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The Conference Board of Canada is calling the decline in the Canadian dollar the economic story of the year so far, predicting further declines as the Canadian economy underperforms.
The loonie began the day stronger on Thursday, rising to 91.48 US in early trading, up from its close of 91.37 US yesterday. It closed up 0.16 of a cent to 91.53 cents US.
The Canadian currency fell 6.6 per cent in 2013, after trading at par with the greenback in February, and is down more than three per cent since the beginning of the year.
‘Markets are betting that the Canadian economy will continue to underperform’– Glen Hodgson, Conference Board
The Conference Board, an economic and policy think tank, said the falling dollar is a sign of lack of confidence in Canadian growth prospects.
“Arguably more important than the value of the loonie is the signal it sends about the Canadian economy. Markets are betting that the Canadian economy will continue to underperform,” chief economist Glen Hodgson said in a report released today.
“This assessment is consistent with our own forecast, which calls for U.S. gross domestic product to grow by 3.1 per cent in 2014, much better than Canadian growth of 2.3 per cent,” he continued.
Hodgson is not the only economist predicting Canada’s GDP growth will underperform the U.S. Towers Watson’s annual survey of Canada’s top economists and analysts found most believe Canada will lag the U.S. in both economic activity and job creation over the next few years.
Too many plant closures
“With a lower Canadian dollar, there is hope that manufacturing businesses, and certainly the export sector of the economy, can contribute to reducing the unemployment rate in the next few years,” said Janet Rabovsky, Towers Watson director of investment consulting.
“That being said, recent announcements about industrial plant closures in Ontario would indicate that the cycle has not yet turned.”
Hodgson agreed that it is not clear if Canadian exporters will be able to fully capitalize on a weaker dollar because of the loss of capacity in the manufacturing sector since 2008.
There have been deep slashes in export-dependent industries — such as autos and parts — and a shift of much U.S. production to the southern states, so Canadian suppliers may not benefit as quickly as in the past from the U.S. recovery, he said.
He also points to the hit consumers may take from higher prices.
TD chief economist Craig Alexander said the U.S. Fed’s “decision to taper asset purchases has greased the skids under an already depreciating loonie.”
Traders rush back to U.S. dollar
The Fed decided in December to taper its U.S. bond-buying program to $75 billion US a month and as good economic news out of the U.S. continues to roll in, it is expected to continue tapering.
But that has encouraged traders to buy the U.S. dollar, leading to a rush away from the Canadian dollar.
“However, the fundamentals are not Canadian-dollar positive either, and the loonie likely has further to fall,” Alexander said in a research note.
BMO chief economist Doug Porter predicts a falling dollar will actually help boost Canadian GDP in the long-term – as much as 1.5 percentage points over the next two years if the loonie falls to 90 cents or lower.
“There are definitely losers, such as consumers, travellers, utilities, broadcasters, sports teams. But there are also lots of winners. The beleaguered manufacturing and domestic tourism sectors will find the biggest relief from the weaker currency. Even some retailers will be breathing a tad easier, as the loud siren call of cross-border shopping fades for consumers with each tick down in the currency,” he said.
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More than a dozen patients are in intensive care, some on ventilators, because of the H1N1 flu virus, according to the chief medical officer for a B.C. Lower Mainland health authority.
Dr. Paul Van Buynder, with Fraser Health, said Friday that 15 patients, many of them otherwise healthy, young people, were recently admitted to hospitals in the region.
“It is a lot for us at this particular time, especially because there is not a lot of circulating disease in the community at this point, and so we’re worried that this has happened to so many people so quickly,” he said.
He says the ages of the patients turning up with H1N1 flu span the spectrum, and include those in their 30s. He also said at least one of the patients is pregnant, and also that one person may have died from this flu strain.
“I have one person who hasn’t been confirmed, but I’m pretty sure did pass away from this,” Van Buynder told CBC News.
Van Buynder said medical officials are seeing small pockets of H1N1 breaking out across the region, in a pattern mirroring the flu’s spread in Alberta, Ontario and Texas.
Alberta’s Health Minister Fred Horne says there have been 965 lab-confirmed cases, another 251 people have been hospitalized due to influenza and five people have died so far this flu season.
The H1N1 flu outbreak of 2009, which the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, prompted mass immunizations across Canada.
Van Buynder said anyone visiting a hospital or health facility in B.C. will either need to wear a mask, or be vaccinated against the flu — and he said that previous vaccinations against H1N1 may not help anymore due to mutations in the virus.
