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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tough budget coming for Canadians on March 29

   Canada column for Sunday, March 4/12


   (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.


   A Via Rail passenger train was speeding when it crashed off the tracks west of Toronto killing three crew members and injuring 46 passengers, investigators said.
   The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is trying to determine why the train didn’t slow to the posted 15 mph as it approached a rarely used switch leading to another track.
   The train was travelling at 67 mph near Burlington, causing the locomotive to tip over and crash into an industrial building last Sunday afternoon.
   Lack of an onboard voice recorder in the cab, as required in U.S. trains, makes the investigation more difficult, said the board’s Tom Griffith.
   Killed were engineers Ken Simmonds, 56, and Peter Snarr, 52, both of Toronto, and engineer trainee Patrick Robinson, 40, of Cornwall.


   News in brief:
   - Elections Canada is investigating more than 31,000 reports about fraudulent automated phone calls during last May’s federal election campaign. No political party is taking responsibility, so far, for the “robocalls” that in some cases redirected voters to places to vote that didn't exist. Other complaints said the calls came at inconvenient hours and they were harassed by people purportedly calling on behalf of political parties.
   - The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended a search for a 47-year-old Canadian woman thought to have fallen overboard from the Bahamas Celebration between the Bahamas and Palm Beach, Fla. The unidentified woman was last seen as the ship left Grand Bahama Island. As well, 13 Canadians are returning home from the Costa Allegra that lost power after an engine room fire in the Indian Ocean. A sister ship, the Costa Concordia ran into rocks and nearly capsized in January with the loss of 32 lives.


   Facts and figures:
   The Canadian dollar has gained to $1.0155 in U.S. funds while the U.S. greenback is worth 98.85 cents Canadian, before bank exchange fees.
   The key interest rate of the Bank of Canada remains at 1 percent while the prime lending rate is 3 percent.
   Canadian stock exchanges are lower, with the Toronto index at 12,631 points and the TSX Venture Exchange index 1,675 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 5, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 40; bonus 28. (Feb. 25) 2, 22, 30, 33, 35 and 42; bonus 14. Lotto Max: (Feb. 24) 6, 17, 23, 24, 25, 31 and 38; bonus 7.


   Regional briefs:
   - British Columbia teachers plan to start a three-day strike on Monday to back demands for more money and better treatment. The provincial government is moving to pass a bill to outlaw any further strikes by the 41,000 teachers and to appoint a mediator. New Democratic politicians say they will stall that action in the legislature.
   - Ontario teachers are being asked to take a two-year pay freeze to help with budget restraints. Premier Dalton McGuinty also wants an end to a plan that pays teachers up to 200 days for unused sick leave when they retire. Starting pay in elementary schools up to Grade 8 is $41,766 to $44,292 a year. Top pay is $92,813 and $94,942 for high-school teachers.
   - Sears Canada plans to close three major downtown stores in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa to raise money to revamp other stores. To be closed are stores at the Vancouver Pacific Center, the Calgary Chinook Center and the Ottawa Rideau Center by Oct. 31. There are 301 Sears stores across Canada.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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