Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Canadian released from Chinese jail and deported to Canada

Kevin Garratt, a Canadian held in jail in China on allegations that he was a spy was deported to Canada on Thursday after being convicted on Tuesday of spying and stealing state secrets. Kevin was reunited with his wife Julia at Vancouver airport.

Justin Trudeau, Canadian PM said that there was "tremendous potential" for stronger and more stable ties with China. The deportation of Garratt was no doubt a diplomatic coup for Trudeau. Trudeau had visited China earlier this month and Chinese Premier Li Kegiang is to arrive in Canada next week. According to the Globe and Mail a government source claimed that Trudeau had made it clear in several meetings with top Chinese officials that a better relationship with Canada would be difficult to reach unless Garratt were released. The source said that when Trudeau's first official visit to China was over the release of Garratt was virtually assured.
In an unusual step, Trudeau had Michel Columbo, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) sent to China four months ago to meet with his Chinese counterpart in order to attest that Garratt was not a spy for Canada. Foreign Minister Stephane Dion, and ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques made concerted attempts to obtain the release of Garratt. Former PM Stephen Harper also worked on behalf of Garratt in 2014.
Trudeau was asked if Canada was open to more investment from China, which is seeking a free trade deal with Canada. China is not part of the large Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal whereas Canada is. Trudeau said that there was scope for closer ties.
Foreign Affairs minister Stephan Dion said on Friday that Canada made no concessions to obtain Garratt's release.
Mr. Garratt is a Pentecostal pastor who came to China in 1984. After his conviction, Garratt was deported almost immediately rather than sent to jail. He flew from Shenyang China, to Tokyo and then on to Vancouver. His wife Julia had also been arrested but was released on bail in February and allowed to return to Canada. James Zimmerman Garratt's lawyer and a Canadian embassy official escorted Garratt back to Vancouver.
Roland Paris a former top foreign-policy adviser for Trudeau before stepping-down and taking a job as a professor of international affairs at the University of Paris claimed that Justin was much like his father in that he was tough and persistent. Paris said: “Not just in respect to dealing with China, but I have found him in meetings with foreign leaders to be extremely effective. Because he was able to communicate, to be clear in his own mind what he wanted to accomplish.” Paris said that Trudeau's trip to China had been “an important and successful first step in establishing a more consistent and constructive and sustained relationship with China.”
Critics points out, however, that there are still many activists, lawyers, and writers behind bars in China. This includes Canadian Huseyin Celil and Wang Bingzhang whose children live in Canada. John Higginbotham, a former Canadian Commissioner to Hong Kong from 1989 to 1995 called the situation a "Chinese Opera" whereby Canada can claim successes that don't amount to much but which strengthens the hand of China. Higginbotham said: “It’s obviously a very political gesture by the Chinese to give face to Mr. Trudeau, and hope that that will generate further benefits to China.”

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Canadian household debt greater than GDP in second quarter this year

Canadian household debt's ratio to household income rose to a record high in the second quarter according to statistics just released by Statistics Canada.

The report is likely to raise concerns that Canadian consumers are overborrowing. Statistics show that the ratio of household debt to disposable household income rose to 169.85 percent from 167.37 percent in the first quarter. For every dollar of disposable income, Canadians are spending $1.70. The ratio of household debt to gross domestic product rose to 100,54 per cent compared to 98.7 percent in the first quarter. This means the total household debt during the quarter was slightly greater than the value of GDP during the quarter.
The long period of low interest rates after the financial crisis have encouraged Canadians to take on more debt. This is especially true with respect to buying homes, with the result that prices have shot up in most markets. In markets such as Vancouver or Toronto houses are simply too expensive for the average Canadian to purchase.Many Canadians believe that housing for them is no longer affordable and even those thinking of buying a house worry that the price rise is a bubble that will burst. At the end of the second quarter, Canadian mortgage debt was at $1.29 trillion.
Borrowing by Canadians in the second quarter was $29.2 billion, seasonally adjusted. This is $3.5 billon more than in the first quarter. Mortgages accounted for $19.1 billion of the total up from $18.4 billion in the first quarter. The Bank of Canada has said the high debt level posed a vulnerability for the financial system, and that the amount of debt compared to disposable income was becoming alarming. The continued rise in home prices has increased the net worth of Canadians at an average of $271,300 as compared to $266, 900 in the first quarter.
Laura Cooper, of the Royal Bank of Canada, said: “Households are in an increasingly precarious position” and “should continue to be cautious" about adding debt. However, the share of mortgage loans in household debt has remained stable at 65.6 percent. This is the first time since 1910 that the mortgage loan share has not increased from quarter to quarter. In spite of the high levels of debt, most families are able to meet their debt obligations with credit-market debt still at only about 20 percent of their net worth.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Canadian banned from entering US because he admitted smoking pot recreationally

Even though the use of marijuana is legal in several U.S. states and Canada plans to legalize its use even for recreational purposes, a federal U.S. law allows people to be denied entry if they admit to smoking pot recreationally.

