More concussions, more fan frustration? We’ll see in 2013

It can be a cruel world on and off the playing field.

So as we unwrap the glittering year that lies ahead, we may find a few lumps of coal left over from 2012 amid the tinsel.

Here’s a look at some possible storylines to watch for in 2013:

No 1: How deeply will the NHL lockout bite at the box office?

There’s no question the lockout has generated a lot of bitterness among fans.

Some have even tried to organize a boycott online over the NHL lockout.

But that’s a hard sell in many Canadian NHL cities, where you pretty well have to inherit season tickets. Even Winnipeg, where the Jets returned in 2011-12, is sold out for years to come with thousands on a waiting list.

That demand is certainly not an issue in places like Tampa and Phoenix, where owners have trouble filling seats at any price.

The NHL could lose goodwill where it already has little.

Which brings us to . . .

No 2: Will more NHL teams move out of the U.S. sunbelt?

The Phoenix Coyotes have been struggling for years, languishing in the desert while the league seems loath to do much to push them out.

Instead, prospective new owners willing to keep them in Phoenix are courted.

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With Quebec City, Hamilton and even Seattle clamouring for a team, will anything change in 2013?

The return of the Winnipeg Jets to Canada made many hopeful more teams would follow but not much has happened since, unless you count the losses the Coyotes continue to accrue.

At this point, any move here would be a big surprise in 2013.

No. 3: Are the Blue Jays going to soar in 2013?

They reloaded big time in 2012 through a mammoth 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins.

Toronto walked away with all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio.

It was startling enough to warrant careful review and commissioner Bud Selig took his time before eventually giving it his blessing.

Toronto also made a deal with the Mets to acquire Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and signed free agent slugger Melky Cabrera.

The Jays did lose manager John Farrell to Boston but had no trouble replacing him with retread John Gibbons. All is forgiven if that pennant flies above Rogers Centre.

No. 4: Dopes and doping

Will professional sports take doping more seriously after the Lance Armstrong scandal?

World doping experts say many pro sports have policies that leave gaping cracks for anyone who wants to use performance-enhancing drugs.

Professional leagues all have their own testing regimes and penalties.

The CFL, for example, has only been testing for a couple of years and in 2012 was expected to test only 35 per cent of players.

The NHL drew jeers in anti-doping circles when commissioner Gary Bettman claimed they had no steroid problem.

No. 5: St-Pierre vs. Silva?

A lucrative Georges St-Pierre-Anderson Silva fight looms on the horizon but first up for GSP is a welterweight title defence against Nick Diaz at UFC 158 in Montreal on March 16.

St-Pierre requested the fight, calling it unfinished business. The bout was supposed to happen in October 2011 but Diaz was yanked from the card by the UFC for blowing off a pair of news conferences.

Delaying the Silva fight may be by design from the St-Pierre camp.

They say they will fight Silva but only if the conditions are right. Plus the longer they wait, the older the 37-year-old Silva gets.

Another subplot for the year will be the emergence of fellow welterweight Rory (Ares) MacDonald, who trains with GSP at Montreal’s Tristar Gym. The two say they won’t fight each other but the 23-year-old MacDonald is rapidly climbing the ladder.

MacDonald fights Carlos Condit – GSP’s last opponent – at UFC 158.

No. 6: Can the Canadian men’s soccer team rebound?

It’s a big year for the Canadian men’s soccer team, which is looking for both respect and results after being bundled out of World Cup qualifying by an 8-1 thrashing in Honduras in October.

That loss cost manager Stephen Hart his job. The Canadian Soccer Association continues its search for a successor and will rely on a caretaker coach for January friendlies against Denmark and the U.S.

Look for Canada to test out young talent as it eyes the next round of World Cup qualifying which starts in 2016.

Canada’s under-17 and under-20 teams will both in action in 2013 in CONCACAF qualifying for their respective world championships.

No. 7: Prepping for another Olympics

This will be a key winter of preparation for Canadian athletes going to the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

It will be as much about testing and tinkering as it will be about reaching the podium.

But they’ll likely have to do it with less money and public support than they had four years ago at this time.

Canada captured 26 medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, including a Winter Games-record 14 gold.

Can Canadian athletes live up to that performance in Sochi?

It won’t be easy.

Much of winter sport’s sponsorship money disappeared when the curtain went down on the hometown Games. The Canadian Olympic Committee has managed to double its support from corporate donations to almost $100 million over four years, but it’s still not clear how all that money will be distributed.

No. 8: CFL expansion

While a new Ottawa franchise won’t debut until 2014, the expansion draft is expected at the end of 2013. It was originally set for 2012 but delays sealing a new stadium deal pushed it back.

