Monthly Archives: October 2018

Lester B. Pearson School Board presents its case at Bill 14 Hearings – Montreal

QUEBEC – The Chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board told a parliamentary committee late Tuesday she fears English schools in this province may be forced to close.

Suanne Stein Day says Bill 14, the PQ’s language bill, is “completely unnecessary, unfounded, overbearingly bureaucratic, unfairly restrictive and detrimental to the growth and development of the constitutionally-guaranteed English school sector”.

“The biggest problem is that it threatens our population, our community,” she says.

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Stein Day was in Quebec City to present her brief to the parliamentary committee in charge of studying Bill 14. She told MNAs recruiting students is already hard enough as it is. The school board loses 700 students a year. It’s estimated about 10-thousand English-eligible families have chosen to send their children to the French system. Tightening language laws, she says, isn’t going to help.

“We right now have a number of schools that are not full because of our shrinking population, we’ve chosen to keep some of those schools open, some of them are in ‘milieux défavorisés’, so the smaller classes turn out to be a benefit but if they get too small we won’t be able to keep those buildings running,” says Stein Day.

Stein Day also told the commission parents are so concerned, they’ve started a petition that has now taken a life of its own. Thirty-two thousand signatures have been collected in just two weeks.

“We’re just disturbed that they’re not looking at us as a partner in this development of Quebec,” adds LBPSB Commissioner Linton Garner. “We’re preparing young people to be proper citizens, to be fully participating, to live, immerse themselves in the culture and that’s not being properly recognized.”

Liberal MNA Geoffrey Kelley says many of the issues brought up by the school board aren’t actually in the bill. But he understands the frustration and promises his party will be forceful when it’s time to vote.

“Once the school dies in a community, the community dies.”

The hearings continue Wednesday. The Central Quebec School Board will argue in favour of keeping the exemption allowing military children to attend English school.

©2013Shaw Media

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Google maps Iqaluit with help from local residents – National

TORONTO – Internet giant Google is known for mapping some of the most remote and interesting locations of the world, from the Grand Canyon to the Everest Base Camp, but none quite as cold as the Canadian territory of Nunavut.

Despite the below freezing temperatures, the team has strapped on the company’s Trekker, a backpack-fitted camera designed for off-road mapping, and is walking the streets of Iqaluit in order to collect street view imagery for Google maps.

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The crew is joined by local resident and mapping expert Chris Kalluk, in order to help the team navigate the snow and ice terrain and work with the community to capture the right images of the land to share with the rest of the world.

“There’s a saying we have in the north: unless you’re the lead sled dog, the view is pretty much the same,” said Kalluk in a blog post published Wednesday.

“I like to think of it as our chance to give you the lead sled dog’s view.”

Iqaluit is only the second Nunavut community to be mapped by Google.

Imagery of Cambridge Bay, mapped by the company last August, was published in the fall – making this trip the first time a Google Maps team has traveled into an arctic climate in the winter months.

According to Kalluk’s blog post, average temperatures can dip below -30 C in the region.

“The roads are covered in snow, the bay is frozen and polar bear sightings are a frequent occurrence. Winter up here is a way of life. And the only way to truly understand it is to see it for yourself,” said Kalluk.

Including the locals is a vital part to this project. Not only is Kalluk helping the team to navigate the area, but community members are helping bring life to the maps.

Community members, business owners, political leaders and high school students have all gathered to take part in “MapUp workshops,” hosted by the Google team.

These workshops show locals how to use Google Map Maker to add street names, shops and important places to the map in order to represent the most accurate image of Iqaluit possible.

“Nunavut is a place with a vast amount of local knowledge and a rich history. By putting modern day cartography tools into the hands of our people, we can improve the digital map of our home and effectively share Nunavut’s story with a global audience,” said Premier of Nunavut Eva Aariak.

But the project isn’t just about providing the rest of the world a glimpse into the frigid climate of Canada’s territories, it’s essential in creating jobs and economic growth according to Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

“By using these modern map making tools, the citizens of Iqaluit have an opportunity to literally put Canada’s north on the digital map of tomorrow,” said Aglukkaq.

©2013Shaw Media

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Strong Canuck influence in March Madness

TORONTO – Canada Basketball is running its own March Madness fantasy pool, with one unique rule: entrants must name five Canadian players to their teams.

