Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ottawa couple thrilled by Canadian government's Xmas present

When Bhavna Bajaj filed her paperwork for permanent residency in Canada in 2011, she was pregnant, but failed to report that on her application. As a result she had to spend three years trying to have her son join her and her husband in Canada.

Bajaj found out she was pregnant while she and her husband Aman Sood were filing papers to emigrate to Canada under the skilled worker program. Bajaj is a lab technician. Their son Daksh was born in June of 2011.
The couple in fact made two errors. The couple were told by an immigration consultant that they could sponsor their son after they had settled down in their jobs in Canada. They were granted residency in 2013 but when they arrived in Canada they were told they had broken the law by not revealing that they had a child in India. The couple was required to update their family status to immigration authorities and anyone not included in the update was not eligible for sponsorship. The couple said they had to sign a declaration never to sponsor Daksh in order to be allowed in as permanent residents.
The minister of immigration could allow an exception to the rules on humanitarian or compassionate grounds but the Conservative immigration minister refused to do so. Bajaj met with the new immigration minister, John McCallum, last Tuesday to present her case.
On Wednesday, she was hard at work doing routine lab tests when the phone rang: “This is Immigration Minister John McCallum. I have some good news for you.” The news was that her son Daksh would be granted a temporary resident permit. Bajaj said:“My mouth just opened. I knew the good news could only be about my boy. All I remember is I kept thanking the immigration minister, telling him this is the best Christmas gift for us ever.The old government ignored us all this time. The new government listened and did this in no time. We are just so thankful. We’d been praying and praying, and our prayer was answered by this government. We wanted to thank everyone who has supported us through it all.”
The lawyer for the couple, Hadayt Nazami claimed the decision to be " a breath of fresh air in a system long held hostage to ideological practices by the former Conservative government,." Her husband Aman will take a later flight from India where he is visiting her son. He will escort the boy home. She is busy decorating Daksh's bedroom and will have lots of balloons and toys to welcome him at the airport.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Manitoba Zamboni driver is charged with impaired driving

A Manitoba driver of an ice-resurfacer or Zamboni has been charged with impaired driving and also resisting arrest after he crashed into the boards that line the ice rink in Ste Anne Manitoba near Winnipeg.

Zamboni is actually the name of the founder of one of the main companies that make the ice resurfacers and the term is now used generally to refer to the machines. The machine in the photo is not a Zamboni make. During intermissions in a hockey game the Zamboni resurfaces the ice by driving around the rink.
During the second intermission of the game. Martin Kintscher, manager of one of the teams in the contest, said:"On his first lap he struck the gate where the Zamboni drives onto the ice, and broke the boards and also broke pieces off the actual Zamboni. One piece got stuck under the Zamboni, which left a ridge on the ice with every lap."
Kintscher cancelled the game because of the damage to the rink and the ice even though the driver of the Zamboni insisted the ice was in good condition. This is what really got the officials concerned. Kintscher said he did not detect any alcohol smell on the driver or bloodshot eyes but they could not believe that he could think that the ice was in good condition. Kintscher said:"What really set us off was that there was an issue with the ice and he said, 'It's good enough, play on it.' There's ridges on it. You can't play on that. It's like playing out in the parking lot. It's about half an inch high and an inch wide, with every pass."
The driver got angry when officials claimed the ice was not suitable for playing on and became even more upset when supervisors were called in. Kintscher and others had to fix the gouges in the ice. According to police, the driver was not cooperative during his arrest.
Marc Robichaud, the police chief in Ste Anne noted that in Manitoba you can be charged with impaired driving even though you are not on a road. The Zamboni while not a car or truck or driven on a road is still considered a motor vehicle. The driver, a man in his 30s was taken into custody and charged with impaired driving, resisting arrest, and refusing a breathalyzer test, a test that determines alcohol level in the blood. Usually if they are refused it is because the test would show a reading above the allowable limit, although the driver could have other reasons. Refusal is itself an offense. The driver was released but will appear in court in January.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Norwegian student spends six months alone in Canadian NWT wilderness

Kristoffer Glestad, a 26-year-old mechanical engineering student from Norway realized his childhood dream of living alone in the remote wilderness of Canada's Northwest Territories.

