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TSX makes it 3 in a row

Toronto's main stock index has been extending its recent rally into a third day.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index was up 48.34 points to 15,481.95, late this morning.

The index began the week by dropping to its lowest since mid-December but registered gains Wednesday and Thursday.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 57.06 points to 20,713.64, the S&P 500 index added 9.60 points to 2,355.56 and the Nasdaq composite index was up 39.07 points to 5,856.77.

The Canadian dollar was trading at 74.74 cents US, down 0.16 of a cent from Thursday's close.

The May crude contract was up two cents at US$47.72 per barrel and April natural gas contracts were up two cents at US$3.07 per mmBTU.

The April gold contract was unchanged at US$1,247.20 an ounce and May copper contracts were down one cent at US$2.63 a pound.





Trump OKs Keystone XL

UPDATED: 8:10 a.m.

President Donald Trump has made it official: After eight years and six months, the United States government has approved the Keystone XL pipeline.

The president announced that at the White House.

He was accompanied by the president of TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based pipeline company that has wrestled with lawsuits, resistant landowners, protesters and Washington Democrats.

The new Republican president is removing one big obstacle, granting the permit that allows the pipeline to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

But the company must still settle issues with landowners, gain state permits and face possible court challenges before building the northern leg of the pipeline and linking it to the already completed southern leg linked to Gulf of Mexico refineries.

Keystone XL is one of several ongoing pipeline projects intended to carry oil from Alberta to refineries and international markets.


ORIGINAL: 6:15 a.m.

TransCanada says it has received a presidential permit from the U.S. State Department that allows it to move forward on building the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

"This is a significant milestone for the Keystone XL project," TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in a statement.

However, Keystone XL may face more hurdles. TransCanada still does not have deals with all the landowners in Nebraska on the proposed route and it also lacks a permit in that state.

Protesters also promise they will try to stop the project, which will stretch from Alberta to refineries Texas.

The Calgary-based company said Friday it would continue to work with key stakeholders throughout Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota to obtain the necessary permits and approvals to advance this project to construction.

However, because the pipeline project crosses the Canada-U.S. border, TransCanada also required approvals from the president and U.S. State Department.



Fruit and veg cost you less

The annual pace of inflation in Canada ticked lower in February as higher prices for gasoline were offset in part by lower costs for fresh fruit and vegetables.

Statistics Canada said Friday the consumer price index rose 2.0 per cent on a year-over-year basis in February. The move compared with a 2.1 per cent increase in January. Economists had expected it rise 2.1 per cent in February as well.

Prices were higher in seven of the eight major components, with food the only one to decline.

Excluding gasoline, the February consumer price index was up 1.3 per cent compared with a year ago following a 1.5 per cent in January.

Transportation costs gained 6.6 per cent compared with a year ago, boosted by a 23.1 per cent rise in gasoline — which was at an unusually low level in early 2016. Shelter costs rose 2.2 per cent.

Food costs fell 2.3 per cent as prices for food bought from stores fell 4.1 per cent. Prices for food bought from restaurants rose 2.3 per cent but fresh vegetables dropped 14.0 per cent and fresh fruit slipped 13.3 per cent, partly reflecting a spike in prices last winter.

The annual pace of inflation slowed in seven provinces on a year-over-year basis in February while Ontario and B.C. both held steady at 2.3 per cent. Manitoba was the only province to show an increase in the annual pace of inflation as it increased to 2.3 per cent compared with 2.1 per cent in January.





Utah booze limit now .05

Utah's governor signed legislation Thursday giving the predominantly Mormon state the strictest drunken driving threshold in the country, a change that restaurant groups and representatives of the ski and snowboard industry say will hurt tourism.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said lowering the blood alcohol limit for most drivers to 0.05 per cent from 0.08 per cent will save lives.

The change means a 150-pound man would be over the 0.05 limit after two beers, while a 120-pound woman could exceed it after a single drink, though that can be affected by a number of factors, including how much food a person has eaten, according to the American Beverage Institute, a national restaurant group.