There would have been slim pickings in years past. But there’s not just an abundance of Canadian players this year, there’s a wealth of star players.

From Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos to UNLV’s Anthony Bennett and Nik Stauskas of the Michigan Wolverines, Canadians have taken the NCAA by storm, providing one of the most intriguing story lines of March Madness.

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“When you can turn on (a game) almost any night during the season and see a Canadian playing, it clearly is a new dimension that we’ve entered here,” said Rowan Barrett, executive vice-president of Canada’s men’s program.

Sports Illustrated dedicated six pages of its March Madness issue to players from north of the border under the headline “Canada’s Got Talent.”

There are 27 Canadian men playing in March Madness, and six women.

Olynyk, a seven-foot forward from Kamloops, B.C., and Pangos, a point guard from Holland Landing, Ont., have landed in the spotlight this season in leading Gonzaga (31-2) to one of the NCAA tournament’s four top seeds.

“You have the best team in the country being powered by two Canadians — one’s at the controls at the point guard and one’s at the centre. Two Canadians are pulling the team,” Barrett said.

Olynyk’s breakout season earned him the West Coast Conference player of the year. The Canadian who averaged 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds a game is also up John R. Wooden Award as the NCAA’s top player.

He’s also one of 21 Canadians who picked up regular-season awards.

“Awards in every single thing you can imagine, first team, second team, third team, MVP of a conference tournament,” Barrett said.

Bennett, from Brampton, Ont., collected Mountain West Conference freshman of the year in leading UNLV, and is a projected top-five NBA draft pick.

“He’s come and taken UNLV from obscurity, catapulted them into the tournament, he’s one of the leading scorers among freshman in the NCAA (with 16.1 points a night),” Barrett said.

“Our players aren’t just going (to the NCAA), they’re the better players on their teams, they’re the ones pulling the teams,” he added. “They’re getting that thought going into school that ‘I’m going to be the man, I’m going to be the one that pulls and drives the team.’ Those are the scenarios now that our players are looking for, and it’s the level of expectation now as a result of the growth of our game.”

Among other award winners, Bennett’s teammate Khem Birch of Montreal was conference defensive player of the year, Olivier Hanlan of Aylmer, Que., (Boston College) was the ACC’s rookie of the year, while Sim Bhullar, a seven-foot-five forward from Toronto (New Mexico State), earned WAC freshman of the year honours.

Bhullar is one of four Canadians on New Mexico State’s roster — the others are Toronto’s Daniel Mullings, Tyrone Watson and Renaldo Dixon — and is an intriguing March Madness story line himself. The 360-pound centre has his sights set on being the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA.

Bhullar was named conference MVP, becoming the first freshman to earn that honour since BYU’s Shawn Bradley 23 years earlier. It came after he red-shirted last season and lost close to 60 pounds.

“It’s a blessing honestly,” he said after last week’s WAC tournament. “I didn’t really think I could come this far, but you’ve seen how far hard work takes you.”

In the WAC title game versus UT-Arlington, Bhullar scored 16 points, hauled down 15 rebounds and added five blocks.

“He’s such a load down there,” Texas-Arlington coach Scott Cross said of Bhullar after the game. “I think he’s a guy that can help an NBA team.”

The Aggies open the tournament Thursday against Saint Louis, whose interim coach Jim Crews joked to reporters at practice that a good way to practice guarding Bhullar was to get on someone’s shoulders.

“I know people have used brooms and other things for way tall guys, we’ll have to think about that a little bit,” Crews said.

A Canadian is also a leader on a women’s NCAA No. 1 seed.

Natalie Achonwa, a junior from Guelph, Ont., is a starting forward for a Notre Dame women’s team (31-1) that is eyeing a third straight run to the NCAA championship game. The Fighting Irish have come up short the past two years.

“With the first two national championships and losing them, we still have that bitter taste,” said Achonwa, who earned All-Big East first team honours. “We know what it feels like.”

It was Achonwa’s layup with 1.8 seconds left that lifted the Irish 61-59 over UConn in the Big East tournament title game last week.

“The fact that we won Big East gives us a taste of how great it feels to end on a note like that,” Achonwa said. “Especially our upperclassmen know how it feels to lose in a championship game. I think that sour bitterness — we know what it feels like. And to have something where we’re winning, ending our first season on a high note, we’re definitely going to carry that. We want to fight for that.”