He and two friends originally intended to go together for an entire year so they could observe all the seasons. They picked a remote lake about an hour's flying time from the community of Norman Wells, population around 800, a good sized town for the North West Territories. Norman Wells was very active during the second World War when it supplied oil for the military and there was the long Canol Pipeline and road of the same name. The pipeline and road shut down after the war.
The North West Territories used to be much larger, larger in area than India, but in 1999 eastern portions became the territory of Nunavut. Population density is a mere 0.04 people per square kilometer or 0.10 per square mile. In other words there is only one person for every ten square miles.
The lake Glestad chose to stay by is not even named in English on the map and there are no communities nearby. Glestad's dream of traveling to the northern wilderness in Canada was inspired by his reading about Norwegian adventurers such as Helge Ingstad when he was a child. This is not his first adventure. In March of 2014 he and a Norwegian comrade set off to ski to the North Pole but the mission had to be aborted.
Glestad said he just wanted to go and live off the land and enjoy seeing nature. Travis Wright, the pilot who flew Glestad to the lake had never heard of it before. He wondered to himself what Glestad thought he was doing and feared a tragic outcome. The family-run North Wright Airways had been flying prospectors, fishermen, hunters and others around the area since 1989 but this was his first visit to the the lake where he flew Glestad.
In June of this year Wright flew Glestad with 150 kilograms of equipment and supplies to the secluded lake. He helped Glestad unload his equipment which included an axe, a rifle, a saw, a tent and rations but no camp stove. The air was thick with mosquitoes.
Glestad's first task was to put on his bug suit and gloves. He then built a raft to ferry his gear to a better site for camping. He then built without nails a simple log cabin with spruce trees and grass for a roof. Glestad was in the more southerly part of the territories below the tree line. Conditions would have been even more severe if he tried to camp out further north above the treeline where there would be no wood to build a cabin or for fuel. He fished to provide himself food but also had dry rations.
As time passed, Glestad had trouble keeping himself occupied. When he wasn't chopping wood for fuel or foraging for food he had to find ways to entertain himself. He tried singing but it was so bad he gave that up and then tried talking to himself. This made him feel foolish. He then spent time recalling his past life. He did have a satellite phone which he used to check in with his family, a doctor, and his co-ordinator in Norway, He looked forward to these links with the outside world but used the phone only about three times each month.
By November winter was well upon him and darkness came quite early each day and lasted until later in the morning. He heard wolves close to him one night when he was sleeping in the tent. Glestad enjoyed just viewing his surroundings. Becoming ever more lonely and as the cold closed in, Glestad phoned his co-ordinator in Norway to tell him he was done.He had to wait three weeks for the ice on the lake to freeze thick enough so that the Cessna 206 could land on the lake on skis.
When he landed, Wright the pilot, said that it was incredible to see Glestad again after six months. He had worried that he might have problems. He was surprised to see the cabin that Glestad built. Most expeditions, Wright said, rarely last more than two months.
Bearded, shaggy and 45 pounds lighter, after six months living out his childhood dream alone in the remote wilderness, Glestad was flown back to Norman Wells. He has now returned to his family farm in Oslo in time for Christmas.
His stay in the wilderness revealed to him that people are not made to be alone all the time. He said: "I knew I liked my family. I knew I like being with friends. I didn't know I cared that much. That I could long for being with those people so hard,"

First Nations groups may buy northern Manitoba railway

At present the Hudson Bay Railway(HBR) is owned by Denver-based OmniTRAX, which also owns the port of Churchill. The HBR was formed in July of 1997 by OmniTRAX to purchase Canadian National Railway lines to Churchill and also to Flin Flon and Lynn Lake.

A group of First Nations communities in the areas through which the rail line passes have sent a letter of intent to OmniTRAX. Omnitrax confirmed it received the letter of intent to purchase the Port of Churchill and Hudson Bay line. There will now be a 45-day period of due diligence before the sale can be completed. Both the federal and provincial governments would be asked to support the groups.
Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson's Bay is Canada's only deep-water northern port. The port ships mostly grain from the prairies. There is an arctic studies center near the town. Tourists interested in viewing polar bears often visit the town. Canada's VIA passenger train service runs a train from Winnipeg to Churchill. The route is far from direct, going from Winnipeg in the east of Manitoba to The Pas almost on the Saskatchewan border, and then northeast to Churchill. The train will stop at many isolated small communities on demand. It spends five hours in the main northern city of Thompson. The entire trip takes about 40 hours. The one way economy fare is aboiut $267.75. That is Canadian money so if some Americans want to spend Christmas in Churchill it is not that expensive.
There is no road service to Churchill so the rail is the only land link to communities to the south, although there is air service. The Manitoba Transportation Minister Steve Ashton and his federal counterpart Marc Garneau met earlier in December as the Manitoba government looks for federal help to keep the railroad and port in operation.
Ashton said at the time: "Churchill is critical. It's a strategic trade corridor. It's the only arctic deep water seaport. The future for Churchill involves further investments and increasing the scope of those investments — not just focusing on the short-term nature. I believe OmniTrax is serious about looking for a new owner and I do believe there's huge potential if the federal and provincial governments are prepared to be there. We are. I can't speak for the federal government but I'm optimistic following the discussions we had today."
The New Democratic Party(NDP) is the governing party in Manitoba. Opponents always characterize it as socialist. If so it is of the modern kind. It would never think of having the government take ownership of the line even though it will need to subsidize any private operator. The role of socialist governments these days is to privatize and impose austerity in the interest of capital, as with the radical Syriza socialist government in Greece. To even suggest that public ownership might be a good idea is left to the CEO of the US-based Omnitrax which wants to sell the line and port or close it down:OmniTRAX Canada president Merv Tweed indicated that service could be discontinued if no new buyer were found. He also suggested governments could have the railway operate as a utility, presumably with regulation of rates and some form of subsidy in poor years.
To survive, the port storage facilities will need to be expanded and the rail line upgraded. OmniTRAX is faced with a huge decline in grain shipments through the port this year. Costs to maintain the lines are high, as they cross hundreds of kilometers of bog and permafrost. Derailments have from time to time disrupted both rail and passenger service. Omnitrax contemplated shipping crude oil to Churchill but decided against it after opposition from aboriginal groups, environmentalists and even the Manitoba government.
The Manitoba government said it had already received notices of interest from a number of potential investors including Mexican companies and even a group from India. Ownership by Manitoba First Nations would probably be the best solution but there is no way anyone will be able to operate the railway and port successfully without considerable subsidies from the government. The government could also take an ownership position. No doubt OmniTRAX realized it was going to require huge expenditures to keep the railway and port operational. At least with First Nations ownership, the owners will be interested in provision of service for the communities that depend on the line. Foreign investors would simply be looking for a good return on their capital. The other northern line of the OmniTRAX-owned Hudson Bay Railway running from The Past to Lynn Lake is already owned now by a First Nations group since 2006 and is called theKeewatin Railway.

