Greetings to thousands of readers the past month from the United States and Canada, as well as the United Kingdom, Russia, India, Germany, France, Japan and Latvia.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Marijuana legalization planned for Canada in 2018

   Canada column for Sunday, April 16/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Liberal government – as promised during the 2015 election campaign – is moving ahead with legalizing recreational marijuana use for those 18 and older.
   It’s being called a “bold and risky social experiment” by many and would include tough laws against illicit dealers and those who break them.
   Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said legalizing pot is the best way to keep the drug from being used by younger, impressionable children.
   The law change would become effective in July of next year and end the prohibition on marijuana use that Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said has been an “abject failure.”
   Police forces are spending billions of dollars and countless resources dealing with drug use while dealers are profiting by up to $8 billion a year, he said.
   Liberal politician Bill Blair, former Toronto police chief, said this will promote the “safe, socially responsible use” of marijuana while at the same time rigidly enforcing impaired driving whether by drugs or alcohol.
   The Conservative party called the legalization a bad idea while the socialist New Democrats wanted it sooner.

Monday, April 10, 2017

U.S. is "comfortable" with security at the Canadian border

   Canada column for Sunday, April 9/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians should not be overly concerned about the possibility of stricter security or changes in travel to the United States.
   U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a Senate committee that his concerns are mainly with the Mexican border and he’d like to see the Canadian border “even thinner.”
   He made a similar comment during meetings in Ottawa, saying he’s “very comfortable with the level of security on the border.”
   Something drawing attention is a “little bit” more enterprising Mexicans entering the U.S. illegally via Canada.
   Montana Democrat Jonathan Tester said the northern border also has its “challenges,” suggesting more stringent security as did North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven.
   “I’m concerned with all the borders,'” Kelly said, adding that the “absolutely great news story in the northern border is that we have Canada there that’s a friend and ally.”
   Canada has “tremendous law enforcement . . .  and they’re very careful about who comes into their country,” Kelly said.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Vehicle research center planned in Ottawa with Blackberry engineers

   Canada column for Sunday, April 2/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Four-hundred BlackBerry engineers from Canada and the United States are being hired by the Ford Motor Co. for a connected-vehicle research center in Ottawa.
   It’s part of a $500-million investment that will include increasing sustainability and fuel economy research at Ford plants in Windsor and Oakville, Ontario.
   There will be additional facilities in Waterloo, Ontario, BlackBerry’s hometown; Cary, North Carolina; and Sunrise, Florida.
   This will be Ford’s first center focused on connectivity research and advanced technology in Canada.
   The federal and Ontario governments are giving grants of $100 million to Ford for the projects, part of a $1.2-billion technology partnership.
   It will include research and development on features such as infotainment, in-vehicle modems, gateway modules, driver-assist features and autonomous vehicles.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hurdles remain to proceed with Keystone XL pipeline approved by President Trump

   Canada column for Sunday, March 26/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   U.S. President Donald Trump said it was a “great day for American jobs and North American energy independence” as he approved the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
   But hurdles remain before TransCanada, based in Calgary, can proceed with the $8-billion project, CEO Russ Girling said.
   The pipeline running 900 miles would carry up to 830,000 barrels of Alberta crude oil a day to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
   The company continues to work to reach settlements with landowners along the route in Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota and needs approvals from the state governments to proceed.
   Environmental protesters say they will continue to try to stop the project, which had been rejected by previous President Barack Obama.
   In allowing the presidential permit, the U.S. State Department concluded the pipeline would serve the national interest.
   Girling called it a “significant milestone” for the project.
   “We greatly appreciate President Trump’s administration for reviewing and approving this important initiative and we look forward to working with them as we continue to invest in and strengthen North America's energy infrastructure,” he added.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Canadian nurses heading to U.S. jobs stopped at the border by new policies

