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Tim Hortons strikes plan Canada's coffee and doughnut king is moving forcefully on the animal welfare front.

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Tim Hortons Inc. said today it wants its pork and egg suppliers to end what are known as gestation stalls for sows and provide better conditions for hens.

The Canadian icon demanded pork suppliers present their plans to the chain by the end of the year to phase out gestation stalls, basically small pens to house pregnant pigs. Those suppliers with "clearly documented plans" will be given preferred sourcing, the company said.

Tim Hortons also established an internal goal of buying at 10 per cent of its eggs - that would account for more than 10 million - from suppliers with better housing systems. So-called enriched systems are meant to provide a more natural environment.

"Currently, the egg and pork industries do not have enough hens in enriched housing or sows not housed in gestation stalls to meet the restaurant industry's needs on a viable scale," the company said.

"Most hens and sows are not housed in these systems. It is estimated that 97 per cent of egg-laying hens in North America are housed in non-enriched cages. It is estimated that more than 70 per cent of breeding sows in the U.S. are housed in gestation crates, while estimates are unknown for Canada as the pork industry has been downsizing over the last number of years."

Tim Hortons, which boasts more than 4,000 outlets, also said it plans to commission scientific research on "sustainable, humane animal housing systems" and to propose a North American summit for the restaurant industry.

"Striking a balanced, realistic solution for the farming community, which will need to make significant investments in new buildings, is also essential, and we fully recognize this will take time," said chief executive officer Paul House.

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The moves comes several days before the company's May 10 annual meeting, and The Humane Society of the United States has proposed that the board report on just how feasible it would be to completely phase out buying from certain pork and egg suppliers by 2015.

The board is recommending shareholders vote against that, taking its own steps instead.

U.S. labour market still struggling The U.S. labour market appears to have firmly settled back into the doldrums, with weak growth for the second month in a row.

The U.S. economy created just 115,000 jobs in April, well below what was expected and a sign that America's jobs crisis isn't easing in any meaningful way.

There was one good sign, though, as the U.S. Labor Department revised its March reading to show more jobs created than initially reported.

"Pessimists will see today's number as a clear signal that U.S. growth is slowing, and some will even see it as signs of a renewed downturn," said senior economist James Marple of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

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"However, the pace of job growth with revisions is actually more consistent with the growth we're seeing in the economy. Given economic growth of 2.2 per cent, the +250,000 job growth in January and February was the real anomaly."

The unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 per cent, but that was due to hundreds of thousands of people giving up searching for work, which means they're no longer counted.

"Once again the unemployment rate surprised, but not for the right reasons," said Mr. Marple.

"Particularly disappointing, the participation rate of core working-age people 25-54 fell back to its lows in October and November of last year. If the participation rate of core working age people does not rebound it will mark a permanent decline in U.S. economic potential. However, if it does rebound, it will make further declines in the unemployment rate harder to come by."

All of the U.S. growth is coming from the private sector, which pumped out 130,000 jobs, while governments continued to cut.

The numbers are, of course, key in this election year.

As Justin Wolfers, a prominent U.S. economist, put it, President Barack Obama can boast that private payrolls now top the level they were at when he was elected, while the jobless rate is the lowest since January 2009.

Black released Conrad Black, one of Canada's leading business figures before his conviction on charges of fraud and obstruction of justice, was released today from a Florida prison, The Globe and Mail's Renata D'Aliesio reports from Miami.

U.S. Immigration and Customs spokesman Nestor Yglesias said Lord Black was taken into immigration custody, but he could not reveal where he is or whether he is still in Florida. An immigration detainer was placed on the former chief of Hollinger.

It was expected that he was going to be driven to a detention centre and booked for deportation. If Lord Black is deported, he faces a 10-year ban on returning to the United States.

Immigration and prison officials have revealed few details, citing privacy laws and security policies.

Now, it's the people's turn Investors will wake up Monday to new political realities in Europe that could spark fresh market turmoil.

The key votes are in France, where Socialist hopeful François Hollande appears to lead Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential run-off, and in Greece, which has been run by technocrats after the collapse of the former government.

There are other, less important votes Sunday, but the bottom line is that the people now have their say after the protests, strikes and riots that have besieged some regions. The elections come amid crippling levels of unemployment in some countries, notably Greece, and an onslaught of weak economic data.

Some of the results are priced in, as it were, but much depends on the final outcome and what the victors may say or do where Europe's austerity drive and fiscal compact are concerned. To date, remember, Mr. Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel have been known as the "Merkozy" force behind Europe's austerity measures.

British markets are closed Monday for a bank holiday, but the results promise to play out elsewhere.

"This weekend will be a perfect political storm in Europe," said senior currency strategist Elsa Lignos of RBC in London.

"The French will choose their next president (likely to be Hollande barring big surprises)," she said in a research note today.

"The Greeks will vote in a new government. Local elections in Italy will be the first political test for the parties supporting the technocratic government (and could be an opportunity for a protest vote) and German regional elections will also take place in the small state of Schleswig-Holstein. Much of the popular focus has been on France but a Hollande victory should already be in the price. The Greek election has the most potential for disruption as the outcome is far from clear."

Indeed, Greece could see no clear majority, meaning a coalition government or some other outcome.

"Electoral uncertainty from events in Greece could well impact on markets, especially if there needs to be a second election," said senior analyst Michael Hewson of CMC Markets in London.

"The French election outcome will need to see some bridge building between Merkel and Hollande especially if the result plays out as expected," he said. "Europe needs to see Germany and France on the same page in terms of political responses to the current crisis. A quick agreement on objectives especially with respect to the fiscal compact between the two would go some way to calming market concerns of discord between them."

Air Canada loss widens Canada's biggest airline posted a hefty first-quarter loss today, stung by high energy prices, labour disputes, and a hit from the collapse of maintenance firm Aveos.

Air Canada lost $210-million, or 76 cents a share in the quarter, compared to $19-million or 7 cents a year earlier.

"The quarter was marked by a challenging environment, with persistently high fuel prices and volatility which resulted in a significant increase in fuel expense of $147-million, or 20 per cent, from the previous year's quarter," said chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu.

"In addition, our operations were disrupted by job action by a number of unionized employees, which resulted in a decline in bookings for travel originating in Canada in the immediate aftermath of these incidents. Since then, we have seen an improvement in advance booking trends. We remained focused on maintaining strong liquidity levels and the ongoing implementation of cost reduction initiatives, primarily through improved business processes."

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