Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Former Quebec doctor charged with fraud worth 375 million dollars in U.S.

Jacques Roy had a medical licence to practice in the province of Quebec until 1995. Dr. Roy along with six other people are alleged to have bilked the U.S. Medicare system out of 375 million dollars.

The U.S. Deputy Attorney General said:"This represents the single largest fraud amount, orchestrated by one doctor, in the history of our Medicare fraud strike force operations," Apparently Roy created a false identity and billed for services he never provided.

Roy faces ten charges. If convicted he could serve up to 100 years in prison. Somehow I do not think that he will serve that long. He is already 52!

For much more on the details of Roy's fancy scheming see this CBC article. Roy worked in the Dallas Fort Worth area in Texas.

Four Canadians charged with illegal internet gambling by U.S. authorities

The Bodog gambling site has been shut down by U.S. federal prosecutors. Four Canadians have been charged including the founder of the site CalvinAyre.

The four are charged with illegal gambling. The site generated more than 100 million dollars in winnings the prosecutors claim. The domain name was seized a couple of days ago. These arrests follow prosecutions last year of three of the largest on-line poker websites.

Seventy five bank accounts in 14 countries have been frozen. The federal authorities have assessed 3 billion in fines and restitution as a result of those investigations.

If convicted the Canadians each face up to five years in prison for running an illegal gambling business and 20 years for money laundering. Ayer claims that Bodog UK, Europe and Asia have never taken bets from the U.S. He is consulting legal advisers to try to get his domain back. For much more seethis article.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Conservative changes to conditional sentence to cost taxpayers millions more

Kevin Page the parliamentary budget officer estimates that the proposed rule changes the Conservative government is making to conditional sentences will cost the Canadian taxpayer around 145 million extra per year.

Conditional sentences often called house arrest allows offenders to serve sentences in a community. A New Democratic Party member Joe Comartin requested Page to estimate the extra costs involved in changing conditional sentences.

Page is much disliked by the Conservative government because his findings often contradict those of the government. Often government departments refuse to cooperate with his investiagtions as well.

Page estimated that had the requirements of the Conservative bill (Bill C!0) been in place in 2008-9 the Federal government would have had to pay an additional 8 million and provincial government an extra 137 million.

Removing someone from house arrest and putting them in prison raises average costs from 2,600 to 41,000 dollars per annum. For more see this CBC article.

Trans Canada to build pipeline from Cushing Oklahoma to Gulf of Mexico in Texas

Although the entire Keystone XL pipeline is not approved, Trans Canada is planning to start work on extending a pipeline from Cushing Oklahoma to a Texas port while it awaits approval for the part from Canada to Nebraska.

The segment to Texas will cost about 2.3 billion. There is a glut of oil at Cushing Oklahoma and the new segment would allow the oil to flow down to Texas. Although rejecting the Keystone application Obama did say he supported an expanded shipping capacity between Cushing and the Gulf.

Jay Carney said that Obama welcomes Trans-Canada's plans. He also noted that Trans-Canada's new application for an altered route through Nebraska would be thoroughly assessed. Carney noted:"We support the company's interest in proceeding with this project, which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production, currently at an eight-year high,". "Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production." For more see this article.

Monday, February 27, 2012

13 year old referee ejects hockey mom and coach from game

There is zero tolerance for verbal abuse of officials in youth hockey. In QuispamasisNew Brunswick the police were actually called in after a 13-year-old referee ejected a coach and a hockey mom from the rink after being verbally abused.

The ejected coach of the Saint John Ice Cats was not answering questions today about the incident on Friday. Witnesses confirm that the referee was verbally abused by the coach and the hockey mom. The anti-abuse rule allows officials to stop the game until those responsible for the abuse leave the arena.

The police were called in to make sure that there were no problems when the young official left the arena after the game. The hockey mom involved said that as far as she is concerned the incident is over but that she had no regrets about her verbal jabs at the referee.

It used to be that abuse of officials was as accepted as fighting! For more see this article.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Deficit shrank last December on increased tax revenues

Canada was able to reduce its budget deficit to 17.69 billion from 27.37 billion during the first nine months of the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The reduction was achieved partly through higher tax revenues.

In December there was a 6.8 per cent jump in government revenues. As a result the deficit declined to 353 million compared to 1.35 billion in 2010.

Revenues rose a full 4.2 per cent over the first nine months of this fiscal year. Tax revenues accounted for most of the increase. But program expenses also declined by 1.8 per cent.

