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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tens of thousands of Canadians still in dark and cold after massive ice storm

   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 29/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   A massive ice storm has left about 56,500 homes and businesses in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick still without power after a week.
   Hardest hit was Toronto where hydro crews had reduced the number of properties without electricity in below-freezing temperatures to 32,000 on Friday, down from a peak of more than 300,000 last Sunday.
   At the start of the weekend, there were still about 40,000 customers in Ontario without power, 14,000 in New Brunswick and 2,500 in Quebec.
   The storm coated trees and power lines with a thick layer of heavy ice, bringing them down and cutting off power.
   The massive around-the-clock effort to clear trees and limbs to replace power lines and restore electricity has had utility companies in the three provinces receiving help from outside, including New York state and Michigan.
   Toronto Hydro focused on restoring power to the most people in the shortest amount of time, including two hospitals, and is just now getting to clearing debris and reconnecting individual homes, said chief executive officer Anthony Haines.
   Mayor Rob Ford, who has held daily news conferences since last Sunday and has visited “warming shelters,” said the city is “doing the best we can” at getting all the power restored.
   Authorities were warning against the use of generators and barbecues inside to keep warm as there have been reports of five people killed in Ontario and Quebec from carbon monoxide poisoning.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Supreme Court declares Canada's prostitution laws are unconstitutional

   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 22/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Workers in the “world’s oldest profession” have won an historic victory as the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country's prostitution laws.
   The landmark unanimous ruling Friday by the six men and three women judges dealt with prostitution-related prohibitions against brothels, living “off the avails of prostitution” and street soliciting.
   Canada’s social landscape has changed since the laws were last upheld by the court in 1990, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said.
   The issue is “not about whether prostitution should be legal or not,” she added, but whether the laws are constitutional – and the judges concluded they are not.
   It upholds the case of sex-trade workers who are seeking safer working conditions.
   The court has given the Canadian government one year to produce new legislation while the existing laws remain in effect.
   The judges agreed with an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that said outlawing brothels exposes sex workers to added danger by forcing them onto the streets.
   The Supreme Court appeared to acknowledge the case of Robert Pickton convicted of killing prostitutes in British Columbia.
   “A law that prevents street prostitutes from resorting to a safe haven such as grandma's house while a suspected serial killer prowls the streets, is a law that has lost sight of its purpose,” the ruling said.
 (For more Canadian news of the week, click "Read more")

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Door-to-door mail delivery to end in Canadian cities within five years

   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 15/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The days of door-to-door mail delivery in urban areas across Canada are about to end.
   And, the declining number of people still using the mail will see substantial increases in domestic stamp prices – to 85 cents from 63 cents if bought in a booklet and to $1 individually – starting March 31.
   It’s part of a plan by Canada Post to cut its operating costs by up to $900 million a year based on the reality that fewer people use the service in these days of e-mail, courier deliveries and bills received and paid online.
   As well, the “average Canadian household” now buys fewer than two stamps a month.
   Thirty years ago, the post office began installing group mail boxes in newly built subdivisions and that will be implemented in all city areas over the next five years, said spokesman Jon Hamilton.
   Canada Post said up to 8,000 jobs would be eliminated while nearly 15,000 employees will retire or leave the government agency within that time.
   This will be a hardship for seniors with mobility issues who still want five-day-a-week home delivery of their mail, said Susan Eng of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
   “In cases where there are mobility issues, we will ensure a box can be accessed that isn't too high and we will provide additional keys (for caregivers to pick up the mail),” Hamilton said.

