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Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff withdraws his party's support for PM Harper. The government is expected to fall in the coming weeks. Conspiracy theorists whisper about the new ambassador to Washington. The government is caught in a lie about a classified document. Motorists and cyclists square off over the road rage death of a bicycle courier, allegedly at the hands of a former attorney general. Chinese oil interests in "America's backyard" makes the U.S. Congress nervous. Plus, grizzly bears may be endangered by plummeting stocks of salmon on the west coast.
Top News: The on-again, off-again federal election in Canada appears to be on again. Opposition Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, in spite of softening polls — or perhaps because of them — announced last week that his party will no longer back the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Without the support of at least one of the three opposition parties – the other two had already declared their unwillingness to support the Harper Conservatives – the government will likely fall in a confidence motion tabled later this month or in early October. While the Liberals would like to have the Conservatives lose on a measure that makes them appear cold hearted, such as their unwillingness to loosen the requirements for Canada’s Employment Insurance program, the Conservatives are aiming to be in a position to be toppled over their wildly popular home renovation allowance.
Conspiracy theories abound as election talk mounts. Many expect the New Democratic Party will make a side deal with the Tories to support them. Among those purported deals was one that appointed Manitoba’s popular NDP premier, Gary Doer, Canada’s new ambassador to Washington. Doer is the dean of Canada’s provincial leaders, having been first elected in 1999. The former prison guard and union leader is known as a gifted negotiator, affable leader and a leading candidate to succeed current federal NDP leader Jack Layton. Some Ottawa insiders surmise Doer was moved to Washington by Harper to garner Layton support. Layton’s offer to support Harper in return for policy concessions was strongly rebuffed, but that could well have been public posturing, critics contend.
In an embarrassing black eye to the Conservatives, journalists revealed a highly redacted report that a year ago Harper had claimed contained little sensitive information. The report, which was classified, had been left last year by then-foreign-affairs-minister Maxime Bernier in the apartment of his girlfriend, who was known to have ties to members of a notorious Quebec motorcycle gang.
Harper demanded Bernier’s resignation, but claimed there was no significant sensitive information contained in the document. However, it took journalists more than a year to receive the document under Canada’s access to information rules, only to find government censors had blacked out hundreds of pages on the grounds that they had to remain classified.
A bizarre and tragic incident between a bicycle courier and a former Ontario politician exploded into a nationwide series of culture clashes: between cyclists and drivers, whites and aboriginals, and rich and poor. Michael Bryant, a Harvard-educated lawyer who served as Ontario’s attorney general and was widely touted as a rising star in Canadian politics, was charged with causing the death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard, who witnesses say was clinging to the side of Bryant’s car as it swerved seemingly out of control across a major thoroughfare in downtown Toronto.
Sheppard was pronounced dead after the car allegedly struck a tree and a mailbox, at which point Sheppard fell under the rear wheels. The two had exchanged heated words and witness reports said Sheppard appeared to have been reaching into Bryant’s car. Some said Sheppard had him in a headlock; others said he was grabbing the steering wheel. The incident set off a series of protests by couriers and other cyclists, who blockaded the street where Sheppard died. It was the latest in a long series of violent altercations between drivers and cyclists in Toronto, polarizing the country.
Canada’s law governing hate speech on the internet failed a crucial test last week and was deemed unconstitutional by Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal. The law, which prevents the spread of "any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt" was trumped by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom, "which guarantees the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression." Proponents of free speech have long been critical of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which they complain abuses the law to actively censor Canadians.
Money: Members of the U.S. Congress are calling on Canada to review a $1.9 billion investment in Alberta’s oil sands by PetroChina Co. Ltd. The lawmakers are upset about China’s growing presence in “America’s backyard.”
“I think that an acquisition like this should raise national security questions both for the government of Canada and for the government of the United States,” said Carolyn Bartholomew, chairwoman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a watchdog paid for by Congress.
Given that it appears he’s heading into an election, it is hard to imagine anything standing in the way of the Harper government’s quest to secure new foreign investment. Indeed, that thirst has fueled a sudden about-face on China after three years of antagonistic relations over China’s human rights record. Canada’s finance minister Jim Flaherty suggested last week that Canada must remain vigilant and nimble to keep the Canadian economy from stalling on its way out of recession. He said the condition of the world economy remains guarded.
"We agreed that we are not out of the woods and that we must stay the course. . . . We must all remain focused on fully implementing our stimulus packages," Flaherty said following a meeting of G-20 Finance Ministers.
Elsewhere: A sudden drop in the Pacific salmon run last year appears to have had a crushing effect on Canada’s iconic grizzly bear population in British Columbia, river watchers are reporting. This is normally the time of year when bears are abundant, camped by raging rivers and gorging on salmon in their death throws at the end of their spawning season. Biologists suspect that last year’s diminished salmon stocks and a colder-than-normal winter caused many of the bears to die while hibernating, and early indications are the cycle could repeat itself this season, endangering the survival of the species altogether in Canada, and causing a collapse of the entire west coast ecosystem.