The Conservative government originally said it would eliminate the deficit by 2014-15 but not has moved the date to 2015-2016. This is probably a wise move as more severe cutbacks could cause the economy to go back into recession. The government predicts that in 2011-12 the deficit will be 31 billion but this is probably too high. Keeping the larger figure will allow the Conservatives to claim cutbacks that will be made in programs are needed because of the deficit. For more see this BNN article.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Two economists recommend extending sales tax to food and other exempt items

Economists Michael Smart of the University of Toronto and Jack Mintz of the U. of Calgary claim that the manner in which the Canadian government collect sales tax is among the most inefficient in the advanced world.

It would be much more efficient to tax food and thus make food more expensive for those who can least afford it. To be fair these worthies do recognise this and recommend that the sales tax rebate be increased to make up for the cost. So one forces the poor to apply for a rebate which they will only get some time after they have paid the taxes.

Governments could reap an extra 39 billion a year in revenue. Of course the economists do not suggest as an alternative that corporate taxes should be increased or the income tax made more progressive.

Michael Smart noted "The problem likely political rather than economic". Correct and if we wanted to be more efficient economically we would stop paying the huge costs of keeping the elderly alive during their final years when medical costs are highest. We might even consider recycling them as Soylent Green to be even more efficient. The problem with this would be political rather than economical. Of course the economists note that the increased cash could from taxing food could even be used to cut taxes in other areas!

The GST general sales tax has been quite unpopular. As Smart notes:"There is some evidence that taxpayers respond negatively to highly visible sales taxes on day-to-day purchases like groceries, and they may not perceive a link between sales tax base-broadening and enhancement of income tax credits." In their paper the economists suggest their own political spin. They recommend renaming the GST tax credit "The Food Tax Rebate". No doubt consumers would prefer not having their food taxed in the first place.

The economists say that value added or consumption taxes are preferable to other forms of taxation. Why? Because they are regressive in that the rich and poor pay the same percentage? Oh no! These economists are concerned that not taxing food subsidizes the rich! For more see this article.

Former Wheat Board directors lose bid to suspend new Wheat Board law

Eight former directors of the Canadian Wheat board lost their bid to suspend the new Conservative law that would end single desk selling by the board. Eight former members dismissed by the Conservative government had asked for an injunction suspending implementation of the law until Canadian courts had ruled on its validity.

The eight former directors argued that a referendum among western grain producers had to be held before the monopoly rule could be changed. They also argue that the changes will hurt Canadian farmers. The U.S. and big grain companies have been fighting to end the monopoly for years.

Otttawa abolished single desk sell in a law passed late last year and wants to have an open market in place for wheat and barley by this crop year. The former directors were elected by farmers but were terminated with the passage of the legislation by the Harper government.

The Wheat Board monopoly has been in place for Prairie Farmers since the 1940s. The Conservatives campaign promises included ending the monopoly even though a majority of farmers in a poll supported the board monopoly. The Conservatives also promised a referendum which was never held. The Conservatives claim their election was the referendum! Ironically the Conservatives have strong support on the prairies. For more see this article.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Students in Montreal protesting tuition hikes briefly close down bridge

Students in Montreal Quebec are protesting tuition hikes in post-secondary institutions in the province. The students briefly shut down Jacques Cartier Bridge before riot police dispersed them with some students being pepper sprayed. Police feared a massive traffic jam during rush hour.

The main protest consisted of up to 200,000 students. The large group marched through the downtown area with police keeping their distance. A smaller group blocked the bridge. Montreal police spokesman Daniel Fortier said:"(Protesters) blocked the bridge in both directions so the bridge wasn't open at all, so the riot team just dispersed the people,"

Organizer of the rally plan to protest in Quebec City the provincial capital next week at the national assembly. The provincial government plans to almost double fees over five years from the current in province rate of $2,200 to $3,800.

Students claim the increase will limit access to education which they hold should be a right. In some European countries such as Finland there are no fees for post-secondary education for resident students. However in Canada and no doubt in North America even the increased fees may seem like a bargain.

Protest spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said:"Increasing tuition fees means rejecting thousands of people from the universities of Quebec - persons who have the talent to study but may not be able to pay," "We think education is a right, we think everyone should go to university if they have the talent to do it and increasing tuition fees that fast is totally blocking that right." However, as in most of North America Quebec intends to increase student costs and ensure that students remain indebted after graduation.

Perhaps next government will discover that secondary education is expensive and perhaps the cost should also be placed on those who use the system! For more see this article.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More older workers entering Canadian labor market

In Canada older workers are entering the labor market in increasing numbers since the economic recovery began in 2009. Toronto Dominion economist Francis Fong noted that Canadians over 60 accounted for almost one-third of net job gains.

