PREMIER PESSIMISM: Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty braced voters for several years of red ink that would be ushered in by a significant deficit in the upcoming federal budget. Some observers were predicting a shortfall of as much as $5 billion after funds were pledged for infrastructure and struggling automakers.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell was also girding his province for back-to-back deficits. Campbell, who declared B.C. a "deficit-free-zone" in October, said the legislature would be recalled to suspend the province's balanced-budget legislation for the next two years.

LET'S HOPE THE RODENTS ARE RIGHT: Several of the most revered weather predicting groundhogs -- including Wiarton Willie, Shubenacadie Sam, Balzac Billy and Punxsutawney Phil -- were roused from hibernation to bring the news that we could expect six more weeks of winter. However, an Environment Canada forecaster of the human persuasion said that those of us living outside of the West Coast shouldn't hold their breath waiting for a mid-March start to spring.


SATELLITE RADIO: Eighteen months of hard work paid off for students at Toronto's Humber College when a radio built as part of a class project successfully made contact with the International Space Station. One of the project's team members burst into tears when the faint signal of astronaut Sandra Magnus' voice broke through the static crackle, capping a feat that many in the school considered impossible.

WOULD YOU (NON) BELIEVE?: Three years after a high-profile University of Minnesota study reported that atheists outranked
Muslims and recent immigrants as the most despised and distrusted
minority in America, do President Barack Obama's nods to non-believers signal a turn of the tide for American atheists?

O CONTROVERSY: Unassuming Springfield, New Brunswick was the site of national controversy last week when a school principal incurred the wrath of town parents by cancelling daily playings of the national anthem before classes. The principal has since reversed his decision after being pressured by a torrent of angry calls and e-mails, and parents in the community said they planned to take the fight nationwide.

SHOE FLY: It seemed an Iraqi reporter who made headlines by hurling his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush started a new trend in protesting -- including a large demonstration on Bush's final day in office that was marked by participants flinging shoes at the White House gates. A similar event unfolded yesterday when an activist interrupted a speech being by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao at Cambridge University -- blowing a whistle and branding Wen a dictator before hurling a grey shoe at the leader.

EIGHT STARS ARE BORN: Nadya Suleman, the mother of the longest-living octuplets in the United States, has been deluged with requests for media interviews, book deals, TV shows and other business proposals. "She's the most sought after mom in the world right now," said the president of the public relations firm representing the woman. Suleman, already the mother of six, conceived all of her children through in vitro fertilization.

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