Canadian loonie dives to lowest level since 2004

- During 2015 the Canadian dollar — the Loonie — has lost 17 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar. Yesterday it closed below 72 cents U.S., the lowest value since the spring of 2004.

At the present exchange rate it will cost $1.40 Canadian to buy one U.S. dollar. With service fees it will cost about $1.43. Economist at the Bank of Montreal, Doug Porter, said:
 "The only bigger annual decline was in the extreme conditions of 2008, when the Canadian dollar fell 18.6 per cent — a threshold I thought would never even be approached again."We still have well over a week to go in 2015, so we could get closer to that level.
The decline in the loonie is in part the result of the steep slide in oil prices. Futures on Thursday were down 57 cents to $34.95 a barrel, the lowest price in seven years. Another factor is the recent raising of key interest rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve. In contrast, the Bank of Canada is keeping our interest rate at a lower level and may even lower the rate further in an attempt to stimulate the economy.
Some analysts predict that the loonie could go as low as 70 cents U.S. Canada is not alone in suffering a decline in the value of our currency, however. The U.S. dollar is climbing in value relative to major currencies. The loonie is actually holding up reasonably well compared to some other currencies. The Federal Reserve decision also helped push up the American dollar against the British pound, Japanese yen, Australian dollar and the euro.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said to reporters in Vancouver: "Obviously the economy of our largest trading partner picking up is a good thing, potentially, for Canada, but whenever there are shifts in the value [of the loonie], especially decreases, there are both challenges and opportunities."
Among the challenges will be higher costs for Canadian snowbirds who fly south to avoid the harsh Canadian winters. The costs in the U.S. will be considerably higher in terms of Canadian dollars. Perhaps, the snowbirds should travel further south to Mexico and beyond where the dollar may purchase more. Deputy Chief economist at TD Bank, Derek Burlton said: “Clearly there’s going to be some hurt in some of the traditional snowbird markets.” The bank predicts the loonie will drop to a low of about 71 cents but recover to about 80 cents in the next couple of years. This is still a long way from where it was not that long ago. Burton thought that snowbirds in areas such as economically depressed Alberta might stay closer to home. Others could cut their expenditures while in the US or cut the length of their stay. Many snowbirds, may be well enough off to simply continue on as before.
David Watt of the HSBC Bank of Canada along with others note that the weaker dollar will make out exports cheaper in terms of the U.S. dollar, a prime market for our export goods. However, the weaker dollar also is a symptom of weaker demand for our raw materials and oil both key exports. Watt said:“If you want to be an optimist, you lean on the one side that it will help boost exports.m I tend to lean more to the second side, that it reflects a degree of concern about the global economy.”
Optimists hope the growing U.S. economy and lower prices for Canadian goods will over time result in considerable growth in exports, helping the Canadian economy recover from its present relatively weak performance. The high U.S. dollar may encourage more Americans to visit and shop in Canada where items may now be less expensive than in the U.S.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Canadian pastor sentenced to life with hard labour by North Korean Supreme Court

The North Korean Supreme Court has sentenced Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim to life in prison with hard labour. The state prosecutors had actually sought the death penalty.