Notre Dame meets 16th-seeded Tennessee-Martin in the first round on Sunday.

©2013The Canadian Press

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Quebec corruption inquiry goes federal – National

The steady drumbeat of details about illegal political financing in Quebec has suddenly echoed beyond the province’s politics and into the nation’s capital.

The province’s corruption inquiry has heard that crooked financing schemes also permeated the federal level, via testimony Wednesday from a repentant construction-industry executive.

The federal aspect came up only briefly.

It was addressed in the most vague, fleeting fashion during Wednesday’s testimony before being dropped as the testimony moved on to other topics.

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Rosaire Sauriol, the vice-president of Dessau Inc., was describing how he used fake-billing schemes to funnel cash from his engineering company to provincial and municipal parties.

He was asked whether he used that same practice to contribute to federal parties and he responded: “Yes.”

And that was it. There were no more details about which parties might have received the cash, how much they received, and when they received it.

The mandate of Quebec’s corruption inquiry does not extend to the federal level – so any questions about politics beyond the province are deemed out-of-bounds.

But that statement alone is enough to raise questions about whether federal parties have been financed with illegal cash and, if so, which ones.

There have been limits since 2004 on corporate donations to federal parties, while corporate donations were banned altogether in 2006. Meanwhile, the events that Sauriol described in his testimony occurred as late as 2009.

“I have every confidence that Elections Canada and the RCMP are going to be following this closely,” Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said Wednesday.

He added that the federal government is also responsible for punishing anti-competitive practices and he expects it to be monitoring allegations of collusion emerging from the inquiry. The federal Competition Bureau has, in fact, said it is watching the inquiry and working with Quebec police.

Elections Canada would not say whether it was investigating the claims made Wednesday. In an email, the elections watchdog said it never confirms or denies whether complaints are received and investigations are underway.

Wednesday’s brief exchange with Sauriol was a rare example of the inquiry tiptoeing, however gingerly, beyond the confines of Quebec provincial politics.

But it wasn’t the first. The inquiry has also twice raised the name of Sen. Leo Housakos – although he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

At one point this week, an inquiry lawyer suddenly began asking the head of another engineering firm, BPR, about the Conservative senator’s previous work at the company and his appointment to the upper chamber of Parliament.

Sources have told The Canadian Press that Housakos helped organize a lucrative 2009 Conservative fundraiser – attended by numerous engineering-industry employees, and featuring a speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Housakos admitted to soliciting a donation from his ex-boss at BPR at the time, although he said he did not have any formal role in that event.

The guest list for the 2009 Montreal fundraiser included Sauriol and Pierre Duhaime, the former SNC-Lavalin boss who now faces fraud charges.

That list of invitees does not prove that Sauriol actually attended the event, nor is there any trace of a contribution from him.

Meanwhile, the Conservative party is touting its record in cleaning up political financing.

The Tories point out that they were responsible for tightening rules with the Federal Accountability Act – their first piece of legislation upon taking office in 2006.

“We only accept individual donations within the legal limit. We banned corporate donations and imposed a strict limit on personal donations,” said an email from Tory spokesman Fred DeLorey.

This week’s inquiry testimony has illustrated how frequently such rules have been flouted in Quebec, where corporate donations have been illegal since the 1970s.

While testifying Wednesday, Sauriol said his company gave more than $1 million to provincial parties between 1998 and 2010 – about 60 per cent of it to the Liberals and 40 per cent to the Parti Quebecois.

That does not include the contributions Sauriol said went through a network of middlemen not associated with the company who were reimbursed for their donations.

That sum also does not include the multitude of donations to municipal parties inside and outside Montreal that Sauriol said the company made.

It does not include federal donations, either.

For Dessau employees, Sauriol said the provincial donations were made by cheque and the company would reimburse workers in different ways: cash, expense accounts and inflated gas mileage.

There was another scheme for non-employees.

First, Dessau needed to get its hands on coveted cash currency. Sauriol said he did so by sending cheques to different companies. The companies created false bills for work never rendered. In exchange, he said, Dessau got cash – minus a 10 per cent commission paid to the other company for its services.

The cash would then be split up through various middlemen and contributed to parties.

Sauriol testified that his company donated $2 million through false-billing schemes alone, at the municipal and provincial level, between 2005 and 2010.

