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Alberta budget: More debt, and a bet on oil

Rachel Notley's NDP government is taking on more debt as it bets on the energy sector to boost the Alberta economy. The province is estimating a $10-billion deficit in the upcoming fiscal year, with debt climbing to $71-billion by 2019-2020. The budget would be balanced by 2023-24.

On the flipside, the government is banking on rising oil prices and revenues from two pipeline projects to offset the debt load. But one big potential risk Notley faces is the result of the British Columbia election in May; the B.C. NDP opposes the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Alberta government is also forecasting a climb in oil from an expected average of $55 (U.S.) a barrel this year to $68 in 2019-20.

Tim Hortons reviewing franchisee complaints

In a March 10 letter, a group of Tim Hortons franchisees alleged that the brand is "being destroyed" by its parent company's cost-cutting. Now, the fast-food chain is responding by promising to set up internal reviews of those complaints (for subscribers). But Tims president Elias Diaz Sese also said "the brand was being attacked." Addressing an allegation about the quality of the chain's coffee pots, he said the pots haven't changed in 14 years.

In December of 2014, Tim Hortons merged with Burger King as part of a takeover by Brazilian private-equity fund 3G Capital. Since then, Tim Hortons' parent company has cut a slew of head office and regional jobs; there's only one top Tim Hortons executive left from before the takeover. Diaz Sese acknowledged that the changes haven't been easy, but added that "we need to keep the pace" with industry changes.

Websites linked to Karim Baratov explicitly offered hacking services

Karim Baratov, a 22-year-old living in Ancaster, Ont., was arrested on Wednesday for his alleged role in a major hacking scheme that targeted millions of e-mail users. By setting up sites like Accounts-Google.net, Baratov allegedly tricked people into clicking on e-mail links in order to obtain their passwords and access their accounts – a practice known as spear phishing. Russian spies allegedly paid Baratov for his services.

Separately, back in 2009 when he was a teenager, Baratov appeared to have registered a web domain that was linked to an online advertisement for hacking services. On social media, Baratov bragged: "At 14, I was making more than both of my parents combined." Baratov often bragged about his financial success online, including his purchases of luxury cars. Since 2010, at least 105 domains were registered under Karim Baratov or Karim Taloverov – one of his alleged aliases.

Morneau says world should follow Canada's tax-the-rich plan

Taxing the rich and cutting taxes for the middle class are good for economic growth, Finance Minister Bill Morneau told G20 finance ministers in a speech yesterday. His pointed words came just ahead of the federal budget, set to be revealed this Wednesday. The Liberals have been assessing the possibility of removing tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. Canadian business groups have been calling on the Liberals to avoid further hikes, worried that an increase to capital-gains taxes would prompt some to head south in order to take advantage of Trump's tax plans (for subscribers).

MORNING MARKETS

The euro briefly jumped to a five-week high and the bloc's bond yields and banking stocks climbed on Friday as comments from an ECB policy maker prompted investors to price in a high chance of a rate hike by year-end. Tokyo's Nikkei lost 0.4 per cent, and the Shanghai composite 1 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.1 per cent. In Europe, the Paris CAC 40 was up 0.2 per cent by about 5:40 a.m. ET, London's FTSE 100 was down slightly, and Germany's DAX was down 0.2 per cent. New York futures were little changed. The G20 finance ministers are meeting in Germany today, the first such gathering with the Trump team, amid American accusations of currency manipulation and unfair trade regimes.


WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT

If Notley's budget gamble goes wrong, things could get ugly in Alberta

"The Alberta government will borrow nearly $6.3-billion this upcoming fiscal year just to keep the lights on and $7.8-billion next. … Scarier, still, is the degree to which the New Democrats are relying on a serious uptick in the price of oil just to sustain the audacious debt numbers they have just placed before the Alberta public. … But think about this: Every $1-a-barrel drop in the price of oil represents roughly a $130-million loss in revenue to the government. That tells you just how perilous these times are for the province. Unless oil rebounds to the optimistic degree Finance Minister Joe Ceci is projecting, things in Alberta could get uglier than they already are – far, far uglier." – Gary Mason

The troubling case of Don Meredith, and senators who just won't quit

"By any objective measure, it's a bit of an understatement to say that Senator Don Meredith behaved badly when he began pursuing a teenage girl when she was 16, and eventually had sexual intercourse with her just before and after her 18th birthday. ... If he refuses to go voluntarily, his fellow members should consider suspending him, or even expelling him – a difficult but not impossible outcome. But Meredith's case is a reminder that senators, unlike MPs, are nearly impossible to remove. They are appointed, not elected; they sit until age 75 – Mr. Meredith has more than 22 years to go – and they are responsible to nobody and to nothing beyond their own conscience. As long as they show up for work and aren't convicted of a crime, they are essentially irremovable." – Globe editorial

HEALTH PRIMER

What to do when you can't afford your prescriptions

First: Talk to your doctor about it. There are often plans that cover seniors and those with low incomes, but people in the middle can sometimes be forgotten. Your physician might be able to recommend cheaper, non-brand-name alternatives, and possibly even give you some free samples. You could also be better off getting medications in longer-term bulk, since pharmacies often charge a dispensing fee every time you go to fill a prescription.

MOMENT IN TIME

Canada's last Studebaker

March 17, 1966: The last Studebaker rolled off the assembly line in Hamilton, Ont., in 1966. Over Studebaker's 18-year history in Hamilton, it produced 129,325 cars and trucks, including this one from 1955 in the photo above. The Hamilton closure came only three years after Studebaker Corp., which had been making cars in the U.S. since 1902, moved all of its production to Canada. But as sales in the U.S. plummeted, "Canada's own car," as advertising director Stu Chapman had tagged it, fell victim to the company's nixing of a proposed updated '67 model. The last Studebaker, a turquoise Cruiser four-door sedan (serial No. C534654), is still on display at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Ind. Chapman, 83, finds solace in the thriving Studebaker Drivers Club, "probably the biggest car club in the world with 12,000 members in 44 countries," including 66 in the Hamilton chapter. – Dan Proudfoot

Morning Update is written by Arik Ligeti.

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