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Hong Kong’s refusal on political concessions sets stage for more unrest

Hong Kong’s leadership offered no concessions to student activists and democracy protesters as it unveiled a final political reform package that threatens to rekindle the anger that brought hundreds of thousands to city streets last fall.

The package holds fast to the most controversial elements of earlier Chinese-backed proposals, which employ a secretive 1,200-person committee to nominate candidates for chief executive, the powerful top office in the Asian financial centre.

The committee has been slammed as beholden to Beijing’s will – thereby ensuring only staunchly pro-China candidates can seek election – and unrepresentative of the modern city.

A pro-Beijing protester tries to punch a pro-democracy demonstrator after a heated argument outside the government building in Hong Kong on April 22, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

A pro-Beijing protester tries to punch a pro-democracy demonstrator after a heated argument outside the government building in Hong Kong on April 22, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

But the city’s Beijing-backed leadership called it a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

“As of now, we see no room for any compromise,” Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Wednesday. “To initiate any political reform process is not easy. If this proposal is vetoed, it could be several years before the next opportunity.”

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said the package fulfills “the ultimate goal” of achieving the universal suffrage China has promised, a statement observers understood to mean that, if it is passed, future changes to the package are unlikely.

But lawmaker Alan Leong vowed that the pro-democracy camp would reject it.

“The proposal allows a ‘small circle’ to control the election result by controlling the nomination process. Hong Kong will become an election machine,” he said.

He was one of about two dozen opposition lawmakers, most wearing yellow Xs on black shirts and some holding yellow umbrellas – a symbol of the pro-democracy protest movement – who walked out of the legislative chamber after Ms. Lam’s speech.

There were some minor scuffles outside the legislature as pro-democracy protesters faced off against pro-Beijing demonstrators waving Chinese flags.

Joshua Wong, the teenage student leader who became the protest movement’s most famous face, dismissed the reform package.

“Those minor adjustments raised by the government are totally useless,” said Mr. Wong, 18. “We hope to have the freedom to choose rather than just get the right to elect some of the candidates.”

He said that he and other members of his Scholarism group would protest on Saturday in neighbourhoods where Ms. Lam and other government officials are expected to canvas for support from residents.

The woman who is sometimes called Hong Kong’s “Iron Lady” also dimissed the reform package.

“Today’s very explicit statement dashes any hopes for further reforms beyond 2017,” said Anson Chan, a former chief secretary turned democracy activist.

“This whole thing from start to finish has been a farce.”

A group of pro-democracy lawmakers has vowed to veto the legislation, raising the prospect that the pitched rhetoric and lengthy protests of the past year will achieve precisely nothing.

In past conflicts with Hong Kong, however, Beijing has offered concessions at the last minute, so it remains possible the package will be passed in some form.

But Chan Kin-man, one of the main organizers of the Occupy movement that laid the foundations for street protests, feels Hong Kong is better to wait for China itself to become a different place than to accept an imperfect electoral system.

“You have to wait until China has to face its own social or political reform – then it might give Hong Kong people another chance of reform,” he said.

Michael DeGolyer, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University, worries people won’t be that patient. A veto will leave the city “stuck with the current system, which is about as bad as it gets. It’s almost a guarantee that there will be upheavals that will make Occupy Central look like a kindergarten picnic. There will be real violence, not just controlled violence.”

Though police cleared the last remnants of the Occupy movement off Hong Kong streets last December, the protest continues even today, with some 140 tents arranged on sidewalks around the city’s legislature.

Every night, 50 to 60 people still bed down here. Once or twice a week, Thomas Hong joins them. A 57-year-old Canadian passport holder who exports ladies handbags to Europe, he spent Wednesday evening chatting inside a tent under a “Freedom Corner” sign.

“This government is rubbish,” he said.

Avery Ng, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats party, which holds a single seat in the legislature, walked past the signs of simmering discontent.

“This shows hope. More people are awakening,” he said. “People finally know that they can do something rather than giving up.”

With a report from Associated Press

Senators avoid elimination with shutout win over Habs in Game 4

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson (41) makes a save against Montreal Canadiens right wing Brandon Prust (8) during the second period in game four of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson (41) makes a save against Montreal Canadiens right wing Brandon Prust (8) during the second period in game four of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Scoresheets are inherently unsatisfying, not everything about a hockey game can be rendered into columns of numbers.

The official record will show one goal was scored between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, the Sens’ Mike Hoffman scored it, assisted by defenceman Cody Ceci.

The document won’t note a pair subtle, yet crucial, little plays from Ottawa centre Mika Zibanejad. He appears nowhere, yet in every real sense he created the decisive goal.

