Political Truths

Election Blog September 29

Political truths 

Before he started seeking public office himself, John Tory ran campaigns for many other Conservatives.  Often he would be the party official designated to stand in front of the camera and speak to people like me and say it was all going very well, that many voters were undecided and that the party was going to prevail in the end—even though both he and I knew it was headed for disaster.  All parties have to play this game.  

  

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So I scarcely expected him to concede defeat when he taped an interview for Focus Ontario this afternoon at the Global studios—even though our Ipsos Reid poll released the night before showed Liberal support increasing into majority government territory, and PC support dropping–mainly because of the faith based school funding promise.  After seeing the poll a Conservative backroom person from campaigns past confessed to being nervous about Tory even winning his own riding, Don Valley West, where he is trying to unseat Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.   

  

“I’m going to win my seat.  And I’m going to win the election,” Tory declared on Focus.  I have often wondered what would happen if a politician confessed to a reporter before Election Day:  “You’re right. I’m toast.” It is a tactic I do not expect to ever see.  

  

It is only one poll and things can change in a week.  But the trends are not going the right way for the Conservatives.  

  

 They have built their campaign around their leader.  “Leadership Matters” is their slogan, repeated at the end of each speech.  They have chosen this theme because polls, including ours, show Tory tied or leading Dalton McGuinty on the question of “who would make the best premier”. It is unusual to see an opposition leader scoring so high.  

  

But still the PCs do not appear to be gaining, mainly because of their leader’s choice to stick with his promise to fund faith-based schools.  The ads attacking McGuinty’s record of broken promises do not seem to be resonating.  I am tempted to conclude that in this election leadership does NOT matter.    

  

As a backroom boy, Tory had a large role in a couple of PC nightmares: the 1987 rout at the hands of Liberal David Peterson (a campaign that was probably lost before it ever started) and the 1993 historic near-wipeout of the federal party under Kim Campbell.  He once told me an anecdote about the Campbell campaign.  Tory pointed out that the backrooms  generally have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen on Election Day, no matter what kind of smiley face they put on for reporters.  The night before the 1993 election, he and other campaign officials had a conference call with Campbell.  One of them broke the news to her:  they were going to lose.  

  

“Okay, how bad do you think it will be?” she asked.  

  

“Prime Minister, our projections show us winning NO seats,” was the answer.  A painfully accurate prediction, given that the PCs were reduced to two MPs.   

  

It would have been fascinating to have seen the look on Campbell’s face at that moment.  

  

  

  

  

A question of tastes

Just as they differ on tax cuts and education funding, the Liberals and PCs diverge on the cuisine served on the media buses.    The Liberals continue an old party tradition of mixing up fruit smoothies in the morning to offer a relatively healthy start to the day before the deluge of carbs to come.  The PCs proudly bake their own bread.  On Monday they carved up a tasty pesto loaf, which they served with freshly churned butter.  The common theme between the two parties: an undisguised attempt to widen the posteriors of the hacks following the leaders.   

  

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Just as the food varies so does the campaign styles of the two leaders.  Dalton McGuinty’s tour has been dominated by tightly controlled events, with the premier rarely having unscripted contact with voters.  Reporters typically get one chance to ask questions, usually first thing in the morning.  John Tory, by contrast, seems to press the flesh every day, with all the entailed risks.  At a PC rally in Sarnia Monday night, he worked the room for at least 20 minutes after his speech and ran into several Conservative supporters who wanted to bend his ear on the faith based funding school funding promise–all in full few of the TV cameras.   

  

In London the following afternoon, he canvassed with two of his local candidates.  By the count of reporters on the bus, about one in five voters asked him about education funding.   On one front lawn, he had a lengthy talk with a man who described himself as a past PC voter.  Conversation over, Tory shook his hand and started to move on.  A reporter then asked the man how he was voting this time and discovered he was wavering because of the funding issue.   Tory was still in earshot, so the PC leader did a u turn and came back to give the wavering Conservative a full out, face to face sales job.  By the end of it, Tory seemed to have won him over, but it seemed to be a labour intensive method of convincing voters.   

  

His campaign workers laud their leader’s desire to talk to civilians.  But there are dangers.  I remember watching Premier David Peterson stop to speak to demonstrators at many stops during his ill-fated 1990 campaign.  At the time, both we in the media and his advisors all thought it showed him to be a responsive and caring leader.  But on election night, after Peterson had lost not only the government but his own seat I remember having a conversation with a slightly drunk and rueful campaign official.  He recognized with painful hindsight that it had been a big mistake–that the constant images of the premier speaking with protestors left viewers with the vague impression that something must be wrong.     