Ottawa gets to snatch eight imports and 16 non-imports from the existing eight teams. They also get preferential treatment in the CFL entry drafts.

It will be interesting to see who gets protected and who doesn’t in a league where talented quarterbacks in particular seem scarce.

Meanwhile, dreams of expanding to possibly a 10-team league haven’t progressed very far.

There has been talk, but little more, of teams in Moncton, Halifax or Quebec City. Slow and steady seems to work best for the CFL.

No. 9: Tennis anyone?

Milos Raonic has raised the hopes of Canadian tennis fans, and a Davis Cup tie with No. 1-ranked Spain in Vancouver in February means they won’t have long to wait.

Canada currently sits at No. 12 in Davis Cup team rankings and Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., is personally ranked No. 13.

Home turf provides one advantage and Canada’s odds may increase a little more if No. 4 ranked singles player Rafael Nadal doesn’t play for Spain, which lost the 2012 final to the Czech Republic in November.

Nadal hasn’t seen any action since Wimbledon last June but the top team in the world isn’t a one-man show. David Ferrer is ranked only one spot below Nadal in singles play.

No. 10: The school of hard knocks

Head injuries, concussions in particular, have become big news, particularly in hockey and football.

Sidney Crosby’s long absences from two concussions during the 2011-2012 NHL season helped highlight the problem but there is already plenty of evidence out there.

Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce missed key games with what was billed as a “mild concussion” and won’t discuss just how many he’s had during his career.

Boston University is studying the brains of deceased pro athletes and some leagues are trying to curb hits to the head, but their efforts seem unable to eliminate the problem.

Expect more hand-wringing but anything else seems a longshot.

– With files from Neil Davidson and Lori Ewing.

Observations from covering Sandy Hook School shooting

Flying back from Connecticut after covering the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting story for five days, I realized (again) how lucky I am. I will be able to see my family, enjoy the holiday season and go on with my life. Many of the people in the town I left will not be so fortunate.

We arrived in Connecticut a few hours after 20-year-old Adam Lanza blasted his way into the Sandy Hook school. He’d left his mother’s sprawling home a few kilometres away after pumping four bullets into her skull with a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle.

With a capable weapon, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a motive we may never know, he was about to ruin the lives of kids, their families and a whole community.

In a matter of minutes, 20 first and second-graders would be dead. They were all ages six and seven. They were beautiful, smiling boys and girls, as we saw when their photographs were released to news media and showed up on Facebook pages.

Another six adults, including the school’s principal, psychologist, teachers and staff lay dead. Some died trying to protect the students.

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It’s no surprise this story would be important to news outlets from around the world. At the Hartford airport I met crews from Australia and Houston; Spanish and British journalists were here, too. And the Canadian media, both broadcast and print, came to Sandy Hook in great numbers.

We leased an empty barber shop on Church Hill Road, just 30 metres from the centre of the village, site of the main makeshift memorials.

The ground floor office was all windows; we could see everything in front of us. Police cars, funeral motorcades and people. Lots of people.

They were carrying stuffed bears, bouquets of flowers, printed messages, candles. People peered in on us, too. A few stopped to take our pictures from the other side of the glass.

Outside, streets and parking lots were littered with television trucks. Reporters and camera crews roamed everywhere. The media had taken over this village of 10,000, an affluent community within the town of Newtown.

During my time here, I interviewed two university students who set up a donation table in front of the deli across the street. They were raising money for victims’ families. They were there every day. At their second location, they had raised $500 in the first half hour.

I spoke to a businessman, raising money to build a new school. The Sandy Hook School, he said, should be razed, never to be occupied again.

He made an initial $250 offering, calling the gesture a snowflake in an avalanche. He said if Americans were asked, the money could be raised in 72 hours.

Just after I reported his effort, I started getting emails from Ontario. A retired Toronto teacher, whose own school had been the scene of a shooting, wanted to help in the campaign.

But mostly, I spoke to locals and visitors who just wanted to show they care. Like the 50 something African-American woman who made the 90-minute trip from the Bronx in New York.

I can’t remember the question I asked her before putting the microphone under her chin, but I will never forget her answer or how she gave it.

With tears pouring from her eyes, her voice soft and stable, she spoke: “The babies….the babies….can you imagine what they went through?”

People from far and wide reached out in some way. Like the California man who called the general store and bought coffee for the whole town. It was pretty good coffee and that will be quite a bill. Or the young woman who asked me and my colleague at a store if we wanted a free plastic rain poncho. Her company had donated them. She left a box full with the store cashier and said he could give them away.

