Bad blood follows surprise vote

Published June 26, 2005

The Conservatives are accusing the Liberal minority government of being "undemocratic" for calling a surprise late-night vote to approve budget amendments.

Taking advantage of several Conservatives being absent, the Liberals teamed up with the Bloc Quebecois and New Democrats to abruptly end the budget debate.

The rarely used procedural tactic worked as the Bloc, which previously supported the Conservatives, backed the bill that was approved by a five-vote margin. It provides for additional spending of $4.6-billion as a condition of New Democrat support to keep the Liberal government alive.

It was a huge gamble, as Prime Minister Paul Martin's government would have been forced to resign had the bill not been passed.

"It's the first time in Canadian history that a budget has been shoved through without giving the official Opposition a chance to speak to it," Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said. "It's a corrupt government that will do anything with anyone at any time (to stay in power)."

Martin said plenty of debate already had taken place and it was "standard parliamentary procedure."

More flood aid for Alberta

Alberta will increase its offer of $55-million in disaster relief to help people and businesses affected by flooding.

Martin toured the High River area south of Calgary hardest hit by flooding. He discussed aid from the federal government along with Alberta's pledge to provide financial assistance for damage not covered by insurance.

Southern and central Alberta have been swamped by record rainfalls that swelled rivers, washed out bridges and roads, threatened drinking water and led to major evacuations.

Damage is estimated at more than double the $100-million from the last widespread flooding there 10 years ago.

News in brief

Supreme Court Judge Ronald Holmes dismissed an application by foreign tobacco manufacturers wanting to be removed as defendants in British Columbia's lawsuit seeking to recover billions of dollars in Medicare costs. He ruled there was a connection between the U.S. and British companies and the sale of cigarettes in the province. "It's a big blow for tobacco companies because now they can be put on trial," said Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society.

Police are investigating the deaths of five heart patients who may have taken bogus medication dispensed by a Hamilton, Ontario, pharmacy. Authorities say it appears to be the first Canadian case involving allegations that pharmacists dispensed fake drugs for profit. A woman discovered an oddly colored pill in her supply of Norvasc, which turned out to contain talcum powder.

Facts and figures

Canada's inflation rate dropped sharply last month to 1.6 percent from 2.4 percent in April, due largely to lower gasoline prices. Those prices are again on the rise, topping $1 (Canadian) per liter in Vancouver and St. John's, Newfoundland, and more than 90 cents in Ontario.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate remains at 2.5 percent and the prime lending rate is 4.25 percent.

The Canadian dollar was lower Friday at 81.14 U.S. cents, while the U.S. dollar is $1.2324 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

Stock markets were mixed, with Toronto's composite index up at 9,996 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange lower at 1,718 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 9, 10, 13, 30, 33, 39; bonus 32. (June 18) 5, 6, 7, 36, 38, 46; bonus 20.

Regional briefs

One person was killed in Quebec City in a fire that a witness told police might have been caused by Fete National celebration fireworks. One person also was missing after the fire engulfed three buildings. The fire started about 4 a.m. Friday as some revelers set off fireworks to mark the Quebec national holiday.

New Brunswick politician Jody Carr is calling for an independent inquiry into the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. Hundreds of people living in the area claim they were harmed by the chemicals used in the 1950s and '60s and are skeptical about information from the Defense Department, he said.

Striking Hydro One workers forced Ontario Power Generation to cut output from its Nanticoke generating station in half Friday as soaring heat and humidity fueled a dramatic increase in demand for electricity. The power agency remained confident it would be able to meet peak demand despite a loss of 2,000 megawatts from the coal-fired station.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com