The 22-year-old Swede forechecked deep in the Montreal zone to hound defenceman Tom Gilbert – playing on his off-side this night – and his attempted clear off the glass was instead stopped on a clever play by Ceci.

Not content to have forced a turnover, Zibanejad headed directly for the net. Once there, he shielded all-world goalie Carey Price’s view of Hoffman’s shot.

“We needed to get bodies in the way . . . Mika did a great job screening him there and made it easy on me,” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t (see an opening), no. I was just trying to shoot it along one of the sides and it just managed to find its way in.”

Zibanejad’s doggedness can be seen as a metaphor for the broader effort by Ottawa, who in the words of teammate Mark Stone “will play hard right to the end.”

Small things can make big differences in a close series – and despite Montreal’s commanding 3-1 lead in games, it has been closely contested.

There’s no stat for determination. Or pride – a factor centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau cited in explaining why the Senators weren’t about to allow themselves to be swept away on home ice.

And no game summary or highlight will fully capture the latest moves in the ongoing chess game between coaches Dave Cameron and Michel Therrien.

Indeed, the seeds of game four were planted in game three and germinated during the pair of off-days between games.

Cameron said he saw enough defensively from Hoffman, a rookie who has been inconsistent over the past weeks (and found himself on the fourth line to start the series), to move him into a top-six role.

“I thought he was very responsible,” he said.

As a result, Hoffman skated with Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan and given a chance to strut his stuff. It paid off early with a couple of scoring chances.

“You want to really take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you, I was going to go out there – and I felt good tonight, we were skating well and there was a few chances early in the game that could have went in but didn’t. We just stayed patient, and it happened in the third period,” Hoffman said.

Coaches play hunches all the time – Therrien has become justly famous for it – and Cameron saw that his club’s all-hitting-all-the-time approach in game three was creating room for the Habs to exploit.

In his post-game news conference Cameron said he made a tactical decision concerning his forward assignments on the forecheck.

“We toned down the gamble on the second guy jumping,” he said.

As a result, the Sens managed to create more neutral zone turnovers and forced the Canadiens into skating down blind alleys.

Cameron’s decision to replace goaltender Andrew Hammond with veteran Craig Anderson has also paid dividends; though Anderson yielded a soft goal in losing game three in overtime, he was impeccable in this one, stopping all 28 shots he faced.

Dripping with sweat in the Ottawa dressing room, the shaven-headed Anderson refused to read too much in to the result.

“We can celebrate for about 15 minutes then come back ready to work tomorrow and focus on the next one because it’s only going to get harder,” he said.

The Habs also made some adjustments, one of them enforced by an injury to defenceman Nathan Beaulieu – caught flush in the head by Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson’s thunderous check in game three.

Rookie Greg Pateryn subbed in and played with Gilbert. Both are right-handed shots, but Gilbert has had success playing on the left side and found himself there.

There are risks to playing defencemen out of position however, whereas Gilbert handled the puck on his back-hand just before the clinching goal, a lefty would have had a straightforward forehand clearance opportunity.

By then Pateryn had left the game with an injury – he appeared to hurt himself in a collision with Erik Condra and skated to the dressing room after a punishing hit on Jean-Gabriel Pageau that negated a scoring opportunity.

Should Pateryn miss out on Friday – Beaulieu has been ruled out for the balance of the series and is likely suffering from a concussion – more lineup changes will be needed.

Therrien will hope his club won’t waste another performance like the one Price provided – he stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced, many of them tricky.

Afterward he blamed himself for the one that got past.

“I didn’t get a good look at it but I’ve got to try and fight to see it,” Price said. “It’s a tough break, nobody was expecting the puck to bounce out to the middle of the ice and Hoffman was patient with it and picked a side.”

The Habs will also need to be better on the power-play, having recorded an 0-for-3 evening. They are now 1-for-16 in the series, this team doesn’t score enough goals to forego so many opportunities at five-on-four.

They will also hope that the injuries don’t keep mounting – as Ottawa’s main injury concern, Stone, says he is beginning to feel like his regular self as the soreness dissipates in his damaged right wrist.

At the same time, there is no panic in the Montreal room, just annoyance.

“I think we had opportunities to win but we didn’t make the right decision when we had the puck, for whatever reason, I don’t know,” said Habs defenceman P.K. Subban, who along with Karlsson had a comparatively subdued game.

The Habs will now concentrate on focusing the will to stamp out the comeback at the Bell Centre.

Failing to do so carries risks.

Ottawa, meanwhile, is simply focused on winning a second game and bringing the series back home for a sixth game on Sunday.

“We really want to play one more in front of them,” Pageau said.