The Court described Lim's activities as crimes against the state. These included harming the dignity of the supreme leadership, attempting to use religion to destroy the North Korean system, and disseminating negative propaganda about North Korea to Koreans overseas. The charges also included helping U.S. and South Korean authorities to lure and abduct North Korean citizens, and helping them to assist defectors. Perhaps some of these charges are correct. Some of the charges would never merit punishment in many countries.
If harming the dignity of the leadership of the U.S., President Barack Obama, were a crime punishable by imprisonment, even the U.S. military-industrial-prison complex would be hard pressed to keep up to the demand for more prisons. North Korea joins a select group such as Egypt, the Gulf monarchies, and Thailand who consider any criticism of their Great Leaders as a crime.
Lim supports a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage in North Korea. He has made more than 100 trips to North Korea. He was scheduled to return on February 4 this year after a visit but was detained by authorities.
Given that the authorities have allowed Lim to establish his humanitarian institutions in the North, and also to allow him to travel back and forth numerous times, it is strange that they should suddenly seize and charge him. They could have simply told him he was no longer welcome in North Korea before and not allowed him to return, or alternatively they could have kicked him out in February and told him he could not come back. Instead, the authorities apparently decided to make him some sort of example of how foreign humanitarian assistance is designed to undermine the Korean regime. The result will simply be to further strengthen negative international sentiment about North Korea.
Reverend Lim is pastor at the 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto. Lisa Pak, spokesperson for the church said:"There was a press conference in Pyongyang, and he was asked to go and say some statements about his allegations and charges. The Chinese media and the state media were there. That's the most that we know, that the press conference happened and he admitted, I use that word very lightly, to some charges."Quite possibly he was tortured but apparently those accused may admit guilt when they are promised a lighter sentence for doing so. Lim's lawyer noted Lim had confessed to his offences, asked for another chance, and had promised he would not do anything bad again.This probably saved him from the death penalty. Had Lim been a North Korean, he might just have disappeared or have received the death penalty.
The department of Global Affairs Canada Canada expressed dismay at the harsh sentence given Lim's "age and fragile health." He is hardly fit for hard labour. The department said that it made repeated attempts to meet with Lim in custody. Canada has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. Spokesperson for the department, Diana Khaddaj, said:"This is a serious violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the right of states to have consular access to their citizens, Like Mr. Lim's family and friends, the government of Canada remains concerned for his rights and well-being, and wishes to see him return to Canada."
There appears little consistency in how violations of the law are treated in North Korea. An Australian missionary, simply apologized for his missionary activity last year and was deported. North Korea has very stringent rules about religious activity. Just leaving a Bible in a public place could land a person in jail. Just last year North Korea released Kenneth Bae, an American Korean missionary who also was convicted of crimes against the state and was given 15 years. He had medical problems while in detention. US intelligence official, James Clapper, went to North Korea and arranged his release.
Perhaps something similar could be arranged to release Lim. Perhaps, Canada can enlist the aid of Dennis Rodman the NBA star who is a friend of Kim Jong-un. Kim is a huge fan of the NBA and he also loves attention. He might very well decide to show how "magnanimous" he is and release the Toronto pastor if some important person in the west, such as Rodman, asks him to do so.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Quebec public sector unions hold one day strike to protest slow negotiations

Last Wednesday, tens of thousands of Quebec public sector workers participated in a one-day strike. The streets of downtown Montreal were clogged with demonstrators.

The walkout was held to protest against lagging contracts with the Quebec provincial government.
The streets of downtown Montreal were clogged with demonstrators Wednesday afternoon, as Quebec public sector workers staged another one-day walkout to protest against lagging contract talks with the provincial government. The strikers included teachers, white-collar workers and caretakers. Jacques Letourneau, president of the CSN claimed that the strike was the largest since 1972 with more than 400,000 taking part. The strike was province-wide even in the northern Quebec Inuit territory of Nunavik where teachers were picketing outside in minus 15 C weather. The Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux(CSN) or Confederation of National Trade Unions is the second largest union in Quebec. Its structure is quite decentralized.
While the CSN defended the strike as necessary to put pressure on the government to reach agreement more quickly, Martin Coiteux, Quebec Treasury Board President, questioned the necessity of the action noting that much progress had already been made with more than 30 settlements reached with unions in various areas on non-salary issues. The public sector workers have been without an agreement since April. This the fourth time many unions have gone on strike as members of the CSN voted earlier this fall to have six rotating strikes to pressure the government to reach an agreement.
The Quebec government and the CSN are far apart on salary. The government has offered a five percent increase over five years but the unions are asking for almost twice as much in a three-year contract. This is the fourth of six strikes. Several different unions have joined in a Common Front over the last two years but others have not joined. A new strike is being discussed for December 21.

Monday, December 14, 2015

De Beers Group diamond mine to suspend operations at Snake Laker N.W.T.

The huge global diamond producers De Beers Group is shutting down its Snap Lake diamond mine in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Over 400 jobs will be lost as a result.

De Beers was founded back in the 19th century by Cecil Rhodes in southern Africa, but now operates in some 28 countries. It still operates in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa but also has mines in Canada. Its headquarters now are in Luxemburg and it still controls about 35 percent of global rough diamond production. However, it has long lost any monopoly power in the industry and the ability to set prices as it had earlier. In the 1980s it still controlled 90 percent of rough diamond production.
Kim Truter, the CEO of De Beers Canada, said the company would be evaluating market conditions over the next year to see if the underground mine is financially viable. He said: "The men and women at Snap Lake have put enormous effort into this challenging ore body over many years, but even the gains made this year are not enough to overcome the market conditions and put us in a profitable position.
N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod said about 300 of those who work in the mine live in the territories while the others fly in from elsewhere in Canada. The mine is about 220 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.Closing the mine will require 190 workers, and the continuing care and maintenance will involve about 70 workers. De Beers has spent about $1.5 billion with N.W.T. companies over the years. $865 million was spent on aboriginal firms as well as joint ventures with them. Analysts warned the closing of the mine would have devastating effects on the local N.W,T. economy.
Some 100 workers will be able to work at De Beers' Gahcho Kue project near Kennady Lake in the territories. The mine is slated to begin production next year. De Beers claims it is attempting to give northerners and aboriginal workers first preference in hiring for the project.
The Snap Lake project has had difficulties from the beginning, with underground production creating higher costs while diamond prices have been declining. The mine also encountered a costly water problem. The closure was not unexpected and Truter said he was "quite humbled" by how the workers accepted the news of the closure. Employees will receive full salary and benefits for 16 weeks and compensation in accordance with local legislation. However, some claimed the layoffs were devastating so close to Christmas.
Grand Chief, Edward Erasmus, of the Tlicho said:"This is a very sad day for our N.W.T. people and economy, not only for the Tlicho but for everyone. Sometimes tough business decisions have to be made, and we understand that De Beers had to make that decision today.We will be working closely with our businesses and with workers to lessen the impact on our people. We know that De Beers is working hard to make sure there is counselling available for workers."The Snap Lake mine began operations in 2008. Three diamond mines in the N.W.T. including Snap Lake, produce 40 percent of the N.W.T. gross domestic product(GDP)
There was a general election in the N.W.T. on November 23 but a new premier and cabinet will not be chosen until later in the month.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Some in Alberta oil patch support NDP provincial government climate plan

