Friday, March 27th7.3°C

New stock exchange aimed at deterring high-frequency trading set to launch

TORONTO - A new stock exchange aimed at deterring high-frequency trading strategies will launch and celebrate its first trade today.

Royal Bank (TSX:RY) is among the supporters of the new Aequitas Neo Exchange, along with U.K.-based Barclays banking group, Canadian pension fund PSP Investments, telecom BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) and several brokerages.

Named Aequitas after the Latin word for equality and fairness, the new exchange hopes to rival the Toronto Stock Exchange and other markets owned by the TMX Group (TSX:X), which cater to high-volume traders in order to generate revenue.

Aequitas has said it plans to use high fees and a time delay to deter high-frequency trading (HFT) strategies, which have been criticized for leaving traditional investors at a disadvantage.

These practices have been blamed for inserting artificial volatility into the markets by using superfast computers to engage in activities such as exploratory trading, or making small orders to see if there is interest in a stock.

The computers can also engage in up to 5,000 trades per minute, clogging bandwidth and delaying trades by ordinary investors.

The Canadian Press

Woman whose recording led to sale of LA Clippers testifies of love for ex-owner, hate for wife

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The woman whose recording of Donald Sterling cost him the Los Angeles Clippers was forced Thursday to answer questions about recordings in which she and the billionaire discussed how to hide a house he bought her.

Several of the 500 recordings V. Stiviano made during a nearly four-year relationship with Sterling were played in Los Angeles Superior Court in his wife's lawsuit to reclaim millions of dollars he lavished on the younger woman.

Donald Sterling foresaw the trouble the gifts posed for Stiviano, pointing out in one recording that they were community property — owned jointly by him and his wife of nearly 60 years. That is the basis for her lawsuit.

"You just can't give somebody a gift," he said in one recording. He then laughed and added, "Well, if they don't know about it."

"Do you think I can hide the house?" Stiviano asked.

After two days of testimony attempting to show that Sterling paid the full $1.8 million price for the Spanish-style duplex, there's little to hide.

The question is whether a judge will make Stiviano relinquish the home, three luxury cars, including a Ferrari, and millions of dollars in cash, jewelry and clothing that an accountant valued conservatively at $3.6 million.

Her lawyer says most of the funds can't be connected directly from Sterling to Stiviano and that the law doesn't allow a spouse to go after a third party. Lawyers on both sides said there's no precedent for such a case.

Judge Richard Fruin Jr. cast doubt on Shelly Sterling's case Thursday, saying there's no clear documentation that funds went from the Sterling family's real estate company to Stiviano's bank accounts.

Stiviano denied that some of the 18 bank accounts where checks were deposited even belonged to her. When asked if it was mere coincidence that identical amounts left Sterling's company and then showed up in accounts used to purchase the home, Stiviano pleaded ignorant and said she hadn't signed the checks.

"Life is full of coincidence, sir," she told Sterling attorney Pierce O'Donnell.

The trial has provided a backstory of sorts to the saga that played out last year when the recording of Donald Sterling telling Stiviano not to publicly associate with blacks culminated with his lifetime ban from the NBA and the record $2 billion sale of the team.

Stiviano said she loved Sterling and referred to him as her "hubby"and significant other, but said they never were romantic despite sharing a room on trips to Dubai, Paris and Las Vegas.

Shown several photos of her nuzzling the 80-year-old and asked if she was kissing him, she said: "I don't know if you call duck lips or pucker lips kissing."

Stiviano, 32, smiled broadly at times and was sassy at others, getting laughs from the gallery as she corrected O'Donnell's pronunciation of designer Louis Vuitton.

When asked if she hated Shelly Sterling, she didn't hold back.

"She is a bully," she said. "That's exactly what I thought she was — the evil witch of the west."

Shelly Sterling looked back at friends in the gallery at points in the testimony and smiled.

Stiviano admitted that Donald Sterling had bought her cars, gave her $100,000 to invest in stocks and helped her buy her house with at least $727,000.

But she couldn't identify how much of the remaining $1 million he contributed. She said some came from friends and relatives who gave her small bills she squirreled away in a bedroom drawer.

Accountant Jay Shapiro testified that he had traced funds from Sterling and found it unbelievable Stiviano's drawer could have made a significant contribution.

