Alberta government unveils balanced 2014 budget

by admin on 26/09/2018

Above: Government believes it’s building on success with 2014 provincial budget

EDMONTON – Alberta’s finance minister revealed the 2014 budget on Thursday, announcing a consolidated surplus of $1.1 billion.

“We’re going to continue to play it safe,” said Doug Horner.

“There is no question things are looking good in Alberta today, but even so, I’m delivering this good news with some cautious optimism.”

This is the first time in six years the province has not forecast a deficit.

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  • WATCH: 2014 Alberta Budget speech highlights

    Political professor on Alberta budget

  • Alberta touts $1.1B surplus, but borrows billions

(Image Source: The Canadian Press)

Total revenue is forecast at $44.4 billion, which is 5.4 per cent higher than last year. (Budget highlights from government posted below)

“There have been a few factors that have worked in our favour, including better energy prices, higher returns on our investments and higher revenues from taxes,” Horner explained.

In contrast to the 2013 budget, non-renewable resources revenues are up, and the province expects resource revenue for this year to be $9.2 billion, which is more than six per cent higher than last year.

The government announced a $2.6 billion operating surplus, but will be taking on $5.1 billion in debt to finance capital projects this year.

Above: Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner speaks about the operating surplus 

For the second year, the government has split the numbers into two parts: operational (day-to-day) and capital (long-term).

The opposition has stressed the way the government is presenting the numbers is misleading.

“What the PCs are planning to do, very clearly, is they’re going to continue to borrow as much as possible for capital and have large operating surpluses,” said Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson earlier this week.

“And, instead of using those operating surpluses to pay for the capital, they’ll keep borrowing for the capital, and use the operational surplus, instead, to fund different spending programs or endowment programs.”

“Essentially what we’re doing is borrowing on one hand, in order to save a much lesser amount on the other.”

READ MORE: Critics slam Alberta’s ‘debt-ridden’ budget 

Horner stressed there is no borrowing for operational expenses, money is being set aside to pay off the debt, and that borrowing for capital projects makes good financial sense.

“Spending our savings, which are earning 11 per cent, when we’re borrowing at less than four per cent, doesn’t make sense.”

“Alberta has no net debt,” he added. “While other places borrow to keep the lights on, to pay off the credit cards, Alberta only borrows to create more assets by building the infrastructure Albertans need.”

In its capital plan, the government will spend $19 billion over the next three years on infrastructure projects like building and updating schools, ring roads, medical facilities, and building and twinning highways.

But, the Building Alberta plan comes at a cost: the total debt forecast for 2014 is $14.5 billion.

Under this forecast, Alberta will have borrowed $21.6 billion by the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Click here to view all the Alberta government’s documents on Budget 2014

Budget 2013 was a tough one for many sectors. The government nearly froze operational spending.

And, the province vows to continue “living within our means.” In the 2014 budget, operational expenses increase by 3.7 per cent from last year’s budget. It’s less than population plus inflation, but higher than it was last year.

Over the last 10 years, on average, the government says operating expenses increased by 7.3 per cent each year.  Horner said that was unsustainable.

“Is this going to make everyone happy? Probably not. It never does.”

“The reality is we’re going to live within our means, we’re balancing the budget, and we’re putting money aside for both savings and for capital planning.”

Click here to view all the budget documents released by the province.

The 2014 budget comes as Premier Alison Redford is facing criticism over travel expenses, and shortly after a poll showing public approval of the party and its leader slipping was released.

READ MORE: Premier Redford’s approval rating tanking according to new poll

“This is a critical budget for her,” said Chaldeans Mensah, a MacEwan University political scientist.

“Her popularity is low. She needs to woo the voters in Calgary and Edmonton. In the last budget, she was very tough on post-secondary education, on the public sector, and she needs to find a way of getting those voters back.”

Budget 2014 includes a 5.5 per cent increase to Advanced Education and Innovation. Including the  Access to the Future Fund – which was restored this year – funding for post-secondary is close to what it was before the cuts in the 2013 budget.

While there are no cuts in this budget, there are also no big operational spending increases.

Education will see a 3.2 per cent increase, Health will see a 3.6 per cent increase, and Human Services will get a 5.5 per cent increase, with a substantial boost to intervention services for children and youth.