Even those over seventy gained. Employment among persons over seventy increased by a whopping 37 per cent with 55,000 jobs added. Even during the depth of the recent recession over 100,000 net jobs were added in the 60 plus age group.

During the same period those 59 and younger lost a half million jobs. Fong claimed that growth of jobs for older people has been common across advanced economies since 2000. Most of these jobs are in the service industry with the largest concentration in retail.

Many of these older workers have part-time jobs or are self-employed. Fong found that up to two-thirds of these older workers worked part-time by choice a sharp contrast with younger workers. Only 28 per cent of workers aged 25 to 54 worked part-time by choice.

However Fong said that many older workers may be working because they have not set enough money aside to retire fully. Fong said:"This is a trend that could become more prominent in the coming generations. Savings rates among current middle-aged and younger Canadians are extremely low relative to previous generations and financial returns are not expected to reach the same heights as in the 1980s and 1990s."

Government pensions will probably be cut back as well as governments try to trim deficits on the backs of pensioners. Governments are trying hard to lower expectations. For more see this article.

EU directive targeting Alberta tar sands oil as polluting blocked for now

After heavy lobbying by Canada and oil interests the EU parliament has for now blocked passage of a directive that would rank Alberta tar sands oil as a highly polluting source

Proponents of the bill could not muster a majority in favor. On the other side there was not a majority that could kill the bill. The proposal will go before a committee in the next months.

Britain, France and the Netherlands all of whom are host to giant oil companies abstained on the bill. These companies invest in the oil sands.

The Canadian Harper Conservative government has been lobbying for several years to prevent passage of this directive. Production of oil from the Tar Sands involves higher emissions than from conventional oil. It also poses problems for local water quality.

Alberta, oil producers and the Canadian government fear that the EU directive would provide a precedent for U.S. states to consider measures of the same sort. Companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell and others worry about the directive. Some have faced demands from shareholders that they disinvest from the Tar Sands.

Canada has said it will challenge any directive that is passed at the WTO. For more see the full article.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Canadian Shoppers Boost U.S. sales tax revenues

With the Canadian dollar being over or near par with the U.S. dollar many Canadians living close to the border are taking advantage of prices that are often lower in the U.S. In Erie County New York State Canadian shoppers are credited with helping to boost tax revenue over 400 million a record amount.

The county includes the City of Buffalo NY. just across the Ontario border. Sales taxes collected increased by 4.5 per cent for last year. The jump is to a considerable degree due to stronger retail sales generated by an increasing number of Canadian shoppers.

As a result of the sales tax revenue increases the county actually expects a 26 million dollar budgetary surplus. In a period of increasing budget deficits in many areas in the U.S. this is welcome news.

Canadian shoppers have complained that Canadian prices are often very much higher than in the U.S. even for identical items and when the two currencies are more or less at par. For more see this article.

Chief of Defense Defends Canadian submarine program

General Walter Natynczyk chief of the Canadian defence staff was busy defending the Canadian submarine fleet. He noted the ability of submarines to protect sovereignty and that it has formidable firepower. It is just not clear who the firepower would be ussed against. The U.S??. THe U.S. does not recognise the northwest passage as international waters. Are we likely to challenge them?

Natynczyk together with Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison the chief of Canada's navy spent about five hours on board a submarine as the vessel conducted diving trials.

The Canadian submarine program has been under fire since 4 used submarines were bought from the UK in 1998 for 750 million dollars. Ever since most of them have been in for repairs!

Most recently last June the HMCS Corner Brook damaged its hull after human error caused it to hit bottom. Dents prevent it from any deep sea diving.

The submarine involved in the training dives the HMCS Victoria also spent three years being refitted and having damage repaired. Even Natynczyk admitted that there had been problems in the program.

Submarines spent much of their time in repair and crews had no vessels on which to practice. Repairs have been quite expensive reportedly costing hundreds of millions of dollars. No doubt the UK were happy enough to ship the lemons over to their former colony! For more see this article.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Senegal: President Wade promotes neo-liberal policies

Leon Moorson of Queen's University Canada writes of Senegal and its autocratic leader who is the West''s man and promoter of neo-liberal policies.

President Abdoulaye Wade announced he will seek a third term in office sparking protests. In the first weeks of demonstrations six people have died. But Wade has served the west well so there are no news headlines condemning Wade and his new run for president.

At the same time as Wade made changes to the constitution that enlarged his own power he also opened the country to foreign investment. One scandal involving Wade is his commissioning of a huge statue outside the capital Dakar. It is 160 ft high and cost 27 million. Wade takes 35 per cent of fees collected from tourists who pay to view the statue. All the merchandising supposedly involves Wade's intellectual property!

