Thursday, March 1, 2012

RCI Cyberjournal

Nobel laureate lauds Canadian sanctions
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi says tough Canadian sanctions are helping her native Myanmar on its hard road to democracy. She says Myanmar's new civilian leaders are feeling the economic pressure and are being pushed to reform because of international sanctions. She says there is still a great barrier between the military and her people. Suu Kyi also says the removal of that obstacle would be a key step on the road to reform. She spoke to Canadians for the first time through an Internet link between her Myanmar home and Carleton University. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is one of only five people to be granted honorary Canadian citizenship. After a half-century under a military junta, Myanmar held elections last year and handed power over to a civilian government.

Federal budget due on March 29
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will unveil the next federal budget March 29. He announced Wednesday that the budget will come out just days before the start of the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which begins April 1. Mr. Flaherty has already warned the budget could contain some program cost cuts as, Ottawa tries to balance its books over the next few years. With the economy expected to slow to less than two per cent

annual growth, tax revenues from consumers and companies could be squeezed.

Ottawa has been warning that it could try to cut spending by $4 billion a year to help get the budget balanced. The minister got some good news last week when the latest monthly deficit numbers for December showed Ottawa was about $10 billion ahead of pace for the first nine months of the fiscal year compared to last year at

the same time.

Justice Minister again defends tough-on-crime legislation
Canada's Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is defending the the government's omnibus crime bill against criticism from the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The group, which includes former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour, has written to Prime Minister Stepehn Harper, asking him to reconsider tougher sentences for marijuana. The Commission calls the war on drugs expensive and ineffective. Liberal Party leader Bob Rae says the group's letter is a clear indication Canada is going in the wrong direction. But Mr. Nicholson says the new law targets drug dealers, not substance abuse victims or experimenting teenagers.

Canada still committed to Space Station
Canada has committed itself to remaining involved in the future of the International Space Station orbiting lab beyond 2015. Industry Minister Christian Paradis made the announcement Wednesday, with the station's five international partners getting set to discuss the future of the ISS at a meeting in Quebec City. The heads of the space agencies will discuss Thursday co-operation in space exploration, the maintenance of the station and its potential benefits for humanity.

Before the announcement, some industry players had been concerned that, unlike its partners, Canada had not signed on for the period until 2020, the end of the current projected lifespan of the station. Given that a number of industry projects are supported by the Canadian Space Agency's $424.6 million current annual budget, its upcoming decisions carry deep financial implications for aerospace firms involved. The agency, like other federal bodies, is preparing for major budget cuts this year.

Canadian accused of huge Medicare fraud in U.S.
A Canadian doctor in Texas has been charged with running a massive health-care fraud scheme with thousands of fraudulent patients and intermediaries allegedly offering cash, food stamps or free groceries, to bilk Medicare and Medicaid of nearly $375 million. A federal indictment charges Jacques Roy, a doctor who owned Medistat Group Associates in DeSoto, TX, and six others in an alleged scheme to bill Medicare for home health services that were not properly billed, not medically necessary or not done.

The scheme was the largest by a single doctor uncovered by a task force on Medicare fraud. The indictment alleged that from January 2006 through November 2011, Mr. Roy or others certified 11,000 Medicare beneficiaries for more than 500 home health service agencies. More than 75 of those agencies have had their Medicare payments suspended. Mr. Roy, 54, faces up to 100 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Oilsands tiff continues
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty tried Wednesday to turn down the heat generated by his comments earlier in the week about preferring a lower dollar to a growing oil and gas sector in Western Canada. Mr. McGuinty admitted he was "a bit surprised" by the extent of the repercussions from his comments Monday, when he said Canada's high "petro-dollar" was bad for Ontario manufacturers and exporters. He says Ontarians are very, very proud of the work that is being done by Canadians in every province and territory to strengthen the country. The remark wasn't enough for Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Her position is that the entire Canadian economy, and Ontario in particular, benefits from the oilsands. She says she feels her province was owed an apology from the Ontario premier. She suggested Mr. McGuinty's original comments were born out of the difficult financial situation his government is in.

Asbestos industry seeks Ottawa's help
The Canadian asbestos industry wants to enlist the Canadian government's help in challenging a World Health Organization estimate that says asbestos-related diseases kill more than 100,000 people worldwide every year. That figure is a major irritant for the industry, one often cited by critics who want to block future asbestos development. An industry spokesman says the estimate by the WHO, the United Nations health authority, is an exaggeration based on unfounded evidence. Bernard Coulombe has told The Canadian Press that the WHO has not responded to his repeated requests for the evidence.

