Thursday, June 29, 2006

CMHC Reduces Monthly Mortgage Costs

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is helping to make homeownership more affordable and accessible for Canadians by eliminating homeowner high-ratio mortgage insurance application fees, and offering insurance for mortgages with longer amortizations and more flexible repayment options.

These innovative financial solutions will allow more Canadians to buy homes, and to do so sooner. By reducing costs and increasing flexibility, CMHC continues to help Canadians realize their dreams of homeownership.

Effective today, CMHC will eliminate application fees on all high-ratio homeowner mortgage loan insurance products. The typical fee eliminated will be $165, but could be as high as $235 depending on the type of insurance transaction.

CMHC will continue to look for ways of enhancing its products and services, and reducing the cost of accessing financing for Canadians where it can.

In addition, CMHC will provide mortgage insurance that allows lenders to offer borrowers with a proven history of managing their credit responsibly the option of making interest-only mortgage payments for up to the first 10 years when they purchase or refinance their home. This new option will give borrowers greater flexibility in managing their cash flow.

Earlier this year, CMHC was the first Canadian mortgage insurer to introduce, on a pilot basis, insurance on loans with extended amortization periods of up to 30 years. Building on the success of this pilot, CMHC is now moving to further facilitate homeownership by making this feature on-going, and is also introducing extended amortization periods of up to 35 years.

Extended amortizations allow borrowers to purchase their home and grow equity sooner. The premium surcharge for a 30-year amortization will be 0.20 per cent. For a 35-year amortization product, the premium surcharge will be 0.40 per cent.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has been Canada's national housing agency for over 60 years. CMHC is committed to helping Canadians access a wide choice of quality, affordable homes, while making vibrant, healthy communities and cities a reality across the country.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The US Housing Market is in the 'Pause' Mode

Have you ever seen a baby bang himself on something? Often, there is a big pause and then - WAMMO! The crying starts at full volume.

Right now, I think the US housing market is in the 'pause' segment. We all can see what is happening, but the pain hasn't really been felt yet.

When the crying starts at full volume, these things will be happening:
Housing starts go way down - construction jobs lost and lumber industry gets hurt.
Banks get hurt; pull back on credit. Mortgage industry massive disruption.
Housing-equity funded consumption drops, leading to associated production/job loss.

To extend the analogy to Ottawa, we haven't even stubbed our toe yet - we're the toddler running around the room bouncing off furniture at full blast thinking like nothing could ever hurt us.

Canada Could Aid Development of Hurricane-Proof Houses

Canadian Scientists are developing a novel simulator that could help protect homes from the awesome power of Mother Nature.

Canadian Scientists are putting its new hurricane-force wind simulator through its paces before it is used to pulverise a full-size house at a research facility called the "Three Little Pigs" in Canada.

Following a year of design and development work, the technology consultancy is testing its novel wind simulator, before delivery to the University of Western Ontario for pioneering research into wind damage on low-rise buildings.

The system is capable of generating pressures equivalent to a category 5 hurricane - winds exceeding 156 miles per hour – and can vary the speed and direction of air flow up to seven times a second. This allows an array of actuators to emulate the real-life swirling effects of destructive winds.

The design can also dynamically adjust flow rate to maintain pressure - even as a structure begins to disintegrate. The results of Western's research are expected to lead to more formal techniques for weather-proofing low-rise buildings in hurricane prone areas.

The simulator takes the form of modular pressure actuators, which are mounted against the exterior surface of a test structure. Each actuator can generate pressures equivalent to a category 5 hurricane, enabling realistic loads to be applied to full-size buildings for the first time.

A real-time control system, also being developed by Canadian Scientists, will enable arrays of actuators to be co-ordinated to simulate complex wind effects over the entire surface of a test structure.

Western will use this simulation technology to apply realistic wind patterns onto real-world structures, beginning with a two-storey, pitched-roof dwelling currently nearing completion at "The Three Little Pigs" research facility in London, Ontario.

Following completion of Canadian Scientists development tests, Western expects to start commissioning the simulator this summer, using an initial batch of 10 actuators on a rig that will become a permanent facility for testing building materials. Around 100 modular actuators will then be fabricated, to create a wind simulator large enough to test complete low-rise buildings.

Sales of New Homes Increase Up 4.6 % Unexpectedly in May

U.S. Sales of new homes rose in May 2006 to the fastest pace this year, led by big gains in the South.