By Tuesday, some people wanted the media to leave. I talked to a man carrying a sign with the words: “Media GTFO.” I knew what that meant.

So I stopped to ask him why he was angry. After a few comments about how the media is exploiting the tragedy, he admitted he ‘as irked because the media’s presence had caused traffic delays in town.

Everyone else in Newtown was warm and hospitable. I was thanked by several residents for coming from Canada to cover this tragedy and for caring.

Among news organizations, there wasn’t the typical cut and thrust of competition to beat the next guy on the story. Yes, some organizations like CNN got exclusive interviews with family members; with an estimated 150 staffers on the ground and broadcasting the story morning until night that’s to be expected.
But media in Newtown showed restraint and respect for the boundaries of people who’d gone through a tragedy. If someone said they didn’t want to be interviewed or photographed, we all left them alone.

The enormity of the tragic event didn’t really hit me until the fourth day. I’d just left the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, where the funeral of six-year-old James Mattioli was held.

It was the first of two back-to-back funerals that day. After returning to prepare a report for the noon news, something started to rumble in my stomach.

I stopped to chat with the owner of a golden retriever, one of the many comfort dogs wandering the streets to provide a friendly diversion for anyone wanting one. In telling the story for the newscast that day, it got to me: 20 young children were dead. So were 7 more adults.

This tragedy had really happened. For the families of the victims, it didn’t really matter why Adam Lanza had gone on his shooting spree; all that mattered is that he did. For the families, life would go on. But life would never be the same.

My own parents had to bury a son who died before I was born. I am sure it changed them. How could it not? In this small community, the shared pain of so many families experiencing the same burden of loss will take a long time to heal.

I’d like to go back to the village of Sandy Hook for a visit someday. It’s the kind of place worth stopping to see. A beautiful slice of New England with a lot of heart. And for now, a heavy heart.
 

There’s still time: Obama seeks action to prevent tax hikes, expiration of jobless benefits

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama issued a stern summons to congressional leaders Friday to approve legislation before year’s end to prevent tax increases on millions of middle class Americans and prevent an expiration of long-term unemployment benefits for the jobless.

One day after House anti-tax rebels torpedoed Republican legislation because it would raise rates on million-dollar-earners, Obama said he still wants a bill that requires the well-to-do to pay more. “Everybody’s got to give a little bit in a sensible way” to prevent the economy from pitching over a recession-threatening fiscal cliff, he said.

He spoke after talking by phone with House Speaker John Boehner – architect of the failed House bill – and meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“I still think we can get it done,” Obama said as he struggled to pick up the pieces of weeks of failed negotiations and political manoeuvring.

The president spoke at the end of a day in which stocks tumbled and congressional leaders squabbled as the fiscal cliff drew implacably closer.

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“How we get there, God only knows,” said Boehner at a morning news conference, referring to the increasingly tangled attempts to beat the Jan. 1 deadline and head off the perilous combination of across-the-board tax hikes and deep spending cuts that threaten to send the economy into recession.

There was no immediate response from his office to the president’s remarks.

Obama spoke shortly before a scheduled departure to join his family in Hawaii for Christmas, but in an indication of the importance of the issue, he told reporters he would be returning to the White House next week.

He said that in his negotiations with Boehner, he had offered to meet Republicans halfway when it came to taxes, and “more than halfway” toward their target for spending cuts.

He said he remains committed to working toward a goal of longer-term deficit reduction, but in the meantime he said politics should not prevent action on legislation to keep taxes from rising for tens of millions.

“Averting this middle class tax hike is not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility. With their votes, the American people have decided that government is a shared responsibility,” he said, referring to a Congress where power is divided between the two parties.

“Everybody’s got to live a little bit in a sensible way. We move forward together or we don’t move forward at all,” he added.

Progress was invisible one day after House Republican rebels thwarted Boehner’s plan to prevent tax increases for all but the nation’s million-dollar earners. And while neither House is expected to meet again until after Christmas, officials in both parties said there was still time to prevent the changes from kicking in with the new year.

Yet they pointedly disagreed which side needed to make the first move.

“It’s time for the speaker and all Republicans to return to the negotiating table,” said Senate Democratic leader Reid.

He said that, for now, Boehner should allow a vote on legislation that would block all tax increases except for individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making $250,000 – the position that Obama carried through his successful campaign for re-election.

Reid said it would pass the House with votes from lawmakers from both parties, and, separately, some Democrats said it was possible similar legislation may yet be launched in the Senate.

Moments later, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats had “spent all day yesterday defeating” the legislation in the House – even though Boehner himself said it had been deep-sixed by GOP opposition.

