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A sordid summer tale

A grisly crime of passion against a swimsuit model blows away the summer news doldrums. Scientist warn that hurricanes are headed north due to climate change. Harper’s tenure is threatened by a no-confidence vote. Consumer spending hasn’t recovered yet. The Bank of Canada contemplates money printing to stimulate the economy. Plus, a tiff over a blogger who called a model a skank turns into a $15 million suit against Google.

The annual summer news doldrums took hold in recent weeks as Canadians turned their focus to getting the most of what’s left of the summer that, weather wise, most want to forget. But that calm was shattered by the sudden onset of tabloid TV, something Canadians rarely get a chance to experience for themselves.


Western Canada became the epicenter of a continent-wide manhunt for a former Calgary man, Ryan Jenkins , who was accused of killing and mutilating his swimsuit-model wife. The remains of Jasmine Fiore were found stuffed in a suitcase in a dumpster in a Los Angeles suburb two weeks ago. She was so badly butchered, police said they were only able to identify her by the serial numbers on her breast implants. Jenkins fled north to British Columbia and was found dead in a motel room in Hope, B.C., about two hours east of Vancouver. Police say he appeared to have hanged himself.


Jenkins, 32, , was driven crazy by the Hollywood lifestyle, said his dismayed father, Dan Jenkins, a Calgary architect. He had left Calgary to appear on Megan Wants a Millionaire, a reality-based TV show that had just begun airing earlier this month but was cancelled following the Jenkins scandal. Police are continuing to search for a woman who they believe assisted Jenkins to return to Canada and paid for his motel room in cash.


Tornadoes whipped through southern Ontario last week, killing one youngster and destroying property along a long swath west of Toronto. Days later, Hurricane Bill lashed the coastal communities of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, but caused minimal damage, before moving out into the mid-Atlantic.


Hurricanes are rare in New England and Eastern Canada, largely because the cooler waters of the North Atlantic usually sap the storm’s strength. However, climate scientists used the looming storm to warn ominously that warming oceans and higher sea levels resulting from climate change are almost certain to increase both the frequency and severity of these kinds of storms.


Also blowing in the wind these past two weeks was heightened talk of a fall election, which, if it were to happen, would likely occur in the first two weeks of November. That’s because the opposition parties will have an opportunity to hold a no-confidence vote against the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The conundrum is that no one has any sense who would win … other than the politicos who seem to live to drive citizens to the polls.


Harper, who won his second minority term just last October, has seen a modest recovery in the polls, as the economy improves. The opposition, led by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, began beating the war drums last spring and experienced a surge in donations, but has slipped of late in some polls. However, the improved economic conditions have lessened the sense of urgency, but Ignatieff now has a problem reining in some of the party machinery that seems bent on an election.


Experts suggest the party that is seen to trigger the election will likely pay a severe price from a grumpy electorate. Economists, meanwhile, are predicting that the nascent but tenuous economic recovery, mixed with stagnant or declining energy prices, could well muster the perfect storm against Harper. While profits in some sectors — particularly financial and professional services — are expected to rise, job forecasts remain tepid and personal bankruptcies continue to rise at record rates.


All of which points to the spring of 2010 as a better target date for the opposition to force an election, which in turn might push Harper to collapse his own government, blame the obstreperous opposition, and call an election sooner than later.


Canadians had their eyes on another vote last week, the Afghan election, in part because its success or failure was considered by many here a rationale for the steady stream of casualties arising from the deployment of Canadian troops. Unfortunately, before the ballots were even collected, reports began circulating of low voter turnouts and fraud by supporters of current president Hamid Karsai, casting doubts on any hope of broad unity throughout the country.


Canadian military officials hinted last week they will be stretched to the breaking point by Afghanistan, the Winter Olympics and next summer’s G-8 summit, scheduled for Huntsville, Ontario, and could have to pull some troops in from other deployments to shore up security.


Money: Canada has technically emerged from the recession, but economists warn that there are very few signs, if any, that the consumer end of the economy is on the rebound. Retail sales vaulted upward one percent in June, well above most expectations. But a closer look shows almost all of those gains were made either in the increase in costs of staples, particularly gasoline, and in sales of automobiles and other large-ticket items that are being sold at drastically reduced prices. Retails stores, particularly in shopping malls, saw a loss in traffic.


Perhaps a more telling sign that not all is well in Canada is the double whammy of having the Alberta government announce a nearly $7 billion deficit (compared with a nearly $8 billion surplus last year) and the Bank of Canada openly contemplating quantitative easing (a.k.a. printing money) as a heavy-handed way of reducing the rampant speculation that has lifted the dollar to levels that hobble Canada’s export-based economy.


In an effort to demonstrate to Canadian manufacturers that the Harper government is concerned about boosting exports, Trade Minister Stockwell Day told reporters this week that he is engaged in high-level talks with Washington to secure a binding waiver that will exempt Canada from the Buy America provisions contained in last year’s U.S. stimulus legislation.


Elsewhere: In another cross-border spat of sorts, a Canadian model and an American blogger continued their tit-for-tat battle and made judicial and internet history at the same time. The case revolves around model Liskula Cohen and blogger Rosemary Port, who Cohen claims defamed her by calling her a “skank,” among other things (apparently they were once friends). In a groundbreaking case, a U.S. court ordered Google to divulge the name and contact information for Port, whose identity to that point had been veiled in secrecy. Google complied and has now had a $15 million suit filed against it by Port, who claims her privacy had been violated. Port also claims Cohen’s claims are ridiculous, saying she defamed herself by calling attention to the otherwise rarely visited blog.


If ever there was a clear sign of the summer that wasn’t in Canada, it’s the hoopla surrounding the tryout camp for Canada’s Olympic hockey team, underway this week in Calgary. Hundreds of reporters and cameramen descended on the Alberta city to watch 48 of Canada’s top NHL players convened for what is little more than a series of non-contact practices aimed at paring down the roster and determining which players are best suited to play together. Among the many burning questions swirling about the team: will 22-year-old phenom Sidney Crosby be named captain? who will likely start in goal? Why wasn’t Ottawa Senators’ malcontent sniper Dany Heatley given a chance to earn a spot? Is Boston Bruins’ heavyweight Milan Lucic really fast enough to play in the Olympics?


Given the combination of a still-weakened economy, election fever and Olympic mania, it appears those summer doldrums are already giving way to a noisy — and likely windy — autumn.