Wednesday, December 16, 2015
EU INTRODUCES HARD HITTING BORDER CONTROL BILL.
Liberals seek to explain stance on whether to hike GST as revenue booster-[The Canadian Press]-Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press-December 15, 2015-yahoonews
OTTAWA - The federal finance minister is seeking to clarify the new Liberal government's position on the GST.Bill Morneau was asked directly Tuesday whether he has considered raising the goods and services tax as a way to generate more government revenue."You know, one of the things that I'm absolutely sure of is that we should go through our budget process in order to figure out where we're going to get to," Morneau told reporters in Ottawa in response to the question."In my estimation, we're going to hear a lot of things from not only my colleagues around the table, but from Canadians about what we should be doing from a budget standpoint. And at the end of that, we'll present to Canadians a plan for the next year and give them a sense of what's going to happen over the next five years."I'm not at this stage considering any tax issues that haven't been already put in our campaign platform."After his remarks were published, Morneau later tweeted: "Contrary to misleading headlines, we are not considering changes to the GST."In the coming weeks, the government will hold consultations to help it prepare for the federal budget. Morneau has also said the government plans to create an advisory council made up of experts from Canada and abroad that will help Ottawa brainstorm on how best to kick-start economic growth.The previous Conservative government lowered the GST by two percentage points during its decade in office — a move that eliminated about $14 billion in annual revenues.The Harper Tories chopped a percentage point in 2006 to drop the GST to six per cent. They trimmed off another point two years later.Most economists opposed the Conservative move to slash the GST, which was widely viewed as more of a popular political decision rather than a solid economic one.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised in the past not to increase the GST.His Liberals, however, are currently staring at considerable fiscal hurdles, as they look to follow through on pricey election pledges.The party has already backed away from its election vow to cap annual deficits at $10 billion over the next two years, blaming the sluggish economy and a weaker-than-expected fiscal situation they say they inherited from the Tories.Meanwhile, the party has started highlighting the importance of fulfilling another fiscal goal from its platform, one that's lesser known but easier to meet: lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio.The government has promised to keep the ratio, which represents a government's capacity to pay back debt, on a downward track every year until the next election. Ottawa calculates the ratio by dividing total federal debt by the overall size of the economy, as measured by nominal GDP. Economists say that by focusing on debt-to-GDP, the Liberals could still lower the ratio even if they run annual deficits of up to $25 billion in the coming years — as long as the economy records decent growth. Morneau has also said that along with the debt-to-GDP vow, the government will stick with its other "fiscal anchor": balancing the federal books by the fourth year of its mandate.Experts say balancing the budget in four years will be a much tougher task for the government than reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio.Earlier this month, parliamentary budget office projections suggested the government could be on track to run annual deficits up to $15 billion once the Liberals' costed, big-ticket election vows are included in calculations. On top of that, the party has also made several uncosted promises.The Liberals also recently conceded their new tax package — which raises taxes on the highest earners and lowers the rate on the middle tax bracket — will actually drain more than $1 billion net from the treasury each year. Initially, the party had projected that the plan would be revenue neutral.Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter
Latest plane load of Syrians arrives but how many more flights unclear-[The Canadian Press]-Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press-December 15, 2015-yahoonews
OTTAWA - The latest group of Syrians being brought to Canada on a government-sponsored flight have arrived in Toronto.Approximately 214 people were expected, mostly refugees being welcomed by private groups but also some being supported directly by the government.From Toronto, they're to fan out across the country with four people bound for Halifax, eight heading for Vancouver, B.C. and surrounding cities and the rest settling somewhere in between.The flight is the third organized and paid for directly by the government as part of its program to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada by the end of February.Immigration Minister John McCallum says he doesn't know how many government flights will be organized in the coming weeks.While the Liberals promised to resettle 25,000 people by March, they also promised 10,000 would arrive in Canada by the end of this year.Including Tuesday's arrivals, there would be just over 1,100 Syrians who've landed in Canada since the Liberals were sworn into office in November. In addition to the three government-sponsored flights, people have also come on commercial aircraft.Though the numbers may suggest the deadline won't be met, McCallum said it is still important to have one."I think when you set a deadline, you stir a greater degree of action among all of our partners in order to make it happen well, but also to make it happen relatively quickly," he said.A government briefing is expected for Wednesday to provide more detail on the status of the program and possibly also the fate of another refugee-related program: federal coverage for refugee health care.Health Minister Jane Philpott suggested Tuesday details will come at that briefing on how the Liberals will meet their campaign commitment to reverse Conservative cuts to the interim federal health-care program.The cuts sharply curtailed access to certain kinds of health care for specific refugees and refugee claimants. The Liberals had already announced Syrians would have full access, but hadn't entirely reversed the cuts for all refugees.
