Friday, March 30, 2012

Canadians to be penniless soon

The Conservative government's budget has provisions that would see production of the one penny coin ends this fall. However, they will continue to be accepted at banks and for cash transactions. So as expected the Conservative budget will leave Canadians penniless. It will just take a little time.

The penny now has about 5 per cent of its original purchasing power. It costs 1.6 cents to produce one penny. This is one case when minting new money costs the government! A government statement said the penny was a burden on the economy.

A 2008 study by the Desjardins bank claims that the lowly penny costs the Canadian economy about 150 million dollars just in the one year 2006. The cost of processing 9 billion pennies a year to the big banks is 20 million dollars.

Prices will be rounded to the nearest nickel. Probably most businesses will round out to the nearest nickel upwards. However, studies in such countries as Norway, Australia, and New Zealand indicate that eliminating the penny did not lead to systemic price increases. The liquidation of the penny may set the stage for the demise of the nickel if not the dime. The nickel has already gone in New Zealand. For more see this article.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Massive Montreal student protests once again over tuition hikes

Quebec students many in colorful costumes starting from several locations and taking several different routes wound through Montreal streets this afternoon. The protests are to go on until evening.

Today's protests (March 29) are just another of many almost daily protests some of which have involved clashes with police. According to the student group organizing the protest over 300,000 students are now on strike protesting against projected fee hikes to be imposed by the Quebec Liberal provincial government. The students are striking in spite of the fact that Quebec tuition fees are the lowest in Canada at present. The student organizations favor free tuition as is still prevalent in some European countries.

The protesters have blocked access to Montreal's main courthouse for some time, clogged a number of boulevards and apparently vandalized some police cars. There are plans to block downtown roadways. This is not likely to produce sympathy for their cause from motorists.

Most of the protesters were masked. This fits in with the theme picked by organizers of the Charivari an old folk tradition. It included noisemaking and mockery. No doubt the masks make it difficult for police to identify protesters as well!

Montreal police released a map of the four different routes planned by demonstrators. The police also issued a set of rules "for a successful demonstration". Protesters were urged to leave an area if and when the police declared the demonstration illegal. Demonstrators have been known to ignore such warnings! For more see this CBC article.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Alberta to receive 1.2 trillion in oil royalties over next 35 years

At least that is the amount calculated by the Canadian Energy Research Institute. At the same time royalties increase so do emissions from oil and gas extraction. Emission amounts are expected to triple over the same time period. See this article.

No doubt Albertans will welcome these projections. The province should be able to have budget surpluses and low taxes. The Institute predicts that oil production will rise from the present 1.6 million barrels a day to 5.4 million barrels a day by 2045.

The report of the Institute notes:“While technological innovation within the oil sands industry (in addition to carbon capture and storage) is expected to help reduce these emissions, the emissions are still expected to rise,” Carbon emissions are projected to increase from 45 million tonnes annually to 159 million tonnes by 2045.

Alberta has roughly 170 million barrels of proven oil reserves. This is the world's third largest supply. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have greater reserves. For much more see the full article.

These projections are far into the future. One would hope that by then there would be a much greater proportion of our energy needs supplied by alternative sources. Perhaps by 2045 extraction of oil from the Tar Sands will be uneconomic. Otherwise with the increased emissions our planet will be damaged more than 1.2 trillion could ever fix.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Cat Reporter at the NDP convention

This is a funny video a sort of takeoff on some right-wing cliches about the New Democratic Party. The reference to socialised medicine being forced on Canadians fifty or so years ago refers not to the NDP but its predecessor the CCF (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation) which initiated the first universal health care system in North America in the province of Saskatchewan.

The colour orange is associated with the NDP and is predominant in their signs. The surge in voter support for the party in the last election was called the Orange Crush. The cat reporter plays on this.

The video is produced by Rabble has a number of accounts of the convention some favorable but others critical. Murray Dobbin has a very caustic article on the choice of Thomas Mulcair as leader. His article is here.

The NDP has been moving right for years. Given that it is now the official opposition its main emphasis will be to become the government. To this end it will do whatever it thinks will attract the necessary votes. There is a socialist caucus within the membership but it remains to be seen if it will have much influence over policy.

CEO of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin resigns over questionable payments

Pierre Duhaime CEO of the huge Montreal-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin has resigned. The firm has started an internal probe into payments by some top executives that breached the company's code of ethics and were not properly authorised.

The company reported a 52 % drop in profits in the last quarter. The company had many projects in Libya under Gadaffi. Company share prices fell when the internal investigation was announced.

Investigators claim that Duhaime authorized payments totaling $56 million that were against the company's code of ethics.. The company's chief financial officer and chairman both objected to the payments but to no avail.

There have been allegations that the payments were to agents in Libya and Tunisia. The chairman of the board however says that the payments are unrelated to either country.

