Beating the odds: Amazing stories of survival – National

TORONTO – A seamstress has been pulled from the rubble of the Bangladesh building collapse.

After being buried 17 days in the collapsed garment factory, soldiers at the site say the woman, identified as Reshma Begum,  is in remarkably good condition.

VIDEO: Survivor found in Bangladesh rubble (May 10)

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Rescuers stopped all debris removal and used hand saws to cut the woman Begum out from the debris.

A crowd gathered and erupted into cheers after Begum was freed.

Here’s a look at other recent and remarkable stories of survivors found under rubble.

Naqsha Bibi: Rescued after 63 days (2005)

An astonishing 63 days after an earthquake struck Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on October 8, 2005, killing more than 70,000 people, Naqsha Bibi was found alive in the ruins of what was her believed to be her kitchen.

The 40-year-old woman survived on rotting food and rainwater.

Friends and family said they were shocked Bibi managed to survive for so long.

“We were not even looking for her,” said her cousin Faiz Din in an interview with the BBC. “We thought that Naqsha had either fallen down the hill or had gone to live in some relief camp in the city.”

A Pakistani Kashmiri earthquake survivor, Naqsha lies in the intensive care unit (ICU) ward of a hospital in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, December 12, 2005, following her rescue from the rubble.

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Evans Monsignac: Rescued after 27 days (2010)

On January 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitute earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

Nearly a month after the disaster, the hope of finding survivors was all but diminished until rescuers pulled out Evans Monsignac, a 27-year-old father of two who said he survived under the rubble by sipping sewage that oozed underneath the marketplace where he was buried.

“I was resigned to death. But God gave me life. The fact that I’m alive today isn’t because of me, it’s because of the grace of God. It’s a miracle, I can’t explain it,” said Monsignac in an intensive care bed at Tampa General Hospital, Florida, shortly after his rescue.

4-month-old baby girl: 3 days (2011)

For three days, family members believed they lost their four-month-old girl after a powerful 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan’s northeast coast.

In the town of Ishinomaki, residents heard what they said sounded like a baby’s cry stemming from a pile of debris. Swaddled in a pink woolen bear suit, the girl was reunited with her parents—both of whom survived the disaster.

A soldier smiles as he holds a four-month-old baby who survived the recent tsunami with her family at Ishinomaki city in Miyagi prefecture on March 14, 2011.

Getty Images

Kunio Shiga : 4 weeks later (2011)

More than four weeks after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan in 2011, farmer Kunio Shiga  was found alive—and well—sitting among the rubble of his home.

The 75-year-old was running short on food and had no running water or electricity. His only source of company?  A battery-powered radio that Shiga listened to in hopes that rescuers would find him.

No one ever came.

“The tsunami came right to my doorstep. I don’t know what happened to my wife. She was here, but now she’s gone,” he told the Daily Mail in an interview.

Shiga said his neighbours fled his home city after evacuation orders from authorities but that he was unable to leave due to trouble walking.

– With files from The Associated Press

©2013Shaw Media

Astronauts successfully spacewalk, replace pump outside International Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Astronauts making a rare, hastily planned spacewalk replaced a pump outside the International Space Station on Saturday in hopes of plugging a serious ammonia leak.

The prospects of success grew as the minutes passed and no frozen flecks of ammonia appeared. Mission Control said it appeared as though the leak may have been plugged, although more monitoring was needed before declaring a victory.

“No evidence of any ammonia leakage whatsoever. We have an airtight system – at the moment,” Mission Control reported.

WATCH: NASA officials hold a news conference following a spacewalk outside the International Space Station to replace a broken coolant pump.

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Christopher Cassidy and Thomas Marshburn installed the new pump after removing the old one suspected of spewing flakes of frozen ammonia coolant two days earlier.

The leak was reported by ISS Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency on Thursday.

“[I saw] a very steady stream of flakes or bits coming out…” Hadfield reported.

Listen: Hadfield tells Mission Control that the ISS crew is ready for a space walk.

Commander Hadfield did not make the EVA. Instead, astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn conducted an investigation.

©2013Shaw Media

Tests confirm Ariel Castro is father of 6-year-old girl found in home: Attorney General – National

Ohio’s attorney general says tests confirm that Ariel Castro is the father of the six-year-old girl who was held captive at his Cleveland home along with Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.