(For more Canadian news of the week, click on "Read more")

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Lottery officials track down $50-million jackpot winner who lost ticket

   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 8/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   When investigators came knocking at Kathryn Jones’ door in Hamilton, Ontario she at first hesitated at letting them in.
   It turns out they were really from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) trying to find the winner of an unclaimed ticket worth $50 million, tax free.
   And, as luck would have it, Jones, a 55-year-old engineer, was determined to be the winner of the prize paid all at once – even though she lost the ticket that was about to expire and didn’t know it was the winner.
  The investigation that led to Jones resulted from looking into the case of one of 435 people who tried to claim the Lotto Max prize from the Nov. 30, 2012 draw.
   The trail led to Jones based on a surveillance video from a store near her office and credit card records showing she bought a lottery ticket there at the time the winner was sold.
   Had she paid cash for the ticket, she might not have been found, said Mike Hamel of OLG's corporate investigations.
 (For more Canadian news of the week, click "Read more . . .")

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Senate scandal plays role in outcome of Canadian byelections

   Canada column for Sunday, Dec. 1/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Senate expenses scandal is viewed as a major factor in the Liberals emerging as the overall victor in recent federal by-elections and taking a lead in opinion polls.
   Notable in the mid-term elections to fill vacancies in the House of Commons was the increased share of the votes for the Liberals.
   They were expected to win those districts in Toronto and Montreal while the ruling Conservatives won, as expected, in Manitoba’s Brandon-Souris and Provencher but with diminished support.
   “Canadians grow weary of the deceit, the mistrust and the cover-ups of the Conservatives,” a jubilant Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said.
   He was referring to the suspension of three Conservative senators appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for making inappropriate expense claims amounting to about $278,000.
   Public opinion polls also show growing Liberal support at the expense of the Conservatives and the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP).
   The latest polling averages give the Liberals 35.7-percent support, the Conservatives 28.9 percent and the NDP, 23 percent.

 (For more Canadian news of the week, click "Read more)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Prime minister's office involved in senator's expenses payback: police report

   Canada column for Sunday, Nov. 24/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   What did Prime Minister Stephen Harper know about a Conservative senator’s improper expenses and when did he know it?
   That’s the question politicians and the public are asking about a police investigator’s preliminary report into Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses claims.
   Police found there was “no evidence” Harper had detailed knowledge of an elaborate plan within his office to repay Duffy’s questionable housing and travel expenses.
   The investigation into fraud and bribery allegations suggested that former chief of staff Nigel Wright received Harper’s approval for an initial plan to have the Conservative party cover about $32,000 of the expenses.
   When the amount escalated to $90,000, the plan was dropped, the report said.
   Police suggest the prime minister’s office tried to contain the “embarrassing” scandal and halt the audit into Duffy’s expenses.
   Harper continues to insist he knew nothing of the arrangement in which Wright gave Duffy the money to pay back the expenses.
   The Senate has suspended without pay Duffy and two other Conservative senators appointed by Harper who have repaid expenses of about $278,000 while a fourth Liberal senator retired and paid back $231,649.
 (For more Canadian news of the week, click "Read more . . .")

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bid to reform or abolish Canada's Senate gains support from western provinces

   Canada column for Sunday, Nov. 17/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Canadian government’s bid to reform – or even abolish – the non-elected Senate is being supported by two western provinces.
   Alberta and Saskatchewan have agreed at a hearing before the Supreme Court with the federal government’s position that senators should be elected.
   Both provinces also support that outright abolition of the scandal-plagued upper chamber would require the approval of seven provinces with 50 percent of the population.
   And, Saskatchewan agrees the federal government could unilaterally impose a term limit of least 10 years instead of senators serving now until age 75.
   The historic ruling into how much or little approval by the provincial governments is needed to make changes is expected to take up to a year.
   There are concerns by the provinces that the prime minister would not be bound to appoint the winners of Senate elections and that views of smaller provinces would be overlooked in considering abolition.
   The Conservative government has been embarrassed lately with the suspension without pay of three former Conservative senators who were told to repay “improper” expenses totaling about $278,000. A fourth Liberal senator retired and repaid $231,649.
(For more news of the week, click Read more . . .)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Political scandal scoreboard: Three Senators suspended; Toronto Mayor in holding pattern