The firm has been investigating close ties between some of their executives and officials in the former Gadaffi regime. Earlier the firm was connected with an alleged attempt to smuggle some members of the Gadaffi family into Mexico.The RCMP(Royal Canadian Mounted Police) are also investigating some former SNC Lavalin executives in connection with the alleged plot. So far no one has been charged and no wrongdoing has been proved. However, the accusations have been disastrous for the firm. For more see this CBC article.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thomas Mulcair new leader of official opposition New Democratic Party

  After four rounds of  balloting Thomas Mulcair finally defeated Brian Topp to become the new leader of the New Democratic Party. On the final ballot Mulcair received 33,881 votes to 25,329 for Topp. The Montreal MP was able to win despite that Brian Topp had the endorsement of many high profile MPs and the former party leader Ed Broadbent. However Mulcair was believed to be the front runner.
   After the third ballot quite a few MPs supported Mulcair after their favorites were defeated or were eliminated. There was on-line voting but the vote had to be extended several times to allow more time to vote. Apparently there were attacks on the system although the system was apparently not hacked.  Brad Lavigne a senior party official say that two IP addresses suspected in the attacks have been identified.
     The NDP has a strong contingent of  MPs from Quebec where Mulcair has considerable influence. However Mulcair wants to bring more people into the party and expand its base. In effect this will meaning turning the party to the right. The politically correct description though is moving towards the middle. Former leader and elder statesman of the party Ed Broadbent was sharply critical of Mulcair. For the most part however the 7 candidates refrained from sharp criticisms of their running mates. Everyone must live together afterwards. The Liberals and Conservatives always like to make note of such criticisms and use them for their own ends in election campaigns. For more see this article.

Mayors ask Harper government to intervene in Air Canada , Aveos dispute

Mayors of the three cities of Montreal Quebec, Winnipeg Manitoba, and Mississauga Ont. have jointly asked the Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call for a meeting between Aveos and Air Canada. The idea is to keep Aveos operating so as to save jobs.
The three mayors say they have spoken to the president of Air Canada and he said we would participate in such discussions. Aveos has ceased operations terminating 3,300 jobs.
The mayors claim that Air Canada has an obligation to keep main the repair services under the terms of the Air Canada Public Participation Act. Air Canada has begun outsourcing maintenance. Some maintenance is now done in China.For more see this CBC article.
When Air Canada was privatized an Act was passed that imposed certain obligations on the privatized company. Dave Ritchie who is Canadian General Vice President of the IAMAW explains the situation this way.:“The act stipulates that Air Canada must maintain aircraft heavy maintenance facilities or have such work performed at facilities in Winnipeg, Mississauga and Montreal,” Aveos had aircraft maintenance facilities in all three cities.. But now Ritchie claims:“Since Air Canada is pulling this work from these facilities and seeking alternative suppliers, AVEOS has subsequently ceased operations affecting 1,785 highly skilled workers in Montreal, 412 in Winnipeg and 356 in Vancouver,”
The union took Air Canada to court when it privatized its maintenance work. Ritchie goes on:. “This is exactly why we took Air Canada to court when it sold its maintenance unit to Aveos. We knew this could happen and now it has. Air Canada has an obligation to these workers, their families and the Air Canada Public Participation Act.” Apparently their obligation to make a profit and please their shareholders takes priority. See this article.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wildcat strike causes flight disruptions and cancellations at Toronto Pearson Airport.

Both ground staff and baggage handlers went on a wildcat strike on Thursday night int Toronto after Air Canada suspended three staff who apparently applauded sarcastically as Labor Minister Lisa Raitt walked through the airport. The government has drafted legislation that would force workers back to work.

Today Air Canada obtained an injunction to force the strikers back to work. However the work stoppage had already caused flight delays and cancellation and general chaos. Passengers were left hunting for their bags!

Air Canada has multiple labor problems both with pilots, mechanics and ground crew. Earlier flight attendants had to be legislated back to work. The attendants even rejected a contract agreed to by their union.

Flights were cancelled to Halifax but even to U.S. cities such as Washington and also to Tokyo Japan. These cancellations had a domino effect at other airports. Both union and company agreed no one will lose their job over the incident and there will be no legal action. For more see this article.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Quebec students protest university fee hikes

Quebec students pay the lowest tuition fees in Canada but this does not deter Quebec students who are militant in defending low tuition fees. The highest tuition fees are in the province next door Ontario.

Students claim that they want to keep university education accessible to all. In North America such an idea will be called Utopian but in many European countries it is still reality even in some smaller hardly rich countries such as Finland where there are no post secondary fees. While primary and secondary education are still free of tuition fees when it comes to post-secondary education fees are so high that many students are either unable to attend or saddled with huge debts after they graduate.

Tens of thousands of students are expected to rally in Montreal and Quebec City to protest the projected 75 per cent increase in fees. The Liberal government of Jean Charest introduced the fees in the budget.

