Wednesday, March 28, 2012

RCI Cyberjournal

Security summit in South Korea ends
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 53 other world leaders have ended a nuclear-security summit in Seoul, South Korea. Although North Korea's plan to launch a satellite aboard a rocket was not on the agenda, it's been a major point of discussion on the sidelines. The North insists the launch is a peaceful mission. But Mr. Harper sees the launch plan as a contravention of United Nations resolutions. During the summit, Mr. Harper took the opportunity, in sideline meetings, to discuss trade and foreign investment with Italy, India, Spain and the European Union.

Canada, U.S., Mexico hold historic security summit
Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay has emerged from a meeting with his U.S. and Mexican counterparts to say it's time for more military co-operation in North America's war on drugs. Mr. MacKay, U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and the heads of Mexico's army and navy held what they called a historic trilateral meeting Tuesday in Ottawa that focused heavily on the drug trade. Mr.Panetta said afterwards that drug trafficking and the violent cartels it funds now are one of the most serious threats confronting North, Central and South America. Mr. MacKay say shared military intelligence to stop trafficking at sea, was one of the strategies they discussed to combat the illicit trade. The Canadian minister and Mr. Panetta also reiterated their governments' support of the controversial F-35 fighter jet program, and maintained that the current 2014 timeline for exiting the war in Afghanistan remains in effect. The American defence secretary also noted the U.S. administration is ready at any time to agree to the repatriation of former child soldier Omar Khadr back to Canada from Guantanamo Bay.

Federal industry minister in more hot water
Canada's ethics watchdog said on Tuesday that Canada's industry minister, Christian Paradis, who was found guilty of ethics violations last week, is being formally investigated for possible wrongdoing in a second case. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said she was looking into allegations that Mr. Paradis tried to move a government office into a building owned by an associate of his family in Quebec. Last Thursday, Mrs. Dawson found Mr. Paradis had violated the Conflict of Interest Act by telling bureaucrats to set up a meeting with a former Conservative legislator who wanted to do business with the federal government. A few hours before Mrs. Dawson spoke on Tuesday, CTV News reported that Paradis had stayed in 2009 at the exclusive hunting lodge of businessman Marcel Aubut, who was lobbying the federal government at the time to help fund a $400-million hockey arena in Quebec City. That report prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to defend his minister for the second time in a week. The opposition Liberal Party The Liberals demanded that Mrs. Dawson also investigate the CTV report.

Ottawa to study high court's prostitution finding
The Canadian government says it will review a court ruling in the province of Ontario on the sex trade. Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says the government still sees a social need for laws to control prostitution. On Monday, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that struck down a ban on brothels, ruling the law puts sex trade workers in danger. The Court said prostitutes should be allowed to work safely indoors. However, the court has given the government one year to rewrite the law if it chooses to.

Ottawa simplifies oil regulation
In a move set to help the oil industry, Canada's Conservative government will reveal new rules this week designed to cut the time it takes for environmental assessments of major energy and industrial projects. The government says the current complex system of regulations means it can take far too long to approve pipelines and mines, thereby putting at risk up to $500 billion in new investment over the next 10 years. Beneficiaries could well be Enbridge Inc. and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, which are both seeking to build pipelines from the oil-rich tar sands of northern Alberta to the Pacific Coast, where tankers would take crude to booming Asian markets. Critics charge the government's approach will relax standards and could help trigger an environmental calamity. The federal government's budget this Thursday will outline moves to simplify what Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver calls "a needlessly complex, duplicative regulatory system".

Former RCMP women join suit
As many as 150 current and former female members of the RCMP are preparing to stand behind a class-action lawsuit against the federal police force alleging widespread sexual harassment. The suit, filed in B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of Janet Merlo, who was a constable in B.C. for 19 years, alleges a pattern of sexual discrimination, bullying and harassment. Mrs. Merlo claims she was singled out for verbal abuse, pranks involving sex toys, and derogatory insults by senior and fellow officers.

One of several lawyers involved in the lawsuit says the legal action was spurred by a combination of frustration by the women and lack of change in management style at the RCMP. He says the primary goal for Merlo and many of the other females they've heard from is to change the organization from a toxic workplace for women to one that is accepting of them. A judge will still need to decide if there are enough common arguments in the class-action for it to go forward and that legal

action could take up to two years.

