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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Key interest rate in Canada steady while economic risks remain

   Canada column for Sunday, May 31/15

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada’s central bank has kept its key interest rate steady at 0.75 percent even as it says risks to the country's financial stability remain elevated.
   Much of Canada’s fortunes – or lack thereof – is tied to the United States’ economy.
   Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said it is “slightly puzzling” that the U.S. is experiencing a weaker-than-expected economic rebound.
   He expressed optimism it would start accelerating in the second half of this year and that could provide a major boost for Canada’s exports.
   The bank surprised economists in January when it dropped the key rate to 0.75 percent from 1 percent due to the “unambiguously negative” impacts of plunging oil prices.
   The rate remained steady now as the bank said inflation is in line with projections even with the impact of oil.
   A watch will be kept on the potential economic implications for Canada if the dollar remains higher than in recent months due to a lower U.S. dollar and slightly rising crude prices.
   The bank’s next interest rate announcement will be made on July 15.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dismal economic predictions for Canada's 'oil patch' cities

   Canada column for Sunday, May 24/15

   (c) By Jim Fox

   More doom and gloom predictions for Canada’s “oil patch” suggest there could be up to 185,000 job losses this year.
   A report by Enform’s labor market division said the potential losses would amount to a 25-percent drop in the number of jobs due to budget cuts in the oil and gas industry.
   Hardest hit would be resource-rich Alberta where the oil-price collapse darkens the economic fortunes in Calgary and Edmonton.
   The Conference Board of Canada forecasts the two biggest cities will fall into recession this year.
   “The energy sectors in both cities will decline, but other sectors will also feel the pinch from lower oil prices including construction, transportation, warehousing and wholesale and retail trade,” the board said.
   It predicted that benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil will average $56 U.S. a barrel this year and $69 in 2016 – down from $102 a year ago.
   Enform’s report said the industry is expected to spend $94 billion this year, down from $125 billion last year.
   The study said engineering construction firms are most vulnerable followed by exploration and development drilling.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Soccer fan loses his $106,000 job for harassing taunts at reporter

   Canada column for Sunday, May 17/15

   (c) By Jim Fox

   A soccer fan who thought it was fun to shout sexually explicit taunts at a female TV reporter doing a broadcast has lost his $106,000 a year job.
    CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt said she is “fed up” with men coming up to her microphone and verbally harassing her.
   It happened again at a Toronto FC soccer match, so Hunt challenged a group of men about why they would do such a thing.
   They all laughed and repeated the obscenities that were filmed by the TV crew.
   Several of the men were identified after the TV station showed the video and posted it on social media.
   This led to a man identified as Shawn Simoes being fired by Hydro One for violating the company’s code of conduct.
   Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment said it will ban all harassers from its facilities for a year and provide more security for reporters.
   A similar “vulgar stunt,” now called a trend across North America, was caught on camera by CityNews in Calgary and led to an arrest.
   Reporter Meghan Grant was conducting an interview when someone in a passing truck shouted obscenities at her.
   They got the license number and police followed up, resulting in a $402 fine for the stunt.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Socialist government in Alberta could shake up oil policies, pipeline plans

   Canada column for Sunday, May 10/15

   By Jim Fox

   The election of a socialist government in Alberta could lead to big changes in Canada’s oil patch and the future of oil pipeline projects.
   Rachel Notley will take over as Premier with her New Democratic Party after a decisive victory that ended 44 years of pro big oil and right-wing Conservative rule.
   Unlike previous Alberta premiers, Notley said she will let the political events in the United States take their course without her government’s lobbying for construction of the long-stalled $8-billion Keystone XL project.
   Instead of sending Alberta oilsands crude and thousands of jobs to Texas refineries with the building of the Keystone XL, Notley said she’d prefer to have the oil processed instead in Canada.
   On the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to ship oil to British Columbia seaports for export, Notley said it’s so contentious with environmentalists and native opposition that she won’t spend much time worrying about it.
   Projects such as Energy East to ship oil from Alberta through existing pipelines and an extension to the east coast “might” be supported, she said.
   Notley’s election could give President Barack Obama pause to reject Keystone XL, said Nebraska pipeline-fighter Jane Kleeb.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Cost-cutting impairs highway snow clearing: Ontario auditor general

   Canada column for Sunday, May 3/15

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Ontario government is so intent on cutting costs for highway snow clearing that it left roads in an unsafe condition for drivers, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said.
   In a scathing report, she said the Liberal government even gave contracts to private companies that didn’t have the equipment to clear highways of snow.
   The cutbacks over the last five years were at a cost that included “greater delays in clearing highways so that they were safe to drive during and after a storm," Lysyk said.
   Before contract changes were made in 2009, most highways were cleared within about 2.1 hours after a storm but that climbed to 4.7 hours by 2013-14, her report said.
   She found that contract changes put more emphasis on the lowest bidder and less on a company’s ability to actually do the job.
   As well, contractors started using less salt, sand and anti-icing liquids on highways that they patrolled less often than before, Lysyk said.
   “Let me assure all of you, we will take action and we will get it right,” Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said of the report.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Ontario to get tough with tobacco smugglers, tax evaders

   Canada column for Sunday, April 26/15

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Ontario government is turning over a new leaf and getting tough with contraband tobacco dealers who account for 40 percent of the cigarettes consumed in the province.
   Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the illegal cigarette market amounts to $500 million annually and is a big part of the underground economy costing the provincial government $15 billion a year in lost tax revenues.
   In his budget, Sousa said new measures in the past two years have recouped about $600 million in lost revenue from tax evaders.
   Along with getting tough with those in the illegal cigarette market, the government will go after corporate tax avoiders and cash, tax-free deals by roofers and auto body shops, he said.
   Contraband smokes are sold on native reserves, in bars and out of car trunks for a fraction of the $85 average retail price for a carton of 200 cigarettes.
   The government is also requiring that tobacco farms and everyone who handles the product must be registered.
   Authorities say much of the contraband cigarettes have come from unlicensed manufacturing plants in New York State supplemented by the growth of Ontario farms selling tobacco to underground manufacturers.