The benefits of being close to certain local politicians were clear. One chart produced Wednesday showed how Dessau’s contracts suddenly dried up, and other companies’ skyrocketed, when there was a change in government in a municipality near Montreal.

The brief exchange about federal politics came while an inquiry lawyer was seeking a more specific tally about how the cash dollars were used.

“That money – that influx of cash money you were talking about yesterday (Tuesday) – was only for financing political parties, not only at the municipal level but also the provincial one,” said inquiry counsel Denis Gallant, opening the exchange.

“I just want to ask on a sidenote – and to drop it immediately thereafter because it’s not part of our mandate – but because we’re going to see some numbers later…

“But was there also a certain financing that happened at the federal level?”

Sauriol said yes.

Gallant followed up with: “So it was really for a whole bunch of political parties, that cash money, there was no other purpose than to finance (political parties)?”

Sauriol answered no.

And they moved on to other subjects.

Dessau has already reported its wrongdoing to authorities. Sauriol said the company stopped the false-billing practice a few years ago and paid a fine to cover back taxes and interest.

Sauriol said his own company president, his brother Jean-Pierre Sauriol, was aware of the scheme. The company, Quebec’s third-biggest engineering firm, was founded by their father.

The inquiry has already heard about illegal or questionable fundraising practices at other firms. For instance, the country’s biggest engineering company, SNC-Lavalin, admitted it reimbursed employees who donated to political parties.

Sauriol did not explain why he got involved in financing federal politics.

But he did reveal a motive for cultivating ties at the municipal level: it made his company money.

Sauriol made that observation Wednesday while describing why he invited municipal politicians – including the man who is now interim mayor of Montreal, Michael Applebaum – to a corporate box for an NHL game several years ago.

“Our objective was to get closer to politicians,” Sauriol said.

“In most cities, it was the executive committee, (the municipal equivalent of a cabinet), that decided which contracts went where.

“So there was an advantage to knowing elected people. It was the entry point for getting contracts.”

Laws have since been tightened, and ethical standards have been raised since 2009, he said, so Dessau does not engage in such practices anymore.

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What’s open and closed on Saint-Jean-Baptiste – Montreal

MONTREAL – Here is a list of what will be open and closed for Quebec’s Fête nationale.

What’s closed?

All banks

The Montreal municipal court

Federal, city and borough offices, including Accès-Montréal

SAQs

Large and medium-size retailers, including grocery stores, will be closed or have reduced hours

Most art galleries and museums

The Complexe Sportif Claude Robillard (1000 Émile-Journault Ave) – except for the outdoor tennis courts

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What’s open?

Most supermarket chains and pharmacies are operating during normal hours.

The 3-1-1 service will remain open for all municipal queries.

Bus, métro and train service will be reduced. Click here for more information.

Parking meters remain in operation and parking restrictions are still in effect

Arena, pool and library hours are running on varied schedules set by each borough.

Most garbage and recycling pickups are scheduled as normal. Le Plateau–Mont-Royal, LaSalle, Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie and Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension will not have pickups. Click here for more details.

All écocentres

Outdoor markets, like Atwater and Jean-Talon, will operate as usual from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bonsecours Market will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History

The Biodôme, Botanical Gardens, Insectarium and Planetarium. The Olympic Parc Esplanade will have activities on Monday, June 23 starting at 8 p.m. Parc Maisonneuve is the site of the official Saint-Jean party on Tuesday at 8:45 p.m.

The Saint-Jean-Baptiste parade starts at 2:30 p.m. at Place de Léry near the intersection of Sherbrooke and Moreau streets.

The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste has organized an evening concert at end of the route at Parc Maisonneuve.

The show begins at 8:45 p.m. and will feature France D’Amour, Coeur de Pirate, Pierre Flynn among others.

Authorities are encouraging anyone wishing to attend events for la Saint-Jean to use public transit to access the sites.

Road closures

8 a.m. — 7 p.m.: Sherbrooke between Montgomery and Place de Léry

12 p.m. — 2 a.m.: Sherbrooke between Pie-IX and Viau

1 p.m. — 7 p.m.: Sherbrooke between Davidson and Pie-IX

2 p.m. — 7 p.m.: Most streets in the vicinity of Sherbrooke, Hochelaga, Rachel and Pierre-de Coubertin

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Council OKs controversial rapid transit route – Winnipeg

WINNIPEG – City council has voted in favour of building the next phase of rapid transit through the Parker wetlands.