The women and the child emerged from the home Monday, about a decade after the women had disappeared.

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Prosecutors said Thursday they may seek the death penalty against Castro, as police charged that he impregnated one of his captives at least five times and then starved her and punched her in the belly until she miscarried.

The horrific allegations were contained in a police report that also said one of the women, Amanda Berry, was forced to give birth in a plastic kiddie pool.

Castro was arraigned Thursday on charges of rape and kidnapping after the three women missing for about a decade were found alive at his home earlier in the week.

Police say the women were apparently bound by ropes and chains at times and were kept in different rooms. They suffered prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and had miscarriages, according to a city official briefed on the case.

Castro has been charged with four counts of kidnapping – covering the captives and the daughter born to Berry – and three counts of rape, against all three women.

©2013The Associated Press

Golfers’ year-round dream come true – Saskatoon

SASKATOON – Golf courses around Saskatoon are finally open after a cold April, so it may take a while for players to get into the swing of things.

A new revolutionary instruction program aimed at helping duffers turn their games around has also opened in Saskatoon.

The program, GolfTec, officially launched in Saskatoon on Friday.

Over 150 tour players use the objective analysis video and motion measurement to help them with their game.

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“Its sequential lessons, it’s fact base diagnosis, it is retention tools where every time you come in here and get a lesson it’s recorded. It’s sent to your own personal webpage, the drills you take that day and whatever your going to work on to improve as you keep coming out because everyone wants to improve,” said Clinton Schmaltz, GolfTec center manager/instruction director.

The new state of the art technology adds to the rounds Saskatoon has to offer.

“It’s a very good way to get more people more instruction, more help and it complements what we do out here on the golf course… It’s a great addition to what we have in Saskatoon,” said Brad Birnie, Moonlake Golf and Country Club/ PGA Canada teaching professional.

GolfTec could help more enthusiasts start their season on a good note and is available year-round.

Plan to develop Victoria waterfront path, pave lawn angers society – BC

A bold, multi-million dollar proposal to transform the waterfront  of Victoria’s Inner Harbour is causing controversy in B.C.’s capital city.

Victoria is a beautiful destination for locals and tourists alike, but access to the city’s water is extremely limited.

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A couple weeks ago, the City of Victoria unveiled a plan to dramatically change that by giving the waterfront a $40-million, five-kilometre continuous walkway that would wind from Ogden Point to Rock Bay.

The pathway includes a number of shoreline access points that will open up the water to more recreation while preserving natural areas.

The plan will require partnerships with private landowners, agencies and various levels of government. It will be named after recording artist David Foster, who has donated $50,000 toward the project.

“Honestly, it’s such a big honour for me to know this will be called the David Foster Way,” he said. “But if you take my name out of the equation completely, this is something that will be so beautiful for the city we love so much.”

The City of Victoria says the project is something the city needs to spur development, but there are some who are angry over a part of the proposal.

The Hallmark Heritage Society is up in arms over a plaza that would be built in front of the provincial legislature. The plan would require tearing out a quarter of the lawn along Belleville Street, something the society believes in completely unnecessary.

“The city was made, was created, because of this harbour and we should celebrate it, but this is too great a sacrifice,” said Ken Johnson from the Hallmark Heritage Society.

Johnson said the society is going to protest destroying the portion of lawn.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said the City is listening to the public’s feedback.

“Look, we put these plans out there and we’ll see what happens.”

Blind pole vaulter competing for Texas high school championship – National

AUSTIN, Texas – A legally blind 15-year-old pole vaulter cleared three heights at the Texas state championship but failed to win a medal.

Charlotte Brown of rural Emory Rains High School was one of the top qualifiers in girls’ Class 3A with a height of 11 feet, 6 inches. Her best vault of Saturday’s final was 10-6 and she missed on three chances at 11-0 before leaving the track to a standing ovation from several hundred people watching her event.

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Brown was born with normal vision but developed problems while an infant. She has no depth perception, sees no colour and cannot distinguish shapes. Her range of vision is similar to looking through a tiny straw. She reads Braille and will get a seeing eye dog next month.

Also Saturday, 17-year-old legally blind vaulter Aria Ottmueller was scheduled to compete in the Arizona state meet.