The WHO only deals with the governments of member states, not industry figures. Mr. Coulombe says he will ask the Canadian government to step in and urge the Geneva-based organization to provide scientific proof behind the statistic. A senior official for the WHO says the organization stands by its estimate that asbestos-related diseases kill more than 107,000 people around the world each year.


North Korea agrees to nuclear halt
North Korea agreed on Wednesday to stop nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and long-range missile launches, and to allow checks by nuclear inspectors. The apparent policy shift that paves the way for resuming long-stalled disarmament talks. The surprise breakthrough makes possible the resumption of six-nation nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang. It followed talks between U.S. and North Korean diplomats in Beijing last week. While analysts cautioned that Pyongyang has backtracked repeatedly on past deals, the moves by North Korea mark a sharp change in course, at least outwardly, by North Korea's reclusive leadership following the death in December of late leader Kim Jong-il. The U.S. state department says that in return, the United States was ready to go ahead with a proposed 240,000 metric-tonne food aid package.

Syrian govt. threatens to wipe out rebellious Homs quarter
A Spanish journalist who was trapped in Homs escaped to Lebanon Wednesday as the government threatened a new offensive to "cleanse" a rebel-held neighbourhood of the besieged Syrian city. Javier Espinosa was one of four foreign reporters trapped in the rebel-controlled Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs since a rocket attack last week by Syrian military forces killed two Western journalists and wounded two. Edith Bouvier and British photographer Paul Conroy were wounded last week in a government rocket attack on a makeshift media centre in the city that killed American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik. Conroy was smuggled into Lebanon Tuesday after leaving the neighbourhood late Sunday. Activists said 13 Syrians trying to help Conroy get out were killed in the operation. Heightening fears about the remaining two journalists, a Syrian official said Wednesday that the government was planning a major offensive against Baba Amr.

Al-Qaeda takes responsibility for suicide attack
Al-Qaida in Yemen has claimed responsibility for a weekend suicide bombing that killed at least 25 people in southern Yemen. The group says the car bomb attack was a warning to the U.S. to stop meddling in Yemen's affairs. The group says in a statement that the attack that rocked a presidential compound in the city of Mukalla in Hadramout province on Saturday came in response to U.S. war against Islamist forces in Yemen. The group vowed Wednesday that it will "come after this American project." During a year of turmoil that eventually forced longtime President Ali Abdullah Salah out of office, al-Qaida-linked militants have seized control of towns and territory in the lawless south. The U.S. considers al-Qaida in Yemen to be one of the group's most dangerous branches.

Venezuelan govt. warns against fearmongering
President Hugo Chavez' government urged Venezuelans on Wednesday to ignore rumors the socialist leader's health may be worse than the official version that he is in good condition after surgery in Cuba. Despite allies' upbeat assessment of his latest operation, some sources are suggesting the 57-year-old may face a life-threatening spread of the cancer discovered last year. That would throw into doubt Mr. Chavez' campaign for re-election in October and his capacity to rule afterwards should he win, as well as send shockwaves round a region where Cuba and other leftist governments count on his oil-fuelled largesse.The government blames Venezuela's "ultra-right" for fomenting speculation that Chavez's health is deteriorating.

Putin accuses opposition of skulduggery
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Russia's opposition on Wednesday of plotting dirty tricks to discredit his likely victory in weekend presidential polls, saying they must "submit" to the majority in the vote. Mr. Putin attacked Russia's protest movement with characteristic venom in a display of confidence ahead of Sunday's election in which the prime minister is expected to regain the Kremlin post he held in 2000-2008. He alleged that activists were planning to stuff ballots in an attempt to delegitimize the vote. Allegations of vote-rigging sparked mass protests against his rule after the Dec. 4 parliamentary election.

Diplomatic squabble over Falklands continues
Argentina's top diplomat in Britain was summoned to London's foreign ministry Wednesday to explain his country's decision to ask 20 leading companies to stop importing British products and supplies. Argentina's Industry Minister Debora Giorgi told the companies Tuesday they should replace British imports with products from other nations, in a latest attempt to pressure London to negotiate over the disputed Falkland Islands. Tensions are rising ahead of the anniversary of the brief 1982 war between Argentina and Britain over the islands. The foreign office said Argentina's chargé d'affaires had been called to the ministry for an explanation. Prime Minister David Cameron insists London will not enter negotiations on the sovereignty of the islands and that its people must decide their own future.