"It would be an awful big drawer," Shapiro said. "I find the entire story incredulous."

The Canadian Press

Alberta government increases taxes, but still plans to run record deficit

EDMONTON - Albertans will pay more to get married, go camping, have a drink, go for a drive or do pretty much anything else as the province fights to get out from under the collapse in oil prices.

The 2015-16 budget tabled Thursday increases taxes and fees virtually across the board and runs the largest deficit in Alberta's history at $5 billion.

The government is retooling its tax take so the wealthy will pay more. It's also bringing in a health-care levy, boosting the gasoline tax by four cents a litre and increasing sin taxes on cigarettes and booze.

"This has been one of the hardest budgets to develop in many years and has required tough decisions," Finance Minister Robin Campbell told reporters.

"We're going to get off of oil."

Premier Jim Prentice has billed the document as necessary to make up for billions in lost oil revenue and to insulate the province's day-to-day spending from roller-coaster swings in energy prices.

The premier has also said he needs a mandate to implement the budget and is expected to call an election soon.

The budget details $1.5 billion in hikes and new levies and outlines a new tax model.

Albertans will no longer be charged a 10 per cent flat tax. Everyone will still pay that much on the first $100,000 of taxable income, but there will be two tax brackets for anyone earning more than that.

There will be a new refundable tax credit and improvements to rules to aid lower-income working families.

Fuel taxes will go up to a total of 13 cents a litre Friday — still the lowest in Canada.

Traffic fines will rise by an average of 35 per cent. Other increases will hit registration fees, court and land-title searches, marriage certificates and camping costs.

Alcohol taxes are going up by 16 cents for a bottle of wine and 90 cents for a 12-pack of beers. Tax on a carton of cigarettes will jump to $45 a carton from $40.

A levy will be added to provincial income tax starting July 1 to help offset the cost of health care. It will be paid on an escalating basis, starting with individuals earning $50,000 or more in taxable income, with a cap at $1,000 a year.

The province says the average Alberta family — with two children and two working parents making a combined $120,000 a year — will pay an estimated $288 more in taxes this year and $480 in 2016.

Corporate income taxes will remain at 10 per cent, the lowest in Canada. Campbell said it's important to keep those rates low to prevent further damage to Alberta's fragile economy. There will be no change to oil royalties.

Alberta still does not have a provincial sales or payroll tax.

Some government departments will see budgets cut, while others will hold the line. There will be slight increases for education and social services.

Opposition parties criticized the budget as a sop to corporations at the expense of working families.

"Middle-income families are being told they need to pay more and get less. Much, much less," said NDP Leader Rachel Notley

"That's happening so that this premier can continue to protect the interests of his boardroom and backroom buddies."

Wildrose Leader Heather Forsyth said the new fees are unnecessary and unfair.

"Gas tax, health tax, birth tax, marriage tax, death tax. It just goes on and on," said Forsyth. "It's going to affect everybody, but I think it's going to affect the people that it shouldn't and doesn't need to affect, and that's middle and lower-income families."

Liberal Leader David Swann said the budget is "a small movement towards getting off the oil and gas roller-coaster, (but) we think everybody should share in the burden.

"That includes the large corporations."

Government revenue is projected to be $43.4 billion and expenses are pegged at $48.4 billion. The deficit will be covered off mainly by the $6.5-billion contingency fund.

Borrowing for infrastructure will increase Alberta's debt burden to almost $18 billion.

Bitumen and conventional oil royalties — Alberta's two main money-makers — are pegged to bring in $2 billion. That's far less than had been projected before oil prices plunged from US$107 a barrel last summer to the current mid-$40 range.

The plan is to have the budget back in the black by 2018, as long as there is a modest rally in oil prices over the next few years.

After that, the government plans to use increasing percentages of oil revenues to replenish the contingency fund and reinvest in the long-term Heritage Savings Fund.

The Canadian Press

Business Highlights


How gov't aims to protect low-income users of 'payday' loans

WASHINGTON (AP) — Each month, more than 200,000 needy U.S. households take out what's advertised as a brief loan.

Many have run out of money between paychecks. So they obtain a "payday" loan to tide them over. Problem is, such loans can often bury them in fees and debts. Their bank accounts can be closed, their cars repossessed.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed rules Thursday to protect Americans from stumbling into what it calls a "debt trap." At the heart of the plan is a requirement that payday lenders verify borrowers' incomes before approving a loan.