“Certainly we don’t think everybody should be reassured by previously being vaccinated, and we’d like them to make sure that they go out and get it again,” he said.
Fraser Health serves more than 1.6 million people from Burnaby to Hope, to Boston Bar.
A German magazine lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency’s hacking unit Sunday, reporting that American spies intercept computer deliveries, exploit hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijack Microsoft’s internal reporting system to spy on their targets.
- Watch NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s surveillance warning
- Snowden document shows Canada set up spy posts for NSA
Der Spiegel’s revelations relate to a division of the NSA known as Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, which is painted as an elite team of hackers specializing in stealing data from the toughest of targets.
Citing internal NSA documents, the magazine said Sunday that TAO’s mission was “Getting the ungettable,” and quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying that TAO had gathered “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen.”
Der Spiegel said TAO had a catalogue of high-tech gadgets for particularly hard-to-crack cases, including computer monitor cables specially modified to record what is being typed across the screen, USB sticks secretly fitted with radio transmitters to broadcast stolen data over the airwaves, and fake base stations intended to intercept mobile phone signals on the go.
The NSA doesn’t just rely on James Bond-style spy gear, the magazine said. Some of the attacks described by Der Spiegel exploit weaknesses in the architecture of the Internet to deliver malicious software to specific computers. Others take advantage of weaknesses in hardware or software distributed by some of the world’s leading information technology companies, including Cisco Systems, Inc. and China’s Huawei Technologies Ltd., the magazine reported.
Der Spiegel cited a 2008 mail order catalogue-style list of vulnerabilities that NSA spies could exploit from companies such as Irvine, California-based Western Digital Corp. or Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. The magazine said that suggested the agency was “compromising the technology and products of American companies.”
Old-fashioned methods get a mention too. Der Spiegel said that if the NSA tracked a target ordering a new computer or other electronic accessories, TAO could tap its allies in the FBI and the CIA, intercept the hardware in transit, and take it to a secret workshop where it could be discretely fitted with espionage software before being sent on its way.
Intercepting computer equipment in such a way is among the NSA’s “most productive operations,” and has helped harvest intelligence from around the world, one document cited by Der Spiegel stated.
Allegations taken seriously
One of the most striking reported revelations concerned the NSA’s alleged ability to spy on Microsoft Corp.’s crash reports, familiar to many users of the Windows operating system as the dialogue box which pops up when a game freezes or a Word document dies.
The reporting system is intended to help Microsoft engineers improve their products and fix bugs, but Der Spiegel said the NSA was also sifting through the reports to help spies break into machines running Windows.
One NSA document cited by the magazine appeared to poke fun at Microsoft’s expense, replacing the software giant’s standard error report message with the words: “This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint [signals intelligence] system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine.”
Microsoft said that information sent by customers about technical issues in such a manner is limited.
“Microsoft does not provide any government with direct or unfettered access to our customer’s data,” a company representative said in an email Sunday. “We would have significant concerns if the allegations about government actions are true.”
Microsoft is one of several U.S. firms that have demanded more transparency from the NSA — and worked to bolster their security — in the wake of the revelations of former intelligence worker Edward Snowden, whose disclosures have ignited an international debate over privacy and surveillance.
Der Spiegel did not explicitly say where its cache NSA documents had come from, although the magazine has previously published a series of stories based on documents leaked by Snowden, and one of Snowden’s key contacts — American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras — was listed among the article’s six authors.
No one was immediately available at Der Spiegel to clarify whether Snowden was the source for the latest story.
Another company mentioned by Der Spiegel, though not directly linked with any NSA activity, was Juniper Networks Inc., a computer network equipment maker in Sunnyvale, Calif.
“Juniper Networks recently became aware of, and is currently investigating, alleged security compromises of technology products made by a number of companies, including Juniper,” the company said in an email. “We take allegations of this nature very seriously and are working actively to address any possible exploit paths.”
If necessary, Juniper said, it would, “work closely with customers to ensure they take any mitigation steps.”
What 7 days without power is like 3:58
Tens of thousands still in the dark in Ontario 3:36
The little generator that could2:11
- NB Power warns of outages into new year as storm threatens
- Latest storm updates
- Montreal vows to clear city streets by New Year’s Eve
- NB Power pushes restoration date back to New Year’s Eve
- CBC Weather Centre
- Ice storm’s beauty, ruin captured in stunning photos
- Insurance and the ice storm: Are you covered?