Brown is able to vault by using intense concentration on her approach to the pit, counting her steps and listening to coach Derek Smith yell when he tells her to launch. She places an 80-foot strip of dark, artificial turf next to the running lane to create a light/dark contrast she can follow to keep her running in a straight line.

Brown easily cleared her first three jumps at 9-6, 10-0 and 10-6. The problems began when she clipped the bar with her left elbow on her first attempt at 11-0. After missing her next two jumps, Brown ultimately finished eighth among nine competitors.

The winning height was 12-9 by meet favourite Kally Long of Wimberley, last year’s silver medallist .

After bowing out, Brown slightly slumped her shoulders and got a hug from coach Derek Smith, who had been allowed to stand to the lane to bark out the number of Brown’s steps as she approached each jump. Several of her competitors shook her hand or hugged her as she left the track.

Brown shrugged off the defeat as simply not being at her best.

“I’m still happy because there’s a couple of hundred kids who didn’t get to be here. It’s a privilege to even get to come. I’m one of the top nine in the state, so that’s motivation to come back here and win state,” Brown said.

Brown, whose story attracted national attention in the days before the meet, said she woke up Saturday excited about the meet but wasn’t nervous. But she also noted she had never vaulted at the University of Texas track and perhaps wasn’t quite comfortable in her first state meet.

Although she really couldn’t see the crowd of more than 10,000 at the stadium, she could hear them as fans cheered races going on just a few yards away and the announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers.

At one point, the track announcer told the crowd he would be quiet during Brown’s vault attempts to help her concentrate. Each time she prepped to jump, the crowd near the vault would be silent.

“They did a good job of keeping it down and helping me. I’m used to blocking stuff out,” Brown said. “It’s something I’ll have to deal with when I come back here.”

After she was done, Brown’s father, Ian, rolled up the strip of artificial turf and packed up the weights used to hold it down. Ian Brown said his daughter will be disappointed by the loss but motivated.

“She’ll probably want to vault tomorrow and start thinking about the future,” Ian Brown said. “I’m not disappointed in the least. She got here.”

Later Saturday, Brown was scheduled to receive a special spirit award from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Brown said she’s aware people are starting to look at her as an inspiration for athletes with disabilities.

“If I can inspire people by doing what I think is easy, that’s awesome,” she said.

©2013The Associated Press

Couple’s truck given away in valet error – Edmonton

EDMONTON- An Edmonton couple who used the valet service at a downtown Edmonton hotel is speaking out, after their truck was given to someone else.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Trevor Hancock.

Hancock and his fiancee Danielle Sanmartin were meeting their friends at the Westin Hotel in March, and used the hotel’s valet service while they went out for dinner. When they returned for their truck a few hours later, it wasn’t there.

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“A manager came over and said ‘we gave your truck away,’” said Sanmartin. “We laughed, like where’s the hidden camera?”

“I really thought he was kidding. I laughed out loud and said ‘go get my truck,’” added Hancock.

But it was no joke. The couple was shocked, because they still had their claim ticket. Then they began to worry about more than their truck.

“We were worried that they were coming here to break into the house,” Sanmartin said. “Whoever had the vehicle had the keys. They had all of our stuff, including our registration which is in the glove box in most cars.”

The GPS unit in the truck was programmed to their home, and the truck came with a built-in garage door opener.

“We had to immediately go out and replace the house locks, replace the business locks, car seats. So, a considerable expense has been put into this and time,” Hancock explained.

Twelve days later the couple’s truck was recovered. It required $3,700 worth of repairs. There were also a number of personal items in the truck, including electronics and many of their childrens’ toys, which weren’t there when the truck was located.

The couple is frustrated, because they feel the Westin has ignored their concerns.

“They did say ‘I’m sorry you have to deal with this.’ Well, I shouldn’t have to deal with this,” said Sanmartin. “I have called the Westin numerous times and it’s always ‘I’m sorry you have to deal with it.’”

Officials at the Westin declined an interview. However, they issued a statement saying they’re aware of the matter and are working with police and their insurance provider.

“We are working as quickly as possible, but as the matter is still active, we’re unable to provide further details at this time. The safety and security of our guests and their belongings remains paramount,” Derrick Britt, director of rooms at the Westin Hotel said in an email.

After being contacted by Global News, the insurance company agreed to reimburse the couple for all of their expenses.

