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Greetings to thousands of readers the past month from the United States and Canada, as well as the United Kingdom, Russia, India, Germany, France, Japan and Latvia.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Canadians share a "bright hope" with others, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says



   Happy New(s) Year

   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 30/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians can view their country as “an island of stability and a bright hope for people the world over.”
   So said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his Christmas/New Year’s message after referring to the “global economic uncertainty all around us.”
   Heading into 2013, Harper said his Conservative government “will continue to focus on growth, jobs and prosperity for all Canadians.”
   He continued: “But for now, let us be mindful of those who are less fortunate, be grateful for the service of our men and women in uniform, and let us give thanks for Canada, the best country in the world.”
   In a year-end interview with Global TV, Harper said Canada will no longer “passively” accept immigrants as it reforms the immigration system to ensure newcomers meet the criteria to fill growing labor shortages.
   “The country faces shortages now that will only worsen as the aging population retires,” he said.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Canadian links to Connecticut school shooting ramage



   Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Season’s Greetings

   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 23/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Two of the 26 people killed in the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting had links to Canada.
   Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, lived most of her young life in Winnipeg while the father of teacher Lauren Rousseau, 30, was born in Quebec.
   “The thoughts and prayers of Canadians are with the students and families affected by this senseless violence,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
   A candlelight vigil was held outside of the University of Winnipeg to honor Ana who moved to Connecticut last summer.
   “As much as she’s needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise,” said her father, jazz musician Jimmy Greene.
   He left his job at the Manitoba university to return to his home state to teach at Western Connecticut State University.
   Rousseau’s relatives in Quebec were grieving while denouncing U.S. gun laws.
   “It's revolting how easy it is to obtain firearms – that's what's so infuriating,” said victim's uncle, Francois Rousseau.
   Her father, Gilles Rousseau, said he was advised not to view his daughter’s body and was told the gunshots were so powerful they blasted through a wall and into her car outside.
   The incident has prompted a review of security at Canadian schools, with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty saying his government will spend $10 million to equip schools to begin a “locked-door” policy by next September.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Labor unrest by teachers, border guards in Ontario; Canada immigration changes on refugee claims



   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 16/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Labor strife in Ontario has school teachers staging one-day strikes and border guards protesting at two of Canada’s busiest crossings.
   Parents are scrambling to arrange care for their children as elementary teachers hold day-long walkouts across the province over a bill that imposes a contract with no pay increase for two years and outlaws strikes.
   Premier Dalton McGuinty said the disruptions by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario were “regrettable” but the government won’t intervene unless the strikes last longer than a day.
   “This strike action is about the government’s unprecedented interference in the right to collectively bargain – a legal right provided for all people under Ontario law,” said federation president Sam Hammond.
   As well, high school teachers have withdrawn from all non-classroom work, including extracurricular sports and events such as holiday concerts.
   This action has prompted thousands of students to walk out of class to protest, with most backing their teachers.
   A walkout by some Customs and Immigration Union officers in a dispute over an order they wear name badges stalled traffic on Tuesday at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit and the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan.
   Union officials said displaying their names could lead to “unnecessary” safety risks by criminals who could find them.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Canada reviews plan to buy costly F-35 fighter jets; demands that Defense Minister resign



   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 9/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   By Jim Fox

   A case of sticker shock could ground the Canadian government’s controversial plan to spend $25 billion to buy and maintain sophisticated F-35 fighter jets.
   Opposition politicians are demanding that Defense Minister Peter MacKay resign over skyrocketing costs for the jets and for not letting taxpayers know the real price tag to buy and operate the planes.
   The Royal Canadian Air Force wants to replace its CF-18 Hornets with 65 of the single-engine, radar-evading Lockheed Martin fighter jets.
   Auditor General Michael Ferguson, in a scathing report last April, concluded the jets could cost $10 billion more than the defense department has publicly acknowledged due to cost overruns and production delays.
   The government in the coming week is expected to release the results of a study into the costs, with news reports suggesting the price tag will soar to $40 billion.
   As well, a study is underway to compare the F-35 with other fighter jets including Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet and the EADS Eurofighter.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Canadian politicans beset with conflicts, scandals, resignations



   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 2/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   By Jim Fox

   Conflicts and scandals are taking their toll on Canadian politicians with the court-ordered removal of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and demands that Alberta Premier Alison Redford resign.
   Parti Quebecois politician Daniel Breton has left the Quebec cabinet for alleged “ethical transgressions” and two Quebec mayors quit earlier in a corruption inquiry.
   Ford is blaming a “left-wing conspiracy” as he appeals a ruling by Superior Court Judge Charles Hackland that ousted him as mayor for violating conflict of interest rules.
   The issue involves Ford taking part in a council vote over repayment of $3,150 in donations he solicited on city letterhead for his private football foundation for disadvantaged youths.
   Other mayors in the spotlight are Montreal’s Gerald Tremblay and Gilles Vaillancourt of Laval who resigned during an ongoing inquiry into construction industry kickbacks.
   London, Ontario Mayor Joe Fontana, a former Liberal Member of Parliament, is being investigated for misusing public funds to pay for his son's wedding. He is resisting calls for him to resign in the meantime.
   Opposition parties in the Alberta Legislature are calling on Redford to step down for an alleged conflict of interest.
   Redford denies claims she was involved in a decision to give a multi-billion-dollar tobacco litigation contract to her ex-husband's law firm.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