The U.S. Commerce Department Commerce Department reported Monday that sales of new single-family homes increased by 4.6 % last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.234 million units. Wall Street had been expecting a 4 % drop in sales.

The median price of a new home did drop to $235,000 in May, down 4.3 % from the April sales price. The May level was up 3.1 % from a median price of $229,200 in May 2005.

Analysts pointed to the slowdown in price gains, the reduction in earnings forecasts by some of the nation‘s biggest builders and the high level of unsold homes as evidence the housing market is slowing.

Many economists are looking for sales of both new and existing homes to fall by around 10 percent this year as rising mortgage rates crimp demand. The lowest mortgage rates in four decades helped to propel sales to five straight annual records from 2001 through 2005.

For May, sales posted the largest increase in the South, a gain of 6 % which pushed the annual sales rate up to 669,000 units.

The only region to suffer a decline was the Northeast, where sales fell by 7.9 % to an annual rate of 58,000 units.

Economists believe that the huge backlog of unsold homes will put more downward pressure on prices in coming months.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Over Ottawa

Canada Supports Urban Development Projects

On the occasion of Canada hosting the third World Urban Forum this week in Vancouver, the Honourable Josée Verner, Minister of International Cooperation, announces that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) will provide over $14 million to several urban development partners for projects that seek to improve local governance and the local environment.

"Helping local governments to be more accountable in delivering services to their citizens will provide long-term benefits," said Minister Verner. "This funding demonstrates Canada's commitment to supporting initiatives that will help achieve tangible, effective results."

The following organizations will receive financial support from CIDA over the next three to five years:
  • Institute of Public Administration of Canada. IPAC has helped improve the capacities of public servants so that governments can better deliver their mandates and foster sustainable progress.
  • Canadian Urban Institute. CUI shared experiences learned from its projects in the Philippines at a workshop organized for Hat Yai, Thailand. The CUI program in Iloilo, Philippines, received a citation by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities as a good model for addressing issues of urbanization, population and poverty.
  • Sustainable Cities Foundation. SCF has worked with municipalities and local community groups to develop and implement local community-based environmental management plans for urban greening and trained marginalized populations in areas of environment management and poverty reduction as well as in safety and health.
  • Rooftops Canada/Abri International. Rooftops Canada has helped people to secure land and build housing in urban centres.
  • A collaborative initiative between the University of British Columbia and the Brazil Ministry of Cities. The goal of the New Public Consortia for Metropolitan Governance project is to reduce poverty in the peripheries of Brazil’s metropolitan areas by improving regional and municipal planning and contributing to grass root's development.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Flat Housing Market Expected

An Ottawa real estate market slowdown will lead to a flat housing market and a slower economy in Canada over the next two years.

New forecast predicts that real estate prices in Ottawa will not fall significantly, but sales volume will drop more precipitously than prices as the price cycle lags behind the volume cycle.

The number of homes sold will drop as owners decide not to sell in a weaker market.

The real decline in the housing market will come in "residential investment," which includes construction of new homes, repair and remodeling, and brokerage commissions on the sale of new and existing homes.

But the decline in residential investment and the associated decline in construction employment will not be matched by a decline in manufacturing employment, as the latter has not yet recovered from the recession of 2001. Unless there is a decline in manufacturing employment, the national economy will avoid recession.

In Ontario, there is not enough vulnerability in the usual sources of employment loss to create a recession, and the historical record suggests that average home prices do not usually fall without this kind of job loss.

But as in the national forecast, there will still be declines in real estate and some associated job losses in real estate-sensitive sectors.

Nuclear Safety in Kanata

Senior writer and national security and terrorism editor, Ian MacLeod, said in OttawaCitizen on Saturday:
Mock terrorist drills are being considered for the nuclear laboratories in Chalk River where a stockpile of highly enriched uranium -- enough for at least one nuclear bomb -- is pitting the benefits of nuclear medicine against the risks of nuclear terrorism.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is examining the feasibility of staging "force-on-force" security drills at all major Canadian nuclear sites, similar to mandatory drills at key U.S. nuclear facilities in which military units "attack" and test private in-house security forces.

The commission disclosed the idea in response to Citizen questions about renewed and critical attention over the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) exported from the U.S. to the Chalk River site, two hours northwest of Ottawa, where it is used to make life-saving medical isotopes for Ottawa's MDS Nordion.

