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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ice-storm cleanup in Toronto could cost $75 million; food cards given to the needy who lost power

   Canada column for Sunday, Jan. 5/14

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The cost of the ice-storm cleanup in Toronto could reach $75 million after 300,000 customers lost power – some up to nine days.
   City officials estimated that amount for work that could take eight weeks to remove the thousands of trees and limbs that fell during the storm.
   Hundreds of people lined up to get grocery gift cards of $100 for a family and $50 for a single person.
   The cards were provided by the Ontario government and retailers to help low-income residents replace food spoiled during the power outage.
   Electricity was restored to all by mid-week just before much of Eastern Canada went into another deep freeze with Arctic air plunging temperatures to below 0F.
   The same storm that hit the northeastern U.S. hard brought blizzards to Nova Scotia and severe wind chill temperatures across Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
   There was up to eight inches of snow in southern Ontario’s Niagara region and combined with the freezing temperatures led to numerous multi-vehicle crashes.
   The Prairies also set cold records, with temperatures around -20F in Regina and Winnipeg, while out west Calgary and Vancouver had above-freezing temperatures.


   Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said he’s been the “best mayor” the city has ever had as he officially filed papers to seek re-election in October.
   After admitting to using illegal drugs while in office – and refusing to resign – Ford is trying to put that behind him.
   “My track record speaks for itself: We’ve got the lowest taxes than any other major city in North America and the city is absolutely booming,” he said.
   Ford noted the good job that he and city department heads did during the ice-storm crisis with daily news briefings and being out daily in the most-affected areas right through the holidays.
   Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who was given many of Ford’s powers, apologized for having left the city for 28 hours to attend a family Christmas gathering in Florida at the height of the crisis.


   News in brief:
   - Canada’s highest-paid chief executive officers continue to get richer even as the economy has tightened, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives says. The top 100 CEOs earned an average of $7.9 million in 2012 while the “average” Canadian worker was paid $46,634, it said. In other words, the top CEOs earned as much as the average worker is paid all year by 1:11 p.m. on Jan. 2.
   - The Canadian government said there will be no increase in Employment Insurance premiums this year while Canada Pension Plan premiums will rise by $140 for workers earning at least $52,500 per year. There will be bigger tax breaks for people who donate to charities for the first time and the maximum contribution to Tax-Free Savings Accounts rises to $5,500 this year, up $500, in addition to any unused amounts from other years.


   Facts and figures:
   The Canadian dollar has advanced to 94.17 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar is valued at $1.0618 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 mixed, with the Toronto exchange index down at 13,533 points on Friday and the TSX Venture index up at 943 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (Jan. 1) 4, 6, 7, 11, 12 and 40; bonus 15. (Dec. 28) 13, 20, 23, 34, 38 and 46; bonus 18. Lotto Max: (Dec. 27) 1, 6, 9, 11, 17, 37 and 39; bonus 32.


   Regional briefs:
   - Five people have died in an outbreak of H1N1 influenza in Alberta. Three of the deaths were in Edmonton and two in Calgary as health authorities say there are 965 confirmed cases with 270 people admitted to hospitals. Mass immunization clinics have been set up and free flu shots are available at drug stores and doctors’ offices.
   - Avalanche experts were warning people to be extra careful snowmobiling or skiing in backcountry slopes in eastern British Columbia and western Alberta in advance of a major weekend storm. Three avalanches in the Golden, British Columbia area have killed an Edmonton man snowboarding and seriously injured three skiers.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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