But the couple is still frustrated. They want to know how their truck could have been given to someone else in the first place.

“I am angry. I feel that if they ignore us long enough we’ll disappear,” said Sanmartin.

They’ve also got a warning for others considering valet.

“Make sure that your personal items are not in your vehicle. If you have a valet mode, set it,” said Sanmartin.

“Just be warned that you have no control once your vehicle is in someone else’s possession,” added Hancock.

With files from Julie Matthews.
Follow @CaleyRamsay

Time ticking down for Alberta school boards to reach agreement with province

CALGARY- Today marks the deadline for teachers and Alberta’s 62 school boards to agree to new contracts.

The province set a deadline of 3 p.m. on Monday for a unanimous agreement, and while most have voted in favour of the contract some, including the Calgary Board of Education, have rejected the deal.

The education minister says if it isn’t accepted, the province could walk away from the deal, legislate an agreement or even fire school boards that reject it.

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In a news release sent Monday morning, the government says Education Minister Jeff Johnson remains confident a province-wide labour agreement between Alberta’s 62 school boards and their teachers can be reached before Monday afternoon’s ratification deadline.

Six school boards have still not accepted the deal, but all have votes scheduled for today.

“We believe the province-wide Framework Agreement is in the best interests of teachers, school boards and students and their parents and fulfils our commitment to put kids first,” Johnson said in a release. “Albertans in their thousands told us during the Inspiring Education dialogue that they want us to continue to transform the education system to meet the needs of a new generation of students,” he added. “That can only happen in a stable labour environment.”

But, after meeting with the outstanding boards Monday, Johnson is facing the prospect of a labour deal with teachers without the support of the province’s largest school board.

The Calgary Board of Education, representing 108,000 public school students, has voted to affirm its earlier rejection of a tentative province-wide teachers agreement.

The board has said it’s concerned about unforeseen costs and the possibility that the deal gives the teachers union too much authority.

The education minister will provide an update by phone Monday at 4:15 p.m.

The four-year agreement negotiated between government and the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) in March would see compensation for 40,000 Alberta teachers frozen for three years. That will be followed by an increase of two per cent in 2015-2016 and a one-time lump sum payment – to be funded by government – in that same year.

The deal also commits the Redford government to review teachers’ workload – a key issue over nearly three years of talks between the government, the ATA and the Alberta School Boards Association.

The premier isn’t making any promises about what could happen if the remaining boards don’t accept the tentative deal.

“Minister [Jeff] Johnson is working very hard with respect to that,”Premier Redford told reporters on Friday. “We’ll see what happens on Monday, and take steps after that.”

In March, Calgary Board of Education trustees voted against the deal, citing “hidden costs” and said it was worried too much power over education was being handed to the teachers’ union.

The St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic School Division was the latest to reject the province-wide deal in a 7-2 vote on Wednesday night. Fort Vermilion, Clearview, and the East Central Francophone Education Region are reportedly the other school boards to vote against the agreement.

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With files from the Canadian Press

Ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt convicted of genocide in Guatemala, sentenced to 80 years – National

GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan court convicted former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity on Friday, sentencing him to 80 years in prison, the first such sentence ever handed down against a former Latin American leader.

It was the state’s first official acknowledgment that genocide occurred during the bloody, 36-year civil war, something the current president, retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina, has denied.

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“He knew about everything that was going on and he did not stop it, despite having the power to stop it from being carried out,” said Presiding Judge Yassmin Barrios. “Rios Montt is guilty of genocide.”

Read also: Guatemala’s genocide trial – A ‘tangled’ path to justice

The 86-year-old former general laughed, talked to his lawyers and listened to the procedures through headphones. When the guilty verdict was announced, the crowded courtroom erupted in cheers. Some women who lost relatives in the massacres wept.

“Judge, Judge! Restore order!” Rios Montt shouted as cameramen and photographers swarmed him after the verdict was announced.

A three-judge tribunal issued the verdict after the nearly two-month trial in which dozens of victims testified about mass rapes and the killings of women and children and other atrocities.

The proceedings suffered ups and downs as the trial was suspended for 12 days amid appeals and at times appeared headed for annulment.