Countering Reid’s offer, McConnell said the Senate should pass legislation extending tax cuts at all income levels and requiring a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code. Beyond that, he said, “”Look: It’s the president’s job to find a solution that can pass Congress. He’s the only one who can do it.”

Rhetoric aside, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 121 points in what analysts said was a reaction to the events in the capital.

The developments marked yet another baffling turn in a week that began with news that Obama and Boehner had significantly narrowed their differences on a plan to erase the cliff. Both were offering a cut in taxes for most Americans, an increase for a relative few and cuts of roughly $1 trillion in spending over a year. Also included was a provision to scale back future cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients – a concession on the president’s part as much as agreeing to higher tax rates was for the House speaker.

GOP officials said some senior Republicans balked at the emerging terms.

Boehner stepped back and announced what he called Plan B, legislation to let tax rates rise on incomes of $1 million or more while preventing increases for all other taxpayers.

Despite statements of confidence, he and his lieutenants decided late Thursday they were not going to be able to secure the votes needed to pass the measure in the face of opposition from conservatives unwilling to violate decades-old party orthodoxy never to raise tax rates.

Officials said as many as two dozen rank-and-file Republicans had made it clear they would oppose the bill, more than enough to send it to defeat given unanimous Democratic opposition.

At his Friday morning news conference several hours later, Boehner dismissed suggestions that he was concerned the turn of events could cost him his speakership.

“No, I am not,” he said.

“While we may have not been able to get the votes last night to avert 99.81 per cent of the tax increases, I don’t think – they weren’t taking that out on me,” Boehner said of the Republican rank and file. “They were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes.”

Boehner also said that last Monday he had told Obama he had submitted his bottom line proposal.

“The president told me that his numbers – the $1.3 trillion in new revenues, $850 billion in spending cuts – was his bottom line, that he couldn’t go any further.”

That contradicted remarks by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who said on Thursday that Obama has “never said either in private or in public that this was his final offer. He understands that to reach a deal it would require some further negotiation. There is not much further he could go.”

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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Alan Fram and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this story.

House Republicans push ‘Plan B’ toward passage, but that’s hardly the end of the cliff talks

WASHINGTON – House Republicans pushed uncertainly toward a Thursday night vote on legislation to prevent year-end tax increases for most Americans while letting rates rise for million-dollar earners.

It’s a politically charged measure meant to position the party for final compromise talks with President Barack Obama on averting an economy-threatening fiscal cliff.

The White House threatened a veto, and Senate Democrats made plain they would sidetrack the bill if it managed to win approval over strong objections from anti-tax Republican rebels in the House.

Yet officials in both parties suggested the vote would clear the way for a final stab at the broader negotiations to prevent looming separate tax and spending changes that could push the nation into a new recession.

The fiscal cliff has dominated the postelection session of Congress that now seems certain to extend well beyond Christmas. More broadly, it marks the end of a tumultuous period in which dozens of tea party-backed conservative Republicans roared into the House demanding lower taxes, yet now find themselves two years later called on by their own leadership to raise rates on upper incomes.

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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday night’s legislation – he’d dubbed it Plan B – marked a move to “protect as many American families and small businesses as possible from the tax hikes that are already scheduled to occur” with the new year.

Referring to one of the core themes of Obama’s re-election campaign, he said the president has called for legislation to protect 98 per cent of the American people from a tax hike. “Well, today we’re going to do better than that,” he said of the measure that raises total taxes by slightly more than $300 billion over a decade. “Our bill would protect 99.81 per cent of the American people from an increase in taxes.”

Democrats said that by keeping tax rates unchanged below $1 million – Obama wants the level to be $400,000 – Republicans had turned the bill into a tax break for the wealthy. They also accused Republicans of crafting their measure to impose a tax increase on 11 million middle class families.

“This is a ploy, not a plan,” said Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich. He accused Republicans of being “deeply cynical,” saying the legislation would scale back some education and child tax credits.

A companion bill on the evening’s House agenda, meant to build GOP support for the tax bill, called for elimination of an estimated $97 billion in cuts to the Pentagon and certain domestic programs over a decade. It cleared the House on a partisan vote of 215-209 and is an updated version of legislation that passed a little more than six months ago.

Those cuts would be replaced with savings totalling $314 billion, achieved through increases in the amount federal employees contribute toward their pensions and through cuts in social programs such as food stamps and the health care law that Obama signed earlier in his term.

Ironically, the votes were set in motion earlier in the week, after Boehner and Obama had significantly narrowed their differences on a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Republican officials said that members of the GOP leadership had balked at the terms that were emerging. Democrats said Boehner’s abrupt decision to shift to his Plan B – legislation drafted unilaterally by Republicans – reflected a calculation that he lacked support from his own rank and file to win the votes needed for the type of agreement he was negotiating with the president.