Co-pilot was 'very happy' with Germanwings job

MONTABAUR, Germany (AP) — Andreas Lubitz never appeared anything but thrilled to have landed a pilot's job with Germanwings, according to those who helped him learn to fly as a teenager in this town in the forested hills of western Germany.

On Thursday, French prosecutors said Lubitz, the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525, "intentionally" crashed the jet into the side of a mountain Tuesday in the French Alps.

Members of his hometown flight club in Montabaur, where he renewed his glider license last fall, told The Associated Press that the 27-year-old Lubitz appeared to be happy with the job he had at the airline, a low-cost carrier in the Lufthansa Group.


Perfection doesn't last: Muni bond returns to be more muted

NEW YORK (AP) — Conditions were nearly perfect for municipal bonds last year, leading to sizeable returns. Perfection never lasts, though, and managers of municipal-bond funds are forecasting more modest returns in upcoming years.

The backdrop for municipal bonds last year was as pleasant as the first warm, spring breeze: Interest rates were falling, the economy was strengthening, demand was high for bonds that pay tax-free income and supply was relatively low. Add it up, and the Barclays Municipal Bond index returned 9.1 per cent in 2014. Just don't expect a repeat.


Puerto Rico prepares for luxury shopping amid recession

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A pair of nearly 5-inch black satin heels with a large gold alligator that serves as the front strap retails for almost $1,600 at the first Saks Fifth Avenue store to open in Puerto Rico, more than what the average person here earns in a month and where nearly half the population lives in poverty.

While a nearly decade-long recession has forced many Puerto Ricans to seek a more affordable life on the U.S. mainland, some of the world's priciest retailers have stores at The Mall of San Juan, a $475 million shopping centre opening Thursday alongside one of the island's most crime-ridden public housing projects.


Fewer Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that strong hiring should continue despite signs of slower economic growth at the start of 2015.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for jobless aid fell 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000. The decrease suggests that a recent slowdown in manufacturing, housing starts and retail sales have not trickled into the job market, a possible indication that economic growth will rebound after a harsh winter.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, tumbled 7,750 to 297,000. Over the past 12 months, the average has dipped roughly 7 per cent.


Average US rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 3.69 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week for a second straight week, edging closer to historically low levels at the start of the spring home-buying season.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.69 per cent from 3.78 per cent last week.

The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, eased to 2.97 per cent from 3.06 per cent last week.


Oil council: Shale won't last, Arctic drilling needed now

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. should immediately begin a push to exploit its enormous trove of oil in the Arctic waters off of Alaska, or risk a renewed reliance on imported oil in the future, an Energy Department advisory council says in a study to be released Friday.

The U.S. has drastically cut imports and transformed itself into the world's biggest producer of oil and natural gas by tapping huge reserves in shale rock formations. But the government predicts that the shale boom won't last much beyond the next decade.


Toyota: Both hands back on the wheel after recall spinout

TOYOTA, Japan (AP) — After extended introspection at the world's biggest automaker, Toyota says it has put its massive recalls behind it and is preparing to re-engage its growth engine once again.

The Japanese company outlined a new "architecture" Thursday centred on product development and manufacturing initiatives it hopes will be more fail-proof against quality problems, and allow it to keep growing in a sustainable way.

The first cars under the system, medium-sized front-wheel drive cars, will roll out later this year, and will be expanded to half its lineup by 2020, Toyota Motor Corp. said.


Thai lawmakers move against human trafficking

BANGKOK (AP) — Lawmakers in Thailand have approved a measure creating tougher penalties for violating the country's laws against human trafficking.

The legislation had been under debate for several weeks. But its passage comes in the wake of an Associated Press investigation published this week. It found that fish caught by slaves has entered the supply chains of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States. Seafood that was caught by hundreds of men trapped on a remote Indonesian island was tracked to exporters in Thailand who sell to America.


FINRA fines Oppenheimer $3.75M in employee fraud case

NEW YORK (AP) — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is ordering Oppenheimer & Co. to pay $3.75 million for failing to supervise an employee who defrauded clients and the producers of a cancelled Broadway musical.

