On the road again
A potentially nasty and economically painful strike was avoided when the Canadian Auto Workers reached a labour deal with Ford and agreed to keep negotiating with Chrysler and General Motors. The new deal, which will create 600 new jobs and offer workers annual bonuses but not wage increases, is a win for both parties. Critically, it acknowledges that high wages have been a drag on automakers in Canada, especially with the soaring loonie. More needs to be done on both sides to stay competitive, but this is an important step.
Kicking a bad habit
The federal government will no longer fight international efforts to stop the export of asbestos, a once-important resource for Quebec. The change in tune followed the election of the Parti Québécois, which pledged to cancel a $58-million loan to revive the province’s last asbestos mine. Though the precise risks posed by modern uses of asbestos are debatable—the chrysotile asbestos mined in Quebec is said to be safe if handled properly—there’s no disputing the industry is a dying one, not worthy of taxpayer support.
Doctors in Sweden replaced a man’s cancer-stricken windpipe with one made out of plastic and his own cells. It’s called a bio-artificial organ and it could represent the future of transplants. The approach induces the body to build new organs by starting with either an artificial structure—a porous tube in this case—or an organ that’s been stripped of its living cells to reveal its “scaffold.” Next, doctors “baste” the scaffold with the patient’s stem cells. Once implanted, the body takes over and incorporates the new organ, ideally eliminating the need for donors and anti-rejection drugs.
Put a lid on it
Shell said this week that it is postponing its controversial US$4.5-billion Arctic drilling program. A failure of a spill-containment dome in testing will push back drilling for another year. The decision underscores that Shell is taking all the necessary precautions. The Arctic will be a vital source of oil in the future—as much as a million barrels a day, say experts. So it’s vital that when drilling begins in full, all the pieces are in place to prevent an Exxon Valdez-like disaster in this pristine place.
Canadian home sales fell 5.8 per cent in August as a result of tighter mortgage rules imposed by Ottawa, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal all experienced declines in a trend that CREA says it expects to continue into next year. The tighter mortgage rules, like shorter amortization periods on mortgages with less than 20 per cent down payments, are having the desired effect. We’ll hope this cooling is not the start of something worse. The U.S. housing crash, after all, began with a drop in home sales.
As if keeping your computer virus-free wasn’t hard enough, malicious software, or malware, is now being installed on some Windows computers before they even leave the factory. Microsoft said that one out of every five computers it tested in China was shipped with malware, the worst being a virus that connects with an illicit network of infected computers online. Microsoft blames less reputable manufacturers who pre-load machines with counterfeit Windows software, which is more vulnerable to attack.
Pile it on
A recent survey found university students graduate with about $28,000 in debt—an amount that will take an average of 14 years to pay off. Unwieldy debt isn’t the only thing students are packing on. Researchers at Auburn University found that after four years in college, about 70 per cent of students gain weight (almost 12 lb.), and the percentage considered overweight or obese increases from 18 per cent to an alarming 31 per cent at graduation. Time to consider trade school?
Ottawa has found a whole new way to attract negative attention to the already wildly unpopular seal hunt. It planned to kill two (undoubtedly cute) harp seals caught last spring and put on display in Quebec’s Aquarium des Îles-de-la-Madeleine. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been catching seals for the museum every spring for the past 25 years. It normally releases them back into the ocean, but this year said that doing so would risk introducing disease to wild seal populations. Following a public outcry, the seals’ lives appear to have been spared, at least for now.
Thursday, September 27, 2012