Asked at a news conference a few hours before the scheduled vote if that were so, Boehner avoided a direct answer. “Listen, the president knows that I’ve been able to keep my word on every agreement we’ve ever made,” he said.

At the same time, Boehner hinted broadly that however Democrats end up responding to the legislation he placed before the House, it will not be the end of the attempt to keep the economy from reaching the fiscal cliff.

“Our country faces serious challenges. The president and I in our respective roles have a responsibility to work together to get them resolved. I expect that we’ll continue to work together.”

Obama made it clear on Wednesday that he, too, is prepared for further negotiations, and numerous officials in both parties in the Senate predicted that might happen quickly after the votes in the House.

The tax bill would prevent scheduled increases from taking effect on Jan. 1 on all income under $1 million. Above that, the current rate of 35 per cent would rise to 39.6 per cent, the level in effect more than a decade ago when then-President George W. Bush signed tax cuts into law that now are expiring.

The top rates also would rise on capital gains and dividends from 15 per cent to 20 per cent.

By any measure, the two bills in the House were far removed from the latest offers that officials said Obama and Boehner had tendered.

Obama is now seeking $1.2 trillion in higher tax revenue, down from the $1.6 trillion he initially sought. He also has softened his demand for higher tax rates on household incomes so they would apply to incomes over $400,000 instead of the $250,000 he cited during his successful campaign for a new term.

He also has offered more than $800 billion in spending cuts over a decade, half of it from Medicare and Medicaid, $200 billion from farm and other benefit programs, $100 billion from defence and $100 billion from a broad swath of government accounts ranging from parks to transportation to education.

In a key concession to Republicans, the president also has agreed to slow the rise in cost-of-living increases in Social Security and other benefit programs, at a savings estimated at about $130 billion over a decade.

By contrast, Boehner’s most recent offer allowed for about $940 billion in higher taxes over a decade, with higher rates for annual incomes over $1 million.

His latest offer seeks about $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, not counting the change in the cost-of-living adjustment that Obama has said he can accept. He is seeking $600 billion in savings from Medicare and Medicaid, $200 billion from other benefit programs and $300 billion from a range of government accounts.

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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Alan Fram and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this story.

Believers flock to ‘sacred’ French mountain to escape Doomsday

TORONTO – Though the Mayans never really predicted that the world would end on Friday, some New Agers are convinced that humanity will meet its demise this December 21st.

Believers are flocking to spots where they think their chances of survival will be better, such as the Bugarach mountain peak in France.

Sun rises in Bugarach, a small village in the foothills of the Pyrenees on December 20, 2012 in France. The French government’s sect watchdog are investigating the likelihood of apocalyptic sect activity or ritualised suicides due to the prophecy of an ancient Mayan calendar, which also claims that Burgarach is the only place on Earth which will be saved from the apocalypse on the evening of December 21, 2012. Credit: Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

According to one Doomsday theory, the rocky mountain in the French Pyrenees will be the sole place on Earth to escape destruction. A giant UFO and aliens are said to be waiting under the mountain, ready to burst through and spirit those nearby to safety.

But there is bad news for those seeking salvation: French gendarmes, some on horseback, are blocking outsiders from reaching the Bugarach peak and its village of some 200 people.

The gendarmes, some on horseback, control Bugarach, France. Credit: Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

One believer, Ludovic Broquet, a 30-year-old plumber, made his way to the mountain after a year of preparation, hoping to find a “gateway, the vortex that will open up here (at) the end of the world.”

Local residents, instead, are skeptical – and angry at having their peace disturbed. “What is going on here is the creation of an urban legend,” fumed resident Michele Pous, who blamed those who spread Internet rumours. “They created a media frenzy, they created a false event, they manipulated people.”

A sign reading ‘The end of the world is here’ advertises a restaurant in Bugarach on December 20, 2012. Credit: Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

The Toronto Star spoke with the owner of Bugarach’s only store, Patrice Etienne, who said he’d been bombarded with media requests.

“It’s all journalists – CNN, BBC, CBS News,” said Etienne. “People from Sweden, England, Germany… It’s the first time we have 200 journalists from all around the world coming for nothing. It’s incredible.”

Members of the world’s media descend on Bugarach on December 20, 2012 in France. Credit: Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

The Star reports the origin of the tale is a mystery. Parisian journalist Nicolas d’Estienne d’Orves said it started online.

“The Internet was the first birthplace of this rumour and then the media started to just talk about it,” he told the Star.

