TORONTO — The Toronto stock market closed modestly higher Monday thanks to gains in tech stocks and the pharmaceutical sector.The S&P/TSX composite index rose 28.02 points to 15,200.26, held back by falling oil prices and bank stocks that continued to lose ground ahead of the release of earnings news this week from a challenging quarter.Shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. (TSX:VRX) jumped $32.72 or 15% to $250.13 after it offered US$10 billion in cash for Salix Pharmaceuticals Ltd., a U.S.-based developer of gastrointestinal drugs. Valeant expects to achieve more than $500 million in annual cost savings for the combined company.The Canadian dollar declined 0.19 of a U.S. cent to 79.52 cents. New York markets were mainly lower with Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen set to deliver her semi-annual testimony on the economy to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. Traders will look for indications on when the Fed might start raising interest rates. Many analysts think the Fed could move as early as June.The Dow Jones industrials dropped 23.6 points to 18,116.84 and the S&P 500 index was down 0.64 of a point at 2,109.66, while the Nasdaq gained five points to 4,960.97.On the TSX, the tech sector gained 1.65%, with CGI Group (TSX:GIB.A) ahead $3.22 or 6.15% at $55.46.The gold sector also buoyed the TSX, up 0.9 cent even as April gold lost $4.10 to US$1,200.80 an ounce. Crude prices fell for a fourth straight session after data last week showed continued sharp increases in U.S. inventory levels. Prices have fallen about 40% since the end of November amid a huge oversupply of crude on world markets.The energy sector shed 0.63% as the April crude contract in New York dropped $1.36 to US$49.45 a barrel.Financials were down one per cent as five of the six big Canadian banks report quarterly earnings this week with Royal Bank (TSX:RY) down 88 cents to $75.13. The market hears from Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) next week. The financial sector has been steadily losing ground over the last few sessions as banks face a number of problems “the most recent of which would be compression of net interest rate margins following the Bank of Canada’s rate cut,” said Mark Allen, vice-president, Canadian equities, RBC Wealth Management.“But prior to that, there were concerns about Alberta, a slowing economy there or possibly a recession, which brings about the risk of higher loan losses in Western Canada, risk of higher credit card and personal loan losses in Western Canada (and) slower capital markets business because so much of it is related to resource stocks. And then all of this slowing mortgage growth trends.”The base metals sector shed 1.6% with March copper unchanged at US$2.59 a pound.
Poll: Should religion be taught at home and not in schools?> Updated 8pmEDUCATION MINISTER RUAIRÍ Quinn should ‘lay off’ schools when it comes to religion, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has indicated today.He said that he was “amazed” at the suggestion from Quinn earlier this week that religious teaching time could be used for core curriculum teaching, describing it as “a very simplistic idea”.The minister said he thinks Quinn “doesn’t have a broader compass in relation to schools with a religious ethos and I think he should lay off somewhat”.He made the comments while speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week show today.Martin said that it seems that Quinn “has a particular problem with religion and a problem with religion in our schools”.He said that he thinks Quinn “has to accept that parental choice is key here and should be respected” and that he thinks the Education Minister “is insensitive to people of particular religions”.Martin said that “many people of the Catholic religion, for example, feel [Quinn] is anti-Catholic education”.The Deputy also described Quinn’s attitude to small rural schools as “insensitive” and “oblivious” to the impact the policy can have on Presbyterian or Protestant schools in border areas.- First published 4pmRead: 4.5 days: The amount of training English teachers will get for junior cycle reform>