   Canada column for Sunday, Nov. 10/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada’s political scandal update has three disgraced senators suspended without pay and Toronto’s embattled crack-smoking mayor considering his options.
   The Senate voted to suspend for the balance of the term – about two years – Sens. Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin for inappropriate expense claims.
   Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who appointed the trio in 2009 and has since had them lose their Conservative party affiliation, said they had to pay a price for their actions.
   The three were ordered to repay expenses totaling about $278,000 while a fourth senator, former Liberal Mac Harb, retired and repaid $231,649.
   They will not be able to collect their salaries of $135,200 a year but continue to receive extended health benefits during their time-out.
   A police investigation continues into possible fraud and breach of trust by the three.
   “I think it's an extremely sad day for democracy if we can't expect the rule of law in Canada, then where on earth can we expect it,” Wallin said after being suspended.
   In Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford has apologized as a “drunken mistake,” a profanity-laced video in which he threatened to kill someone a week after admitting to having smoked crack cocaine as purported in an earlier video.
   Attorney Dennis Morris said the mounting pressure on Ford to resign has him considering his options including taking time off and going into rehab.
   (For more Canadian news of the week, click "

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Political scandals dominate Canadian news

   Canada column for Sunday, Nov. 3/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Scandal-plagued Canadian politicians are refusing demands that they quit, except in Quebec where voters are about to replace two disgraced Montreal mayors.
   “I have no reason to resign,” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said after Police Chief Bill Blair said they have uncovered a video showing him appearing to smoke crack cocaine.
   Police surveillance video also shows Ford in the company of alleged drug dealers and users and discarding two empty liquor bottles and urinating beside his vehicle in a park.
   Blair said there are no “reasonable” grounds to arrest Ford over the video.
   In Ottawa, the Senate still hasn’t decided whether to suspend without pay Sens. Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin for inappropriate expense claims.
  The senators, appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have paid back expenses totaling about $278,000.
   In Montreal, polls say Denis Coderre, a former Liberal cabinet minister, will be elected mayor in the municipal election today.
   The two previous mayors quit after over a corruption controversy in the ongoing Quebec construction industry kick-back inquiry.
   London, Ontario’s Mayor Joe Fontana has been ordered to stand trial for fraud.
   He is accused of using taxpayer money to help pay for his son's wedding reception in 2005 when he was a Liberal Member of Parliament.

 (For more Canadian news of the week, click "Read more' below)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Canadian interest rates likely to stay put: Bank of Canada report

   Canada column for Sunday, Oct. 27/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadians can expect interest rates to stay where they are – or even be cut further – over the next several years, the Bank of Canada said.
   The comment triggered a sell-off of Canadian dollars that pushed the currency almost two cents U.S. lower than a week ago.
   The bank’s monetary policy report also lowered anticipated economic growth.
   “The statement is making it clear we have balanced the risks,” new bank governor Stephen Poloz said.
   Previous bank statements cautioned consumers about over-borrowing but this time it was suggested there could be cuts to the 1-percent key rate that’s been in place for more than three years.
   Continued weakness in exports with restrained spending on machinery and equipment is a major concern keeping inflation below target.
   The bank cited fiscal turbulence in the U.S. and continued weak global demand that have kept Canada’s exports from rebounding.
   A concern for the government has been the risk of reigniting the housing market through increased borrowing that could cause problems for consumers when interest rates begin rising again.
 (For more Canadian news for the week, click "Read More")

Monday, October 14, 2013

Police investigate more alleged financial irregularities in Senator Mike Duffy case