In a secret deal with four top companies operating in the oil-sands, together with four environmental organizations, the Alberta NDP government climate change plan includes a hard cap on emissions from oil-sands production.

The new plan represents a breakthrough in that corporations, environmentalists, and the government came to an agreement instead of criticizing each other. However, the plan will no doubt cause divisions within the oil patch, NDP supporters, and environmentalists not part of the deal. When Alberta premier,Rachel Notley, announced the deal:
 Four oilsands leaders — Murray Edwards, the billionaire oil investor and chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.; Steve Williams, president and CEO of Suncor Energy Inc.; Lorraine Mitchelmore, president of Shell Canada; Brian Ferguson, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy Inc. — stood behind Notley Nov. 22 as she announced an aggressive climate change plan for Alberta. In addition to imposing a $3-billion a year economy-wide carbon tax and phasing out coal-fired electricity generation, the plan strictly caps the oilsands’ share of provincial emissions at 100 megatonnes per year, from about 70 megatonnes today.The plan will be part of Canada's offering for the UN climate change conference taking place in Paris. Notley said:“I’m hopeful that these policies, taken overall, will lead to a new collaborative conversation about Canada’s energy infrastructure on its merits, and to a significant de-escalation of conflict worldwide about the Alberta oilsands."
This appears unlikely to happen. CEO of Imperial Oil, Rich Kruger, and CEO Bill McCaffrey of MEG Energy Corp. were not consulted about the deal and are apparently outraged. Senior oil industry sources said they did not know who backed the deal except for the Pembina Institute. They should know now that several of the largest oil-sands producers are involved. The Oil Patch has not been able to form a united front against the government and environmentalists, One senior industry source complained that the details and financial implications of the deal had not been worked out and it was not clear how the plan could be enforced. Some members of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers(CAPP) who produce conventional oil, such as Encana Corp. are angry that the four corporations broke ranks.
CAPP president,Tim McMIllan, said the group supported part of the plan. He mentioned in particular increased use of natural gas rather than coal to generate electricity. He said that details on the carbon tax needed to be clarified. The group was going through the numbers to see what effect the plan will have on the province. Murray Edwards said that while talks with environmental groups were controversial he thought that the end result would be more positive discussions rather than the adversarial relations of the past.
Not all environmental groups agree to the deal., based in Brooklyn NY, a strong opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, said it would continue to oppose pipelines. Cameron Fenton, who organizes anti-oil-sands campaigns from Vancouver, said: "The only way that we stop fighting pipelines is when we stop pipelines.”
Journalist and activist Naomi Klein was very critical of the deal:“In my opinion, there is no circumstance in which greens should be negotiating with tarsands operators, and I don’t think that in the current political context any green group could seriously believe they could get away with that again. The grassroots resistance is too strong."
The new policies will reward companies that are more efficient in terms of producing less greenhouse-gas emissions per barrel of oil. Those that produce more will be hurt by the plan. Energy analyst, Rob Mark said:"What I see from this policy, as we've read it, is that Alberta is going push capital towards efficiency. Whether it's a company, a reservoir or a technology. We are going to tip the scales so that capital flows away from the least efficient reservoirs, companies, technologies."
Trevor Tombe, an economist at the University of Calgary, claims what is called an output allocation in the plan is actually a subsidy that will help efficient operators such as Cenovus and Devon but punish other such as Shell in the Peace River and Nexen: Tombe estimates (there are no details yet for the subsidy) that the average return to oilsands operators will be $1.50 per barrel, which will mean the most efficient operators, such as Cenovus and Devon, will pay little to no carbon tax in the early years and may even earn credits that they can sell. At the other end of the scale, Shell in Peace River and Nexen at Long Lake will pay quite a bit more, as much as $5 a barrel in the case of Nexen.
Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute, that supports the plan, claimed the plan allowed Alberta to take its rightful place on the world stage and that the world needed more of this type of leadership in jurisdictions that were major energy producers in order to avoid dangerous climate change, Greenpeace praised parts of the plan but claimed it was not enough. Forest Ethics Canada Director, Karen Mahon, and Steven Guibeault founder of Equiterre were also present with Notley at the announcement of the plan. As the appended video notes, the plan will increase the costs to consumers for gasoline and for home heating bills with possible rebates to some consumers.

