CANADA

Canada NOTES

December 16 1996
CANADA

Canada NOTES

December 16 1996

Canada NOTES

VULNERABLE SENIORS

An “astonishing” 40 per cent of women over 75 live in poverty and are in such frail health they are unable to properly care for themselves, says a report based on Statistics Canada data from the 1991 census. That finding, and others, “should give pause to [budget cutters who assume] there is no longer an economically vulnerable elderly population,” adds the study, written by two professors at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

COMING TO TERMS

Newfoundland reached an out-ofcourt settlement with one of the men molested by Christian Brothers at the Mount Cashel orphanage. A similar offer is expected to be accepted by 38 other victims. The province hopes to recoup the payout—reportedly worth up to $15 million—from the Christian Brothers and the Catholic Church.

'FLEXIBLE FEDERALISM'

Ottawa will hand over $317 million over three years to the Alberta government under a deal that gives the province control over job training and counselling for the unemployed. Federal Human Resources Minister Pierre Pettigrew said the agreement signals a new age of “flexible federalism.”

SPIRALLING DEFICITS

B.C. Finance Minister Andrew Petter revealed that the NDP government has erred again in its deficit projections for 1995-1996. Last June, Petter predicted a $16-million surplus, but less than a week later conceded there would be a $235-miilion deficit. Now, blaming declining corporate taxes and a welfare payments dispute with Ottawa, he says it will hit $369 million.

DISTINCTLY LIBERAL

The Quebec Liberal party announced its intention to adopt “distinct society” as part of its new constitutional position. Unlike past proposals, this one does not call for a massive transfer of federal powers to Quebec.

CBC SERVICE OFF THE AIR

The CBC announced that its international shortwave radio service will cease operating on March 31, when the federal government ends its yearold commitment to fund Radio Canada International’s budget shortfall.

Bouchard's showdown with labor

It could have been a lot worse. As it was, Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard managed to win a much-needed, though possibly brief, reprieve from public-sector union leaders angered by the government’s determination to trim $1.4 billion from its payroll. Faced with the threat of a massive one-day walkout by labor groups across the province, Bouchard convened a meeting with leaders of six unions representing 400,000 teachers, health care workers, civil servants and other public employees. “[The PQ’s] position was rigid before,”

Robert Caron, spokesman for government professionals, said after the five-hour meeting. “Now there’s a possibility to discuss what’s on the table.”

The unions are upset by Bouchard’s proposals for chopping the government’s $20-billion public-sector payroll by about seven per cent. To avoid laying off as many as 25,000 workers, Bouchard says that he wants to cut

the work week to 32 hours from 35, but workers’ pay will remain the same because the government will reduce their contributions to union pension funds. Labor leaders contend that their members would only be hurting themselves by accepting such an offer.

Last week’s meeting with Bouchard ended with union leaders agreeing to meet with their executive to obtain a mandate to begin intensive negotiations. Bou£ chard, meanwhile, wants a I deal by Christmas. “We’re g keeping that time frame,” he s said. If an agreement cannot 1 be reached, the PQ leader « has not ruled out the possibility of a special law to impose one.

Particularly galling to the unions is that the PQ wants to reopen a three-year contract it signed with its employees in 1995, and which included a one-per-cent raise. That settlement came at a time when the PQ was trying to gain support for its referendum campaign on taking Quebec out of Canada.

IMMIGRATION

The passport scam

Authorities in the Netherlands and Canada say they have shut down a refugee smuggling ring which has allowed up to 5,000 people—mostly Iranians—to enter Canada illegally over the past three years. The smugglers moved people through the Netherlands, where they charged them as much as $10,000 each for forged Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Israeli or Canadian passports and plane tickets to Canada. Upon arrival, the illegal immigrants claimed refugee status and, as instructed by their handlers, refused to give Canadian authorities details of their voyage. Police and prosecutors in the Netherlands have pursued the ring since last January and have made 40 arrests in a case that has caused a public uproar in Holland. The RCMP says it began working on the case a month later and that two Iranian nationals in the Toronto area were recently charged with conspiracy to smuggle immigrants.

Chrétien under attack

Was it sleazy politics? The answer likely depends on the political stripe of the beholder. Still, what is clear is that Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton’s claim that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is a liar struck a sensitive chord among Liberals. In a speech to a Tory breakfast club audience in Ottawa, LeBreton said Chrétien deceives Canadians with “a Forrest Gump act” and does not deserve his reputation for personal integrity. The senator, who served as Brian Mulroney’s patronage chief, recalled Chrétien’s offhand remark to Manitoba high-school students in October that he occasionally chatted with homeless people about their problems. The Prime Minister later admitted he hadn’t spoken to any homeless people since taking power. “There used to be a time when we called that lying,” LeBreton said. “That he lied to easily impressed young people is even more revolting.” She also accused Chrétien’s wife, Aline, of failing to follow the example of Mila Mulroney, who did “extensive charity work.” Distancing himself from LeBreton’s remarks, Tory leader Jean Charest said, “I don’t believe in personalizing politics.” Peter Donolo, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, demanded LeBreton’s resignation from the Conservative election committee. “This is the same kind of sleazy, personal attacks they used in the last campaign,” he said.