Terror on the 401

John Nicol July 26 1999

Terror on the 401

John Nicol July 26 1999

Canada Notes

Hopes and frustrations

Union leaders representing Quebec’s 47,500 striking nurses voted on Saturday to accept the provincial government’s wage offer—after the two sides agreed to a time limit on a study of salary levels.

But acceptance by the rankand-file membership, who were to finish casting their ballots by Wednesday, was no sure thing. The money offer in the tentative pact was still a five-per-cent raise over three years with a one-time catch-up payment of $35 million over six months.

Earlier, the 600 union delegates had balked at the wage deal and ordered the leadership back to the bargaining table. “We deserve better,” said one delegate bluntly. What swayed the leaders on Saturday—following an allnight bargaining session—was the government’s concession to complete a study of health-care salaries before

Nov. 15 and raise nursing pay if warranted. Initially, the government had said it would take two years to complete such a report. The nurses began their illegal walkout on June 26, seeking six per cent over two years, with the third year to be negotiable later. They had also demanded an immediate 10per-cent raise to bring their salaries to the level of provincial social workers.

Some picketing nurses who were frustrated with the offer said they were contemplating a breakaway union. If that happens, health-care peace could be a long time coming.

Toronto communications breakdown

Telephone service in downtown Toronto was disrupted on Friday because of a fire at a key Bell Canada switching station. For some companies and individuals, phone service remained down for much of the business day. Bank machines were also affected, as were some retail credit and debit card terminals—a problem that also afflicted businesses outside ofToronto that are tied by phone lines to computer systems. At the Toronto Stock Exchange, trading continued even though some member firms lost their communications links.

A call for federal tax reduction

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce called on the federal Liberal government to slash taxes by $9 billion over the next two years—a decrease of $1,700 annually in an average family’s tax bill. “We know that the overtaxation of Canadians has now placed the government in a more favourable

financial position where it can afford to cut back on the amount of money it collects from its citizens,” said chamber president Nancy Hughes Anthony. But Prime Minister Jean Chrétien dismissed the call, saying the government will proceed with its agenda, in which half of any budget surplus ($9.1 billion last year) will go towards spending on social programs and job creation while the other half will be split between debt and tax reduction.

MacPhail resigns

In another blow to B.C. Premier Glen Clark’s beleaguered NDP government, Joy MacPhail resigned as finance minister for “personal” reasons. Her decision comes at a tumultuous time for the party: the NDP has been under fire because of its troubled initiatives to rescue the province’s ailing economy. Clark appointed Gordon Wilson, the former head of the Progressive Democratic Alliance and, before that, the province’s Liberal party, to replace MacPhail. Wilson, who crossed the floor in January to join the New Democrats and become the minister in charge of aboriginal affairs and B.C ferries, will also retain his previous responsibilities.

Meeting of minds

Federal Tory Leader Joe Clark acknowledged that he met with Reform Leader Preston Manning in the spring to discuss co-operation between their parties. Clark has publicly criticized Manning’s United Alternative, a proposed coalition of right-wingers against the federal Liberals. But, he said: “I thought it was important that we compare notes.” Clark added that he intends to meet again with Manning.

New hope for Vhisey’s Bay

Inco announced it will begin new exploration in September on its Voisey’s Bay property in Labrador. Analysts said the decision was an encouraging sign for the stalled nickel project, which has been on hold because of the Newfoundland government’s insistence that Inco process all the ore in the province.

Death in Sylvan Lake

Tragedy struck a family in the small central Alberta community of Sylvan Lake when Douglas Staudinger, 17, and his sister Susan, 19, died after losing consciousness in a root cellar. Susan had gone to the cellar in the family’s barn and passed out due to a combination of lack of oxygen and carbon dioxide from rotting vegetables. Her father, Harvey, went to look for her and also succumbed, as did Douglas when he tried to rescue them. The teens died in hospital; their father survived.