Vancouver Park Board looks to house Syrian refugees in caretaker cottages-[CBC]-December 15, 2015-yahoonews
The Vancouver Park Board is investigating a proposal to use a number of old caretaker cottages to house Syrian refugees.There are 71 such buildings in parks all across Vancouver. Some are still used as homes for caretakers, but most are used mainly by artists and sports groups.Commissioner Catherine Evans, who put forward the motion, says at least three of the cottages have the basic amenities needed to house a couple or small family until they find something more permanent."In our city we have a particularly hard time finding housing for the refugees because of the very, very low vacancy rate," said Evans.She said many people have already volunteered to provide time and furniture to prepare the cottages for refugees.At the meeting on Monday night, the board made no decision on whether to house refugees in caretaker cottages-Instead it decided to have staff look at all the ways it could be supportive to the incoming refugee population, such using community centres to help prepare meals or hold events to welcome refugees. Staff will also examine whether cottages can be used as temporary housing.The board also elected a new chair last night. NPA Park Board Commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung will serve as chair for the next year.
Troops on Canadian border: U.S. prez candidate Ben Carson calls for some-[The Canadian Press]-Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press-December 15, 2015-yahoonews
WASHINGTON - A U.S. presidential candidate has called for troops to be positioned along the Canadian border, as the American election becomes consumed by national-security fears.Republican Ben Carson says he wants soldiers and national guard stationed along the Mexican border — and at certain unspecified spots along the Canadian border.It's one of his Seven Steps to a Safer America, released Tuesday. Others include formally declaring war against ISIL, restrictions on visitor visas, establishing a refugee safe zone within Syria, and investigating the group Council on American-Islamic Relations."President Barack Obama and Congress should immediately deploy the National Guard and military troops to patrol the U.S. southern border as well as designated spots along the northern border," said proposal No. 6, without elaborating on where troops might be stationed along the so-called world's longest undefended border.Carson does not currently lead in any of the early-voting primary states. He's in fourth place nationally in an average of polls of Republican voters, compiled by the site Real Clear Politics.He enjoyed a brief moment as a potential frontrunner, just over a month ago. But his support collapsed around the time security came to dominate the conversation, with the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.The retired neurosurgeon was mocked for his allegedly loose grasp of foreign policy, including his method of pronouncing the name of the militant group Hamas — which from Carson's mouth sounded a bit like the chickpea dip "hummus."National security is now the No. 1 concern of American voters, according to polls. That fear is evident in media like the wall-to-wall coverage Tuesday from some networks of schools being closed in Los Angeles following a bomb threat.The Canadian border has, so far, escaped the attention of the U.S. media fear factory.There have been exceptions. One was a Daily Beast article this week that focused on the possibility of a terror threat from Canada — and pointed as evidence to one security expert who cited the growing number of hijabs he saw in Canada.Also, before he dropped out of the race, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was asked by a journalist about building a wall along the northern border with Canada and he appeared initially to be considering it.Such talk makes Canadian policy-makers nervous: Security measures adopted more than a decade ago, after the 9-11 attacks, continue to impact trade and cross-border traffic-The countries have been looking at ways to ease the border backlog, by screening people at checkpoints away from the actual frontier. That plan has yet to be approved by Congress and Parliament.The Canadian embassy refrained from commenting Tuesday — just as it declined comment on the Walker remarks.Canadian public officials' statements on the 2008 presidential primaries caused trouble for then-candidate Barack Obama, who was telling voters he planned to renegotiate NAFTA. Canadian statements casting doubt on his sincerity are believed to have cost him in at least one state, and led to a government investigation within Canada.The federal government appears determined to avoid a 2016 repeat.Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some members of his cabinet seemed to be chiding Donald Trump's proposed Muslim-visitor ban — but they spoke in general terms, and none referred to the candidate by name.