While Wade has a strong ego his opposition is weak divided and often rooted only in narrow segments of the society. Moorson notes that the AU has become a springboard for neo-liberal policies in Africa.

NEPAD or New Partnership for African Development adopted by the AU is a means by which neo-liberal economic policy is being spread throughout the continent and Africa opened further to foreign investment. The agreement enshrines property rights for foreign firms, cuts taxe, creates tax free zones, and limits the rights of workers.

Senegal is often at the forefront of such reforms Interior minister Maitre Ngom noted that the World Bank ranked Senegal as the top reforming country in Africa and the fifth in the world. Of coruse the reforms have nothing to do with democracy just making conditions better for foreign investors. For more see this article.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Canadian climate modeller: Burning coal not oil is the real environmental danger

Andrew Weaver is a globally recognised climate modeller at the University of Victoria (British Columbia). Weaver has worked for the UN among others. Weaver calculates that emissions from burning oil from the Alberta oil sands would not make all that much difference to global warming.

What would make a considerable difference to global warming is if global coal resources are used to produce energy. As far as I am aware from talking to some economists that burning coal is much worse than oil as far as global warming is concerned was already well-known. However, this should hardly be used as an excuse to downplay the significance of dirty oil production.

The study does not really address the greater emissions generated in the production process in the oil sands nor does it even take into account the effects of that production on local water resources and its impact on aboriginal communities that depend on that water.

The Weaver study found that if all the oil sands were mined and burned the total carbon dioxide released would raise global temperatures about .36 degrees C but if only the commercially exploitable oil was burned the rise is just .03 of a degree.

In contrast burning all the globes coal deposits would raise the global temperature by a whopping 15 degrees. Even using all natural gas resources would raise the global temperature three degrees. However natural gas is much less polluting than burning heavy oil. It is just that there is a lot more natural gas to burn. The whole study really tells one very little especially over the shorter term.

What the study will do is provide supposedly scientific support for rapid expansion of production in the oil sands. Weaver actually sees his study as making evident the need to move away from use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. However politicians will spin the results to serve their own purposes. For more see the full article.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Scientists and journalists mount campaign against muzzling of Canadian federal scientists

In Vancouver at a meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science a campaign is being mounted by some Canadian scientists against attempts by the government to muzzle scientists working for the government.

Both journalists and scientists have joined the campaign. The group argues that citizens have a right to be informed about research that they as taxpayer's fund. It is essential they claim for citizens to make informed decisions about government policy.

The meeting featured a panel called: "Unmuzzling government scientists: How to re-open the discourse" The panel is part of a campaign by several groups including:Association des communicateurs scientifiques du Qu├ębec, the Association science et bien commun, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Canadian Science Writers' Association, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canadaand the World Federation of Science Journalists.

For its part the Canadian federal government claims that its scientists have access to the media. However, Gary Goodyear who is the minister of state for science and technology refused to attend the meeting as did all other government representatives invited to attend.

A veteran science journalist Margaret Munro said that for much of her career it had been easy to get access to federal scientists but of late the situation has changed dramatically. Government control she said has been taken to incredible extremes.

Federal scientists face layers upon layers of approval sometimes even up to the Privy Council Office. In the U.S. this would be equivalent to having to get permission from the WHite House. Approved interviews need to be taped and often approval is not given before deadlines or at all. A new policy demands that a department should speak with a single voice on issues. Obviously minority or critical opinions are simply vetted out of the system.

In the U.S. the situation has improved somewhat compared with that under the George W. Bush administration. For more detail see this article.


Vic Toews surprised by contents of his own surveillance bill

Vic Toews the Canadian Public Safety Minister has faced a harsh backlash over his own Conservative government's Bill C-30, a bill that would require internet service providers to turn over client information to law enforcement authorities without a warrant. Given that this is a prized Conservative bill one would think that the minister would know what was in it.

Toews was surprised by a section that in exceptional circumstances allows any police officer to request information about a customer from a service provider. Toews thought that such a request could only be made as part of a specific criminal investigation. Obviously the bill gives powers much more extensive than that.

Provincial Privacy Commissioners have been highly critical of the bill. The billl is called the 'Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act' even though the title is the only place where that issue is mentioned! This is pure political spin meant to take advantage at public revulsion over child predators roaming the internet.

Toews confirmed the bill will be sent to committee before second reading, which he said will allow for the opportunity to amend the bill beyond its original scope. The minister says that the opposition is welcome to present amendments but it remains to be seen how many if any the Conservative majority allows to pass. For much more see this article in the CBC.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Canadian seeks help exiting from Bahrain after acquittal of charges

Naser al-Raas is a Kuwaiti born Canadian citizen. He was arrested and accused of taking part in anti-government protests in Bahrain.