Opponents, including the group, had urged Herbert to veto the bill , saying it would punish responsible drinkers and burnish Utah's reputation as a Mormon-centric place unfriendly to those who drink alcohol.

"People are going to try to say this is a religious issue. And that is just absolutely false. This is a public safety issue," the governor, who is Mormon, said at a news conference.

Restaurant groups said they don't support drunken driving but a 0.05 per cent limit won't catch drivers who are actually impaired. Plus, the law is "a total attack on the state's hospitality industry, customers and the tourism industry," American Beverage Institute executive director Sarah Longwell said.

The group took out full-page ads Thursday in Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers and USA Today, featuring a fake mugshot under a large headline reading, "Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation."

But proponents say the law will send a resounding message that people should not drink and drive — no matter how little somebody has consumed. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety applauded the change, saying it's a "sensible solution" to deter drunken driving.



Air Miles theft alert

Air Miles has posted a letter on its website warning that criminals have stolen cash miles from some of its members.

The rewards program says a small number of in-store transactions with stolen cash miles has occurred in which the criminals used them to buy goods.

Air Miles spokeswoman Rachael Montgomery says the manner in which the cash miles were fraudulently accessed has not compromised members' personal information.

She said the company is not sharing more specific details at this time because its investigation of the breach is ongoing.

While the company works to resolve the situation, it has temporarily removed the cash miles option for in-store purchases.

Montgomery said the company does not have a timeline in place for how long the suspension will be in effect.

However, members can still access their cash miles at the company's website to redeem for e-vouchers.

The alert comes a few weeks after Air Miles sent a note to its members apologizing for the controversy it caused last year over changes to its expiration policy.

The rewards program angered many members with its proposal to void unused Air Miles after five years, only to abandon that plan weeks before it was to take effect.



Fed's eye on capital gains

Ottawa made no changes in the federal budget to the way capital gains are taxed, but Finance Minister Bill Morneau isn't completely ruling out changes in the future.

When asked about possible changes to the way profits from selling off personal assets are taxed in the future, Morneau left the door open.

In an interview, the minister would only say that the government decided not to make changes in this week's budget.

Rumours about a possible increase to capital gains taxes were widespread on Bay Street ahead of the budget on Wednesday.

Under the current rules, half of investors' capital gains are included when calculating their income taxes.

Speculation had suggested that rate could increase to as much as two-thirds or three-quarters.



$30M for orphan wells

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says $30 million the federal government is giving to the province for the oil and gas industry is good news.

She says her government will use the money to focus on reclaiming orphan oil wells and getting oilfield workers back to work.

Notley says they have been lobbying Ottawa for months for money to make sure orphan oil wells are safely closed and the land reclaimed.

She says the wells are a huge, long-standing liability for the province and the industry knows there needs to be a plan to deal with this issue.

Notley says details on how this will be done will come out in the next few days.

The Orphan Well Association said last month there were 1,590 orphan wells awaiting abandonment and cleanup in Alberta.

"We're not going to fix it overnight, but what we need to do is make sure that we slowly move towards a higher level of reclamation, a higher level of investment in that important task of securing these wells and making sure that our land and our water supply is safe," the premier said Wednesday.



Buyer beware

Consumers who purchase knock-off merchandise online have a lot more to be wary about than receiving an inferior product.

Knowing how to spot a fake website can protect your wallet, your identify and even your life, say experts.

Toronto lawyer Lorne Lipkus, who specializes in anti-counterfeiting, says the production and sale of imitation goods is a global, multibillion-dollar problem affecting everything from what we eat to what we wear. The OECD put the value of imported fake goods worldwide at US$461 billion in 2013.

"Anything that's being produced in the market is being counterfeited," says Lipkus. "We've had deaths in Canada from someone who ingested counterfeit pharmaceuticals."