As the world's leading medical isotope producer, Nordion's use of HEU is expected to come under renewed scrutiny today in Norway at an international conference of arms control, security and nuclear experts, the latest in a long-running international effort to reduce and eventually eliminate "civilian" HEU commerce.

The meeting follows a major report delivered to the United Nations this month by an independent weapons of mass destruction commission led by Hans Blix, the UN's former chief weapons inspector.

It, too, singled out the need for enhanced security of HEU used for isotope production, though it did not mention specific cases of concern.

An estimated 20 tonnes of civilian HEU is stored around the world, primarily to fuel more than 100 research reactors including four in Canada and dozens in other countries, some with questionable security. Others, like Nordion, use HEU as "target" material in the cores of nuclear reactors to produce medical isotopes.

An estimated 45 kilograms of HEU exported from the U.S. is believed to be stored at Chalk River -- no HEU is kept at Nordion's March Road plant in Kanata -- awaiting the commercial startup of two isotope-producing nuclear reactors intended to maintain Canada's dominance in the $3-billion global molecular imaging and radiotherapeutics market.

Some non-proliferation experts believe the stockpile and Nordion's continued use of HEU presents a tempting target for terrorists conspiring to either steal it to build a weapon of mass destruction or to carry out radiological sabotage at the heavily guarded Chalk River site.

Instead, they say Nordion and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation that owns and operates the facility, should convert their production process to use low-grade uranium (LEU), which is unsuitable for nuclear weapons.

Nordion and AECL characterize a terrorist threat as improbable. The federal nuclear safety commission agrees.

"There is no proliferation risk to the use of this material in Canada," because of the strict national and international regulations and safeguards governing its transport, storage and use, says Aurele Gervais, a commission spokesman.

Even so, commission staff is "reviewing the experience of other countries such as the United States in their FOF (force-on-force) program at nuclear sites to identify key areas that must be considered if such exercises were put in place," he says.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the U.S., Chalk River and other Canadian nuclear facilities have beefed up security dramatically. AECL now spends about $7 million annually on security measures at Chalk River, including for its own highly trained and heavily armed paramilitary "nuclear response force."

The force routinely conducts joint exercises with various police agencies and, at least once a year, with the military. But based on the commission's statement, the performance testing does not included force-on-force exercises.

The nuclear response force is "formidably trained and armoured to counter the design basis threat and any other potential threats," says Brad Perrin, Chalk River's chief of security. "The effectiveness of the security response is tested regularly and the results are provided," to the nuclear safety commission, but kept classified.

In the U.S., the Department of Energy requires all major nuclear facilities to undergo a mandatory FOF exercise at least once every three years.

The facilities are expected to be able to defend against theft of nuclear materials or radiological sabotage by a few terrorists using surprise and readily available weapons and explosives, as well as against the theft of nuclear secrets.

The results have been revealing.

An eight-month investigation by the independent U.S. Project on Government Oversight found:

* Private security guards contracted to guard facilities housing thousands of tons of HEU and plutonium "lost" against the "attackers" in more than half the exercises.

* In October 2000, during a force-on-force drill at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, nuclear facility, the mock terrorists gained control of sensitive nuclear materials which, if detonated, would have endangered significant parts of New Mexico, Colorado and downwind areas.

* In 1998, the fall of 1999, and again in the spring of 2000, two force-on-force exercises were run to test the Rocky Flats protective force. A "criticality alarm" -- warning that a nuclear chain reaction is potentially imminent -- was set off, creating confusion and allowing the mock terrorists to access to special nuclear materials. The alarm required everyone to immediately leave the building. Hoping to "kill" the "adversaries," the protective force indiscriminately shot employees, controllers and each other as they were exiting the building in response to the alarm.

Even though many deficiencies have been found with the U.S. exercises -- the protective forces, for example, are given at least two hours notice an "attack" is imminent -- the tests are still crucial, says Ed Lyman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists global security program. He also is past president of the watchdog U.S. Nuclear Control Institute.

"You can meet every (security) regulation on paper, but when it comes to actually implementing a strategy there could be severe problems. It depends on the size of the (protective) force relative to the attacking force and what you assume about the capabilities of the attacking force.

"A relatively small tweak to the type of strategy that the attackers use could totally overwhelm the defence force. So without performance testing that is realistic ... then I don't take at face value the fact (Chalk River) has some guards with guns running around. The key is force-on-force exercises."

