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Harper's government is accused of channeling stimulus funds to its supporters. Liberal leader Ignatieff backs down on challenging the Conservatives. Sri Lankan refugees paying $45,000 Cdn to get to Canada will likely be turned back. A retired General's memoir alleges that Harper's cabinet knew about the torture of Afghan prisoners. The government considers a national child care program and a national securities regulator. The Canadian dollar grows dangerously strong. US Olympic hockey players clamor for a new coach, given his abysmal record leading the Maple Leafs this year. And Canada's first space tourist records the first video blog from outer space.
Top News: It seems the old adage about absolute power corrupting absolutely is lost on the Conservatives, who are consistently nearly 40 percent more generous in handing out stimulus funding to those that voted for them compared to other parties, studies have shown. The battle over Harper’s largesse has been growing for a number of weeks, but the government has consistently denied any favoritism. Under British parliamentary tradition, the elected government is expected to govern for the entire country. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had been raising the imbalance in the House of Commons this month, but with only spotty evidence. Given new evidence of a pattern, and the fact that they came to power promising an end to the Liberal’s “culture of entitlement,” is it expected Harper is going to have a tougher time convincing Canadians that the stimulus cash is anything but a dressed-up slush fund designed to buy him a majority government.
But while Harper might have to tone down his pre-election electioneering, it would appear the opposition forces have already stood down. After a late-summer display of bravado, in which Ignatieff said the Liberals would no longer support the government on any legislation, he did an about-face and declared that he is in no hurry to bring down the governing Conservatives. Officially, Ignatieff’s reason for the shift is the public’s clear objection to a fourth election in five years. The decision virtually ensures there will be no election until at least after the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February.
One group that dearly hopes to be in Vancouver for the Olympics and well beyond is the 76 Sri Lankans intercepted off the British Columbia coast this past Saturday, adrift in a rusty ship. Each would-be refugee paid a reported $45,000 Cdn to make the trip. It is not Canada’s first brush with Tamil refugees, who have been easy prey for human smugglers over the past two decades. Canadian law used to be far more accommodating to this kind of undocumented refugee, but new legislation passed following the 9/11 terror attacks make it much less likely they will be able to stay. That sentiment was echoed by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who said the government is determined to avoid the perception that there is a two-tiered immigration system — one for those who enter through the front door and follow the rules, and another for those who attempt to sneak in the back door, jumping the queue in the process.
Gen. Rick Hillier, the retired Chief of Defense Staff who ran Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan until he retired last year, released his autobiography that, among other things, sheds light on who knew what about Afghan prisoners who were handed over to Afghan forces and then tortured. Excerpts from his soon-to-be-released tome have many in the Harper government worried, as the memoir alleges that members of Harper’s cabinet were aware of the abuse of detainees. The allegations first arose in 2007 and were vehemently denied by Harper’s officials.
While the U.S. debate over health care appears to be moving into its final phases, Canada’s decades-long battle over a national child care program is about to be rekindled. Ignatieff promised it will be a major plank in the Liberals’ platform going forward, arguing that it is the most cost-effective way to raise productivity in the workforce, a view echoed by the left-wing New Democratic Party. Conservative Minister Diane Finley labeled the promise fiscally irresponsible, citing the Harper government’s $100 monthly benefit per family as proof of the Harper government’s commitment to giving sufficient child care options to Canadian families. The Conservatives have objected to a government-led child care system on ideological grounds, saying it smacks of paternalism and reduces choices for parents.
Money: Canada took a major step toward having a national securities regulator, long considered a provincial domain. Harper, normally a committed advocate of provincial rights, stunned many last week by referring proposed legislation for a single securities regulator to the Supreme Court for a Constitutional opinion. A pre-emptive ruling by the Court would clear the way for the legislation to be passed in the winter session. The move will likely hurt Harper with voters in Quebec, but boost him in Ontario, which has been calling for a national regulator for decades. And, while Albertans will grumble, they are unlikely to break faith with Harper, who hails from Calgary.
Canadians continue to watch the Greenback’s woeful slide and wonder where it will all end. The Canadian dollar, known colloquially as the Loonie, has normally traded at a 12-15 percent discount to the U.S. dollar. That difference closed to four percent this week and many economists predict it will soar through parity in the coming months and settle at about $1.05 unless the Canadian government intervenes. The Loonie’s strength is great news for Canadian tourists wanting to visit Disneyworld, but a disaster for the hobbled manufacturing sector, which lost a comfortable export advantage over U.S. producers. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said the bank will intervene, likely by injecting more money into the system, if it believes the dollar’s rise threatens the economic recovery.
Elsewhere: The desperate straits of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are off to an 0-6-1 start, has some players of Team USA for the upcoming Olympics speculating that their coach Ron Wilson, whose day job is coaching the Leafs, should be replaced. Wilson has a staunch backer on Team USA in General Manager Brian Burke, who is also GM of the Leafs. Burke said replacing Wilson for his inability to fix the Leafs is ridiculous and not even worth talking about. Some of the more outspoken American players suggest otherwise, creating an interesting sideshow to the Leafs woes and the lead up to the February games.
Guy Laliberte, founder of the world renowned Cirque de Soleil, is back on solid ground after spending 11 days as Canada’s first space tourist. Laliberte, who paid $35 million to be a space tourist, traveled via a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station, where he conducted outer space's first video blog wearing a red clown’s nose. While Laliberte was unable to practice his art of stilt-walking and fire-eating while in space, the billionaire was able to realize a childhood dream of space travel while also raising awareness for his One Drop Foundation, an institution created to fight poverty around the world by providing sustainable access to safe water.