The illegal activity is also a significant source of funding for organized crime activities, he adds, something often overlooked when people fork over their credit card details in the pursuit of bargain-basement priced goods.

"You give them the information and they're going to use that information to steal your identity and perhaps put other charges through your credit card," says Lipkus.

To avoid purchasing counterfeit goods, Barry Elliott of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) says consumers should thoroughly research an online store prior to making a purchase, as fraudulent websites selling counterfeit items will mimic legitimate sites.

In the case of popular retailers such as Canada Goose, Lululemon and Michael Kors, fake sites will typically offer discounted prices, using the concept of a limited, one-time-only sale to attract buyers.

Natasha Tusikov, an assistant professor of criminology at York University, says some sites such as Canada Goose's now have search tools to help consumers determine if sites advertising and selling their authentic products online are from authorized retailers.

"Doing that will confirm you are dealing with the actual manufacturer," Tusikov says.

The CAFC also advises looking for any obvious red flags on sites, such as spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, or online stores using a web-based email like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo under their contact details as opposed to a company email account. Merchants asking you to email them your credit card information should be also avoided.

Another more technical tip, Lipkus says, is to make sure a retailer's website address starts with "https://" as opposed to "http://" — "that 's' at the end shows that there's more secure encryption used on the website," he says.

If you are the victim of a knock-off scam, Lipkus says the damage can often be mitigated if a credit card was used to make the purchase.

"Talk to your credit card company," he says. "If you've bought a counterfeit and report it to them, most of them have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to purchasing or selling counterfeits."

Interac spokeswoman Teri Murphy says counterfeit purchases made using debit are not covered through Interac's zero liability policy and would have to be investigated by the cardholder's financial institution.

Tusikov says even more protection is offered for credit card holders through the CAFC's Project Chargeback, a collaboration between the federal agency, credit card companies and banks who work together to reimburse victims of online fraudsters and then close counterfeit retailers' accounts. The program has existed since 2012, but few Canadians are aware of it, she says.

How it works is a consumer files a complaint with the CAFC by providing a photo of the goods, the website address it was found on, the date and amount of purchase. Once the CAFC confirms the goods are not authentic, the information is relayed to the credit card company and issuing bank to assess and then initiate a chargeback.

"It's very simple, it's very fast," says Elliott. "Altogether, 35,000 chargebacks have been issued and we've recovered over $10 million. The merchants have the ability to dispute the chargeback and none of them have."

Through Project Chargeback, victims are also instructed not to return counterfeit goods to sellers, Elliott says. By not returning the item, that prevents the seller from trying to re-victimize someone else with the same product.



Dairy-for-lumber deal?

The most common uses of Canadian dairy normally include milk, cream, yogurt, butter and cheese. Yet a new report suggests an altogether different purpose – use it as a bargaining chip.

A free-market think-tank suggests offering American negotiators in upcoming NAFTA talks more open trade in dairy, in exchange for more predictable trade in softwood lumber to secure long-term peace in that perennially problematic file.

Squeezing some protectionism out of both industries would be good for consumers in the two countries, spur economic productivity and ultimately result in more successful businesses, says the report from the Montreal Economic Institute.

"Trade barriers have never made more than a small minority of people richer, at the expense of the vast majority," says the paper, released Thursday.

"Eliminating those that persist in the agricultural sectors under supply management and in the softwood lumber sector ... would be good both for consumers and for producers. ...

"That opportunity should be seized without hesitation."

American lawmakers have already indicated they will press the Trump administration to gain more dairy trade – while at the same time softwood lumber experiences its latest round of once-a-decade lawsuits and tariff threats.

The industries share similarities.

Both are shielded from open trade in the old NAFTA. Both employ more than 200,000 people in Canada. Both claim a similar economic value of $14-15 billion to Canada's GDP. However, one industry — softwood — is heavily reliant on exports, and the other isn't.

The paper proposes tossing them both open by dismantling the supply management system.