- Ice storm aftermath: Staying safe during power outages
About 30,000 customers in Ontario and New Brunswick remain in the dark one week after a major ice storm blanketed Central and Atlantic Canada, and warming temperatures have caused new power outages in Toronto.
Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said early Saturday that melting ice falling from trees and other structures has led to fresh damage. At about 1 a.m. ET the number of customers without power had dropped below 20,000 for the first time, but by 8 a.m. it was back up to around 23,000. The number is hovering at 18,000 as of mid-afternoon Saturday.
- Ice storm aftermath: Staying safe during power outages
- Insurance and the ice storm: Are you covered?
- Get the latest forecast information at CBC Weather Centre
“Over the morning hours we’ve been moving backwards, but I’m sure our crews will attend to those and we’ll start moving in the right direction again over the next couple of hours,” he told CBC News Network.
Calling it a “story of ups and downs,” Haines pointed out that the current tally — 18,000 — is about the same number that crews have been bringing power to each day.
The falling ice caused at least one injury when a Hamilton worker was struck in the head, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said. Officials couldn’t provide an update on the worker’s condition.
“This is Day 7 and there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” said Ford in an interview with CBC News midday Saturday. “What that day is, I can not tell you…We’re trying our best.”
In response to the backlash the mayor and other officials have received from people still without power, Ford said “it tears my heart out.”
“We have crews from Ottawa, we have crews from Windsor,” he said. “I share their frustration…it’s all hands on deck [and] we are moving as fast as we can.”
Haines said computer simulations have shown three days, but that there are variables at work like the new outages and the arrival of more crews. The provincial utility, Hydro One, said the outages outside Toronto are largely over, which has allowed it to send crews in to help the city.
“I’m hopeful certainly by the early part of next week the vast majority of customers will be back,” Haines said.
Working around the clock
Haines, who noted that the average Toronto Hydro customer is equivalent to 2½ people, said he sympathizes with people.
“What we can do is work around the clock and we can bring extra resources in from far and wide … we will not stop until the power is on for everybody,” he said.
Haines and Toronto Community Housing CEO Gene Jones (who is still dealing with outages in about 80 housing units) said they will perform a postmortem after the outages are over to see what they might do better next time.
Haines stressed the enormous scope of the damage:
- Forty per cent of the city’s power lines, which would cross Canada twice, have been affected by the storm.
- Thirty-thousand pieces of equipment have been installed back into the grid and about 47,000 metres of cable have gone back up into the air.
- The City of Toronto says about 20 per cent of the city’s tree canopy has been damaged and it could take seven weeks to clean up all the fallen limbs, Haines said.
Amid the rising anger and frustration of those still in the dark, utility companies are pleading for patience, saying crews are working around the clock and nothing else can be done to speed up the process.
That’s little consolation for people who have been in the dark for a week, including Carmen Andronesu, who is one of more than 1,000 residents who live in a condo complex in Toronto’s north end.
“No matter how much you try calling here and there, it’s like you cannot find help from anywhere,” she said.
Wynne promises help for food spoilage
In a morning news conference, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the concern she’s heard most around the province is spoiled food. She said she’s looking at providing help and would offer details over the next couple of days when a plan had been confirmed.
“We’ve reached out to food suppliers to try to come up with a way of compensating people and getting some extra food — or food vouchers, something to folks, so that’s what we’re working out over the next couple of days,” she said.
Ford said Toronto won’t be looking into any sort of compensation until the power has been restored.
“I can’t give any numbers or any assurances that we can reimburse anyone,” Ford said.
11,000 without power in N.B.
About 11,000 customers in New Brunswick are also struggling through a long power outage, mostly in St. Stephen and the Saint John area.
Some people won’t have their power restored until the new year, according to a tweet from NB Power on Saturday. Gaetan Thomas, the utility’s CEO, said extra crews are being brought in from Quebec tonight, which means more than 200 crews will be working in the province to restore electricity.
Thomas said another large storm, forecast for tomorrow, will also hinder their efforts as it brings freezing rain and snow.
In the rural southern New Brunswick community of Titusville, people without power have been heading to the generator-powered general store to buy kerosene, propane, candles and water.
Owner Mark Carline said the storm and outage has caused him to reflect.
“I think we were all reminded and humbled by the fact that at any given time we could be set back to this state, where we’re scrambling [to get] the basic necessities.”
In Quebec, the outages are almost over: Hydro-Québec tweeted late Friday night that they were “almost there” with only about 400 customers left who needed power restored.
The civil defence department in the state of Minas Gerais says the floods and mudslides caused by more than 10 days of heavy downpours left 18 people dead and forced 9,420 to flee their homes.