Although he won his case al-Raas maintains he was tortured in prison and fears that he will in fact be kidnapped at the airport as happened at the time of his original arrest. He had faced a five-year prison term if he had been convicted.

Al-Raas was on a two-week visit last March with his sisters and fiancee in Manama the capital. But at the airport as he was about to leave he was arrested.

Subsequently he was imprisoned and he claims was beaten with sticks and given electrci shocks. They also made him stand for hours he told a CBC reporter. He wants help from the Canadian embassy. He said:"Yes I requested Canadian counsel because I want someone to be with me at the airport, because that is where I was kidnapped. I was kidnapped and tortured at the airport. I need someone to make sure that I leave safely,"

Al-Raas feared for his health while in custody as he has a heart and lung condition. Prison officials took him to the hospital four times while he was in prison. In two cases he was already unconscious. Al-Raas in an engineer. For much more see this CBC article.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Canada Pension Plan hires former Goldman Sachs man to invest in Asian markets

 You might think that the Canada Pension Plan that holds investment funds that are used to pay government pensions to seniors might concentrate upon investing in Canada to help create jobs in Canada and use its funds to develop Canada. But the plan operators seem to take a global outlook and hence hired an ex-Goldman Sachs Banker Mark Machin.
   Machin will head the Asian Unit CPPIB Asia Inc. as of  March 19th. Machin was vice-Chairman for the Asia-Pacific (except Japan) at Goldman=Sachs. In an interview in Hong Kong the executive vie- president of Canada Pension said: “Our expectation is that our investments in Asia-Pacific will grow disproportionate to the upside of the total fund,”
   Machin will be based in Hong Kong. Canada Pension has already committed capital to funds that focus on Asia. Beyond equity Canada Pension is broadening investing into real estate and infrastructure in China, Australia, India and Japan. Some of this sounds rather risky for funds that are meant to issue a guaranteed stream of income for pensioners in the future. If there are problems and returns turn sour we will be told that Canadians are living beyond their means and need to lower expectations. Perhaps all that was needed was safer investments for our pension funds and investments that helped out Canada not emerging markets. For more see this article.

Many cell phone users suffer from nomophobia

No it has nothing to do with gays and lesbians. Nomophobia is fear of being without your cell phone. Nomophobia stands for no mobile phone phobia.

Apparently the fear is quite common. A survey by OnePoll found that 66 per cent of people suffer from nomophobia. The term nomophobia was first used in 2008 and according to the Daily Mail 53 per cent of people qualified as suffering from the phobia.

The OnePoll study surveyed 1,000 for the poll. The fear seems more common among younger groups. Those aged 18 t0 24 had a high 77 per cent reporting the fear whereas the fear dropped to 68 per cen among those 25 to 54. For those older than 55 the rate was 62 per cent. That is still over half though. For more see this CBC article. Forty one per cent of respondents actually had two or more cell phones to ensurre that they are connected to a network at all times.

There is a survey at the bottom of the article. The survey is in a CBC article so is probably a majority of Canadians. The results as of this writing were that just under ten per cent reported nomophobia.. 37 per cent thought being without a cell phone was inconvenient. 35 per cent said that it was no big problem and 18 per cent did not even have a cell phone.

I long ago jettisoned my ancient Motorola and have never replaced it. I only used it for emergencies. Now I rely on my wife being with me! I have a fear of owning a cell phone or yesmophobia.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Arsenic found in foods sweetened with organic brown rice syrup

    The use of organic brown rice syrup has a sweetener has been touted as a healthy alternative to using refined sugar as a sweetener. Some companies now manufacture products such as infant formula that replace sweeteners such as corn syrup with organic brown rice syrup. A new study indicates that the organic product may have problems as far as our health is concerned too.
   Arsenic is considered a toxic substance and potentially carcinogenic as well. Long term exposure to high levels of arsenic can cause increased risk of several types of cancer. Rice is quite efficient in taking up arsenic from the soil. No doubt the organic brown rice syrup studied must have been grown in areas where arsenic is contained naturally in the soil.
   Unfortunately, there are no U.S. or Canadian regulations that set maximum levels of arsenic in food. The authors of the study in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives write: "Our findings suggest that the organic brown rice syrup products we evaluated may introduce significant concentrations of inorganic arsenic to an individual's diet. Thus, we conclude that there is an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in food."
  Dr. Karl Kabasele CBC medical expert said that he would not say that organic brown rice syrup is unsafe. However he also noted that children exposed to high levels of arsenic in ground water had their growth and also their IQ effect. Hence he admits consuming large amounts of the syrup over a long period could be problematic. Obviously more studies need to be done and standards set in the light of those studies. For more see this article..