   Canada column for Sunday, Oct. 13/13

   By Jim Fox

   The Mounties have disclosed additional alleged financial improprieties against Conservative Senator Mike Duffy.
   The Senate’s “expenses’ scandal” has widened into a police investigation in which authorities want a judge to allow access to the banking records of Duffy, a former national TV news commentator.
   In a court statement, police said they are looking at new allegations of fraud and breach of trust concerning Duffy giving $65,000 in Senate contracts over four years to a friend who did little actual work.
   As well, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff had a “quite detailed” calendar and notes about Duffy’s travel, meetings and activities that weren’t given to investigators, Corporal Greg Horton wrote in a statement for a judge’s review.
   Nigel Wright, now the former chief of staff, gave $90,000 in March to Duffy, appointed by Harper to the non-elected Senate, to repay questionable housing and travel expenses.
   The Senate had initially asked independent auditors to review Duffy's expenses after allegations he was improperly claiming a house in Prince Edward Island as his main residence.
   The Mounties are also seeking bank records for Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in connection with disallowed housing claims.
(Click on Read more for more Canadian news of the week)

Chocolate lovers can scoop up $50 or more rebate in lawsuit against price-fixing

   Canada column for Sunday, Oct. 6/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   There is sweet news of a $50 rebate for Canadian chocolate lovers as the result of an industry price-fixing scandal.
   The settlement of a class-action lawsuit that alleged price-fixing by four major manufacturers means there will be payback to consumers.
   While denying the allegations, Cadbury Adams Canada Inc., Hershey Canada Inc., Nestle Canada Inc. and Mars Canada Inc., as well as distributor ITWAL Limited, have agreed to pay $23.2 million in compensation.
   Courts in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec have approved a settlement of $50 to anyone who submits a form – even without receipts – declaring they bought any of the companies’ products between Oct. 1, 2005 and Sept. 30, 2007.
   There is a higher payback for consumers who have receipts for more than $1,000 in products, all with a deadline to file of Dec. 15. The form is here: https://claims-chocolateclassaction.com/FileClaim/ConsumerClaim
   In June, Hershey pleaded guilty to fixing the price of chocolate products in Canada and was fined $4 million. Trials are proceeding against the other companies named.
  (Click on Read more for more Canadian news of the week)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alberta murderer gets Canada's stiffest prison term since the death penalty was repealed

   Canada column for Sunday, Sept. 15/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The toughest prison sentence since Canada’s last execution was given to an Alberta armored car guard who shot four of his fellow workers, three fatally.
   Travis Baumgartner, 22, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years.
   Associate Chief Justice John Rooke called it an “unspeakable, outrageous, cowardly and cold-blooded crime . . . all with the simple motive of robbery.”
   A new federal law allows consecutive parole ineligibility periods in multiple murders instead of the previous maximum of 25 years.
   The death penalty was repealed in 1962 and the judge in this case could have imposed a parole wait of up to 75 years.
   Rooke said Baumgartner showed “absolutely no compassion for life,” and shot the workers in the back of the head and ambushed a fourth guard waiting outside in a truck.
   They were filling a cash machine at the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton.
   Baumgartner pleaded guilty to murdering Brian Ilesic, 35, Eddie Rejano, 39, and Michelle Shegelski, 26, and the attempted murder of Matthew Schuman, 26.
   He was arrested in British Columbia at the Canada-U.S. border carrying $400,000 in cash the next day.
   (For more Canadian news of the week, click "Read More" below)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Two Canadian warships back in British Columbia for repairs after a collision in the Pacific

   Canada column for Sunday, Sept. 8/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Royal Canadian Navy has ordered an inquiry into what caused the collision of two warships in the Pacific.
   Something went “dramatically wrong” during a routine training exercise involving the HMCS Algonquin and HMCS Protecteur, said Commodore Bob Auchterlonie.
   It happened during a towing exercise while en route to Hawaii, with the Algonquin bearing the brunt of the damage.
   It had a large gash in the hangar along the port side while the Protecteur had damage to its front end.
   “There is an inherent risk of ships operating together at sea in close proximity, but this sort of incident I've not come across in my career,” Auchterlonie said.
   There were no injuries among the 300 sailors on board each of the ships that have returned to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, near Victoria, for repairs.
   The incident has compromised Canada’s naval readiness on the West Coast as a third ship, the frigate HMCS Winnipeg, was rammed by an American fishing trawler last spring and is still out of service.