As for lumber, the paper says the benefits of a deal are obvious — preserving 24,300 direct and indirect forestry jobs, bolstering exports and avoiding a tariff-caused spike of $1,300 in the average price of a U.S. home.



Spill estimate 25,000 litres

Husky Energy says about 25,000 litres of crude oil leaked from one of its pipelines in southwestern Alberta last week.

Spokesman Mel Duvall said in an email to The Canadian Press that cleanup at the site at Cox Hill Creek west of Bragg Creek is progressing well.

But he added the terrain where the leak happened is "very rocky and difficult."

The area where the Husky pipeline leaked is popular for hiking, camping and other outdoor recreation.

Duvall said the cleanup is expected to be done in the next few days and then reclamation work will begin.

The leak was reported to Alberta Energy Regulator last Thursday.

"We take every incident seriously and will use what we learn from this incident to further improve our operations," Duvall said Wednesday.

"We are undertaking a thorough investigation of the incident."



Savings bonds get the axe

The federal government is cashing in the venerable Canada Savings Bonds program, for generations a beacon of savings for Canadians keen to sock away a few dollars or teach their children a thing or two about managing money.

Wednesday's federal budget eliminated the program, saying it brings in too little and costs too much to run.

The savings bond dates back to 1946 and, at its height in the late 1980s, accounted for $60 billion in government debt, or about 45 per cent of the total.

This year, the outstanding bonds total about $5 billion, or less than one per cent of total federal market debt.

Sales this year are expected to be about $1 billion compared with about $15 billion three decades ago.

Only about 115,000 people are expected to buy CSBs this year, government officials say.

But in their heyday, the bonds were a popular savings tool, particularly with those who bought them through small, weekly workplace deductions.

Today, they may be more the kind of thing that grandparents hand out on birthdays than an actual savings plan.

"This decline in the program's popularity can be attributed to the proliferation of higher-yielding alternative retail investment instruments, such as government of Canada insured retail products," the budget documents said.

All outstanding bonds will continue to be honoured.



Budget looks beyond Trump

If there's an example in Wednesday's federal budget of the challenges President Donald Trump presents to the Liberal government's lofty goals, it's in the measly five paragraphs dedicated to Canada's newly fraught relationship with the United States.

After the usual platitudes about common values and interests, there's a pledge the government will continue to build on long-standing environmental co-operation with the U.S. to "address climate change, as well as enhance the quality of our air and water."

The document was likely already at the printers when word surfaced this week that any day now, Trump plans to start dismantling the very projects in the U.S. designed to tackle those things.

Chief among them: gutting funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord and, perhaps most significantly for Canada, axing a program that helps keep the water in the Great Lakes safe to drink for 40 million people on both sides of the border.

The 2017-18 budget seeks to guard against the same surge of anger that propelled Trump to victory last fall, laying out plans and strategies to bolster the skills and confidence of Canadians anxious about what lies ahead.

But to what extent Trump's actions could fuel those fears, the Liberals have so far steered clear of trying to address.

The most obvious example is taxes. Trump is poised to overhaul the U.S. tax system in a bid to increase competitiveness. How the Liberals could move in response to that isn't in the budget; they've only plucked the low-hanging fruit identified in the broad tax expenditure review.

"It is the one area of the budget where they are moving more slowly than they said they were going to," said Scotiabank economist Jean-Francois Perreault.

In the fiscal projections embedded in the budget, it is noted repeatedly that Canada's economy depends on the broad global state of affairs, yet the fact that the Liberals are aiming to shrink deficit levels in the coming years hints they're betting on strong global economies.

As part of its focus on skills and innovation, the government sets out a target: grow Canada's goods and services exports — from resources, advanced manufacturing and others — by 30 per cent in 2025, a modest increase from what they are now.

While the focus is on opening new markets in Asia and the benefits that will eventually flow through the Canada-EU free trade agreement, the U.S. market is still number 1 in Canada's books.



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