Long-delayed military search planes set to land on Liberal agenda in 2016-[The Canadian Press]-Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press-yahoonews-December 15, 2015
OTTAWA - After more than a decade mired in politics and bureaucracy, a program to buy new military, fixed-wing, search-and-rescue planes is expected to take flight early in the new year with the submission of bids.The long-delayed, controversial $3.1 billion program will be the first significant military procurement decision made by the new Liberal government and could turn into a political headache.Lockheed Martin, Alenia and Airbus are being asked to submit two proposals for consideration by Jan. 11 in a hybrid procurement that's intended to deliver not only aircraft, but recommendations on how many planes are needed and where to station them."They said we need an aircraft that can do this and we want you to optimize things," said Steve Lucas, a retired lieutenant-general who commanded the air force and is now an adviser with Alenia Aermacchi North America-The bids were originally supposed to be submitted by the end of September but the program was kicked forward into January during the federal election.The companies are being asked to submit prices and aircraft numbers for a fleet that would operate out of four existing main bases across the country — Greenwood, N.S., Trenton, Ont., Winnipeg, and Comox, B.C. — and a separate proposal using only three airfields.Dropping even one of those bases from the roster carries with it political risk.Lucas said the intention of having dual proposals was to make it fair for each company, as they bring aircraft with different capabilities to the table."It is very complicated," said Lucas. "We've been studying it now for nine months and every day we look at something and think — Gee did we get that right? Because it is a very complex document. But we're on track and we're confident it will be a very competitive."After the bids are submitted, the federal government is expected to take six months to decide on the best course of action, but Lucas says he wouldn't be surprised to see it go longer.Alenia is offering its C-27J aircraft, while Airbus is planning to put in its bid based on its C-295 plane.Lockheed Martin is interested in offering C-130J transports, an idea which intrigued the former Conservative government because it has already 17 of these workhorse planes. Adding to the fleet would mean savings in spare parts and training.The new planes are meant to replace the air force's four-decades-old C-115 Buffalos and older model C-130 Hercules transports currently assigned to search-and-rescue duties.According to the federal government's defence acquisition guide, the planes are not expected to be fully operational until 2023 — 19 years after they were originally ordered.The last Liberal government under Paul Martin opened up a competition, but soon after the change in government in 2006, it ran into trouble with accusations from defence contractors that the air force had rigged the specifications in favour of one bidder — Alenia's C-27J.The air force has long denied the allegation, but in 2012 the top brass pitched the Harper government on buying surplus U.S. C-27Js. Former Conservative defence minister Peter MacKay said in December 2008 that the search planes were his top procurement priority, but the effort bogged down and it was eventually referred to the National Research Council for analysis.The council agreed the military's specifications were far too specific and needed to be broadened in order to ensure competition.
EU unveils hard-hitting border control bill By Nikolaj Nielsen-euobserver
BRUSSELS, 15. Dec, 19:10-Dissenting EU states may end up in court or face as-of-yet undefined sanctions if they refuse to let the European Commission dispatch guards to their national borders.The threat is part of a bill on a European border and coast guard system unveiled on Tuesday (15 December) by the Brussels-executive, which says EU guards can be deployed on the bloc’s external frontiers without the consent of the host state if need be.EU vice-president Frans Timmermans and EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the proposal would not strip member states of sovereign rights.They also said it’s needed to defend the passport-free Schengen zone.“If we want the Schengen system to continue to perform, to do better than it did before, we need to have more capacity to analyse what is actually happening, to do this quicker, and on the basis of this analysis be able to react to potential threats or changes in the situation,” said Timmermans.The new system would replace the smaller EU border agency, Frontex, with a so-called European Border and Coast Guard Agency.The new agency would have a reserve pool of 1,500 border guards, which can be dispatched in a matter of days to an external border to prevent a crisis from escalating.The plan is part of a broader effort to regain control over the EU's external border following huge arrivals of asylum seekers.EU officials and leaders say the Schengen area is at risk of collapse if external borders are not properly managed.All eyes are on Greece, which, over the past 11 months, has received the bulk of irregular migrants.Most come from Turkey to Greek islands in the Aegean before heading through the Western Balkans to mainland EU states.The past two weeks alone saw 45,255 migrants and refugees reach Greek islands from Turkey, according to the International Organisation for Migration.It says almost 80 percent crossed into Macedonia in the same period.Last Friday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tspiras voiced support for the new border guard plan, but said Athens would remain the ultimate decision maker on border control.Commission officials say the hosting member state would take the operational lead, but outstanding issues remain should the EU state flat out refuse.The commission may adopt a so-called implementing decision to request direct intervention of the Agency if the member state either fails to control its border or refuses to host the EU guards.The secondary legislation requires a positive opinion, based on a qualified majority, from a committee composed of experts from the 28 EU states.“If there is no qualified majority then the commission cannot implement the decision,” noted an EU official.The official added that “it is the loyal duty of the member state concerned to implement decisions taken.”Timmermans, for his part, described it as a “safety net, as the ultimate measure that might be possible theoretically.”The decision would be based on a “vulnerability” risk assessment conducted by an agency liaison officer sent to the border area.Asked what sanctions and infringements await dissenting member states, an EU official said details are yet to be clarified.“The member state would be infringing its obligation,” said the official.The move follows other EU plans which later fell foul of member states, who failed to provide the extra manpower needed to get so-called hotspots, where migrants are identified and registered, up and running in Greece and Italy. Frontex had asked member states to supply 743 guest officers to work at the external border in Greece but only received 447.A two-year relocation scheme to dispatch 160,000 arrivals in Greece and Italy to other member states has also stalled. Only 64 asylum seekers have been relocated from Greece and 144 from Italy so far this year.The new border bill still needs to go through normal legislative procedures at the European Parliament and the Council, representing member states.
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