FINRA ordered Oppenheimer to pay a $2.5 million fine and $1.25 million in restitution for failing to investigate Mark Hotton before hiring him, failing to supervise him after he was hired, and overlooking "red flags" like transfers of large sums out of his clients' accounts.

Hotton is now serving a 34-month prison term for two different frauds, one of which involved the producers of a musical version of the psychological thriller "Rebecca."


FDA to scrutinize unproven alternative remedies

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials plan to review the safety and evidence behind alternative remedies like Zicam and Cold-Eeze, products that are protected by federal law, but not accepted by mainstream medicine.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it will hold a two-day meeting next month on regulations for homeopathic medicines, which have long occupied a place on the fringes of U.S. health care. Similar to dietary supplements, homeopathic products are not required to prove they are safe or effective before being sold on the market. But unlike supplements, homeopathic medicines state that they are designed to treat specific medical conditions.


Diet sodas fall in US; Pepsi takes back No. 2 spot

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans bought less soda for the 10th straight year in 2014, with diet sodas shrinking more than their sugary counterparts, according to a report released Thursday.

An annual report by the industry tracker Beverage Digest found that overall soda volume slipped 0.9 per cent last year, moderating from the decline of 3 per cent the previous year.


Authorities go after crooked car deals in national crackdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — A nationwide crackdown on auto dealers has turned up widespread evidence of false ads, deceptive loans and fake odometer readings, the government said Thursday.

The investigation led by the Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement resulted in 252 enforcement actions and $2.6 million in consumer refunds and fees.

It was the second time that the FTC has gone after the car industry. Last year, the agency announced 10 cases of deceptive advertising and loans. Officials say the more recent investigation in U.S. and Canada involved the Justice Department and state prosecutors.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 40.31 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 17,678.23. The Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 4.90 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 2,056.15 and the Nasdaq composite fell 13.16 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 4,863.36.

U.S. crude rose $2.22, or 4.5 per cent, to close at $51.43 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $2.71, or 4.8 per cent, to close at $59.19 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 4.5 cents to close at $1.882 a gallon. Heating oil rose 5.9 cents to close at $1.788 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5.1 cents to close at $2.672 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The Canadian Press

Quebec tables balanced budget as it aims to slice its massive debt

QUEBEC - Quebec will post a balanced budget this year and tightly control government spending as the province aims to slice its massive debt over the next decade, says Finance Minister Carlos Leitao.

With a gross debt of $197.1 billion as of March 31, 2014, Quebec was by far the most indebted province in the country.

Leitao's 2015-16 budget, tabled in the national assembly Thursday, contains no new taxes and ends a string of six consecutive deficits that added $16 billion to the debt.

"The return to a balanced budget is not the end,'' he told the legislature.

"Quite the opposite, in fact, it is a point of departure and gives new momentum to Quebec.''

The ratio of Quebec's debt to gross domestic product last year was a crippling 54.3 per cent, the highest in the country.

In comparison, Ontario followed at 45 per cent, while Alberta had the best ratio —seven per cent.

In tabling the budget, Leitao was looking as far ahead as 2026 when, he hopes, Quebec's ratio will have dropped to 45 per cent.

More immediately, Leitao stressed the importance of keeping the lid on government spending if the province wants to achieve its goals.

Quebec also came out with its 2015-16 spending estimates Thursday, making it clear that previously announced cost-cutting measures are only the beginning of a long-term strategy to downsize government.

Various agencies will be merged, the number of government employees will be reduced and those who remain will be offered salary increases that "respect taxpayers' ability to pay.''

"Government spending must be contained,', said Treasury Board president Martin Coiteux. "We can no longer spend more than the revenues we receive.''

A Quebec budget wouldn't be complete without a plea for more money from the federal government — and Thursday's was no exception.

Leitao, who before entering politics to run in the 2014 election was ranked as the world's second-best economist by Bloomberg News, called on Ottawa to boost transfers in health, social and equalization payments and to invest more in infrastructure in the province.

"The federal government must further commit to sharing the provinces' financial pressures in regard to social programs and infrastructure, in a context where federal surpluses are on the horizon,'' he said.

Quebec expects overall revenue of $100.2 billion in 2015-16, with $19.4 billion of that coming from Ottawa.

Leitao also confirmed the deficit for 2014-15, which ends this coming March 31, will be $2.35 billion, as was projected in last June's budget.