Ties make the man

It was Maryon Pearson, wife of Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who coined one of the most telling lines in Canadian political history:  “behind every successful man there is a surprised woman.”

Some spouses of prominent politicians give lots of speeches, some none or very few.  Terri McGuinty, wife of the premier,  falls into the latter category.  She has taken a leave from her job as a kindergarten teacher to be at her husband’s side throughout this campaign and is a popular presence on the tour, often chatting with reporters in the entourage, inquiring about their families and generally charming the crowd who are daily badgering her husband.  But she is loath to speak from the podium.  The other day she made a rare exception, introducing the Premier at a stop at the Women’s Executive Network.

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“I have known Dalton for 35 years,” she said. “When I look at him I still see the same lanky guy who came up to me sheepishly and asked me for money in the school cafeteria.”  She managed to extract a good laugh from the crowd. 

When she and the premier arrived at the Global studios the next day to tape a Focus Ontario interview, I asked her about her public speaking engagement.  

“I’m still recovering,” she said.  

Neither she nor McGuinty could remember whether she ever gave him the money he was nervously requesting those many years ago in the cafeteria, or whether he ever paid her back. 

“The lamest pickup line of all time,” admitted McGuinty with a laugh.  Given that they’ve been married for more than three decades and raised four children, it seems to have worked well enough.  

Even if she does not give many speeches, Terri McGuinty is clearly a trusted advisor on many levels.  

As we sat down on the set, getting ready for the taping, Terri sat at a desk a few feet off camera.  I couldn’t resist inquiring whether she picked the tie that he wore for the debate.  Sure enough, she did.  When McGuinty settled into the chair, minus a tie on this occasion, he asked for her advice on whether he should have his jacket opened or buttoned.  

I cannot honestly remember when he ended up buttoned or not.  But I do recall asking whether she liked my tie.  Yes was the answer.  I did not ask afterwards whether she also liked my questions.   

Cape Breton residents upset with artist’s interpretation of Norway massacre

SYDNEY, N.S. – Sean Casey says if you focus on the beards and turbans in his recent editorial cartoon in the Cape Breton Post you’re missing the message.

The freelance artist wanted to make a comment about the recent terrorist attack in Norway, but his decision to depict two al-Qaida-like terrorists sitting on a pile of skulls marvelling news of the bombing in Oslo and massacre on the island of Utoya, July 22.

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Anders Behring Breivik confessed to setting a bomb off outside the office of Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, and going on a shooting rampage at summer camp for the youth wing of the ruling Labour Party.

Breivik, 32, is a far-right conservative who wanted to wage war on Islam and multiculturalism in Norway killed 77 people: eight individuals in the bombing and 69 at the camp on Utoya.

“The West can’t walk around with their chin held high and saying ‘You know it’s not us,’” Casey says.

“Religious extremism can show up anywhere. al-Qaida and the Taliban don’t have a monopoly on religious extremism.”

He says the cartoon isn’t meant to point the finger at Muslims, but specifically terrorists.

“There’s a pile of frigging skulls that they’re sitting on, drinking tea and reading the newspaper. I felt that pointed out that these weren’t regular folks.”

Some readers of the Cape Breton Post and members of the Muslim community beg to differ.

“My question is why the cartoonist linked (the attacks in Norway) with the beard, with the Muslims, with Osama bin Laden,” Masooud Chauhdry, a senior member of the Cape Breton Muslim Society, asks.

“Evil people are everywhere,” he says.

“That’s why my objection is why he has linked and given the impression to the world there are some other evil people are like Muslims.”

People commenting on the Cape Breton Post’s website have likened the drawing to “hate propaganda” and said the image is “insulting to those who lost friends and relatives.”

But Tom Ayers, the publication’s editorial director, defends Casey’s choice and his freedom of expression.

“It’s the artist’s interpretation of a news event,” Ayers says, “and people can feel free to disagree with it.”

He says a reasonable person could look at the picture and discern that it’s just one interpretation of the events.

Labopharm reworks agreement with Angelini for antidepressant Oleptro

LAVAL, Que. – Labopharm Inc. (TSX:DDS) has hammered out revised agreement with Gruppo Angelini, its joint venture partner for marketing the antidepressant Oleptro, the Quebec-based pharmaceutical company said Friday.

