To support troops, prime minister visits Afghanistan

Published May 27, 2007

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to boost the morale of Canada's military. Days later, another soldier was killed by a roadside bomb.

Chief of Defense Staff General Rick Hillier said any signs of support can boost the morale of troops who face a tough mission in the war-torn country.

"Political parties notwithstanding, when the prime minister of Canada visits our soldiers that is a powerful thing for all concerned, " he said.

While Canadians remain divided on support for the military mission - not the usual peacekeeping role - Hillier said soldiers are not upset by political debates about their role.

Canada's 55th Afghan military death occurred Friday when a soldier was killed as an improvised explosive device detonated during a foot patrol in Afghanistan's volatile Zhari district. Another soldier and an Afghan interpreter were wounded.

The Canadian forces, assisted by Portuguese and Afghan troops backed by British air power, are taking part in one of the largest and most ambitious anti-Taliban offensives in more than six weeks.

Weather extremes

Central Canada has had a presummer heat wave, while Albertans dug out winter clothing and shovels after a surprise snowstorm.

Wet snow downed power lines and trees in Red Deer, Calgary, and other communities in west-central Alberta, and brought traffic to a crawl.

Frost in parts of Nova Scotia and tornado warnings in the Portage la Prairie area of Manitoba were all part of a seasonal transition that can cause "meteorological mayhem, " said Dan Kulak of Environment Canada.

In Ontario, temperatures were in the high 80s with smog advisories from air blowing north from the industrialized Ohio Valley, forecasters said.

In brief

- A member of Canada's elite Snowbird precision air team was killed while preparing for a performance in Montana. A military funeral was held Friday in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, for Capt. Shawn McCaughey, 31, of Candiac, Quebec. His Tutor jet crashed near Great Falls, Mont.

- A government study shows that immigration has lowered wages in Canada and the United States but that the impact depends largely on the newcomers' skills. Canada gets a larger proportion of highly educated immigrants than the United States, which has depressed the earnings of low-paid Americans and increased the gap relative to the highest paid, the study found.

Facts and figures

The Canadian dollar is at a 30-year high, rising 1.8 cents to 92.64 cents U.S., while the U.S. dollar dropped to $1.0794 Canadian before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate remains at 4.25 percent while the prime lending rate is 6 percent.

Canada's largest bank, the Royal, increased its quarterly profit by 14 percent to $1.28-billion as revenue rose 11 percent to $5.67-billion.

Stock markets were moving higher on Friday, with the Toronto Stock Exchange index at 14, 069 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange at 3, 225 points.

Lotto 6-49: Wednesday 4, 13, 19, 23, 33 and 48; bonus 16. (May 19) 8, 16, 33, 37, 40 and 42; bonus 35.

Regional briefs

- A close call involving two passenger jets near Vancouver International Airport this month has been blamed on a communication problem. A Transportation Safety Board investigation found mistakes were made by air traffic controllers and the pilot of a Philippine Airliner that came close to a Delta Airlines flight leaving the airport.

- A Toronto high school student was shot and killed over a fireworks prank. Jordan Manners, 15, was shot in the chest at C.W. Jefferys High School after tossing a firecracker at a student with a gun. The shooter is still being sought by police. "We've got a punk crisis on our hands - there's too many punks holding guns and now they're into our schools and shooting kids, " Councilor Giorgio Mammoliti said.

- Quebec Premier Jean Charest's Liberal minority government could be short-lived because opposition politicians are opposing a billion-dollar budget proposal. The Parti Quebecois caucus and the Action democratique du Quebec would cause the government to fall if they defeat the bill in a vote set for Friday. The budget includes broad-based income-tax cuts, while the opposition wants more money for education, health care and debt reduction.

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