VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA,  December 29, 2003  (STAR) LIVING IN CANADA By Mel Tobias - Vancouver businessmen are feeling more optimistic about the coming 2004 than they have in recent times. This trend has been confirmed in the latest national survey gauging business confidence. The spending habits of Canadians are also up this Christmas season and that’s making the retailers extremely happy and enthusiastic. Meanwhile, Canadian households spent over $2.4 b`er a year earlier and is expected to increase this year. It was still only a tiny fraction of the total $656 billion spent on personal purchases across the country.

We’re hoping that the worst of 2003’s paralyzing negative impact created by SARS, forest fires, terrorism, floodings, mad cow disease and West Nile virus won’t return. Our present fear these days is the A/Fijian virus responsible for the current flu outbreak.

On the bright side, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that a leading expert at the center of the struggle to control last winter’s deadly outbreak of SARS commented that there are signs that Canada has seen the end of SARS. The doctor (Dr. Donald Lau, chief of Microbiology at Toronto’s University Nework and Mount Sinai Hospital) argues that there are no known human carriers of the virus today and that the likelihood of it leaping from animals to humans again is quite remote. Let us hope the good doctor is right.

The doctor however stressed that he was not suggesting that Canada should not be spending more to shore up public health and infection in response to SARS. Other Canadian experts said that it was too soon to declare SARS over.

On the political front, there’s a general feeling of hope in the forthcoming changes in government policies as Canada’s 21st prime minister Paul Martin takes office. A new cabinet was unveiled with fresh and familiar political figures. The senior cabinet ministers will form Martin’s innermost circle who will help set the overall direction of the government.

Dr. Hedy Fry, a popular and controversial Vancouver politician who’s always been close to the Philippine community has a new job in the federal government. She will be the parliamentary secretary to the citizenship and immigration minister. Part of her job responsibility is to assist new Canadian immigrants who have to drive taxis and take any available low paying jobs because the professional credentials they earned in other countries are not recognized in Canada.

Dr. Fry said that nurses from the Philippines are examples of other professionals, she mentioned engineers and doctors, who face barriers when they move to Canada and try to land a job in the type of work they are already qualified to do. She has worked with Filipino-Canadian groups because many women who come to Canada as domestic workers were nurses in the Philippines.

The Vancouver Filipino Nurses Support Group estimated over 1,000 nurses in British Columbia who are not registered to work in their profession, despite a nursing shortage that has prompted the government to bolster nursing schools.

A study by Canadian Policy Research Networks into the quality of jobs in 17 countries suggested the relentless pace of work is a North American phenomenon that is impacting workers’ health. The study examined how Canada’s workplaces compare against the US and European Union on four key measures of job quality: worklife conflict, health and well-being, skills development, career and employment security.

Canada tops the list for working the hardest, with about 17 per cent reporting they work at "high speed" all the time. One-third of working Canadians feel their health is at risk because of their job.

It is the season of gift giving and if you’re feeling that you’re giving more than receiving, then relax because you’re ahead of the others, you’re on the right track, you’re doing the right thing. A five-year scientific research implied that giving has a whole range of health benefits, including fewer aches and pains, better mental health, lower stress levels and improved protection against illness. In conclusion, making a contribution to the lives of other people may help to extend our own lives.

Have a meaningful Christmas everyone!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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