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Harper losing grip on Canadian economy

Optimistic predictions make PM seem out of touch. Elsewhere, the minister of science non-committal on Darwin; and the Canadiens' bid to win 25 Stanley Cups in a century devolves into Anglo bitterness.

Top News: The economy dominated headlines over the past two weeks. Confidence in Harper’s abilities to manage it has steadily eroded since his re-election in October, and it cratered last week when his optimistic forecast made him seem out of touch.


The IMF issued a report saying the country's economy will “likely contract significantly in the near term.”  It said exports, the lifeblood of the Canadian economy, will be sharply cut in the coming year. Softening prices for oil and other commodities will negatively affect employment and earnings in Canada.


At the same time, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said Canada's economy was worse in the final quarter of last year than Canadians have been led to believe.


Even Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, who at times has had his own better-than-expected predictions questioned, admitted last week that a significant revision downward of his economic forecast, due next month, is likely. "Many of the downside risks we identified in our last Monetary Policy Report Update are now materializing,” he told reporters after the G20 meetings in England.


Money: Employment across Canada fell for the fourth straight month in February bringing national job losses to 295,000 since October 2008, a far quicker decline than expected.


Perhaps most damaging to Harper’s own credibility and that of his governing Conservatives are estimates that Canada will have an $81.5-billion budget deficit over the coming years. This comes after 11 years of surpluses, most of which came under the stewardship of the Liberals. During the election campaign. Harper predicted no deficits would come as a result of the downturn, a stance that was mocked at the time. In successive economic updates since, there has been a steady ratcheting up of red ink.


The result is that Harper would likely lose an election were one held today. In a variety of polls, Harper’s party enjoys between 32 percent and 37 percent support nationally, with a disproportional amount of that coming from the west. Support for the opposition Liberals under new leader Michael Ignatieff has risen dramatically so that the two parties are in a virtual dead heat.


For his part, Ignatieff seems in no rush to force an election, betting that the pessimistic economic forecasts will continue to weaken Harper’s image as a competent leader.


Elsewhere: It’s the kind of story Canadians came to expect from George W. Bush era:  apparently Charles Darwin is persona non grata in the offices of the Harper government’s science minister.


Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology and an avowed Christian, refused during a recent media interview to say whether he accepts evolution as a scientific fact. He said his personal beliefs have no bearing on his ability to serve Canadians.


Many in Canada’s science community disagree, fearing that if the federal government lacks the intellectual curiosity to promote the garnering of knowledge through research, many of Canada’s top scientist will simply de-camp for other countries, notably the U.S., now that President Barack Obama has signaled that his will be a science-friendly White House.


On the ice, this was supposed to be the year that the Montreal Canadiens returned to their lofty post as the winningest sports team in history. Instead, it has descended into a soap opera of finger pointing and age-old language tensions in Canada’s only predominantly French province. 


With 24 championships in its first 99 years of operations, but none to show for the past 15 seasons, the Montreal faithful had been looking to make it an even 25 Stanley Cups for the century this year. And, based on last year’s performance, during which a spectacular crop of young players come of age earlier than expected, most experts agreed they had good reason to believe.


But mired in a long stretch of lackluster play since January and showing a distressing erosion of discipline, the team’s Anglophone general manager Bob Gainey, a legendary Montreal captain and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, fired Francophone coach Guy Carbonneau, his former linemate and a good friend, and took over the reins.


The move did not pay immediate dividends -- the club limped through the week, garnering just three out of six possible points – and sparked renewed English-French tensions in Quebec, with Francophone commentators calling for Gainey’s ouster as well.  The drama has cast a pall over what was supposed to be a glorious season for the team affectionately known among its devoted fans as Les Glorieux, and, in a place where hockey is considered high culture and almost a religion, threatens to reopen a bevy of old wounds.