Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Saskatchewan potash miners exit mine after being trapped by fire

After being trapped in a potash mine following a fire, Saskatchewan workers are exiting to the surface. Twenty miners were able to reach an underground safe room after the fire broke out.
The fire had broken out in the early morning hours of Tuesday (Sept. 25). Alll the trapped miners were able to make it to a safe room where they were able to communicate with those on the surface. The fire was put out earlier in the day but tests had to be made on the air quality before the miners were allowed to exit the safe rooms and travel to the surface.
The journey to the surface took about 45 minutes. There were fifteen workers in the first group to exit the mine. There were five workers still underground as of the early evening.
The fire started at about 2 a.m. at the Rocanville mine belonging to the Potash Corp. The miners were all able to reach a safe room where they could communicate with those outside the mine. No one was injured and the 20 miners were never in danger according to manager of public affairs for the company, Bill Cooper.
A mine rescue team spent the morning trying to put out the fire. Cooper said:
"Putting a fire out in a mine is much different than putting one out above ground. You have to consider the safety of your employees underground and your mine teams and you move as quickly as you can in a safe manner."
Mechanic Ben Mitchell, was able to call his fiancee from a phone in a safe room at just before 8 this morning.. His fiancee said:
"He called and just said that he was safe in there, that he was in there by himself because nobody was … working with him at the time.The mine would be calling him every hour to make sure that he was OK."
There were 29 originally in the mine when the fire started but 9 were lifted out by late morning while the others were able to get to a safe room.
Although the cause of the fire has still not been determined, a large wooden spool caught fire for some reason. The mine is near Rocanville about 230 kilometers east of Regina the capital of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is rich in deposits of potash.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Homer Simpson will vote for Mitt Romney

Airing soon will be an episode of the Simpsons in which Homer decides that he will cast his vote for Mitt Romney. The episode will air the Sunday after next, October 7 as reported by the CBC. Apparently Homer must be voting in advance polls!
Even though Mitt Romney is charged with accusing 47% of Americans with being lazy, government-dependent oafs he is able to win over cartoon character Homer Simpson even though he describes himself on the appended video clip as a:
"40-year-old white guy who didn't go to college and gets all his news from monitors at gas stations."
Homer is a bit puzzled why he has to vote when he thinks that it is the job of the Supreme Court to decide on leaders but he goes ahead anyway. He has no voter ID but when he describes himself the election authority lets him vote since he is white and uneducated.
Homer decides against voting for Obama since his wife already keeps telling him to eat healthy and no doubt that is one too many bugging him about that. The clincher is that Obama promised death panels but Homer's ornery grandpa is still kicking.
Homer thinks Obamacare is OK and since Romney invented that he eventually decides to vote for Romney. As soon as he votes for Romney he gets to see Romney's tax returns. The returns show that the government paid Romney money for 5 years. Then as befits a Romney voter Homer is outsourced to China where he claims that at least he has a steady job making American flags. You can see the rest of the story on the clip.
Some of the many comments are interesting. One reader quips:
"Is Homer the fictious character, or is Mitt. How can one be sure?"
Another obviously biased Obama supporter predicts:
Homer Simpson has a better chance of winning this election than Romney.
Perhaps this will start a campaign to write-in Homer Simpson for president. I gather cartoon characters often get write-in votes in U.S. elections. At this site, the top write-in candidate is Frosty the Snowman, a seasonal candidate.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Supreme Court of Canada rules that sex workers can challenge Canada's prostitution laws