(To view more of the Canadian news roundup, click "Read More" below)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Canadian senator resigns and repays $231,649 in "improper" expense claims

   Canada column for Sunday, Sept. 1/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Mac Harb, one of four senators accused of submitting improper expense claims, has resigned and paid back $231,649 to the Canadian government.
   The veteran Liberal politician refunded all of the living-related expenses in question in a scandal that has reopened a debate of whether to abolish the non-elected Senate.
   “My dispute with the Senate committee on Internal Economy made working effectively in the Senate unrealistic,” he said.
   The Mounties continue to investigate Harb’s expenses concerning compensation paid because he said his main residence was outside the capital region.
   Attorney Paul Champ said an independent audit did not determine that Harb violated any rules but the rules themselves weren’t clear.
   Harb, 59, could have remained in the Senate until age 75 and was earlier a Member of Parliament for 15 years.
   Three other senators named in the inappropriate claims’ audits are also being investigated by the police.
   Mike Duffy has paid back $90,172 while Pamela Wallin has returned $38,369 and must repay another $100,000 for improper travel expenses and Patrick Brazeau has been asked to pay back $48,745.

 (For more Canadian news of the week, click Read More)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Canada's Conservative government presses the reset key by taking a break

   Canada column for Sunday, Aug. 25/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canada’s government is taking a time-out as Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares to lead his Conservative party into the next election.
   Harper said his decision to prorogue, or suspend, the current session of Parliament until mid-October is to prepare a new economy-focused agenda.
   The action effectively ended the parliamentary session and killed legislative bills not yet enacted to await a new direction for governing.
   By pressing the reset button, Harper is buying time to deal with stalled political support after a recent shuffling of Cabinet positions and to prepare for his fifth election campaign as leader.
   In the election, expected in 2015, Harper will face a reinvigorated opposition with new leaders – Justin Trudeau for the Liberals and Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party.
   The break also comes when the government deals with the Senate expense-claim scandal.
   Former Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, now an Independent and Harper appointee, has been told to pay back $138,970 for ineligible travel expense claims.
   The Mounties are investigating Wallin’s claims and those of senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb.
   (For more news of the week from Canada, click "Read more")

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Senator's "questionable" travel expenses being investigated

   Canada column for Sunday, Aug. 18/13

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Mounties are now investigating Senator Pamela Wallin’s “questionable” travel expense claims amounting to more than $140,000.
   Wallin, a former TV broadcaster named to the Senate in 2009 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said it was a “fundamentally flawed and unfair” audit of her claims.
   A former Canadian consul general to New York, Wallin has been told to pay back tens of thousands of dollars plus interest from among $321,000 in expenses under review.
   The audit, which cost taxpayers $126,998, flagged $121,348 in inappropriate expenses and called for further review of nearly $21,000 in additional claims.
   “I never intended to seek, nor sought, reimbursement for travel expenses in any situation where I did not believe such a claim was proper," she said.
   “Where I made mistakes, I have already paid money back (amounting to $38,000),” said Wallin, a former Conservative senator who is now an Independent.
   Former TV news broadcaster, Senator Mike Duffy, who also left the Conservative caucus and became an Independent, has repaid $90,000 in disallowed claims through a “loan” from former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright.
   The Mounties are also looking at Duffy’s claims while audits showed improper housing claims by Senators Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb.