Increase to TFSA limit has some rethinking RRSPs, retirement savings


The near doubling of annual contribution limits for the tax-free savings account has prompted a rethink of how Canadians should invest for their retirement.

Many in the investment community are now seeing the TFSA as an attractive supplement, if not even alternative, to the traditional registered retired savings plan. It also makes the savings vehicle more attractive for holding riskier investments, such as equities, that can produce larger returns over the long haul.

The federal budget this week called for the annual TFSA contribution limit to rise to $10,000 from $5,500. A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Joe Oliver said Wednesday that Canadians can start contributing the extra amount “immediately.”

For those investors who have never contributed to a TFSA, they have now accumulated $41,000 in contribution room – and that will continue to grow at $10,000 a year. Investment income earned in a TFSA, and withdrawals when they are made, are tax free.

For investment advisers, the announcement is opening a window of opportunity for more efficient financial planning for clients, particularly seniors.

Gregor McDonald, a financial planner with Vision Financial Planning, would like to see more of his clients taking advantage of the tax withdrawal benefits. Up until now, most people use the TFSA as a savings vehicle for near-term expenditures, such as a new car or home renovation. The increased limit could change that.

“With the increased limit I recommend using it for longer-term purposes like retirement, especially for those in their 50’s and preparing for retirement,” Mr. McDonald says. “That will mean using investment vehicles that are longer term in nature. I see people steering away from using balanced funds or fixed income products and increasing the equity content in their TFSA when portfolios start getting larger.”

Over a 25-year span, and assuming a modest 4 per cent annual return, investors could still accumulate approximately $416,500. Not quite the chump change investors originally thought of when the TFSA was first announced with contribution room of $5,000 a year, says Adrian Mastracci, a portfolio manager at KCM Wealth Management Inc.

“Going from $5,500 to $10,000 really boosts this investment vehicle into the big leagues,” Mr. Mastracci says.

As the TFSA becomes a larger part of people’s planning and thus holds a larger share of their portfolio, clients should use a well-balanced approach to investing in their TFSA, says Darren Coleman, an investment adviser and portfolio manager with Raymond James Ltd.

“Rather than seeing the TFSA as a small account that was secondary to, say, their RRSP, which had the bulk of their savings, they should view the TFSA as a central and core part of the portfolio and manage it accordingly,” says Mr. Coleman, who manages $115-million in assets under management.

As investors start to reconsider the TFSA, they should also reconsider the investments held within the account. A high percentage of investment dollars being contributed to TFSAs continue to sit in low interest rate products such as guaranteed investment certificates or high-interest savings accounts.

At the same time, investors should be careful about generating capital losses inside a TFSA, as it cannot be used to offset gains, as they can in a non-registered account.

Mr. Coleman suggests most clients should use the TFSA for holding investments that normally attract a high level of tax, such as fixed income and foreign dividends.

For retirees, the increased limit has placed a greater light on TFSAs being efficient tools to use in tax planning. When the TFSA was first introduced, Mr. Coleman started to work on investment projections for clients using a TFSA.

These projections looked at shifting RRSP withdrawal timelines. But it was a strategy Mr. Coleman couldn’t implement fully until there was significant room available in the TFSA.

“With the higher TFSA limit, a lot of traditional planning with respect to RRSPs is being turned on its head,” Mr. Coleman says. Historically, clients were advised to wait to draw from their RRSPs and RRIFs (registered retirement income funds) for as long as possible so they continue to have tax-sheltered compounded growth. But with an investment vehicle that can offer great tax planning, that isn’t necessarily the case any more.

“We have another vehicle that is becoming much more useful with tax-free growth, and we are running the math and seeing that instead of waiting until someone is in their 70’s, we should be drawing out smaller amounts of money earlier than we historically would’ve but at a lower rate of tax over all and then shift it into the TFSA,” Mr. Coleman says.

The new $10,000 limit could also provide an alternative for clients looking to save for a down payment on the purchase of a home. Many younger clients currently benefit from the first time home buyers’ plan, which allows a percentage of RRSP funds to be used towards a purchase of a home.

“For young people buying their first house or condo in their 20s or early 30s, the advice we have been giving if you are in a lower tax bracket is don’t even contribute to an RRSP because chances are you will be in a higher bracket when you have to take it out,” says Jamie Golombek, managing director, tax and estate planning at CIBC Wealth Advisory Services.

Clients also have the added benefit of having a flexible repayment plan, says Mr. Golombek, as anything taken out of the TFSA will be added to your contribution room for the following year (unlike the home buyers plan, which requires investors to start repaying the fund two years after the withdrawal).