Survivors and relatives of victims have sought for 30 years to bring punishment for Rios Montt. For international observers and Guatemalans on both sides of the war, the trial could be a turning point in a nation still wrestling with the trauma of a conflict that killed some 200,000 people.

“Rios Montt being found guilty … is a significant step forward for justice and accountability in Guatemala,” said Matthew Kennis, Amnesty International’s chair for Central America-Mexico Coordination Group.

Prosecutors said Rios Montt must have had knowledge of the massacres of Mayan Indians when he ruled Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983 at the height of the country’s 36-year civil war. The three-judge panel essentially concluded that the massacres followed the same pattern, showing they had been planned, something that would not be possible without the approval of the military command, which Rios Montt headed.

Rios Montt had said he never knew of or ordered the massacres while in power. A co-defendant, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, a 68-year-old former general who was a high-ranking member of the military chiefs of staff during Rios Montt’s administration, was acquitted.

The 80-year sentence was somewhat symbolic, given Rios Montt’s age and the fact that Guatemala’s maximum sentence is 50 years. His lawyers vowed to appeal the ruling.

“This is an unjust verdict. We already knew they were going to convict him, the general (Rios Montt) even came with his suitcase packed,” said defence lawyer Francisco Palomo.

Indians from ethnic Mayan groups broke into song after the verdict, singing “We only want to be human beings … to live life, not die it.”

“This is a verdict that is just. This brings justice for the victims, justice for the people of Guatemala,” said Edgar Perez of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, one of the groups that originally brought the criminal complaint against the ex-dictator a dozen years ago.

Dozens of victims testified of atrocities. A former soldier directly accused President Perez Molina of ordering pillaging and executions while serving in the military during the Rios Montt regime. Perez Molina called the testimony “lies.”

Ixil Indian Benjamin Geronimo, president of the Justice and Reconciliation Association, told the tribunal during closing arguments Thursday that he survived massacres and killings that claimed the lives of 256 members of his community.

“I saw it with my own eyes, I’m not going to lie. Children, pregnant women and the elderly were killed,” said Geronimo, who spoke on behalf of the victims.

Rios Montt testified for the first time at his trial Thursday.

“I declare myself innocent,” Rios Montt told the three-judge tribunal as many in the audience applauded. “It was never my intention or my goal to destroy a whole ethnic group.”

Rios Montt seized power in a March 23, 1982, coup, and ruled until he himself was overthrown just over a year later. Prosecutors say that while in power he was aware of, and thus responsible for, the slaughter by subordinates of at least 1,771 Ixil Mayas in San Juan Cotzal, San Gaspar Chajul and Santa Maria Nebaj, towns in the Quiche department of Guatemala’s western highlands.

Those military offensives were part of a brutal, decades-long counterinsurgency against a leftist uprising that brought massacres in the Mayan heartland where the guerrillas were based.

A U.N. truth commission said state forces and related paramilitary groups were responsible for 93 per cent of the killings and human rights violations that it documented, committed mostly against indigenous Maya. Yet until now, only low or middle-level officials have been prosecuted for war atrocities.

Prosecutors and advocates for victims built their case on thousands of green folders stuffed with military documents, victims’ testimony and ballistic and forensic examinations of human remains, mostly women or children.

The court was packed with representatives of indigenous, human rights and student groups as well as former soldiers and family members of victims.

Military experts testifying for the victims have said this description of the chain of command makes it obvious that the military chief of staff and other high commanders including Rios Montt could have halted the massacres.

The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation carried out more than 60 studies to identify some 800 sets of human remains from the area that was evidence in the trial, the great majority of victims were women and children who suffered violent deaths.

Mayas were treated as an internal enemy because they were seen as lending support to the guerrillas, according to the indictment against Rios Montt.

Rios Montt is the first Latin American strongman to stand trial and be convicted of genocide in his own country.

Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet who ruled from 1973 to 1990 died in 2006, under house arrest, without ever being convicted on charges of illegal enrichment and human rights violations. In Argentina, former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was convicted and sentenced prison, but for charges other than genocide.

Associated Press Writer Olga R. Rodriguez contributed to this report

©2013The Associated Press

Police and AMA drive home dangers of distracted driving – Edmonton

EDMONTON – Some Edmonton teens got behind the wheel on Friday to learn first-hand about the risks of distracted driving. And as they learned, it’s not just texting and driving that can be dangerous.