Under the new deal, Angelini will have exclusive rights for the drug in the U.S., Canada and other countries in exchange for royalties.

Meanwhile, Labopharm will no longer be responsible to fund Angelini Labopharm LLC, the joint venture established by the two companies to commercialize Oleptro in the United States.

“We believe that Oleptro is a valuable product for the treatment of depression and the restructured partnership provides us with the opportunity to benefit financially from the success of this product while enabling us to further preserve capital as we continue to progress with the strategic review process,” said Labopharm president and CEO Mark D’Souza.

In exchange for dismantling the joint venture and turning its 50 per cent ownership interest in Angelini Labopharm over to Angelini, Labopharm will receive a royalty of five per cent on net sales of Oleptro in the United States in excess of US$10 million in any calendar quarter.

Net sales of Oleptro in the United States for the most recent quarter ended March 31 were US$908,000.

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In addition, Labopharm will receive a royalty of five per cent on net sales of the drug in those countries for which it is granting rights to Angelini, including Canada.

Labopharm is also granting to Angelini an exclusive licence and rights to commercialize Labopharm’s twice-daily acetaminophen product in all European Union countries as well as Turkey, Georgia and the Commonwealth of Independent States – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan – in exchange for a five per cent royalty and certain milestone payments.

Labopharm stock was up 2.5 cents, or more than 13 per cent, at 21.5 cents Friday afternoon on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

AP source: Detroit Pistons have hired Lawrence Frank as coach

DETROIT – The Detroit Pistons have a new coach.

A person with knowledge of the situation said Friday that the Pistons have agreed to a three-year deal with Lawrence Frank to be the new head coach. The agreement includes a team option for a fourth year, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team hasn’t announced the move.

Frank, an assistant coach with Boston last season and a former head coach in New Jersey, will be Detroit’s sixth coach in 11 seasons when the NBA lockout ends. The Pistons fired John Kuester in June after they missed the playoffs in both of his two seasons.

A deliberate coaching search, which also included Mike Woodson, Kelvin Sampson, Bill Laimbeer and Patrick Ewing, ended with the franchise choosing to give Frank another chance at a head coaching job. Frank was 225-241 with the Nets, who won two division titles, as many as 49 games in a season and advanced to the conference semifinals three times with him on the bench.

The 40-year-old native of Teaneck, N.J., spent four seasons as a student manager for Bob Knight at Indiana. He was an assistant at Marquette and Tennessee before becoming an NBA assistant in Vancouver and New Jersey.

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Frank was rumoured to be in the running for the Toronto Raptors’ head coaching job that eventually went to former Dallas assistant Dwane Casey.

Frank will have a lot of work to do in the Motor City, which has a new owner in Tom Gores and three straight seasons with a losing record. Detroit has twice missed the playoffs after advancing to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals and winning the 2004 NBA title.

Detroit won just 30 games last season with a dysfunctional roster on the court and one that was problematic off it for Kuester. Seven players missed at least part of a team shootaround in Philadelphia last season and Kuester played the remaining six in a blowout loss to the 76ers.

When the league resumes play, free agent Tayshaun Prince may part ways with the only NBA team he’s played for and free agent Ben Wallace might not be back.

Detroit drafted Kentucky guard Brandon Knight No. 8 overall, adding to its perimeter logjam with Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon. Centre Greg Monroe showed promising signs last season as a rookie and power forward Jonas Jerebko, who didn’t play last season after tearing his right Achilles’ tendon, will get an opportunity to bolster a thin frontcourt.

Statue honouring St. Louis native Chuck Berry dedicated amid tributes from rock legends

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. – The image is timeless Americana: Chuck Berry hunched over, ready to launch into his famous Duck Walk, picking his Gibson guitar and wailing a song.

It’s the image captured in the statue of the man considered by many to be the father of rock and roll, dedicated Friday in the University City Loop area of suburban St. Louis.

Berry, now 84, still performs monthly at Blueberry Hill, a club and restaurant across the street from the new statue. He spoke only briefly at the dedication ceremony on a sweltering day as hundreds paid tribute to the St. Louis native.

“I don’t know how to speak – I can sing a little bit,” Berry, wearing his signature captain’s hat and bolo tie, said after thanking people for braving the heat to come out. “I’m going to say thank you again and I love you all.”