Journalists film the 1,231 metre-high peak of Bugarach – one of the few places on Earth some believe will be spared when the world allegedly ends, according to claims regarding the ancient Mayan calendar. French authorities have pleaded with New Age fanatics, sightseers and media crews not to converge on the tiny village. Credit: Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images

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France 24, based in Paris, said journalists from around the world replaced the “new agers in beat-up vans, stoned hippies in white togas walking barefoot, and doomsayers seeking refuges in caves beneath the now famous Pic de Bugarach” who were expected to arrive.

The international news organization described TV crews “roaming helplessly in the otherwise empty streets,” until a “pan-flute player with his oversized head and very articulate speech” appeared to describe his personal version of the end of the world to the camera crews.

Sylvain Durif provided “eyewitness descriptions of massive spaceships chartered by the Virgin Mary” and prevented the journalists “from lynching the Bugarach mayor when he finally stepped out of his town hall,” reports France 24.

The current mayor of Bugarach, Jean-Pierre Delord, poses on December 14, 2010 in front of a road sign, marking the entrance of the village of 200 under the peak of Bugarach, the culminating point of the Corbieres range in southwestern France. Some doomsday theories designate Bugarach peak as a sacred mountain that would be spared on December 21, 2012, when the Maya’s Long Count calendar marks the end of a 5,126-year era — a date some say marks the end of the world. Credit: Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images

With files from The Associated Press
 

Canadian world junior team drops exhibition game to Finland 3-2

VANTAA, Finland – It was an early wakeup call for Canada’s world junior team.

Undisciplined and out of sorts, the Canadians dropped an exhibition game to Finland 3-2 on Thursday. Two of the Finnish goals were scored with a 5-on-3 power play during a game that saw Canada assessed nine minor penalties in total.

“I think the challenge for us obviously is coming together as a team,” said Canadian coach Steve Spott. “It’s our first game. But ultimately I think discipline is the subplot here tonight, where we have to get used to the standard of officiating and deal with our discipline a lot smarter than we did tonight.”

Miro Aaltonen scored the winning goal 7:16 into the third period. Markus Granlund and Ville Jarvelainen had the power-play markers earlier in the game.

Griffin Reinhart and Mark Scheifele replied for Canada with goals 36 seconds apart in the second period while Malcom Subban finished with 19 saves.

Canada was outshot 22-15 overall and Spott expects to see a better offensive effort when his team faces Sweden in another exhibition game on Saturday.

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“I think we’ve got to create more offence, but that comes from staying out of the penalty box,” he said. “That to me is going to be our challenge here. We turned over too many pucks, took penalties and that took away from our 5-on-5 ability to create offence.”

Canada played without forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who served the final game of a four-game suspension for abusing an official in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The team also lost forward Brett Ritchie to an upper-body injury after an awkward collision with an opponent midway through the game. He was held out as a precaution and the injury isn’t considered serious.

After facing Sweden over the weekend, Canada will travel to Ufa, Russia for the world junior hockey championship. It plays its first game there on Dec. 26 against Germany.

“You want to make sure when you hit the 26th that your team is where you need it to be,” said Spott. “It’s a matter of getting better every day and learning what it’s like to play over here and the standard (of officiating) and the type of game that these teams play.”

Commodities price suffer fall but poised for rebound in 2013: Scotiabank report

TORONTO – Commodity prices are poised for a rebound in 2013 following the declines experienced in many of Canada’s resource sectors this year despite a summer rally, according to a new report from Scotiabank.

In a commentary accompanying its Commodity Price Index for November, Scotiabank says prices will get a lift as buyers restock raw materials after liquidating inventories or deferring orders in 2012.

“This is already the case in China, where a pickup in orders from steel producers, after a sharp inventory correction last summer, has boosted spot iron ore and coking coal prices,” writes Scotiabank commodity market specialist Patricia Mohr.

“Lumber and OSB (oriented strand board) are our top investor picks – expected to post a multiple-year recovery through mid-decade,” Mohr added, citing a growing recovery in the U.S. housing market.

Meanwhile, figures in the bank’s latest monthly index painted a less rosy picture for this year. After a late-summer rally, overall prices began slipping in October and fell 2.3 per cent month-over-month in November, Scotiabank said.

Scotiabank says the commodity prices it tracks are down 8.4 per cent overall in the first 11 months of this year, compared with the comparable period of 2011.

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“We are experiencing another bout of concern over the outlook for global growth and the potential fallout from the U.S. fiscal cliff in early 2013, dampening oil and grain prices,” Mohr said.

“That’s only partially offset by news that China’s economy is revving up again, lifting base metal prices, especially copper.”