“A lot of times there’s some everyday distractions that people don’t even think about, such as taking a drink of water or putting on chapstick, eating in the vehicle, dropping something in the vehicle and reaching down to pick it up,” says Rick Lang, manager of Driver Education at the Alberta Motor Association.

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On a closed course at Castrol Raceway, young drivers were asked to perform some of those tasks while trying to navigate through an obstacle course. The results were eye-opening.

“It proved itself to be quite difficult,” admitted one girl.

“If I was going a bit faster I don’t think I’d do as well,” said Omar Abou-Absi. “It sort of made me say ‘wow, that little thing can make you distracted.’”

Studies have shown texting and driving and drinking and driving are almost identical in terms of increasing a person’s risk behind the wheel. Other everyday distractions are not that far behind.

“All it takes is a couple of seconds off the attention span, and there’s the crash,” said Acting Staff Sgt. Kelly Rosnau, with EPS.

“We all believe that we can multi-task, and unfortunately, that’s what distracted driving is. We believe that we can multi-task and operate a vehicle at 60 km/hr without any effect on our abilities,” he added.

In reality, the effects can range from getting honked at or swerving, to hitting something or, worse, someone.

Even though the only items knocked down during Friday’s course were pylons, the drivers who took part in the driving test seem to have gotten the message about the real potential consequences of distracted driving.

“We all think we’re invincible and that nothing can touch us,” said Abou-Absi. “If we were to put every teen in the world through something like this, they would realize that they aren’t right and aren’t invincible, that they could just hurt themselves.”

Lang hopes that the teens who took part in the exercise will now spread the message to their peers. Because so far, police say it doesn’t seem to have sunken in.

Since the beginning of the year, Edmonton police have issued more than 1,700 distracted driving tickets, each ticket costing $172.

With files from Ross Neitz, Global News

B.C. election leaves fledgling Tories in the dust: former member, expert – BC

VANCOUVER – Once believed to be a contender to displace the B.C. Liberal Party against the front-running New Democrats in next week’s provincial election, the BC Conservatives now face grim returns at the ballot boxes, say a former party member and a political expert.

The rise and fall of the provincial Tories has been rapid – Elections BC numbers state the party had only two per cent of the popular vote during the 2009 election, yet the party sat nearly neck-and-neck in the polls with the Liberals three years later.

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But the gains were short-lived, superficial and counterproductive, said John Martin, a former Conservative candidate now running under the Liberal banner.

“They’ve just been having a disaster of a campaign,” he said. “They’re not going to win a seat.”

“When (the BC Conservatives) polled 23 per cent about a year and a half ago, or so, that didn’t equate into membership or donations.”

As a Conservative, Martin ran and lost to the NDP in a Chilliwack-Hope byelection just over a year ago.

Although he secured 25 per cent of the vote, Martin still ranked behind the Liberal candidate – an outcome he said made him realize the so-called free enterprise parties couldn’t usurp Adrian Dix’s NDP while divided.

“It was just a very temporary parking spot for some disgruntled people who wanted to see some things tighten up,” Martin explained.

But Conservative Leader John Cummins, 71, refutes Martin’s comments, saying Conservative doorknockers and candidates tell a different story of the support they’ve received from B.C. voters.

“I understand the polls and the gross numbers,” Cummins said. “But I think this is election is different. There is considerable upset with the Liberals.”

“The response that our people are getting at the doors is simply phenomenal.”

Martin switched party allegiance to Christy Clark’s Liberals about six months after the byelection loss, wanting to unite the counter-NDP vote and improve his own chances of a May 14 election victory, Martin said.

“It wasn’t a matter of leadership,” Martin said of Cummins, despite leaving at a time when the BC Conservatives were plagued with expulsions and resignations.

But Richard Johnston, Canada’s chair of research in public opinion and elections at the University of B.C., said Cummins’ leadership has played a significant roll in the fate of the party.

“In some ways the very thing that made John Cummins more credible than any of his predecessors in living memory was also what made it difficult for him to expand the base more than he has,” Johnston said.

The Conservative leader has largely run a niche “resentment” platform in both federal and provincial politics, Johnston said, and is an “authoritarian figure” within his party.

“He had sort of a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to things and the party bled personnel and credibility along the way. (In) some sense, it was kind of dead-on-arrival,” he said.

