Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Does Canada’s auto industry have a future?

    In this March 15, 2013 photo, workers assemble cars at the new Toyota plant in Indonesia (AP)In this March 15, 2013 photo, workers assemble cars at the new Toyota plant in Indonesia (AP)

    Canada’s automobile industry may be on a long, slow slide to oblivion.

    The federal budget Tuesday included a $100-million fund aimed at innovation in the auto-parts industry over five years, but no substantive strategy to keep Canada’s biggest single manufacturing sector from long-term decline.

    Automakers have warned that without a coherent strategy, Canada will continue to lose new production capacity to Mexico and southern U.S., where wages are lower and governments offer fat financial incentives and streamlined bureaucracy for new investments.

    There is a lot at stake. According to Ottawa’s figures, the industry, centred in Ontario, was worth almost $85 billion in annual revenue in 2013 and employed 117,000 people, roughly a third of them directly in building passenger and commercial vehicles.

    It isn’t going to disappear tomorrow but there’s increasing evidence it faces shrinkage.

    General Motors of Canada announced earlier this year it was closing one of its two Oshawa, Ont.,

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  • Ahead of 4/20, marijuana losing its rebellious stigma, gaining more acceptance

    A woman smokes marijuana during the 4/20 Rally at the Civic Center in Denver, April 20, 2014. (Reuters)A woman smokes marijuana during the 4/20 Rally at the Civic Center in Denver, April 20, 2014. (Reuters)

    A pungent cloud of marijuana smoke will be wafting over many parts of Canada on Monday. Yes, it’s 4/20 again, the unofficial holiday that openly celebrates pot, reefer, ganga, weed, Mary Jane or whatever you like to call it.

    In most places, though, you’re unlikely to see police swooping in to corral the tokers. Even though pot possession remains illegal, the narcs probably won’t be busting anyone except dealers.

    Part of the reason is practical; charging dozens, if not hundreds of people is a logistical nightmare. Another part is a reflection of the times, the increasing tolerance, if not acceptance, of marijuana as a part of mainstream culture. It’s no longer on the fringe.

    Despite the federal Conservative government’s determination to crack down on illegal marijuana use and sales, the drug has edged steadily out into the open.

    Successive federal governments, including the current Tory regime, have been partly responsible by creating a regulatory framework for medical marijuana since

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  • Tax season poses health risks to those with something to be worried about

    (CBC Photo)(CBC Photo)

    If you haven’t already filed your income tax return, don’t worry. You’ve got another two weeks. But it’s probably starting to nag at you a little bit, right?

    You’re not alone. According to data compiled by H&R Block Canada, about a quarter of us waited until the final week before the April 30 deadline to file last year, up 10 per cent from a decade ago. The figure could be one in three this year, the firm’s analysts suggested.

    As of April 12, about 13.1 milllions Canadians filed a tax return with Canada Revenue Agency, according to to CRA data, compared with about 12.3 million for the same period last year. About 28.3 million returns covering the 2013 tax year were filed last year, which means if the total number of returns filed this year is roughly the same, about half remain to be filed.

    Apparently we don’t get too wound up about it, perhaps because if we don’t owe anything there’s no financial penalty for filing a late return to the Canada Revenue Agency – what’s known as a soft

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  • Balanced-budget law more political posturing than firm commitment

    Canada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver talks to the media after meeting with private sector economists in Ottawa, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick DoyleCanada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver talks to the media after meeting with private sector economists in Ottawa, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle
    Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver got an underwhelming response this week when he announced the Conservative government was finally going to table long-promised balanced-budget legislation.

    Criticism quickly dismissed it as an economically unnecessary political ploy intended to burnish the Conservative Party’s claim to be a careful manager of the public purse heading into the October federal election. Which, of course, is true. Lost in the spin is whether balanced-budget laws actually are useful tools to impose fiscal discipline on governments.

    Balanced budgets have become holy writ for governments in the last 30 years following decades of chronic overspending that added relentlessly to the national debt. Government expenditures consistently exceeded revenues, creating a structural deficit.

    The backlash began in the United States, where a conservative political wave in the 1980s led states (49 today), but not the federal government, to pass legislation requiring that budgets be

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  • Worst places in the world for Canadians to get arrested

    Canadian passport. (Canadian Press)Canadian passport. (Canadian Press)

    The fate of Neil Bantleman should be a cautionary tale for Canadians venturing abroad, whether as tourists, on business or to start a new life.

    Things we take for granted in Canada, such as a fair and impartial justice system, can’t be counted on in much of the world. Just ask Bantleman, a teacher originally from Burlington, Ont., now facing 10 years in an Indonesian prison for child sexual assaults he insists he didn’t commit.

    Foreigners, even if they’ve lived in a country for some time, can be at a huge disadvantage when they don’t understand its legal system and the culture underpinning it, says Lorne Waldman, a prominent Toronto lawyer who represented Canadian torture victim Maher Arar. 

    “So when they get engaged in a legal system, especially if it’s in a dispute involving other individuals who are from the country, they’re at a huge disadvantage,” Waldman told Yahoo Canada News.

