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Harper tours Canada’s relief operation in Haiti

February 16, 2010

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today got a primer from Canadian troops on what they’re doing in earthquake-shattered Haiti.

What he saw in the small city of 40,000, on the south coast of the country, was an area largely stabilized by the work of Canadian soldiers and medics.

Harper, wearing khakis and a long-sleeve shirt, appeared hot in the sweltering Haitian sun as he toured a medical clinic set up by Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team at Jacmel’s small port.

Walking from tent to tent, he met one older Haitian patient and two young Haitian girls wearing dresses.

The clinic no longer tends to patients with serious fractures and wounds stemming from the quake. Now local residents are coming for all sorts of medical ills.

However, improbable cases have emerged. One medical team doctor, Capt. Rob Ennis, described how a 1-month-old baby was pulled from rubble 17 days after the quake; her parents and siblings all died. Ennis said it was possible for a baby with lots of baby fat to survive that long.

The medical team revived the severely dehydrated baby. “It’s the worst case I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Ennis, an emergency physician from Bishop’s Falls, Nfld.

Harper also toured a DART water purification facility. After tasting a sample of the water, he said, “It’s very good—I approve.”

Jacmel, unlike cities north of here, was not as hard hit by the Jan. 12 quake that killed 217,000 and wounded 300,000 others. While about 20 per cent of buildings were damaged or destroyed in Jacmel, up to 90 per cent were in Léogâne.

Harper will also be visiting Léogâne during the course of the day where he’ll tour a quake-demolished school and see a Canadian Forces field hospital.

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Observance of Family Day in Canada

February 15, 2010

Canadians in much of the country are enjoying a day off today and streets that are normally bustling are quiet.

It’s Family Day in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan while it’s Louis Riel Day in Manitoba and Islander Day in Prince Edward Island.

It’s the second straight year for the holiday in Ontario, where schools, grocery stores, public libraries, liquor and beer stores, the Toronto Stock Exchange and provincial offices have all shut their doors.

Federal government employees however don’t have the day off, meaning passport offices and Canada Post are still in operation.

In Ontario, public transit in many cities is on a holiday schedule, but tourist attractions including some malls such as the Eaton Centre in Toronto are open.

The Ontario government is encouraging people to use this mid-winter break to take in local attractions like Winterlude in Ottawa, or Kingston’s Fort Henry Cardboard Sled Derby.

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G20's Toronto location to bump baseball, pride activities

February 12, 2010

The federal government will hold June’s G20 summit on the edge of Toronto’s financial district, a decision that will close a large swath of downtown — and sideline baseball fans — as the city kicks off gay pride week.

An official announcement is not expected for a few weeks, but sources tell The Canadian Press that the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, next to the CN Tower, has been selected over locations outside downtown.

Canada has already hosted a G8 summit and other international meetings in the building. Plus, it gives the government a chance to put the spotlight on its stable financial district — safe and quiet within a security perimeter — at a time when G20 leaders are looking for role models.

“The whole point is to showcase Canada as an attractive place to do business and the way we regulate our banking sector,” said Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for the prime minister.

“We have a good story and we want it told well,” he said, without confirming the location.

The June 26-27 summit is expected to involve tens of thousands of people from delegations all over the world, along with media, support staff and hospitality crews. It’s also sure to attract thousands of protesters, as well as non-governmental organizations and trade unions hoping to make their points known to world leaders.

The G20 groups the world’s richest countries as well as important emerging markets and has become the primary decision-making body for global economic affairs. It also includes the European Union, as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the past, its meetings have invited other key leaders and organizations.

Ottawa has issued a contract to print up 47,700 laminated accreditation badges, for both the G20 summit and for the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., being held just before.

But the G20 summit will displace far more people than it draws in.

The Toronto Blue Jays are scheduled to play against the Philadelphia Phillies on both June 26 and June 27, in Toronto. The Rogers Centre, where the games are normally held, is virtually next door to the Convention Centre, and will almost certainly be encompassed in the security zone that is always set up to protect world leaders at summits. So discussions are underway to move at least one of the games, sources said.

The Gay Pride Parade, which usually draws over a million visitors from around the world, has already been pushed back a week.

Normally, the parade is held on the last weekend in June, after a week of festivities. The parade is meant to commemorate New York City’s Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969.

Organizers have postponed everything by a week in anticipation of summit activities. Still, gay pride activities will start just before the summit, on June 25, and build up to a parade a week after the summit, on July 4.

As for the media, Ottawa had initially booked the Toronto Congress Centre near Toronto’s international airport, but then had a change of heart and decided to put the media centre downtown.