About 100,000 students at Quebec universities and CEGEPS (junior colleges, pre university) have walked out of classes since mid-February in protest at the projected fee increases. So far there is no communication between government and students apparently.

At present a Quebec student pays an average of $2,519 dollars per year. When fully phased in over several years the increases will add 1,625 on average. Newfoundland-Labrador fees are almost as low at $2,649 per year. Ontario is the most expensive at 6,640 dollars on average. There has been a 23 per cent increase in 4 years.

The CBC asks if tuition fees across Canada are fair in a poll. Of course not just look at Finland. If we all had the Finnish fee system it would be fair. For more see this article. No doubt these fees look like small potatoes compared to some of the fees in U.S. universities.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Workers protest job losses at Quebec legislature

Aveos an aircraft maintenance and repair company is liquidating the company with the loss of 1800 jobs in Montreal alone. There are branches in Vancouver and Winnipeg as well.

Workers from the Montreal plant are massing at Quebec province's national assembly in Quebec city. They are requesting the government to take legal action to save their jobs.

A union representative said:."It's a mood of desolation," "It's like having another big slap in the face…. Yesterday we had the bad news that Aveos is finally bankrupt, and it's gonna be liquidated. So what does it say to us? It says everybody is out of a job. But you know, we're talking about 1,800 jobs in Quebec, and around 3,000 for the rest of the country.""

The union blames Air Canada for the situation. Originally Aveos was a company that was part of Air Canada itself. Some time after being privatized Air Canada hived off its maintenance to the new company Aveos with many former workers employed there. No doubt to save money. Now it seems that Air Canada is finding even cheaper places to have maintenance done such as China. As a result the company is cutting Aveos out of its maintenance program which was 90 per cent of Aveos work.

Air Canada offered 15 million to keep the company going according to company officials. Aveos too blamed Air Canada for its troubles. A company statement said:"Since the beginning of the year, [Aveos's] principal customer reduced, deferred and cancelled maintenance work, which resulted in approximately $16 million in lost revenue in less than two months,""While Aveos remained ready, willing and able to perform such work, such work did not materialize. This was a devastating blow to Aveos." No doubt Air Canada hoped to switch over to cheaper maintenance operators for some time but did not expect this sudden public relations disaster to be added to its labor problems.

Pilots for Air Canada have been calling in sick. The company planned to lock the pilots out but the government stepped in and now has back to work legislation ready. Cargo handlers and ground crews were also set to strike. No sign of any end to the turbulence. For more see this article.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wildrose Party campaign bus feature soft porn of Danielle Smith

 Alberta tends to be an all or nothing state as far as parties are concerned usually electing large majorities for the winning party almost invariably some brand of conservative leaning party at least in recent times.

The leader of the Wildrose party Danielle Smith is facing another woman leader of the Progressive Conservatives Alison Redford. The main opposition on the left is the New Democratic Party.

As the Wildrose campaign bus was rolled out people soon noticed that the placement of Smith's picture was quite remarkable. Her head and shoulders are directly above the big back wheels of the bus framing them and it appears the wheels might be part of her anatomy! There has been enough negative reaction that the party has announced that her photo on the bus will be changed. Maybe the NDP opposition planned this!

Although Wildrose candidate Shannon Stubbs told CBC that the photo would be changed she said appropriately:"Albertans are going to want to talk about the challenges of the province, rather than pictures on the side of a campaign bus." However, it seems that photos on the bus and campaign gaffes will always be a subject of conversation as well. Even on so serious a news service as All Voices.

For more see this CBC article or the Globe and Mail. I have included a video of the bus from CBC television. The election is expected some time near the end of April. I predict the Progressive Conservatives will win!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Air Canada suffers more turbulence as maintenance company crashes

About two hundred workers from the maintenance company Aveos have closed off access to the head office of Air Canada in Montreal near the Trudeau Airport. The company shut down suddenly without notice to workers. The company performed maintenance work for Air Canada.

Air Canada was about to lock out pilots and also faced a strike by ground crews when the government intervened. In protest pilots have been calling in sick causing some flight delays over the weekend.

On Sunday the Aveos locked out at least 2,400 staff at plants in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and the largest in Montreal. In Montreal about 200 workers blocked a road into Air Canada offices. They held signs calling on the government to intervene. They prevented Air Canada workers from entering the offices. The company has about 1800 affected staff in Montreal plus 350 in Winnipeg and 250 in Vancouver. All were locked out.

Originally Air Canada maintenance was carried out by a division of the company itself Air Canada Technical Services. As often happens to save money the company formed an independent company in 2007 and renamed Aveos the next year. They had a contract for maintenance up to 2014. Air Canada was the firms largest customer.

As is common these days, Air Canada has been contracting out even further afield and no doubt at cheaper rates. Air Canada is now sub-contracting out maintenance of landing gear and engines to other companies including Chinese providers. No doubt this has made Aveo unprofitable. For more see this CBC article, and also here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Irish migrate to Canada fleeing Ireland's economic depression

At the end of 2011 more than 5,200 temporary workers arrived in Canada from Ireland. This is almost 1,000 more than in 2010.