Other legends of rock paid tribute to the man whose many hits included “Johnny B. Goode,” ”Sweet Little Sixteen,” ”Roll Over Beethoven” and countless others.

In recorded messages, Little Richard called Berry “the greatest entertainer in the world.” Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry called him “a national treasure.”

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“When I had a chance to jam with him on his 80th birthday it was the highlight of my career,” Perry said.

A contemporary of Berry’s, Ron Isley of the Isley Brothers, spoke at the dedication and praised Berry as rock and roll’s leading pioneer in the 1950s.

“He is the one that started the whole thing,” Isley said. “It’s the song, the dance, the songwriting, the producing.”

The 8-foot-tall, 1,200-pound statue was sculpted by Harry Weber, also a St. Louis native, whose other works include a Bobby Orr statue in Boston, a statue of Lewis and Clark on the St. Louis riverfront and sculptures of sports figures at Busch Stadium and 11 other stadiums. About $100,000 was raised for the project, funded entirely with private donations.

“Thanks, Chuck, for providing the soundtrack for my youth,” said Weber, 69.

Eric Wofford, 48, of suburban St. Louis, stood with the help of a cane at the dedication but danced with his good leg as a Baptist church group performed Berry songs. He said the first album he ever purchased was one of Berry’s in 1973.

“I dropped that album on the turntable and laid the needle down, and it changed my whole point of view,” Wofford said. “It opened my eyes. He overcame any segregation. He cut through every class, white or black, upper class or lower class. He appealed to everyone.”

Berry was born in St. Louis in 1926. His first performance was at Sumner High School in 1941, said Blueberry Hill owner Joe Edwards, who spearheaded the drive for the statue along with KMOX Radio’s Charlie Brennan.

Berry began his career playing St. Louis-area clubs before landing a record contract in the mid-1950s. He later became an original member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

“Chuck Berry,” Edwards said, “became the era’s premiere poet.”

Cold turkey wrong way to quit the bottle, experts warn after Winehouse death

TORONTO – Alcoholics everywhere are being warned not to go cold turkey when trying to put down the bottle following reports singer Amy Winehouse ignored her doctor’s advice to cut down on her heavy drinking gradually.

Britain’s Sun tabloid is citing family sources as saying the 27-year-old “Rehab” singer died a week ago as a result of a seizure brought on by a sudden three-week abstinence from booze.

According to the report, the family believes her tiny frame could not cope with the loss of alcohol in her veins after many years of binge drinking.

Now, Canadian addiction specialists are confirming that such a dramatic withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can indeed prove lethal.

“To go to zero is extremely dangerous because the body develops a level of chemical requirement,” said Rob Hadley, program director at the Vancouver Addiction Centre.

“To not have that met, one literally does go into shock.”

Quitting requires addicts to get treatment from professionals that will reduce dependency without risking their health, he said.

The Vancouver Addiction Centre eases addicts onto less concentrated alcohols such as beer or wine for one to two weeks and gradually eases them down from there, said Hadley.

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Alcohol slows the heart down because it’s a depressant, said Daniel Jordan, the director of the Sunshine Coast Health Centre. This can cause those who are attempting to quit cold turkey to suffer a seizure or heart attack.

Unlike the Vancouver Addiction Centre, Jordan’s facility gives alcoholics Valium in order to reduce the risk of injury in attempting to quit.

“Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to detox from,” said Jordan. “The chance of dying from a withdrawal from alcohol is actually much more dangerous than heroin.”

Addicts should only continue drinking alcohol to ease themselves off of their dependency if they don’t have access to a hospital or an addiction centre where they can get help, said Jordan.

Winehouse, who was found dead in her London apartment last Saturday, had struggled for years with drugs and alcohol.

She had managed to quit her drug dependency three years before her death, her father said at her funeral. But Mitch Winehouse also said she was struggling to control her drinking after a few weeks of abstinence.

An autopsy conducted on her body this week did not determine the cause of her death. Police are now awaiting toxicology tests, which they expect will take two to four weeks. Her family has not confirmed the reports that they believe she died from withdrawal.

The singer won five Grammy Awards for her 2006 release “Back to Black.” She released one other album titled “Frank.”

– With files from The Associated Press.