No Canadian budget surprises or tax hikes: Flaherty



   Canada column for Sunday, Nov. 25/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians need not be concerned about any tax increases or “risky new spending schemes” in the next federal budget.
   Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made the comments, saying the Conservative government is moving toward its goal to balance the budget by 2015.
   Budget consultations with provincial leaders are to begin in the coming days as the latest figures show a deficit of $26 billion.
   That’s an increase of $5 billion from a forecast last March and is blamed on global economic weakness that has cut into commodity prices and tax revenues.
   Both Flaherty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper insist the government can still balance the budget in the next two years.
   The government is trying to strike a balance between reducing spending, maintaining an “appropriate tax base” and including measures to stimulate economic growth, Flaherty said.
   There will be no reductions in federal payments for education and health care while spending for such things as programs for seniors, people with disabilities and children will remain untouched, he added.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Fiscal cliff" looms for Canada if U.S. topples over



   Canada column for Sunday, Nov. 18/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians could follow the United States in a plunge over the so-called fiscal cliff in January, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney warns.
   Extending U.S. tax cuts and spending beyond the end of this year is the “most imminent threat” facing Canada’s economy, the head of the central bank said.
   There’s concern by economists that without political cooperation in the U.S. on a new budget arrangement about $600 billion in tax cuts and spending will end abruptly.
   This could rob the U.S. economy of about four percentage points in growth and push the country into a recession that the Canadian economy would be sure to follow, said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
   Carney and Flaherty have pledged to take action to support the Canadian economy if a shock from the U.S. or Europe again threatens to plunge the country into a recession.
   How U.S. policy-makers deal with the threat highlighted concerns among the world’s economic leaders attending the G20 meeting last weekend in Mexico, Flaherty said.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

U.S. election pleasing to most Canadians; Obama victory, oil and bridge to Michigan



   Canada column for Sunday, Nov. 11/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians could be shipping their oil to the U.S. after all and will find it easier to cross the border after the re-election victory of President Barack Obama and a vote in Michigan.
   Prime Minister Stephen Harper said while sharing “one of the closest and most extensive relationships in the world," he wants Canada and the U.S. to “continue finding ways to increase trade and investment flows.”
   Some Canadian politicians were quietly pulling for Republican challenger Mitt Romney based on his commitment to approve the stalled Keystone XL pipeline to ship Alberta oil to Texas.
   Although Obama deferred a decision on the pipeline until after the election, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said he expects the project will go ahead because it’s in the “national interest” of the U.S.
   Harper said he was “very pleased” that voters in Michigan supported a Canadian-financed $1-billion project to build a second bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan.
   Canada and the U.S. have the world's largest trading partnership with some $2 billion in goods and 400,000 people crossing between the two countries every day.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Two deaths, power cut to 150,000 in storm aftermath



   Canada column for Sunday, Nov. 4/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Two people were killed and thousands left in the dark as the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy sideswiped Ontario and Quebec.
   A worker was killed when repairing a downed power line in Sarnia, Ontario while a Toronto woman died after being struck in the head by a Staples sign the wind had blown apart.
   Trees were toppled and power lines came down as wind gusts reached 60 mph, leaving 150,000 people without power, including 55,000 in Toronto.
   As the storm blew out, there were pounding waves along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and into Atlantic Canada.
   Hundreds of utility workers from Hydro One in Ontario are in New York and New Jersey helping to restore power and clean up.
   As well, workers from Toronto Hydro and the Toronto Transit Commission have offered to help make repairs with New York’s power and subways.
   “In the aftermath of the ice storm (in 1998), it was great to see our American cousins up there with their trucks, their workers, their equipment, doing what they could to help us,” said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
   Hydro One workers also helped restore power after hurricanes in Florida in 2004 and 2005.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Canadian dollar dips on interest-rate news and blocking of oil patch business takeover



   Canada column for Sunday, Oct. 28/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada’s dollar has dropped to just above parity with the U.S. currency after the country’s central bank said plans to raise interest rates are now “less imminent.”
    Bank of Canada, Mark Carney made the comment while cautioning that lagging global demand and high household debts are concerns to the country’s economic outlook.
   The bank kept its trendsetting interest rate at 1 percent and expectations are it might not be increased for at least another year.
   "Because of global headwinds, there is a need to provide very stimulative monetary policy," Carney said.
   “The case for adjustment of interest rates has become less imminent . . . but over time, rates are more likely to go up than not,” he added.
   The dollar is at a two-month low, down about two cents, and was also shaken by the Canadian government’s decision to block an oil-field takeover bid as being not in the national interests.
   Petronas, Malaysia’s government-run energy company, was rebuffed in its $5.2-billion proposed deal to take over Progress Energy Resources Corp. a Calgary-based natural gas business.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Canadian border guard escapes death by shooter; no plans to speed up arming officers



   Canada column for Sunday, Oct. 21/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Canadian government has no plans to speed up the arming of border guards even though an agent narrowly escaped death when shot.
   Lori Bowcock was critically wounded when shot in the neck by a Seattle man trying to cross into Canada last Tuesday.
   The gunman, identified as tattoo artist Andrew Crews, 32, then shot and killed himself at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Surrey, police said.
   The 2 p.m. shooting was at the busy crossing between British Columbia and Washington State, south of Vancouver.
   Bowcock, of London, Ontario, began working with the Canadian Border Services Agency at the crossing in July and was previously a 911 dispatcher with the Ontario Provincial Police.
   She remains hospitalized and doctors expect she will make a full recovery.
   Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he is “deeply concerned” by the shooting and that the arming of border agents is a key component of strengthening the agency.
   Officers are being trained to carry and use firearms and all 4,800 should be ready to do so by 2016, he said.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dozen people ill after eating beef linked to now-closed Alberta processing plant