Ottawa is spending up to $2.6 million to set up a host broadcasting system that will pipe news conferences and photo-ops into the media centres for both the G8 and the G20, documents show.

The G20 planning lags behind arrangements being made for the G8 summit in Ontario’s cottage country, north of Toronto.

There, officials have been working on logistics for a year and a half. They’re building new structures and investing millions of dollars in upgrades and beautification efforts. They’re well-advanced in setting up a security perimeter and making arrangements for protesters.

By contrast, G20 planning got off to a late start. Ottawa was not able to confirm until last September that it would host the summit. And a host city was not formally announced until December.

Still, officials say some of the preparatory work for the G20 was already done for the G8, and there should be no problem getting ready by June, especially since Toronto is well equipped to handle large crowds.

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G20’s Toronto location to bump baseball, pride activities

February 12, 2010

The federal government will hold June’s G20 summit on the edge of Toronto’s financial district, a decision that will close a large swath of downtown — and sideline baseball fans — as the city kicks off gay pride week.

An official announcement is not expected for a few weeks, but sources tell The Canadian Press that the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, next to the CN Tower, has been selected over locations outside downtown.

Canada has already hosted a G8 summit and other international meetings in the building. Plus, it gives the government a chance to put the spotlight on its stable financial district — safe and quiet within a security perimeter — at a time when G20 leaders are looking for role models.

“The whole point is to showcase Canada as an attractive place to do business and the way we regulate our banking sector,” said Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for the prime minister.

“We have a good story and we want it told well,” he said, without confirming the location.

The June 26-27 summit is expected to involve tens of thousands of people from delegations all over the world, along with media, support staff and hospitality crews. It’s also sure to attract thousands of protesters, as well as non-governmental organizations and trade unions hoping to make their points known to world leaders.

The G20 groups the world’s richest countries as well as important emerging markets and has become the primary decision-making body for global economic affairs. It also includes the European Union, as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the past, its meetings have invited other key leaders and organizations.

Ottawa has issued a contract to print up 47,700 laminated accreditation badges, for both the G20 summit and for the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., being held just before.

But the G20 summit will displace far more people than it draws in.

The Toronto Blue Jays are scheduled to play against the Philadelphia Phillies on both June 26 and June 27, in Toronto. The Rogers Centre, where the games are normally held, is virtually next door to the Convention Centre, and will almost certainly be encompassed in the security zone that is always set up to protect world leaders at summits. So discussions are underway to move at least one of the games, sources said.

The Gay Pride Parade, which usually draws over a million visitors from around the world, has already been pushed back a week.

Normally, the parade is held on the last weekend in June, after a week of festivities. The parade is meant to commemorate New York City’s Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969.

Organizers have postponed everything by a week in anticipation of summit activities. Still, gay pride activities will start just before the summit, on June 25, and build up to a parade a week after the summit, on July 4.

As for the media, Ottawa had initially booked the Toronto Congress Centre near Toronto’s international airport, but then had a change of heart and decided to put the media centre downtown.

Ottawa is spending up to $2.6 million to set up a host broadcasting system that will pipe news conferences and photo-ops into the media centres for both the G8 and the G20, documents show.

The G20 planning lags behind arrangements being made for the G8 summit in Ontario’s cottage country, north of Toronto.

There, officials have been working on logistics for a year and a half. They’re building new structures and investing millions of dollars in upgrades and beautification efforts. They’re well-advanced in setting up a security perimeter and making arrangements for protesters.

By contrast, G20 planning got off to a late start. Ottawa was not able to confirm until last September that it would host the summit. And a host city was not formally announced until December.

Still, officials say some of the preparatory work for the G20 was already done for the G8, and there should be no problem getting ready by June, especially since Toronto is well equipped to handle large crowds.

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Opening celebration remains a secret

February 11, 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony will include local pop stars Bryan Adams and Sarah McLachlan, a performer ski jumping through Olympic rings and hundreds of performers dressed in red toques and white sweaters, according to QMI sources.

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean will formally open the Games on Friday night at B.C. Place Stadium while VANOC CEO John Furlong and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge will greet the athletes and the worldwide TV audience.

Vancouver Olympic organizers have not commented on the program details for the 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST extravaganza, but elements have slowly leaked in recent days. The last dress rehearsal was Wednesday night for an audience of sponsors and volunteers. Tickets were not available for reporters.

The ceremony will have heavy aboriginal involvement and themes. A source who was inside the stadium during Saturday rehearsals said a song featuring Adams and an unidentified female singer included aboriginal drumming and chanting with the chorus “sing something louder so the whole world can hear.”