Crippled cruise ship nears port in India Ocean
A disabled cruise ship being towed to the Seychelles' main port is expected to arrive Thursday morning, three days after the ship lost power and began drifting in the Indian Ocean. An aviation official said passengers would begin flying to Rome within hours of arrival. There are more than 1,000 people, including 14 Canadians, on board. The Genoa, Italy-based Costa firm said the Allegra is expected to arrive in Seychelles at about 9 a.m. local time Thursday, a little later than reported earlier. Three planes with a seating capacity of at least 580 were lined up to fly the passengers back to Rome. The Costa Allegra lost power Monday after a fire broke out in its generator room, setting the Italian cruise ship adrift in a region where Somali pirates have long been active.

World's tallest telecom tower complete
Construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world's tallest self-supporting communications tower, was set to finish Wednesday, two months late because of the quake and tsunami that struck Japan last March. Japan`s tourist industry hopes the tower will be a big draw for foreign visitors, whose numbers have plummeted in the aftermath of the disaster and the nuclear crisis it sparked. Construction of the 634-metre tower near the already popular Asakusa traditional district on Tokyo's eastern side, began in July 2008. The Tokyo Sky Tree tops the 600-metre Canton Tower in China's Guangzhou and the 553-metre CN Tower in downtown Toronto.


Former U.S. president backs Canadian pipeline
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton weighed in Wednesday in favour of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline. Speaking at the U.S. Department of Energy's conference for clean-technology startup companies in Maryland, He wondered why TransCanada didn't originally propose to build the pipeline around an environmentally fragile area of Nebraska. The final decision on the project will rest with U.S. President Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the former president's wife.

Mr. Clinton's comments are certain to cause a stir given his wife has already been accused of a pro-pipeline bias. The state department is deciding the fate of the $7.6 billion pipeline since it crosses an international border. In November, the Obama administration deferred making a decision on the pipeline until after this year's presidential election, citing concerns about the risks Keystone XL's proposed route could pose to the Ogallala aquifer. In January, facing a mid-February deadline imposed by

congressional Republicans, the Obama administration rejected TransCanada's permit outright, saying it didn't have enough time to thoroughly review a new route before giving it the green light.

Northern pipelline plan faces new reverse
The northwestern B.C. town of Smithers has joined two cities and one regional district in rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline project. Councillors representing the Bulkley Valley community of nearly 6,000 voted Tuesday night to oppose plans by Enbridge Inc. to pipe Alberta crude across northern B.C. to Kitimat for shipment by supertanker to Asia. Smithers, Terrace, Prince Rupert and the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District fear the potential of a devastating spill if the pipeline ruptures or supertankers run aground in the difficult waters of the north coast. Prince Rupert council voted against the massive project on Monday night, following the lead set by Terrace two weeks earlier.

Cable firm unloads money-losing Portuguese asset
Cogeco Cable Inc. says it has sold its troubled Portuguese subsidiary for just over $59 million, ending years of difficulties with the European operation. The Montreal cable TV operator said Wednesday it had sold its Cabovisao - Televisao por Cabo S.A. for 45 million euros, or $59.3 million. The sale was long expected since Cogeco Cable wrote off its entire investment in the Portuguese company last summer. The buyer is the European group Altice and the transaction closed Wednesday. Cogeco is a big cable TV operator in Ontario and Quebec, ranking second in each of those markets. Its operations in Portugal have been hurt for years by the economic slump in the debt-ridden European country.

Markets
Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday: 12,644 - 96. Canadian dollar: US$1.01. Euro: $1.31. Oil: $107.07 + .52.


Sports
SOCCER

Canada started brightly but eventually paid

the price for some slack play as Brazilian-born Marcos Pizzelli

scored twice to give Armenia a 3-1 win in a soccer friendly

Wednesday.

Captain Kevin McKenna gave Canada a fifth-minute lead but the

Armenians took control as the game wore on and had far more scoring

chances.

LACROSSE

Toronto's Kasey Beirnes is the National Lacrosse League's offensive player of the week after scoring a season-high five goals in a win over Rochester last weekend. Edmonton defenceman Kyle Rubisch is the defensive player of the week, while Calgary's Geoff Snider repeats as the transition player of week. Rookie of the week honours goes to Minnesota goaltender Evan Kirk.


Weather
British Columbia: mix cloud snow south, mix sun cloud north. Yukon: mix sun cloud. Northwest Territories: sun. Nunavut: mix cloud snow. Whitehorse -8, Yellowknife -20, Iqaluit -22. Prairies: snow. Edmonton -11, Regina -2, Winnipeg 0. Ontario: rain south, snow north. Quebec: snow. Toronto 6, Ottawa, Quebec -2. Atlantic Canada: snow. Fredericton -6, Halifax -4, Charlottetown -8, St. John's -11.