   Canada column for Sunday, Oct. 14/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Twelve people in four provinces have been infected by E.coli bacteria linked to an Alberta beef processing plant at the center of a massive tainted meat recall.
    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has ordered the emergency closing of the XL Foods plant in Brooks.
   That followed the discovery of the bacteria last month in tests by U.S. officials on meat being shipped across the border.
   U.S. authorities then stopped accepting beef shipments and a recall began that has now expanded to 1,800 products shipped within Canada, to the U.S. and 20 countries.
   The plant with 2,000 workers handles about 35 percent of Canada’s beef processing operations.
   It has been allowed to resume limited operations under supervision but no products will leave XL at this time.
   Harpreet Kochhar, agency executive director, said the plant has been cleaned and sanitized as an investigation continues into “improvements made to all previously addressed deficiencies.”
   XL chief executive officer Brian Nilsson is denying claims by the United Food and Commercial Workers that the fast pace of slaughter operations forces workers to take shortcuts with cleanliness.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Massive recall of tainted beef hits Alberta plant



   Canada column for Sunday, Oct. 7/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The political fallout is building as Canada faces its largest-ever recall of tainted beef.
   The list continues to grow of recalled beef products over possible E. coli contamination from the now-closed XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta.
   More than 1,500 XL products across Canada and the United States are on the recall list.
   The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the list could still grow as officials track beef from the affected plant to distributors, manufacturers and retailers.
   An Edmonton man, who is among five confirmed cases of E-coli illness, has launched a class-action lawsuit.
   Opposition Members of Parliament have attacked the Conservative government for its handling of the crisis and delay in notifying the public.
   Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government denied suggestions that spending and job cuts at the inspection agency aggravated the problem.
   The outbreak of E. coli was first detected on Sept. 4 but reports said it wasn’t until 12 days later the agency began recalling some of the products.
   Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the plant that employs 2,000 people won’t be allowed to reopen until the agency is satisfied its products are again safe to eat.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Canadian government finances in good shape; not so good for the provinces, territories, cities: watchdog



   Canada column for Sunday, Sept. 30/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The government’s cost-cutting measures are paying off federally but provinces, territories and cities are not doing so well, says Canada’s “budget watchdog.”
   Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said the Conservative government’s cutbacks will lead to a sound financial position in the long-term.
   Even though government revenues are projected to slow as expenses rise for such things as health care and public pensions, most of the increased costs have been shifted to the provinces and territories, he said.
   The federal government’s “sustainable fiscal position” results from recent action to limit health funding to the provinces, slashing program expenses and increasing the age of eligibility for the “Old Age Security” pension to 67 from 65 starting in 2023.
   Over the next 20 years, current estimates indicate total government sector debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will fall to 31.9 percent from 53.5 percent, Page said.
   One word of caution in his report was that overall debt for Canada’s three levels of government is similar to the situation in some European countries but remains many years away from becoming critical.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Teacher revolt in Ontario over pay freeze by government



   Canada column for Sunday, Sept. 23/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Tough measures by the Ontario government to deal with a soaring budget deficit have led to a revolt by many school teachers whose pay has been frozen.
   Now, the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty plans to take similar action for the highest-paid public service workers.
   "These measures are necessary to help us meet our fiscal targets and we're asking everyone to do their share," Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said.
   The enactment of the “Putting Students First” bill, which is being challenged in court by teachers’ unions, has frozen their pay for two years, halved their paid sick days to 10 a year and banned strikes and lockouts.
   In response, the unions called on their 136,000 members to refuse to take part in any extracurricular activities, including the coaching of sports.
   The top salary of a fully experienced Ontario teacher is about $95,000 a year for 195 in-class days.
   The government said the pay cap is needed to maintain full-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes, and trim the $15-billion deficit.
   A proposed bill to limit wages of public workers would also include those employed by government-funded agencies, boards, commissions, hospitals, universities and colleges.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cheats being stripped of Canadian citizenship



   Canada column for Sunday, Sept. 16/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The federal government is stripping the Canadian citizenship of thousands of people who have cheated the system.
    “Canadian citizenship is not for sale,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said, vowing to continue the Conservative government’s crackdown against cheats.
   Canada is revoking the status of 3,139 people for abusing the system in order to receive citizenship, he said.
   As well, thousands more are being investigated on suspicions of fraudulently obtaining or maintaining their permanent residence for citizenship purposes.
   In all, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is looking at the cases of about 11,000 people have been potentially implicated in lying to apply for citizenship or resident status.
   It’s a process that takes several years, Kenney said as critics suggest his comments are upsetting to the majority of law-abiding immigrants.
   Canada has removed or denied admittance to more than 600 former permanent residents linked to fraud and denied about 500 citizenship applications for not meeting residence requirements.
   “We will continue to take strong measures to combat the industry of crooked immigration agents here and abroad who seek to devalue Canadian citizenship by creating fake proof of residency and committing other forms of fraud,” Kenney said.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Independence for Quebec, French language rights could be issues after Parti Quebecois elected


