Thursday, March 29, 2012

RCI Cyberjournal

Flaherty says budget cuts directed at bureaucracy
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says budget cuts to be outlined on Thursday will be directed at the bureaucracy, not services to people. The finance minister characterized his austerity program as modest compared to the Liberal deficit-slaying budget of the mid-1990s. He said it will be directed at "the back-office," suggesting the austerity package will be felt most acutely by the public service in terms of job reductions. Conservative sources have told The Canadian Press the cuts would build to $7 billion in annual savings by 2014. Mr. Flaherty says the cuts are appropriate for the times. He points out that Ottawa hired more public servants during the recession, but now that the economy is recovering the objective should be to eliminate the deficit.

NDP warns of possible donnybrook over budget
Thomas Mulcair says Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have a fight on his hands if Thursday's budget ignores job creation in favour of cuts to services, health care and pensions. The just-elected New Democratic Party leader was taking part in his first formal Parliament Hill caucus meeting after winning the leadership on the weekend. He says the NDP has to roll up its sleeves and stand firm against Mr. Harper and Conservative policies. He says the business of defeating Mr. Harper starts now and will culminate in a New Democrat government in the next election. Mr. Mulcair portrays the prime minister as an ideologue whose policies will help the well-connected and hurt the middle class.

Guantanamo Canadian could soon return home
The Canadian Press reports that Omar Khadr could be back in Canada by the end of May, with both Ottawa and Washington poised to approve his transfer from Guantanamo Bay. The convicted war criminal has been held there for almost a decade. A source familiar with the file said U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta was expected to approve the transfer within a week.

Khadr has been caught up in a bureaucratic tangle since becoming eligible to leave the American prison on Cuba last October under terms of a plea agreement struck a year earlier. The Toronto-born Khadr, 25, pleaded guilty before a U.S. military commission to five war crimes he committed as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan in July 2002. In exchange, the Canadian citizen was given an eight-yearsentence, with one year to be served in Guantanamo Bay and the remainder in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been in no hurry to approve the transfer request. In the Commons Wednesday, Public Safetey Minister Vic Toews said only that the Americans had made no formal application for Khadr's transfer, and no decisions had been made.

Immigrants get pre-screening of credentials
Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is proposing rule changes that would assess and verify the education credentials of

some immigrants even before they arrive in Canada. The new requirement would mean that applicants seeking to come in under the federal skilled workers program would have a sense before they arrive whether they'll be able to get work in their field. The question of how to assess foreign schooling and training has long been a contentious issue in immigration policy. Mr. Kenney says the early examination of credentials will give skilled workers a comparison with Canadian standards and an understanding of how Canadian employers will judge their education and training. It will also help weed out people whose credentials inadequate. Immigration Canada says the change is part of an effort to address the problem of immigrants who come to Canada, but cannot find work in their chosen field.

B.C. names mediator in teacher dispute
The B.C. government has named academic Charles Jago to mediate an end to the long-running B.C. teachers dispute. Mr. Jago is the former president of the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. Earlier this month, the Liberal government passed legislation that would impose a six-month cooling off period and bring in a mediator in an attempt to end the conflict. Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, gives the mediator until the end of August to work out a contract between the B.C. Teachers Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association. Mr. Jago's mandate does not give him the power to impose a contract, but Education Minister George Abbott has previously said the government will not tolerate further job action next fall and is prepared to impose a binding contract. B.C. teachers, who staged a three-day strike earlier this month, are voting next month on their future plans to address Bill 22.

McGuinty open to opposition suggestions on budget
The premier of Canada's province of Ontario, Dalton McQuinty, says he welcomes budget suggestions from the opposition parties. His minority Liberal Party could face an election if they cannot persuade either the New Democrats or Progressive Conservatives to support the budget presented on Tuesday. The Conservatives say they won't support the budget but the New Democrats say they haven't made a decision. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says she's going to consult the people of Ontario before she makes up her mind. Mr. McGuinty says no one wants an election, and he's willing to listen to suggestions from the two other parties to avoid one. But the premier says Ontario must eliminate its $15-billion deficit in five years. The budget proposed a freeze on both public sector wages and corporate tax cuts to help reduce the deficit. The budget also postponed planned corporate tax cuts until the budget is balanced and froze the salaries of members of the legislature.

Vancouver moves to prevent another hockey riot
Vancouver is abandoning the giant outdoor Stanley Cup viewing parties that saw massive crowds and huge alcohol consumption boil over into a chaotic riot last year. The city is instead planning dozens of smaller events for the National Hockey League playoffs that it hopes will be enough to keep fans under control. The Canucks' playoff run last year was marked by ever-increasing outdoor celebrations, which saw tens of thousands of fans gather in front of giant TV screens downtown. It was there that trouble erupted on June 15, after Game 7 of the final round of the playoffs, when fans wearing Canucks jerseys spent hours smashing windows, setting cars ablaze and looting stores, causing millions of dollars in damage.


