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Newsletter. Issue 2010-11. May 22, 2010

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Toronto?s Mayoral hopefuls see bigger role for religious groups
11 May 2010 | 05:03

Four of Toronto?s mayoral candidates have vowed to give faith-based groups a bigger role in city affairs, with Rocco Rossi proclaiming: ?God hasn?t left city hall - city hall has left God.?

At a morning debate hosted yesterday by the Toronto Area Interfaith Council, Rossi, George Smitherman, Joe Pantalone and Rob Ford all said city hall should be more open to advice from, and partnerships with, religion-based groups.

Smitherman said as mayor he would bring together the faith groups, arrive at common goals for social justice and social development, and have them work with the city to help the homeless, the addicted and others on society?s fringe.

Toronto should be a city sophisticated enough to acknowledge religious and cultural events as important in the broader community, ?where we don?t have to call a Christmas tree a holiday tree,? he said.

?This is a pillar of service and outreach that needs to be celebrated,? Rossi said of faith groups. ?The mayor?s door would be open to all faiths. Whether in affordable housing, whether in the shelter system, whether in assisting the homeless faith communities are there.?

Rossi made the quip about city hall leaving God when one of the roughly 100 people in the audience at Metropolitan United Church, while asking candidates if they would support an official interfaith day or week, remarked that ?it seems as if God has left city hall.?

U.S. immigration policy critical for tech firms
By Abby Sewell | Tuesday, May 11, 2010; A13

The technology sector, a little-publicized but key player in the coalition that is pushing for an overhaul of immigration laws, is giving mixed reviews to the proposal that Senate Democrats recently unveiled.

Although public dialogue on immigration has focused on a path to legalization for the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States, technology companies have lobbied for years on a different but related issue: streamlining and easing the employment of skilled legal immigrant workers.

The number of H-1B visas issued each year is capped at 65,000, with another 20,000 reserved for foreign-born students who graduate from U.S. schools with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

Peter Muller is the director of government relations for Intel, one of the largest sponsors of H-1B temporary visas for skilled workers. The company was approved for 723 new H-1B visas in 2009. Muller said Intel had been hindered in hiring and keeping the most qualified people by the annual caps on H-1B visas and the sometimes decade-long delay in processing applications for green card.

"To not be able to hire the people who really drive innovation in our company is a frustration," he said. In past years, the allotment of H-1B visas often was gone within days after the application period opened in April. Last year, it took until December to hit the cap. Even with a slower economy reducing demand for workers, however, tech companies say they want the system overhauled.

"Companies are still hiring, so fixing the problems and fixing the system is important," said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, the co-executive director of Compete America, a coalition of companies that is lobbying for more high-skilled immigration. "It's an issue today for some companies, and it's going to continue to be an issue that needs to be addressed."

For H-1B workers who want to stay in the country permanently, the wait for a green card can take years. Ashish Sharma, an Indian citizen who is working for a technology company in California, has waited for a green card for seven years. At one point, Sharma said, he considered leaving the United States because of the uncertainty of his status. "The long wait does bother people," he said. "I did look at what Canada was offering, where they give you a green card within three months."

Sharma decided to stay for the sake of his two children, who were raised in the United States, but some employers as well as workers have chosen to go abroad. Microsoft, a top sponsor of H-1B visas with 1,318 petitions approved in 2009, opened a development center in Vancouver in 2007, in part to take advantage of Canada's immigration laws.

Compete America praised some aspects of the Democratic immigration framework that Sens. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) put forward. The coalition favors a provision that would offer green cards to foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in specialized fields, but it is pushing back against provisions that would limit the hiring of H-1B workers and increase government scrutiny of companies that sponsor the temporary visas.

Medill News Service

Pope wraps up Portugal trip marked by admission of church guilt with appeal to spread faith
Nicole Winfield, | The Associated Press | 14 May 2010 09:37

PORTO, Portugal: Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up a trip to Portugal on Friday with an appeal to spread the faith, capping a pilgrimage marked by an explicit admission of church guilt in the clerical abuse scandal with a fresh bid to move beyond the crisis.