Six Canadian Banks earn almost $35 billion over last fiscal year

- In a year that has seen a weak economy, slumping development in the energy sector and consumers cautious and debt-ridden, five of the six main Canadian banks had fiscal year earnings better than last year with Scotibank being the single exception.

Three of the six banks also increased their dividends. Total earnings of the six for the fiscal year was almost $35 billion. The Royal Bank was the top earner with $10 billion in profit compared to $9 billion last year.
One of the ways the banks increased their profits was by curbing expenses. This often involves trimming staff and running the operations with fewer workers. TD cut 1,594 jobs this year. Scotiabank dropped 1,140 staff since last July.but this did not increase the profits for this year which dropped to $7.21 billion from$7.30 billion last year. Royal Bank also cut 528 full time jobs but did it mostly by not replacing retirees rather than laying off existing staff.
Some of the increase in profits has nothing to do with the Canadian economy but rather that some Canadian banks have large U.S. operations, and with the low Canadian dollar, U.S. earnings are worth more in Canadian dollars. Some Canadian banks have expanded to such a degree into the U.S. that in the case of TD, it has more branches in the U.S. than Canada. TD had the second highest earnings with $8.02 billion this year as compared to $7.88 last year.
Loan volumes have been rising and deposits growing. The banks also saved money by not passing along the full half percentage point in the loan rate that the Bank of Canada introduced earlier this year. The banks lowered their rate by only 0.30 percent, keeping the other 0.20 per cent for themselves or 40 percent of the total drop in the rate. What many consumers no doubt noticed is bank fees are continuing to increase as well.
Still, banks face problems in the west. particularly in Alberta where there have been many layoffs. The Royal Bank has added eight energy sector companies to its watch list. Equifax, the credit monitoring agency, says loan delinquencies were rising in every province with a large energy component. The economic outlook for 2016 is not that robust and forecasts have been trending downward,
The banks also face pressure to introduce new digital technology to compete with competition from giants such as Apple and Google. Janice Fukakusa, CFO of RBC, said: "We're continuing to invest in our digital channels … and also to invest in automating and simplifying our processes." David Beattie, a bank analyst at Moody's Investor Services, said"They're getting to the point where they're really doing some substantive changes to the way they run their businesses,Digitization is doing that anyway, but the pressure of low interest rates and spread compression and low revenue growth is just making it all that more critical."
The Royal Bank(RBC), with the largest profits, showed an increase in profits of 11,3 percent from last year. In the fourth quarter of this year ending on October 31, it earned $2.59 billion, also up by 11 percent from 2014. The RBC profit per common share was $1.74 in the fourth quarter above estimates by analysts. For the full year it was $6.73. The stock pays a dividend of 79 cents per share, an amount unchanged. Dave McKay, president and CEO of RBC, said: "We had record earnings of $10 billion in 2015, reflecting the strength of our diversified business model and our ability to execute our growth strategy in a changing environment," RBC operations in the U.S. and the Caribbean were profitable this year whereas last year they suffered losses. Not surprisingly there are signs that all will not be well in Alberta. Mark Hughes, risk officer for the RBC, said:"We've noticed a slight — and I would stress the word slight — upward trend in auto and credit card delinquencies in Alberta and while they haven't translated into writeoffs, we are monitoring the performances of these portfolios,"
The Toronto-Dominion Bank(TD) saw its profits increase by 5.3 percent in the fourth quarter to $1.84 billion even though it had heavy restructuring costs. The bank claims its Canadian retail operations experienced growth in loans, deposits, and insurance earnings. At the same time, credit performance was also strong. TD's U.S. banking operations had a net income of $486 million, which was 14 percent above that of last year. In part this was due to the weak loonie. The TD president and CEO, Bharat Masrani, said; "Results for the year reflect good earnings performance from all businesses, driven by good organic growth, strong credit quality, favourable currency translation and positive operating leverage."
Although CIBC profits showed a drop in profits for the fourth quarter, it also reduced its workforce — but by just 124 positions in the fourth quarter. For the entire fiscal year ending Oct. 31, CIBC performed better than in 2014. The bank had $3.59 billion of net income and $7.92 billion of revenue, up from $3.22 billion of net income and $7.5 billion of revenue last year. Victor Dudig, CEO and president said:"In 2015, all three of our strategic business units delivered strong performance,Looking to 2016, I am confident that our client-focused strategy and our investment in innovation and process improvements will add long-term value for our shareholders."
CIBC increased that dividend, paid quarterly, from $1.13 to $1.15.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Blackberry faces trouble in Pakistan over user privacy