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Immigrants proudest to be Canadian

 Five organizations: CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) Environics Institute, Maytree, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and the RBC Foundation commission an Environics poll asking Canadians their views on citizenship. 2000 Canadians took part in the telephone poll.
   Most Canadians had no trouble with dual citizenship or with Canadians living abroad. When asked what made a person a good citizen the top five answers were: 1) obeying laws, 2) actively participating in the community, 3) helping other people 4) being tolerant of others, 5) adopting Canadian values. I am never sure what the last is supposed to mean. Having high debt levels?
   Of respondents born outside of Canada 88 per cent said they were proud to be Canadian. Of those born here only 81 per cent felt the same. However both are high approval ratings for Canada. Immigrants choose to come here and need to go through a lot of paper work and often frustrating waits as the bureaucracy struggles to get out of first gear. It is not surprising that they feel proud to have made it. Often too their position here is superior to that in their home country.
   Citizens who are born here really did not choose their home country and they had to do nothing to achieve citizenship so it is not too surprising that not as many feel proud of the country. For much more see this article.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ontario Judge Strikes Down Conservative Government Minimum Sentence Provision

 Anne Molloy an Ontario Superior Court judge said the Conservative Government's three year minimum sentence for possessing an illegal and loaded firearm was cruel and unusual punishment in the case of Leroy Smickle.
   Police burst into the apartment where he was staying as he posed taking photos of himself with a loaded, cocked, illegal handgun. The police were not even looking for Smickle but for his cousin who lived in the apartment. The gun Smickle was holding belonged to his cousin!
   Molloy noted that Smickle has no criminal record, that he was not in a public space and was not pointing the gun at anyone. Cruel and Unusual punishment she argued is in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She therefore sentenced him to a year of house arrest.
   When questioned in parliament the prime minister Stephen Harper said simply that Canadians think that courts are too soft on gun crimes. Although Molloy agreed that the government is well within its rights in increasing the severity of sentences to deter crimes but that judges ought to have the discretion to apply common sense in exceptional cases such as that of Smickle. For more see this article. No doubt the government will appeal the decision costing the taxpayer more money to feed the Conservative appetite for drastic measures.

Canada: New bill would allow police eavesdropping on individuals without warrants

   The Canadian Conservative government always depicts itself as on the moral high ground when it comes to legislation on crime. The new bill has the grandiose title: Protecting children from internet predators act. Only in the title are children and predators mentioned. In fact according to the CBC article the title appears to have been changed when the bill was sent to the printers.
   When the bill was introduced in the commons by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews the same theme was adopted of protecting children from internet pornography. Toews said: "I believe that unless this legislation is adopted, this will in fact allow child pornographers and organized crime to flourish,"
   The bill contains provisions that would require internet providers to give police information about subscribers. Earlier bills also demanded such information but the difference in this bill is that there is no warrant from a judge required. The police need not prove to anyone that the snooping is justified
   Police could demand names, phone numbers, and IP addresses. The bill could also force internet providers to allow a back door by which communications would be available to police. There is to be an internal audit of warrantless requests and a provision for review but only after five years.
   Toews received a great deal of flack for his comments that those who were critical of the bill   "can stand with the child pornographers." In spite of the Conservative hard line on crime they were on the wrong side of most police organisations when they voted to repeal the Canadian gun registry legislation. To be fair this legislation certainly had its faults. Now it seems that Conservative government is mending its relationship with the cops. After noting that it was no part of its business to comment on legislation the RCMP did exactly that: "While it is not the RCMP’s role to comment on pending legislation, the organization believes police need modern tools and resources to respond to the evolving nature of national and transnational crime, including terrorism,"
  Supporters of the bill note that in many respects the provisions bring Canada in line with most other economically advanced  countries such as the U.S. U.K. Australia, and Germany. In particular other countries already demand internet providers provide back door access for law enforcement agencies so they can snoop on suspects. Only Canada and Japan of the G8 remain behind in the period before the age of the progressive cyber snoop state.
    If a CBC poll and comments to be found here are any indication the vast majority of Canadians do not support the bill.Over 90 per cent disapproved of the bill and only 8 per cent were in favor at the time I wrote the article. You can still go and make your views known. For more see the entire CBC article.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Air Canada reaches tentative deal with dispatchers