However, the total number of workers from other countries such as the Philippines is in absolute terms much larger. Even so Canada is now one of the destinations of choice for Irish workers who face a dismal job situation at home. The Irish unemployment rate is around 15 per cent. This is actually much better than Spain or Greece.

Formerly the U.S. was one of the favorite destinations of the Irish but U.S. immigration policy seems to have led to Irish to choose other destinations including Australia as well as Canada. A New York Daily News column lamented:"Today, however, our country is being deprived of the talent of the best and brightest of Ireland's young,"

Some provinces such as Saskatchewan have actively tried to attract Irish immigrants. Premier Wall visited Ireland a month ago with business leaders and attended job fairs hoping to find applicants for vacant positions.

Actually not that many of the Irish temporary workers end up staying in Canada. Only 665 Irish workers became permanent residents last year. This is not a significant number compared to about 20,500 Filipino immigrants on average who came every year to Canada between 2001 to 2006. For more see this CBC article

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Air Canada flights cancelled or delayed as pilots call in sick

In the typical obfuscatory lingo of corporations Air Canda reports that it is facing "a number of operational challenges" as pilots are reporting in sick due to fatigue etc. In reality they are simply expressing their unhappiness with facing a lockout and now back to work legislation.

Flights between Montreal and other cities such as Toronto, Halifax, and even some U.S. destinations. The airline a few days ago suggesting that the pilots might take this type of action. Air Canada faces labor problems with ground crews and baggage handlers as well as pilots.

The Conservative government has already passed a back-to-work bill through Senate. The bill send both Air Canada disputes with its unions to binding arbitration. For more see this CBC article. The issue is also covered her in the Globe and Mail.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Montreal protest turns violent 200 arrested

The anti-police brutality march is an annual event in Montreal and by tradition it is raucous. The organizers did not provide police with a map of the route of the march as many protest organizers do.

The event provides good grist for the media mills but does little to help the cause of many who have good grounds for complaining about police behavior in particular the many students who have been regularly protesting about student fee hikes.

Some protesters threw objects at police, looted some stores, and smashed two police cars. I have included a video of one of the cars being wrecked. Quite a few of the participants have their faces clearly visible. They may be arrested and charged I expect. The video headline talks of the Black Bloc anarchist group. As I understand it members of that group would cover themselves up to avoid being identified.

There was a crowd of about 1000 people and about 200 people were arrested. Ten officers were injured. The article does not say how many if any protesters were injured. The arrest numbers are down slightly from last year when 258 were taken into custody.

In an unusual move police actually invited media beforehand to headquarters to explain what their tactics would be to deal with the demonstration. Usually police are secretive about such matters in order not to alert protesters as to what is up.

The violent tactics and injured police officers will no doubt call more attention to protester violence than to police brutality. For more see this article.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Canadian oil companies suffer from glut of oil in U.S. storage.

While gas at the pumps is going up, there is also a glut of oil as more and more goes into storage at Cushing Oklahoma. The result is that the gap between the price received for Canadian produced oil and European Brent priced oil is increasing.

Senior oil analyst Roger McKnight notes::"Canadian oil sands are getting about a $30 US a barrel discount to West Texas Intermediate (WTI). Brent crude buyers are paying WTI plus about $15 a barrel," "The reason for that spread is there is nowhere for the stuff to go because of the bottleneck at Cushing, Oklahoma which is the trading end point." This explains why there is such a rush to complete a pipeline from Cushing to Texas and the Gulf Coast.

Inventories are accumulating at this storage point. The situation is exacerbated as production is increasing in Montana, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan. McKnight claims the glut will become worse. This may be bad news for the oil companies but it is at least possible the glut might drive the price of oil down. However, I would not count on it! For more see this BNN article.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rare earth deposits occur in Canada and many other places besides China

Rare earth mineral deposits are actually widely dispersed throughout the globe. There are deposits in Canada and several companies are active including Great Western Minerals of Saskatoon and Matamec Explorations of Montreal. Great Western has some of the highest grade ores and a mill operating in the UK. For other Canadian companies see the full article.

The reason that China provides over 95 per cent of the minerals has to do with the fact that China committed to production and was able to produce and sell the minerals very cheaply. It made little sense to other potential producers to try to compete. Most of those that tried lost money. Users were quite happy since prices were low.

But with Chinese restriction of exports two companies that are close to full production are set to compete and prices could trend downward again. One company U.S.-based in Colorado, Molycorp Inc is set to restart a California mine. In Australia Lyna Corp hopes to have full production in a Malaysian mine by the end of this year.