He announced that as of Jan. 1, 2017, the general corporate income tax rate will be cut by one-tenth of a percentage point a year until January 2020, when the rate will be 11.5 per cent.

The government estimates the measures, once fully implemented, will represent a $120-million decrease in the tax load on businesses every year.

And in a bid to keep older Quebecers from retiring, Leitao said an improved tax credit will help save a 63-year-old worker $902 a year by 2018, while the amount will climb to $1,504 for a worker aged 65.

"Quebec will be confronted with a major challenge in regard to manpower in the coming years and we want to create conditions that will encourage more experienced workers to pursue their career for longer,'' he said.

Parti Quebecois finance critic Nicolas Marceau accused the Liberals of taking shortcuts that compromise economic growth.

"It's easy, very easy, to table a zero-deficit budget when you don't care about the consequences on economic growth, on employment, on investment, on Quebecers' standard of living and on services to the population,'' he said.

The Canadian Press

Ricki's, Bootlegger cut jobs

The company behind Ricki's, Bootlegger and Cleo plans to close stores and cut jobs as part of a restructuring after obtaining court protection from creditors Thursday.

Ontario-based Comark Inc., which was granted creditor protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, didn't specify how many locations would be closed, but said all three banners would be affected.

It has more than 300 stores under the three divisions.

President and CEO Gerry Bachynski said Comark has the support of its lenders and shareholders.

"Together, we are firmly committed to emerging from creditor protection financially stronger, more competitive and well-positioned for the future," he stated in a news release.

Comark said its senior and division managers will be responsible for day-to-day operations during the restructuring.

The company said it will continue to update stock with the latest brands and honour its reward programs, gift cards and exchanges.

Comark has about 400 employees at its headquarters and Cleo office in Mississauga, Ont., Bootlegger regional office in Richmond, B.C., Ricki's office in Winnipeg and a distribution centre in Laval, Que.

The number of employees at the stores wasn't immediately available.

Established in 1976, the company faces many of the same challenges that has battered Canada's retail sector.

Marketing expert Brynn Winegard of Winegard & Co. says more small- to medium-sized Canadian retailers will close over the coming months as the economy weakens and consumer confidence takes a hit.

"Unless the oil prices and spending power increase soon we're headed to an economic downturn and so it doesn't mean good things for retail because that's where everyone gets hit first," she said.

Lingerie and swimwear retailer Boutique La Vie en Rose signed a deal this week to buy Bikini Village and keep most of the insolvent chain's stores open. But other retailers haven't been as lucky. Mexx, Boutique Jacob, Target, Smart Set and Parasuco are in the process of closing stores.

The Canadian Press

Taxes and fees: Some highlights of the Alberta budget released Thursday

EDMONTON - Highlights of the 2015-16 Alberta budget:

The bottom line: Total spending of $48.4 billion on revenue of $43.4 billion for a $5-billion deficit — the largest in Alberta's history. The deficit will be covered mainly by the province's contingency fund.

End of the flat tax: Alberta will end its 10 per cent flat income-tax rate and phase in two new tax brackets for those making more than $100,000 or $250,000 a year. The change will affect about 330,000 workers.

Health levy: Individuals making more than $50,000 a year will have to pay a health-care levy, effective July 1. The amount will be tied to income and capped at $1,000 annually. The levy is to be collected through the income-tax system and won't be paid by employers. Gasoline tax: The gasoline tax jumps four cents a litre on Friday. The government notes Alberta's gas tax has not been raised since 1991 and remains the lowest in the country.

Smokes and booze: It will cost 16 cents more for a bottle of wine and 90 cents more for a case of 12 beers starting Friday. The tax on a carton of cigarettes will go up by $5 to $45.

Tax breaks for the working poor: Families earning less than $41,220 a year will be eligible for a supplement for each child, to a maximum of $2,750 each year. The government says about 75,000 families will be eligible.

Fees aplenty: Fees are going up for everything from camping to court filings and marriage certificates. Traffic fines are being boosted by an average of 35 per cent.

Job cuts in government: The government plans to shed 2,016 full-time jobs across all departments. Most of those positions are already vacant and will not be filled. About 370 layoffs are expected.

The Canadian Press

A look at some of the winners and losers in the Alberta budget released Thursday

EDMONTON - Some of the winners and losers in the Alberta budget released Thursday:

Winner — Corporations and oil companies: No changes to the 10 per cent corporate income tax rate and no changes to oil royalties. The government said raising them could tip the province into recession.