In Espirito Santo state, officials place the death toll at 23 and say that more than 60,000 were forced to seek shelter in public buildings or the homes of friends and relatives.
Troops are helping distribute food, water and medicine in Espirito Santo and Army engineers have been called in to help repair highways, roads and bridges damaged by the floods.
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica has quietly signed into law the government’s plan to create a regulated, legal market for marijuana, his spokesman says.
Presidential secretary Diego Canepa told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Mujica signed the legislation Monday night. That was the last formal step for the law to take effect.
- Uruguay becomes 1st nation to legalize marijuana trade
- Uruguay’s pot legalization could be ‘tipping point’ in war on drugs
Bureaucrats now have until April 9 to write the fine print for regulating every aspect of the marijuana market, from growing to selling in a network of pharmacies.
They hope to have the whole system in place by the middle of next year. But as of Tuesday, growing pot at home is legal in Uruguay, up to six plants per family and an annual harvest of 480 grams.
A powerful explosion believed to be caused by a car bomb ripped through a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city north of Cairo early on Tuesday, killing 12 people and wounding more than 100, leaving scores buried under the rubble.
The country’s interim government accused the Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the attack, branding it a “terrorist organization.” But the Islamist group condemned the bombing, describing it in a statement as a “direct attack on the unity of the Egyptian people” and demanding that the perpetrators be found and brought to justice.
It was the first major bombing in the Nile Delta, spreading the carnage that has marked Egypt’s turmoil over the past months to a new area and bringing it closer to Cairo. Previous deadly violence has mostly taken place in the volatile Sinai Peninsula and in Suez Canal-area cities east of the Egyptian capital.
The blast at 1:10 a.m. local time struck at the security headquarters in the city of Mansoura, 110 kilometres north of Cairo in the Nile Delta province of Daqahliya, collapsing an entire section and side wall of the five-floor building, incinerating dozens of cars outside and damaging several nearby buildings.
8 police officers killed
The state news agency MENA said 12 people were killed, including eight police officers, and that 134 were wounded, among them the city’s security chief and his assistant. Most of the victims were policemen, many of whom were buried beneath the debris.
Associated Press video from the scene showed bulldozers clearing the rubble outside the security headquarters, as charred and wrecked cars littered the street.
Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim toured the scene of the explosion at daybreak, pledging that the police will “continue their battle against the dark terrorist forces that tried to tamper with the country’s security,” then went to hospital to visit the wounded.
MENA quoted Cabinet spokesman Sherif Shawki as saying that the Brotherhood showed its “ugly face as a terrorist organization, shedding blood and messing with Egypt’s security.”
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi described the attack as a “terrorist incident,” expressed condolences to the families of the victims and vowed that the perpetrators “will not escape justice.”
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the preliminary investigation indicated a car bomb caused the explosion, which also damaged a nearby bank and a theatre.
Security forces cordoned off the whole area around the bombing site, closed major entrances and exits to Mansoura and set up checkpoints to search for perpetrators. State TV called on residents to rush to hospitals to donate blood.
No one claims responsibility
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, which came a day after an al-Qaeda-inspired group called on police and army personnel to desert or face death at the hands of its fighters.
The militant group based in Sinai and several others have claimed responsibility for a surge of attacks on security forces since a popularly-backed coup in July toppled the country’s former Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.
In response, Egypt’s armed forces launched an offensive against militants in the northern part of Sinai in August. Coupled with the offensive and with Morsi ousted and imprisoned, Egyptian investigators have moved to put him on trial for links to militants, accusing him and the Brotherhood of being behind the wave of violence in Sinai.
Tuesday’s bombing was not the first time that the security headquarters in Mansoura was targeted. Weeks ago, an explosion went off in front of the building but caused no casualties. Since the summer coup that ousted Morsi, militant Islamists have attacked several security headquarters with car bombs or by suicide bombers.
The Mansoura attack came shortly after the Islamic militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or the Champions of Jerusalem, threatened more attacks on the military and police, saying it considers Egyptian troops to be infidels because they answer to the secular-leaning military-backed government.
The group — which gained notoriety after expanding its operations outside of the restive northern Sinai province — has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide car bombings and deadly attacks, including a failed assassination attempt on Egypt’s Interior Minister in September. The minister escaped unharmed.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is believed to have ties with Palestinian militants in the neighbouring Gaza Strip, and officials have said other foreign militants have found refuge in Sinai during the ongoing turmoil.