    When that happens, the Canadian government won’t be riding to your rescue. The Department of Foreign

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  • Halifax plane crash raises questions about Canada’s airport landing systems

    TSB investigators and airport firefighters work at the crash site of Air Canada AC624. (Canadian Press)TSB investigators and airport firefighters work at the crash site of Air Canada AC624. (Canadian Press)

    There’s been predictable speculation about why an Air Canada jet touched down short of the runway during a snow storm at Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport early last Sunday morning, much of it focusing on the pilots’ actions.

    The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) wrapped up its investigation of the crash site Tuesday and now begins its analysis of the Airbus A320’s voice and flight-data recorders, as well as other evidence including weather conditions, condition of the plane’s flight systems and airport services.

    Barring an interim report or recommendations, it could be a year before the TSB issues its final verdict on what caused Air Canada flight 624, with 133 passengers and five crew aboard, to radically miss its approach to Runway 5.

    The jet collided with the runway’s instrument-landing system (ILS) array and touched down more than a thousand feet short of the runway threshold before briefly rising back into the air. It bounced onto the runway, losing its landing gear and

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  • Canadian anti-spam legislation off to slow start, but seeing results

    (via Entrepreneur)(via Entrepreneur)

    It’s funny how inured we’ve become to spam, the bane of our digital lives, in less than a generation.

    We’ve learned to be on guard not just for the equivalent of the junk that clogs our front-door snail-mailbox but also for cunningly disguised malware, akin to getting a envelope full of anthrax through the mail slot each day.

    It’s taken almost a decade for government to implement legislation designed to reduce it at least a little, but even the enforcers say it’s still up to us to police our own computers, smartphones and other vulnerable devices.

    Canadian anti-spam legislation (CASL) came into effect last July, two years after it passed Parliament, which was preceded by nine years of work. The two-year gap gave the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) time to prepare for its new role as an Internet cop and for businesses using the web to figure out how to comply.

    So far the CRTC has concluded only two investigations, both announced in March. Compu-Finder

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  • ISIS mission in Syria: What happens if a Canadian gets captured?

    Kurdish peshmerga forces carry their weapons at outskirts of Kirkuk March 15, 2015. (Reuters)Kurdish peshmerga forces carry their weapons at outskirts of Kirkuk March 15, 2015. (Reuters)
    It’s a foregone conclusion Prime Minister Harper will win next week’s Commons vote to expand Canada’s military mission against Islamic State.
    Harper's plan is for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to attack ISIS targets inside neighbouring Syria. 
    Critics of the mission say besides being an illegal intrusion into a sovereign state, CF-18 air strikes increase the potential risk to pilots. Unlike Iraq, where allies are close at hand to help a downed pilot, Syria is entirely hostile territory.

    Last December, a Jordanian pilot whose aircraft went down in ISIS-held territory was captured and executed, but not before ISIS extracted maximum propaganda value from the incident.

    As of yet, there have been no Canadians captured by ISIS, despite the military missions in the region and Canadians choosing to join Kurdish forces independently. But after seeing what has happened to other foreign nationals, Canadians can’t help but wonderwhat would happen if it were one of their own citizens

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  • Get-tough policy for not criminally responsible offenders unnecessary, studies find

    The mother of Tim McLean, who was stabbed and beheaded by Li in 2008, is 'horrified' by freedoms granted to himThe mother of Tim McLean, who was stabbed and beheaded by Li in 2008, is 'horrified' by freedoms granted to him
    New studies that suggest a lot of success from programs for people found not criminally responsible for offences they commit due to mental illness have done nothing to sway federal policy makers on how they should be treated by the justice system.

    Four studies and an overview that are part of what’s known as the National Trajectory Project were published this week in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

    Among other things, researchers found the recidivism rate for patients classed as not criminally responsible due to mental defect (NCRMD) was 17 per cent, about half the rate of reoffending by prisoners released from Canadian prisons.

    The rate for NCRMD patents who committed the most violent offences was even lower, 0.7 per cent of the 1,800 cases examined from B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

    And yet there remains a perception, based largely on media coverage of the most shocking offences, that NCRMD patients are time bombs who shouldn’t be released back into society or are feigning mental

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  • Irish discount airline Ryanair prepares to cross the Atlantic

    We may be headed towards an air fare war on trips between North America and Europe after Dublin-based discount carrier Ryanair announced its intention to break into the transatlantic market.

    According to European media reports, Ryanair’s board of directors this week approved plans to fly between 14 European cities such as London, via Stansted, Dublin and Berlin, and 14 U.S. hubs, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Miami.

    “European consumers want lower-cost travel to the USA and the same for Americans coming to Europe,” the company said in a statement reported by the Guardian. “We see it as a logical development in the European market.”

    Ryanair’s transatlantic service won’t get off the ground for five years, as it works to acquire the aircraft it needs for the long-haul trips. But its reputation for deep-discount airfares on European routes will doubtless have competitors preparing to defend their share of the market.

    “That would put pressure on at least the very price-sensitive

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