Wildrose Leader spurred by son’s tragic medical experience

Brian Jean

Brian Jean tries to talk about his leadership of Alberta’s Wildrose Party but he’s overcome by tears.

“It’s hard,” he says, dabbing his eyes with a tissue. “I’m sorry.”

In the throes of a surprisingly competitive provincial election campaign, Mr. Jean’s decision to enter provincial politics remains a difficult conversation point. It forces the former Conservative MP to draw on fresh and painful memories of the nearly four months he spent at the hospital bedside of his 24-year-old son, Michael, as doctors tried to diagnose his illness. By the time they identified the problem – lymphoma – it was too late. Michael died on March 20, and his father’s experience with the health-care system spurred him to seek the Wildrose leadership.

His son will likely not be far from Mr. Jean’s thoughts Thursday night as he faces off against his political rivals in the first televised leaders’ debate of the campaign. There is much riding on the event for all four leaders involved, but perhaps more so for Mr. Jean, 52, who is the least known of the group – a fact that defies his party’s consistent lead in the polls. If he’s asked why he wants to become premier, he will have to recall the heartbreaking loss of someone he calls “my best friend.”

“My son’s illness was my first real occasion dealing with the health-care system in Alberta and I was utterly shocked and disgusted,” Mr. Jean says through more tears. “The system is horribly broken. It’s focused on treatment and not focused on actually healing people. We need to put our resources where they matter – on the front line, to serve people. Michael is why I decided to run.”

In talking about his son, the Wildrose Leader chronicles a nightmarish medical experience. He says Michael was misdiagnosed seven times and was given the wrong medicine on at least two occasions, once creating serious liver problems. He also had nine biopsies. Shortly after the proper diagnosis was reached, Michael had a related brain hemorrhage and died.

“It was tragic,” Mr. Jean says. “There is no other word for it. Just an awful thing to go through for everyone.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Jean has made health care a major component of his campaign. This week, the party vowed to address waiting times for critical procedures such as hip replacements and radiation therapy. In some instances, the delays are exceeding established benchmarks by as much as 23 weeks, according to Wildrose. Mr. Jean says his party would expand private clinics and ship people out of the province and even the country if that is necessary for them to get access to treatment in reasonable time.

If recent polls are to be believed, Mr. Jean could soon be in a position to carry through on his promise. Almost from the beginning of the campaign, Wildrose has been at the top of virtually every opinion survey taken. Many people, however, remain skeptical about the numbers – including Mr. Jean. “I don’t trust them,” he says with a smile.

Still, he does believe there is a strong undercurrent of anger among the Alberta public. He believes people are mad about the early election call by the Progressive Conservatives, about tax increases in the recent provincial budget, about the governing party’s perceived role in the mass defection of Wildrosers to the government benches late last year.

Sitting in a modest motor home (his own) that serves as his campaign bus, Mr. Jean recalls one of his father’s favourite sayings. “My dad would tell us politicians are a lot like fish left on the counter. After a while they start to smell bad and need to be thrown out. I think that’s what we’re seeing in this election. There’s a strong feeling it’s time to throw these guys out.”

While new to provincial politics, Mr. Jean is by no means a political newbie. He represented his home riding of Fort McMurray as a Conservative Party MP between 2004 and 2014. When he resigned, the lawyer thought he was leaving politics for good. But when Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and 10 of her MLAs crossed the floor to sit with the government, he was urged by many people to consider running for the party’s top job. Eventually, he did, and won, leaving the leadership race in the final days to be with his dying son.

Mr. Jean fashions himself as a fiscal hawk. The record debt the province is amassing is anathema to everything he stands for, he insists. He came by his penny-pinching ways honestly, he says. Growing up in Fort McMurray as one of 11 kids, he had little. Food was often whatever his dad and brothers could shoot, he says – there was a lot of moose on the table. He didn’t taste store-bought bread until he was 12 or 13. He never went to a restaurant in the town until he was 18. He didn’t get his first pair of new pants until he was 14.

“I wore hand-me-downs,” he says. “My brothers went to high school in the 60s, so let’s just say that when I wore their clothes in the 70s they were a little bright for my tastes. … But I wouldn’t change any of it. I had a wonderful upbringing. I had great parents.”

The family eventually opened a convenience store that grew to become the City Centre Group, which owns a number of small businesses in the Fort McMurray region and beyond. Mr. Jean attended a Christian university in Portland and independent Bond University in Australia, where he received an MBA and completed a law degree. He had three children by a first marriage, which ended a number of years ago.

