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1. How Jim Flaherty says he will get us to a balanced budget in three easy steps: (1) When the stimulus spending ends in 2011, the government will be able to cut the deficit in half, Mr. Flaherty said yesterday on CTV's Question Period. The deficit is projected to reach $56-billion this fiscal year. (2) He will cut program spending: "If we have to, we can reduce the rate of growth in program spending, which is very substantial," he said. "I'm sure my colleagues are going to get tired of hearing me say 'no.' But I've already started to say 'no.' We'll have no new large spending programs in the budget next year." (3) He says the budget will be about $300 billion. About $100 billion of that is program spending: 2,500 federal government programs. "… surely we can find some savings in there, particularly in terms of the rate of growth." And he says he will do all this without having to raise taxes or cut transfers to the provinces. Is he dreaming? Or will he be able to deliver? We shall soon see. The Finance Minister is preparing the federal budget, which is to be delivered in March.

2. Jack and Olivia. It's been a great year for the NDP leader politically, with lots of wins on the national stage and a new prominence as he and his party take over issues from the Ignatieff Liberals: HST, the environment and pensions. He is also a new grandfather. So what does he do to relax? Mr. Layton told CTV's Question Period that he and his wife, Olivia Chow, a Toronto NDP MP, try to get out of "mobile device range." They read some good books and Ms. Chow gets out her paintbrush and Mr. Layton gets out his harmonica. Meanwhile, it seems that in the UK at least, the most popular baby names are Jack and Olivia. The Bourque Web site, www.bourque.net, is reporting a story from the Guardian newspaper in Britain from September that Jack is the most popular baby boy's name in the UK while Olivia is the most popular girl's name in England and Wales; the second most popular being Ruby. Olivia Chow is, of course, a Toronto NDP MP and Mr. Layton's wife. (Ruby Dhalla is the Liberal MP for Brampton.) An interesting note, according to the story, is that one in three teachers expect children with certain names to be badly behaved before meeting them, with the top three naughtiest boy's names ranking as Callum, Connor and Jack.

3. Airport security. Expect more delays today, especially at Toronto's Pearson airport, which has five times more U.S. traffic than all other airports in the country. All this is the result of the attempted bombing of a U.S. aircraft on Christmas Day. New security restrictions caused airport chaos yesterday but Toronto's Pearson was the worst. Here was the situation yesterday: At 6 p.m. last night, Air Canada had more than 2,000 customers at Terminal 1 waiting to be cleared through security and CATSA (the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) was processing passengers at a rate of fewer than 200 an hour. "As a result of the protracted wait times for our customers at security, Air Canada, along with other air carriers, is being forced to cancel U.S.-bound flights particularly out of Toronto. We hope that this situation is short-lived and that the customers inconvenience is kept to a minimum," said Duncan Dee, executive vice president and COO at Air Canada. At this time, too, nearly 140 flights had been cancelled from the Toronto airport. For example, airline crews waiting to operate flights were reaching their maximum duty day limitations as set by Transport Canada safety regulations. This resulted in flight cancellations even after customers managed to get through security. One flight from Toronto to Orlando was cancelled, according to a source. This is costing airlines thousands and thousands of dollars at a time when they can ill afford the expense. CATSA, which is a Crown corporation, was created by the federal government in 2002 as a result of the 9/11 attacks. It is responsible for the screening security at airports. It reports to Parliament through the Minister of Transport. There has been much criticism of CATSA by airlines for being disorganized and causing unreasonable delays.

 

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