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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Air Canada strike/lockout averted by federal government

   Canada column for Sunday, March 11/12


   (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.


   Savvy home buyers can cash in on some record-low mortgage rates as the Bank of Montreal has slashed fees.
   The surprise announcement of a 2.99-percent, five-year mortgage (based on a 25-year amortization), down one-half percent, has set the stage for a rate war among banks.
   The bank also launched a 10-year mortgage at 3.99 percent.
   “We believe the housing market is poised for a soft landing,” said bank CEO Frank Techar.
   “Canadians can help ensure this outcome by choosing a shorter amortization and not overextending themselves, which we believe will have a moderating influence on housing prices," he added.
   Statistics Canada said the national average price of new houses rose 0.1 percent in January from the previous month.


   News in brief:
   - A class-action settlement will allow many people to recover about half of their losses from a multimillion-dollar Quebec pyramid scheme. Victims of financial adviser Earl Jones reached the $17-million settlement against the Royal Bank of Canada where much of the investment money was held. Jones, who is serving an 11-year prison term, admitted defrauding 158 investors of about $50 million over 25 years.
   - A Calgary woman died while scuba diving in Mexico in what is believed to have been caused by carbon monoxide contamination in her compressed air tanks. Ronda Cross, 41, formerly of Elkford, British Columbia, was diving off the coast of Cabo San Lucas at the time. Police said they have closed the dive company and are testing its devices and tanks.
   - The family of Fariba Amani, 47, of Port Moody, British Columbia, who is believed to have fallen overboard from a cruise ship, wants the U.S. Coast Guard to resume the search for her body. She disappeared from the Bahamas Celebration on Feb. 29 en route to Palm Beach, Fla. from Freeport, Bahamas.


   Facts and figures:
   The Bank of Canada has kept its key interest rate steady at 1 percent to help stimulate the economy while the prime-lending rate is 3 percent.
   Canada’s jobless rate dropped to 7.4 percent last month from 7.6 percent in January.
   The Canadian dollar returns $1.0103 in U.S. funds while the U.S. greenback is worth 98.97 cents Canadian, before bank exchange fees.
   Canadian stock exchanges are lower, with the Toronto index at 12,497 points and the TSX Venture Exchange index 1,647 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 5, 7, 39, 41,45 and 46; bonus 25. (March 3) 9, 19, 20, 31, 41 and 45; bonus 42. Lotto Max: (March 2) 4, 13, 14, 15, 34, 46 and 47; bonus 49.


   Regional briefs:
   - A rally by 5,000 teachers outside the British Columbia's Legislature in Victoria capped a three-day strike to back contract demands. The government is trying to pass a bill to prevent further strikes by the 41,000 teachers and to appoint a mediator.
   - Four people were injured during student protests outside government buildings in Montreal over plans to raise university tuition fees. Years of resistance have kept Quebec politicians from raising fees from the lowest in Canada at $2,168 a year. The government wants to raise the rate by $325 in each of the next five years.
   - The Ontario government is extending the current three-year wage freeze for its elected politicians for another two years at a base of $116,550 a year. Premier Dalton McGuinty is also asking teachers, doctors and public-sector workers to agree to wage freezes to “help us eliminate the deficit (at $16 billion this year).”


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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