Canada column for Sunday, June 5/16
THE CANADIAN REPORT
(c) By Jim Fox
The first group of emotionally drained residents returned to see what’s left of their homes after the devastating wildfires in Alberta.
But, many people who lost their homes to the fires might never return to Fort McMurray after 2,400 houses and businesses were destroyed – about 10 percent of the city.
Last month’s wildfires abruptly changed direction and made a direct hit on the city in the heart of Alberta’s oil-producing region.
Authorities are planning the return to the city in stages as more than 80,000 people had to flee when the flames and smoke approached.
The return started last Wednesday for people who lived in areas that were mostly spared by the fires.
“These are the points of light in the midst of some very, very hard days,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said.
She welcomed home the first group returning and thanked the crews who worked to get the city running again.
The Canadian Red Cross has begun allocating the $125 million raised so far to assist with the recovery efforts – money that is to be matched by the federal government and partially by Alberta.
Concern over a possible housing market “correction” has prompted the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to seek government intervention.
The agency said the Canadian government should move to reduce risks associated with soaring house prices and household debt levels in Toronto and Vancouver.
Any major market swings could threaten the country's financial stability, it said.
Together, the two cities comprise one-third of Canada’s housing market and the government has acted so far to increase the minimum down payment for homes costing more than $500,000.
House prices climbed more than 25 percent year over last year in Greater Vancouver with many Chinese investors in the market and about 12 percent in Greater Toronto.
In both cities, the average price for a detached house has risen to more than $1 million.
News in brief:
- The patriotic move by many Canadians to buy French’s ketchup instead of Heinz after it pulled out of Leamington, Ontario for a U.S. plant is expanding. Along with using Canadian tomatoes and mustard seeds, French’s announced plans to move ketchup production to Toronto next year. French's is in partnership with Leamington’s Highbury Canco that produces tomato paste for its ketchup and had taken over the century-old Heinz plant.
- Recent deaths include Cindy Nicholas, a marathon swimmer who swam across Lake Ontario and twice across the English Channel in the 1970s and 1980s. Once known as Queen of the Channel, the lawyer and former Ontario politician, died in Toronto from liver failure at age 58.
Facts and figures:
The Canadian dollar has advanced to 77.21 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returns $1.295 in Canadian funds, before bank exchange fees.
The Bank of Canada’s key interest rate is steady at 0.5 percent while the prime-lending rate is 2.7 percent.
Markets are higher, with the Toronto Stock Exchange index at 14,152 points and the TSX Venture index 687 points.
The average price for gas nationally has risen to $1.091 a liter or $4.14 (Canadian) for a U.S. gallon.
Lotto 6/49: (June 1) 2, 10, 14, 23, 26 and 31; bonus 12. (May 28) 18, 29, 31, 36, 43 and 47; bonus 23. Lotto Max: (May 27) 1, 14, 16, 20, 26, 32 and 34; bonus 18.
- In the city that was long ago nicknamed “Toronto the Good,” a massive police raid has rounded up members of a downtown street gang allegedly linked to several murders and firearms trafficking. Inspector Bryan Bott said 53 people have been arrested since January, including 32 in Thursday's raids, that involved more than 600 police officers at 43 locations.
- Environmentalists and the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce are calling on the provincial government to give greater protection to its old-growth forests. There are concerns as logging activity is increasing including west of Victoria where forests with 1,000-year-old trees are being cut down daily, said forest ecologist Andy MacKinnon. It’s “open season” on the old trees outside of parks and protected areas, he said.
Jim Fox can be reached at email@example.com