   Canada column for Sunday, March 19/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Making America’s hospitals great again with Canadian nurses has hit a roadblock due to changes in U.S. immigration policies.
   Some of the 400 Canadian nurses who work at the five Metro Detroit hospitals in the Henry Ford Health System have been turned back at the Canada-U.S. border.
   There are hundreds of other Canadian nurses in Detroit’s health care systems that could also be affected.
   The rejected workers said they were told at the border that advanced practise nurses and nurse anesthetists no longer qualify for working non-immigrant TN visas because of policy changes under U.S. President Donald Trump.
   Although U.S. Customs and Border Protection said there have not been any policy changes that’s not what the nurses and hospital officials say.
   It’s estimated that up to 40,000 Canadians work in the U.S. with TN visas that haven’t been challenged before.
   An option suggested to them was to apply for specialized H-1B visas that cost about $4,000 and take about six months to obtain.
   Lawyers for U.S. hospitals say they’ve started hearing about similar border rejections of nurses from across the country.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Canada opposes new taxes for crossing the border into the U.S.: Trudeau says

   Canada column for Sunday, March 12/17

   By Jim Fox

   Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has let United States officials know that Canada is against any new levies or taxes for people entering the U.S.
   A so-called “border adjustment tax,” being talked about by the Republican administration would hurt the economy in both countries, he suggested.
   In speaking to a gathering of international politicians and energy sector executives in Houston, Trudeau said the two economies are so closely intertwined that “anything that creates impediments at the border – extra tariffs or new taxes – is something we’re concerned with.”
   At the CERAWeek conference, Trudeau gave the keynote address and made the case for investing in Canadian natural resources.
   The construction of new pipelines must work alongside carbon-pricing plans designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
   “Nothing is more essential to the U.S. economy than access to a secure, reliable source of energy . . . and Canada is that source,” he added.
   Canada has approved Trans Mountain’s Kinder Morgan line and Enbridge’s Line 3 rebuild and is looking for the U.S. to now approve the long-delayed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Canada would benefit with the U.S. with Keystone XL pipeline steel

   Canada column for Sunday, March 5/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   There’s some relief in Alberta’s oil patch over reports the proposed Keystone XL pipeline might be exempt from using only U.S.-made steel.
   President Donald Trump signed an executive order clearing the way for the multi-billion-dollar project subject to state and regulatory approvals, after it was earlier rejected by then President Barack Obama.
   At that time, Trump directed there be only U.S. steel used on all new infrastructure projects.
   The news outlet Politico reported that Keystone XL by TransCanada Corp. of Calgary would qualify for an exemption since it doesn’t meet the definition of a new pipeline project.
   The line, which would carry 830,000 barrels a day of Alberta oilsands bitumen to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, is still being hotly contested by environmentalists.
   A statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said the exemption, “if confirmed,” would be a welcome recognition that the steel industries in both countries are heavily integrated and support jobs on both sides of the border.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Refugees seeking asylum in Canada growing in number

   Canada column for Sunday, Feb. 26/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Hundreds of refugees are turning up on Canada’s doorstep – many of them risking their lives – to seek asylum.
   Crossing snowy farm fields and trudging through deep snowbanks at night, men, women and young children are making their way into Manitoba, and increasingly Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.
   The influx has grown as the U.S. cracks down on undocumented aliens and since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada welcomes the unfortunate refugees.
   Jean-Nicolas Beuze, United Nations’ refugee agency representative in Canada, said many asylum seekers in Lacolle, Quebec said they are fleeing what they feel is an unwelcoming climate in the U.S.
   Provinces are seeking assistance coping, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said as he announced funding for 14 emergency housing units and $180,000 for a refugee response worker and to pay for paralegal services and transportation costs.
   The refugees are detained by the Mounties and Canada border agents for security checks, medical attention and assistance before being released to await processing.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Optimism over prospects of "tweaked" North American Free Trade Agreement

