The warlords then turned on each other, sinking the poverty-stricken nation of seven million people into chaos.



Serbia mulls turn toward Russia

Serbia's deputy prime minister warns that his country may turn towards Russia if the EU refuses to grant it candidate status, and possibly allow Russian bases on its soil. Ivica Dacic says if Brussels and Washington continue to keep Belgrade on the sidelines, it "would be normal to expect that a political faction directed more towards Russia would come into power" in Serbia. Serbia will hold general elections this spring which will pit the pro-European governing coalition against the ultra-nationalist opposition which is more eurosceptic and pro-Russia. The EU is set to decide in March on granting Serbia candidacy status but has insisted Belgrade must show progress in EU-brokered talks with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade believes the 27-member EU supports mainly Kosovo and does not take into account Serbia's interests.

 



Mullah offers plea in Norwegian court
An Iraqi-born cleric pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of making death threats against politicians and encouraging suicide bombings. Prosecutors said Mullah Krekar, a 55-year-old Islamist who came to Norway as a refugee in 1991, faces several years in prison if found guilty by Oslo District Court. Since his arrival, Krekar has made frequent trips to Iraq where in 2001 he founded the Kurdish Ansar al-Islam, a group suspected of organizing suicide bombings against coalition forces in Iraq, and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and other nations. In 2005, a Norwegian court declared Krekar a national security threat and ordered him deported, but later postponed the move because of concerns he could face execution or torture in Iraq.


Venezuelan leader accuses rival of dissembling
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is accusing the opposition's presidential candidate of concealing his true ideological tendencies. Mr. Chavez says Henrique Capriles aims to persuade government supporters he shares some of the president's left-leaning political ideals. He accuses Capriles of representing the interests of Venezuela's wealthy elite. Mr. Capriles is a state governor who handily won Venezuela's first opposition primary Sunday. He defines his political stance as "progressive." He calls Chavez's socialist policy a failure that has scared off investment and increased unemployment. The 39-year-old says he aims to establish business-friendly policies without compromising the state's responsibility to care for the poor.





Financial

Markets

Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday: 12,362 + 8. Canadian dollar: US$1.00 cents. Euro: $1.30. Oil: $101.83 + $1.09.


Talisman cuts back on shale drilling project
Talisman Energy Inc. is cutting back its plans to drill for natural shale gas in the Marcellus region of New York and Pennsylvania even further and reducing its spending plans in the area by half compared with 2011. Chief executive John Manzoni said Wednesday the company expects
to spend about US$600 million in the region, down from roughly $1.2 billion last year. The company had originally planned to have 10 drill rigs working in the region and reduced that to between five and seven in January. On Wednesday, Mr. Manzoni said that could be reduced to as few as three rigs this year. "I really see no value in chasing unprofitable growth while gas prices remain so low," he said. Mr. Manzoni noted that he wouldn't expect to increase Talisman's natural gas operations in the region and have 10 rigs working again until he saw a natural gas price of $4 or more. Natural gas was trading for around $2.55 per 1,000 cubic feet on Wednesday.



Ottawa intervenes in Air Canada labour conflict
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt says Air Canada and the union representing its pilots have agreed to submit to an extended mediation process. Mrs. Raitt told the House of Commons that she's received official agreement from both the union and the airline that they will
participate. The pilots have given their union an overwhelming mandate to call a strike and the airline is in a legal position to impose a new
contract or lock them out. However both sides have said they will not use those options while talks continue. An earlier, two-month effort by a representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was unable to bring the two sides together. The minister says she expects the two sides to reach a deal.





Sports

Sports
FOOTBALL
Defensive backs Dante Marsh and Ryan Phillips are returning to the B.C. Lions. The Canadian Football League team agreed to terms with Marsh hours before he was slated to become a free agent. The Lions then announced the return of Phillips roughly two hours into the free agency period. The 29-year-old Phillips joined the Lions in 2005 and has been a member of two Grey Cup-winning teams (2006, 2011). He's a two-time CFL all-star.




Weather

Weather
British Columbia on thursday: rain south, snow north, high C6 Vancouver. Yukon, Northwest Territories: mix sun cloud. Nunavut: snow. Whitehorse -2, Yellowknife -10, Iqaluit -15. Alberta: sun. Saskatchewan: snow north, mix sun cloud south. Manitoba: snow. Edmonton 1, Regina -2, Winnipeg -4. Ontario, Quebec: mix snow rain. Toronto 6, Ottawa 0, Montreal 3. Maritimes: mix sun cloud. Newfoundland and Labrador: rain. Fredericton 3, Halifax 5, Charlottetown -2, St. John's 2.





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