News in Review


PM gets roasted

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is taking a huge hit after suspending Parliament for another five weeks—until March 3, 2010. Many Canadians believe his decision was based on selfish reasons, and for that, even some of his supporters are unimpressed.

An Angus Reid poll released in January found that 53 per cent of Canadians disagree with Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament. Nineteen per cent agreed with the move and 28 per cent were undecided.

While Harper defends his move as a routine constitutional procedure, 38 per cent of those polled reckon our PM was merely trying to avoid a parliamentary committee’s probe of the treatment of Afghan prisoners—a hot potato in Ottawa. This is not to mention the dozens of other pieces of legislation that will have to be put on hold.

Harper’s camp argues that prorogation will allow the government to speak with Canadians about the economy, enjoy the Vancouver Olympics and strengthen the Tories’ position in the Senate.

It seems Harper’s decision isn’t just miffing Canadians. U.S.-based magazine, The Economist, covered the story and let Harper have it.

"Mr. Harper is a competent tactician with a ruthless streak. He bars most ministers from talking to the media; he has axed some independent watchdogs; he has binned campaign promises to make government more open and accountable. Now he is subjecting Parliament to prime-ministerial whim," stated the editorial.
This marks the second time in over a year that Harper has prorogued Parliament.

Flying ‘nut-free’ with Air Canada

Air Canada will create a nut-free "buffer zone" on all flights to accommodate passengers who suffer from severe nut allergies. The decision was made by the Canadian Transportation Agency after complaints about the inconsistent and threatening experiences a few passengers faced when they asked Air Canada to accommodate their severe nut allergies.

The nut-free zone is among a long list of recent changes introduced on airlines, such as allowances for animals on planes, allowances for those with allergies to animals, and a Supreme Court ruling that those deemed medically obese be allowed to have two seats when flying.

Air Canada has 30 days to submit comments on the decision, including how long in advance a person needs to notify the airline for a buffer zone to be created, and how large the zone should be, depending on the aircraft.

N.S. company catches NASA’s attention

Nautel Ltd., a Nova Scotia company that builds transmitters for radio stations, is helping to develop a new plasma rocket engine that could cut a trip to Mars down to just 40 days (as opposed to two years). Located in Hacketts Cove, Nautel has partnered with a Texas-based rocket company, Ad Astra, to build a radio-frequency amplifier for the engine.

How it works is radio waves from the amplifier heat argon or xenon gases into plasma. The rocket then uses magnets to propel the plasma out of the rocket at incredible speeds. Unlike chemical rocket engines that emit short, explosive blasts, plasma rockets offer a continuous, high-speed stream of hot gas that could accelerate a spacecraft over a period of weeks. To slow down, the spacecraft would turn its engines toward its destination and fire them in the opposite direction.
While plasma rockets aren’t suitable for getting a spaceship from Earth into space, they are useful once a rocket is in space.

Other companies have built plasma rockets, which are typically the size of a truck. Nautel’s, however, is the size of a golf bag. NASA has expressed interest in the technology for orbital repositioning on the International Space Station. A proposed project would put the plasma rockets on the ISS in 2013.

Another Canadian Ponzi scheme surfaces, claims $30M

Toronto police have issued an arrest warrant for Weizhen Tang, the self-proclaimed "Chinese Warren Buffett", for allegedly defrauding more than 100 people of a combined $30 million. Tang is wanted on fraud charges for overseeing a three-year Ponzi scheme.

His Canada-based online trading firm, Oversea Chinese Fund Limited Partnership, required investors to contribute at least $150,000 each. The victims, who couldn’t access their investments, live across Canada, in the U.S. and China.

Tang was scheduled to appear before police in late December, but he didn’t show up. Tang was in Hong Kong, retrieving money to build up his defence. On January 13, he returned to Toronto and was arrested at the Pearson International Airport.

Canada anticipates Google phone
As Google enters the mobile phone marketplace with a smartphone called the “Nexus One,” it appears that Canada will have to wait to get its hands on these hot items. The $500-plus Google phone will first be sold in the United States, the U.K., Hong Kong and Singapore and, predictably, at

A Google Canada spokesperson says the company is gradually launching it in different places to get user feedback and ensure smooth ordering. Moreover, Nexus One must be certified in all countries where it’s sold, so Google wants to ensure import regulations don’t make it too pricey.