Ontario struggles to shuck off deficit
Cash-strapped Ontario is putting off tax cuts to businesses and focusing on public sector wages and pensions in an austerity budget designed to lift Canada's former economic powerhouse out of the red ink in five years. The minority Liberals are walking a political and fiscal tightrope with a massive 304-page budget plan, which must appease credit agencies, the wider business community and at least one of the opposition parties to avoid triggering an election.

Saddled with a $15.3-billion deficit this year, the Liberals plan to make cuts and reduce spending to save $17.7 billion over three years while increasing revenue by $4.4 billion, without hiking taxes.

Ontario may wind up shelling out hundreds of millions more in interest if it gets hit with a credit downgrade or interest rates go up, which Finance Minister Dwight Duncan admits worried him. The Liberals plan to cap average annual growth in program spending to one per cent a year. But much of the $127-billion spending blueprint, which includes $1 billion in reserves, rests on freezing wages and squeezing more value out of the broader public sector, which would save nearly $13 billion over three years.

NB cuts spending
The New Brunswick government is continuing to slash spending in an effort to return to balanced budgets in time for the next election in 2014. The $8.2-billion budget for 2012-13 includes a $183 million deficit, down from the $449 million shortfall recorded for the budget year ending March 31. But the budget is forecasting the net debt to hit $10.8 billion by the end of March 2013. The government says it will reduce the number of public sector jobs by 1,500 through attrition for each of the next three years, replacing only those in positions that are considered essential. Finance Minister Blaine Higgs says that could be as many as two-thirds of the affected positions. He says the measure will result in savings of about $86 million annually by 2014-15.

Owner of Japanese tsunami boat says Canada can have it
A Japanese official said Tuesday that the owner of a fishing boat in Japan that drifted across the Pacific after getting washed away from its moorings by last year's huge tsunami does not want it back. The 65-meter vessel was spotted last week by a Canadian Forces aircraft on a routine surveillance patrol. A military photo shows the ship, streaked with rust but intact, floating 150 nautical miles off the southern coast of Haida Gwaii islands, some 1,500 kilometres north of Vancouver. A Japanese coastguard spokesman said the boat belonged to a fishing firm in Hakodate, Hokkaido, and had been anchored in Hachinohe, Aomori, when the tsunami struck. The vessel is the largest item confirmed to have crossed the Pacific Ocean after the tsunami in March last year, but it is thought to be at the vanguard of a huge swirl of debris ripped from the shore.

Arabs fear effects of drought
Drought and uprisings are threatening to undermine the Middle East's economy, Arab officials said Tuesday as they discussed plans to boost the region's stability at the start of a key summit in Baghdad. For the first time in a generation, leaders from 21 states gathered in Iraq for the Arab League's annual summit. Iraq is hoping the summit will better integrate its Shiite-led government into the Sunni-dominated Arab world, and it has deployed thousands of soldiers and police across Baghdad to prevent insurgent threats from upending it. Economic ministers tentatively agreed to co-operate on proposals for tourism and to deal with water shortages and natural disasters. The proposals, put forward at the summit's opening meeting, still need to be approved by the rulers and heads of government on the final day of the gathering Thursday. As in Iraq, where the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers are drying up, water resources also are strapped elsewhere across the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates and Jordan say their ground water is rapidly depleting, and the Dead Sea is drying up.

South Sudan claims northern neighbour struck oilfield
A South Sudan official says Sudan's military bombed an oil field in South Sudan on Tuesday, as a dangerous flare-up in border violence appeared to scuttle plans for a presidential summit between the two countries. Unity State Minister of Information Gideon Gatpan said Sudan dropped at least three bombs near oil fields in the town of Bentiu. Mr. Gatpan said the extent of any damage wasn't immediately known.

The attack comes one day after Sudan and South Sudan clashed in the disputed border town of Jau, prompting Sudan to cancel President Omar al-Bashir's trip to meet with South Sudan President Salva Kiir next week. South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year, but tensions between the longtime foes have remained high. Among the unresolved issues is the demarcation of the border and an agreement to share oil revenue. South Sudan earlier this year stopped pumping oil because it said Sudan -- which owns the pipelines the south's oil must travel through -- was stealing its oil.

Pope visits national shrine in Cuba
Pope Benedict on Tuesday urged Cubans to "work for justice" during a ceremony to pay homage to the island's patron saint, and said he was close to those "deprived of freedom," an apparent reference to political prisoners in the communist-run nation. The pontiff visited a basilica housing the doll-sized figurine of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre on the second day of a papal trip the Roman Catholic Church hopes will foster renewed faith and increase its influence in Cuba.