Follow @Emily_Mertz

2014 Alberta Budget: an overview

©2014Shaw Media

Google’s mystery barge floating to new California home – National

by admin on 26/09/2018

SAN FRANCISCO – Google’s mystery barge floated Thursday to its new home in the California delta after the Internet company was ordered to move it from San Francisco.

The odd-looking, four-story vessel made of recycled shipping containers departed from Treasure Island to comply with a Jan. 31 regulatory order concluding that Google Inc. didn’t have the proper permits to build it there.

Construction stopped on the project late last year.

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READ MORE: Google’s barge moving to Stockton, Calif. after being ordered to leave San Francisco

Google says the barge will serve as an interactive technology centre when it’s done. However, various theories have been floated about its purpose. Among the most popular have been that Google is building a party boat or aquatic store.

The vessel’s new home will be Stockton, a city about 80 miles east of San Francisco on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta. The Port of Stockton falls outside the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the agency that forced the barge to leave Treasure Island.

Port of Stockton Director Richard Aschieris told The Record in Stockton that Google has signed a six-month lease to keep the barge moored at its new home.

READ MORE: Google: barge will be interactive learning space

The attention and intrigue surrounding the barge since it was first spotted last fall has been a source of amusement for Google, which issued a playful statement about its new berth.

“It’s been a busy six months for our barge and it’s grown tired of all the attention, so we are moving it to Stockton where it can have a break, enjoy the city’s delicious asparagus, warmer climate and get a bit of rest before its next chapter,” Google joked.

©2014The Canadian Press

Anti-shale gas alliance demands 10-year moratorium – New Brunswick

by admin on 26/09/2018

MONCTON – The New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance is demanding a 10-year moratorium on shale gas development.

“This is the minimum standard where we will hold our political parties,” said Jim Emberger, a spokesperson for the group, noting 10 years should be enough time to better understand the industry’s impact on the environment.

Until then, they want all existing licenses cancelled.

Opponents of shale gas exploration are concerned about the impact on the environment, particularly on water supplies.

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Bob Pickett of the Corn Hill Area Residents’ Association said people need to stand together to fight the industry.

“I think we’ve reached a milestone here where the 30-some groups in New Brunswick have come together and decided to take a firm stand,” he said.

Megan Mitton of the Tantramar Alliance Against Hydro-Fracking said the province should look at other options to boost the economy.

“I do think lots of young people would like to have secure jobs, sustainable jobs,” she said. “I think investing in green technology is the way to do that.”

The leader of the New Brunswick Green Party, David Coon wants an “absolute ban on shale gas extraction.”

New Brunswickers are set to head to the polls on Sept. 22. The groups are hoping parties will “take it into consideration when they draw up their party platforms.”

“What we want to say we’re setting a standard here and we’d alike for you all to sign onto the same things that we have as a united front,” Emberger said.

The Alliance is also rejecting two upcoming reports they say are too “narrow in scope.” The reports are by Environment Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

©2014Shaw Media

Car dealership agrees to honour free car washes for life after first reneging – Toronto

by admin on 26/09/2018

Watch the video above: Car dealership agrees to honour free car washes for life after first reneging. Sean O’Shea reports. 

TORONTO – A Bradford man came to Global News after a car dealership refused to honour his contract. They had offered him free car washes for life with the purchase of a new car.

Last month they reneged on that deal. But after Global News reporter Sean O’Shea spoke with the owner of the dealership, the contract will be honoured.

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Doug Bernardi bought his 2012 Acura TL for close to $45,000 on July 4, 2012 and told Global News an offer of free car washes for life “sealed the deal.”

“They had a big stand there and it said ‘free car washes for life,” Bernardi said during an interview Thursday. “So I asked the guy and said ‘well that’ sounds pretty good, you know.’ I said ‘What if I come in everyday?’ he said ‘sure every day you can come in.’ well I said it’s not likely I’m going to do that but I need a carwash, especially in the winter time.”

But last month, in lieu of the promised limitless car washes, the dealership offered him free car washes when he brings his car in for service and a gift card with a so-called “full year” of car washes – 12.

