Canada column for Sunday, May 22/11
THE CANADIAN REPORT
(c) By Jim Fox
Raging wildfires have consumed much of the northern Alberta town of Slave Lake and cut off more than 100,000 barrels a day of oil production.
It’s estimated about half of the town of 7,000 people has been destroyed as more than 80 wildfires are still burning and about 20 remain out of control across the province.
Half-a-million acres of forest have burned in the past week as wildfires are fanned by 60 mph winds in warm and dry weather.
Firefighters are using water bombers, helicopters and heavy equipment against the wildfires along the shores of Lesser Slave Lake.
In the town, subdivisions have been wiped off the map as crews used heavy equipment to build fireguards to protect other homes and structures while bringing the fires under control.
Oil producers, including Syncrude, Shell Canada and Canadian Natural Resources, have had to cut production with the storage tanks full because power disruptions from the fires have made the main transportation pipeline inoperable.
“We believe all of these fires have been caused by humans” as there have been no lightning storms recently in the area, said Leah Lovequist with the Lesser Slave Lake fire zone.
Just after naming his new cabinet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a controversial appointment of three defeated Conservatives to the Senate.
Harper named Larry Smith and Fabian Manning, who had quit their Senate posts to run in the May 2 election for the Conservatives, and former cabinet minister Josee Verner to the upper chamber.
“That's a slap in the face to Canadian voters -- to say that someone who has lost an election a few weeks ago now has the opportunity of becoming a senator,” said Opposition Leader Jack Layton.
Harper continued with his key cabinet ministers -- Jim Flaherty in finance and Peter MacKay in defense – while moving John Baird into foreign affairs replacing Lawrence Cannon who was defeated in the election.
News in brief:
- There are reports Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, is looking north and interested in doing business in Canada. His company, America Movil, is considering entering the Canadian wireless market, security analysts speculate. Such a move wouldn’t cause too much concern for major players such as BCE, Telus and Rogers Communications but would make it tougher for the smaller companies, they said.
- There’s a boom in sales of luxury properties across Canada, driven by wealthier Canadians and an influx of foreign investment. RE/MAX said this is especially true in the greater Vancouver area, with a doubling of luxury property sales of $2 million and higher since January. There were also big jumps in sales in Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg and Greater Toronto.
Canada’s inflation rate was 3.3 percent last month, showing no change from March, which has eased pressure on the central bank to resume raising interest rates.
The Canadian dollar has drifted lower to $1.0286 in U.S. funds while the U.S. greenback returns 97.22 cents Canadian, before bank exchange fees.
The Bank of Canada's key interest rate remains at 1 percent while the prime lending rate is 3 percent.
Canadian stock markets are mixed, with the Toronto exchange index higher at 13,646 points and the TSX Venture Exchange down to 2,025 points.
Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 1, 39, 42, 45, 48 and 49; bonus 29. (May 14) 12, 29, 30, 36, 39 and 45; bonus 20. Lotto Max: (May 6) 7, 8, 14, 32, 38, 42 and 44; bonus 30.
- Manitoba residents could soon be able to buy beer and wine in grocery stores and bring their own wine to drink with meals in restaurants. The provincial government has given notice it will amend the Liquor Control Act to allow a pilot project in larger grocery stores to set up "Liquor Mart boutiques" for beer and wine sales.
- Ontario residents have seen large increases in their electricity bills over the winter now that the Liberal provincial government has included the new eight-percent Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Conservative leader Tim Hudak said if elected in October, his government would drop the HST from electricity bills but the five-percent federal Goods and Services Tax would remain.
- Four men have been arrested in Quebec City after police seized more than 3,000 counterfeit hubcaps. Police raided an auto parts business and two warehouses to find the fake Cadillac, Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and GM caps.
Jim Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org