US Treasury meets with big banks to discuss issues on impasse over raising debt ceiling

WASHINGTON – Executives from the biggest U.S. banks met with Treasury officials Friday to discuss how debt auctions will be handled if Congress fails to raise the borrowing limit before Tuesday’s deadline.

Treasury met with representatives from 20 large banks that serve as primary dealers for the sale of Treasury securities and took questions amid growing concern that the borrowing limit will not be raised in time to avoid a default on the debt.

In a statement, Treasury provided no details of how the government will decide which bills to pay should the borrowing limit not be raised. The statement said the meeting was to prepare for an upcoming quarterly debt auction.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration did not plan to provide the public with details Friday on how the government will prioritize payments. Administration officials had said Thursday that they would discuss the government’s contingency plans in the next few days. Carney said the administration still planned to lay out its contingency plans, but it would wait until closer to next Tuesday’s deadline.

Treasury makes 80 million payments a month.

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While Treasury will not have the ability after Aug. 2 to borrow new debt, it would still be able to refinance debt that is maturing as long as the operation did not increase the total debt supply. Treasury has to borrow on average $125 billion in new debt each month and refinance $500 billion in maturing debt.

Private economists believe the government would pay bond holders first. If the Treasury missed a bond payment, the country would likely default on its debt. That could rattle markets and increase borrowing costs on most consumer and business loans, many of which are linked to the rates on Treasurys.

Some economists say the government will have enough cash on hand to meet interest payments and some other payments until as late as Aug. 15.

Officials of the bond-trading divisions of JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and the other big banks attended the meeting at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

Treasury would normally meet with half of the 20 dealers before a quarterly auction. However, given the heighted concerns surrounding the debt stalemate, Treasury decided to expand the discussions to include all 20 banks.

Treasury said in its statement that the general consensus among the banks participating in the discussion was that Congress “should act as quickly as possible to raise the debt ceiling for as long a period as possible to lift the cloud of uncertainty from the economy.”

The Obama administration wants Congress to increase the borrowing limit to last beyond the November 2012 elections. Republicans in the House want a smaller initial increase, and second increases tied to more spending cuts that would take place next year before the election.

Centerra Gold can better handle mining cost inflation because of location: CEO

TORONTO – Centerra Gold is in a better position to handle inflationary pressures than many other miners because it has access to cheaper suppliers near its main operations in Asia, says the company’s CEO.

“As we’re operating in central Asia primarily, we are looking at suppliers in a lot of commodities, in a lot of areas, that a Western producer does not have access to, whether its a Kazak explosives supplier or a Ukrainian tire supplier,” CEO Steve Lang said in an interview Friday.

“We’ve had some areas there that it’s been a cost advantage to us.”

The Toronto-based gold miner has stuck to its cost and production estimates, unlike many other gold miners. Industry players are battling the higher cost of fuel, steel, local wages and equipment.

Two of the world’s top gold companies have had to revise their plans for the year in the face of cost pressures.

This week the world’s largest gold miner, Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX), increased the estimated costs on some projects as it grapples with poor weather and higher wages as well as rising prices for steel, cement, fuel and equipment.

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It followed news from the world’s second-largest producer, Goldcorp (TSX:G), which said it was cutting production estimates, blaming supplier issues and weather problems.

Lang said inflation is providing a “difficult environment” for gold miners to work in right now.

“On fuel prices, we came into the year and had given our guidance based on (an) $85 oil price, so we’re clearly having a bit of pressure there,” Lang said.

Oil is currently trading near US$96 a barrel and has been above US$100 several times this year.

Lang added that wages in the Kyrgyz Republic, where Centerra has a major operation, have gone up about 10 per cent but the company expects inflation there to stabilize once a new government comes to power after an election this year.

Lang said Centerra is trying to cut costs by focusing on efficiency, procurement and alternative suppliers.

Meanwhile, gold miners have been riding high on the price of the precious metal, which is breaking records nearly every day. Investors are turning to the security of gold as they worry about the value of currency amid the European and United States debt crises.

Centerra Gold Inc. (TSX:CG) reported earnings results that sparkled Thursday, saying second-quarter profits soared 131 per cent over last year and revenues were up 60 per cent, with both figures beating expectations.

Centerra owns the Kumtor mine in the Kyrgyz Republic, the Boroo mine in Mongolia and interests in mines in Nevada, Turkey and Russia.

