Canada NOTES

December 15 1997

Canada NOTES

December 15 1997

Canada NOTES

THE VIRK CASE

Crown prosecutors in Victoria announced they will seek to have two teens charged with the second-degree murder of Reena Virk, 14, tried in adult court, where penalties are stiffer. Six other teenagers face charges of aggravated assault. Virk’s battered body was found on Nov. 14.

WESTERN BLOC

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe took his message of Quebec independence to Alberta and British Columbia. Taking aim at the Calgary declaration on national unity-which was hammered out by the nine EnglishCanadian premiers on Sept. 14 and called for recognition of Quebec’s “unique character”-he called the proposal irrelevant. Duceppe also said he had received support from Gordon Wilson, the B.C. government’s constitutional adviser. But Wilson quickly offered a clarification, saying that although he recognized the right of Quebecers to decide their future, he opposed separatism.

FRENCH DECLINES

According to Statistics Canada, the proportion of Canadians who are francophone has dipped to an all-time low-23.5 per cent. Experts say that, based on current trends, Canadians whose mother tongue is neither English nor French-now 16.6 per cent of the population-will eventually outnumber francophones.

PARLIAMENTARY DUSTUP

During an acrimonious parliamentary debate, Reform MP Darrel Stinson had to be physically restrained by his colleagues when he took offence at statements by Tory Leader Jean Charest. “You fat little chubby little sucker,” said Stinson. The B.C. MP also made headlines last February after he swore at Liberal John Cannis in the House and challenged him to a fight.

DANGEROUS OFFENDER

Saskatchewan provincial court Judge Timothy White declared Louis Barron, 65, a dangerous offender, which likely means an indefinite jail sentence for the convicted pedophile. Barron molested about two dozen boys and girls across the Prairies between 1980 and 1994. He often posed as a preacher so families with children would invite him to stay over.

Turbulence ahead

O nce again, the past has come back to haunt the federal Liberals. During the 1993 election campaign, they lambasted the Tories for agreeing to a $4.8-billion deal to buy 50 EH-101 search-and-rescue helicopters. At the time, Jean Chrétien equated the EH-101 with a "Cadillac"-when a Chevrolet would do. He promised to cancel the agreement if elected-which the Liberals then did, paying a $473.5-million cancellation penalty in the process. But now, after an 11-month bidding process, the defence department is poised to

buy 15 new helicopters, at a cost of approximately $500 million. The problem: they are also EH-lOls, albeit a scaled-down version.

According to reports last week, senior Liberals are now concerned about the possibility that such a purchase would be perceived as another policy flip-flop (the government has been under fire for, among other things, failing to live up to its 1993 campaign promise to scrap the Goods and Services Tax). As a result, the cabinet has reportedly delayed its

approval of the helicopter deal, and asked the defence department to substantiate its selection after complaints from competing companies. “Four years of stalling, $500 million in cancellation contracts for penalties, and now,” said Reform MP Art Hanger, “suspicion of a rigged tendering process—all consequences of a cynical election ploy in 1993.” Although Defence Minister Art Eggleton would not comment on cabinet discussions, he promised a decision on the helicopter purchase would be made soon.

OTTAWA

Dinner for $700

Canadian taxpayers picked up the tab for a $700 dinner for two in Paris— one of many extravagances by Canada Labour Relations Board chairman Ted Weatherill. Within an hour of that finding being announced in Auditor General Denis Desautels’ quarterly report last week, Labor Minister Lawrence MacAulay said he had frozen Weatherill’s expense account and begun proceedings to dismiss him. “He will not be spending freely from this time on,” MacAulay said.

Desautels’ report notes that since 1989, Weatherill averaged $91.13 per person for meals in North America (most civil servants are limited to $25). Since 1991, his meals in Europe averaged $180 per person. Over an eightyear span, he spent a total of $70,700 on meals. Weatherill, whose job pays between $128,100 and $155,800 a year, insisted his spending was “appropriate to the circumstances.”

Temperatures rising

For some provincial leaders, it was an unpleasant shock. After the federal delegation arrived in Kyoto, Japan, last week for the Dec. 1 to 10 international conference on global warming, it announced Ottawa’s official position: reducing carbon dioxide emissions to three per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2010. But a compromise federal-provincial agreement worked out during a November meeting in Regina called for reductions only to 1990 levels by 2010. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein was quick to lash out at Ottawa—threatening legal action against the federal government. “I not only feel betrayed,” declared Klein, whose province’s oil and gas industry produces large amounts of socalled greenhouse gases, “but I would suspect all the other ministers that attended that meeting would feel a sense of betrayal as well.”

Klein says that harsher emission controls would seriously hurt his province’s economy. And politicians in British Columbia also expressed their anger. B.C. Environment Minister Cathy McGregor said she intends to ask Ottawa for aid to cover the “major costs that will be incurred.” Some environmentalists were angry for another reason. Louise Comeau of the Sierra Club of Canada said Ottawa’s position is “only marginally better than [that taken by] the Americans and the Japanese—and not good enough to make a difference.”