What Happened This Week in Canada?

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2011 short-form census may skew language data

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to replace Canada’s mandatory long-form census with a voluntary survey may have skewed new language data derived from the 2011 short-form census.

Last week, Statistics Canada languages expert Jean-Pierre Corbeil analyzed the data, and observed a shift in the established patterns of linguistic change in Canada over past decades. The new data from the 2011 census indicates that between 2006 and 2011, the number of Canadians who speak neither of the country’s two official languages at home increased by 100,000. However, during that five-year period, more than 1.2 million immigrants moved to Canada.

Meanwhile, the number of people claiming to speak English or French, in addition to another language at home, grew by more than a million. According to the Globe and Mail, this discrepancy may result from the omission of questions regarding place of birth, citizenship, and immigrant status in the 2011 short-form census.

These new numbers may make it difficult to assess Canada’s linguistic development and to measure change in the country. Experts have warned that these data shifts will grow more complicated once Statistics Canada receives results from the voluntary survey next year.

Donation to Alberta’s conservative party receives criticism

Alberta’s official opposition party, the Wildrose Party, has called on the province’s Chief Electoral Officer, Brian Fjeldheim, to launch an investigation into the provincial Conservative Party’s 2012 election campaign finances.

According to the Globe and Mail, Edmonton billionaire and Oilers owner Daryl Katz gave the governing Conservatives a single-cheque donation for $430,000 in April. Alberta permits donations of no more than $30,000 to a political party during an election.

“The limits we have in place are designed to ensure nobody can exert undue influence … on those elected to government,” Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith wrote to Fjeldheim in a letter dated Oct. 25. “Their proper enforcement is essential to the health of democracy in Alberta.”

Further complicating matters is Katz’s role in the proposed construction of a $450-million hockey arena in Edmonton, as the NDP has accused Katz of buying the Conservative Party’s support. However, Alberta Premier Alison Redford has long opposed directly funding the project.

In response to calls for an investigation, Redford’s government has announced it will co-operate with an Elections Alberta investigation of the matter.

STM 2013 budget includes fee increases

This past Friday, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) tabled its 2013 budget, which outlined increases in transportation fees for Montreal commuters. This will be the 13th consecutive fee hike since Mayor Gérald Tremblay took office in 2002.

The cost of an STM monthly pass will rise from $75.50 to $77.75, and the reduced monthly pass will increase from $43.75 to $45.50. However, the price of a single fare—currently $3—will not be altered.

According to the Montreal Gazette, STM Vice-Chair Marvin Rotrand said the fee increases will help offset the cost of over 100,000 additional hours of bus service in 2013, which will assist STM in reaching its goal of increasing ridership to 540 million by 2020—up from 405 million in 2011.

Municipal opposition parties have criticized the proposed price increases, arguing that they will not result in improvements in transportation, despite Rotrand’s claims.

Nova scotia questions race-specific elections

Non-African Nova Scotians are facing blame for allegedly defrauding the regional election of an African-Nova Scotian school board representative in the southwest of the province. As a result, the province has begun to re-evaluate the logistics of holding race-specific elections.

Nova Scotia has reserved political seats for minority groups since 1991, and is unique among the Canadian provinces for doing so. In Saturday’s election, citizens of African descent, or parents of children who are of African descent, were permitted to vote.

This past Saturday, 920 people voted in the election—a number, according to the losing candidate, Michael Alden Fells, that is almost larger than the population of eligible African-Nova Scotian voters in the region. According to the National Post, there are currently “no checks in place to prevent ineligible voters from casting a ballot.”

The current provincial NDP government released plans to end race-specific elections back in January.

Canada suspends flu shots

Health Canada has decided to suspend the distribution of Novartis flu vaccines across the country, following the pharmaceutical company’s discovery of tiny groups of viral proteins in several batches of vaccines produced at its plant in Italy.

All the flu vaccines purchased by Canada from Novartis—which are sold in the country as Fluad and Agriflu—come from the Italian production facility. Health Canada will launch an investigation into the situation, and has told doctors and clinics to stop administering Novartis flu shots in the meantime.

Although Novartis has agreed to hold off on the distribution of its vaccines while Health Canada carries out its investigation, the company is confident that its products are safe, having passed quality inspections.

“The aggregation of these proteins is not unusual in vaccines manufacturing,” the company said in their official statement.

Germany, Italy, and Switzerland have also suspended the distribution of Novartis products; however, no cases of illness linked to the vaccine have been reported in Europe to date.