In its message, which appeared on militant websites Monday, the group said it “will be more determined to fight” the military and police if its warning is ignored. It urged them to “repent” from participating in “this infidel bastion that is at war with God and his Prophet, and stop serving in its ranks.”
But MENA quoted Shawki, the Cabinet spokesman as saying that “such terrorist operations will not prevent us from moving forward with the road map.”
He was referring to the upcoming referendum on a draft constitution Jan. 14-15, a key step in a military-backed transition plan aimed at holding presidential and parliamentarian elections later next year.
The Canadian government has spent $13.2 billion more than it has taken in so far this year, a slightly larger deficit than the one for the same period in 2012.
The Department of Finance said Monday the federal deficit was $13.2 billion for the fiscal year up to October. That’s ahead of the $11.9 billion during the same period in 2012.
But that data is skewed by two major one-time events that impacted Ottawa’s finances: The Alberta floods of last summer, and the government’s sale of $700 million worth of GM shares in September.
Excluding the two events, the annual deficit would have been slightly smaller, at $11.1 billion.
For the fiscal year as a whole, Ottawa has taken in $144.9 billion and spent $158.2 billion so far. On a monthly basis, October’s deficit was $2.5 billion, the same as the one from the same month last year.
“The Government remains on track to balance the budget in 2015,” the department said in a release.
Credit-monitoring agency TransUnion says the non-mortgage debt of Canadians is likely to set a record next year.
In its first such annual forecast, TransUnion predicts the average consumer’s total non-mortgage debt will hit an all-time high of $28,853 by the end of 2014.
That would be about $1,100 more than the $27,743 of debt consumers are expected to have at the end of this year.
TransUnion says car loans are expected to drive the increase in such debt, which also includes credit card debt, lines of credit, student loans and the like.
On the plus side, the credit-monitoring agency says it expects loan delinquency rates to continue to decline in the coming year, falling to 1.66 per cent at the end of 2014 compared with 1.76 per cent forecast for the fourth quarter of this year
Both figures are down from 1.93 per cent in 2012 and 2.87 per cent in 2009.
“The average Canadian consumer’s total debt is expected to rise by four per cent in 2014, which would be more than $4,500 higher than what we had observed five years earlier in 2009,” Thomas Higgins, TransUnion’s vice-president of analytics and decision services, said in the report.
Higgins noted that while the 2014 increase is much greater than the expected one per cent rise in 2013, it is in line with consumer debt growth of recent years.
“In recent years, the increase in auto sales has helped propel the total debt number and we believe auto captive loans will once again be a driver of this increase in 2014,” he said.
“Instalment loans also have played a major role and we don’t expect there to be a material change in this trend,” he added.
While TransUnion expects delinquency levels to drop next year and remain significantly lower than just a few years ago, “there is a slight concern that delinquencies could rise once interest rates increase,” Higgins said.
However, he added that at this time “we do not believe interest rates will rise enough to materially impact delinquency levels.”
An environmental group says more needs to be done to prevent an iconic Canadian animal from going extinct.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is releasing a report today, co-authored by the David Suzuki Foundation, on the status of woodland caribou.
CBC News obtained an embargoed copy of the report, “Population Critical: How are the caribou faring?”
It comes one year after the federal government issued a recovery strategy to prevent the woodland caribou from becoming extinct.
The caribou are listed as a threatened species at risk, largely because industrial development is destroying their habitat in the boreal forest.
Ottawa’s recovery strategy gave provinces and territories three years to come up with a plan to stop the decline of caribou herds in their jurisdictions.
The CPAWS report looks at what progress has been made in the past 12 months.
‘Caribou aren’t protected’
CPAWS national executive director Éric Hébert-Daly says there has been a lot of discussion, but little else.
“The truth is while we wait and while we plan and we do all that work, the caribou aren’t protected,” he told CBC News.
CPAWS gave three provinces and territories a medium grade for showing some signs of progress.
The rest got a low mark for doing little if anything to stop industrial development.
Hébert-Daly hopes that will change in the next 12 months.
“There isn’t really a jurisdiction yet that has really shone in terms of being able to lead the way, and so we’re looking for that in the next year,” Hébert-Daly said.
Some provinces declined to comment yesterday, saying they wanted more time to read the report.
A spokesman for Environment Canada said the department will keep working “with all jurisdictions” on recovery actions for the caribou.
“The Government of Canada has already acted to protect critical habitat in Wood Buffalo National Park (N.W.T./Alberta) and Prince Alberta National Park (Sask.),” Mark Johnson said in an email to CBC News.