Already prices of some of the metals have fallen far from their peaks. Lanthanum and cerium went from a few dollars for a kilogram in 2010 to more than 150 a kilogram in 2011. However at present the price is only about a third of that at 50 dollars a kilogram. In a few years it is expected to be about 4 dollars a kilogram as new mines come on line. For much more see the full Globe and Mail article.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Budget to cut public service jobs

In keeping with the ideology of the Conservative government the Treasury Board president Tony Clement said that the coming budget will represent a culture shift from "spending enablers" to "cost containers," .

Clement has the task of cutting from 4 to 8 billion from the budget. This is all part of the plan to reduce the deficit and balance the budget. Clement was speaking a Conservative gathering in Ottawa.

Clement said that the government plans will face opposition from public sector union bosses along with the New Democratic Party opposition. Of the NDP he said their only solution is to hire more, tax more, and spend more.

The NDP responded that the Conservatives were out to cut services and reduce the capacity of government to help people. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty maintained that the budget would not contain any draconian measures. This is probably true in that the Conservatives do not want create too much of a voter backlash through their cuts.

In fact some critics complain that the Conservatives are actually buying off the civil servants whose jobs are being cut by providing generous severance provisions. The Canadian Tax Federation a right wing group that used to be headed by the prime minister complains that the severance provisions are far too costly and generous and may almost balance out the savings. See this article.

A report to the government reads:"We are conscious that the Public Service is on the verge of significant changes, driven in part by the immediate requirements of deficit reduction, but also by a more fundamental need to renew public institutions for the future," . As is happening in many countries government services are to be cut and jobs lost. The report notes specifically:"One of the major tasks that senior leaders will face is the deliberate downsizing of the Public Service," For much more see the entire CBC article..

Dick Cheney cancels Toronto speech due to security concerns

Cheney the former U.S. vice-president cancelled a speaking engagement. Last fall there were demonstrations when he visited Vancouver. Now apparently he fears that his visit would encourage even more demonstrations.

Protesters during his Vancouver visit denounced Cheney as a war criminal. Critics accuse Cheney of sanctioning water boarding and other harsh interrogation methods while serving in the Bush administration.

Cheney was to talk at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto on April 24th. After talking with his security advisers Cheney decided not to attend the event. At the Vancouver event protesters managed to block access to the exclusive Vancouver Club where Cheney spoke at a 500 dollar per plate event. Cheney was forced to stay in the club for five hours while police cleared away protesters.

Up to 5,000 were expected at the Toronto talk. Tickets were being sold at prices from 79 dollars to 595 dollars. Even retired U.S. politicians do not come cheap.

Human Rights watch had urged that Cheney be arrested and criminal charges laid against him when he entered Canada accusing him of being involved in the torture of detainees. The NDP immigration critic said that Cheney should not have been allowed into Canada. Now he has agreed to stay out voluntarily. Cheney claims the harsh interrogation techniques saved many lives and are justified. For more see this Globe and Mail article.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Canada's largest grain handler Viterra ripe for foreign takeover

International capital is circling around Viterra Canada's largest grain handler just waiting to gobble it up now that it has become more valuable after the Canadian Conservative government has broken the monopsony of the Canadian Wheat Board. Viterra itself is now itself part of the global conglomerates involved in grain handling. Viterra has operations in the U.S. New Zealand and Australia and even China and has expanded into areas such as food processing.

A UK paper reports that a Swiss firm Glencore PLC has made a bid of 5.5 billion dollars for Viterra. The Wall Street journal also reports that the huge U.S. based agribusiness Cargill Inc. is also interested in buying Viterra.

On Friday Viterra share surged almost 25 per cent. Viterra will also benefit by the eliminationof the Wheat Board control over marketing western wheat and barley.

The formation of Viterra itself is the culmination of the complete destruction of farmer controlled Pools that were begun during the depression and even before to protect farmers from the power of giant grain buyers such as Cargill. However, first the Alberta Wheat Pool and the Manitoba Wheat Pools were merged and privatized as Agricore and finally the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool also ended up privatized as Viterra which is a merger of Sask. Wheat Pool and Agricore. For more about the Pools see this article. and this. Now all these farmer-controlled institutions are replaced by Viterra the sort of giant that farmers in the early part of the century were protecting themselves from! It is only fitting that the company be taken over by another competing giant to help form an oligopoly that has the power to dictate prices to farmers. For much more see this CBC article.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Conservative Government readies Air Canada back to work legislation

As early as this week the Conservative Federal Government has indicated that it will have back to work legislation that would force striking and locked out employees back to work.

Air Canada made a surprise move to lock out its pilots. This combined with a looming strike by another union representing ground workers led Labour Minister Lis Raitt referred the issue to the Canada Industrial Relations board. This move prevented the strike and lockout and meant that travel was not interrupted during the March break.

However the government wants something in place once the board gives its opinion on the issue. The Liberal leader Bob Rae tweeted:"If the government feels Air Canada is an essential service, they have to provide a fair arbitration process," The new bill could be table in parliament as early as this Tuesday.

