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Bank of Canada named Canadian Press’ Business Newsmaker for 2015 OTTAWA – As 2015 began, Stephen Poloz commanded a central bank amid an economy finally showing signs of broad recovery — to the point many predicted he would, before long, boost the long-frozen benchmark interest rate. But just three weeks into the fresh year, the Bank of Canada governor spotted an approaching threat: plummeting world oil prices. READ MORE: Canadians still paying up at the pump despite drop in oil prices That’s when Poloz dropped a bombshell on the cautious economic optimism. He cut the bank’s trend-setting rate, blindsiding financial markets. Poloz defended the stunner as a shield to blunt the “unambiguously negative” effects of the price slide on the oil-exporting country. The governor has been voted Canada’s 2015 Business Newsmaker of the Year in the annual poll of the country’s newsrooms by . Poloz was the choice of senior business journalists because of his work throughout a turbulent year. He spent 2015 analyzing an economy walloped by low crude prices, pushed into technical recession and, eventually, subjected to another drop in the overnight rate. “It’s not often, if ever, that a central banker catches the market completely off guard with interest-rate policy, but that’s precisely what Stephen Poloz did,” wrote Business News Network anchor Greg Bonnell in explaining his vote for Poloz. “While many questioned why the governor felt it necessary to take out that ‘insurance,’ two back-to-back quarters of negative growth for the Canadian economy made his January move look very prescient.” Even Poloz himself admits he was surprised by the developments 12 months ago. “In a nutshell, it was a challenging year, of course, because we started off with a shock of great size,” Poloz said earlier this month when asked about the past year. “And not only was it a big shock … it is the most complex type of shock that an economist can face.” He recalled that last December, the bank was only just starting to see the oil-price plunge for what it was. Just a couple of months before that, “there was almost no sign of it,” Poloz added. “It was just a little soft, but it looked like it would be temporary,” he said of conditions in the fall 2014, when crude prices started their free fall. READ: ‘The plunging loonie is juicing food costs’ Up until January, the central bank had been expecting Canadian growth to accelerate along with the anticipated momentum in the U.S. economy, he said. When the U.S. pick-up failed to materialize, Canada’s early 2015 picture dimmed to the point that it prompted Poloz to utter an eyebrow-raising adjective that seized headlines and would hound him for months. Poloz told the Financial Times in a March interview that the oil slump would make Canada’s first-quarter data look “atrocious.” He was later forced to explain his use of the remark to a parliamentary committee, where he said it was “certainly not our intent to surprise or to frighten people.” But the early 2015 numbers were indeed dreadful. The economy shrunk over the first and second quarters of the year. By definition, two straight quarters of contraction is a technical recession. Poloz responded to the ugly situation — mostly blamed on the oil-shock fallout and the grim global economy — by chopping the key rate a second time to the 0.5-per-cent mark where it stands today. “No other business figure has both captured headlines and had a greater impact on Canada’s economy like Poloz has — for better, or for worse,” wrote Maclean’s business editor Jason Kirby. In selecting Poloz, Daniel Tencer from the Huffington Post Canada said Poloz’s decisions this year will have more impact on a larger number of Canadians than any other business leaders. Tencer also pointed to the potentially risky consequence of Poloz’s rate-slashing actions: encouraging Canadians to amass more debt. “His decisions to cut rates twice this year, propping up the housing market but sending consumer debt to new heights, are at the heart of the questions so many Canadians are asking: ‘Have we taken on too much debt? Is the housing market about to come down?’” Tencer wrote. “Only time will tell if Poloz’s policies helped Canada through hard times, or pushed the country right into a deleveraging shock.” While Poloz acknowledges Canada’s vulnerability has edged up along with the country’s mounting household debt, he still believes it’s unlikely the boost in borrowing will have major, negative repercussions. Poloz, who took over the governor’s office from Mark Carney in June 2013, has also said he’s satisfied with the rate cuts. He noted they are still working their way through the system. “I’m very happy with the way our own staff managed to stick-handle through that to figure out what would happen,” Poloz said of the bank’s evaluation and response to the oil slump. “But in the end, it still leaves us with another year, if you like, in the serial disappointment series … It’s definitely delayed that progress that we’d been watching for.” Looking ahead, he still predicts that Canada remains on track for that elusive economic turnaround. “We do think that the positives will be dominant in 2016.”

