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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


   (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.”


   Canada is going to open its borders to skilled tradespeople through a new immigration program to begin later this year.
   This will make it easier for Canadian businesses to hire the workers most urgently needed in areas such as construction and manufacturing, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.
   “In Canada, we’ve been welcoming historic high numbers of immigrants, partly to help us fuel our prosperity in the future and fill growing labor shortages,” he said.
   Existing immigration programs haven’t been effective in addressing many of the shortages as they are “rigid and slow and passive,” he added.


   News in brief:
   - Ontario’s 26,000 doctors say the provincial government’s proposed wage freeze will result in a 16-percent pay cut for them over four years. The Ontario Medical Association said this would have a “significant negative impact” on the health-care system. As well, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said it will not be “bullied” into participating in government talks seeking a pay freeze and compensation rollbacks.
   - An Alberta father has drowned while scuba diving in Hawaii. Bill Savage, 49, of Okotoks was swept away by waves while on a dive with his wife and two children off the coast of the Big Island. Savage owned Fringe Fencing and was raised in Ladner, British Columbia.
   - The Azamara Journey and Balmoral cruise ships making memorial voyages marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic are visiting Halifax. Bodies recovered at sea were brought to the city and 150 of the victims were buried there. There is also an exhibit and items from the Titanic at the city’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.


   Facts and figures:
   The Canadian dollar is worth $1.0030 in U.S. funds while the U.S. greenback returns 99.69 cents Canadian.
   The Bank of Canada’s key interest rate is steady at 1 percent while the prime-lending rate is 3 percent.
   Stock markets are lower, with the Toronto exchange index at 12,083 points and the TSX Venture index 1,458 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (April 11) 1, 2, 16, 24, 36 and 49; bonus 33. (April 7) 2, 13, 16, 32, 39 and
44; bonus 27. Lotto Max: (April 6) 15, 18, 19, 25, 32, 42 and 49; bonus 43.


   Regional briefs:
   - The Superior Court has ordered bankrupt aircraft maintenance company Aveos Fleet Performance Inc. of Montreal to pay $5.8 million in back pay to its 2,600 workers. They will receive up to $2,000 each if they do not pursue any future claims. Aveos closed last month after Air Canada withdrew much of its maintenance work.
   - There is concern that a proposed large-scale wind farm in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley would hamper flights at the nearby Royal Canadian Air Force in Greenwood. Base officials said wind turbines on North Mountain would interfere with military flights over the area.
   - Even though the sound of bagpipes was compared with “cries produced by a clowder of dying cats,” they’re part of Vancouver’s heritage. As a result, the city council has reversed a noise regulation that banned buskers from playing the pipes. “There will be no ban on bagpipes or drums busking in Vancouver,” said Mayor (and Scotsman) Gregor Robertson after an international outcry.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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