David Ritchie Canadian vice-president of the International Machinists and Aerospace workers said:"And once again the heavy-handed government is upon us," Labour Minister Raitt defended the government move:"We know a work stoppage there is going to cause difficulty for the Canadian economy," "It's also going to cause difficulty for Canadian families on March break.""You're going to have a million passengers flying Air Canada in the next 10 days," The Conservative government no doubt has a political winner. No doubt a majority of the general public is probably in favor of no disruption over the rights of union workers to strike.

Stephen Harper our prime minister joined the chorus:"I'll be darned if we will now sit by and let the airline shut itself down," For more see this CBC article.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Stephen Harper and Jean Charest fight on behalf of asbestos industry

Even though there is plenty of evidence of the health risks of asbestos our Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Liberal Premier Jean Charest have been trying to have two Quebec mines reopen to export even more of the material to countries such as India and Indonesia.In those countries working with the asbestos often brings misery or even death to poor workers. The asbestos is a known cause of a type of lung cancer.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has supported the industry and in particular Christian Paradis a Conservative MP who represents a riding that contains Canada's last two remaining asbestos mines. The mines are both closed at present. Paradis wants them re-opened.

Paradis dismisses the evidence of international health experts on the matter. Many Canadian miners suffered from ailments caused by contact with asbestos and many died as a result. To show his support for Paradis Harper promoted him to Industry Minister.

The Liberal provincial government of Jean Charest went even further and approved a 58 million dollar loan to help open the mines if another 25 million will be put up by private investors. In spite of optimistic announcements that the money is forthcoming the negative reaction to the idea of reopening the mines may have frightened investors away.

The health agencies in Quebec, the national Canadian Labour Congress, the CNTU all oppose opening the mines. The Quebec Federation of Labour supports the re-opening although many of its individual unions have opposed this For much more see this Globe and Mail article.

Canada had trade surplus in January but it is declining

Although Canada had a trade surplus for the third month in a row in January the surplus is declining. In December the surplus was 2.86 billion dollars but this shrank to 2.1 billion in January of 2012.

Exports declined by 2.3 per cent on lower shipment of industrial goods and materials as well as some precious metals. However energy exports increased as more crude oil was shipped out mostly to the U.S.

Imports also fell slightly by .6 per cent. An exception was automotive products which rose considerably by 7 per cent.

The U.S. Canada's largest trading partner accounts for almost three-quarters of Canada's exports. In January exports to the U.S. rose slightly up .3 per cent while imports fell by the same amount. Canada's surplus with the U.S. increased to 6.07 billion. This is the highest level since October of 2000. For more see this Globe and Mail article.

Friday, March 9, 2012

100 year old B.C. speedster let off with a warning

In Saanich B.C. a suburb of the city of Victoria in B.C. a driver was clocked doing almost the double the speed limit in a school zone. School zone speed limits are just 30 km per hour (about 18 miles per hour).

The officer who pulled him over decided against issuing a ticket. He gave him only a warning. Why?

The officer found that the driver had just been issued a five year renewal on his driving licence. The driver was 100 years old so he had just repassed his driver's test. He had a spotless record.

Even so, at 100 surely the driver should be slowing down not speeding up. For more see this CBC article.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Air Canada Dispute referred to Canadian Industrial Relations Board

  Lisa Raitt  the Labour Minister in the Conservative government referred the dispute between Air Canada and two unions to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. The two unions represent pilots and ground staff.
 This move will prevent a strike by ground staff and a lockout of pilots by Air Canada. No doubt Air Canada deliberately planned the lockout to ensure the government would step in as it has done.
   Raitt will ask the Board what effects work stoppage would have in terms of health and safety concerns. Air Canada has a responsibility to fly into certain remote areas. While the Board investigates the union cannot strike nor can Air Canada implement a lockout.
   Raitt has not yet suggested that the government would force both unions back to work through legislation. Raitt said:. "The best deal they get is the one they do themselves,"   The ground workers union is already assembling a bargaining team to resume negotiations with Air Canada. The Pilots' Association is also meeting with Air Canada officials. For more see this article.

Dutch-Canadian model wins big hips lawsuit

Ananda Marchildon, who holds dual Dutch and Canadian citizenship, won a TV contest on Holland's Next Top Model. The prize was provided by Elite Model Management. It was a three-year contract worth $98,000 dollars.

However after just 13,000 worth of work she was dismissed. On what grounds?

After she had won the contest management decided that the maximum hip measurement for their models would be 90 cm. Marchildon measures 94 cm. Therefore, the would not give her any more work.

However an Amsterdam District court ruled that she is entitled to the full 98,000 originally promised. A Dutch underwear company hired Marchildon for a one time shot. A company official said:"" Marchildon is a beautiful woman and shouldn't have to starve herself."" For more see this CBC article.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Air Canada workers may go on strike Monday (March 12)

As early as next Monday over 8,000 unionized workers representing mechanics, cargo agents, and baggage handlers could go on strike. The Federal Government says that a strike would not be in the best interests of Canadians.

