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Gay pride and a Toronto garbage strike prompt a standoff over who would clean streets strewn with underwear and condoms. A conservative senator rebuts U.S. Republican Mitch McConnel over healthcare, pointing out that Canadians spend less and live longer. Ontario cancels two new nuclear reactors as revelations arise that Canada’s reactors are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents. Plus, an AIDS vaccine, the world’s largest comedy festival, and how did $19 million in gold disappear from the Royal Canadian Mint?
Canada’s biggest city spent an unpleasant Canada Day in the grips of a week-long garbage strike in the wake of a heat wave turning the normally pristine tourist destination putrid, with temporary dumps set up in city parks. Toronto’s municipal workers, whose contract has been expired contract, ratcheted up the pressure after negotiations stalled.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the city and the union are on their own to figure out a solution and would only consider stepping in if public health in the region is jeopardized. New battle lines were drawn this week when the city hired private contractors to clean up after the annual gay pride parade that left a dozen city blocks strewn with underwear, condoms, candy and necklaces. Angry strikers formed a human chain to block the clean-up teams and equipment, but no violence was reported.
The strike also changed plans for the annual Canada Day festivities Wednesday. Many of the smaller neighbourhood events were shut down because the parks in which they were to be held were being used as temporary dump sites.
The U.S. Republican-led war of words over proposed health care reforms prompted a sharp rebuttal by an unlikely Canadian source last week. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal of Ontario rebutted statements made by U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a Senate debate that Segal said misrepresented Canada’s public health care system.
"According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average lifespan in Kentucky is 75.2 years and according to Statistics Canada, that number is 80.4 years in Ontario, 78.3 years in Kingston," Segal said. "Furthermore, according to a Fraser Institute (a strongly conservative think tank) study, in 2006, the U.S. spent $6,714 per capita versus $3,678 in Canada" which he said shows Canada is doing a better job on health care.
Canada said farewell to much admired former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc last week, following his long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. LeBlanc, a Maritimer from New Brunswick, served as the representative of Queen Elizabeth and the effective head of state during the tumultuous aftermath of the 1995 referendum that nearly led to Quebec’s seceding from Canada. The former journalist, member of parliament and senator had a folksy appeal and was credited with making the post more visible and approachable than his predecessors.
Canada’s nuclear industry and its trademark Candu reactors, long vaunted by Canadian officials as the world’s safest, came under fire last week. An internal document surfaced revealing long-held concerns that the reactors could be prone to dangerous reactions in the event of a coolant leak.
The document says Canada's seven nuclear generating stations, all Candu technology, are potentially susceptible to “positive reactivity feedback,” in which atomic chain reactions speed up if the cooling water leaks, one of the worst accidents possible at a nuclear station. The report says dangerous overheating could follow such a leak if the shut down were not done immediately. The Province of Ontario dropped plans to build two new reactors to replace aging coal plants that it has ordered shut down.
As U.S. Marines prepared for a fierce offensive in the Helmand River valley in Afghanistan this week, U.S. lobbying efforts to get Canada’s military to extend its deployment to Kandahar past the 2011 government-mandated deadline appear to be falling short. "Let me be perfectly clear: Canada is abiding by the motion that was adopted in our Parliament," Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday, denying that he had been lobbied. "Our position is perfectly clear - we are not going beyond 2011."
Money: What at first seemed an accounting error at the Royal Canadian Mint might well have been a brazen heist of about $19 million in refined gold, officials conceded this week. An external audit of the Mint’s gold reserves found that 17,500 troy ounces cannot be accounted for. Located in Ottawa, the mint is no Fort Knox, but slipping that much gold out undetected would be no small feat. Feeling the heat, the Harper government has decided to withhold the bonuses for management until the matter is resolved.
Signs that the U.S. economy is beginning to emerge from the recession has buoyed the Canadian stock market but left many Canadian manufacturers wondering how to move forward.
Various indicators from the past month are raising the spectre of a better recovery (0.9 per cent next year) in the U.S. than had been predicted. In past recessions, Canada’s recoveries have generally trailed its main trading partner by at least a few quarters. Canadian manufacturers are continuing to shed jobs in the face of a strong Canadian dollar and a remain in a quandary over how to move forward.
Canada has long benefited from a lower-valued dollar compared to the U.S. greenback as a way to fill the productivity gap that comes with a smaller population and greater intercity distances. However, with interest rates already as low as they can go and the dollar rising on the strength of energy and resource prices, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has spent much of the last few months trying to cool the run up of the Canadian dollar. He spent much of June affirming that the bank will maintain low interest rates through at least the middle of 2010, which did ease the upward trajectory, but pressure will continue to grow on him to risk inflation by increasing the supply of money if the dollar does not ease on its own.
Canada’s corporate elite have a new champion. John Manley a former Liberal cabinet minister who served many roles in prime minister Jean Chretien’s governments, including at various times minister of industry, of finance, of foreign affairs, of public security and as deputy prime minister, was announced as the new head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, formerly known as the Business Council on National Issues. Manley replaces Tom d’Aquino, who retired this week after 28 years as the leading spokesman for Canadian business.
Elsewhere: A team of Canadian researchers are awaiting approval to move ahead with human trials of what they believe is a promising AIDS vaccine. University of Western Ontario microbiologist Yong Kang has been working on the vaccine project for 20 years and said he expects to get approval for the next step. The vaccine is based on introducing killed HIV virus into healthy cells and he plans to use the disabled virus in conjunction with an adenovirus carrying HIV genes, designed to increase the manufacturing of T-cells and to increase immune-system cell activity in mucous, a key to preventing the HIV virus from getting a foothold in the body.
Canada in the summer would be nothing without outdoor festivals. The annual Ottawa Jazzfest just wrapped up and the Bluesfest is ready to roll next week. In Montreal, the Jazzfest kicked off with a stellar performance by Stevie Wonder and the annual Just For Laughs, the largest comedy festival in the world, this year features among its hundreds of comedians John Cleese, Lewis Black and Whoopi Goldberg.