That route was highly contested by residents and some councillors because the transit line would run through protected wetlands and some worry about the environmental impact the line could have on wildlife in the area.

The Parker wetlands, just south of Taylor Avenue, currently is Hydro land and a popular dog park, named after former city councillor Brenda Leipsic, that neighbours the Winnipeg Humane Society.

“You’re on the verge of destroying your own colleague’s vision,” said Bill McDonald, executive director of the Humane Society. “I’m sure if Brenda was here today, she’d be in the mayor’s office bending his ear to save the dog park.”

McDonald urged councillors to look at a different option.

“This is the last unique open green space in Winnipeg… If you take this green space away, future residents will question your choice,” he said.

The other option looked at was running the transit line down the Letellier rail line, but it would require moving the rail line closer to homes and moving homes.

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The seven-kilometre, $350-million second-phase line will link the Jubilee Avenue RT station to the University of Manitoba and the new Blue Bomber stadium.

“If we could choose between saving the wetlands or rapid transit, let’s choose rapid transit,” said Harry Wolbert of the Rapid Transit Coalition. “Vote in favour of this route.”

Councillors John Orlikow, Paula Havixbeck, Ross Eadie, Justin Swandel and Harvey Smith voted against the plan.

Councillors Russ Wyatt, Dan Vandal, Thomas Steen, Diva Sharma, Mike Pagtakhan, Brian Mayes, Jenny Gerbasi, Scott Fielding and Jeff Browaty voted in favour of the route.

Environmental and design studies are the next step towards building the line, which won’t be completed until 2018.

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Quebec Anti-corruption squad arrests two men on charges of defrauding government

MONTREAL – Two men have been arrested in Quebec on numerous charges — including abuse of power by a public official and defrauding the government.

Quebec’s anti-corruption police squad said Paolo Catania and Francois Theriault were arrested Wednesday by provincial police.

An arrest warrant was also issued for Antonio Catania.

Theriault and Paolo Catania were both released by investigators on promises to appear in court on May 1.

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The men are also facing charges of conspiracy, fraud, use of a counterfeit document and accepting secret commissions.

The arrests came shortly before another man named Paolo Catania appeared in court in Montreal in a separate case.

That Catania, who runs a construction empire alleged to have extensive ties to the Sicilian Mafia, faces criminal charges in a high-profile case.

He appeared in court on Wednesday along with seven other people.

Quebec’s construction inquiry has heard testimony about tight links between Catania’s business and the most senior figures in the Rizzuto crime family.

Others who appeared in court with Catania included Frank Zampino, the former chairman of city of Montreal’s executive committee and Bernard Trepanier, a former organizer for Union Montreal.

That’s the municipal party of former mayor Gerald Tremblay which has been rocked by alleged scandals.

The eight face a variety of charges in connection with the construction of Faubourg Contrecoeur, a residential complex in east-end Montreal. The charges include fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.

They will return to court April 29 to have a date set for their mega-trial.

The Crown used a procedure called a preferred indictment that allows the case to bypass a preliminary hearing and go directly to trial.

©2013The Canadian Press

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Venezuela halts communication with US diplomat – National

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s government has halted lines of communication established by a top U.S. diplomat to protest what it says has been U.S. interference in the country’s internal affairs ahead of an election set next month to replace the late President Hugo Chavez.

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Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said in a news conference Wednesday that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson had violated Venezuela’s sovereignty despite reaching out to the South American country’s government before Chavez’s March 5 death.

He accused Jacobson of supporting opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, although he didn’t provide any evidence.

“We want normal relations with the United States based on mutual respect,” Jaua said.

He said the government had formally “suspended any contact and any communication that had been established with the call of Mrs. Jacobson in the month of November.” He emphasized, however, that diplomatic and consular relations would remain between the two countries.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas had not responded to a request for comment by Wednesday afternoon.

Venezuela’s government expelled two U.S. military attaches this month for allegedly talking to members of the country’s armed forces. Washington responded by ejecting two Venezuelan diplomats, who were honoured by Jaua Wednesday.

The two countries haven’t had ambassadors posted in each other’s capitals since 2010.