The federal Labour Minister Lisa Platt said:"The government is concerned that a strike is possible and is taking this situation very seriously,"? In 2003 and 2004 the union gave many concessions to save Air Canada from bankruptcy. It is no trying to recoup some of the union losses.

However, Air Canada is again suffering losses while its main competitor Westjet is doing better. Air Canada has lost 249 million for the year. The Conservative government legislated postal workers back to work last summer. Some speculate that the government could also force Air Canada workers back to work so that travel is not disrupted during the March break. So far however the labour minister has simply urged the two parties to reach an agreement. For more see this article.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Drivers complain of being fined for cell phone use when not using them

Two different drivers in Winnipeg Manitoba complain that they received tickets for driving while using their cell phones when they were not using them. It is illegal to drive while using your cell phone in Manitoba.

One driver Laszlo Piszker were pulled over by two police officers in Winnipeg. Piszker told the officers to search the car for a cell phone. He claims that he does not even have a cell phone.

The officers issued him a ticket for $199.80 anyway. He says that the officers were nasty both to him and his wife. The 74 year old claims to be so technically challenged he could not use a cell phone even if he had one.

The couple immediately went to a nearby police station to complain. He said the officer laughed. The officer suggested that the officers must have been trying to fill a quota. A two hundred dollar ticket is hardly a laughing matter.

The couple will fight the ticket in court. I would not be surprised if the officers fail to show and the ticket will be thrown out.

Another Winnipeg motorist Jody Nelson also reported receiving a ticket for using his cell phone while driving. He said that he was not using it at the time. The officer provided him with no explanation claims Nelson and would not give his badge number either.

Nelson said he would fight his 200 fine in court as well. He plans to get records from his cell phone provider that will show he was not using his cell phone at the time.

It sounds as if some tickets are being issued just to generate revenue and with the hope that most people will not bother to challenge the tickets. For more see this CBC article.

UPDATE: Winnipeg police have disputed Piszker and his wife's account of events. The police claim they followed the two for several blocks after seeing Piszker the driver hold a cell phone to his ear while driving.
 Piszker claims not to own a cell phone or use one. Meanwhile the police union said that the emphasis upon issuing tickets for cell phone violations was hurting relations between police and the public. See this article for more.

Manitoba Liberal Party rejects merger with Green Party

The Manitoba Liberal party under leader Jon Gerrard has been having troubles gaining much headway with the electorate in the province. The party holds only one seat in the legislature at present. It has been decades now since the party was an alternative to the dominant NDP (New Democrats) and the Conservatives.

The NDP has been in power for some time and even managed to retain power in an election after the popular leader Gary Doer stepped down. To illustrate how close seemingly opposite sides of the political spectrum may be social democrat Gary Doer was appointed by the Federal Conservatives under the right-wing leader Stephen Harper appointed Doer as Canadian ambassador to the U.S. There he is no doubt busy selling the virtues of the Alberta Tar sands to U.S. politicians and others. OK. now I have that off my chest back to the Liberals and Greens.

Gerrard has been looking at a number of options to help his ailing Liberals to improve their performance. One option is greater coöperation with the Greens. The Greens however have no representation in the legislature. The Greens received only 2.5 per cent of the popular vote last election. While getting some of those votes would help they will hardly bring the Liberals to power!

At a recent meeting Liberal party officials rules out any merger with the Green Party and even suspended two officials who discussed the issue. For more see this CBC article. Gerrard faces a difficult task since the political right and middle is represented by the Conservatives and the left and middle by the NDP a social democratic type party. It is difficult for Gerrard to carve-out a political space that will attract voters until there is more disenchantment with the present leading contenders.

Monday, March 5, 2012

B.C. teachers strike. Ontario wants freeze on teacher wages

In a number of provinces education spending is being curbed and new austerity measures are being introduced. Ironically two provinces governed by Liberal parties are facing the biggest showdown with the teachers. Alberta on the other hand governed by Conservatives has been much more generous with education spending. Conservatives have a reputation for cuts and Liberals for spending but economic conditions rather than ideology seem to play a larger role in what policies are followed.

British Columbia teachers have walked off the job today. The Liberal government is calling for a wage freeze. The B.C. walkout follows after months of conflict between the Teachers' Federation and the government. The government is adamant that any contract must meet a "net-zero mandate". The teachers say that the province is causing more damage to an already underfunded system.

In Ontario the Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty also has demanded a salary freeze until 2014 and also benefits such as banking sick days. The Ontario teacher unions calls the government proposal offensive and as offering a false choice.