   Canada column for Sunday, Sept. 9/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada could again face the eventual possibility of Quebec seeking independence after the election of a separatist-minded government in the province.
   Premier-elect Pauline Marois, who survived a potential attempt on her life during her victory speech, will form a minority government with the narrow victory Tuesday of her Parti Quebecois.
   A man burst through the back door of a Montreal nightclub as Marois was speaking and shot two people – a stage technician who was killed and a club worker who was wounded.
   The man also set a fire inside the club packed with revelers celebrating the victory that ousted Premier Jean Charest and his Liberals from office.
   When taken away by police, who said they haven’t established a motive, the man shouted "the English have awoken."
   Richard Bain, 62, a fishing-camp owner from Mont-Tremblant, was arrested for first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and arson.
   Marois, who wants more powers for Quebec, is expected to implement increased measures to protect and enhance the Francophone culture and French language.
   Charest, 54, a career politician for 28 years and premier for nine, was defeated by voters in his home riding and said he is quitting politics.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

B.C. sled dog tour manager admits killing 56 dogs not needed after Winter Olympics


   Canada column for Sunday, Sept. 2/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The former manager of a British Columbia sled-dog tour company admitted to brutally killing 56 of the animals no longer needed after the 2010 Winter Olympics.
   Robert Fawcett pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in the culling of the dogs from the pack owned by Howling Dog Tours in Whistler.
   He will be sentenced Nov. 22 after the court considers a psychiatric assessment.
   The incident became known last year after Fawcett filed a claim to receive worker’s compensation for “post-traumatic stress disorder” over stress from killing the animals.
   The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals exhumed the remains of the dogs from a mass grave as part of the investigation.
   Marcie Moriarty of the SPCA said the maximum penalty Fawcett faces is five years in jail, a fine of up to $75,000 and a possible lifetime ban on owning animals.
   Animal rights advocates gathered outside the courtroom in North Vancouver urging that he receive the maximum penalty.
   “We want to have a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves,” said pet owner Ingrid Katzberg.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Unused money held by corporations should be used to boost economy: Bank of Canada governor


   Canada column for Sunday, Aug. 26/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   There’s too much “dead money” in Canada that should be working to improve the economy, the head of the country’s central bank says.
   Company owners are sitting on piles of cash that could be spent on expanding businesses or at least be given back to shareholders, said Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney.
   Speaking at a Canadian Auto Workers meeting, Carney said the level of caution by business owners “could be viewed as excessive.”
   A study said Canadian businesses have set aside $526 billion in unused cash assets.
   Business investment and consumer spending provide the “chief support” for the continuing economic recovery, he said.
   Ongoing international concerns have led to a “less robust” business investment than what was previously expected, causing some of the caution.
   Auto workers’ president Ken Lewenza called for some of that unused money to be reinvested into technology, the workplace, productivity and training.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cross-border battle escalating over Canadian shoppers in Bellingham, Washington


   Canada column for Sunday, Aug. 19/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   A cross-border battle has broken out as many residents of Bellingham, Wash. are fed up with hordes of shoppers invading from Canada.
   Thousands of people have supported a Facebook page urging the Costco store in Bellingham, 30 miles south of British Columbia, to ban Canadian shoppers during specific American-only hours.
   “Bellingham Costco needs a special time just for Americans," residents say.
   Spurred by lower prices and taxes, Canadians are scooping up the bargains – in particular a gallon of milk at half the price, cheese and gasoline selling for one-third less.
   Numerous Canadians interviewed said they buy 15 to 20 gallons of milk at a time and fill up their cars and cans with gas before returning home.
   Bellingham relies on its Canadian visitors and shoppers, said Chamber of Commerce president Ken Oplinger.
   “In the last two years, our sales tax generation has doubled or tripled the pace in the rest of the state and its almost entirely because of the Canadians coming south,” he said.
   Just down the road in Burlington, Wash., Mayor Steve Sexton says Canadians and their money are welcome there.
   “We appreciate you and look forward to serving you,” he said on the Facebook page called “Burlington Washington Welcomes Our Canadian Friends and Neighbors.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Environmental science to determine fate of proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline plan: Harper


   Canada column for Sunday, Aug. 12/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Science, not politics, will decide the fate of a proposed $6-billion twin pipeline to deliver oil to a British Columbia port for shipment to Asia, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
   Canada is looking to supply China and Asian countries with some its vast oil reserves now that the U.S. administration has rejected a proposed pipeline to move Alberta crude to Texas refineries.
   The Northern Gateway project would have two pipelines transport Alberta oil sands bitumen about 700 miles to a tanker terminal on the west coast near Kitimat.
   Scientific environmental reviews are underway with a deadline of Dec. 31 next year for the assessment to be complete.
   The pipeline is “obviously in the vital interests of Canada,” Harper said.
   The future is “going to be based on commerce with the Asia-Pacific region,” he added.
   Environmentalists and aboriginal groups are opposed to the plan while British Columbia Premier Christy Clark wants strict environmental protections and a greater share of royalties for the province.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

No further duty-free shopping breaks for same-day trips


   Canada column for Sunday, Aug. 5/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians should expect no further duty-free breaks for shopping trips to the United States, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says.
   The Canadian government has rejected a request from New York State Democratic Congressman Bill Owens seeking the duty exemption rules be made the same as for Americans shopping in Canada on same-day trips.
   Many Canadians make a run to the border in search of lower prices, a larger selection of goods and to pay only about half the sales taxes as at home.
   Duty-free exemptions for Canadians returning with goods were eased in June but not for same-day trips.
   “Our government has no plans to create an exemption for day trips under 24 hours as it would disadvantage retailers in border communities and elsewhere in Canada," Flaherty told Owens.
   U.S. residents can return home with $200 in duty-free goods for same-day trips.
   Canadian shoppers can now bring back $200 in goods after 24 to 48 hours and $800 for longer trips before duties apply.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