And speculation that nuclear terrorists would have more success attacking poorly guarded nuclear facilities in eastern Europe, for example, is dangerous, he says.

"Obviously the weak links of the chain have to be protected. But the complacent attitude of some of the western facilities is probably a bigger vulnerability than places where there's more attention, like the eastern bloc.

"The fact is that in the West this attitude that 'We're invulnerable,' which obviously Sept. 11 should have shaken up, doesn't seem to have sunk in. We still have HEU at (U.S.) university reactors where there's virtually no security.

"I haven't been to Chalk River. All I know is in a highly defended facility like Oakridge, like Los Alamos, FOF testing demonstrated that there could be a rapid commando attack that could successfully escape with material."

Our previous story: "Kanata is the Most Radioactive Place in Ottawa"

US home construction rebounded in May

U.S. home construction rebounded in May from a 13-month low as builders worked on backlogged orders and used incentives such as free car leases to win new business.

Housing starts rose a greater-than-expected 5.0 % to an annual rate of 1.957 million, the Commerce Department said yesterday. Building permits, a sign of future construction, fell 2.1 % to an annual pace of 1.932 million, the lowest since November 2003.

While the increase in starts doesn't change the outlook for a cooling housing market, the number may reassure investors and Federal Reserve policymakers that the slowdown won't become a rout.

Ottawa Monday Night Storm Blacks Out 24,000 Homes

A severe thunderstorm swept through Ottawa Monday night, knocking out power to more than 24,000 homes.

A weather warning for the area was issued by Environment Canada at 7 p.m.

Firefighters were kept busy responding to emergency calls pouring in, first from Kanata, then downtown Ottawa, then Orléans, as the storm moved from west to east, tearing branches from trees and knocking down trees and power lines.

The downpour was so heavy it brought traffic to a halt in some areas.

A Hydro Ottawa said most people experienced only a temporary loss of electricity.

Power was restored to all but about 2,000 customers by 8:30 p.m.

New Rent-Control Rules Cap Rent Increases

New rent-control rules tying increases to the consumer price index were passed by the Ontario Legislature.

The Residential Tenancies Act also caps above-guideline rent increases to pay for capital repairs to 3 % a year for a maximum of three years.

The legislation ensures a fairer eviction process -- one that's quicker for bad tenants and fairer for good tenants.

Ontario government wants to help good landlords and good tenants.

The Bill 109 tries to balance the interests of the rental housing market with the affordability needs of tenants.

The fact that Bill allows for vacancy decontrol is the killer.

Bill 109 passed third and final reading.

Canadian Interest Rates Are Poised to Go Higher

The Bank of Canada, which has raised rates seven straight times to 4.25 %, is scrutinizing the latest data after suggesting in its last policy announcement in May 2006 that it would pause in a tightening campaign that began last September.

Canada Luxury Home Sales Have Surged

Canadians are fuelling unprecedented demand for luxury homes while the overall housing market remains robust.

Million-dollar home sales are climbing at a rate never before seen in major centres across the country.

If the market continues at this pace, existing sales records for all types of real estate, including upscale properties, will be shattered by year-end.

Luxury home sales rose to new heights in 12 out of 13 markets in January to May 2006, compared with one year ago, with increases ranging from eight per cent in Halifax/Dartmouth, N.S., to as high as 177 % in Edmonton.

Only Windsor, Ont.,, where concerns about the future of the automotive industry are having an impact on real estate in general, reported a decline in sales.

Some highlights:
  • The highest-priced multiple-listing service sale in Canada this year - $10.88 million - occurred in the Vancouver area.
  • The most expensive property listed for sale is a $45-million waterfront estate in Oakville, Ont.
  • Out-of-province and international buyers are a factor in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, B.C., Edmonton and St. John's, N.L.
  • Upper-end condominiums are popular in Victoria, Kelowna, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Halifax-Dartmouth.

Ottawa saw 222 homes sold for at least $500,000, up from 145; the number of Halifax/Dartmouth home sales worth over $500,000 rose to 40 from 37.

In Vancouver, the number of sales of luxury homes starting at $1.5 million rose 90 per cent to 403 from a year-ago 212. In Victoria, the number of homes costing at least $1 million rose to 62 from 42.

Among other cities: Calgary reported 206 homes worth at least $1 million were sold, up from 92 a year earlier; Edmonton had 144 homes sold for at least $500,000, up from 52; the number of Winnipeg homes worth at least $500,000 doubled to 24; Windsor homes selling for at least $500,000 dropped to seven from 15.

