The Week That Was

The Week That Was

MARTIN TALLIES THE NEW ECONOMICS

October 29 2001
The Week That Was

The Week That Was

MARTIN TALLIES THE NEW ECONOMICS

October 29 2001

The Week That Was

MARTIN TALLIES THE NEW ECONOMICS

It’s a politician’s right to change his mind. For weeks, Finance Minister Paul Martin has been under growing pressure to bring down a fall budget. The economy was already slowing when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks drastically altered Canada’s economic outlook-some experts say those events, in fact, pushed the nation into recession. That means it’s time, many contend, for Martin to update his earlier rosy forecasts. So far, he has resisted-but last week signalled he’s wavering. “I’m very open to bringing down a budget,” he told the House, “but I want to make sure I have all the facts at hand before doing so.” He promised a decision “relatively soon.” Martin last tabled a full budget in February, 2000, although the pre-election financial statement he delivered eight months later

essentially served the same purpose.

The aftershocks of Sept. 11 kept Martin busy on other fronts as well. He announced Ottawa will be host to three major international financial meetings-all at the same time. After India backed out amid the escalating war in the region, Ottawa is taking over from New Delhi in holding a conference for G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors on Nov. 17 and 18. Martin will also host international Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings, originally scheduled for late September in Washington, but postponed after the terrorist attacks.

In the meantime, Alberta—already hit hard by plunging natural resource prices following the terrorist strikes— went ahead and revised its spending and budget forecasts. According to

Finance Minister Pat Nelson, the province will postpone work on hospitals, schools, roads and other programs worth $1.26 billion. The

changes reflect a forecast Sl.l-billion drop in resource revenues this fiscal year. Quebec will bring down a budget in November.

More troubles

In an attempt to finally push the terrorist Irish Republican Army into disarming, Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant party formally abandoned the province’s unity government. Under the Good Friday peace accord signed In 1998,

Britain turned the administration of Northern Ireland over to political parties representing both Protestants and Catholics, including Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. Under the terms of the deal, the IRA was to disarm, but so far has refused. As a result, Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble said his party’s three remaining cabinet ministers were pulling out of the government. “We have sustained an inclusive executive for 18 months,” he said, “and for those 18 months the republican movement has done nothing to reciprocate.” If the IRA should begin to disarm,Trimble said politicians from his party would resume their posts. Britain must now decide whether to assume direct control of the administration or force elections. But polls show

unprecedented levels of support for the two most hardline parties In the coalition, Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists on the Protestant side.

A policeman’s tragedy

It’s not supposed to happen. As part of a Calgary police training exercise, the force’s tactical team was deployed in a simulated hostage taking. And the team’s six members were supposed to be using fake ammo called simmunition. But somehow a live round ended up in the police-issue Glock semiautomatic handgun used in

the shooting. Const. Darren Beatty, 29, died after he was shot in the neck by a fellow team member described as a best friend. Beatty, a member of the tactical team since February, 2000, was married with no children.

Burgers ’n’ bugs

Drug-resistant bacteria show up with alarming frequency in U.S. ground meat, and overuse of antibiotics on healthy livestock is to blame, according to three studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine. In one study, researchers tested ground beef, chicken, turkey and pork bought in Washington-area supermarkets and found 20 per cent of the samples contained salmonella “superbugs”-strains resistant to available antibiotics. Salmonella is a major cause of food poisoning, and an editorial in the authoritative periodical called for restrictions on antibiotic use in the livestock industry. A spokesman for Health Canada says the issue is being “actively studied.”

Optimism over lumber

Canadian officials were upbeat after two days of talks with a U.S. delegation over the vexing softwood-lumber issue. At the meeting in Vancouver of federal, provincial and U.S. trade officials, British Columbia put forward a package of measures that included changes to pricing and logging systems. While the U.S. side didn’t comment, B.C. Forests Minister Mike de Jong said the Americans were showing flexibility. Washington has imposed tariffs that could cost Canada $1 billion a year. More talks are due in Montreal this week.

Russian bases close

In another sign of rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia, the Russian military announced it will close two major Cold War-era bases. Cam Ranh Bay, a naval support base in Vietnam, and Lourdes, a radar station in Cuba used to monitor U.S. compliance with arms-control agreements, will begin shutting down in January. While Russian officials said the Cuban base was simply no longer required, Fidel Castro’s government blamed “relentless” U.S. pressureCongress had voted last year to withhold aid to Russia unless Lourdes was closed.

Free to go

Elmer Blanchard is off the hook.

The 81-year-old Second World War vet had been charged with uttering a bomb threat after speaking to security staff searching his wife’s change purse at Charlottetown’s airport. His family says he simply asked if they were looking for a bomb; police say he didn’t ask a question, he made a statement. Last week, prosecutors stayed the charge, saying it wasn’t in the interests of justice to proceed.

Off to jail

In Nelson, B.C., Justice Mark McEwan sentenced Mary Braun, an 81-year-old Doukhobor, to six years in prison and a $200,000 fine for

setting fire to a college building in August. Braun, who stood naked in the courtroom to symbolize the renunciation of possessions, has a long history of committing arson. “The overriding concern in this circumsta nee," sa id McEwan, “must be the safety of the public."

Backing Bombardier

Federal officials vowed to continue supporting the sales efforts of Montreal aircraft-maker Bombardier Inc. despite the hostility of the World Trade Organization. A WTO interim ruling supported a Brazilian challenge to Ottawa’s $1.7 billion in low-cost loans to Air Wisconsin to buy 150 Bombardier regional jets, saying such matching of a Brazilian offer isn’t permitted. Industry Minister Brian Tobin said Ottawa would maintain the financing. The government was also expected to appeal the ruling, part of a long and bitter battle with Brazil, which backs Bombardier rival Embraer SA.

‘THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE’

It was just the sort of exchange you might expect between a social-justice activist and a Bay Street baron. As some 2,000 protesters took to the streets in Toronto’s financial district, a man in a black Lincoln Town Car yelled, “Get a job like everyone else!” One demonstrator yelled back, “I’m helping you and you don’t even know it.” How was never explained; maybe the activist thought it was self-evident. The Ontario Common Front had organized the march to protest

a host of issues, notably Tory policies on health, housing and education. Many of the protesters-whose major accomplishment was snarled trafficchanted: “This is what democracy looks like.” If that’s the case, democracy is a woefully chaotic and messy affair. Forty protesters were jailed and Mayor Mel Lastman fumed that the city should sue the organizers for the cost of policing and cleaning up the graffiti, newspapers and overturned mailboxes left behind.