U.S. portrayed as "softer, gentler" in ads in Canada


   Canada column for Sunday, July 29/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   A “softer, gentler America that looks a lot like Canada” is being portrayed in a tourism ad campaign called “Discover America.”
   The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. made that assessment of the campaign that depicts the U.S. with a diverse population and stunning landscapes.
   The U.S. is spending $20 million in Canada on ads at a time when money to promote Canadian tourism has been slashed by the federal government.
   This cross-border competition for tourists is “scaring the daylights” out of the tourism industry here, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported.
   It is said to be the first national effort to sell America to the rest of the world since the Reagan administration and has arrived in Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan.
   Ads will appear in Brazil, South Korea, Germany, Australia, China and India this fall and next year.
   The centerpiece TV commercial features the folksy Land of Dreams sung by Roseanne Cash accompanied by diverse musicians.
   Scenes of urban and nature vistas flash across the screen interspersed with multicultural images such as smiling women in hijab and musicians playing the sitar.
   “Discover this land as never before” is the tagline.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Woman killed in Colorado theater shooting narrowly missed being caught in deadly Toronto gang crossfire last month


   Canada column for Sunday, July 22/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   A Denver woman who narrowly missed being caught in a deadly shooting in a Toronto shopping mall was one of the victims of the carnage at a Denver-area movie theater.
   Jessica Ghawi, 24, was among 12 people killed when a gunman open fire in a packed theater during the Thursday night screening of Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo.
   Ghawi, who tweeted under the name Jessica Redfield, said in a blog that she was "blessed" to have left the area moments before the June 2 incident at the Eaton Center while visiting Toronto.
   Two gang members were killed and seven people injured in the incident that was only the start of a summer of violence in the city once called “Toronto the Good.”
   In the worst mass shooting in Toronto’s history, two people attending a neighborhood barbecue were killed and 23 wounded in an exchange of gang-related gunfire.
   The attack in the east-end Scarborough community last Monday night was followed by random gun killings in each of the next two days across the city.
   Police, municipal, provincial and federal politicians as well as members of the city’s “African-Canadian” community are planning to meet in the coming week to review the incidents and discuss what more needs to be done.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Canada, U.S. to co-operate and control movement of people over their borders as part of new security pact


   Canada column for Sunday, July 15/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Newly disclosed details indicate that Canada and the United States will co-operate more closely on documenting and controlling the movement of people across the world’s longest undefended border.
   The initiatives are described in briefing notes on the Canada-U.S. security agreement.
   The perimeter security plan aims to smooth the passage of people and goods across the 49th parallel border while bolstering defenses.
   One somewhat contentious goal is to keep track of everyone entering and leaving each country and sharing those details.
   This would entail an expanded exchange of simple biographic and biometric data, which could include fingerprints.
   Joining forces will also help to better deal with “irregular flows” of refugees that turn up in North America or migrate within the continent.
   Canada is also preparing to require all travelers to present a secure document such as a passport or enhanced driver’s license when entering the country, as is now required for everyone entering the U.S.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cabinet minister resigns amidst spending scandal


   Canada column for Sunday, July 8/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The resignation of federal politician Bev Oda in a spending scandal has led to an unexpected Cabinet shuffle.
   Prime Minister Stephen Harper replaced the embattled Oda, Canada’s first Japanese-Canadian Member of Parliament, with Julian Fantino in her former post as International Cooperation Minister.
   Fantino, now a politician and former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, is succeeded as Associate Minister of National Defense by Bernard Valcourt, who also continues as Minister of State for Atlantic Canada and La Francophonie.
   “These changes to the ministry ensure continuity as we focus on creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity,” Harper said in a statement.
   Oda’s resignation followed intense pressure from politicians and the public for her to quit after information was revealed about “excessive” spending.
   Harper praised Oda’s accomplishments while she said it was a “privilege to have served” in her Toronto-area Durham district. She did not say why she was resigning.
   Oda billed the government for swanky hotel accommodations in London, hired a luxury car and driver at $1,000 a day and even charged a $16 glass of orange juice. Reports said she also modified expense statements from earlier trips.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Investigation set into mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake, Ontario


   Canada column for Sunday, July 1/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Ontario government wants to know if everything possible was done to rescue people trapped when a shopping mall partially collapsed killing two women in Elliot Lake.
   Premier Dalton McGuinty intervened after hearing rescue workers suspended their search only hours after hearing someone tapping from within the rubble.
   The search resumed and a huge crane was sent from Toronto to the small northern town 335 miles away allowing for the recovery of two bodies on Wednesday.
   Part of the parking garage collapsed into the mall’s food court at the Algo Shopping Center last Saturday afternoon.
   McGuinty said his government’s investigation will review if more could have been done to rescue people and look at emergency procedures across the province.
   Angry residents in the town of 13,000 protested in the streets after the search was suspended when officials said it had become too dangerous for the work to continue.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Justin Trudeau touted as possible Canadian leader, just like dad


   Canada column for Sunday, June 24/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Might there some day be another Trudeau leading Canada?
   With the Liberals looking for a new leader, polls indicate Canadians would be almost twice as likely to vote for the party with Justin Trudeau as the leader.
   Now that interim leader Bob Rae surprisingly said he will not seek the job, pressure is mounting on the Montreal politician who is the eldest son of the late former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
   Trudeau, 40, would attract 33 percent of the vote according to a Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll – far more drawing power than other Liberals.
   The poll showed that former astronaut and Montreal politician Marc Garneau was a distant second at 18 percent to Trudeau, the highest profile federal Liberal in Canada.
   There are no official contenders so far as the Liberals seek to rebuild from a devastating federal election loss last year that put them third behind the governing Conservatives and the New Democrats.
   Even with Trudeau, the poll found that 67 percent of respondents would be “unlikely” to vote Liberal, with the number rising to 82 percent to 89 percent with another leader.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