Winner — The working poor: Any family making less than $41,220 annually will be eligible for the Alberta Working Family Supplement, which provides a refundable tax credit of up to $2,750 depending on the number of children in the family.

Loser — The wealthy: The province is ending its 10 per cent flat income tax system and phasing in two new tax brackets for anyone making more than $100,000 a year.

Loser — The middle class: The budget contains a health levy to be paid by individuals making more than $50,000. It is tied to income and capped at $1,000 annually. There are also a host of fee increases. In total, a single person making $60,000 a year can expect to pay $161 more annually. A two-income family making $120,000 a year with two children can expect to pay $288 more.

Loser — Drivers: The gasoline tax is going up by four cents a litre starting Friday. Fees to register vehicles are going up by $9. Traffic fines are being increased by an average of 35 per cent.

Loser — Smokers and drinkers: A bottle of wine will cost 16 cents more while 12 beers will cost an extra 90 cents. The tax on a carton of smokes is going up $5 to $45.

Loser — Charities: The Charitable Donation Tax Credit is being reduced to 12.75 per cent from 21 per cent for donations more than $200.

The Canadian Press

Highlights of 2015-16 Quebec budget

QUEBEC - Highlights of Quebec's 2015-16 budget, which Finance Minister Carlos Leitao tabled Thursday:

Deficit: Balanced budget on own-source revenue of $80.7 billion

2014-15 deficit: $2.35 billion, as projected last year

Federal transfers: $19.4 billion

Taxes: No new ones

Economic growth: Two per cent

Gross debt: $197.1 billion as of March 2014; estimated to be $210.5 billion in March 2016

Health tax: Will be eliminated gradually as of 2017 for 2.1 million Quebecers; it will be fully eliminated for 4.5 million taxpayers by 2019

Corporate tax: Gradual reduction in general income tax rate to 11.5 per cent in January 2020 from 11.9 per cent, beginning in January 2017

Workforce: Employees 63 and over will receive a new tax credit of up to $602 in 2017 and $902 in 2018; for those 65 and over, the amount in 2018 will be $1,504

The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan government and Opposition squabble over T-shirts used in campaign

REGINA - Saskatchewan politicians are squabbling about T-shirts after the government noted that an Opposition fundraising campaign used shirts made in the U.S.

Premier Brad Wall raised the issue in Thursday's question period during a back-and-forth exchange on the government's procurement policy.

The Opposition New Democrats have been championing a private member's bill they say will make Saskatchewan companies more competitive in contract bids.

Leader Cam Broten told reporters it was a mistake if the T-shirts were made in the United States and the fundraiser has been scrapped.

The NDP said the T-shirts were not being sold directly by the party, but instead by an individual on behalf of a Regina constituency.

Broten said the focus should be on the government's procurement policy, which he said hurts businesses.

"They express huge frustration about this government's really short-sighted, naive, simplistic approach to government procurement," he said.

The NDP has criticized the government's current policy for looking at the lowest initial price in procuring products and services. The categories laid out in the private member's bill include local knowledge, product history and previous performance on government contracts. It also includes quality, supplier experience, warranty, delivery schedule, initial price and final total price.

Gordon Wyant, who is the minister responsible for SaskBuilds, said the private member's bill is problematic.

"We've been doing a considerable amount of work at Priority Saskatchewan to investigate the issues around procurement, to make sure procurement is fair for all Saskatchewan businesses," he said. "The Opposition has tabled a bill, it's a very short bill, it's devoid of definition, devoid of process."

Wyant added the government is looking at what can be changed in the context of the province's trade agreements.

The Canadian Press

Most actively traded companies on the TSX

Some of the most active companies traded Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange:

Toronto Stock Exchange (14,869.80, down 59.57 points):

Spartan Energy Corp. (TSX:SPE). Oil and gas. Up 11 cents, or 3.97 per cent, to $2.88 on 12.9 million shares.

Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO). Miner. Up four cents, or five per cent, to 84 cents on 8.6 million shares.

Legacy Oil + Gas Inc. (TSX:LEG). Oil and gas. Down 12 cents, or 6.45 per cent, to $1.74 on 8.5 million shares.