Teck Resources hasn’t seen appealing acquisition but expects strong growth: CEO

VANCOUVER – Canada’s largest mining company Teck Resources Ltd. is keeping an eye on possible acquisitions but expects considerable growth from its current properties, chief executive Don Lindsay said Friday.

“So far the acquisitions just haven’t been appealing for us to make a move,” Lindsay told analysts, a day after Teck reported that its adjusted quarterly profit was $663 million, beating expectations.

“We know that at the end of five years we will have substantially more copper production per share, substantially more coal production per share, we’ll have oil sands in production and that looks like a pretty good base strategy,” he said.

“Acquisitions need to be measured against that.”

During the 2006 to 2008 period of consoidation in the global mining industry, Teck Resources made several acquisitions. When credit became hard to get following the collapse or near failure of several major U.S. financial firms, Teck was forced to sell assets to reduce its debtload to a manageable level.

Higher prices for steelmaking coal and copper helped Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) post a big increase in second-quarter profits.

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Reporting after markets closed on Thursday, the Vancouver-based miner said earnings attributable to shareholders were $756 million, or $1.28 per share, compared with $283 million or 48 cents per share in the same 2010 quarter.

Adjusted quarterly profit was $663 million or $1.12 per share, compared with $347 million or 59 cents per share in the second quarter of 2010.

Revenue in the three months ended June 30 was $2.8 billion, up from $2.2 billion.

Teck was expected to earn $1.02 per share in adjusted earnings on $2.68 billion of revenues in the second quarter, according to analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

“Our adjusted earnings … were nearly 90 per cent higher than earnings in the second quarter of 2010 with the increase due mainly to higher prices for coal and copper,” Lindsay said in a statement on Thursday.

Teck had earlier reduced its coal production guidance for the second quarter and said unit mining costs would be greater as a result of higher labour and other expenses.

It said coal sales should be at the low end of its previously announced guidance range of 5.5 million to six million tonnes.

The company also said it was reducing production guidance as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Some customers had deferred shipments due to reduced steel production requirements, it said.

Teck is a diversified resource company involved in copper, coal, zinc and energy. It has mines in Canada, the U.S., Chile and Peru.

The company also holds a 20 per cent stake in the undeveloped Fort Hills oilsands project north of Fort McMurray, Alta., Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU) holds a 40.8 per cent stake, while Total owns the remaining 39.2 per cent.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Teck shares were down 39 cents to $47.49 in mid-afternoon trading on Friday.

Obama, automakers agree to double fuel economy by 2025; biggest increase since 1970s

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and automobile manufacturers announced a deal Friday that is designed to save American drivers money at the pump and dramatically cut heat-trapping gases coming from tailpipes.

The announcement ushered in the largest decrease in auto fuel consumption since the 1970s,

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The agreement pledges to double overall fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon (23.2 kilometres per litre) by 2025, bringing major under-the-hood changes for the nation’s automobiles starting in model year 2017. Cars and trucks on the road today average 27 miles per gallon (11.5 kilometres per litre).

“This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we have taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Obama said from a stage he shared with top executives of the major automakers before a backdrop of some of the most cutting-edge cars on the road.

“Just as cars will go further on a gallon of gas, our economy will go further on a barrel of oil,” Obama said.

If achieved, the 54.5 mile-per-gallon target will reduce U.S. oil consumption from vehicles by 40 per cent and halve the amount of greenhouse gas pollution coming out of exhausts.

For American families, the president said the agreement, which will be subject to a midcourse review, means filling up the car every two weeks, instead of every week. That would save $8,000 in fuel costs over the life of a vehicle, he said.

The deal was less than what environmentalists and public health advocates wanted, but more than the Detroit Three automakers desired. In a letter to the president last week, Michigan lawmakers called the higher proposal “overly aggressive,” after automakers had said they would work to get vehicles averaging 42.6 mpg (18.1 kpl) to 46.7 mpg(19.85 kpl). Green groups, meanwhile, had pushed for a 62 mpg(26.4kpl) target by 2025.

For Obama, who watched his campaign promise on this issue die when Republicans retook control of the House of Representatives in 2010, the compromise provides a way around political roadblocks and offers an opportunity to affect climate change.

The deal also provides an answer on the issue of oil dependency. It promises reduced demand at a time when Republicans in Congress have criticized Obama for being too slow to drill and not opening up more areas to oil and gas exploration after the massive Gulf oil spill last year.