   Canada column for Sunday, Feb. 19/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians are cautiously optimistic that any “tweaking” of the North American Free Trade Agreement won’t impact the country greatly.
   President Donald Trump told visiting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the trade relationship with Canada is “outstanding,” calling only for a “few tweaks.”
   “If we’re going to change it, we’re going to do things that are good for both Canada and the United States,” said David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.
   Trump said his major concern was trade with Mexico that greatly puts the U.S. at a disadvantage.
   Both leaders are seeking common ground to help the middle classes prosper, Trudeau said.
   “What I saw from the American president was a focus on getting things done for the people who supported him and who believe in him, while demonstrating good relations with one’s neighbors,” he added.
   Later in the week, Trudeau addressed members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on the passing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement that Canada is to ratify by the spring.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares for meeting with President Donald Trump

   Canada column for Sunday, Feb. 12/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada and the United States intend to remain best of friends as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump prepare to meet on Monday.
   The Canadian nice, polite and friendly demeanor hopefully will prevail but if pushed on trade issues and jobs, Trudeau plans to stand his frozen ground.
   Somewhat unsettling is Trump’s public rift with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that scrubbed plans for a trilateral meeting of North America’s leaders, dubbed the “Three Amigos.”
   As Trudeau heads off to Washington, his ministers have been preparing U.S. officials about the realities between life on both sides of the border.
   This includes the value of the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump has said needs to be renegotiated to serve America’s interests better.
   As the world’s largest two-way trading partners, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said nine-million U.S. jobs are tied to trade with Canada while the trade surpluses and deficits are fairly even.
   Trudeau said he expects discussion on a “board range of issues,” including creating jobs and “opportunity for Canadian citizens through the continued close integration on both sides of the border.”
   “The president looks forward to a constructive conversation in strengthening the deep relationship that exists between the United States and Canada," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Canadians reeling from terrorist killings at Quebec mosque

   Canada column for Sunday, Feb. 5/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada is not immune from senseless terrorist attacks after six men were killed and 19 wounded at a Quebec City mosque.
   “All of Canada has been shaken by this attack,” but it has unified the country in solidarity with Muslims, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a funeral service for the victims.
   “We will rise from this darkness stronger and more unified than ever before – that is who we are,” he added.
   Police said a gunman stormed the Grand Mosque in the suburb of Ste-Foy during prayers and opened fire before surrendering.
   Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, a Laval University student, faces six counts of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder.
   Among the victims were Khaled Belkacemi, 60, a Laval professor; Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, a Quebec government information technologist; and Aboubaker Thabti, 44, a pharmacist.
   Mohamed Yangui, president of the Islamic Centre of Quebec, said there is a need for greater understanding of Muslims.
   “We as moderate Muslims are not terrorists,” he said. ‘We practise a form of Islam that means we are full-fledged and solid members of our community.”


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Canadian PM awaits Trump visit; Keystone XL plan faces test

   Canada column for Sunday, Jan. 29/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau awaits a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, TransCanada Corp. is again seeking U.S approval of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
   Former President Barack Obama rejected the multi-billion-dollar pipeline plan in 2015 but Trump has signed an executive order inviting the company to reapply.
   The pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of Alberta oil a day 1,180 miles to Nebraska where it would connect with other lines leading to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
   TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said the project will help meet America’s growing energy needs and create substantial jobs and economic benefits on both sides of the border.
   “We look forward to working with all stakeholders as we develop this project in the interest of both our countries,” he said.
   The project has faced significant environmental opposition that is resuming.
   Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world and is the largest supplier of foreign oil to the U.S.
   Trudeau congratulated Trump on his election win and invited him to visit Canada first – a tradition for incoming presidents between the world’s largest trading partners.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Dollar slips as Bank of Canada warns of possible rate cuts with Trump uncertainty