The Toronto area reported 289 homes sold for at least $1.5 million, up 31 per cent from 221; London/St. Thomas, Ont., saw 38 homes worth at least $500,000 finding a buyer, up from 32; Hamilton/Burlington, Ont., reported 225 homes selling for at least $500,000, up from 158 a year ago.

Ottawa Housing Now More Affordable

An Ottawa downtown parking lot is being dug up to make room for a new high-rise apartment complex which will contain 119 affordable housing units.

The City of Ottawa, Teron Incorporated, and Multifaith Housing Initiative are teaming up to get the project off the ground.

With a price tag of over $175 000, the Somerset Gardens units are aimed at those in a household that bring in over $50 000 a year.

The housing charity bought 10 units, which will be rented to low-income earners at just over $500 a month.

The building, located at 138 Somerset Street, should be up this time next year.

Housing Starts Jump 5 percent in May

The pace of US housing construction rose more than expected in May after three months of declines, but permits for future projects fell.

Economists said the data confirm a gradual slowing of the housing sector.

The Commerce Department said housing starts rose 5 % in May to a 1,957,000 unit annual pace from an upwardly revised 1,863,000 unit rate in April.

However, permits for future groundbreaking, an indicator of builder confidence, fell 2.1 percent to a 1,932,000 unit pace in May, the lowest since November 2003 and the first time since January that total housing permits fell below starts.

Compared with a year earlier, May housing starts were down 3.8 percent, with single-family starts down 7.6 percent.

After a five-year rally that sent prices soaring and shattered sales and construction records, the US housing market has shown signs of sustained cooling since mortgage rates began to rise last year.

Economists had expected May housing starts to stabilize at a 1,850,000 unit pace, edging above April's initially reported 1,849,000 unit rate. Mild weather in January had prompted builders to bring forward some projects, poaching starts from February, March and April.

The May uptick should not prompt inflationary concerns at the Federal Reserve, which will consider whether to raise interest rates next week.

Construction starts for single-family homes rose 2.1 % to a 1,586,000 unit pace, while groundbreaking on multifamily buildings with five or more units rose 25.4 %. Starts on structures with two or more units rose 19.7 % last month.

Housing starts rose 15.8 % in the West, 8.5 %in the South and 1.7 percent in the Northeast. They fell 15.8 %in the Midwest.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Aboriginal Housing at World Urban Forum III

Aboriginal Housing in Canada:
Building on Promising Practices
Tuesday June 20th - 1:30pm - 3:30pm
Meeting Room 12, Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre
Event Code: NE100018
Space is limited. Please arrive early.
Please note: Registration for World Urban Forum III closes today - Friday June 9th.
Registration is free, and available here.

The sector of Canadian housing most in need of action is aboriginal housing. More than half of all on-reserve housing is in substandard condition, and one study says there is an urgent need for 80,000 new units on reserves. Off reserve, 37 % of aboriginal people spend more than one-third of their incomes on housing. Aboriginal persons are also overrepresented in homeless populations in urban centres across the country.

Friday, June 09, 2006

New Home Prices in Canada Climb Most in 17 Years

New home prices were 8.2 % higher in April than a year earlier. Contractors' selling prices climbed in 14 of the 21 urban areas surveyed.

This was the most significant month-over-month increase at the national level since April 1989.

Calgary led the way with the highest rate among urban areas with a monthly increase of 4.7 %, followed by Edmonton at 3.9 %, Regina at 1.2 %, Montreal at 1.0 %, Vancouver with 0.9, while Toronto posted an increase of 0.4 %.

High demand for new housing, coupled with higher material and labour costs and increased land values, were cited as the main reasons for these increases.

Other significant gains were reported in Hamilton, St. Catharines-Niagara and London, where new home prices rose 0.6 %.

Prices rose in these urban areas because of favourable market conditions, higher material and labour costs, and increased land values.

Monthly increases were also noted in Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto and Oshawa, Greater Sudbury/Grand Sudbury and Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Victoria.

Of the 14 metropolitan areas showing increases, land prices rose in eight.

Four metropolitan areas reported no change while Windsor, Kitchener and St. John's posted the only decreases because of competitive pricing.

Over a 12-month basis, Calgary had the largest jump for the seventh consecutive month with an increase of 34.8 % while Edmonton followed with 18.6 %, Winnipeg with 10.7 %, Regina and Victoria posted increases of 7.7 % and Saskatoon prices rose 6.7 %.