In a conversation Bernardi had Thursday morning with Nelson Caetano, a representative of the Acura dealership, Caetano said they had to renege on the deal so they can “stay in business.”

“We have the right to make those changes, we have made those changes. Like you’ve heard through the industry, even Air Miles have made changes to their cards,” Caetano told Bernardi during the telephone conversation. “There are certain things that we have to do over time that change it, we cannot continue to offer free car washes for life with people and it’s a policy that we know it wasn’t popular but we have to stay in business.”

But after Global News reporter Sean O’Shea called the dealership and its owner, Joe Zanchin, Bernardi will have his original contract honoured.

“We will honour [the contract]. We don’t need to create problems,” he said in a telephone interview. “We are not going to deviate from the original promise.”

Zanchin explained that there was some confusion with the contract and its limitations. He suggested dozens of people would show up to the dealership on Saturday afternoons and expect immediate service.

“We are not going to disappoint the customer,” he said. “But on the other hand, if the customer is looking for a miracle, there’s only so much that we can do.”

With files from Sean O’Shea

©2014Shaw Media

Wind Mobile write off signals retreat in wireless competition – National

by admin on 26/09/2018

The winds shifted on Canadian wireless customers Thursday, and not exactly in their favour.

The parent financial backer of Wind Mobile (European giant VimpelCom) wrote off entirely the value of the fledgling Canadian carrier, a move experts see as the latest sign that its commitment to continue operating here is fading.

That’s bad news for wireless customers everywhere.

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With an average wireless bill that costs about half of what Rogers, Bell and Telus collect per customer — $29.80/month versus $59.40 among the Big Three – Wind continues to be a thorn in the sides of the incumbents.

Rogers, Bell and Telus have had to respond to lower prices offered by Wind by lowering their own prices (see graphic below).

But Wind has struggled to win over customers, in part because it has had to race to put up a brand new network that can deliver comparable service to what the big guys offer, as well as dole out ample amounts of cash for advertising.

Not an easy task, especially when there are three entrenched players spending more to drown you out.

VimpelCom said Thursday Wind had 649,000 customers, well below the 1.5 million Wind initially said it would have back by this time when it launched services in 2009.

It’s been an expensive effort for VimpelCom, which appears now to be cutting back.

The biggest piece of evidence that that’s exactly what is happening was the surprise announcement in January that Wind was backing out of key auction for airwaves badly needed to boost the performance of Wind’s network.

READ MORE: With new entrant signals fading, what will happen to wireless prices? 

Still, Wind’s Canadian operators continue to say the carrier is around for the long-term – and they may be right.

Looking to boost—or at least maintain—some semblance of competitive pressure on the Big Three, Ottawa is moving to drastically reduce how much smaller players such as Wind must pay the three big network owners to let customers use their systems when outside home coverage areas.

That should save Wind some cash.

Ottawa is also refusing to let Rogers, Bell or Telus gobble up airwave licences owned by Wind, which effectively blocks any sale of the carrier to one of the three.

That leaves few buyers and options for Vimpelcom. But one big one is to simply scale down the amount of money it spends operating Wind.

That’s an outcome Rogers, Bell and Telus would be glad to see – but consumers may not.

Here’s a look at how the average revenue per subscriber has behaved at Rogers, the country’s biggest cellphone provider, from the time Wind launched up to last fall.

Rogers’ average revenue per user dipped at the end of last year (the latest glimpse available), something it chalked up to lower U.S. roaming revenues and voice usage. But analysts expect that number to improve again.

The average monthly revenue collected per subscriber at Rogers took a hit when new wireless players emerged in 2010. But as time’s gone on, the battle has swung back in favour of the established players, including Bell and Telus.

UPDATE: Man found dead on ferry identified – BC

by admin on 05/09/2018

UPDATE: The unidentified man who was found dead aboard a B.C. ferry on February 19 has been determined to be Ray Nelson, aged 56, of Port Alberni.

The BC Coroners Service has provided some photos of a man in the hopes someone will know him and help to identify him.

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The man was found dead on board a BC Ferries vessel on Feb. 19.