The Canadian company BlackBerry Ltd., formerly known as Research in Motion, has decided to delay closing down operations in Pakistan until at least December 30, as it continues negotiations with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority(PTA).
The Pakistan government is demanding access to users' private data. BlackBerry is in a difficult situation since one of its competitive strengths is its strong encryption assuring users of the privacy of their data. BlackBerry has been losing market share and money for some time now although losses have slowed considerably lately compared to 2013 and 2014. BlackBerry began as Research in Motion back in 1984. It still has 46 million subscribers.
Originally, PTA had demanded in July that BlackBerry give access to BlackBerry Enterprise Services, which encrypts data or be shut down by Nov. 30. This time line has now been extended to December 30. However, CNET reports that BlackBerry will shut down operations in Pakistan at year's end because demands from the country's Telecommunications Authority would result in a massive invasion of user privacy:BlackBerry refuses to agree to the Pakistani government's order to monitor BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES), including encrypted emails and BBM messages sent and received in the country. It is therefore withdrawing on December 30, Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard said in a blog post Monday. The Canadian company said it enforces a blanket ban on allowing so-called "backdoor" access to customer information anywhere in the world.Beard claimed the Pakistani demand had nothing to do with public safety and his company was quite willing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in investigation of criminal activity. He claimed Pakistan was demanding unfettered access to all BES customers' information. There is a debate over encrypted communications in many countries opposing encryption in the name of national security. Not only BlackBerry will face the issue with governments as in Pakistan, and also in India, Saudi Arabia and UAE, but so will the giants in the industry such as Google, Apple, and Facebook and in huge markets such as the United States and the UK..
Rather than having decided to shut down, it seems that BlackBerry is still trying to work out a solution as it was able to do in India. The chair of PTA Syed Shah said that the two sides were still discussing the level of access and also claimed that the deadline could be extended with BlackBerry continuing to operate in Pakistan meanwhile. While the government claims the access is necessary for security reasons, analysts say the government is increasing electronic surveillance that targets, opposition politicians, journalists, and activists.
Three years ago in August of 2012, BlackBerry settled a similar showdown with the Indian government that lasted for four years when the Indian government demanded the encryption keys for BSE secure corporate email and messenger services. At that time, BlackBerry was Research in Motion or RIM: RIM recently demonstrated a solution developed by a firm called Verint that can intercept messages and emails exchanged between BlackBerry handsets, and make these encrypted communications available in a readable format to Indian security agencies, according to an exchange of communications between the Canadian company and the Indian government.As the appended video shows, BlackBerry's problems with governments and encryption go back at least five years when RIM faced the same problems about encryption in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Trans-Pacific Agreement text shows it is very damaging to some Canadian business areas

The Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP) is a huge trade deal among 12 Pacific Rim countries that the former Harper Conservative government signed in October shortly before the recent election.
Although the Conservatives promised that they would release the text of the agreement before the election, they never did. The text of the agreement is now available here. It is interesting to browse through it. The agreement will allow individuals who have any connection to businesses from countries who are signatories to enter Canada on temporary permits for all sorts of purposes with no visas required.
Experts say the agreement will result in a flood of foreign workers coming to Canada. While this may help companies operating in Canada, it could also result in misuse, as has happened even before this agreement. There will no longer be the requirement that there is no Canadian available for the job before a foreign worker can be hired. While some companies simply went through the motions of looking for a Canadian, now they will not even need to do that and can no longer be held for breaking the law if they do not hire an available Canadian. This will be an invitation to bring in cheaper workers from any of the eleven other countries that are signatories to the deal.
However, in regulated professions, incoming workers may face problems meeting provincial regulations. In some instances such as dentistry, the consumer could end up having more choice or even cheaper services but no doubt the dental profession ruling body will try to prevent this by requirements that will be proclaimed as in the interest of the safety and well-being of their patients. While no doubt there is a need to ensure adequate safeguards so that only properly qualified professionals are allowed to practice, there should be some way of ensuring that those who set the regulations also consider the public interest in having sufficient dentists to choose from and reasonable prices.
On the release of the TPP text it became evident that the Canadian auto sector will be hurt more than realized. Jim Stanford economist for the giant Unifor union claims just the weakened regional content rules of the TPP will threaten 20,000 well-paying jobs in the auto sector alone. The TPP will have a larger negative effect on the dairy industry over time as well.
Jim Balsillie, who helped build the $20 billion dollar global business Research In Motion (now BlackBerry) claims provisions in the TPP could cost Canada hundreds of billions of dollars. He says signing the deal could be Canada's worst public policy decision in Canadian history. Balsillie said of the final text of the agreement: "It's such brilliantly systemic encirclement. I'm just in awe at its powerful purity by the Americans..."We've been outfoxed."He is concerned intellectual property provisions of the TPP favour the Americans and will force Canadians to use and pay for U.S. technology. Somewhat similar concerns are voiced by Michael Geist.
Geist also claims that in the technology sector, the TPP reflects a "made in America" approach that could put Canadian companies at a huge disadvantage: "My view, especially on some of these digital policy issues, is we spent the better part of a decade trying to craft rules that better reflect Canadian interests and Canadian sensibilities and we don't see those rules in this agreement."On privacy issues, the TPP would prohibit rules already in place that protect residents in British Columbia and Nova Scotia from U.S. surveillance by requiring government information such as health data be stored within Canada. The TPP outlaws such requirements. Geist also said the extension of copyright some 20 years to 70 years after the death of the creator will also generate real costs to Canadians. Geist is research chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.
A critique of the TPP by the Council of Canadians is available here. One by the CCPA is here. The TPP still has to be approved by parliament. While the Liberals may object to some parts of the agreement, it seems unlikely that they will reject the agreement and demand it be re-opened to change the document. This would encourage other countries to do the same. There is disagreement about the TPP in the U.S. as well, as shown on the appended video from the U.S.-based Democracy Now. A previous article in DJ argues the TPP will result in less democracy and less competition.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Liberals keep promise to withdraw from ISIS bombing campaign