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Recent snowfall in Winnipeg could help save endangered butterfly species WINNIPEG – Scientists are hoping Manitoba’s recent heavy snowfall could hold off what they feared might be the final blow to one of Canada’s most endangered animals. Last week’s dump that left 19 centimetres of white stuff on the southern grasslands may have provided enough of a fluffy blanket for the poweshiek skipperling butterfly to get through the winter. “That definitely alleviates some of the stress,” said Cary Hamel of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “That snow is one of the major reasons they can survive over our very harsh winters. Without it, we’re nervous.” READ MORE: Mexico’s monarch butterfly reserve lost 24 acres to logging this year Skipperlings — an unassuming, orange-and-brown butterfly the size of a loonie — once fluttered widely over the tallgrass prairie of southern Manitoba and the central United States. It was so common that surveyors wouldn’t bother to count it as they tracked the fate of other butterflies. Then, something happened. “Since 2001, it’s just been blinking out at site after site after site,” said Hamel. “Five, six, seven years later they still haven’t seen it. And in some of the sites where they’re hanging on, they’re only seeing one or two or three or 10.” A survey this year found only about three dozen adult skipperlings in Manitoba, and not so very many more in the U.S. What’s going on? “We don’t know,” Hamel said. “Lots of people are working on the sites where they’re still hanging on, trying to figure out what the commonalities are and what’s going on with the sites where they’ve disappeared.” Despite its former abundance, little is known about the skipperling. “We know that it only exists in high-quality native tallgrass prairie,” Hamel said. “We know it really likes black-eyed Susans.” READ MORE: Ontario government seeks to reduce pesticide use by 80 per cent by 2017 Scientists do know that skipperlings spend the winter as caterpillars, huddled among grass stems and leaf trash on the prairie floor. Snow is thought to be their only protection against cold temperatures and dry winds. Hamel acknowledges experts may be wrong about the skipperling’s need for a blanket of white. But given how many other bugs survive the winter that way, it seems likely. Until a few days ago, that blanket was thin and patchy. The lucky snowfall is a reminder of how precarious is the skipperling’s hold on life. Skipperlings have been around a long time and have seen dry winters before. But Hamel said their low numbers and the distance between their sites have made them so vulnerable that one catastrophic event could wipe them out. “If none make it through the winter, that’s it. They’re gone from the site. “Every one of these caterpillars counts now. And we need them all.” Skipperlings aren’t the most dramatic or showy of butterfly species. They’re only around for a few weeks in the summer. “From a distance, they don’t look like much. But when you do get close, they have some interesting white stripes on the outside of their wings. And they’re kind of fuzzy and almost a little bit cute.” In addition to their other roles in the ecosystem, they’re important pollinators for prairie plants. “They’re really amazing creatures that we’re just starting to understand,” Hamel said.

