Campaign stays civil . . . but just wait a bit

Published December 25, 2005

Politicians have put on hold their campaigning for the holidays for the Jan. 23 federal election.

For the most part, things have been quite civil so far, but Conservative Leader Stephen Harper vows things will take a more nasty, aggressive stance after the holidays.

Nearing the halfway point, campaigning was largely policy focused. Harper drove the agenda with policy proposals ranging from a cut in the 7 percent goods and services tax to money for families with young children and armed icebreakers for the Arctic.

He also hit the Liberals for having a "scandal-plagued government," regarding the sponsorship scandal in which millions of dollars were diverted improperly to supporters.

Prime Minister Paul Martin was more in a reactive mode to Harper's promises, playing down the tax-cut offer and promoting his national day care system over Harper's cash bonuses.

Socialist New Democrat Leader Jack Layton stayed focused on policy, avoiding aggressive attacks and aiming at ridings where the party suffered narrow losses in 2004.

Water concerns in Ontario

A boil-water issue has been ordered in Walkeron, Ontario, where seven people died and thousands were sickened by tainted water five years ago.

The Grey-Bruce Health Unit issued the advisory strictly as a "security precaution" because the pipe break drained the town's water towers and caused low pressure in the system.

Lou D'Allesandro, the unit's manager of health protection, said the advisory may have to remain in place for several days until the towers have had a chance to refill.

A boil-water advisory was placed on the community of 5,000 after its drinking-water supply was contaminated with lethal E. coli bacteria in May 2000 and led to one of the country's worst public-health disasters.

Free bottled water was being offered to residents, some donated by neighboring Teeswater, which had a boil-water advisory of its own in the fall, and some from a plant in nearby Flesherton.

News in brief

Hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky mourned his mother, Phyllis, 64, who died of lung cancer in Brantford, Ontario. "People in Canada knew her as a hockey mother, but we knew her as just a wonderful person," Gretzky said at her funeral. Gretzky's father Walter, 67, stood up and hugged his son after the eulogy.

The Canadian government has fired Jean Pelletier - for the second time - as chairman of Via Rail's board of directors. Transport Minister Jean Lapierre said the termination was effective immediately. The former chief of staff to Jean Chretien was initially dismissed by the Paul Martin government last year. The Federal Court overturned the decision in November, but Lapierre said the government had lost confidence in the former chairman.

Via Rail reached a last-minute agreement to avert a strike that could have left passengers stranded across the country over the holidays. The passenger train service remained on the rails Friday after Via reached a deal with the union representing 350 of its locomotive engineers. No details were released about the terms of the settlement.

Facts and figures

Canada's dollar is lower at 85.76 U.S. cents while the U.S. dollar is worth $1.1679 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada key interest rate is 3.25 percent and the prime-lending rate is 5 percent.

Canadian stock markets are higher, with the Toronto exchange composite index at 11,245 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange 2,190 points. Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 4, 9, 25, 27, 31, 33; bonus 44. (Dec. 17) 4, 13, 18, 19, 42, 43; bonus 45.

Regional briefs

The first evidence of Lyme disease has been found in the Okanagan in British Columbia. "We have been concerned it might be present in the Okanagan at very low levels and this recent information confirms the low risk," Dr. Rob Parker, medical health officer, said.

An audit of millions of dollars spent fixing up Toronto's waterfront has found numerous contracting irregularities and questionable overseas travel. The federal audit examines how the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. has spent almost $30-million since 2001, when it was created to clean up and modernize the city's often dingy lakeshore.

The Supreme Court has rewritten the definition of indecency and legalized swingers clubs complete with orgies, partner swapping and voyeurs. Consenting adults cavorting behind closed doors while like-minded people look on are not committing indecent acts, the court said in a major ruling which cast some clarity into a murky area of the law.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com