Since winning his party’s leadership last month, Mr. Jean has maintained a hectic pace. The party was forced to rush candidates into battle because of the early election call. Many were not properly vetted until after the campaign began. He had to ask one to step aside recently when blog posts he authored were discovered and deemed bigoted against gay people. That was on top of his firing of Bill Jarvis, the party’s candidate for Calgary-Southeast. Organizing a photo on stage after Mr. Jean’s leadership victory, Mr. Jarvis was picked up by a mic saying: “We need lots of brown people in the front.” Mr. Jean turfed him the next day.

Both incidents revived memories of the 2012 election, when it appeared Wildrose would cruise to victory until the last week of the campaign. That’s when an old blog post written by a candidate was unearthed. In it, Allan Hunsperger suggested gay people would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire.” When then-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith refused to condemn the remark, it gave the Progressive Conservatives an opening to suggest Wildrose was too extreme to govern the province. It worked.

Last week Mr. Jean had to talk to another candidate, MLA Russ Kuykendall, who caused a stir when he sent out an invitation to a riding meet-and-greet and pie auction. It urged those attending to “BYWP: Bring Your Wife’s Pie.” The brochure was denounced as sexist and Mr. Kuykendall apologized. But not before The Calgary Sun crafted the best headline of the campaign, one harking back to Wildrose’s 2012 campaign disaster. “Bake of Fire,” it read.

Mr. Jean’s swift response to these campaign imbroglios illustrates his desire not to see the party framed as extremist.

“I know for certain that I’m not interested in any social agenda,” he says, sitting in his motor home, which is driven by a son. “I will not legislate on social agenda. I don’t think that’s what governments are for. Governments are for making a better quality of life for people, and I think I should stay out of their personal business and that’s exactly what I intend to do. That sort of thing only splits Albertans, splits Canadians, and there’s no benefit in it.”

Barb Schlaht, a Wildrose supporter from Airdrie, has been impressed with the job Mr. Jean has done since taking over the party. “That man buried his son on a Thursday and won the leadership that Sunday. I’m in awe of his ability to put his grief behind him to work on behalf of all Albertans.”

Ms. Schlaht says she was “shocked,” “heart-broken” and “gob-smacked up the side of the head” when former party leader Ms. Smith led a mass defection of Wildrose MLAs to the government benches last fall. The new leader, says the RV park employee, has “taken a ship that was kind of like floating loose in the ocean and tied it down and pulled us all together. A lot of the anxiety in the party ended the night he became leader.”

Morgan Nagel, a 24-year-old councillor from the town of Cochrane, says he has memberships in both Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives. Initially, he said he was supporting Premier Jim Prentice but that has changed in recent weeks.

“His messaging and his actions aren’t consistent,” Mr. Nagel says about the Alberta Premier. “I think right now Wildrose offers a much more clear vision of what they would do. Also, speaking as a municipal politician, Wildrose would put a more reliable funding structure in place from what I can see.”

With the campaign more than halfway over, Mr. Jean enters a critical stretch. Increasingly, Wildrose has come under attack from the Conservatives, evidence of the governing party’s internal polling which shows them in serious trouble. Before the election was called, Mr. Jean spoke about being happy if his party emerged as the official Opposition again. He doesn’t talk in those terms any longer.

He won’t dare to imagine how this is all going to end up, mind you. But regardless of the outcome, Mr. Jean will certainly take time to reflect on the person who gave him the strength to wage this fight in the first place. And he’ll miss him more than ever.

Vancouver to become first city to regulate medical pot dispensaries

Vancouver’s relaxed approach to marijuana allowed medical cannabis dispensaries such as The Dispensary to flourish. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver’s relaxed approach to marijuana allowed medical cannabis dispensaries such as The Dispensary to flourish. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver is about to become the first city in Canada to regulate medical-marijuana dispensaries, setting up strict conditions that will include obtaining a special business licence, paying a $30,000 permit fee and not operating close to a school or community centre.

The changes will likely further entrench Vancouver’s famously relaxed approach to marijuana, legitimizing dispensaries that have flourished in all corners of the city despite the federal government’s insistence that they are illegal.

The number of dispensaries has skyrocketed in the city in the past couple of years from less than a dozen to 80.

“We’ve got more shops than Tim Hortons,” said Kerry Jang, the Vision Vancouver councillor and psychiatry professor who has taken the lead on the contentious issue. “We can’t regulate a product. But we can regulate a business.”

Vancouver is now home to about half of the dispensaries in Canada, say marijuana activists, with the rest scattered across various towns and cities, including half a dozen in Toronto.

For the past year, amid rising public complaints, Dr. Jang had said repeatedly there was little the city could do about the shops because only the federal government could regulate the sale of drugs and the city couldn’t create a business category just for marijuana.