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting System (CBC) Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said:"We obviously need to intensify our discussions with our border authorities in the United States, including the Department of Homeland Security. This does seem to be a ludicrous situation." He noted that the use of marijuana was legal in several U.S. states. Four allow recreational use and nine have the issue on the ballot in November. Trudeau promises to legalize it by the Spring of 2017.
The Canadian government has been speaking with the U.S. to inform that Canada intends to legalize the use of marijuana yet the issue of Canadians being stopped at the border remains unaddressed. Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Goodale said: "In terms of the practices of border guards in question, those only came to widespread attention recently and will be discussed in future bilateral discussions."
Matthew Harvey wanted to take his 3-year-old daughter to Disneyland in California but he has been banned from entering the U.S. for life because he admitted that he had smoked marijuana after the age of 18 and before he had received a medical marijuana licence. At the time, Harvey smoked the marijuana there was no program.
Harvey's problem began in 2014. He was driving from Vancouver to Seattle for a concert. Customs officer noticed a marijuana magazine in his car. He was questioned and detained for six hours. Harvey was then a legal marijuana user in Canada and was entering a state in which recreational and medical use of marijuana is legal. He did not think telling the truth would lead to any problems. However, marijuana is still a federally controlled substance.
To enter the U.S. Harvey must apply for a travel waiver which costs $585 US ($750 Cdn) and even that is on a discretionary basis and can be good for a year, two, or five depending on the officer granting it. Later this year fee goes up to $930 US.
Ralph Goodale said: "The present marijuana regime that has existed now for many years in both Canada and the United States has clearly failed Canadian and American young people because North American teenagers are among the biggest users of marijuana in the western world. We will certainly work very hard to make sure that they understand that we're moving a regime with respect to marijuana that will be far more effective than theirs."
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau admitted publicly in 2013 that he had smoked marijuana "five or six times" in the past. Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer in Blaine Washington who has processed a number of waiver applications says that Trudeau would be admissible under a diplomatic passport and so would probably have no trouble, but as a private citizen he would not be admissible and would need waivers for the rest of his life. Saunders advised Canadians asked about their marijuana use at the border simply to refuse to answer. However, you may end up being held for several hours before they let you pass through. Harvey suggests a policy of simply denying that you used pot for recreation.
Officials at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa, the U.S. State Department, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection all did not respond to a request to comment by the Guardian.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Second quarter sees 1.6 percent annualized decline in Canadian GDP

In contrast to the first quarter when the Canadian economy grew by an annual rate of 2.5 percent the second quarter turned in a dismal performance with a decline of 1.6 percent at an annualized rate.

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This is the worst performance of the Canadian economy in the last seven years according to Statistics Canada. The decline was in large part due to the wildfires in northern Alberta that burned parts of Fort McMurray. The second quarter of 2009 when Canada was in the midst of the global financial crisis was the last time the economy saw such a large drop. However, economists had predicted a drop of around 1.5 percent, not too far off the actual result.
Avery Shenfeld of CIBC Capital Markets said: "It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't expected to be." Exports of goods and services fell by 4.5 percent after a rise of 1.9 percent in the first quarter. The fires near Fort McMurray had forced the shutdown of several oilsands operations. Statistics Canada said that excluding the large drop in crude oil output, the country's GDP would have increased by 0.1 per cent (0.4 per cent annualized). Exports of goods declined 5.5 percent while exports of services rose by a modest 0.6 percent. Exports of aircraft and other transportation equipment actually rose by 5.6 percent. One silver lining in the downturn is that in June GDP rose by 0.6 percent more than the 0.4 percent economists predicted. Mining, quarrying and oil extraction in June had risen by 3.6 percent. Energy product exports fell 7.5 per cent, with crude and bitumen exports declining 9.6 per cent and refined petroleum products down a whopping 19.6 per cent
Shenfeld said: "All told, a quarter we will like to forget, and for the next few months, a more supportive Q3 will help us do just that." The Bank of Canada predicts that growth will pick and also expects that the new child benefit program will boost consumer spending along with increased government spending on infrastructure. The second-quarter result reported Wednesday was worse than forecast by the Bank of Canada in its July monetary policy report. The central bank had predicted that the economy would contract at an annual rate of one percent during the second quarter due to the damage caused by the wildfires. Shenfeld also noted: "The best news [in the GDP report] was that June GDP rebounded ... and less than half of that [growth] came from the rebound in mining/oil/gas, as manufacturing also had a healthy gain."
Other economists were also optimistic about at least some improvement. BMO chief economist, Douglas Porter, said: "We knew for the past four months that today's GDP report was going to be ugly, and it delivered with a capital U. Looking beneath the headline drama, underlying growth continues to stumble along at little more than a one per cent [annual rate] pace, but we continue to expect that to improve in the coming year as the drop in energy investment ebbs."

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On middle east foreign policy Trudeau mostly follows in Harper's footsteps

Stephen Harper the 22nd Canadian prime minister of Canada and long time leader of the federal Conservative Party has announced that he is retiring from politics after a nearly 18-year political career.