At a time when a consensus in Congress is elusive on the debt ceiling and curbing the federal deficit, the president said the fuel economy deal was a “valuable lesson to” Washington.

“You are all demonstrating what can happen when people put aside differences,” Obama said. “These folks are competitors, you’ve got labour and business. But they said we are going to work together to achieve something important and lasting for the country.”

For automobile manufacturers, particularly the Detroit Three, the deal signals a turnaround from the days when they resisted boosting fuel economy targets, arguing that consumers would not buy smaller and more efficient cars, and the technology to reduce fuel dependency was too expensive.

The dynamics also were changed by the $62 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler by taxpayers, making it harder for automakers to say no to the White House.

Some environmentalists praised the agreement on Friday but said manufacturers owed taxpayers a bigger deal after the multibillion-dollar bailout.

“An auto industry that owes its survival to taxpayer bailouts ungratefully flouted the public’s demand for fuel efficiency and less pollution, fighting for loopholes until the bitter end,” said Dan Becker, Director of the Safe Climate Campaign. “We will use every opportunity, including the midterm review that the automakers demanded, to strengthen the standards.”

For consumers, the new requirements are well beyond the gas mileage of all but the most efficient cars on the road today.

By the time the new standards take effect, the government expects gas-electric hybrids to make up about half the lineup of new vehicles, with electric vehicles making up about 10 per cent of the fleet.

Currently hybrid and electric vehicles combined amount to fewer than 3 per cent of U.S. vehicle sales, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

The standards also could force auto companies to get rid of some less-efficient models as they try to boost the gas mileage of their lineups. But that depends on how quickly new technology can be developed.

Automakers already are moving toward boosting gas mileage by cutting weight and with new engine and transmission breakthroughs. They also are adding electric cars to their lineups. General Motors and Nissan are selling mass-market electric vehicles, while Mitsubishi, Ford, Toyota and others are about to enter the market.

Nissan’s vice-president, Scott Becker, said in a statement that the Obama administration has issued some extremely challenging greenhouse gas reduction and fuel economy improvement targets, but Nissan was “up to the task.”

Nissan introduced the LEAF, the world’s first and only 100-per cent electric car for the mass market, in December 2010. More than 4,000 of the 99 miles-per-gallon (43 kilometres per litre) vehicles are already on the road.

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Krisher contributed reporting from Detroit

Follow Dina Cappiello on Twitter: (at)dinacappiello

Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck has promoted the kind of political camps he criticized

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Conservative radio talk show host Glenn Beck criticized the notion of summer political camps for youth like the one in Norway where 68 people were killed last week, even though he has promoted similar camps in the U.S. where children are taught principles of the small government, anti-tax tea party movement.

Beck’s criticism earlier this week was directed at Norway’s Utoya Island summer camp for the youth wing of Norway’s ruling Labor party. On his radio show Monday, the former Fox News Channel host said the Utoya camp “sounds a little like the Hitler Youth or whatever.”

“Who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing,” he said.

However, Beck has promoted similar camps called vacation liberty schools in the U.S. that teach the “virtues and morals” of the U.S. Founding Fathers. Lisa Abler, one of the founders of the liberty camp concept, said she appeared on Beck’s TV show a year ago to discuss the schools.

“We originally had made it just for our community, but when I was able to go on his show, others heard about it. … We had so many contacts after that from people all across the country,” Abler said.

Beck didn’t respond to an email request for comment.

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Abler said the program is modeled after vacation Bible schools hosted by many mainline churches, and are different from the Utoya camp because they aren’t affiliated with a political party. Instead of teaching the Bible, the estimated 130 liberty school programs teach children about politics from Beck’s perspective. The camps are independently run, but Abler said she has written a curriculum that she shares with other schools.

Abler said the program does no harm and teaches the children who attend about history, freedom and civic responsibility.

“Responsibility stems from virtues and morals and education, and that’s not necessarily happening with our children,” Abler said.

The Utoya Island camp was targeted by a gunman who claimed he was trying to save Europe from what he said is Muslim colonization.

Torbjorn Eriksen, a former press secretary to Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, told The Daily Telegraph in England that Beck’s comments were a “new low” and were directed at a program that for more than 60 years has enabled children to learn about and be part of democracy.

Beck made his comments on his syndicated radio program during a discussion about problems he predicted Europe would face because of a growing Muslim population. He denounced the gunman, who he said “is just as bad as Osama bin Laden.”