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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.


   A second class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of passengers on an Air Canada plane that crashed at Halifax’s airport.
   The statement of claim filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court seeks damages for physical and psychological injuries.
   Air Canada Flight 624 hit the ground short of the runway and broke apart on March 29 while landing during a snowstorm.
   There were no deaths but about 24 people were injured among the 133 passengers and five crewmembers.


   News in brief:
   - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be joined on Tuesday in Holland by a group of elderly Canadian veterans to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The trip to the Netherlands is in recognition of the Canadian troops’ vital role in liberating the country from the Nazis. The battle in Europe resulted in the deaths of 21,478 Canadian soldiers.
   - Households have gone deeper into debt in recent years, Statistics Canada reported. The agency said the median debt-to-income ratio amounted to 110 percent of a family’s after-tax income in 2012, compared with 78 percent in 1999. Thirty-five percent of families owed more than twice their annual after-tax income, compared with 23 percent of in 1999.
   - Canada’s economy remained even in February with the gross domestic product – or the value of the goods and services produced – unchanged.
   Statistics Canada said gains in retail sales were offset by declines in manufacturing and the oil and gas industry.


   Facts and figures:
   The Canadian dollar has advanced to 82.18 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returns $1.2168 in Canadian funds, before bank exchange fees.
   The Bank of Canada’s key interest rate is steady at 0.75 percent while the prime-lending rate is 2.85 percent.
   Markets are lower, with the Toronto Stock Exchange index at 15,357 points and the TSX Venture index at 697 points.
   The average price of gasoline is higher at $1.08 a liter or $4.11 (Canadian) for a U.S. gallon.
   Lotto 6/49: (April 29) 10, 21, 34, 37, 45 and 49; bonus 43. (April 25) 7, 13, 23, 25, 40 and 41; bonus 48. Lotto Max: (April 24) 3, 37, 38, 40, 42, 43 and 46; bonus 12.


   Regional briefs:
   - The British Columbia Teachers Federation is seeking to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada a ruling that the provincial government didn’t violate charter rights to bargain class size and composition. The thorny issue, debated for 13 years, arose again last year when teachers went on strike in June and delayed the start of classes in September until the union signed a six-year deal.
   - The Manitoba government’s budget is hitting smokers with a boost of $1 in tax on a carton of cigarettes and increasing the capital tax on financial institutions by one percent to six percent. The added money will help pay for infrastructure spending in a budget with a deficit of $422 million. There will be higher tax credits for at-home caregivers of relatives and an increase in rental assistance for welfare recipients by up to $271 a household.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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