What happened last week in Canada?

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New HST in PEI to affect universities, colleges

In April, Prince Edward Island will introduce a 14 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) that leverages a large amount of money from colleges and universities, according to media reports last week.

Similar to the HST in place  for Atlantic Canada and Ontario, PEI’s HST will combine its Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST), with nine per cent of the HST going to the province and five per cent to the federal government.

While businesses will receive a full rebate on the nine per cent provincial portion of the tax, the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) and Holland College will not, even though the schools will continue to receive their original 35 per cent rebate on the federal portion of the tax. UPEI estimates their taxes will increase by $400,000 a year.

Because the province will not provide additional revenue to schools, the institutions are seeking alternative ways to balance their budgets. Increasing tuition, streamlining department budgets, and innovating new means of revenue are possibilities being discussed by officials at both institutions. Both schools expect to know exactly how the new HST will affect their tuition and budget by the spring.

Summit addresses rising policing costs 

Police chiefs, officers, government officials, and academics met in Ottawa last Wednesday and Thursday for a two-day national summit on the costs of police forces in Canada. The summit aimed to find solutions to an unsustainable police budget, which has doubled over the past 15 years.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was quoted in The Globe and Mail, saying that the public now expects more police services at a reduced cost, and makes “increasing calls to demonstrate the value of the investments that all governments make in public services, including policing.”

Police wages have been frozen for the past two years, and hundreds of officers and staff have lost their jobs due to recent budget cuts. Some of the methods to save money that were discussed at the summit included hiring civilian staff to alleviate police of smaller task forces, offering lower pay to entry-level officers, and cutting funds for police stations. For now, police forces have been asked to reform and innovate, in order to keep their budgets in check.

Idle No More protests and hashtag go national 

Last Wednesday, the Idle No More movement continued across Canada, with protesters staging rallies and prayer circles in cities nation-wide, as well as blockading major bridges, railways, and highways. The peaceful protests halted thousands of commuters for hours, in what organizers called an “economic slowdown” designed to draw attention to the movement.

A satirical #Ottawapiskat hashtag, started by Edmonton artist Aaron Paquette, also gained Canada-wide use on Twitter this week. The hashtag allows Twitter users to combat anti-First Nations tweets by deflecting criticisms of the Idle No More movement back at the federal government.

A spokesman for Stephen Harper has announced that the government does not plan to reconsider the legislation that Idle No More protestors are calling to be reassessed. In response to an Idle No More supporter’s plea, Queen Elizabeth II has also declined to interfere with the matter, but referred protestors to her representative in Canada, the Governor General.

Canada sends C-17 to Mali

A Canadian military transport plane landed in Mali last Thursday morning, bringing troops and supplies to the capital city of Bamako. The aircraft was sent in support of France’s effort to restore order in the country after Al Qaeda rebel forces took control of Mali’s northern region. As well, this decision was in response to the UN Security Council’s call upon its member states last week to assist in the crisis, and to help restore democratic governance to Mali.

The C-17 aircraft departed the Canadian Force’s Base in Trenton, Ont. on Tuesday, carrying 35 personnel. Canada committed the plane for one week, but French President François Hollande asked Canada to extend the mission in a phone conversation with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday.

After a meeting with the ambassadors of France, Mali, and the Ivory Coast, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told CBC that Canada is open to extending the mission, but remains firm that Canadian troops will not engage in combat. A decision has not yet been reached.

Lachine hospital separates from the MUHC

Quebec Health Minister Réjea Hébert intends to remove the Lachine Hospital from the McGill University Health Care’s (MUHC) control. Jurisdiction of the hospital will be transferred to the Centre de santé et des services sociaux Dorval-Lachine-LeSalle.

MUHC’s bilingual network of hospitals was planning to transfer several medical services to Lachine Hospital, a partner since 2008. Hébert claims the primary motive for the severance is to improve service for Montreal’s West Island—though his meetings with Mario Beaulieu, a French-language activist, have led to speculation that the goal is to preserve Lachine Hospital’s service of the francophone population. Speculators also point to MUHC’s predicted $115 million deficit for the 2012-2013 fiscal year as another factor in the decision.

Several prominent members of the hospital community have openly opposed the decision, including Renzo Cecere, president of MUHC’s council of physicians, dentists, and pharmacists; who says many medical services would be compromised by the severance. Fifty Lachine staff members have requested to transfer to other MUHC hospitals in protest of Hébert’s decision. Members of a “Save Our Lachine Hospital Committee” have declared their intentions to contest the decision, including the possibility of a court injunction.