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence group together with former sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach can go forward with a legal challenge of Canada's prostitution laws.
The court ruling was 9 to 0 to dismiss the Conservative federal government appeal. The federal appeal argued that the sex worker group and Sheryl Kiselback lacked any legal standing since no charges had been laid. A British Columbia judge had agreed with the federal government stand but the B.C. provincial court of appeal ruled that the group and Kiselbach could pursue their case because the group had public interest standing. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada the position of the B.C. appeals court was upheld unanimously.
The Ontario Court of Appeal has already struck down some laws that are being challenged by the B.C. group. However, the federal government is appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court as well.
Justice Thomas Cromwell writing the unanimous decision of the nine members said:
"The courts have long recognized that limitations on standing are necessary; not every-one who may want to litigate an issue, regardless of whether it affects them or not, should be entitled to do so."
However Cromwell said that the circumstances favored granting public interest standing to the group:
"..Granting standing will not only serve to enhance the principle of legality with respect to serious issues of direct concern to some of the most marginalized members of society, but it will also promote the economical use of scarce judicial resources."
While the group and Sheryl Kiselback applauded the decision they complained about the length of time it took them to obtain standing. One of the lawyers involved, Katrina Pacey, also complained about the five year battle for standing. She said:
"This wasn't an access for justice case, it was to strike down the prostitution laws."
The long delay has resulted in a situation where similar arguments to those of the Vancouver group have resulted in the Ontario Court of Appeal already striking down some prostitution laws. Pacey said:
"We are all in this because we want adult sex work in Canada decriminalized, because we want sex workers to have safety and control, and the ability to determine the conditions and circumstances of their work.Frankly, I don't care how that happens. I don't care if (the Ontario case) does it; I don't care if we do it; I don't care if (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper all of a sudden wakes up one day and says, 'Oh my gosh, what was I thinking?' "All I care is there's safety for sex workers, and whatever measure or means is required to get there, we are on board and ready for the fight."
The next chapter in this continuing battle story will be the Supreme Court decision on the federal government's appeal of the Ontario Court of Appeal decision.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Three year old running for mayor of Halifax

Tuxedo Stan is just three years old but is running for mayor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He is running for the Tuxedo Party of Canada. As leader of the Tuxedo Party Tuxedo Stan has over 2,000 fans already. Soon he will probably have more fans than Romney.

There are six other candidates for mayor of Halifax but none is as popular as Tuxedo Stan. There is only one problem. The Halifax election bylaws discriminate against cats. Cats are not allowed to run in elections. However asses are eligible as long as they are the human kind.

Stan who is both black and white was born of a feral mother. Stan's campaign slogan is: "Because negligence isn't working" As with any other politician Stan has buttons, T-shirts and even lawn signs that can be purchased at local Pet-Valu stores. Money made will be used to help low-income families pay to spay or neuter their cats.

In an interview Stan's campaign manager Hugh Chisholm said: “There are literally thousands of homeless cats - feral and abandoned - who live by their willpower in the back alleys and streets and bushes in HRM(Halifax Rural Municipality)....There is very little people can do if they want to help, because there is no pound. If there's a lost or injured dog, you can call the pound and they will come and take the dog and give it a place to stay, and some food and care. But if you do the same thing with a cat, you get nothing, because there's nothing in place.”

There is already an unofficial Cat Mayor of Alaska called Stubbs who has managed to hold office for almost a decade. Stubbs will soon have to retire as he will be reaching the limit of his nine lives.

On his Facebook page, Stan, who is owned by his campaign manager said:“I feel very fortunate to live in Catopia. I've never known hunger, cold or abuse. I sleep in a warm, cozy bed every night. I get to play in a safe fenced yard every day.. Unfortunately, there are cats all over the world who aren't so lucky. You can help by donating money or time to a local rescue group. For those of you who do – a big Tuxedo Stan THANK MEOW!" For more see this article.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Manitoba introduces new regulations on cell phone contracts