He was seen walking around the Departure Bay terminal in Nanaimo and talking to people for about an hour before the last sailing. He then boarded the ferry for Horseshoe Bay as a foot passenger shortly before it departed at 9 p.m. The man was later found collapsed on the upper car deck, and could not be resuscitated.

The Coroners Service and West Vancouver Police say there is no evidence of foul play in his death.

The man is Caucasian and is estimated to be between 50 and 60 years old. He had light blue-green eyes and a fair complexion, with light brown hair in a ‘buzz-cut’ style. He was 178 cm. (5 ft., 10 in.) tall and weighed 72 kilograms (160 pounds).

He also had the following tattoos:

    Large wolf-like animal with bared teeth, right forearm.Celtic band, right upper arm.“Thumper” rabbit, right pelvic area.

    He was wearing glasses, a black-and-white checked shirt over a light-weight black jacket, jeans, and black Nike shoes with a fluorescent green/yellow swoosh. He did not have any luggage.

    Anyone with information which may help identify this man is asked to call:

    * Coroner Lisa Graham at 604 660-2556

    * West Vancouver Police Sergeant Anne Mason at 604 925-7316

    * West Vancouver Police non-emergency number at 604 925-7300

    ©2014Shaw Media

Crude oil in Lac-Megantic disaster as explosive as gas: tests

by admin on 05/09/2018

TORONTO – The crude oil that exploded during a fatal derailment in Quebec last year that killed 47 people had characteristics similar to that of unleaded gasoline, a highly flammable liquid, Canada’s transportation safety agency said Thursday.

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  • Lac-Megantic mayor wants railway tracks re-located outside of town

  • Lac-Megantic train explosion raises questions about transporting oil in B.C.

The Transportation Safety Board said in a newly released report that the crude tested by Canada’s transportation agency had a low flash point, which refers to the temperature at which the crude gives off enough vapour to ignite in air.

Last July, a runaway train with 72 tankers of oil derailed and exploded in the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic near the Maine border, destroying the town’s centre.

The transportation board said Thursday that the lower flashpoint of the oil on the train explains in part why it ignited so quickly once the tank cars were breached.

“The large quantities of spilled crude oil, the rapid rate of release and the oil’s high volatility and low viscosity were likely the major contributors to the large post-derailment fireball and pool fire,” said the agency.

The board also noted that the oil involved in the accident should have been classified as a more dangerous flammable liquid than the train’s placards indicated. The report said the oil from the cars was a Class 3, PG II product, although it had been documented as a less volatile, Class 3 PG III.

The agency took oil samples from nine tank cars that were intact after the crash and subjected them to a rigorous analysis.

The samples were consistent a light, sweet crude oil, with volatility comparable to that of a condensate or gasoline product.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board investigation into the Lac-Megantic explosion continues.

In this July 6, 2013 file-pool photo, emergency workers examine the aftermath of a train derailment and fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Concerns about transporting oil by train were heightened after the fiery train crash, along with a string of other explosive accidents across North America, which prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue an alert about the potential high volatility of crude from the Bakken oil patch.

The U.S. agency said that light crude oil from the Bakken oil region, which straddles North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, may be different from traditional heavy crudes because it is prone to ignite at a lower temperature. The sprawling oil shale reserve is fueling the surging industry in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, which is now the second-largest U.S. oil producer behind Texas.

Experts have said that lighter crudes, which contain more natural gas, have a much lower flash point.

The amount of oil moving by rail in the U.S. has spiked since 2009, from just more than 10,000 tanker cars to a projected 400,000 cars in 2013.

©2014The Canadian Press

Marois won’t rule out referendum

by admin on 05/09/2018

MONTREAL – Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois is not ruling out an independence referendum if she is re-elected with a majority government.

On the other hand, she says she might not hold a vote on taking Quebec out of Canada.

The PQ leader is also inviting Quebecers who don’t want a referendum to vote for her party when they go to the polls in the April 7 provincial election.

Marois told a news conference in Drummondville on Thursday the PQ will examine Quebec’s place within Canada if her government regains power.

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She promises no one will be taken by surprise because she has nothing to hide.

“When we decide to hold a referendum, there will be discussions with Quebecers,” Marois said.