European debt-ridden countries can learn from Canada: Prime Minister Stephen Harper


   Canada column for Sunday, June 17/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   European countries need to adopt the “Canadian approach” in dealing with looming political and economic turmoil, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.
   That’s the message Harper is taking to world leaders at the G20 economic summit in Los Cabos, Mexico on Monday and Tuesday.
   Should Greek voters reject tough austerity measures set out in a financial rescue plan in a government election on Sunday, the stage could be set for the country’s exit from the bloc of nations using the euro currency.
   Canada’s message is that “economic growth and fiscal discipline are not mutually exclusive, they go hand in hand,” Harper said.
   The government is suggesting Canadians didn’t experience a financial, banking or a real estate meltdown as in other countries due to its “strong record” of fiscal discipline.
   That allowed Canada to “quickly put in place extensive, effective stimulus measures when they counted the most,” Harper said.
   “We had budget surpluses and a low and falling debt burden when the crisis hit,” he said, adding: “It is one reason we have weathered the economic crisis so much better than many others.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Protesting students aim to disrupt Montreal Grand Prix


   Canada column for Sunday, June 10/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   “Go back to school,” Canadian racing legend Jacques Villeneuve told protesting Quebec students trying to disrupt this weekend’s Grand Prix in Montreal.
   The Formula 1 races that attract 300,000 people and up to $90 million in revenues to Montreal are a target for the coalition of radical students opposing university tuition-fee increases.
   Police clashed with protesters – in their fourth month of a strike and now-daily rallies – trying to disrupt the opening Grand Prix red-carpet event when 37 people were arrested.
   Villeneuve told reporters the student movement has been damaging to Quebec society and “makes no sense.”
   Student protesters, now joined by those opposed to the “practices of global capitalism,” want people to jam the subway line going to the island in the St. Lawrence River where the big race is held on Sunday.
   One event was cancelled earlier – an open house in the pit area to view the cars and meet with drivers and mechanics.
   “When you attack the Grand Prix, you're not attacking the Government of Quebec but all Quebecers,” Premier Jean Charest said, appealing for calm.
   The government wants to raise tuition fees from the lowest in Canada by about $254 a year over seven years to $3,800 a year.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Canada has baby boomers' boom and baby boom, too


   Canada column for Sunday, June 3/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada is booming, not just with “baby boomers,” but babies as well.
   While new census data shows Canada demographic is graying with more seniors, there is also a burst in the number for children younger than five.
   There’s somewhat of a baby boom, an increase of 11 percent, reversing a declining trend.
   The country’s median age has risen to 40.6 from 39.5 five years ago and from 33.5 two decades ago.
   Record numbers of Canadians at or nearing 65 will “accelerate” population aging over the next 20 years, said Laurent Martel of Statistics Canada.
   In the past five years, the number of seniors has surged to nearly five million, up 14.1 percent.
   With three out of 10 Canadians in the near-senior category, it will have far-reaching implications for health, finance, policy and family relationships, statisticians said.
   The second-fastest growing age group is 100 and older, with 5,825 people and is expected to rise to 17,000 by 2031 and to 80,000 by 2061.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Student unrest grows across Canada; violence continues in Quebec over proposed tuition-fee increases


   Canada column for Sunday, May 27/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The student unrest movement in Quebec – where more than 2,500 people have been arrested in what are now daily and often violent protests – is spreading across Canada.
   Student groups in Ontario and British Columbia are holding protest gatherings while national labor unions are financially supporting the Quebec uproar over planned tuition fee increases by the provincial government.
   Demonstrations in the three-month conflict were capped on Tuesday by a massive gathering estimated at 200,000 students in Montreal where more than 500 arrests were made by riot police.
   The U.S. Consulate in Montreal has advised Americans living there and visitors to be wary of being injured or caught up in the violence where students have been smashing windows, damaging property and fighting with police officers.
   It also threatens to keep visitors away and disrupt Montreal’s summer festival season, particularly the Grand Prix race and jazz festival.
   Protesters have ignored the emergency bill passed by the Quebec Legislature that outlaws unlawful assembly and provides for stiff fines.
   The protests have also spread beyond Montreal and Quebec City to smaller cities across the province.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Runs to the U.S. border to shop costly to Canadian economy


   Canada column for Sunday, May 20/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians making a run to the U.S. border to shop are costing the economy much more than earlier believed, the Bank of Montreal says.
   "There are already more than 50-million visits to the U.S. by Canadian residents annually,” with the number expected to swell with higher duty-free limits starting June. 1, said Doug Porter, the bank’s deputy chief economist.
   "A culmination of factors is likely to unleash a wave of Canadians cross-border shopping this summer in numbers not seen in two decades," he added.
   This is happening even as the bank assessed the gap between Canadian and U.S. prices for consumer goods has narrowed to 14 percent on average from 20 percent a year ago.
   Canadian business owners are not pleased that the government is raising the duty-free limit to $200 from $50 for stays longer than 24 hours and to $800 for visits of two days and more. It has been $400 after two days and $750 for seven days away.
   Generally, most people aren’t charged anything extra on same-day shopping trips for groceries, which are duty free, gasoline or goods amounting to less than $100.
   Since many people don’t report everything they’ve bought, even a “conservative estimate” of five percent more in goods drains an added $20 billion a year from the economy, Porter said.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