When some among his party called for Cummins’ resignation, the leader repeatedly rejected them, instead choosing to can mutinous members.

Cummins’ qualities aren’t those usually associated with the role of premier, Johnston said, adding the Conservatives’ campaign has been flawed from the start.

“What could be improved,” he asked laughing. “Well, if you were willing to run history backwards and start over.”

Several polls showed a drop in public approval for the Conservative leader after last month’s televised leadership debates, a forum Cummins used as a last-ditch attempt to steal votes from the Liberals.

“Everyone knows that the Liberals can’t win this election,” Cummins said at the start of the debates to viewers.

“So you’ve probably tuned in to see what (NDP Leader)Adrian Dix will look like as a premier,” he added.

The Conservative leader pointed out a vote in his direction would send a message – a protest vote.

B.C. Tory success has largely stemmed from voters’ fair-weather disapproval of the Liberals, according to Johnston.

“I think they went up because the Liberals were going down,” he said, largely blaming the harmonized sales tax “fiasco” for the Liberals’ slump. The HST was introduced by the then-Gordon Campbell government and voted down later in a province-wide referendum.

“But then it was over … the Liberals stopped coming apart.”

Johnston said despite a Liberal party that has been “dogged by troubles” in the lead up to the election, the party has nevertheless attracted a number of credible candidates – something the Tory camp has been hard pressed to do.

The Conservatives took a serious hit when four candidates were turfed for various social media blunders, Johnston said, which could have been avoided with a more rigorous screening process.

Two of the candidates – Ian Toothill in Vancouver-False Creek and Mischa Popoff in Boundary-Similkameen – are now running as independents.

An airtight vetting system, however, can be difficult for new parties that don’t have massive funds or ongoing operations, Johnston said.

“As you’re trying to build a candidate group, you kind of take what you can get and they’ve been punished for that,” he said.

Most importantly, Johnston said the Conservatives lack candidates so they’re not even an option in many voters’ minds.

The Conservatives are running 56 candidates in 85 ridings.

Cummins said he believes the Conservatives have a fair shot at winning seats in the Okanagan, the Shuswap, Peace River region, and the eastern Fraser Valley.

“I’m confident we can pick up, you know, a couple of seats out of Richmond,” he added. “We think we can carry the day.”

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a Liberal stronghold in this province right now and I mean, I know what the polls are saying today … if you take a look at the undecided numbers, and undecideds are still up there.”

Cummins said he’s done the best he can with the limited resources his party has had for the campaign.

“We haven’t been able to get our message out the way that we wanted – obviously – and that’s been a problem, but we fully anticipated that,” he said.

Cummins’ self-dubbed “common-sense” platform includes balanced budgets, fair taxation, fiscal accountability, as well as plans to develop natural resources, the technology sector, and communities rural and northern B.C.

He’s also come out against tolls, foreign workers, and what he calls a punitive carbon tax that hurts consumers, industry, and commuters who lack transit alternatives.

“The support that we’ve been getting demonstrates there is a need for the BC Conservatives,” Cummins said.

But the Conservatives won’t have much of a shot to relive their Social Credit glory days, said the political expert from UBC, even with increased time, resources and a leader with broader appeal than Cummins.

“The province has changed,” Johnston said, adding rural and northern ridings don’t hold as much clout as they did fifty years ago.

“The outlying regions of the province – the Interior and the North – relatively speaking, counted for more demographically than they do now.”

Johnston said the best possible outcome for the BC Conservatives on May 14 would be to elect a few candidates to the legislature in Victoria.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said.

The City of Bridges plans to ‘cement’ its title – Saskatoon

SASKATOON – By the end of July it’s expected the Circle Drive South Project will be complete and already there are plans for another big project. This one has the potential of adding two more river crossings by 2017.

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Nanjing Night Net

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  • How Circle Drive South Project is faring with spring

    Circle Drive South opening delayed until at least July 31, 2013

The North Commuter Parkway Project includes a bridge that will cross the river in the city’s far north, linking the Marquis Industrial area with University Heights. A functional planning study has been completed and a report will be up for approval at executive committee on Monday. If approved there, it will move forward to city council for full approval.

This project was a big part of city councillor Zach Jeffries’ campaign platform in Fall 2012. Jeffries says the new bridge is needed to get people from the growing northeast neighbourhoods of his ward across the river to the business district in the northwest.