The Manitoba government has introduced legislation that will improve cell phone contracts for the consumer. The legislation mirrors legislation already passed in the province of Quebec.
The Manitoba Consumer Affairs Minister Gord Mackintosh expressed the hope that the new regulations will help save consumers money. On some contracts the savings could be up to $640 a year. The government touted the legislation as providing among the best consumer protection rules for cell phone users in Canada. As the appended video shows compared to the U.S. Canadians pay more for less compared to cell phone users in the U.S.
Under the new rules, customers are able to cancel contracts before their term ends. Unreasonable cancellation fees are prohibited. Advertisements must include the minimum monthly costs to subscribers. Contracts are to be simplified so that a subscriber can understand the terms easily. When similar rules were introduced in the province of Quebec cell phone contract prices did not rise as some had feared, as companies tried to recoup lost revenue from excessive charges.
Other changes in the legislation prohibit companies from making unilateral changes to contracts that do not benefit customers. Automatic contract renewals will be limited. Companies will be required to fully explain all charges and terms of the contract. Consumer advocates have praised the new regulations as a step forward and urged that people learn their rights as cell phone userfs. Gloria Desorcy from the Consumers Association said to CBC News:
"It's important for consumers to know what they're now entitled to...Because if we don't know, that we're entitled to it, then we might not complain about it. And that's our responsibility as consumers."
Any company that violates the new regulations could face a fine of up to $1,000. The fine would be increased for subsequent violations. While these measures will give protection against unreasonable cell phone contracts to Canadian consumers, we still need to reduce costs so that we pay similar prices for cell phone services as do our neighbors to the south.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Former Canadian Liberal Leader to return to Harvard University

After leading the Canadian Federal Liberal Party to a disastrous electoral defeat former leader Michael Ignatieff will return to Harvard University in a half time position but will also teach at the University of Toronto half time as well.
Michael Ignatieff was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and also of the official opposition in parliament from 2008 until 2011. In the federal election in 2011 Ignatieff led the Liberal Party to its worst result in history. The Liberals came third behind the Conservatives who won a majority and the NDP winning only 34 seats and allowing the leftist New Democratic Party to become the official opposition for the first time. Ignatieff even lost his own seat. He resigned as of May 25, 2011.
Ignatieff had earlier taught at Harvard from 2000-2006 as the Carr Professor of Human Rights Policy. Ignatieff's view on human rights seem to wander about considerably. For example he said of an Israeli attack in Lebanon
In August 2006, Ignatieff said he was "not losing any sleep" over dozens of civilian deaths caused by Israel's attack on Qana during its military actions in Lebanon. Ignatieff recanted those words the following week. Then, on October 11, 2006, Ignatieff described the Qana attack as a war crime (committed by Israel).
After very negative reactions by some within his own party he also recanted his accusations about a war crime and said that it was up to investigators to determine that. He has also said that there may be circumstances when coercive interrogations may need to be used and indefinite detention allowed to combat terrorism. This is exactly the sort of human rights ideas that Harvard is looking for obviously.
Several times Ignatieff seems toforget he id a Canadian and identifies himself as an American. As Ignatieff returns to his lectern at Harvard it will be almost ten years to the day when he published his cover story "The American Empire? Get used to it?" in the New York Times Magazine. Among other topics he gives a ringing endorsement of the Iraq war. He changed his mind much later. In the article he defends U.S. imperialism as a type of benign progressive empire building process. Ignatieff writes:
"America's empire is not like empires of times past, built on colonies, conquest and the white man's burden ... The 21st century imperium is a new invention in the annals of political sciences, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known."
While Ignatieff may have failed in Canadian politics he is still a star on the academic stage and is still supporting the benign Empire and chastising Russia and China on Syria. The U.S. again is the defender of freedom and democracy against these dictatorial regimes. However as Ignatieff's article also points out Qatar and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies, are also sending arms to Syria and neither is a democracy and the Saudis no defender of rights.. Al Qaeda is on the rebels' side as well. Ignatieff forgets too that not that long ago Syria was favored as a place to render terror suspects precisely because it had brutal prisons that used torture to elicit information often quite wrong but useful as verifying what intelligence officers wanted to believe.