U.S. warns about visits to Quebec over student protests


   Canada column for Sunday, May 13/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Continuing violent student protests have prompted the U.S. Consulate to warn Americans about visiting Quebec.
  The advisory from the consulate in Montreal urges U.S. citizens visiting or living in the province to “exercise caution” to avoid injury.
   Over the past three months, students have been protesting a plan by the Quebec government to raise tuition fees from the lowest in Canada at $2,168 a year by $1,625 over five to seven years.
   A proposed deal reached between student leaders and the government last weekend was overwhelmingly rejected by student associations.
   “While the majority of the protests have been peaceful, some participants have incited violence by throwing rocks and engaging in other acts of vandalism,” the advisory said.
   About 170,000 university and community college students are boycotting classes in the protest.
   Police are investigating whether militant students were responsible for setting off smoke bombs in the subway system and disrupting travel for 200,000 people during the morning rush hour on Thursday.
   The consulate said there are “no indications foreigners or U.S. citizens are being threatened or targeted,” but they should “remain alert while on the streets.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Former press baron Conrad Black back in Toronto


   Canada column for Sunday, May 6/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Not exactly a “snowbird,” former media mogul Conrad Black is returning to Canada from time spent in Florida.
   Allowing a “felon” to enter the country after release from prison and renouncing his Canadian citizenship led to an uproar for two days in the House of Commons.
   Black, 67, was released Friday from the Federal Correction Institute in Miami after serving 42 months for fraud and obstructing justice involving his former Hollinger newspaper chain.
   He has been granted a one-year temporary resident permit allowing his return to Canada where he has a home and wife, Barbara Amiel, in Toronto.
   This could lead to extensions of the permit for the Montreal-born Black and even a bid to regain the citizenship he renounced in 2001to become a British Lord.
   New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair said Black is a British citizen now who has been “convicted of serious crimes” and is being given “special treatment” not granted to other felons.
   Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said there was no political interference and the decision to approve Black’s application to return was made independently by the public service office.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Taxes, taxes and more taxes for Canadians!


   Canada column for Sunday, April 29/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadian families earning an “average income” spend more each year on taxes than on the basic necessities of life, a public policy report says.
   The Fraser Institute concludes that over the past 50 years, an average family's total tax bill has increased by 1,738 percent.
   Over the same period, the cost of shelter increased by 1,185 percent, food by 518 percent and clothing by 500 percent, it said.
   “Taxes from all levels of government make up the single-largest expenditure facing Canadian families,” said Charles Lammam, the “think tank’s” associate director of tax and budget policy research.
   The report concludes that the average family's income, at $74,233 last year, has increased significantly over the past five decades while the average tax bill has grown even more to $30,792 or 41.5 percent of family income.
   In 1961, the average Canadian family earned $5,000 and paid $1,675 in taxes, representing 33.5 percent of family income.
   The situation could get worse “unless governments take serious steps to reduce spending and eliminate their deficits," Lammam said.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dollar higher as Bank of Canada hints of rate hikes later in year


   Canada column for Sunday, April 22/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox


   Canada’s dollar and markets rebounded after the Bank of Canada’s announcement that the days of “cheap” money could be coming to an end.
   A hawkish statement took the markets by surprise with the strong signal the central bank is considering raising interest rates later in the year due to improvements in the global and Canadian economies.
   The bank for now has kept is trendsetting key interest rate at 1 percent where it has been since September 2010 while the prime-lending rate remains at 3 percent.
   Bank Governor Mark Carney has suggested there will be “some modest withdrawal of the present considerable monetary policy stimulus” while keeping inflation in check.
   The announcement boosted the value of the Canadian dollar by almost 1 cent U.S. to $1.01 while stock markets also rose.
   News on Friday that Canada’s annual inflation rate dipped to 1.9 percent last month from 2.6 percent in February, the lowest in18 months, is expected to keep the pressure off the bank from raising rates anytime soon.
   Higher interest rates are seen as a way of limiting runaway consumer debt that Carney said “remains the biggest domestic risk" to the Canadian economy.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Union warns of security concerns at Canada-U.S. border over planned spending cutbacks

   Canada column for Sunday, April 15/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Security at the Canada-United States border could be at risk over a decision by the federal government to lay off 1,300 workers, a union leader says.
   Guns, drugs and smuggling will increase along with longer waits, said Jason McMichael of the Customs and Immigration Union.
   The Conservative government is cutting $143 million from the Canada Border Services Agency budget to rein in costs.
   In all, the government wants to reduce its spending by $5.2 billion over three years and cut its workforce by 19,200 jobs.
   With fewer workers at the border, “it’s going to be less safe” and could raise questions about the Canada-U.S. perimeter security deal, said union president Jean Pierre Fortin.
   The goal is to improve security at the border while streamlining the flow of goods and services, partly through technological innovations that will help save money.
   Information-sharing and “infobiometrics” are part of the answer to increased border security, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
   Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ office said the changes will make border operations more efficient by eliminating unnecessary spending and duplication while “it will remain closed to criminals and terrorists.”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Gas prices soar, more Canadians plan "staycations"