Benedict celebrated Mass in the northern city of Porto, his final stop on a four-day visit designed to boost the faithful in a country that is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic but where only about 20 per cent of the people regularly go to church. Portugal's north is its most conservative, staunchly Catholic region, and Benedict came to pay tribute to efforts by the local bishop to make the church a stronger presence in the country.

"We must get over the temptation of limiting ourselves with what we have, or think we have as surely ours," Benedict said. "How much time has been lost, how much work has been pushed back because we didn't pay attention to this?"

Police estimated that more than 150,000 people attended Friday's Mass, celebrated in front of city hall on Porto's main avenue which filled with flag-waving faithful shouting "Viva o papa!" On Thursday, some 400,000 pilgrims turned out for the spiritual highlight of Benedict's trip, a Mass in the famous shrine city of Fatima on the anniversary of the day when three shepherd children reported visions of the Virgin.

The pontiff's plane departed for Rome at 2.15 p.m. (1315 GMT, 9:15 a.m EDT). Benedict dealt with the clerical abuse scandal head-on en route to Portugal, telling reporters on board the papal plane that the crisis was caused by the "sins within the church," his most explicit admission of Church culpability to date. But Benedict moved on to other issues during his various speeches and homilies, which touched on the increasing secularization of Europe and the need to uphold traditional church teaching on key matters of life and family.

In Fatima, Benedict called abortion and same-sex marriage some of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today. Vatican officials cast the turnout in Fatima as evidence that Benedict had turned a page in weathering the abuse scandal, which has dogged him for months.

One issue Benedict didn't address at length in any of his speeches or homilies was the European financial crisis and the crippling effect it is having in Portugal. During his visit, Prime Minister Jose Socrates announced tax hikes in a bid to allay market fears about its high level of debt.

The crisis is being felt acutely in Porto, known for its production of Portugal's famous sweet port wine but perhaps more importantly as the hub of the country's industrial north. Its traditional manufacturing sector, especially textiles and footgear, has declined over the past 20 years, putting many out of work.

The plight of Portugal's low-paid blue-collar workers - Portugal's minimum monthly wage, earned by more than 300,000 people, is ?475 - is expected to worsen with the new austerity measures designed to reduce the state debt.

Benedict made a few vague references to the tough times, but only explicitly referred to the financial crisis in comments to reporters on the first day in which he renewed his call for a more ethics-based world financial order.

Porto Archbishop Manuel Clemente referred to the economic difficulties in his welcome to the pontiff Friday, saying the church was "urgently" being called on to provide charity to the needy.

Associated Press writer Barry Hatton contributed to this report.

New home sales and prices up in April in GTA

GREATER TORONTO, May 17 /CNW/: New home sales were up in April 2010, continuing the very strong pace set during the first quarter of the year, minus the froth, the Building Industry & Land Development Association (BILD) announced today.

According to RealNet Canada Inc., BILD's official, independent source of new home market information, there were a total of 3,196 new homes and condos sold in the GTA in April 2010, up 64 per cent over April 2009, based on much higher sales of high-rise condominium suites compared to the same time last year when that market had yet to join in the recovery which was emerging in the low-rise (single-detached, semi-detached, town-homes) segment.

BILD President and CEO Stephen Dupuis noted that while the "froth-factor" has subsided, new home buyers are continuing to respond enthusiastically to new project openings and remain intent on beating factors such as steadily rising prices, higher mortgage rates, the HST and the new mortgage financing rules.

With respect to new home prices, Dupuis noted that the typical high-rise condo suite price is up $25,108 or 6.3 per cent compared with April 2009, while the typical new low-rise home price is up $49,686 or 11.3 per cent versus last April. He attributed the increases to the supply/demand imbalance in the low-rise sector and higher costs including government taxes, fees and levies affecting both the high- and low-rise markets.