A fireworks display around the perimeter of the stadium’s roof dazzled neighbouring condominium dwellers after Monday’s dress rehearsal.

The Olympic flame cauldron will be on a hydraulic lift from a shaft dug in the middle of the air-supported dome’s new false-floor. The 1983-opened stadium’s fabric ceiling is dirty from rock concerts and monster truck shows and will be obscured by circular curtains that will double as acoustic buffers. Both the cauldron and the curtains were key items described in an April 2009 list obtained by QMI that outlined Australian executive producer David Atkins’ demands of VANOC.

The identity of the person who will light the cauldron remains the biggest secret, but hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is the most likely. There will be at least one more cauldron which will burn outdoors beside the international broadcast centre on a plaza dedicated to VANOC founding chairman Jack Poole.

Cancer-victim Poole died Oct. 23 in a Vancouver hospital, just hours after the Olympic flame was lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece. British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell would not deny there would be a burning tribute to Poole.

“I’m sure you’re going to know more about it, there’s no point in keeping it secret forever,” Campbell told QMI on Monday. “You’ll hear all sorts of great stuff about Jack Poole in the next few days and, deservedly so, these are his Olympics.”

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Iqaluit handles summit without a hitch

February 10, 2010

Iqaluit pulled it off, with ease.

The financial world’s biggest power brokers – from World Bank President Robert Zoellick to U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner – came and went during the two-day G7 finance ministers’ summit without a hitch.

Other than a slight slowdown in their Internet speed, most of the residents in this small sub-arctic town weren’t negatively affected by the flurry of closed door meetings and cabal of Canadian and international journalists in tow.

The entire summit lasted less than 24 hours. When it was over, the community poured into the town’s high school for eating and dancing. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty thanked local citizens in Inuktitut, winning warm applause, and he received a new seal skin vest.

This summit could easily have gone very wrong for Mr. Flaherty. The logistics were almost as challenging as the policy items on the agenda. Arctic storms regularly cancel flights in Iqaluit, running the risk that ministers would not be able to leave on time. Yet Mr. Flaherty was determined to set the G7 on a more casual track and the setting appears to have worked.

“Coming to the cold and to this beautiful city makes the whole thing a lot warmer,” said French finance minister Christine Lagarde.

As an added bonus for Mr. Flaherty, the trip led to international media reports on two of the Conservative government’s key priorities: the expanding mining opportunities in Nunavut and Canada’s active assertions of sovereignty over the Northwest Passage.

It was noticed, though barely, that none of the foreign ministers or bankers took up Mr. Flaherty’s invitation to stay a couple of hours longer to join the community for “country foods” like seal meat, caribou and arctic char.

“We’re quite proud,” said Elisapee Sheutiapik, the mayor of Iqaluit, who said the foreign visitors likely had an experience of a lifetime. Yet she expressed some disappointment that none of them came to the country dinner.

The only G7 participant to join Mr. Flaherty at the community event was Bank of Canada [] Governor Mark Carney, who appeared to enjoy taking part in the group games.

“It would have been a great opportunity for them to see that a gathering like this is amazing,” Ms. Sheutiapik said. “It’s a small delegation. It’s better than nothing.”

The Inuit followed through with their plan to showcase the importance of seal meat to their local culture. Their campaign was highly visible and not the least bit aggressive. Virtually everywhere the visitors went, there was seal skin. Outside the Nunavut legislature – which served as the main venue for the G7 meeting – an igloo was set up with a seal skin drying outside.

The seal harvest is a top of mind issue for Inuit given that the European Union [] is about to implement an import ban on seal products. The ban includes a specific exemption for the Inuit, but they dismiss the exemption as inadequate.

Several of the European visitors gladly took up Mr. Flaherty’s call to go dog-sledding and some checked out the igloo, but the seal issue clearly made them uncomfortable.

When an Iqaluit-based reporter twice asked the European ministers to comment on whether the visit changed their view on the seal hunt, the European ministers turned both times to Canada’s finance minister to answer the questions.

Ms. Lagarde, the French finance minister, would later thank Mr. Flaherty for handling the seal questions for them.

Though it was not clear whether he was speaking directly about seals, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble intervened near the end of the news conference to say the unique local had in fact impacted his view of Canada’s north.

“I would say I was deeply impressed by this region and by this city and by the great hospitality we enjoyed,” he said. “Of course it has changed my view of this part of the world. I’ll be very frank about that – and I will not forget it.”

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