Capstone Mining Corp. (TSX:CS). Miner. Up one cent, or 0.81 per cent, to $1.24 on 8.3 million shares.

Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. (TSX:HNU). Oil and gas. Down 11 cents, or 3.42 per cent, to $3.11 on 5.7 million shares.

Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B). Aerospace, rail equipment. Down three cents, or 1.18 per cent, to $2.51 on 5.6 million shares.

Companies reporting major news:

Amaya Inc. (TSX:AYA). Online gaming. Down 64 cents, or 2.23 per cent, to $28.10 on 683,093 shares. The PokerStars owner announced plans to spin off its Diamond Game Enterprises subsidiary through an initial public offering of a newly formed Innova Gaming Group. Innova will hold all the shares of Diamond Game, which designs and develops games, primarily for the North American lottery sector.

Loblaw Co. (TSX:L). Grocer. Down 93 cents, or 1.46 per cent, to $62.72 on 601,606 shares. The company signed a global licence agreement with Aldo Group, which will design and produce the footwear under the Joe Fresh brand.

The Canadian Press

Can you trust your pilot? Crash of German airliner is certain to make passengers uneasy

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Airline pilots are supposed to be the ones we trust.

They greet us at the door of the plane in their crisp, military-style uniforms, then welcome us aboard with that familiar soothing drawl over the PA system as we buckle ourselves in. When there's turbulence, they offer reassurance. And when the plane safely touches down, they invite us to fly with them again.

Now, that feeling of security has taken a hit.

Investigators say the co-pilot of a Germanwings airliner locked the pilot out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed the jet in the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.

"In the near term, pilots will be looked at with a bit more suspicion," said former US Airways pilot John M. Cox, now CEO of the consulting firm Safety Operating Systems. "This rogue pilot is not the first one and sadly will not be the last one."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, aviation security has focused on protecting pilots from passengers — not the other way around. Fliers are screened for guns and explosives, but some pilots are allowed to carry their own weapons. Also, pilots might undergo mental health screenings when hired, but once they are on the job there is very little renewed testing.

"Right now, I don't think there's anyone who isn't worried," said Steve Serdachny, an airline passenger on his way from Toronto to Moscow, via Helsinki. "Flying is a safe form of transport, but you can't stop crazy. If someone decides to act in a crazy manner, there's nothing anyone can do about it."

Passenger confidence will probably be rebuilt over time. Last year, airlines flew 3.7 billion passengers worldwide; 641 died in crashes. And this isn't the first time a rogue pilot killed everyone aboard.

Previous cases included a Japan Airlines flight in 1982, a SilkAir disaster in 1997 and an EgyptAir crash in 1999. Aviation experts believe all those tragedies were pilot suicides. More recently, a preliminary investigation into a November 2013 flight from Mozambique suggests the pilot locked the co-pilot out of the cockpit and then deliberately crashed the jet.

Then there is Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, whose disappearance a year ago remains one of aviation's greatest mysteries. A leading theory is that one of the pilots intentionally crashed the jet in a remote stretch of ocean.

Mental health screening of pilots varies by airline and country. In the U.S., the largest aviation market in the world, pilots are required to pass a physical exam annually or every six months, depending on their age. They are required to disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications or face fines of up to $250,000.

The Federal Aviation Administration says doctors are supposed to ask mental health questions as part of the exam, but several pilots have told The Associated Press they were not specifically questioned about such things.

"They check your eyes, your ears, your heart — all the things that start going bad when you get older. But they don't do anything for your head," said Bob Kudwa, a former American Airlines pilot.

Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, said psychological tests are not part of his pilots' yearly medical exams.

"No system in the world can rule out such an isolated event," Spohr said.

Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year-old co-pilot of Tuesday's Germanwings flight, underwent his last regular security check on Jan. 27. Nothing unusual was noted.

A French prosecutor said there is no indication the crash was terrorism, and investigators are instead focusing on Lubitz's personal and professional life.

"One person can't have the right to end the lives of hundreds of people and families," said Esteban Rodriguez, a Spanish factory worker who lost two friends in the crash.

Passengers have always had a special relationship with pilots.

As airlines developed in the early 1930s, a lot of thought was given to ways to reassure jittery fliers. Pilots were given white hats and navy blue, double-breasted jackets. Stripes on their sleeves and cuffs signified rank. The uniform — along with titles of captain and first officer — were borrowed from the ocean liners of the day.