China and Canada sign trade deal on last day of APEC meeting

At the last day of the APEC meeting in Vladivostok Russia China and Canada have signed a new trade deal that will give protection to Canadian investments in China
After spending time lecturing Putin on Syria and breaking off relations with Iran, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the last day of the APEC meeting and officials signed a broad investment pact. Harper beamed:
"Our government is committed to creating the right conditions for Canadian businesses to compete globally...This agreement with China — the world's second largest economy — will provide stronger protection for Canadians investing in China, and create jobs and economic growth in Canada."
Harper has been anxious to expand trade with Asia and especially China and to diversity capital sources to develop Canadian resources. Much of our trade now goes south to the United States. The Chinese premier said:
"Mr. prime minister, we attach great importance to the China-Canada relationship."
The meeting comes just as Canada is reviewing CNOOC's $15.1 billion deal for Nexen Inc. based in Calgary. Some worry that the state-owned company will not play by the rules as would private companies. Other countries also have state-owned oil companies including the Saudis and even Norway.
China made an offer that was far above the market price of shares. North American headquarters will be kept in Calgary and staff retained. Even the Alberta government supports the deal and so it will be difficult for Harper to claim that it is not a net benefit to Canada.
Some Americans have expressed reservations about the deal. Canada is regarded as a reliable source of raw materials by the U.S. Under NAFTA the U.S. has favorable terms to purchase of our resources. They may not appreciate China having more access and more control over our oil resources. Nexen is a global company and also has leases in the Gulf off the U.S. coast. There could be some pressure from the U.S. to reject the deal. However with so many Canadian players on side with the Chinese Harper may ignore any U.S. pressure.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Quebec Liberal Party leader Jean Charest resigns

After losing the recent election to the opposition Parti Quebecois the Quebec premier and Liberal Party Leader Jean Charest has resigned.
As often happens in Canadian politics Charest switched parties during his long career. From 1993 to 1998 Charest was leader of the federal Conservative party. He then switched to the Quebec Liberal Party and became head of that party in 1998 until he resigned. The fact that party switches of this sort take place may indicate that the great differences between parties emphasized in the media may be mostly an illusion. The former New Democratic Party premier of Manitoba Gary Doer resigned and became Canadian ambassador to the U.S. appointed by the Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. The present leader of the federal New Democratic Party. Thomas Mulcair, was a minister in the Quebec Liberal government of Charest until 2007 when he switched to the NDP.
Although the Liberals did better in the provincial election than the last polls predicted Charest lost his own seat in Sherbrooke. He also lost the election by a narrow margin to the PQ who managed to win just 4 seats more than the Liberals at last count. Charest had held his seat for 28 years before his defeat. He said that he and his family had made the decision that he retire shortly after the results were in.
Charest had the support of the majority of Quebeckers in his decision to increase tuition fees. However legislation to increase the fees resulted in constant student protests sometimes involving violence. However, the legislation that restricted protests and imposed stiff fines for violating regulations brought condemnation from civil rights and labor groups. Charest's Liberal government was also plagued by corruption charges especially in the construction industry. At the entrance to the Quebec National Assembly Charest said
:"The decision was unanimous. I will leave my post as leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec in a few days, once a new government is formed...I have no regrets."
Charest, who is 54, does not leave behind an obvious replacement but there were 50 members re-elected and many of its prominent members were included so there will be a number of politicians who could rebuild the party. Charest has not set out his future plans but many premiers and former prime ministers from Quebec end up in prominent law firms acting as consultants. Charest's wife and grown children wanted him not to run for a fourth term.
While during much of the period of Charest's Liberal government there was economic prosperity and even a balanced budge he often came into conflict with environmentalists and labor unions. Charest's final term was marked by continuing scandals and charges of unethical behavior on the part of some of his cabinet ministers. Charges were made that government contracts were the result of fraud and vote rigging. However, Charest, a federalist, kept the forces of separatism at bay in Quebec for many years. Even now as he resigns a mere 28 per cent of Quebeckers support separatism.
Charest is doing his party a favor. They will have time to regroup and elect a new leader. If Marois tries to forge ahead with a separatist agenda the Liberals could very well find themselves back in power in the near future since the minority PQ government could be defeated if CAQ is annoyed by legislation promoted by the PQ and they and the Liberals vote against the PQ.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Quebec elects minority Parti Quebecois government

The CBC(Canadian Broadcasting System) has just predicted that the province of Quebec will have a PQ(Parti Quebois) minority government with the first female premier of the province, Pauline Marois.

