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Canada report

Next election might come soon

By JIM FOX
Published July 4, 2004

Canadians could be looking at the prospect of another federal election within a year if Prime Minister Paul Martin's vow to go it alone with his minority government fails.

Voters punished Martin's scandal-plagued Liberals in Monday's election by rejecting their bid for a fourth majority government.

Instead, by electing only 135 Liberals to the 308-seat House of Commons, the government is in a "minority" position and could be defeated should the other parties unite and call for a nonconfidence vote on a major bill.

Martin said at this time there will be no formal talks to form a coalition, possibly with the socialist New Democratic Party, which has 19 members in the Commons. Even so, that would leave the Liberal coalition one vote short to defeat a censure motion since the Conservatives elected 99 members and the Bloc Quebecois 54, and there is one independent.

"I think what we have is a stable minority government," Martin said.

It's the first minority in 25 years, and history shows they last an average of 18 months.

Martin's priorities are improving health care and maintaining a balanced budget, something he thinks members of the other parties can support.

Meanwhile, dejected Stephen Harper said he will consider his future as Conservative leader after the party's once-projected majority win in the election slipped away in the final weeks of the campaign.

Prescription drug sales boom in Canada

Prescription and over-the-counter drug sales are booming in Canada, along with a growing demand from Americans through mail orders.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information said Canadians spent $19.6-billion on medications last year, up 8.1 percent from the previous year. That's almost half the amount they spent on hospitals and more than they spent on doctors, working out to $620 a person.

Drug costs in Canada are regulated by the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board and are lower than U.S. prices. Yet drugs remain the fastest-rising cost factor in health care.

Physician Michael Rachlis said in his book Prescription for Excellence that "costs are spiraling upward because doctors tend to overprescribe drugs, particularly to the elderly, and they tend to prescribe new, expensive drugs when a cheaper alternative is available."

Names in the news

Showman publisher Jack McClelland, who made McClelland and Stewart one of Canada's most influential publishing houses, died recently in Toronto. He was 81. Under his influence, Canadian authors including Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Leonard Cohen, Farley Mowat, Mordecai Richler and Peter C. Newman rose to fame. McClelland had a stroke a few years ago at his condominium on Marco Island in Florida.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has been cleared of conflict of interest allegations by the province's conflict commissioner. The decision concerned an audit that found poor financial management in the Children and Family Development Ministry in which a cousin of his wife's was involved.

Facts and figures

Economic growth slowed in Canada to 0.1 percent in April, partly because of labor disputes and a slowdown in manufacturing.

Canada's dollar is higher at 74.95 U.S. cents, while the U.S. dollar returns $1.3343 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate remains at 2 percent, while the prime lending rate is steady at 3.75 percent.

Stock markets are lower, with Toronto's composite index at 8,545 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange at 1,553 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 2, 21, 31, 32, 41 and 49; bonus 7. (June 26) 1, 7, 8, 10, 18 and 36; bonus 42.

Regional briefs

Voters across Quebec have decided to dismantle some of the "megacities" created in 2002 by the former Parti Quebecois government to decrease bureaucracy and duplication of services. Many people felt they had been robbed of their municipal identities and, as a result, 15 of 22 boroughs will leave Montreal along with four of five boroughs in Longueuil. The new cities will become official on Jan. 1, 2006.

Ontario's government will spend $63-million over the next four years to help public institutions take their cutting-edge research "from the lab to the marketplace." Universities, colleges, hospitals and other public institutions will be linked with companies that can help turn research into commercial products.

Saskatchewan has launched a two-year environmental study aimed at protecting more of the Great Sand Hills. The land, north of the Trans-Canada Highway near the Alberta boundary, is coveted by oil and gas companies. The hills are naturally occurring sand dunes from 8,000 to 10,000 years old and home to endangered plants and animals.

- Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

[Last modified July 4, 2004, 01:00:39]


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