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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tens of thousands of Canadians still in dark and cold after massive ice storm

   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 29/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   A massive ice storm has left about 56,500 homes and businesses in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick still without power after a week.
   Hardest hit was Toronto where hydro crews had reduced the number of properties without electricity in below-freezing temperatures to 32,000 on Friday, down from a peak of more than 300,000 last Sunday.
   At the start of the weekend, there were still about 40,000 customers in Ontario without power, 14,000 in New Brunswick and 2,500 in Quebec.
   The storm coated trees and power lines with a thick layer of heavy ice, bringing them down and cutting off power.
   The massive around-the-clock effort to clear trees and limbs to replace power lines and restore electricity has had utility companies in the three provinces receiving help from outside, including New York state and Michigan.
   Toronto Hydro focused on restoring power to the most people in the shortest amount of time, including two hospitals, and is just now getting to clearing debris and reconnecting individual homes, said chief executive officer Anthony Haines.
   Mayor Rob Ford, who has held daily news conferences since last Sunday and has visited “warming shelters,” said the city is “doing the best we can” at getting all the power restored.
   Authorities were warning against the use of generators and barbecues inside to keep warm as there have been reports of five people killed in Ontario and Quebec from carbon monoxide poisoning.


   Deputy Toronto Mayor Norm Kelly has apologized over complaints he left the city in the midst of the ice-storm crisis to spend Christmas in Florida with his relatives.
   “I apologize sincerely . . . it’s a lesson learned, I won’t forget,” he said after it was reported that he went to Florida for 28 hours starting on Christmas Eve.
   During the time away, Kelly said he stayed in touch with emergency department heads in Toronto to monitor the situation.
   Kelly was given many of the mayor’s powers and staff after Ford admitted to smoking crack cocaine and refused to resign.


   News in brief:
   - Tom Crist of Calgary is donating all of his $40-million cash, tax-free lottery jackpot to charities, notably the Canadian Cancer Society, in memory of his wife who died from the disease. Crist was playing golf in Palm Springs, California last May when he learned he had won. “I’ve kept it a secret, even my kids didn’t know until today." The retired chief executive of EECOL Electric said he “did very well for myself” and that he and his family “don’t really need that money.”
   - Canada’s red-hot real estate market is expected to cool slightly by mid-2014 but demand is expected to remain relatively strong nationally. The market will level out but not bottom out, said Scotiabank chief economist Warren Jestin. The Canadian Real Estate Association said the national average price for a house should be near $391,000 next year, up from $382,000 in 2013.


   Facts and figures:
   The Canadian dollar continues lower at 93.33 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar is valued at $1.0713 in Canadian funds, before bank exchange fees.
   The Bank of Canada’s trendsetting interest rate is steady at 1 percent while the prime-lending rate remains at 3 percent.
   Stock markets are higher, with the Toronto exchange index at 13,592 points and the TSX Venture index 916 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (Dec. 25) 4, 18, 23, 32, 34 and 47; bonus 44. (Dec. 21) 1, 2, 10, 19, 22 and 44; bonus 41. Lotto Max: (Dec. 20) 2, 13, 18, 24, 27, 37 and 43;  bonus 14.


   Regional briefs:
   - About 4,500 Ontario health-care workers who have been on strike since Dec. 11 returned to work on Friday. The salary dispute involves unionized nurses, therapists and personal support workers with the Red Cross who visit the sick and elderly in their homes. They agreed to have the issues settled by an arbitrator.
   - An opal-like gem valued at $500,000 has been stolen from a store in Vancouver’s Gastown district. Police said the 11-inch-long piece of ammolite was taken by someone who smashed the front window of Rocks and Gems Canada. The gem, which is Alberta’s official stone, is formed from the fossilized shells of extinct marine mollusks known as ammonites and contains the same minerals that make pearls.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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