   Canada column for Sunday, Jan. 22/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada’s dollar slipped in value after the central bank warned further interest rate cuts are possible amid uncertainty surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump’s potential protectionist policies.
   Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz said there are concerns about the Canadian economy deteriorating as the dollar fell more than one cent to below 75 cents U.S. coupled with falling oil prices.
   Another concern were comments by Trump hinting he might be in favor of a weaker U.S. dollar.
   Poloz warned there would be “material consequences” for trade if protectionist policies come into effect under Trump between the world’s two largest trading partners.
   For now, the central bank has left its trendsetting interest rate at 0.5 percent where it has been since July 2015.
   A rate cut “remains on the table” and it will be there as long as downside risks are present, Poloz said.
   Canada’s annual rate of inflation rose to 1.5 percent last month, up from 1.2 percent in November, but was a smaller increase than expected as lower food costs helped offset gasoline price increases.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Prime Minister skips Trump inauguration, meets with Canadians instead

   Canada column for Sunday, Jan. 15/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t be attending the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Jan. 20, deciding instead to “re-engage” with Canadians.
   Trudeau is in the midst of a cross-country tour and also won’t go to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
   In his second year in office, Trudeau is making a campaign-style tour to meet with “average Canadians” across the country.
   The tour started Thursday in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and visited cities including Belleville, Kingston and Peterborough before arriving in London, Ontario.
   Over the next few weeks, he will visit Quebec, British Columbia and Prairie provinces followed by Atlantic Canada and the North.
   Trudeau will meet with his cabinet for two days in Calgary before parliament resumes on Jan. 30.
   The at-home tour is a priority, said press secretary Cameron Ahmad, adding that will “provide many great opportunities to engage directly with Canadians.”


Monday, January 9, 2017

Drunken pilot incident leads to government airline safety review

   Canada column for Sunday, Jan. 8/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Canadian government is reviewing airline safety after a Sunwing Airlines pilot was arrested after being so drunk he passed out in the cockpit.
   Members of the flight crew said they noticed the pilot behaving oddly after boarding a Sunwing flight in Calgary last weekend.
   It was to fly to Cancun, Mexico by way of Regina and Winnipeg with 99 passengers and six crewmembers onboard.
   Pilot Miroslav Gronych, from Slovakia on a work visa in Canada, was arrested for being three times over the legal driving limit for alcohol consumption, police said.
   In Canada, it is against the law for pilots to consume any alcohol within eight hours of flying and individual airlines often have stricter rules.
   Sunwing’s Jacqueline Grossman said the airline has zero tolerance on drinking within 12 hours of duty.
   Transport Minister Marc Garneau told commercial air carriers he is “very concerned” about the incident and wants them to outline and confirm their safety protocols.
   “There is the need to ensure that protocols are up to date and are being implemented with all the required resources, including measures designed to confirm pilots’ fitness to fly,” he said.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Good news, bad for Canadian taxpayers in 2017

   (Happy New(s) Year!)

   Canada column for Sunday, Jan. 1/17

   (c) By Jim Fox

   There’s good news and bad for taxpayers supporting the Canadian and provincial governments as 2017 dawns.
   This give and take will help governments balance their books and provide more assistance for those in need.
   Nationally, higher-income earners will pay more but most Canadians will have more money to keep.
   The enhanced monthly Child Benefit payments led the federal government to end other child tax credits and there are changes to Employment Insurance benefits.
   Also gone is income splitting for families and changes affecting life insurance, business owners selling their companies and some mutual funds.
   Ontario residents will receive an 8-percent rebate on electricity bills but the climate change “cap-and-trade” fee will add about $6 a month to natural gas bills.
   The first-time homebuyers’ maximum land transfer tax refund will double to $4,000.
   British Columbia says goodbye to medical services plan premiums for children while Quebec bids adieu to its controversial health premiums.
   Alberta reduces its small business corporate income tax rate to 2 percent from 3 while the carbon tax on gas and oil will be offset with rebates for lower-income earners.
   Only cash-strapped Newfoundland and Labrador will raise income taxes along with provincial park and campsite fees.