But Wednesday, Dr. Jang said the city, after staff looked for a solution, will now be “creating something called the marijuana-uses business licence.”

He said that stores starting to set up near schools propelled council to take action.

After looking at the way the states of Washington and Colorado, which both legalized marijuana outright, regulated their retail outlets, Vancouver city staff proposed the hefty fee and rules that prohibit dispensaries within 300 metres of schools and community centres, as well as within that distance of another dispensary.

Dr. Jang said he estimated that about two-thirds of the stores would have to close or move. But, he said, the number remaining would be enough to serve the market in the city.

“We will try to make sure the good ones stay,” he said. “We have legitimate medical-marijuana users. There’s no way we want to deny legitimate users.”

And it’s better to have regulated dispensaries than a big underground market, he said.

“For us, it’s like the sex trade. We’ve always taken the approach of keeping it above ground so we can watch it.”

But the city’s planned new law, which will have to go through a public hearing, has marijuana sellers and activists concerned.

Dana Larsen, founder of marijuana activist group Sensible BC, said the sector did need regulation, but he’s concerned that the city created new regulations without a single phone call to local operators.

“Nobody knows more about selling medical marijuana than we do,” said Mr. Larsen, who is also the owner of two shops. One of them, on Hastings Street, is 120 metres from the nearest community centre and will not be allowed under the new bylaw.

However, Vancouver’s move is being welcomed by the city’s business associations, which were so alarmed by the trend that they had a meeting two months ago with city officials and Vancouver police to talk about the need to do something.

“It’s a good first step,” said Claudia Laroye, the executive director of the Marpole Business Improvement Association. Her group has seen three shops open in a single block near the area’s library at the south end of Granville Street.

Mr. Larsen said he coached many people on setting up new dispensaries to serve the growing market. Most of the dispensaries didn’t bother getting a business licence. Since the city wasn’t shutting them down and police weren’t charging them, the numbers soared.

But Ms. Laroye, echoing others, said part of the issue was the Vision council’s tolerance for the businesses.

“That the city is one of the few that has allowed the proliferation is indicative of their feelings.”

Austerity push: Liberals look to cut deficit by $2-billion

The Ontario government is eliminating registered nurse jobs, courting labour unrest with teachers and clawing back social services – including a $100 monthly benefit for disabled people who work – as it seeks to dig itself out of deficit.

While Premier Kathleen Wynne has spent the last year highlighting big-ticket projects, particularly new public transit lines, much of her fiscal plan involves making serious cuts.

This austerity suggests Ms. Wynne is serious about reaching budget balance and dealing with the largest subsovereign debt in the world. But it also runs counter to the Liberals’ constant rhetoric about protecting services, and bears a striking resemblance to the government-shrinking platform of the Progressive Conservatives in last year’s election.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s budget Thursday is expected to bring more of the same. It will have to shave at least $2-billion off the deficit as the province looks to balance the books by 2017, and much of that fiscal progress will come in the form of cuts. Government projections show an average yearly increase in program spending of just 1.1 per cent – a figure that will amount to a spending freeze or reduction once inflation is factored in.

(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Deputy Premier Deb Matthews said Wednesday such a hard line is necessary to get the province’s fiscal house in order.

“When you’ve got a significant deficit, we have to be very, very careful with every dollar that we spend,” she said. “We are going through every line of every ministry and we are asking ourselves, ‘Are we getting best value, best outcomes for this money?’ So yeah, there will continue to be change.”

Ms. Matthews also left the door open to slashing the size of the public sector, despite the fact the Liberals largely won re-election by attacking then-Tory leader Tim Hudak’s plan to balance the books by cutting 100,000 government jobs.

The province’s public-sector unions say the job cuts have already begun, as the Liberals have frozen or constrained funding to hospitals and social-service agencies.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association says a total of 409 registered nurse positions have been chopped since the start of 2015, mostly through attrition. “We don’t have the appropriate number of nurses to monitor our patients,” ONA president Linda Haslam-Stroud said.

Fred Hahn, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario, said jobs in everything from early childhood education to childrens’ aid are on the block. In other instances, developmental services workers have seen their hours cut back, he said. And he pointed to childrens’ aid societies, including one in Hamilton, that have given employees unpaid days off.

“You can cut 100,000 jobs in a bunch of different ways. You can do it as a blunt instrument and campaign on it, like Tim Hudak, or you can starve services of funding while saying you’re progressive,” he said.

Many of the cuts have fallen in low-visibility areas. The government, for instance, is eliminating $100 monthly payments to Ontario Disability Support Program recipients who work. ODSP recipient Kyle Vose said the payment helps cover work-related costs, such as transportation.