Ahead of an April 14 presidential vote, Venezuelan officials have escalated their rhetoric against the U.S., with acting leader and government candidate Nicolas Maduro even accusing the U.S. of infecting Chavez with the cancer that killed him.

And even as Maduro has said U.S. officials are backing Capriles’ candidacy, he has accused two former U.S. assistant secretaries of state of plotting to kill Capriles in the hopes of fomenting a coup. The U.S. State Department has rejected that accusation while calling for free and fair elections.

On Wednesday, Jaua accused the former U.S. diplomats of seeking Central American mercenaries to carry out the supposed assassination plot.

“Hopefully there will be a rectification and the meddling of the United States will cease,” Jaua said.

Wednesday’s action and the growing accusations mark “a level of paranoia that is very much on the rise,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“Whether they believe the allegations or are simply using them for political effect, it marks a very troubling turn in the relationship,” Arnson said. “And once it’s no longer politically useful to whip up fear of imperialism for internal political purposes, what concretely will happen in the relationship?”

Chavez was fond of calling the United States “the empire” and famously referred to President George W. Bush as the “devil” at a U.N. General Assembly meeting. Such words endeared the leftist leader to his followers, already suspicious after U.S. officials recognized the replacement government that took control after Chavez was ousted briefly in a 2002 coup.

Maduro has repeated many of Chavez’s tactics in his electoral bid, down to the hours-long speeches and nationalistic rhetoric.

Recognizing the fragile atmosphere in Venezuela, U.S. officials have pointedly not made comments that could be used for political ends by Chavez’s successors, Arnson said.

“The truly bizarre element is that even with staying out, these accusations are surfacing,” she said.

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Fed stands by stimulus, sees stronger US economy – National

WASHINGTON – The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that the U.S. economy has strengthened but still needs the Fed’s extraordinary support to help lower high unemployment.

In a statement after a two-day meeting, the Fed stood by its plan to keep short-term interest rates at record lows at least until unemployment falls to 6.5 per cent, as long as the inflation outlook remains mild. And it said it would continue buying $85 billion a month in bonds indefinitely to keep long-term borrowing costs down.

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Speaking at a news conference, Chairman Ben Bernanke stressed that while the economy has improved, the Fed won’t ease its aggressive stimulus policies until it’s convinced the economic gains can be sustained. An unemployment rate of 6.5 per cent is a threshold, not a “trigger,” for a possible rate increase, he said.

Bernanke also said the Fed might vary the size of its monthly bond purchases depending on whether or how much the job market improves. The unemployment rate has fallen to a four-year low of 7.7 per cent, among many signs of a healthier economy.

“We are seeing improvement,” Bernanke said. “One thing we would need is to see this is not temporary improvement.”

Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said the Fed appears focused on “whether recent improvement continues, and no changes to the (bond) purchase program appear imminent.”

But O’Sullivan said he thinks the Fed might scale back its bond purchases in the second half of this year if job growth continues to accelerate.

Brian Bethune, an economics professor at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., said the Fed’s first move might be to reduce its monthly bond purchases in the October-December quarter of this year and again in the first quarter of 2014. Reducing the Fed’s bond purchases would likely cause interest rates to rise, making loans more expensive, and possibly cause stock prices to fall.

But investors seemed pleased with the Fed’s decision to maintain its low-interest rate policies indefinitely for now. The Dow Jones industrial average close up about 56 points, having risen slightly after the Fed’s statement was released at 2 p.m. EDT.

The Fed’s statement took note of the global stresses that have been intensified by the turmoil in Cyprus, which is trying to stave off financial ruin. No longer does the Fed statement say, as it did in December, that “strains in global financial markets have eased somewhat.”

Bernanke was asked at his news conference whether the flare-up in Cyprus signals that the U.S. financial system might be more vulnerable than bank “stress tests” have shown. He sought to downplay the dangers posed by the tiny Mediterranean nation. Bernanke said that “at this point,” he sees no major risks to the U.S. financial system or economy.

The Fed noted in its statement that the U.S. job market has improved, consumer spending and business investment have increased and the housing market has strengthened. But its latest economic forecasts, also released Wednesday, show that the Fed still doesn’t expect unemployment to reach 6.5 per cent until 2015.

The Fed also cautioned that government spending cuts and tax increases could slow the economy. It predicts that growth won’t exceed 2.8 per cent this year, slightly lower than its December forecast of 3 per cent.

