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Harper disagrees with pessimistic report on Canadian housing market

 

Wed Sep 24, 1:46 PM

 

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says he disagrees with a report by brokerage firm Merrill Lynch that warns Canada could be headed for a housing and mortgage meltdown similar to the one that has devastated the United States economy.

 

The report, issued Wednesday by Merrill Lynch Canada economists David Wolf and Carolyn Kwan, said many Canadian households are more financially overextended than their counterparts in the U.S. or Britain.

 

They said it's only a matter of time before the "tipping point" is reached and the housing and credit markets crack in Canada.

 

"I don't accept that conclusion, not at all," Harper told reporters on tour in British Columbia.

 

"We have seen the housing market and the construction market much stronger in Canada than in the U.S.," he said.

 

Harper said Canadian financial institutions have also taken a different approach to lending than their American counterparts.

 

"We don't have the same situation here with the mortgages as was the case in the U.S. with the subprime mortgages there," he said. "So, therefore, I think that our market is in a much stronger position."

 

The report acknowledges that the analysis is more pessimistic than the prevailing view.

 

Many economists have been saying that Canada's housing and banking sectors are much more stable than their American counterparts, and will likely slow down but not crash.

 

But Merrill Lynch Canada - whose U.S. parent is one of the biggest victims of a crisis in financial markets arising from the American housing and mortgage meltdown - said Canadians should be wary.

 

Household net borrowing in Canada amounted to 6.3 per cent of disposable income in 2007, which is more than households in the U.K. and not far off the peak reached by U.S. households in 2005.

 

The report also said housing prices are now falling and inventories of unsold homes are rising sharply in Canada, suggesting that this market turnaround will not be a transitory phenomenon.

 

However, the prevailing view is that Canada's lenders have issued few of the type of subprime mortgages that sparked the U.S. crisis. In addition, a recent study showed that Canadian residential properties are not overvalued in most cities.

 

With files from the Canadian Press

 

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      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      If you go
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      Getting there
       
      From San Francisco, Air Canada flies nonstop to Montreal. A number of airlines offer one-stop connecting flights.
       
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      Hyatt Regency Montreal: Online rates for doubles from $244 (about $229 U.S.). 605 modern rooms and suites across from the Place des Arts. 1255 Jeanne-Mance. (514) 982-1234, montreal.hyatt.com.
       
      Hotel Place des Arts: Eight air-conditioned rooms, studios and suites in a renovated Victorian building downtown. $40-$80 ($37.55-$75.10 U.S.). 270 Rue Sherbrooke W. (514) 995-7515, http://www.hotelplacedesarts.com.
       
      Where to eat
       
      L'Express: Bustling traditional French bistro. Entrees $12-$22 ($11.27-$20.65 U.S.). 3927 Rue St.-Denis. (514) 845-5333.
       
      Wilensky's Light Lunch: Tiny shop serving classic deli fare 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Entrees less than $10 ($9.39 U.S.). 34 Fairmount St. W. (514) 271-0247.
       
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      For more information
       
      Tourisme Montréal: (877) 266-5687, http://www.tourisme-montreal.org.
       
      E-mail David Rubien at [email protected]
       
      http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/06/21/DDG4MQI4M71.DTL
       
      This article appeared on page E - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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      Pol Pot in the 1970s, and shortly before his death in the 1990s
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      The lists prepared by the Hutu extremists in Rwanda, for example, were mirrored by the obsessive recording of the details of victims by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
       
      The yellow identity stars Jews were forced to wear in World War II were the equivalent of the ethnic identity cards every Rwandan had to carry.
       
      This is the grim opposite of Wole Soyinka's "egalitarian awareness". It is the social science of genocide, which appears to have common features across history.
       
      The conference aimed to isolate and analyse Mr Akhavan's "early warning" factors to raise awareness.
       
      But what to do with the information?
       
      As speaker after speaker reminded the Montreal conference, the US government, among others, has asserted that genocide is being committed right now in the Darfur region of Sudan.
       
      It was continuing even as we sipped our coffee in softly carpeted rooms and nibbled our Canadian canapes.
       
      Everyone has known about it for several years but virtually nothing had been done to stop it.
       
      A dissident voice
       
      So all the talk about "early warnings" and "United Nations peacekeeping forces" and "the will of the international community" could be said to amount to little.
       
      Local people in front of burnt out buildings in Darfur
      The US and others have said a genocide is unfolding in Darfur
      At this point, a controversial scholar intervened with comments which challenged the entire conference.
       
      French author Gerard Prunier, like the proverbial ghost at a wedding, said genocides could not be prevented by the international community.
       
      "When you see a dictatorial regime heating up, everyone starts talking, talking, talking ... and by the time the talking stops, either matters have quietened down or they have happened."
       
      And that is the crux of the matter, according to Mr Prunier - it is difficult for politicians or the military to intervene in a situation that has not yet evolved into a crisis.
       
      Give war a chance?
       
      So what is Mr Prunier's solution?
       
      "Genocides can only be stopped by the people directly involved - and usually that means people involved in the war that accompanies most mass killings."
       
      And if it is the government committing the genocide, the solution is "arm the rebels", he says.
       
      "It won't be clean - it will be messy," the French author said, "but it is more likely to stop the mass killing than international intervention."
       
      To a large extent, Mr Prunier has history on his side. The Holocaust only ended when the allies destroyed Hitler's regime.
       
      The killing fields of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge were only stopped when the Vietnamese army moved in. And the genocide in Rwanda only ended when the Tutsi rebels overthrew the extremist Hutu regime.
       
      Against this, it could be argued that some interventions have worked - for example the Nigerian intervention in Liberia, which was followed up by a UN peacekeeping mission.
       
      It seems that resolving dramatic human rights abuses may require some of the diplomacy and the "international good will" that flowed so freely in Montreal.
       
      But as well as what Winston Churchill called "Jaw Jaw", some situations, it seems, may only be resolved by "War War".
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