A number of ridings are still to close to call but as of this poisting the results were as follows. The Parti Quebecois was leading in 56 ridings, the Quebec Liberals 47, and CAQ 20, and Quebec Solidaire 2. The Parti Quebecois is a separatist party.

Polls show that only 28% of Quebec residents support Quebec independence at present. This means that there is unlikely to be a referendum on the question in the near future as some separatist hardliners might wish.

However Marois is likely to ask for more powers from the federal government in certain areas. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper is very unpopular in Quebec. If Marois is unsuccessful in negotiating with Harper she may use this as an argument in favor of separation.

The Liberals did better than the last polls indicated and the CAQ did not do as well. Many voters were undecided until the very last and must have opted to vote Liberal to keep try to keep the PQ from forming a government even though the Liberal government is not at all popular. As I post this the Liberal leader Jean Charest was losingin his own riding.However the race was too close to call.

The PQ hoped to get a majority so that it could pass its program but now it will have to shelve anything that is controversial. The CAQ is a relatively right wing party and not committed to separatism. The whole idea of holding a referendum in the near future will no doubt be shelved.

The CAQ did not get as many seats as it had hoped. In fact with voters disliking both Liberals and PQ and the corruption in Quebec politics they even dreamed of forming their own minority government. However for a party that is less than a year old they did quite well.

Quebec Solidaire is a left leaning separatiste party. It managed to double its seats from one to two, so they were happy enough with their performance. No doubt many anglophones will be upset with the PQ winning. However, with a minority the PQ will not be able to do much to disturb the status quo in Quebec and any separatist moves will be on the back burner for now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Quebec may elect first female premier on Sept. 4

Quebeckers go to the polls Sept. 4 to elect a new government. Predictions are that the Parti Quebecois will win making Pauline Marois the first female premier of the province.
The Globe and Mail relying on projections by are predicting a minority or majority Parti Quebecois victory in Tuesday's election. However, as with the Alberta provincial election a big surprise is quite possible. A huge 28% of those surveyed in a recent Leger poll said that they might change their vote before they actually voted. Depending on how many actually change and in what direction any of the three top parties could actually win including the declining Liberals.
The final projections by the Globe source gave the PQ 34.1% of the vote and from 57 to 75 seats. The more likely result is given as 63 seats. The range of results could result in a minority or majority government. The Liberals are predicted to gain 27.9% support and between 25 and 39 seats with the more likely being 33. This would be the worst Liberal result since the PQ won in Quebec in 1976.
The Liberals might not even form the official opposition as the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) has 26.3% of the vote and should win between 20 and 31 seats. The most likely result is 27 seats The CAQ has been draining off anglophone votes from the Liberals. Of course the result may not always be a win for the CAQ but for the PQ in some constituencies.
The Liberals are heavy favorites in the Montreal area and still will probably form the opposition but Jean Charest the Liberal leader and premier may not be around to lead his party as polls show him losing in his own riding of Sherbrooke.
Quebec Solidaire a left separatist party is predicted to win one or two seats and almost double its vote from last election. The leader Amir Khadir appears headed for re-election and the co-leader may also win a seat. A final new separatist party backed by former Premier Jaques Parizeau is unlikely to win a seat and the same is true of the Green Party.
Polls show that the PQ has 37% support among francophone voters compared to just 30% for the CAQ and 20% for Liberals. However the Liberals have 61% support among non-francophones. The PQ needs to capture ridings in the suburbs of Montreal to gain a majority government. The projected range in seats is large from 15 to 24 seats. In the suburbs the Liberals trail both the CAQ and PQ badly.
The leader of the CAQ Francois Legault said that the race in Quebec was between the CAQ and the PQ. Stealing some of Jean Charest's rhetoric used to convince anglophones to vote for him, Legault said that a vote for the PQ would be a vote for a referendum on Quebec sovereignty in the near future. Perhaps this may sway some anglophone voters and also francophone voters who do not want a referendum at this time.
While the Globe and Mail seems fairly confident in their predictions they could be quite wrong and Quebec could turn out to be another Alberta.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Kuwait State Petroleum company seeks $4 billion deal with Athabasca Oil

