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Canadian relief ships sent home

JIM FOX
Published September 25, 2005

Two Canadian navy frigates are heading home from the storm-ravaged U.S. Gulf Coast after being told they were no longer needed even as Hurricane Rita stormed toward the Texas coastline.

HMCS Toronto and HMCS Ville de Quebec had been berthed in Mayport, Fla., since Tuesday but were ordered home on Friday by Commodore Dean McFadden. He said the U.S. Navy said there were enough troops to deal with damage caused by Rita.

The Canadian coast guard ship Sir William Alexander is still in the Louisiana area as crews work on waterway reconstruction. HMCS Athabaskan is also heading back after an equipment upgrade in Norfolk, Va.

The Canadian humanitarian mission, called Operation Unison, involved three warships, a coast guard icebreaker and 1,000 sailors.

They dropped off supplies in Pensacola before heading to Biloxi, where the sailors helped to clean up and repair public buildings such as schools, hospitals and a navy retirement home damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The mission ended sooner than expected, after two weeks, when U.S. officials said American civilian agencies and workers were able to take over.

Alberta shares the wealth

Alberta is sharing its oil-price surge bonanza with every one of the province's residents who are to receive $400 each in tax-free payments.

Premier Ralph Klein said his energy-rich province could be looking at a surplus of $8.8-billion this fiscal year from soaring prices for oil and natural gas.

The "prosperity checks" in the $1.4-billion giveaway will continue as long as oil stays above $60 U.S. a barrel, he said.

The first payments of $400 for every man, woman and child in the province will go out in late December.

Meanwhile, some gas stations started charging more than $2 (Canadian) for a liter - approximately $6.46 per gallon U.S. - on Thursday over concerns about supply disruptions by Hurricane Rita. Most prices, however, have stayed around $1 to $1.15 a liter in major cities.

"Consumers in Canada need not panic," said Jane Savage, president of the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association. "We have lots of crude oil and lots of refining capacity and lots of gasoline in Canada - at this point anyway."

News in brief

Canada is again considering boosting its immigration levels, this time by 40 percent within five years. Prime Minister Paul Martin said immigrants are vital to Canada's economic success in an era defined by low birth rates, an aging population and a deepening shortage of skilled workers. This would boost immigration levels to about 328,000 people a year.

As the lockout of 5,500 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. workers enters its seventh week Labor Minister Joe Fontana is getting involved. He will meet Monday with representatives of the Canadian Media Guild and the national broadcaster. CBC management locked out the workers just as they planned to go on strike at the English-language radio and TV networks. At issue is contracting-out work.

Facts and figures

Higher oil prices continue to push Canada's dollar higher, closing Friday at 85.38 U.S. cents. The U.S. dollar is worth $1.1712 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

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

Stock markets are mixed, with Toronto's composite index lower at 10,904 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange higher at 2,074 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 15, 17, 24, 26, 34, 35; bonus 8. (Sept. 17) 4, 7, 13, 33, 40, 47; bonus 37.

Regional briefs

An energy deal will pump $145.2-million in federal gasoline tax rebates into Nova Scotia's cities and towns over the next five years. The deal, signed by Prime Minister Paul Martin and Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm, is part of a national initiative to share gas taxes. The money will be used for improvements to roads, highways, sewers and infrastructure.

British Columbia's 42,000 elementary and high school teachers are threatening to begin rotating strikes on Oct. 11 to back contract demands. The Teachers' Federation also warns of a province-wide walkout on Oct. 24 unless a new deal is reached with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association.

The federal Liberal party has recruited a Conservative member of the Manitoba Legislature. John Loewen will run in the Winnipeg district of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia against Conservative health critic Stephen Fletcher. Loewen said he was uncomfortable with some right-wing social policies of the federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper.

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

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