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Harsh weather wallops Canada

Brutal winter weather that closed a major Canada-U.S. highway link for days and flooding described as "beyond imagination" have hammered many parts of Canada.

Highway 402, which connects Port Huron, Mich., with London and Toronto, was closed for three days after 324 cars and trucks became buried in waist-high snow drifts east of Sarnia, Ontario.

Police and the military took stranded motorists to emergency shelters by snowmobiles and helicopters.

There was one death from exposure to the cold, a man leaving his car to walk a short distance to his workplace.

Other areas of Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta had heavy snow while eastern Canada was hit with flooding.

Many communities in southern and western New Brunswick had extensive damage to roads and bridges while some houses had water up to their rooftops. The destruction is "beyond imagination," Premier David Alward said.

Soon, all registers may be penniless

Canadians could be facing a penniless future: The Senate Finance Committee is recommending that the government get rid of the lowly penny.

It costs 1.5 cents to make each penny and with labor, shipping and handling costs, the committee found it could cost as much as 4 cents to make each one.

Production has continued by the Royal Canadian Mint because of "penny hoarders" who keep them in jars or people who throw them away.

It was also determined that spending pennies adds an additional three seconds to every transaction in stores and businesses.

News in brief

• A British Columbia study suggests homeless people should be given controlled access to free beer and alcohol to prevent them from switching to lower-cost alternatives such as hair spray and hand sanitizer. The research also recommended raising alcohol prices in the province, where they are among the lowest in Canada. Tim Stockwell, of the Center for Addictions Research of B.C. and lead researcher in the University of Victoria study, said low prices contribute to some 2,000 alcohol-related deaths and 20,000 hospital admissions in the province each year.

• The Bank of Montreal is making a bigger foray into the U.S. market with the purchase of Wisconsin-based regional lender Marshall & Ilsley Corp. for about $4.1 billion in an all-stock deal. Canada's fourth-largest bank's parent BMO Financial also owns Harris Bank in the United States while M&I is the largest bank in Wisconsin with 374 branches. The deal to close by July will give BMO almost 700 U.S. branches.

Facts and figures

The Canadian dollar drifted lower Friday to 98.88 U.S. cents while the U.S. greenback returned $1.0114 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 are mixed, with the Toronto exchange index down at 13,189 points and the TSX Venture Exchange up at 2,128 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 1, 5, 8, 11, 29, 33; bonus 36. (Dec. 11) 2, 7, 13, 17, 27, 41; bonus 8. Lotto Max: (Dec. 10) 7, 9, 12, 20, 28, 38, 44; bonus 10.

Regional briefs

• Feisty former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein has confirmed that he is suffering from chronic lung disease but said he is enjoying life in political retirement. "I'm not dead yet," Klein, 68, said, adding that he has slowed down and his memory has been affected. The former Calgary mayor and television reporter who had been a heavy smoker for decades resigned as premier in 2006.

• It took six years of studies and deliberation for Canada's National Energy Board to approve a $16 billion natural gas pipeline project to serve North America. The board approval contains 264 conditions aimed at minimizing environmental impacts and safety concerns. The pipeline, if built depending on market demand, would run from the Beaufort Sea to northwestern Alberta.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com.

Harsh weather wallops Canada 12/18/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 17, 2010 7:08pm]

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