The Pope was to fly from eastern Cuba to Havana after what the Church calls his "pilgrimage" to the Virgin for a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with President Raul Castro and possibly his older brother, former leader Fidel Castro. He was to give a public Mass on Wednesday before returning home from the second papal visit in history to the Caribbean island.

Mali's neighbours worried after coup
The heads of state of the countries neighbouring Mali said Tuesday they want to send a "strong signal" to the mutinous soldiers who seized power last week, overturning over 20 years of democracy in this African nation. Already, the United States, the European Union and France have cut off aid. Additional sanctions from the region would be a further blow to the junta. The regional Economic Community for West African states controls the common currency shared by nations in the region, and could cut off the supply of cash. Also if nearby Ivory Coast shut its border, Mali would quickly run out of gasoline. In Abidjan, the capital of neighbouring Ivory Coast, the chair of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, called on his peers to send a message to the mutinous soldiers who charged through the capital, looting the presidential palace and sending into hiding the nation's democratically elected president.

Parents of slain black teenager on Capitol Hill
The parents of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black boy gunned down by a neighbourhood watch volunteer who believed he looked suspicious, are on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to attend a congressional forum looking into racial profiling and hate crimes. Their visit to the U.S. capital comes as the nationwide uproar over their unarmed son's death enters a sadly typical phase in many high-profile, emotionally charged American crime cases: blaming the victim.

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton believe their boy, wearing a hoodie and walking in a gated Florida community on a rainy February night, aroused George Zimmerman's suspicions because of his race. Mr. Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, says he acted in self-defence. He claims the boy beat him prior to the shooting after he followed Martin in his SUV despite a 9-11 dispatcher telling him not to do so. Mr. Martin and Mrs. Fulton have accused the man's lawyers and local police

of a smear campaign in recent days as investigators face an ever-growing barrage of criticism for failing make an arrest in the Feb. 26 shooting.

Chavez ahead in Venezuela poll
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has a solid 13-percentage point lead over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in the latest opinion poll ahead of October's election in the South American nation, but many voters remain undecided. The survey by respected local pollster Datanalisis found that 44 percent of voters favor Mr. Chavez compared to 31 percent for Democratic Unity coalition candidate Mr. Capriles. Mr. Chavez, 57, who is undergoing radiation therapy in Cuba after cancer surgery, remains popular into his 14th year in power due to his strong personal connection with the poor and heavy, oil-financed spending on welfare policies. Surveys consistently show that up to a third of Venezuelans are undecided, indicating there will be a fierce battle between the two sides to win them over on Oct. 7.

NYC to vote on Bombardier subway order
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to vote Wednesday on a US$599.5 million order for 300 subway cars from Bombardier. The transit agency's board will vote on a subcommittee's recommendation following a competitive bidding process to replace nearly 50-year-old cars used primarily on the city's C line. The order is the first purchase of new New York subway cars in three years. The cars will be built at Bombardier's train manufacturing facility in Plattsburgh, NY. They are scheduled to be delivered in 2014 and be put into service in 2015 to replace some of the city's oldest subway cars.

Passengers have repeatedly complained about the aging cars which frequently break down.

Canadian pipeline firm spends to alleviate bottlenecks
Canadian Pipeline builder Enbridge Inc. is investing nearly $4 billion in a new round of construction that will increase the flow of oilsands crude to the U.S. Gulf and help ease a bottleneck that has led to a glut of supply in the Midwest. Enbridge, Canada's largest transporter of crude, said early Tuesday it will expand its Flanagan South Pipeline from Flanagan, Il. to Cushing, OK. to a 36-inch diameter line with a capacity of 585,000 barrels per day. The Flanagan pipeline, expected to be in service by mid-2014,

will be built along the route of Enbridge's existing pipeline from southeast of Chicago to Oklahoma.

In a separate announcement, Enbridge said it will twin the jointly owned Seaway Pipeline from Cushing to the U.S. Gulf Coast at Houston, where crude is expected to start flowing in June. The new construction is intended to relieve a supply glut of oil in the middle of the U.S. and boost prices and producers' profits. Oversupply at Cushing, caused by ever-increasing domestic supplies, has been eroding the value of North American crude. Draining that oil to refineries along the coast would likely act to lift prices and increase producer revenue.

Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday: 12,512 - 63. Canadian dollar: US$1.00. Euro: $1.32. Oil: $107.17 + .14.