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Consumers getting socked, despite stronger currency

By JIM FOX, Times Correspondent
Published August 12, 2007


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The Canadian government has warned businesses to get their prices in line as shoppers are increasingly spending their money outside the country.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Canadians are still paying too much for imported goods even as the dollar nears parity with the U.S. greenback.

The dollar is at 95 U.S. cents, compared with 62 cents five years ago, but few price cuts are evident, a Bank of Montreal study found.

It said magazines cost up to 23 percent more than they should while other overpriced goods include automobiles, cameras and books.

"I have spoken to some business leaders about ensuring that they pass along price reductions that should follow the higher Canadian dollar," Flaherty said.

If consumers don't see better prices soon, they should exert pressure by shopping around, he added.

And many of them are - across the border - causing waits of two hours and longer on weekends at many crossings.

Back-to-school shoppers are returning with loads of merchandise. They say prices are better, there's no double-digit sales tax as in Canada except Alberta, and there's a greater selection of goods.

Cabinet shake-up?

There are signals of a major shake-up planned by the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Cabinet ministers have been told to be in Ottawa on Monday as political observers suggest Harper will do some major housecleaning to re-energize the government.

In a bid to look proactive, the government that was elected 18 months ago could have a dozen or so Cabinet portfolios with new leaders, sources said.

In brief

- In a bid to bolster its sovereign claim over the Northwest Passage, Canada will build two new military facilities, Prime Minister Harper said in an announcement Friday near the North Pole. The Canadian Forces will install a new army training center and a deep-water port at distant points of the contested arctic waters - for centuries a coveted possible trade route to Asia.

- The leaders of Canada's provinces are moving ahead with plans to slow climate change but failed to reach agreement on major initiatives to control greenhouse gas emissions. Their annual conference in Moncton, New Brunswick, reported progress on biofuel development, more studies on carbon sinks through tree planting and agriculture, and participation in a climate registry to measure emissions.

- Louisiana stockbroker Lloyd Tiller, 59, is to appear in U.S. District Court on Aug. 29, accused of sending threatening e-mails to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. The case stems from the Canadian government's surprise decision last fall to place a new tax on income trusts. It led to millions of dollars in losses by investors.

Facts and figures

The Canadian economy continues to hum along, with the jobless rate down to 6 percent, a 33-year low. Economists suggest this will push the Bank of Canada to raise its key interest rate of 4.5 percent next month and possibly in October to head off inflationary pressures. The prime lending rate remains at 6.25 percent.

Canada's dollar is higher at 95.01 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returns $1.0525 in Canadian funds.

Markets are lower, with the Toronto Stock Exchange index at 13,359 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange 2,858 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 2, 15, 28, 41, 42 and 46; bonus 3. (Aug. 4) 9, 17, 18, 20, 41 and 49; bonus 46.

Regional briefs

- Two men were killed and six wounded when two masked men burst into a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver and opened fire. The two victims at the Fortune Happiness restaurant were "known to police" and the case is being linked to gang violence.

- The Newfoundland and Labrador government has resumed formal negotiations to develop the stalled Hebron offshore oil project. Operator Chevron Canada Ltd. disbanded its project team last year when the province and an oil consortium couldn't reach a financial agreement.

- The Mounties and their horses are being reined in on Parliament Hill. The mounted patrols are popular with tourists but some people don't know how to act around the animals and have pulled their tails and rushed them. So, they are being confined to enclosures for safety reasons, Mountie Commissioner William Elliott said.

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

[Last modified August 12, 2007, 01:47:08]


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