Later in January, Canadian hopes of accessing the phone are back up. WIND Mobile, the start-up carrier, is actively pursuing a partnership with Google Inc. The firm has contacted the search engine giant about getting the Nexus One smartphone into Canada.  WIND is the only carrier in the Canadian market whose network operates on the AWS spectrum band—a huge advantage for the company. In the U.S., Google partnered T-Mobile USA to launch Nexus One, who is also on the AWS band.

No deal has been reached yet.

For sale: Canwest Global Communications

It might not be surprising, but it’s sad nonetheless. The country’s largest newspaper chain, currently held by Canwest Global Communications, is up for sale following a bid by senior lenders made up of a group of Canadian banks, as well as a court filing for creditor protection.

The bid from five of Canada’s largest banks was made with the approval of the Canwest board to establish a floor price for the chain. RBC Capital Markets has been hired to seek out other possible buyers for the newspaper company.

The bid is for Canwest Limited Partnership, which holds The National Post and 10 major city dailies—including Victoria Times Colonist; Vancouver Sun; Vancouver’s The Province; Edmonton Journal; the Calgary Herald; Saskatoon StarPhoenix; Regina Leader-Post; Windsor Star; Ottawa Citizen; and Montreal’s The Gazette. The Partnership also includes 26 community newspapers, and associated online and mobile properties.

End of an era for Montreal refinery

Shell Canada’s famous 130,000 barrel-a-day Montreal East oil refinery’s days are numbered. Shell Canada has plans to convert the refinery into a storage terminal for gas and diesel and aviation fuels that will be marketed to the company’s distribution operation.

The 75 year-old refinery will continue its operations for another year, at which time the conversion—part of a global strategic review by parent multinational Royal Dutch Shell—will take place and up to 500 jobs will potentially be lost.

It will be a significant loss to the Montreal economy, as it will lose$200 million or more in annual revenue. Shell’s decision to shut down the plant comes on the heels of a company-wide long-term strategic plan, as well as in the wake of pressure stemming from the global recession. Shell Canada’s Calgary spokesman, Larry Lalonde, said there was an initial plan to sell the refinery, and the conversion into storage was decided upon when that sale did not materialise. The conversion will preserve at least some of the jobs.

This will mark the end of an era for Montreal as a powerful refining centre in North America. The city once boasted six plants in its 1970s heyday. All except one of the Montreal plants were successively shut down after the last two energy crises, along with a number of petrochemical plants. Petro-Canada’s refinery was the sole survivor.

Labrador unconnected for days

People in northern Labrador were without internet and long-distance phone service for days, after a key communications tower that links the north coast with the rest of the world collapsed on January 6. Bell Aliant spokeswoman Isabelle Robinson said it looked as if the tower at Double Mer, north of Rigolet, was coated with about 30 tonnes of ice when it collapsed.

The tower will undoubtedly have to be replaced later in the year, but the crew had to bandage the problem in the interim. Temporary structures were put up, which reconnected Labrador’s signals to other sites to get the long-distance service back to those communities that only had local service during the shut-down.
People coped despite the lack of communications. Though most people have debit and credit cards which they were unable to use, businesses were accommodating, doing credit the old-fashioned way or marking down purchases.

Funeral held for war-slain Canadian journalist
A funeral for Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, killed late last year while on assignment in Afghanistan, was held on January 11 in Vancouver, where she was born and raised.

Lang, 34, was killed on December 30, along with four Canadian soldiers when their armoured vehicle struck a makeshift bomb buried under a muddy road south of Kandahar City. Lang was in Afghanistan working for Canwest News Service, and was on her first patrol "outside the wire" when she died.
Sgt. Kirk Taylor, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, Sgt. George Miok and Pte. Garret William Chidley also died in the incident.

Earthquake devastates Haiti

Tuesday, January 12, brought the catastrophic, magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake in Haiti. With its epicentre near Léogâne, approximately 25 km west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, The International Red Cross estimates that about three million people were affected by the quake, with death tolls reaching an estimated 200,000. The earthquake caused major damage to Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas. Many notable landmark buildings were significantly damaged or destroyed, including the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly building, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, and the main jail.

Several countries and organizations are still responding to appeals for humanitarian aid, pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers and support personnel. Our Canadian government committed $80 million to relief.