Connect to share and comment
The Bank of Canada governor forecasts growth, but says people will still feel the pinch. Garbage strikes end. Harper releases an Arctic strategy. Activists fear swine flu crisis this winter. Publisher gets sacked for the Jesus-in-pocket fracas. A dispute emerges over bankrupt Nortel’s sale. A Canadian Madoff turns himself in. And famous Canadian William Shatner spoofs Sarah Palin.
Top news: The recession is over, or so says Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada. In what seemed a stunning reversal of his increasingly pessimistic outlooks over the winter and spring months, Carney last week forecast modest 1.3 percent growth in the current quarter, bringing to an end three consecutive quarters of contraction.
But while Carney was signaling a technical end to the recession, he was hardly suggesting robust growth in the near future. A soaring Canadian dollar, rising unemployment and wage contraction, and a lousy summer for crops in most parts of Canada could put the brakes on any nascent recovery.
Even Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, whose government’s flagging public support stands to benefit from glimmers of good news, did his best to dispel any notions that Canada was out of the woods just yet. However, if the opposition wants to trigger an election, many Tories believe they have dodged a bullet on their handling the economy.
The Ontario cities of Toronto and Windsor are certainly breathing a little easier this week after municipal workers ratified new contracts, ending two rather malodorous summertime garbage strikes. The 101-day Windsor strike added to the miseries of that city, which is the epicenter of the collapse in Canada’s auto sector. Toronto’s strike, by contrast, lasted a mere 36 days, but residents were no less eager to see removal of the drumlins of garbage bags that were filling up (and stinking up) the temporary dumps in city parks.
While Ontario cleaned up it’s garbage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives opted to recycle. In an effort to distract from the many troubles facing Canada — from the H1N1 flu epidemic, to the escalating war in Afghanistan, to the economic challenges of a volatile currency — Harper decided to offer details to his Arctic strategy announced during his 2008 election campaign. In a report issued this week, the Harper government insists ensuring sovereignty over Canada’s northern lands and seas is among the government’s highest priorities.
Opponents and health advocates framed the arctic announcement as little more than a bait-and-switch tactic to keep Canadians from focusing on what they term a dangerously underwhelming response to the looming flu crisis expected as Canadian hole up for the winter. Critics accuse the government of failing to adequately equip the Canadian health system with vaccines, anti-virals, and emergency equipment to deal with the more serious questions. Recent reports also raise fears of a critical shortage of hospital workers just at the time when the flu can be expected to peak.
While Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton spent much of the last two weeks attacking Harper on many fronts, the prime minister did receive a stunning apology from an unexpected source: the Telegraph-Journal. The New Brunswick newspaper was the first to accuse Harper of having stashed a communion wafer in his pocket late last month, a story that embarrassed Harper just days before he was to meet the Pope in Rome. Earlier this week, the Chronicle-Herald’s publisher was removed and the paper issued a front-page apology for the story they admit lacked “credible support for these statements of fact.”
It’s a truism about Canadians that they tend to talk about the weather – a lot. This summer, there has been a lot to talk about. From record rainfall in Ontario in July, to cold and dry prairies, to scorching British Columbia, Canadians are puzzled by what one report called the “Bummer of a Summer.” Tourism is down, as are beer sales in the east, where grey skies and steady rains have left vacationers yearning to get back to work. Many farmers in western Saskatchewan simply plowed under the wheat fields and accepted the insurance payouts after chilly dry winds stunted their crops. In B.C.’s interior, the dry hot weather has spawned hundreds of large forest fires that are forcing the evacuations of hundreds of residents and tourists. Long-range forecasts suggest Ontario will get warmer, the prairies wetter and B.C. cooler in the coming month.
Money: The Harper government is being asked to intercede in the purchase of bankrupt Nortel’s wireless division by European telecom giant Ericsson. The $1.1B fire sale was approved by bankruptcy courts in Canada and the U.S., but Ontario-based Research in Motion claims its bid was competitive and deserved to win. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty agreed, as did the federal opposition parties, which claimed much of Nortel’s cutting-edge technology has military value and should be kept in Canadian hands. Ottawa could use the Investment Canada Act to block the move, but Harper’s industry minister Tony Clement refused to say what actions the federal government might consider. Experts said any effort by the government to overrule the courts would likely result in a complaint to the World Trade Organization.
Canada’s own mini-Madoff affair came to an abrupt end this week when financial manager/alleged ponzi-scheme operator Earl Jones turned himself in to police in Montreal. Jones had been the subject of an intense global manhunt after it was discovered that he had he had liquidated his assets and apparently absconded with more than $50 million in clients’ funds. He was quickly arraigned, had his passport rescinded and was placed on bail. He was greeted by a furious mob that spat and tried to hit him as he left the courthouse under close guard.
Elsewhere: For many years, William Shatner’s self-deprecating returns to Canada — particularly to Montreal’s Just For Laugh’s comedy festival — have been highly anticipated. This week, Americans got a glimpse of how the venerable Shakespearian actor from Montreal, best known as Captain James T. Kirk from the original Star Trek series, can bring down the house. At the behest of Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien, Shatner came out and with a jazz ensemble backing him, read verbatim lines from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s farewell address. Shatner’s spoof on the famous Molson beer ad – I Am Canadian – remains a favorite among Canadians seeking a chuckle.