Through the first four months of 2010, total new home sales are up 163 per cent compared with the same period in 2009 (all recessionary months) and up 33 per cent compared with the same period in 2008 (pre-recession).

Canada's hot resale housing market starting to cool

OTTAWA, May 17 /CNW Telbec/ - Home sales activity in Canada came up short of the record for the month of April and new listings continued to climb, according to statistics released by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).

Residential sales activity via the Multiple Listing Service (R) (MLS (R)) Systems of Canadian real estate Boards numbered 52,042 units in April 2010. This is less than one per cent short of the record for national sales activity during the month of April, which was set in 2007. Compared to April 2009, national activity was up 20 per cent.

Seasonally adjusted national home sales activity slipped 2.6 per cent from the previous month, and now stands 6.8 per cent below the peak reached in December 2009. More than half of the decline in activity over the first four months of 2010 resulted from fewer sales in British Columbia, while activity in Ontario and Quebec remains at or near record levels.

"The easing trend in national sales activity masks a rising trend in a number of major markets," said CREA President Georges Pahud. "Real estate is local, so buyers and sellers should engage the services of a REALTOR (R) for knowledge about housing market trends in their market."

Some 99,901 homes were newly listed for sale on Canadian MLS (R) Systems in April 2010, surpassing the previous record for the month of April set in 2008 by six-tenths of one per cent. A total of 236,397 residential properties were listed for sale on Boards' MLS (R) Systems at the end of April 2010, down 1.9 per cent from levels one year earlier.

As for the national average price of homes sold via Canadian MLS (R) Systems, that figure rose 12.2 per cent over this time last year. This is a smaller increase compared to those recorded over the past eight months. Bucking the national trend, price gains continue to increase in a number of major markets in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

With last year's string of downwardly skewed average price values having now mostly passed, and with activity in British Columbia's lower mainland having settled down, year-over-year national average price comparisons are coming back into line with changes in the national weighted average price.

The weighted average price compensates for changes in provincial sales activity by taking into account provincial proportions of privately owned housing stock. It climbed 11.3 per cent on a year-over-year basis in April 2010. Similarly, the residential average price in Canada's major markets climbed 12.9 per cent year-over-year in April, while the weighted major market average price rose 12.1 per cent.

The actual (not seasonally adjusted) number of months of inventory stood at 4.5 months in April 2010. This is down from levels one year ago (5.6 months) and April 2008 (4.7 months), but up compared to April levels from 2004 through 2007. The number of months of inventory is the number of months it would take to sell current inventories at the current rate of sales activity.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, months of inventory stood at 5.3 months in April, the highest level since last May.

"Next month will mark the passage of one year since the national average price rebounded from the recessionary trough to return to the pre-recession peak, so the rise in the national average price is expected to be more subdued next month," said CREA Chief Economist Gregory Klump. "The national average price could potentially be skewed higher over the next couple of months if buyers of higher priced homes in Ontario and British Columbia move their purchase decision forward to beat the introduction of the HST in July."

PLEASE NOTE: The information contained in this news release combines both major market and national MLS(R) sales information from the previous month. The Canadian Real Estate Association has previously released these separately.

CREA cautions that average price information can be useful in establishing trends over time, but does not indicate actual prices in centers comprised of widely divergent neighborhoods or account for price differential between geographic areas. Statistical information contained in this report includes all housing types.

MLS (R) is a co-operative marketing system used only by Canada's real estate Boards to ensure maximum exposure of properties listed for sale.

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) is one of Canada's largest single-industry trade associations, representing more than 96,000 REALTORS (R) working through more than 100 real estate Boards and Associations. Further information can be found at www.crea.ca.

For further information: Alyson Fair, Publicist, The Canadian Real Estate Association, P: (613) 237-7111 or (613) 884-1460, E:

CANADIAN REAL ESTATE ASSOCIATION - More on this organization
News Releases | (42) CNW Group Photo Archive | CNW Group Photo Archive | 2009

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