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A tailings pond reflects the Syncrude oilsands mine facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
A tailings pond reflects the Syncrude oilsands mine facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

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Oil sands draw NAFTA challenge, Fed more upbeat Add to ...

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Fed grows more optimistic

The U.S. economic recovery is spreading to most parts of the country. Merchants are seeing better sales and factories are boosting production, but many companies are still wary of ramping up hiring, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.

The Fed's new survey is consistent with Chairman Ben Bernanke's view that a modest recovery is unfolding, although it won't be strong enough to quickly drive down unemployment now at 9.7 per cent.

All of the Fed's 12 regions - except for St. Louis - said "economic activity increased somewhat." That was an improvement from the last Fed survey, released in early March, where nine regions reported modest economic advances. Snowstorms had crimped activity along the East Coast.

In the new survey, the St. Louis region said economic conditions had "softened." That was a downgrade from the previous report when the region reported mixed economic conditions.

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Obama seeks greater oversight over derivatives

U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Democrats' efforts to regulate Wall Street will not result in new public bailouts of banks, as Republicans have charged.

Mr. Obama also said he wants greater federal oversight of derivatives - investment products that contributed to the nation's financial meltdown.

The President met with House and Senate leaders of both parties to discuss legislation revamping regulation of the financial industry. The Senate is beginning to debate the measure amid sharp partisan differences.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who sat two chairs from Mr. Obama in the White House Cabinet Room, delivered a speech earlier Wednesday saying the administration-backed bill would perpetuate bailouts for Wall Street rather than end them.

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Greens launch NAFTA action over oil sands

Environmental groups launched a complaint against Canada under the North American free-trade agreement on Wednesday, saying the country has failed to enforce anti-pollution rules governing its vast oil sands.

In the latest move in a long-running campaign to highlight the impact of oil sands development, the submission by Environmental Defence Canada, Natural Resources Defense Council and three citizens charges that toxic tailings ponds are being allowed to leak and contaminate ground water.

The ponds store residual oil, heavy metals and other byproducts of oil sands processing in Alberta. They are subject to environmental provisions under the federal Fisheries Act, the groups said.

"We're out of options when it comes to trying to get the government to enforce its law," Matt Price, policy director at Environmental Defence Canada, told reporters.

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No unemployment relief in sight

Unemployment rates in the world's developed economies likely will remain high through 2011, suggesting that central banks should keep interest rates low and that governments should be ready to spend on job creation, the International Monetary Fund says.

In an analysis of the global recession on labour markets, the IMF predicts that the average unemployment rate of a group of the 14 rich countries that includes Canada will be around 9 per cent at the end of 2011, compared with about 6 per cent at the end of 2008.

"One legacy of the Great Recession will likely be persistently high unemployment rates in several advanced economies," the IMF report said. "Because high unemployment can quickly become a structural problem, this could lead to serious political and social challenges."

The nature of the global recession explains the persistent unemployment rates.

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Radio advertisers returning, broadcasters say

Advertising budgets that took a beating during the recession are now on the mend, according to Canada's two largest owners of radio stations, Astral Media and Corus Entertainment Inc.

During a call on Wednesday to discuss the company's second-quarter earnings, Corus chief executive officer John Cassaday told investors that he is "quite confident that the ad recession is behind us."

While revenues were down slightly in Corus' radio segment in the three months ended Feb. 28, the declines were milder than they have been. The segment was down 4 per cent in revenues, compared to a 6-per-cent decline in the first quarter. Corus owns 50 radio stations across the country as well as specialty television channels.

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