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Canada Report

Alberta Conservatives weigh split with Canada

By JIM FOX
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

Taking a page from Quebec, Alberta's governing Conservatives will discuss the issue of separation from Canada.

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said some party members want to discuss the idea of Alberta's leaving Confederation at their annual convention March 29.

He said the issue shouldn't "overshadow everything else," so it won't be debated on the convention floor but will be discussed during a business session.

Klein's government suggested that the province's ability to be a partner in Canada is compromised by the federal Liberals' "unilateral approach to a number of issues."

The western province feels alienated by health funding and rejection of its plan for private clinics. The federal approval of the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gases is expected to harm the oil-rich province's economy.

There's also anger over the national firearm registry, preservation of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly on grain sales and Senate reform.

Alberta's opposition parties contend Klein is using the national unity issue to shift attention from domestic problems, including education funding and higher prices for electricity and natural gas.

Jump in federal spending

The Canadian government is on a spending spree, handing out billions of dollars.

Finance Minister John Manley outlined the biggest federal spending increase in two decades, including nearly $35-billion more for the universal health care program over five years.

Also in the federal budget, billions of dollars will help pay expensive drug costs for the poor and boost day care and home care, the armed forces, low-cost housing construction and aid to the homeless. There will be more money for roads, sewers and transit, and higher cash benefits for families with children.

There will also be paid leave under the Employment Insurance program to care for ill relatives and lower premiums, and tax breaks for small businesses.

In brief

Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Canada supports a deadline for Iraq to comply with the United Nations' disarmament resolution. "The differences are on the means to achieve these goals . . . to disarm Saddam Hussein and destroy armaments of massive destruction that he could have." He didn't suggest a deadline date.

Fiery explosions rocked the morning calm near Belleville, Ontario, as a train carrying propane cars and hazardous chemicals derailed. More than 100 residents of Melville were forced from their homes as two freight trains were engulfed in flames on the CP Rail tracks. It was the fifth freight train derailment in Ontario in a week.

Andre Bachand, the only Quebec politician elected for the federal Conservatives, will seek to succeed retiring leader Joe Clark. Bachand, 41, is the seventh candidate for the job and third from the party's 14-member caucus in Parliament. Conservatives will name their leader June 1 in Toronto.

Facts and figures

The Canadian dollar has surged to a two-year high at 66.45 U.S. cents while a U.S. dollar returns $1.5048 Canadian, before bank exchange fees. Expectations of higher interest rates in April and a booming economy are influencing the dollar.

The key Bank of Canada interest rate remains at 2.75 percent while the prime lending rate is 4.5 percent.

Canadian stock exchanges were higher Friday, with the Toronto index at 6,548 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange 1,099 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 3, 24, 27, 29, 32 and 45; bonus 6. (Feb. 15) 3, 11, 12, 25, 32 and 38; bonus 36.

Regional briefs

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry is refusing to apologize for saying poor people should manage to feed their children because even birds -- with their tiny brains -- can do it. Landry made the comment at a private meeting with poverty groups. He said his remarks were misinterpreted and expressed shock that some people were offended.

Robert Ghiz, 28-year-old son of late Prince Edward Island Premier Joe Ghiz, will seek the leadership of the opposition Liberal party his father led to power. Joe Ghiz, who died in 1966 of cancer at age 51, was premier from 1986 to 1992.

Saying its public sector union workers are overpaid, the British Columbia government will offer no wage increases over the next three years. The provincial budget of the cost-cutting Liberals did have more money for hospitals, students and people in need.

Millions of dollars worth of salmon have frozen to death in Maritime waters super-chilled by a record cold snap. The bitter weather forced Nova Scotian lobster boats to tie up because of heavy ice and killed farmed fish in their sea pens. In New Brunswick, about 200,000 farmed Atlantic salmon have died during the deep freeze.

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