   Canada column for Sunday, April 8/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians are planning more “staycations” as gasoline prices have surged and are poised to climb even higher.
   Staying-near-home vacations are among ways Canadians are suggesting to conserve fuel after prices jumped about 16 cents a gallon at midweek.
   The hike pushed the price of a regular gas to a national average of $1.355 a liter ($5.15 a U.S. gallon).
   Industry watchers are predicting record-high prices – as much as $1.50 a liter ($5.70 a gallon) – by summer even though crude oil is less expensive this year.
   Prices reached a high of $1.479 a liter ($5.62 a gallon) in Montreal; $1.44 ($5.47) in Halifax; $1.40 ($5.32) in Toronto; $1.364 ($5.18) in Vancouver; and the lowest at $1.129 ($4.29) in Edmonton, in Alberta oil country.
   Reasons for the jump at the pump include switching refineries to summer gas, the changeover from producing home-heating oil, refinery capacity and shutdowns, and tensions in the Middle East oil-producing countries.
   As Canada is a major oil exporter, higher prices are of some benefit but not for those who drive.
   “Rising prices concern everyone,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said, adding: “The price of oil is a global one – it's not a national price.”

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cross-border shoppers benefit; pension age to rise in Canada

   Canada column for Sunday, April 1/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   U.S. businesses stand to cash in from the Canadian government budget that will also make everyone wait longer for retirement benefits.
   Cross-border shoppers as of June 1 can bring back $200 in goods duty-free after being away for 24 hours, up from $50, and $800 after 48 hours, up from $400.
   To cope with the huge number of “baby boomers” retiring, the government will raise the age to receive the “old-age pension,” now at a maximum $6,481 a year, to 67 from 65 starting 11 years from now.
   Other highlights of the budget include a 10-percent funding cut, or $115 million, starting in 2014, for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and a reduction of $1.1 billion in the $20-billion defense budget by 2014-2015.
   The government will eliminate 19,200 public-service jobs and reduce spending on programs by $5.2 billion a year.
   The good news was that the current annual deficit was reduced to $24.9 billion from a projected $31 billion, with the budget’s goal to eliminate it completely by 2015-16.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Canada seeks Asian Pacific markets for oil, energy resources

   Canada column for Sunday, March 25/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada’s government continues its quest to boost prosperity by selling some of its vast energy resources to Asian Pacific countries after feeling snubbed by the United States.
   In Thailand, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced an agreement for talks toward a free-trade deal.
   This is his second visit and sales pitch to Asia after the U.S. government shelved a decision on allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to deliver Canadian crude oil to Texas refineries.
   "Our government believes it's essential that we be able to sell our energy products outside of North America to countries other than the United States," Harper said.
   After the Keystone decision delay, Canada now wants to proceed with the Northern Gateway pipeline to move Alberta crude one province west to British Columbia ports to supply oil-thirsty Asian countries.
   Harper visited China in February and on this trip will also visit Japan and South Korea to talk trade.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Immigration policy costly to Canadian taxpayers: Fraser Institute

   Canada column for Sunday, March 18/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   A leading public policy organization wants Canada’s immigration selection process revamped to counter the huge cost caused by people emigrating to the country.
   The Fraser Institute said the cost of supporting immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1987 and 2004 is between $16 billion and $23 billion a year.
   That’s because they receive more in government services and payments per person than they pay in taxes.
   “As a result of Canada's welfare-state policies, our progressive income taxes and universal social programs, these immigrants impose a huge fiscal burden on Canadian taxpayers," said report co-author Herbert Grubel.
   Immigrants who have come to Canada since 1987 “are not doing as well economically” as those who came previously, with their annual income 72 percent of that of other Canadians, he said.
   The controversial report calls on the government to scrap the points-based selection process and instead let the market decide the types of workers and professionals that are needed in Canada.
   Report co-author Patrick Grady said their lower income and tax payments “are likely to persist over all stages of their lives.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Air Canada strike/lockout averted by federal government

   Canada column for Sunday, March 11/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Canadian government has moved swiftly to avert a labor disruption that would have grounded Air Canada flights during the busy March school break week.
   Air Canada was preparing to lock out its 3,000 pilots at midnight Sunday as the union representing 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents planned to go on strike.
   The work stoppage would have coincided with the holiday break when hundreds of thousands of Canadians are flying to southern destinations and abroad.
   “I'll be darned if we will now sit by and let the airline shut itself down,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday.
   Labor Minister Lisa Raitt called in the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to investigate the “potential effects on health and safety” that a strike/lockout would cause.
   The investigation will involve contract demands for both pilot and ground workers unions and no work stoppage is allowed during that time.
   “My concern is not management or labor: my concern is the broader Canadian public and I think the public overwhelmingly expects the government to act,” Harper said.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tough budget coming for Canadians on March 29

   Canada column for Sunday, March 4/12

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians will learn on March 29 how the federal government plans to cut spending by about $5 billion a year within three years.
   The much-awaited, no-frills federal budget will outline “what we’re doing in terms of the deficit-reduction action plan and much more than that, this is a jobs and growth budget,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said.
   There are concerns the Conservative government will cut programs, jobs and announce a plan to start scaling back pensions, including making Canadians wait beyond age 65 to receive the monthly “Old Age Security” payments.
   Government workers are bracing for cutbacks and plan to protest next Thursday on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
   They have been “protected” during the recession and it is “realistic that we ask the public service to participate in the belt-tightening,” Flaherty said.
   Overall, the government is “talking about relatively small spending reductions,” he said, with cuts being “modest” in a budget of $265 billion.
   Government revenues are expected to be more than predicted with the continued strength of commodity prices, particularly for oil, a major Canadian export.