 The deal is with the Canadian Airline Dispatchers Association that represents the 74 flight dispatchers. The group work in a control center near Pearson International Airport in Toronto. They assist preparations for arrivals and departures.
   The deal still needs to be ratified by the dispatchers and the board of Air Canada. Negotiations with unions in Air Canada seem to be going relatively well.
   Recently the airline reached agreement with 8,600 mechanics and others. Also on Saturday agreement was concluded with 75 crew schedulers.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Canadian company SNC-Lavalin had ties with Saadi Gadhafi

    Many companies in the west developed ties with the Gadaffi regime and had lucrative ongoing projects that were terminated by the civil war and consequent victory of the rebels. The Canadian company SNC-Lavalin a globally recognized engineering firm was among those companies who lost out when the Gadaffi regime fell.
    The company worked closely with Saadi Gadaffi the third son of the Libyan leader. From 2008 to 2010 SNC-Lavalin  helped develop the Libyan Corps of Engineers a unit that was personally supervised by Saadi.
   In their sales pitch to Libya the company touted the experience of Vice Admiral Ron Buck who was former head of the Canadian navy and their experience as a defense contractor. However the company claims it was only ever involved with civilian infrastructure projects. But the company was building a 275 million dollar prison project near Tripoli. Perhaps they can arrange to complete it through the new government as they are in need of prison capacity! The Canadian government had developed business relationships with Libya after the UN lifted its embargo in 2003. This happened under the Liberals as well as Conservatives.
    In 2010 SNC  had revenues of 418 million from its Libyan projects, six percent of total revenues. But now its relationship with the Gadaffi family are causing difficulties. One woman Cindy Vanier who was a consultant for the company has been arrested in Mexico in an alleged plot to smuggle family members into Mexico.
    Vanier was arrested in Mexico City back in November last year. Other people were arrested as well. Vanier was at the time arranging meetings with Mexican and SNC officials to discuss water projects in Mexico.
It is a long story and the company would like to get on with business and hope that everything gets smoothed over. For more see this article.   Ties between Libya and SNC are explored in this Globe and Mail article.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Canada signs multiple trade deals with China

  Given the large number of high profile business representatives who accompanied Stephen Harper on his visit to China the results are not surprising. This was meant to be a business trip. China needs our resources and Canadian companies are eager to expand markets especially into the rapidly growing Asian economies such as China.
      A CBC article here list ten of what it calls a blizzard of deals. However a main framework agreement is the FIPA (Foreign investment production and protection agreement). The agreement is simply a statement of intent and would need to be ratified by both governments. The agreement when completed will protect Canadian investments in China and Chinese investments in Canada. The agreement will give investors in either country confidence that their investments will be safe in the other country. Such agreements are common. Canada has such agreements with 24 other countries already.
    As well as this overarching agreement there were many agreements in specific areas. I will just mention a few. In agriculture there are agreements to restore Canada as an exporter of beef to China. Also, industrial beef tallow (fat) will now be allowed in. Until now Canada was excluded. China imports about 400 million in tallow each year. China has agreed to purchase more Canadian canola.
    There is agreement as well for collaboration between the two countries on sustainable research. Another welcome move is to collaborate on research to develop and protect National Parks with China's state forestry administration. For much more detail see the entire article. Of course China is very much interested in investing in Canadian resource industries such as the oil sector.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Harper in China for Big Business

   Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is visiting China. He is not alone. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is with him and also the Foreign Affairs Minister and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. The delegation will be in China from Feb. 8 to 11.
   Politicians are not the only members of the delegation. Big Business is well represented especially in the oil and gas area where there representatives from eight different companies. But other sectors are also represented with Air Canada, Bombardier, Manulife, and Scotiabank representatives in the group as well.
    Not long ago Chinese investment in Canada could be measured in the millions. Now it is about 20 billion. Harper is wisely enough trying to diversity his market for Canadian oil and gas. Now most exports are to the U.S. The Chinese for their part are eager to find sources of energy supplies for their fast growing economy.
     The NDP, the official opposition party, is not opposed to trade but thinks that Harper should  bring up the human rights situation in China. No doubt Harper will do so and he is expected to bring up Syria as an issue as well. Harper is staunchly anti-communist. His big business supporters are interested in profits not ideology or even human rights except in terms of public relations for the most part. The reality will be not only business as usual but a growing trade between China and Canada. For more see this article. China may loan us a couple of Panda bears.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Iran bans Simpson dolls

According to an Iranian newspaper the Insititute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults a government agency has added Simpson dolls to a list of dolls banned in the country.'

Barbie dolls are also banned in Iran. The dolls are banned for promoting Western Culture apparently. The report is in the Shargh daily newspaper. However no specific reasons were cited.