Harper was prime minister from 2006 until November of 2015 when Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party won a majority government. Harper intends to move to the private sector. A spokesperson for Harper said that he has formed a consulting group to provide advice to international clients. The company, “will work in tech, finance, energy, infrastructure and manufacturing along (with) other files, in the US, Europe, Middle East and Asia".
Harper left with little fanfare. His handlers often worried about his lack of charisma as a leader and tried various stunts to make him more appealing. This includes Harper at the piano singing along with an orchestra and Yo Yo Ma the famous cellist. The video is appended. Harper was very fond of cats and there are a number of photos of Harper with kittens. An example can be found here.
recent article traces Harper's influence on Canadian policy in the Middle East. Much of this policy is little changed by our new prime minister Justin Trudeau. Most prominent was Harper's unconditional support for Israel. Avigdor Lieberman, an Israeli minister on the far right spoke of Harper as a "true friend of Israel". Harper's government cut funding to the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and to domestic organizations working for Palestinian human rights.
In 2014 the Canadian and Israeli governments signed a memorandum to oppose “boycotts of Israel, its institutions, and its people,” as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) gained prominence globally. Yet Trudeau and most of his Liberals supported a resolution against BDS moved by the opposition Conservatives. Normally, a ruling party would not support a motion coming from the opposition. The Liberals obviously want to show that they too want to protect Israel from the BDS movement.
The Harper government not only supported Israel but also tried to strengthen relations with countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. A Canadian company may have been involved in breaking the UN ban on military shipments to Libya from the UAE.
The Harper government signed a $15 billion contract with the Saudis to provide light-armoured vehicles. This is the largest deal in Canadian history. Did the Trudeau government decide to stop the deal from going through? Not at all, Stephane Dione, the relevant minister approved the deal. The spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, Joseph Pickerell said: “The Minister of Foreign Affairs has signed the export permit for Light Armoured Vehicles … to be sold to Saudi Arabia,. " Many had criticized the deal due to human rights issues. Many argued the vehicles could be used against civilians. While in some other areas of foreign policy Trudeau may be diverging considerably from those of Harper, with respect to the Middle East the Liberals have acted much as the Harper Conservatives did.
In other areas, the Liberals also have yet to change Harper policy. The draconian anti-terror law Bill C 51 was actually supported by the Liberals. The Liberals are promising a wide review of the bill and security issues in general but it remains to be if the Liberals end up making any positive changes. The Rebel Media whose video on Harper is appended is actually conservative politically.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Environmentalist oppose extending Nestle water extraction permit during Ontario drought

An environmental group argues that the Ontario government should not renew a water-taking permit in the south-western Ontario town of Aberfoyle which ran out on July 31.

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Wellington Water Watchers website points out: "NestlĂ©’s permit to take water in Aberfoyle expired July 31, 2016. No new permit has been granted, yet NestlĂ©’s water-taking continues, even in the midst of a drought." The group notes that Nestle submitted their application to renew the permit earlier this year. Ordinarily this will be posted on the registry on the Environmental Bill of Rights. After the posting there is a 30 day comment period after which the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) decides whether to renew the permit. This year they claim the notice was not posted and they automatically extended the permit without consultation or any restrictions because of the drought. Thegroup maintains that water should be for life not profit.
Nestle Waters Canada responded to the complaints by saying that it was committed to "a continued engagement with the community" arguing: "The continuation of this permit allows for thorough public consultation on the Ontario Environmental Registry, and provides (the ministry) time to conduct, review and report on the public commentary before a decision on the permit renewal application is made." Another press release reads: “Although our permit expired on July 31, 2016, we have received confirmation from the MOECC that during this application phase, under the Ontario Waters Resources Act, Section 34.1 (6), the existing Permit to Take Water remains intact until the MOECC moves forward on a decision. We will continue to operate as usual.” The MOECC says that a water-taking permit remains in force if it is made at least 90 days before it expires. It said it planned to post Nestle's application for comment once the supporting documents have been reviewed. There is no mention of the Water Watchers' claim that the application was not posted as it should have been earlier. Other companies have large permits as well.
Documents at the MOECC website show that Nestle Canada has 3 permits to take up to 8.3 million liters of water every day for bottling, while a division, Nestle Waters Canada, has about 6 Ontario permits allowing it to take another 12 million liters a day. Ontario charges $3.71 for ever million liters of water but there is a fee for a permit of $750 dollars or $3,000 for those considered high risk.
Ellen Schwartzel a former environmental commissioner, in a report, said the charges for taking the water was a drop in the bucket. The $3.71 per-million-liter fee recovered about 1.2 percent of Ontario water-quantity management costs. On its website the MOECC lists about 6,000 water-taking permits. The permits allow not just bottlers but municipalities, mining companies, and golf courses to take up to 1.4 trillion liters of Ontario surface and ground water every day. The permits can be valid for up to 10 years or even longer. Although farmers are allowed to take water for agricultural purposes their total use comes to just 0.5 percent of water removed. The enclosed video shows that the same issue came up three years ago.