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Harper, Conservatives in harmony for the holidays

Emergency crews clear a 15-vehicle pile-up near Woodstock, Ontario, on Wednesday after three days of snow squalls.

Associated Press

Emergency crews clear a 15-vehicle pile-up near Woodstock, Ontario, on Wednesday after three days of snow squalls.

Canada's normally staid Prime Minister Stephen Harper has turned a little rock 'n' roll.

Parliament Hill moved and grooved as the reserved leader ditched his suit and tie for a black shirt and casual attire to take the stage as a wannabe rock star at the Conservative's Christmas party.

Members of Parliament and staff cheered and whistled as Harper and a four-piece band, Herringbone, belted out five songs, including Jumpin' Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones.

With an electric piano, they launched into Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline followed by I'm On My Way by the Scottish band the Proclaimers.

He then performed The Seeker by the Who and Share the Land by Canada's Guess Who.

Noting it was the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death, Harper played a few chords of Imagine and said the former Beatle was "the most important person in rock."

The half-hour surprise concert followed last year's performance at the National Arts Center when Harper performed the Beatles' song With A Little Help from My Friends.

Plows and power out as snow hits hard

Wintry weather arrived with a flurry of activity and a vengeance in eastern Canada, with some areas of Ontario buried under three feet of snow.

Hardest hit by the several days of snow squalls blowing off Lake Huron and Georgian Bay were London and north of Toronto to Barrie in Ontario. Other cities, such as Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto had only a few inches of snow.

"Every time we get ahead of it . . . we get hit again," said London Mayor Joe Fontana.

Quebec had 1,000 snow plows on the roads while in New Brunswick, power was cut to 1,100 customers in 80 areas of the province for part of a day.

News in brief

• Concerns over the world debt crisis and weaker Canadian exports prompted the Bank of Canada to keep interest rates steady. Canadian economic growth is slower than expected and risks to the global recovery have increased, the central bank indicated in keeping the key rate at 1 percent. A further strengthening of the dollar to above parity with the U.S. currency could cause interest rates to fall again, economists predict.

• The Ontario government's decision to secretly invoke an obscure war measures law giving police extreme powers to detain, search and arrest people during the G20 Summit in Toronto was likely unconstitutional and unnecessary, provincial ombudsman Andre Marin said. In effect, city residents were placed under martial law, he added. Opposition politicians want a public inquiry into complaints of inappropriate police actions during the June gathering of world leaders.

Facts and figures

The Canadian dollar continues near parity with the U.S. dollar at 99.08 U.S. cents on Friday. The U.S. greenback returns $1.0093 Canadian before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is steady at 1 percent while the prime lending rate is 3 percent.

Stock markets continue higher, with the Toronto exchange index at 13,243 points and the TSX Venture Exchange 2,124 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 1, 6, 7, 8, 22,d 46; bonus 17. (Dec. 4) 9, 12, 16, 24, 25, 38; bonus 31. Lotto Max: (Dec. 3) 1, 10, 13, 26, 43, 46, 49; bonus 31.

Regional briefs

• A proposal to increase university and college tuition fees in Quebec led to a protest by thousands of people. Fees are currently $2,400 a year, the lowest in Canada, for a university education. The Quebec government lifted a longstanding freeze on tuition to allow a $500 a year increase by 2012. Universities are seeking a $1,500 annual tuition hike to cover rising costs.

• Many critics said it was inappropriate that flamboyant and outspoken Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry assisted when Rob Ford became mayor of Toronto. Wearing a flashy pink blazer, the brash Hockey Night in Canada commentator accepted Ford's invitation to hang the chain of office around his neck. To the critics, Cherry said: "I say he is going to be the greatest mayor this city has ever, ever seen as far as I'm concerned and put that in your pipe you left-wing kooks."

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

Harper, Conservatives in harmony for the holidays 12/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 11, 2010 3:31am]
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