These are the people who are buying into a housing market where average prices are soaring, even while their income is hardly rising enough to offset inflation.

Wage increases are between 2.2 and 2.5 this year while the average house prices in Canada are up about 13 % nationally this year.

Some economists suspect the combined financial impact of mortgages and other debts to cover bills will drive more and more people into bankruptcy.

While the prices of new homes kept climbing, construction has slowed a bit.

The construction of detached homes lagged in May for the fourth consecutive month.

Ottawa Housing Starts Down Marginally in May

The seasonally adjusted annual rate(1) of housing starts was 216,800 units in May, down marginally from 217,900 units in April.

Housing starts last month were nearly unchanged from their April level. May marks
the fourth consecutive month in which single detached starts have moved lower.
Housing starts are expected to continue to trend marginally lower throughout
this year and next as housing demand eases in response to rising mortgage
carrying costs.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts decreased 0.6 % to 185,700 units. Urban singles were down 1.3 % to 89,200 units comparing May to April, while multiples were up 0.1 % to 96,500 units.

Urban housing starts increased in May compared to April in three of the five regions and declined in the other two. The Prairie region recorded the strongest increase with urban starts rising 9.0 per cent while Ontario and Quebec urban starts were up 6.4 % and 3.3 %, respectively.

Rural starts in May were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 31,100 units.

In the first five months of 2006, actual urban starts were up 4.7 % compared to the same period last year. Year-to-date actual urban multiple starts were up 6.9 % and singles were up 2.5 % compared to the same period in 2005.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Terrorists Appear to Have Set Their Sights on the Parliament Building in Ottawa

Lurid scenarios of heavily armed jihadists storming the House of Commons failed to jive with the sun-dappled scene yesterday of school children skipping across Parliament Hill as utility vehicles routinely plied their trade.

Despite a host of security changes on Parliament Hill over the past decade, a determined lawbreaker could still have driven an 18-wheeler through one unobstructed gate and directly up to the Peace Tower yesterday afternoon.

Security, or the lack thereof, around Canada's seat of federal power is once again causing unease following sensational and uncorroborated claims on the steps of a Brampton courthouse.

Gary Batasar, a lawyer for one of 17 alleged terrorists arrested on the weekend, claimed the Crown allegations include a plot to "storm the Parliament buildings," take MPs hostage and behead the prime minister.

The allegations seem so over the top that it was difficult to gauge how seriously they should be be taken.

PM Stephen Harper himself quipped about the threats, saying he can live with them as long as they don't come from Conservative MPs.

International Trade Minister David Emerson, by contrast, called the alleged parliamentary plot "breathtaking."

It's time to wake up and smell the coffee.

The emotional gap between their two reactions illustrates the divide that security officials must bridge when it comes to fortifying Canada's seat of parliamentary power.

Harper took some public criticism recently when a large black Chevy Tahoe SUV appeared in his motorcade -- a gas-guzzling presidential affectation to some observers.

It now seems likely the added security was a response to the RCMP terror investigation and the alleged threats on the prime minister, although no official will confirm as much.

Canadians are pretty sanctimonious about stuff like that.

They don't like being asked for identification. They don't like being checked. And I don't think that's going to change.

Canadian Building Permits Drop 10.6 %

The value of Canadian building permits plunged 10.6 % in April, a far bigger drop than expected, as both residential and nonresidential construction activity slowed after March's second-strongest showing on record.

Eeconomists said the bigger setback did not signal a bursting of the housing market bubble.

It was the lowest level for permits since November 2005 and 1.5 percent below the average monthly level for last year as a whole.

However, construction activity remained healthy overall amid an upward trend in permits that began last year.

It's really quite normal to expect quite a bit of a decline after seeing gains in the last few months, in some cases exceeding 20 %.

We'd have to see a couple more months where building permits and aggregate continue to fall before there would be a big signal on a reversal in the housing market.

Housing permits dropped 5.7 percent in value as single-family housing permits slipped for the third straight month and permits for multiple-family dwellings fell 8.7 percent after two months of gains.

Applications For Mortgages Decline

The number of people applying for mortgages fell last week.

Its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity for the week ended June 2 fell 1.4 % to 534.4 from the previous week's 541.9.

Low mortgage rates have been behind the major Canada housing boom during the last five years.