“This is not a 1 off project, it’s part of a plan to grow Saskatoon to half-a-million people” said Jeffries.

The project includes 9 km of connecting roadway and the proposed size of the bridge has increased from four lanes to six.

The Traffic Bridge hasn’t been forgotten in all of this. Closed to vehicles since August 2010, the city does still recognize it as a necessary crossing to access downtown Saskatoon. Administration is recommending packaging a replacement for the Traffic Bridge in with the North Commuter Parkway Project.

Special projects manager with the city Dan Willems said doing it this way could help curb the cost “it takes advantage of joint financing so the financing can be shared and you also get a more competitive financing scenario based on a larger overall project value.”

Originally, the North Commuter Parkway Bridge was expected to cost $85.6 million. Now by proposing a bridge that’s 2 lanes wider, the price has risen to $118 million. Land and connecting roadways are estimated at $76.3 million and the addition of $35 million to replace the Traffic Bridge brings the dual project to a total cost of $229.5 million. 

“A large portion of our financing plan at this point assumes, or anticipates, a big contribution from the federal and provincial governments” said Willems.

Neither the federal or provincial governments have confirmed funding.

The city is aiming to complete the North Commuter Parkway Project by fall 2016, and the replacement Traffic Bridge, the following year.

Coming up this weekend on the Saturday and Sunday Morning News

Saturday

A shoulder injury sidelined Jasper Moedt’s university basketball career. Soon after his accident he was suffering depression, hearing voices, and having suicidal thoughts. Moedt was able to seek treatment and now helps other people in similar circumstances as a peer mentor for ‘Speak Up’ – a program provided by the Fraser Health Authority. To wrap up Mental Health Week, he will join us at 7:40am to share his story and stress the importance of recognizing early signs and symptoms of mental illness.

Tis the season for fresh BC spot prawns and a spot prawn and octopus salad is on our Saturday Chef’s menu. Chef Julian Bond – President of the Chefs’ Table Society and Program Director of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts is organizing the BC Spot Prawn Festival at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf. His is in studio at 8:20am.

The benefits of soaking up the sun and absorbing vitamin D may outweigh the risks of developing skin cancer, according to new research. And are you limiting the number of nuts you eat because of their fat content? You may not have to. Dr. Art Hister addresses both topics 8:40am.

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Nanjing Night Net

Thanks to a scheduling conflict, North America’s top lacrosse players are coming to the lower mainland. The National Lacrosse League Championship is being held at the Langley Events Centre this weekend. Jay sits down with the NLL’s Commissioner George Daniels and the LEC’s Director of Business Development Jared Harman just before 9am.

Since 2009, Denise Walker’s annual ‘Bachelor/Bachelorette Auctions’ have raised tens of thousands of dollars for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice and the BC Cancer Foundation. In just 4 years, the events have also led to several marriages and two babies. The fundraising phenom, along with her boyfriend (and former ‘Bachelor’) tell us more about this year’s efforts.

And looking for a last minute Mother’s Day gift? Don’t just buy tea for your mom, grow it. GardenWorks expert Leanne Johson shows us an array of teas you can harvest in your own garden.

The Noon News is pre-empted for PGA coverage on Global TV.

Sunday

The ‘Ted Talks’ aren’t officially coming to BC until next year, but that’s not stopping the leaders of tomorrow from bringing their minds together. Grade 7 student Qayam Devji from West Vancouver is curating the first ever [email protected] The conference’s theme is ‘Curiosity and Wonder’ and young speakers from Grades 4 to 12 will be presenting a myriad of different topics. Qayam and event organizer Janet Hicks tell us more at 7:40am.

One of our favourite chefs, Angie Quaale from Well Seasoned, has a delectable Mother’s Day recipe. She takes over the kitchen at 8:20am.

Need automotive advice? Rob MacGregor is our ‘Ask an Expert’ this week. He takes your questions at 8:40am.

The provincial election is only days away. The latest polls show the Liberals closing in on the NDP’s lead. Will it hold? What will the leaders do in these final moments to win over undecided voters? Our pundits, Marcella Munro and Greg Lyle are back for one last heated discussion in our final hour.

The Noon News is pre-empted for PGA coverage on Global TV.

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