As a result, Mohr said prices are currently 16 per cent below the near-term peak in April 2011, just prior to the advent of concern over excessive eurozone sovereign debt and the negative impact on global growth.

The oil and gas sub-index has led decline, with the index down 14.4 per cent in November from a year earlier as lower light and heavy crude oil prices in Alberta and considerably softer propane prices in Edmonton and Sarnia, Ont., overpowered a slight gain in Canadian natural gas export prices.

While international oil prices remained strong in 2012, a price discount on Edmonton light crude oil emerged and there was a bigger discount on Western Canadian Select (WCS) heavy oil, largely the result of inadequate export pipeline capacity.

“The cost to the Canadian economy of these wide oil price discounts is enormous,” said Mohr.

She estimates the Canadian heavy crude discount cost about US$9 billion in 2012 compared with West Texas Intermediate,”plus another US$17.7 billion due to the WTI discount off world prices, as measured by Brent (crude).”

The Metal and Mineral sub-index has also lost ground in 2012, down 13.1 per cent year over year despite the fact that most base metal prices held up well.

However, double-digit declines in coking coal, iron ore and steel alloying metals alongside stagnant world steel production and a mid-summer inventory correction in China’s steel industry more than offset the relative strength in some base metals.

On a more positive note, the Forest Products sub-index posted a substantial recovery in 2012, up 12.9 per cent through November.

“After a challenging environment since 2008 linked to a prolonged and sharp downturn in U.S. housing, oriented strand board and lumber producers enjoyed a substantial recovery in earnings in 2012,” the bank said.

Meanwhile, a modest recovery in U.S. housing starts is “hitting a wall of tighter supply, given substantial mill closures since 2006, the equivalent of 140 sawmills across the U.S. and Canada,” it added.

Agriculture was another pocket of strength in 2012, up five per cent year over year.

TransLink awarding $25-million SeaBus contract to Dutch firm angers B.C. labour leaders

TransLink’s decision to build a new $25-million SeaBus with a Dutch shipbuilding company, at the same time as British Columbia is attempting to ramp up the capacity of its own shipbuilding industry for a major federal contract, has rankled provincial labour leaders.

TransLink, on Wednesday, said it received three bids on the proposal to build a replacement for the 36-year-old MV Beaver SeaBus and the Netherlands-based Damen Shipyards Group submitted a bid that was $2 million less than North Vancouver’s Allied Shipbuilders Ltd. A third bidder was disqualified from the process.

“The other (factor) is that (Damen) has a lot of experience building similar kinds of vessels, considerably more than the other bidder,” said Bob Paddon, TransLink’s executive vice-president for strategic planning and public affairs.

However, local labour leaders noted that all three previous SeaBus vessels were built in B.C. – the last, the MV Burrard Pacific Breeze at Victoria Shipyard in 2009. And as a publicly funded organization, TransLink should have used the contract to support the local shipbuilding industry.

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“Local shipyards and local workers have the expertise to deliver this project,” George MacPherson president of the B.C. Shipyard Workers Federation said in a news release.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, added that TransLink should have granted the work to the local bidder even if it was more expensive because the spinoff benefits to local industry would outweigh a modest price differential.

Sinclair said the $25-million contract could generate $75 million in indirect spinoffs.

“That the (provincial) government would spend money and time lobbying the federal government to build ships in British Columbia, and then have its own agency turn around and send ships offshore to be built, the irony there is not lost on British Columbians,” he added, and called on Premier Christy Clark to push for a change to TransLink’s decision.

However, Paddon said TransLink didn’t get as many local bids as it hoped for as other potential bidders said they were too busy with the federal contract, which was awarded to Vancouver’s Seaspan in 2011.

And while Damen will do most of the construction work at its Singapore shipyard, most of the design work for a new SeaBus would be done in B.C. and the company has committed to do as much work locally as it can.

“I think we’re getting really good value for taxpayers,” Paddon said.

“Two million dollars can buy you four buses, if that’s where you want to put the money, or into service,” Paddon said.

McGuinty wants ‘locked door’ policy at all elementary schools

TORONTO – Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Thursday there would be a “locked door” policy at all 4,000 elementary schools in Ontario by next September in reaction to last week’s shooting rampage that left 26 dead at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.

“In the aftermath of that tragic event that unfolded in the U.S. I think there’s an important question that we need to ask ourselves: are we taking all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of our kids at school,” McGuinty said at St. Fidelis Catholic Elementary School in Toronto.

“I think the response to that question requires that we assure parents that all of our elementary schools are locked during the day, that we are controlling access into our elementary schools, so we’re going to put a locked door policy in place.”