You would think that Homer would be a role model. He is a worker in a nuclear plant! Dolls in which genitals are distinguishable as well as dolls of adults are also banned in Iran. If all adult dolls are prohibited that seems a huge number of dolls. Only flat breasted female teen dolls are acceptable as well I should think.

This is all probably a plot by enterprising Iranian Revolutionary Guards to make money selling illegal western dolls at high prices. For more see this CBC article. Toy shops selling Barbie dolls have been closed down. No doubt the Barbie dolls were seized by these Revolutionary independent entrepreneurs and will appear on the black market.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Canada under Harper follows U.S. lead in increasing incarceration

   Brian Stewart is a Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Stewart has a long history as a senior reporter covering conflicts around the globe for about four decades now. In a recent CBC article he discusses the high rates of incarceration in the U.S. Finally, he notes that the Canadian government with a Conservative majority under Stephen Harper is following a similar path.
     Stewart calls the mass incarceration of millions of Americans one of the greatest scandals of our times. Yet little attention seems to be paid to it. The deficit and jobs are major domestic problems in the U.S. but the fact that the U.S. jails people at a rate seven times that of other developed nations seems neither here nor there.
     The U.S. with less than five per cent of the global population has 23 per cent of the prison population. At present 2,284,000 Americans are in prison with millions more under correctional supervision. Ron Paul with his campaign that would decriminalize recreational drug use is one of the few candidates to give even much thought to the problem.
     While Newt Gingrich has in the past advocated prison reform he has been notably silent on prison issues during debates. A common problem about even talking about reform for any politician is that they will depicted as soft on crime. Many fear this label could lose them support.
    In Canada the conservative government of Stephen Harper seems to be following in the U.S. path by building more prisons,  increasing penalties, and jailing more people. This is happening even as crime rates have been in decline. Some in the U.S. claim that declining crime rates there are a result of harsher penalties and more imprisonment. However as Stewart points out the declines are similar in both states with harsh criminal laws and those with less harsh laws.  In fact many studies suggest that crime rates depend much more on other factors than the severity of punishment whether harsh or relatively mild.
  Often rates of certain crimes can be altered by methods that have nothing to do with punishment. For example decriminalization of marijuana use and possession would eliminate one whole class of crimes. The Manitoba Public Insurance Co  has mandated anti-theft devices for many vehicles that have lowered the rate of auto theft substantially in Manitoba.The company pays for the devices since they save far more money than it costs to install the devices.  The devices make stealing the vehicle exceedingly difficult and this results in far fewer thefts For much more see the entire article here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Canada: Job growth slow in January

   While the U.S. employment situation is improving Canada is going in the opposite direction. Last month Canada managed to add only 2,300 job. Economists had been predicting that about 24,500 would be added. Unemployment edged up slightly to 7.6 per cent.
     Unemployment is rising in the Atlantic provinces and also Ontario with little change in other provinces. The construction area did not do well with the loss of 13,700 jobs after a decline the month before as well. In the technical, professional and scientific area there were 44,800 fewer jobs last month. This is an area of well paid jobs.
   The chief economist at Toronto Dominion Bank said: "These figures are consistent with an economy fighting to keep its head above water," Many economists believe that job growth will remain weak through 2012. However in the U.S. 243,000 jobs were added in January. This is far above what most analysts predicted and lowered the unemployment rate to the best level since 2009. For more see this CBC article.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Canada: More western oil may flow east

     Many might be surprised to know that from Quebec to the Maritime provinces most of Canada's oil is actually imported even though there is plenty of oil available in Western Canada. Every day Canada exports two thirds of the oil it produces mostly south to the U.S. At the same time it imports half the oil it uses.
   The claim is that it is cheaper to import oil in the east rather than transport it by pipeline from western Canada. However, as the price of oil increases this may change. Part of the problem is that Canada does not really have a national energy policy. One would think that for reasons of energy security alone Canada would ensure that domestic oil would flow into the east so that Canada was not dependent upon foreign oil.
   However, the west particularly Alberta is wary of a national energy policy. The last such policy was pursued in 1980 by Pierre Trudeau. The policy made Big Oil and Big Alberta hopping mad. It even included a publicly owned national oil company a no no to the big oil capitalists who run our oil enterprises for us. If a publicly company makes money it should be privatized as happened to Petro Canada. Profits are for corporations. For more see this article.
  Actually Canada does have a national energy policy. The first plank is to provide oil and gas and electric power to the U.S. NAFTA ensures this. Second is to ensure that the large energy corporations make money in their Canadian operations. Canada is now trying to increase production and enter Asian markets.