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Wednensday's Canadian Briefs

$50 billion deficit? Harper says he's willing to spend more if needed
/ Source: The Associated Press

$50 billion deficit? Harper says he's willing to spend more if needed

OTTAWA (AP) — An unapologetic Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government's oversized $16-billion miss on the federal deficit Wednesday and declared he is prepared to go even further in the hole if he sees fit to fight the recession.

A day after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty shocked Canadians by declaring the federal deficit will balloon to more than $50 billion this year — a 50 per cent hike from January's $33.7 billion budget estimate — Harper brushed aside calls for his minister's resignation, while signalling his willingness to spend more.

"The deficit has gone up because the recession is deeper," said Harper in response to a question in the Commons.

"If the recession gets deeper, we will do more to help the unemployed and to help people."

But economists warned Wednesday the government doesn't need to spend more to widen the deficit — it will already balloon next year and likely the year after that beyond the budget's now inadequate projections.

"If Flaherty thinks this a one-year phenomenon, I doubt that very much," said Dale Orr, an independent economic consultant in Toronto.

TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond, a former finance official and one of Canada's leading experts on the budget process, discounted Flaherty's assertion that his government will return to balance in four years, saying it will take "many, many years" before Ottawa digs itself out of the deep hole it is digging.

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Upcoming space station visits by two Canadians may be last for five years

LONGUEUIL, Quebec (AP) — Canada's landmark mission to the International Space Station could be the last visit by its astronauts to the orbiting laboratory for five years.

A Russian Soyuz space capsule blasted off on Wednesday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying veteran Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk and two crewmates.

But once Thirsk returns to Earth in November, it will be a while before a Canadian returns to space.

"It'll be five years from now," said Pierre Jean, Canada's space station program manager. "And the next one (after that) will be five years later."

The next "for-sure" flight to the space station by a Canadian will also be on board a Soyuz.

Jean says Canada's next space travellers should be its two newest recruits — Jeremy Hansen and David St-Jacques, who joined the Canadian astronaut corps earlier this month.

The 55-year-old Thirsk, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Belgium's Frank De Winne, are due to arrive at the giant space station on Friday for a six-month stay.

The landmark mission will be Canada's first long-duration mission in space.

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Ontario families in court arguing for funding disabled kids in religious schools

TORONTO (AP) — The mother of an Ontario boy denied disability funding because he attends a Jewish school had her day in court Wednesday, two years after a lawsuit was launched claiming the province discriminates against disabled children who attend private religious schools.

Max Greenberg, 13, has a non-verbal learning disorder, but does not receive funding from the government for special computer resources, said his mother, Missy Hecker.

"What bothers me is my son sees the discrimination and how unfair it is and how unjust it is," Hecker said outside court.

Hecker and Max are among eight families taking the Ontario government to court because it does not fund services at private religious schools for blind, deaf and learning-disabled children.

Parents are instead forced to pay for the programs or move their children to a public or Catholic school — both of which are publicly funded in Ontario — where students with similar disabilities do receive support.

Yet children with other disabilities, such as speech impairments, can still receive government-funded therapy and services at private religious schools.

In 2000, the province began funding students in faith-based schools who required nursing, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy.

That list left out children with other disabilities, Raj Anand, one of the lawyers representing the families, told the court.