The Opposition said all parents would support initiatives to make schools safer for their kids, but questioned the timing of McGuinty’s announcement. The Tories suggested McGuinty was simply trying to change the channel from his government’s ongoing fights with public school teachers over wage freeze legislation, which prompted rotating one-day strikes in elementary schools this month.

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“I think that the timing, obviously, would lead one to believe that this is a cynical move by Mr. McGuinty,” said Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod.

“He used his final pre-Christmas media availability to talk about this when I think the issue that is really pressing on Ontario families’ minds right now is the labour strife in our schools and whether or not extracurriculars are going to go on and whether or not there are going to be strikes in January.”

The New Democrats said the locked door policy was a good first step but said safety was more than just about locking school doors.

“It’s about providing adequate supervision, access to mental health services and strong links to communities,” said NDP education critic Peter Tabuns.

“Unfortunately under the McGuinty government, funding for safe school programs and community linkages were cut in the last budget.”

Only about 850 elementary schools in the province took advantage of a government program to install video cameras outside school doors, but that was meant for buildings where the entrance was not in clear view of the office. It’s time to expand that program to all elementary schools, at a cost of about $10 million, said McGuinty.

“Now we can’t, and neither would we attempt to turn our elementary schools into fortresses,” he said.

“We’re not going to brick up these windows, but I believe there is a reasonable expectation on the part of parents that when their kids go to school in Ontario, that we will have a locked door policy in place.”

Veteran Conservative Frank Klees said he couldn’t understand why McGuinty didn’t also address the unsafe conditions for kids in high schools, where teachers working to rule aren’t taking attendance, and in some elementary schools where buildings were kept open during the rotating one-day strikes but students were not supervised.

“How can we tell parents that the schools are not assuming responsibility for student safety? It seems bizarre to me,” Klees said in an interview.

“If you’re not taking attendance, how can you tell where the students are?”

Twenty Grade One students and six adults were killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last Friday by a young man who fatally shot himself when police arrived at the scene.

Every Ontario school board is required to have a local police-school board protocol, which requires they have a lockdown plan in place that is practised at least twice a year. The government has arranged for professional development and training for school and board staff and local police services to implement the protocol at both the elementary and secondary levels.
 

Argentina’s government launches process to break up major media company Grupo Clarin

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s government told the country’s largest media conglomerate on Monday that it has begun a process to break up the company and auction off its media licenses.

Grupo Clarin is one of the government’s leading critics and has battled with President Cristina Fernandez for years. Fernandez argues that it is a corporate monopoly and has funded a booming network of pro-government newspapers and stations to challenge Clarin’s dominance.

Martin Sabbatella, the head of the government media regulation body, said in Monday that the government will make the conglomerate and other companies comply with the law, which bars any company from owning too many different media properties.

It comes after a lower court judge ruled Friday that a three-year-old law against media monopolies is constitutional.

“We notified them of the start of the transfer of licenses because the law is constitutional,” Sabbatella said at an impromptu press conference outside of Grupo Clarin’s headquarters in Buenos Aires.

The process, which will end up with transfer of licenses, will last about 100 days. During this time, the media empire must take care of all its current holdings and keep all jobs, Sabbatella said.

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Grupo Clarin said in a emailed statement that the government’s action is illegal and tramples on past rulings that favoured the media group.

“It’s totally inadmissible and illegal because it openly violates several legal rulings,” Clarin said.

Clarin has said the judge’s declaration lifting all injunctions in the case violates court procedures. The media group says a higher court had stayed the divestment requirement until the justice system rules definitively on challenges to the law.

The 2009 law was tweaked in Congress to specifically target Clarin, the only company that runs afoul of all its major anti-monopoly clauses. The law could require Clarin to sell off broadcast licenses as well as its majority stake in Cablevision, the cable TV network that has become the company’s cash cow.

Clarin says the government cannot take away its licenses because the group lodged an appeal to Friday’s ruling before Sabbatella’s visit on Monday. A lower court has three days to look at it, and if it is rejected, Clarin can go before an appeals court.

The media group has been at odds with the government since it criticized President Cristina Fernandez’s handling of a tax on the key agricultural industry and a massive farmers strike in 2008.

Since then, critics of Fernandez’s government say she’s been out to break up the media empire.

The government has sent tax agents to raid the offices of Argentina’s biggest-circulation daily and suggested that the owner of Clarin could have adopted her children from babies stolen during the military regime.

It has also tried to gain control of Argentina’s only newsprint maker and encouraged the national soccer association to break its contract with a cable TV channel owned by Clarin.

Clarin says the government it out to stifle the press, while Fernandez’s administration argues that the broadcast overhaul will grant more air space to community and church groups.

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Associated Press Writer Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile contributed to this report.