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High gas prices put cars in the garage

It's tough to kick a habit, but Canadians appear to be trying to wean themselves, even gradually, off gasoline.

Sales figures indicate people have begun keeping their cars in the garage more often and steering away from gas-guzzling trucks and sport utility vehicles.

"Drivers really did park it — in the face of soaring prices — as I think we reached a bit of a breaking point," said economist Douglas Porter of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

As gasoline prices surged 8.8 percent in May, the volume sold declined significantly — something that hadn't happened at that time of year since the early 1990s, Statistics Canada said.

Automotive consultant Dennis DesRosiers estimates that Canadians will drive about 500 fewer miles a year per vehicle now.

It took the price to reach $1.25 a liter (about $4.75 U.S. a gallon) to make drivers start to reconsider their commuting, driving and buying habits as more money was needed for fuel, analysts said.

Sales of trucks and vans have dropped by as much as 25 percent, DesRosiers said.

Only 751 SUVs were sold nationally last month, less than half of 1 percent of all vehicle sales, he added.

Harper sets test votes for general election

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper will test the waters for a fall general election with three votes to fill vacancies in the House of Commons.

The by-elections on Sept. 8 will be in Quebec's Westmount-Ville Marie in Montreal and nearby Saint-Lambert, and Guelph in Ontario.

The Liberals have held Westmount and Guelph, while the Bloc Quebecois first won the district of Saint-Lambert in 2004.

Results of the votes could prompt Harper to set the date for a general election to seek a majority for his now-minority party, elected in 2006.

News in brief

• A proposal by the European Union to ban the import of products made from seals it considers killed inhumanely could be a blow to Canada's century-old commercial harp seal hunt. The proposed ban needs the backing of the EU's 27 governments and the European Parliament, which have been under increased pressure from animal rights groups and politicians.

• Wireless phone rates in Canada are expected to drop. Government regulators opened up the market by granting new licenses to companies bidding a total of $4.2-billion. Iain Grant of Seaboard Group said existing companies charge too much for their services, especially in growing areas such as data transmission.

Facts and figures

Annual inflation in Canada jumped by 3.1 percent in June, up from 2.2 percent in May, due to gas and food prices. It was the biggest one-month increase since September 2005.

The Canadian dollar was lower at 98.10 cents U.S. on Friday, while the U.S. greenback returned $1.0194 Canadian, before bank exchanges fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is steady at 3 percent, while the prime lending rate is 4.75 percent.

Stock markets are still lower, with Toronto's composite index at 13,307 points and the TSX Venture Exchange at 2,179 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 7, 9, 25, 35, 40, 48; bonus 1. (July 19) 10, 20, 28, 36, 40, 46; bonus 23. Super 7: (July 18) 9, 11, 12, 22, 34, 35, 37; bonus 7.

Regional briefs

• Two men accused in the killing of four Alberta Mounties in March 2005 will be in court Sept. 12 to enter a plea. A trial date is expected to be set then for Shawn Hennessey, 29, and his brother-in-law Dennis Cheeseman, 24, both of Barrhead. Police have not said how they are linked with James Roszko, who killed himself after shooting the Mounties at his farm.

• Southern Ontario has had a soggy summer with record rainfall for the Toronto area. Environment Canada said about 11 inches of rain have fallen compared with 3.5 inches last summer. The agency predicts August will be hot and drier.

• Quebec police have issued more than 1,000 tickets to people using their hand-held cell phones while driving. Hands-free phones are allowed. The law was enacted in April and drivers were given verbal warnings for the first three months. The fine is up to $115. Nova Scotia has a similar law.

• Big Dee-Dee, a "surf and turf" delight topping the scales at 22 pounds, is safe at last. The 100-year-old lobster — owned by Denis Breau of the Big Fish store in Shediac, New Brunswick — will be donated to a marine science aquarium. Breau accepted a $1,000 bid from Laura-Leah Shaw, a Vancouver Realtor, to save Big Dee-Dee. Two Ontario diners bid up to $5,000 to have it for dinner.

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

High gas prices put cars in the garage 07/26/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 27, 2008 7:19pm]
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