The government is replacing the benefit with a different program meant to help ODSP recipients who are not currently working find jobs. But Mr. Vose says the new program does nothing to help recipients who already have work, and it is also discretionary, meaning government can choose to deny the funds.

“I think you’ll see that a lot of people will have to quit working,” he said. “They’re nickeling and diming the program.”

On the labour front, meanwhile, the Liberals are staring down high school teachers in pursuit of lean contracts. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation went on strike this week in Durham, and has set strike deadlines in both Peel Region and Sudbury next month.

“No matter where you look, it’s like Kathleen Wynne is implementing Tim Hudak’s agenda,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who favours plugging the province’s fiscal gap by eliminating some corporate tax breaks.

Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli, meanwhile, said he favoured scrapping government subsidies to business to deal with the deficit. He said the government has tried to distract people by playing up such policies as selling beer in grocery stores, while simultaneously chipping away at services.

“They’re doing it by stealth – a little here, a little there,” he said. “It’s affected every single community in Ontario.”

Foreigners to undergo prescreening measures before flying to Canada

Starting early next year, millions of annual visitors who don’t require a visa to enter Canada will nevertheless need to obtain preapproval from Ottawa under a new border-security regime designed to bar unwanted arrivals – including returning jihadis.

Air travellers will have to pay $7 and receive an “electronic travel authorization” (eTA) before boarding a flight to Canada under a 2011 deal between Washington and Ottawa to better protect North America from security threats.


The Canadian government announced Wednesday that this new prescreening regime, which has received relatively little public attention, will be mandatory as of March 15, 2016. The eTA will be valid for five years.

“These amendments will enable Canada to adopt a strengthened methodology in order to better identify high-risk travellers, such as persons known to be foreign fighters, and prevent them from travelling to Canada,” the federal government said in a notice.

It is specifically targeting air travellers from countries whose nationals are permitted to visit Canada without a visa, reasoning that this group receives the least scrutiny from authorities. “Visa-exempt foreign nationals are not systematically screened for admissibility until they arrive at a Canadian port of entry,” the government said.

Similar prescreening systems are already in place in the United States and Australia.

Americans will be exempt from this new air-travel requirement, as will some categories of foreigners merely passing through Canada, including air crews. The Queen and members of the Royal Family will also be granted a pass.

The government concedes the measure could discourage visitors at first. “It is acknowledged that there may be some minimal short-term impacts on tourism associated with the transition to the new eTA requirements,” Ottawa said in a statement.

It says this prescreening will save Canada the trouble of turning back unwanted arrivals after they’ve landed. More than 7,000 people from countries other than the United States – people who did not require visas to enter Canada – were found inadmissible after arriving at Canadian airports in 2012 and 2013.

The government estimates prescreening will prevent more than 60,000 unwanted arrivals from flying to Canada over the next decade.

Rob Taylor, vice-president of public and industry affairs at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said it’s crucial this new travel authorization is as easy as possible for visitors to obtain – or tourists frustrated by the requirement could head elsewhere.

“The international marketplace for international travellers is extremely competitive,” he said.

The new travel authorization will require people planning to reach Canada by air to give the Canadian government biographical details about themselves so authorities can check their names against databases to determine if they pose a “threat to the health … safety or security of Canada.”

Globe Editorial: This budget was designed to win an election, and it could work 

It’s a budget. It’s an electoral agenda. It’s a debate over the nature of government, its proper role and size – a debate the opposition Liberals and NDP need to engage the Conservative government in, rather than shy away from. And, finally, it’s a mishmash of inconsistencies.

Joe Oliver’s budget, a.k.a. Economic Action Plan 2015, aims to leave you with two big takeaways: that revenues and expenditures are, as you may have heard, in balance; and that your tax burden has steadily marched downward, with more to come. Both of these claims are largely true. But the full story is considerably more complicated.

“Canadian families and individuals,” trumpets the budget, “will receive $37-billion in tax relief and increased benefits in 2015-16 as a result of actions taken since 2006.”

Canada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver speaks about the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canada’s Finance Minister Joe Oliver speaks about the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

These are not, however, across-the-board tax cuts. Some key electoral constituencies benefit more, and others benefit far less.

Once upon a time, small-c conservatives wanted to make the tax code leaner, cleaner and simpler. That’s not exactly what Ottawa’s been up to these past few years.

For example, this budget continues the government’s long-standing focus on seniors. The annual contribution limit for tax free savings accounts (TFSAs) is being nearly doubled, to $10,000 a year, and the government is more than happy to admit that the chief immediate beneficiaries will be seniors, who will henceforth be able to transfer more savings from taxable to tax-free accounts.