Kuwait's state owned oil fund is seeking a joint venture with Athabasca oil in the oil sands. The deal will be for about $4 billion and is expected to be finalized by October
Kuwait Petroleum Corp. the state-owned oil company has signed a memorandum of understanding that would see the company invest around $4 billion in a joint venture with Athabasca Oil Corp. The venture would develop some of Athabasca's properties in the northern Alberta oil sands.
The agreement was confirmed by the Kuwaiti ambassador to Canada Ali al-Sammak. The final agreement is expected by October. Al-Sammak said in a telephone interview."..
“It’s a plus-or-minus $4-billion deal and in October they’ll be coming back to follow up what has been signed....So we’re doing very good – this proves that we’re good close friends.”
Sammak said Kuwait Petroleum wants to diversity its operations beyond the Middle East and also gain access to oil sand extraction technology as Kuwait too has heavy oil fields.
Many foreign-owned and state-owned oil companies seek to invest in Canada's energy resources. The Conservative government has encouraged this as a means to diversity the sources of capital and also capture new markets. Recently Chinese state-owned CNOOC has offered 15 billion for Calgary-based Nexen. Another deal involves Petronas of Malaysia who offered $6 billion for Progress Energy Resources Corp. Progress shareholders have approved that deal. Trading in Athabasca's stock was suspended on Friday before the news of the deal was announced.
These deals are just part of a host of pending foreign investments in the rich energy resources of Canada. Companies both state-owned and private from South Korea, Russia and many emerging Asian countries are negotiating with Calgary-based companies.
Many of the companies involved want the Conservative government to make its policy with respect to investment clearer. While there is a review to determine whether an investment is of net benefit to Canada, the exact criteria are not clear.
Athabasca Oil Sands Map
Wikimedia Commons
Map of oils sands in Alberta, Canada. The three oil sand deposits are known as the Athabasca Oil Sands, the Cold Lake Oil Sands, and the Peace River Oil Sands.
Some within the Conservative government do not want to treat aggressive state-owned corporations on the same footing as private companies since these companies may not act on purely market principles. These companies include not only Chinese state-owned companies but those of Malaysia and Kuwait as well. Immigration minister Jason Kenney is one of those critics although he would make an exception for Norway's Statoil since it is run on market principles. I find it odd to talk of oil producers and market principles.After all many oil producers belong to OPEC whose whole purpose is to manipulate the market and influence prices. The aggressive nature of the state oil companies Kenney fears often result in high prices for shares that shareholders could never expect in the market.
The spate of negotiations in Calgary are not simply the result of foreigners anxious to invest in Canadian resources. Canadian companies themselves are actively seeking out these investments since they themselves lack the capital to finance expensive and often risky oil sands projects.
Athabasca for example has acquired many properties and now has 1.6 million acres in the oil sands but not the capital for development. Athabasca was able to develop the Dover and Mackay River properties only after it raised $1.9 billion by selling a 60% stake to PetroChina International Investment Co. which is state-owned.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers predicts it will cost $23 billion to produce oil sands oil in 2012. By 2020 this amount could more than quadruple to $100 billion. This amount of capital is just not available within Canada. Canada needs both foreign capital for development and foreign markets for the oil. However, Canada might be better off it concentrated more on developing in other areas rather than simply being a convenient sources for raw materials to fuel the value adding industries of other countries. Oil and natural gas do not go bad if left in the ground, they might just increase in value.
Production in the oil sands in particular present many dangers to the environment. The costs of environmental damage will probably fall on the Canadian taxpayer rather than investors foreign or otherwise.