Arabs to send Syria a message
Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Baghdad on Wednesday will ask their heads of state to send a strong message to the Syrian regime to halt its crackdown on civilians and allow humanitarian groups into the country. A draft of the recommendations by the top diplomats of the 22-member League reinforces earlier proposals by the organization for the end the one-year conflict in Syria, where the UN says more than 9,000 people have so far died. The draft proposals by the foreign ministers also call on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime to allow peaceful protests, immediately release Syrians detained during the past year and withdraw army troops from urban centres. The Arab foreign ministers' meeting comes a day after Mr. Assad accepted a cease-fire drawn up by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in a diplomatic breakthrough what was swiftly overshadowed by intense clashes between government soldiers and rebels near the border with Lebanon. Opposition members accuse Assad of agreeing to Annan's plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to kill off bastions of dissent.

Mali residents hail coup
Several thousand people took to the streets of Mali's capital Wednesday in support of last week's military takeover and a new constitution hastily written by the coup leaders. A bloc of West African nations suspended Mali's membership and is sending five presidents to Mali to try to "restore constitutional order" a week after soldiers ousted the democratically elected leader. The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, is also putting a peacekeeping force on standby but the junta leaders are working hard to give the semblance of normalcy here, and thousands are hoping the junta will stay. The new constitution was read on state TV late Tuesday night. The 69-article constitution includes many of the guarantees of the former law, including the guarantees of free speech, liberty of movement and freedom of thought. New measures include the creation of a military-led council headed by coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo. It says that the new head of state is simultaneously the head of the army, the head of the government and the head of the judiciary.

Pontiff meets Fidel Castro
Pope Benedict XVI met Wednesday with Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro on the last day of his trip to bolster the Roman Catholic church's ties with Cuba's Communist leaders. Shortly after celebrating mass before 500,000 people in the heart of Havana, Benedict met with the 85-year-old Castro for about 30 minutes. The talk came as the pontiff has been gently but persistently prodding Communist authorities to embrace change. Hailing the Cuban government's granting of freedom of religion since 1998, Benedict, 84, said Cubans' quests for truth generally should also respect "the inviolable dignity of the human person."

His comment appeared to be an oblique reference to dissidents pressing for political opening in the Americas' only one-party, Communist-ruled country. Dissidents says dozens were rounded up and arrested during the pope's visit. About a half million Cubans, on foot but also packed onto state buses and trucks, and decked out in Vatican flag-yellow visors had thronged the square where Fidel Castro gave countless addresses to masses of supporters.

Belarus arrests more opposition figures
Belarus arrested three top opposition figures Wednesday who were on their way to Brussels to meet with European Union officials, a move certain to further fuel tensions with the EU. The 27-nation EU already has slapped a series of sanctions on authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's regime over its crackdown on dissent and removed its ambassadors from the ex-Soviet nation. Those arrested were Anatoly Lebedko, the head of Belarus' largest opposition United Civil Party; Sergei Kalyakin, the leader of the Fair World leftist party; and Alexander Otroshchenkov, a leading activist of the European Belarus group. They were detained on a train as they were heading to Moscow to fly to Brussels and have been put in police custody on charges of hooliganism pending a trial Thursday. Earlier this month, Mr. Lukashenko's government started barring the regime's critics from foreign trips. The victims of the ban would only learn about it once they were already at the airport.

High court concludes hearings on Obamacare
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday began its final session considering the fate of President Barack Obama's health-care law, weighing if Congress improperly expanded the state and federal healthcare program for the poor known as Medicaid. The final one-hour session capped just over six hours of arguments over three days focusing on the 2010 law being challenged by 26 states and a small business trade group. The law is considered Mr. Obama's most significant domestic policy achievement. Much of the controversy centers on whether Congress exceeded its authority under the U.S. Constitution by requiring that people obtain health insurance coverage by 2014 or face a penalty. A ruling in the case is expected by late June.


Canadian opposition riled over aviation layoffs
Canada's opposition parties have stepped up pressure on the Conservative government to force Air Canada to maintain aircraft overhaul facilities that were shut down last week. Opposition members of Parliament and unions representing 2,600 workers who have lost their jobs argue that by allowing the facilities to shut down, Air Canada is violating a law that requires it to keep open fleet service stations in three Canadian cities. But Transport Minister Denis Lebel says the situation is "complex" and that on Thursday he will reveal to a parliamentary committee the legal advice he has received on the matter. Thomas Mulcair, the newly elected leader of the main opposition New Democratic Party, says the law specifies that the jobs had to be kept in those three cities.

The law under which Air Canada was privatized in 1988 contained a provision requiring the airline to maintain maintenance operations in Montreal, QC; Mississauga, Ontario; and Winnipeg, MB. The airline later spun off the heavy maintenance work to a private company called Aveos. Saying that Air Canada had not given it sufficient work, Aveos obtained bankruptcy protection last week and shut down.

Markets
Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday: 12,414 - 98. Canadian dollar: US$1.00. Euro: $1.32. Oil: $105.38 - $1.95.


Sports
SKATING

Perennial world medallists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany are the leaders after the pairs short program at the world figure skating championships in France. Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are fifth, while Jessica Dubé and Sebastien Wolfe are 12th. Savchenko and Szolkowy have three world titles plus a silver and a bronze.