Good news, bad news: June 1-7, 2012

Cross-border shoppers, restored rats, Mark Zuckerberg on honeymoon

Good news

Good news, bad news

Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Duty calls

Increased duty-free exemptions kicked in last week for cross-border shoppers (up to $800 for longer visits). They couldn’t have come at a better time. The price gap between U.S. and Canadian goods—up to 15 per cent in some cases—has not disappeared despite the continued strength of the loonie. Retailers have made numerous excuses for higher Canadian prices, from label requirements to import taxes. None hold water. Canada is a big and competitive market close to the U.S. border. The new rules should serve as a wake-up call to retailers, and shoppers should take advantage.

Union busting

Ottawa won a court appeal to block RCMP members from forming a union. Unions are useful tools to protect workers’ rights, but this is hardly a group in need of more protection. Given the long list of complaints the Mounties have faced (most recently accusations of sexual harassment in B.C.), it looks like an agency still in need of shaking up. The RCMP needs employees—and that includes management as much as anyone—who can be easily disciplined if found to be not living up to the high standards the red serge once represented.

United they stand

There could yet be a light at the end of the tunnel for Europe in its increasingly urgent financial crisis. Euro leaders are considering tools that would strengthen the union by shoring up the banking sector and spreading risk, including a banking union and euro bonds. Germany has been hostile to such ideas, but hinted this week it is open to talks if other countries consider measures for more central control of national budgets and banks. Europe still has major troubles, but at least its leaders haven’t given up.

The rat race

Scientists in Switzerland have made paralyzed rats walk and even run again, offering hope that similar treatment with electric stimulation could be used in humans. In another breakthrough, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will allow the testing of promising breast cancer drugs on women with early stages of the disease, not just gravely ill patients. The earlier the treatment begins, say researchers, the better chances of curing the disease.

Bad news

Good news, bad news

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

The blame game

In his first speech in months, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed last month’s Houla massacre, which killed 108 people (nearly half of them children), on terrorists and foreigners. He denied his government played any role. But neither his opponents, nor the United Nations, are buying that, citing evidence that government-backed militias played a role in the attacks, as they have throughout the 15-month crisis resulting in more than 10,000 deaths. Assad’s speech is yet another disappointing attempt by the Syrian leader to hide from atrocities being committed under his watch.

Count your blessings

These are tough times for the Canadian worker and the manufacturing sector. General Motors said it is closing a production line in Oshawa, laying off as many as 2,000 workers. Bombardier Recreational Products is shifting 425 jobs to Mexico from its home base in Valcourt, Que. It’s a good thing we have the oil sands to keep driving the economy forward, despite what some pandering, misinformed politicians might say. Without them, we’d all be in deep trouble.


The embarrassment continues for Facebook. Its stock remains stuck way below its IPO offering price. The site crashed for many users for about 80 minutes last week. Meanwhile, founder Mark Zuckerberg has been dogged by reports that he’s a bad tipper. On his honeymoon in Italy, he didn’t leave a tip on a $40 meal of ravioli and sea bass, said one Italian publication. Maybe he could take a tip from the anonymous couple at a restaurant in Houston, who left their waiter $5,000 to buy a new car after learning his had been destroyed in a thunderstorm.

A beautiful shame

Pro soccer is catching on in North America, which is great. But some Major League Soccer teams sure aren’t making it easy to fall in love with the game. Toronto FC lost nine games this season before finally scratching out a 1-0 win last weekend against Philadelphia. That’s not the worst of it. The Portland Timbers had what a local paper called “the most embarrassing and lowest moment in franchise history,” losing 1-0 to an amateur adult team in front 5,500 “highly agitated” fans.

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