Seniors will also benefit from a relaxation of RRIF withdrawal rules. That’s an idea we recommended last month – but as a substitute for raising TFSA limits, not in addition to it. There’s also a new tax credit to help make seniors’ homes more accessible. All of this comes on the heels of a variety of other senior-friendly tax benefits since 2006, from income splitting for seniors, to doubling the pension income seniors can receive tax-free, to increasing the basic income-tax deduction for seniors.

The other targeted group: families with children. The big benefits for them were pre-announced last fall. There’s the Universal Child Care Benefit, which rises from $100 a month to $160 for families with children under the age of 6, and a new $60 a month benefit for families with children aged 6 to 17. There’s the so-called Family Tax Cut, a tax credit of up to $2,000 for couples with children under age 18. There’s an increase in the amount that can be claimed under the Child Care Expense Deduction.

And who can forget the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit? The government has even promised to consider an Adult Fitness Tax Credit, and will strike an “expert panel” to design it. This may be the funniest thing since Ontario’s Beer Ombudsman.

Then there are business taxes. They will be lowered – at least for the favoured small-businesses constituency. Over the next five years, the small-business tax rate will be gradually reduced from 11 per cent to 9 per cent.

Helping to pay for it all, one category of taxes remain far higher than it should: Employment Insurance premiums. These premiums are, basically, a tax on jobs. For years, Ottawa has quietly been taking in several billion dollars more than it pays out. The budget promises a long-term plan to lower premiums – but it doesn’t kick in until 2017.

Which brings us back to the top news story in this budget, promised and anticipated since the last election: It’s in balance. You’ll hear lots of talk about how this involved a bit of mathematical sleight of hand, with a diminished contingency fund making this year’s tiny surplus possible. There’s some truth to that – but in the grand scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter.

Bringing the budget into precise balance, this year, was never an economic agenda. It is a purely political imperative. If the Conservatives had planned to run a small deficit this year, it would have done no economic damage to the country. Indeed, it would have mildly benefited a weak economy. And the budget’s big infrastructure announcement, a plan to chip $1-billion into transit in Canada’s big cities, could have been launched immediately, instead of being put off for more than two years.

But politics demanded balance now. So balance we have, followed by small projected surpluses in the years to come. If the economy does better than expected, those surpluses will grow.

All of which presents opportunities for the opposition in this election year – and big challenges.

The Harper government is making government smaller. But even more importantly, it is changing its shape. It spends less in the traditional manner – through actual outlays of cash on projects and programs – and more through what are known as tax expenditures: targeted tax credits to people, businesses or activities. Many voters rather like this approach. The Liberals and NDP will have to lay out a compelling vision of how to do things differently, or face four more years of Conservative government.

Anderson to start for Senators in must-win Game 4

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson will get the start against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson will get the start against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

There is talk of desperation, of backs, walls, and no tomorrows – standard dressing room fare on the afternoon preceding a playoff elimination game.

The Ottawa Senators have their first chance to extend their first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, the goal is to earn a second one on Friday.

Ottawa coach Dave Cameron will once again turn to veteran goalie Craig Anderson, who made 49 saves in the Habs’ overtime win in Game 3.

The Sens haven’t been badly outclassed in the series, and they are evidently pinning their hopes on using the same gameplan to achieve different results.

“Down 3-0 I don’t think our approach has changed or anything, we haven’t changed our mindset, everybody still believes in here that it’s possible,” said Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson.

Asked if he will be doing any pregame speechifying, Karlsson said “there’s not too many things to be said. Everybody in here knows what needs to be done, and what needs to be done is to win one game. In order to do that we need to work hard, we need to be a little more disciplined and a little more careful with the puck in certain areas.”

Ottawa forward Zack Smith will make his first appearance of the series, subbing in for veteran centre David Legwand.

The Habs will make a roster change of their own, defenceman Greg Pateryn drafts into the lineup in replacement of the injured Nathan Beaulieu (who was hurt on a devastating open-ice hit from Karlsson in Game 3).

Montreal’s players will feel reinvigorated after spending the two days between games at Mont-Tremblant, the ski resort in the Laurentians.

“Mentally it’s important to take a step back,” coach Michel Therrien said.

Therrien’s instructions to his players are to hit the gas right from the start (Ottawa has owned the first period in all three games to this point).

“It’s the toughest game (to win). I know it’s a cliché but it’s true, we have to have the same mindset as the opponent,” he said.

Montreal’s core players have recent experience in closing out a team that’s down 0-3, having done it to Tampa Bay last year.

Whether that counts for something will become rapidly apparent on Wednesday evening at the Canadian Tire Centre.

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