Paul Taillefer president of CTF said:"I don't think it's fair. It's a rather simplistic look at things," People seem to have forgotten the benefits of progressive taxation." The problem is that politicians have not forgotten that raising taxes is not a vote getter! For much more see this article.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Prehistoric reptile remains found near Lethbridge Alberta

Museum technicians are uncovering mosasaur fossils near the city of Lethbridge Alberta. The reptile was almost four meters long, had flippers, and sharp teeth in a large head.

The fossils were found near a mine site by Korite International workers. They are nearly 74 million years old. Paleontologist Donald Henderson said the bones being unearthed represented an almost perfect specimen.

Henderson said:"The detail in the bone is absolutely amazing,""The only thing that works against us was what happened in the past.This thing has clearly been scavenged by a shark. We already found some teeth and the body's been pulled apart quite a bit." This is the second mosasaur found at the same mine site. For more see the full article.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Iceland looking at Canadian currency to replace krona

Icelanders have toyed with the idea of doing away with their own krona currency and adopting the Canadian dollar or loonie as it is called since there is a loon depicted on one side. The krona has had its problems ever since the collapse of the Icelandic financial system in 2008.

Iceland has taken the initial steps to join the EU so one might think that the Euro would be a better currency to adopt. However the Euro zone is encountering problems itself.

Canada on the other hand has a strong banking system relatively low debt and a dollar that is just above par with the U.S. The U.S. has a much higher debt than Canada.

The Canadian ambassador was supposed to speak to a group about the issue but the Foreign Affairs Dept. of Canada said the ambassador would not be participating in a convention on currency conversion in Reykjavik the Icelandic capital.

A Bank of Montreal economist said that the conversion could be accomplished simply by Iceland buying enough Canadian currency. This might put some upward pressure on the loonie. The impact on Canada would probably be small as Iceland's population is only 317,000 and the economy less than one per cent of that of Canada. For much moresee this article.

Other countries such as El Salvador and Ecuador have unilaterally changed their own currency for the U.S. dollar. Kosovo did the same for the euro.

Friday, March 2, 2012

CSIS allowed to share information even if it could lead to torture

The Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews has given CSIS permission to share information with foreign agencies even when this could lead to torture. The four page directive to CSIS came from Toews in July 2011. The directive was secret and was just released to the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

Amnest International secretary-general for Canada Alex Neve said that the directive contradicts Canada's commitments against torture. This is not likely to embarass Toews or the Conservatives. This is all for a good cause the war against terror and to keep Canadians safe. Unless that is you happen to be a wrongly accused Canadian such asMaher Arar. In that case you will be rendered to Syria or no doubt some new country now and tortured and interrogated.

CSIS can also use torture-tainted evidence if Canadian public safety is at rick. Many experts point out that under torture most people will confess to anything in order to have the torture stop. In the case of Maher Arar somehow information that only Canadian intelligence services likely had that Arar had trained in Afghan terror camps was leaked to the press. This was later shown to be obtained under torture and to be false. Nevertheless it was used to try and subvert attempts to get Arar released from a Syrian jail'

The source of the leak was never found. The investigators in Arar's case sent completely unvettted intelligence reports with much false information to their U.S. counterparts. In the U.S. Arar is still considered a member of AL Qaeda even though an expensive and extensive hearing here found him innocent of any terror connections and paid him ten million in compensation. No one was ever punished of the Canadian investigators. The operation had the patirotic name Öh Canada! NOTE: The O Canada group came from the RCMP not the CSIS).For more see this article.

Canada GDP grows slowly at 1.8 per cent in 4th quarter of 2011

The growth was in line with what economists had predicted. Although consumer spending and business investment was stronger foreign trade slowed. The strong dollar and economic slowdowns especially in Europe no doubt contributed to this result.
The third quarter growth rate was stronger at 4.2 per cent according to Statistics Canada. In the fourth quarter export growth declined from 16 per cent to 4.6 per cent while imports rose 2.2. per cent.
Manufacturers are struggling with a high Canadian dollar and also weak demand. However energy companies such as Enbridge are doing well as the demand for energy increases. For much more see this Bloomberg article.
Canada is the world's tenth largest economy. In the first half of this year the growth rate is predicted to be under two percent according to the central bank's forecast. Global financial problems and weaker demand are the main causes of the slower growth.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Montreal-based company SNC-Lavalin suffers stock decline after questionable payments surface

The Quebec-based company has started an investigation into payments of 35 million dollars in payments on construction projects that are questionable. There is speculation that the payments may be tied to projects that the company had in Libya under the Gadaffi regime.' The payments are said to be undocumented!

After the news the company's stock fell over 20 per cent in value. This is the largest drop in the stock since 1992. Analysts worried that the company reported it was investigating certain other contracts as well.

The head of SNC's construction division has already resigned after his close relations with one of Gadaffi's sons was revealed. The firm suffered 23 million ins losses on Libyan projects once the rebellion forced them to close down. For much more on SNC-Lavalin and its Libyan problems see the full article.