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Obama and Trudeau off to a good start: US ambassador U.S. president Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seem to have hit it off on a personal level as one leader prepares to bid farewell to the top job and the other settles into it, says American ambassador Bruce Heyman. In an interview with The West Block’s Tom Clark, Heyman said his observations of the pair have been very positive so far. “I saw the president a couple of weeks ago and I had the opportunity to talk to him about the prime minister,” the ambassador said. “(He’s) very excited about having the prime minister and his wife come to Washington in the New Year, and very excited about the relationship. He did comment on the youthfulness of the prime minister, and we joked a little bit about the comments of the grey hair which the president has.” Heyman was careful to point out that Canada and the U.S. made great strides on trade, defence and cultural exchange during the tenure of former prime minister Stephen Harper. Observers have pointed out that Harper and Obama’s personal relationship did not seem as strong in later years, however. Heyman said that he sees a set list of priorities for the Canada-U.S. relationship in the coming years. “One is trade…the second is energy and the environment. The third is continuing our cultural exchanges. The fourth tackling shared values internationally. And the fifth is always working on enhancing the border.” The ambassador acknowledged that Americans are extremely concerned about security at the moment, and anxiety over welcoming Syrian refugees to the U.S. remains very high. Canada’s own approach to the refugee crisis has been very different, with 25,000 newcomers expected over the coming months. “I commend the prime minister of his efforts on being a leader in demonstrating leadership with humanitarian efforts, and he’s being recognized globally for that,” Heyman said. “We always have to find a balance. The balance between security and then free trade and travel at our border.”

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How will the Paris climate change deal affect you? The signing of a major climate change agreement this month in Paris is a step forward on a macro-level for nations around the world attempting to mitigate the effects of carbon emissions, but what does it mean for the average person? Will Canadians be driving electric cars more frequently? Will they fly less, and eat more locally-produced food? Will their houses be more energy efficient, or smaller? Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says it’s clear there will be shifts as Canada works to cut emissions. “I think obviously there will be changes. We always hear ‘change in the way we do things.’ There are some really good opportunities when we look at energy efficiency of buildings, so looking at how we build in a more sustainable way and we see that even in reducing costs.” In an interview with the West Block’s Tom Clark, McKenna stayed largely focused on the macro level, however, talking about how Canadian provinces and territories will work with Ottawa to put a price on carbon and how all governments – and private sector actors – must pour money into clean technologies and renewable energy. “We talked about eliminating the subsidies for fossil fuels,” McKenna added. “That sends a clear signal that we need to be thinking about how are moving to a more sustainable future.” The minister would not say, however, if the elimination of those subsidies would be included in the next federal budget, stating that Canada must move forward “thoughtfully” to avoid major economic disruption. “We’re going to think about how do we do this in a way that will absolutely reduce emissions, but in a way that makes sure we’re looking at creating jobs and we’re creating opportunities for amazing companies out there,” she said. “We have very ingenious Canadian companies that I know that are moving in this direction.”

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Stéphane Dion: Soldiers not in Iraq to fight Canada’s minister of foreign affairs says he is “proud” of the work Canadian soldiers did last week during a firefight against the so-called Islamic State, but that the men and women on the ground in the region are not there to engage in combat. In an interview with the West Block’s Tom Clark this weekend, Stéphane Dion acknowledged that his party opposed combat troops on the ground in Northern Iraq when the Conservatives were in power, and that has not changed. “They are not in combat, but … there are situations where you have no other choice,” Dion explained. Canada’s military says that several of the 69 Canadian trainers currently deployed in Iraq, along with hundreds of local troops, came under fire from approximately 500 IS fighters near Mosul last week. They fired back and managed to hold the line. “I feel proud. I think our men and women in uniform are very courageous, very professional, doing a great job,” Dion said. “(The mission) is to, for now, have the airstrikes and to help the national troops to be prepared to fight.” The Liberal government’s revamped plan for Canada’s role in the fight against IS is coming soon, the minister re-iterated. Dion clarified that the plan for the end to the bombing mission will likely be announced in the coming weeks, but that the bombing itself may continue beyond that, as the plan will take time to implement. Saudi Arabian involvement Dion was also asked by Clark to clarify Canada’s position on Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world that has been accused of helping to support the so-called Islamic State. “There is no indication that they are supporting the Islamic State,” Dion said, adding that he is engaged in talks with Saudi officials on human rights and the fate of blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to be flogged. “We are questioning them of course, but we don’t consider them as an ally of the Islamic State.”

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