Good news, bad news: Sept. 29-Oct. 6

The Conservatives move to cut per-vote subsidy at the same time as federal officials come under fire for misusing government jets.

Good news

Good news

Brighton, England basks in a fall heat wave with highs of nearly 30° C. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Flying on their own

Their motives may not be pure, but the governing Conservatives took a step in the right direction this week with legislation to wean federal parties from their $27 million worth of annual subsidies. Yes, the Tories reap more than their rivals from grassroots fundraising, so the change will likely serve them best. But parties should be creatures of the body politic, not the government, and subsidies help entrench those that cannot persuade individual Canadians to write them cheques. The opposition parties now have a four-year phase-out period before their subsidies disappear—ample time to convince voters their causes are worth bankrolling. They may find it a useful exercise.

Economic drivers

Automakers remain an engine of the North American economy, so we’re cheered to hear the Big Three enjoyed healthy sales jumps in September, despite swooning markets and fears of a double-dip recession. Chrysler Group LLC led the way with a 27 per cent gain in U.S. sales, while GM and Ford saw sales rise 20 per cent and nine per cent, respectively. We use the term “healthy” advisedly: more car purchases mean higher levels of consumer debt. Still, if we’re going to spend, better we spend in support of our own struggling manufacturing sector. Long may it last. Dead, but not forgiven.

Unlike the 11 children he brutally murdered, Clifford Olson died peacefully in a Quebec hospital room, the victim of cancer. But for the families he forever shattered, word of the serial killer’s demise—however comfortable—was welcome news. “There’s a weight lifted off of my shoulders, a 30-year weight,” said the mother of one of Olson’s victims. Funeral arrangements for the so-called “Beast of B.C.” have yet to be announced, but one thing is certain: the eulogy will be short.

On thin air

A Princeton graduate student has designed a mini magic carpet of sorts, à la Aladdin. Noah Jafferis has already conducted successful lab tests on the four-inch device, a piece of conductive plastic that operates on “ripple power” (waves of electrical current driving thin pockets of air from front to back underneath it). As of press time, researchers were still looking for a genie in the bottle.

Bad news

Bad news

A truck bomb at a government compound in Somalia killed 65 people. (Omar Faruk/Reuters)

In the clouds

The defence minister spent his week on the defensive. Already under fire for using a search-and-rescue helicopter as his ride home from a fishing vacation—a ride that cost taxpayers $16,000—Peter MacKay is now facing questions about his use of the government’s Challenger jets. The minister has racked up nearly $3 million worth of VIP flights since 2008, and most of those excursions were for press conferences or political announcements. Flying to CFB Trenton for the repatriation of a dead Canadian soldier is a valid reason for boarding a Challenger; flying home for a “Lobster Carnival” is certainly not.

Posthumous honour

A Canadian winning a Nobel Prize is normally cause for national celebration. But this year’s award for medicine came with a tragic twist: Ralph Steinman, a Montreal-born immunologist, died of pancreatic cancer three days before the announcement. The Nobel Committee was initially flustered (its rules state the prizes are for the living) but quickly decided to make an exception. Steinman’s 1973 discovery of the dendritic cell helped change our understanding of the body’s immune system. And it led to advances in cancer treatment, including the very therapy he was receiving until his untimely death.

Stay out of our kitchens

The war on obesity has produced some fatheaded ideas. The latest example comes compliments of Denmark, where the government has imposed the world’s first-ever “fat tax” on foods such as butter and oil in the hopes of curbing unhealthy eating habits. Our suggestion for leaner waistlines? Ban all desks from the office. A separate study has found that the more you sit on the job, the higher your risk of premature death—no matter how much you exercise.

Sobering statistics

According to a troubling new report, more than half of Grade 12 students in Canada admit that they drank at least five alcoholic beverages in one sitting over the past month, and up to 20 per cent confess to getting behind the wheel after downing two or more drinks. The good news? Australian researchers say they are in the final stages of developing a “stay sober” pill that counters the intoxicating effects of booze.

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