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Metro Snapshot: January 13, 2009

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MORE ECONOMIC WOES: A quarterly survey of 100 companies conducted by the Bank of Canada found the country's business community in a pessimistic mood, while a separate survey of senior loan officers found a widespread tightening of lending conditions that was restricting the ability of businesses to expand and create new jobs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty were both in British Columbia to woo voters ahead of this month's potentially treacherous federal budget. Although the prime minister made no new announcements, Flaherty suggested that although the extraordinary economic times required extraordinary measures, the government was not focused on spending cuts and would instead rely on creative thinking.

With the budget looming amidst fresh memories of last month's parliamentary crisis, there is plenty of speculation about the potential of the budget failing to pass the House. Echoing the voters from his province, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe insisted that a governing Liberal-NDP coalition propped up by the Bloc remains the best solution to the troubles facing the country.

SEND HIM HOME: Sen. Romeo Dallaire publicly urged president-elect Barack Obama to send Omar Khadr home to Canada after his administration closes the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Dallaire claimed that Khadr's imprisonment is an affront to human rights. Previousyt, Prime Minister Harper has argued that Khadr's case is unique because, unlike many at Guantanamo, he faces charges.

ARCTIC CHALLENGE: A new American policy regarding use of the Northwest Passage signed into law by President George W. Bush represented a challenge to Canada's sovereignty in the region. The 10-page policy paper was forthright about U.S. intentions to ensure security in the area with little regard for the wishes of other countries, a position which some academics claimed was a final opportunity for Canada to assert control of the region before the Americans step in to do it themselves.

WAR OF WORDS: Israel and Hamas each escalated the rhetoric surrounding the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stood within range of Hamas rocket attacks and vowed an "iron fist" response if Islamic militants failed to meet Israeli terms for a ceasefire. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh showed no signs of wavering, however, saying that his group was "closer to victory." Olmert also claimed that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was embarrassed when she was forced to abstain from voting for a United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolution that she had helped arrange, a claim that a U.S. official denied.

Israel's Central Election Committee came under fire after it banned Arab political parties from running in February's federal election, a ruling that an Arab legislator vowed to challenge in the the country's Supreme Court.

MEET THE PRESS: President George W. Bush held the final press conference of his presidency, an often combative and emotional event during which Bush cast his own judgment his controversial tenure, conjuring up a wide range of topics including Iraq, the economy and the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The president reacted most angrily to allegations that his presidency had tarnished the country's reputation, while his most poignant moment was remarking on an occasion when he felt the weight of the job fell squarely on his shoulders for the first time.

BENEFITS BOOST: The idea of an extra Supplemental Security Income payment as part of Obama's $800-billion recovery plan gained traction in the U.S. Congress. Approval of the extra payment would ensure that more than seven million of the neediest Americans would be first in line for stimulus finds.

A French civil rights group used an Obama-lookalike to send a message about racial profiling in a country that prides itself on an egalitarian society. The civil rights group alleged that visible minorities are routinely harassed due to profiling, a claim that a spokesperson for France's government said was "unthinkable."

 
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