“We’re not trying to hide anything, we’re not going to do anything in the middle of the night and there will have to be a certain consensus. I’m not going to discuss strategy in public but there is no promise to hold a referendum and there is no promise not to.”

Most Quebecers have expressed a continuing distaste for referendums after divisive votes in 1980 and 1995 won by federalist forces.

Marois has been criticized by some separatists for not pushing the issue harder, resulting in some PQ members joining other fringe sovereigntist parties.

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard and Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition for Quebec’s Future, have said a vote for the PQ is a vote for another referendum.

Both opposition leaders focused on the economy on the second day of the campaign.

Couillard promised to create 250,000 jobs during the next five years if he is elected premier.

In the meantime, Legault pledged to give families a break of $1,000 by 2017-18 by gradually abolishing a health tax and a school tax.

©2014The Canadian Press

Pregnant women still face discrimination: commission – New Brunswick

by admin on 05/09/2018

FREDERICTON – The New Brunswick Human Rights Commission says discrimination against women represent about 12 per cent of their caseload and most are filed by pregnant women. F

“Women sometimes are afraid to lodge a complaint. They’re worried they’ll get black mailed,” said Commission chair, Randy Dickinson. “But people need to protect their rights not only for themselves, but it protects the rights for other people who come behind them.”

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Dickinson said he often hears about pressures to make women quit a job before taking maternity leave, or employers cutting a job all together to avoid paying for the leave.

“How could people be so cruel or stupid or unaware of their obligations for human rights?” Dickinson said. “It’s not a case of understanding legislation, it’s just a question of basic fairness and decency, and how do we treat our fellow men and women?”

March 8 marks International Women’s Day and Dickinson said it’s a time to celebrate the work of those women who have furthered women’s equality.

Beth Crowell owns Mayday Fine Print Inc. in Fredericton, but said it took her three years before she could call herself owner.

“As the owner of a printing company, which is generally a male dominated industry, I had a really hard time self-promoting,” she said.

Crowell is also the president of the Fredericton Women’s Business Network, a group that connects female entrepreneurs with business owners. She said there’s still discrimination in the workplace, especially when women announce a pregnancy.

“One woman that I talked to was on her BlackBerry the same night that she gave birth, doing work,” she said.

©2014Shaw Media

Firefighters to haul water to homes with frozen pipes – Winnipeg

by admin on 05/09/2018

WINNIPEG – The city will send firefighters to bring free jugs of water to those who need them because of frozen pipes, Winnipeg’s mayor announced Thursday.

Paramedics will also be dispatched to check on the health of residents whose taps have run dry since their pipes froze, in some cases weeks ago.

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The latest information shows 722 Winnipeg properties are on a waiting list for crews to come thaw pipes and resume water service. The city has only three machines capable of doing the work and homeowners and businesses have been warned they may have to wait for weeks. Almost 600 other properties have been warned to keep their water running to avoid pipes freezing.

The mayor mused Wednesday about paying residents without water to stay in hotels. The move to use firefighters to deliver water instead came as a surprise Thursday.

“Citizens who identify as needing assistance with potable water will be directly connected to the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) Communications Centre” the city said in a news release. “Operators at the WFPS Communications Centre will take relevant information and schedule delivery of water by WFPS. Water deliveries to those in need will be scheduled to ensure there is no interruption to emergency response services.”

The water will be delivered in reusable 20-litre (five-gallon) jugs.

“Upon delivery of water by WFPS, a Paramedic will determine if loss of water is causing any public health issues,” the city says.

Dozens of affected homes have also had partial water service restored by hooking a hose up to outdoor faucets on a neighbour’s house. The city promised Thursday to devote more staff to installing hoses and “facilitating the required paperwork from the supplying property (neighbours).”

To better accommodate new cases of frozen pipes cases during the coming weeks, the City has implemented a streamlined process for assisting property owners. When citizens with frozen pipes call 311, Customer Service Representatives will ask callers about their potable water needs, provide locations of complimentary showers, and advise citizens regarding how to receive a temporary water supply installed from an adjacent property.

On Monday the city offered free access to showers at city-owned indoor pools and the Fort Rouge Leisure Centre for people without water due to frozen pipes.