Pilots routinely introduce themselves to the passengers over the PA before takeoff. Travellers rarely hear such greetings from bus drivers, train engineers or ferry captains.

To enjoy their trip, fliers need to ignore the fact that they are in a pressurized aluminum tube, loaded with thousands of pounds of highly flammable fuel, racing through the air at 500 mph and an altitude of perhaps 40,000 feet. It is part of the pilot's job to assure the passengers they are safe.

"Not only do I have to convince myself of that," Cox said, "but I have to convince you to strap into the seat behind me."


Associated Press writers Joan Lowy in Washington, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki contribute to this story.


Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at

The Canadian Press

Amaya spinning off Diamond Game Enterprises subsidiary through Innova IPO

MONTREAL - PokerStars owner Amaya Inc. announced plans Thursday to spin off its Diamond Game Enterprises subsidiary through an initial public offering of a newly formed Innova Gaming Group.

Innova will hold all the shares of Diamond Game, which designs and develops games, primarily for the North American lottery sector.

The move follows Amaya's (TSX:AYA) plans announced in January to explore strategic opportunities to divest its non-online gaming operations to pay down debt and reward its shareholders.

The preliminary prospectus omitted any details about expected proceeds from the offering, which is being made through a syndicate of underwriters led by Canaccord Genuity.

Montreal-based Amaya acquired Diamond Game Enterprises last year for US$25 million.

Established in 1994, the Los Angeles headquartered company has facilities in Stoney Creek, Ont., and Missouri. It employs 69 workers.

About 75 per cent of Diamond's US$18.5 million of revenues last year came from lottery activities.

Its main product is the Lucky Tab machine, an instant ticket vending machine that dispenses tickets while simultaneously displaying the results of each ticket on a video monitor. It has about 2,100 gaming machines and ticket dispensers at bingo halls in Ontario and Quebec, as well as in Puerto Rico and 12 U.S. states.

Diamond has 703 LT-3 lottery machines at 27 charitable bingo centres in Ontario, and 32 machines at four bingo halls in Quebec.

Innova said sales of instant tickets in the U.S. have grown by 6.9 per cent annually since 1998, outpacing the overall lottery ticket market and lotto games. About 55 per cent of lottery sales in 2013 were instant tickets, up from 39 per cent in 1998.

Amaya reports its fourth-quarter and 2014 results on Tuesday.

The Canadian Press

TD Bank CEO says slower revenue growth, more competition require bank to adapt

TORONTO - TD Bank's chief executive is urging the financial regulators to introduce rules governing new players in the financial services space.

Bharat Masrani said new entrants — from tech giants like Apple and Google offering mobile payment systems to alternative lenders in the shadow banking sector — are creating heightened competition.

Many of these non-traditional competitors are not subject to the same regulations that govern banks and other financial institutions, which allows gives them a competitive advantage, Masrani said.

They are also not bogged down by legacy systems, allowing them to be more nimble and efficient than the banks.

At TD Bank's (TSX:TD) annual meeting in Thursday, Masrani urged regulators to take a closer look at these non-traditional entities.

"We are talking people's livelihoods," Masrani told reporters following the meeting. "Banks are highly regulated to make sure that our financial system is safe and sound. In light of that, I think it is important that — as a country, as a system — we ensure that those things are not compromised as new innovation comes through."

In addition to stiffer competition, the bank is also grappling with slower revenue growth and higher customer expectations.

"We find ourselves in a challenging operating environment," Masrani told shareholders. "In addition to the economic, regulatory and competitive pressures we face, people expect more from their banks."

He said it's unlikely that growth this year will come from Canadian consumer borrowing and real estate.

The big decline in oil prices will continue to hurt consumer confidence and hamper Canada's economic growth, he added.

One bright spot for the bank is the economic recovery south of the border, where TD has a large division. Strong job growth in the U.S. may eventually spur the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

"However, we have to temper our enthusiasm," Masrani noted. "The level of interest rates will remain exceptionally low, U.S. real estate markets are recovering slowly and the pace of economic growth will be far from booming."

He added that the profitability of financial services companies is also under pressure from rock-bottom interest rates and narrowed spreads between long and short term bond rates.

The Canadian Press

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