A total of 13 Fed officials still think the first rate increase won’t occur until 2015, the same number that thought so in December. One Fed official thinks the first boost in the short-term lending rate won’t occur until 2016.

The statement was approved on an 11-1 vote. Esther George, president of the Kansas City regional Fed bank, dissented for a second straight meeting. She reiterated her concerns that the Fed’s aggressive stimulus could heighten the risk of inflation and financial instability — a concern shared by other critics.

Some economists say they fear the Fed has pumped so much money into the financial system that it could eventually ignite inflation, fuel speculative asset bubbles or destabilize markets once the Fed has to start raising rates or unloading its record $3 trillion investment portfolio.

And while the Fed’s low interest-rate policies are intended to boost borrowing, spending and stock prices, they also hurt millions of retirees and others who depend on income from savings.

“Things are not going to get better for savers,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate杭州夜网. “Rates are going to stay low for borrowers, and the Fed’s accommodation will continue to be a positive for the stock market. Right now, the market is addicted to Fed stimulus.”

The economy slowed to an annual growth rate of just 0.1 per cent in the October-December quarter, a near-stall that was due mainly to temporary factors that have largely faded. Economists think growth has rebounded in the January-March quarter to an annual rate around 2 per cent or more. The most recent data support that view.

Americans spent more at retailers in February despite higher Social Security taxes that shrank most workers’ paychecks. Manufacturing gained solidly in February. And employers have gone on a four-month hiring spree, adding an average of 205,000 jobs a month. In February, the unemployment rate, though still high, reached its lowest point since December 2008.

One reason for the Fed’s reluctance to reduce its stimulus is the history of the past three years. In each of the three, economic prospects looked promising as the year began. Yet in each case, the economy stumbled.

Though the economy has brightened this year, it still faces threats, including across-the-board government spending cuts that took effect March 1 and are expected to trigger furloughs and layoffs.

The Fed’s forecasts for the economy are rosier than those issued by the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO has warned that the government spending cuts, along with the Social Security tax increase and higher taxes on top earners, could slow growth by 1.5 percentage points this year, to 1.5 per cent.

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AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.

©2013The Canadian Press

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Toronto may not receive special deal for hosting a casino – Toronto

TORONTO – Toronto may not reap the same reward for hosting a casino within city limits as previously suggested after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) has confirmed it will be reviewing the profit-sharing formula for casinos in Ontario.

Premier Kathleen Wynne asked OLG Chair Paul Godfrey on Wednesday to come up with a profit-sharing formula that is fair for all municipalities in Ontario – meaning Toronto could see less than had previously been suggested.

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“The Premier indicated her desire to have the same formula for all the municipalities. We agreed that we would review the policy of the formula at this point in time and get back to the Premier in due course,” Godfrey said.

Previous estimates have pegged up to $200 million moving to Toronto’s public coffers if the city hosts a casino.

The OLG had previously signalled that the city of Toronto would receive more money than other municipalities if it hosted a casino.

However after Wednesday’s meeting with the Premier, the city of Toronto could receive the same deal as other municipalities – which according to a report in The Globe & Mail  – would be approximately $20 million.

Councillor Adam Vaughan – a vocal opponent of any casino within Toronto’s city limits – said the new, lower dollar figure could be the death knell for a casino in Toronto.

“Anybody that is hoping for a payout of anywhere above $20 million is dreaming in technicolour,” Vaughan said. “I can’t see people destroying the city for a few million dollars.”

The OLG would be forced to “up the ante” for other municipalities as well if Toronto were to receive $100 million, which Vaughan said, the province is unlikely to allow.

“Most of the soft support for a casino is predicated on $100 million,” Vaughan said. “To get to $100 million you have to up the ante in Windsor and in Ottawa, in Ajax and in Barrie and the province knows that you can’t do that.”

Mayor Rob Ford – who had previously suggested the city could receive up to $200 million in hosting fees – said Wednesday that Toronto is the biggest city in Ontario and should receive a special deal.

“We’re the biggest city. I think we should [receive a special deal],” Ford said. “You can’t compare us to the second largest city which is Ottawa. We’re like three times the size. Might even be four.”

“To say that we’re the same as Ottawa or Hamilton is ridiculous,” Ford said.

Ford was unwilling to say whether he would support a casino with hosting fees based on a new formula
.

©2013Shaw Media

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