As promised during their election campaign Trudeau will withdraw its CF-18 fighter jets from the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
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Some Canadian planes will stay as part of the operation, including two Aurora surveillance aircraft, two transport planes, and a Polaris refuelling plane. Subsequent to the Paris attacks, there has been some pressure for the Liberals to reconsider their plans as some countries such as France are increasing their attacks. However, Liberal Defence Minister Harjit Saijan stood firm on the promise: "Myself and the government feel we need to focus on the training. If we do not get that piece right, is does not matter where one bomb drops."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised he will increase the number of group troops operating in Iraq to train more local forces. At present there are only 69 troops on the ground. The additional troops could train locals in medical aid and clearing improvised explosives, as they did in Afghanistan after their combat role there ended. Even the small number of Canadian Special Forces already in Iraq may be involved in combat.
A senior adviser to Trudeau said allies have not asked Canada to alter its position, claiming there had been no pressure on Canada to do so. In talks with various world leaders, the adviser claimed that they were satisfied with Trudeau's explanation of his position. He said the allies understood training will be a useful contribution to the mission against the Islamic State. The interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has been urging Trudeau to immediately reverse his decision saying:"The fight against ISIS requires a strong humanitarian response, but also a military response. It's important that we remain resolute and support our allies."
A top diplomat from Iraqi Kurdistan, Fatah Bakir, head of the Department of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government, said he respected the Canadian decision to withdraw from the bombing, but hopes Canada will in turn provide more support "in the form of weapons, ammunition, equipment, training and capacity building." Not long ago a Canadian CC-130 Hercules that was to fly to Erbil in Kurdistan Iraq was grounded by Iraqi authorities for several days. Haken al-Zameli, head of the Iraqi central government security and defence commission, said: "The inspection committee in Baghdad International Airport has found a huge number of rifles equipped with silencers, as well as light and mid-sized weapons.” The Iraqi government demands all weapons, and other military supplies go through the central government. The U.S. wants to arm the Kurds directly. The Canadian plane was sent back to Kuwait eventually.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Postal Union wants postal banks re-introduced to help fund Canada Post

In the second quarter of this year, Canada Post actually made a profit, but in the last quarter it lost $13 million. Even so, this is a relatively small sum, as is the total loss for the year so far of $20 million.

Many countries have taken the opportunity to privatize postal services to help out their corporate friends. Among the prime functions of modern governments is to find new sources of profits for capital. First moves involved changing the laws that used to give national postal services monopolies over postal services. Private corporations were allowed into parcel delivery etc. services, that could bring a profit while often leaving uneconomical services such as regular mail delivery to isolated and rural areas to the national postal service. This forced national services such as Canada Post into an unfair competition in which its competitors were able to provide services in a growth area in high volume settings whereas Canada Post also had to provide first class mail service to remote areas with low volume and no profits. Things have now "progressed" to the point where former government postal services have been wholly privatized in many countries. In Canada this has yet to happen but many public post offices are now privatized and located in shopping centers among other locations,
Expensive services such as home delivery have also been in the process of being phased out. However, on October 26 after the Liberals were elected, Canada Post put the transition to community mailboxes from home delivery on hold. Canada Post said it will work collaboratively with the new Liberal government to decide the best way to move forward. The mailboxes have been unpopular, not just with those who have lost delivery services but often with local authorities as Canada Post has installed boxes often without proper consultation about the locations. The Liberal platform promised it would ensure, "high quality service at a reasonable price to Canadians, no matter where they live." Only 32 percent of Canadian households still get home delivery service.
Canada Post spokesperson Arick Losier said: Efforts are now underway to place the comprehensive program on hold in an orderly fashion." Losier said in the release: "This involves roughly 460,000 addresses across the country which are currently in the process to be converted to community mailboxes." As has been happening for some time traditional mail volumes are declining in the third quarter by 5.5 percent in the third quarter but parcel volumes are rising and Canada Post parcel business will do very well in the last quarter during the Xmas season.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers(CUPW) notes that if one considers the entire Canada Post group of companies that includes not just Canada Post, but Purolator Holdings, SCI Group, and Innovapost Inc., they actually made a profit in the third quarter of $10 million. CUPW thinks Canada Post officials want to stress the loss of Canada Post alone in order to justify cuts to services.
CUPW long ago suggested Canada Post should consider re-introducing postal saving banks at post offices. Canada Post had a postal bank until 1968. In 2006 Japan's postal bank was the world's largest savings bank with US $1.7 trillion in deposits. Israel's post offices offer bill payments, savings and checking accounts, and foreign exchange services at all its post offices. China also has a huge chain of postal savings outlets.
The union claims these services would generate much-needed income for Canada Post and would be particularly beneficial in rural or low income areas not well served by the existing banking system. It will be interesting to see if the Liberal government will even consider this idea. The NDP should be pressing the Liberals to implement such an idea.