(For more news of the week, click)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Huge python that killed two boys was being kept illegally, New Brunswick authorities say

   Canada column for Sunday, Aug. 11/13

   By Jim Fox

   New Brunswick authorities say a pet store owner was illegally keeping a 15-foot-long African rock python that killed two children.
   The snake managed to squeeze out of its enclosure and smother Connor Barthe, 6, and his brother Noah, 4, who were sleeping in an apartment in Campbellton.
   The 100-pound snake escaped from its glass tank and made its way into the living room where the boys were during a sleepover with the store owner’s son.
   They were in the apartment above Reptile Ocean, an exotic pet store, owned by the friend’s father, Jean-Claude Savoie.
   Police said he had taken the boys to farm before the sleepover and it is suspected the snake was attracted by animal scents on their clothing.
   The snake has been euthanized and other animals, including four large alligators, six crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and snakes, were seized and sent to Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton and the Indian River Reptile Zoo near Peterborough.
   Mountie Sgt. Alain Tremblay said preliminary results of autopsies showed the boys were asphyxiated.
   “We recognize that this has touched the hearts of people across the world and that people want to know how this could have happened,” he added.

(For more Canadian news of the week, click)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Proposed pipeline would ship Alberta oil to Canada and U.S. east-coast ports and overseas

   Canada column for Sunday, Aug. 4/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   TransCanada Corp. plans to ship western Canadian oil to east coast markets in Canada and the United States through a proposed new pipeline.
   The company announced the $12-billion project as environmental protests and U.S. political delays continue to stall its proposed Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude to Texas from Alberta.
   The Calgary-based company said the Energy East pipeline would deliver up to 1.1-million barrels of crude oil a day to Quebec by late 2017 and to New Brunswick a year later.
   Plans call for converting a portion of TransCanada's underused natural gas main line to ship the oil to near the Quebec-Vermont border from Alberta.
   There would be new pipe built to Saint John, New Brunswick to feed Irving Oil's to-be-expanded refinery and shipped overseas to energy-hungry markets such as India.
   It would also allow shipments to refineries along the U.S. eastern seaboard, an 800,000-barrel-a-day market, as well as to Europe.
   TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling called it “historic” for the company and Canada, comparing it to construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Trans-Canada Highway and the company's cross-country natural gas mainline.
   The project will free eastern Canadian refineries from expensive oil imports from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Libya.
   Environmentalists say they plan to challenge the proposal that requires Canadian government regulatory approval.

   More news of the week . . . click below

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Crime rate in Canada dips to four-decade low

   Canada column for Sunday, July 28/13

   By Jim Fox
   Canada’s crime rate has fallen to its lowest level in 41 years with a large drop in murders and violence.
   The figures from the Canadian Center for Justice Statistics also show that Toronto had a seven-percent drop in police-reported crime last year – the lowest rate among municipalities for the sixth year.
   There were almost two-million criminal incidents investigated by the police last year, about 36,000 fewer than the previous year.
   Of that number, 543 homicides were reported across Canada, 55 fewer than in 2011.
   That brought the murder rate down to its lowest level since 1966, the report said.
   Crime rates overall fell in most provinces except New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and the territories.
   The highest police-report crime rates were in Kelowna and Regina while Quebec City followed Toronto with the lowest.
   The statistics listed Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Thunder Bay as the most violent cities.
   Coinciding with the drop in crime were initiatives taken by the federal government to get tough on criminals including the passing last year of an omnibus crime bill with stiffer penalties.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Big retailer merger of Loblaw taking over Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada

   Canada column for Sunday, July 21/13

   (c) By Jim Fox
   Canada’s evolving retail industry – increasingly threatened by U.S. competitors – has led to two of the country’s largest retailers planning to combine their operations.
   Grocery chain Loblaw Companies is buying Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. for $12.4 billion in cash and stock.
   "With today's transformational partnership between Loblaw and Shoppers Drug Mart, we are changing the retail landscape in Canada," said Galen Weston, executive chair of Loblaw.
   Competition is heating up as new arrival Target expands its store network across Canada and a price-war with established Walmart is expected, both of which sell food and pharmacy items.
   Last month, Atlantic-based grocer Sobeys bought the Canadian Safeway stores for $5.8 billion in a deal that included 199 in-store pharmacies.
   Quebec-based supermarket chain Metro Inc. has expressed an interest in pharmacy retailer Jean Coutu and recently sold its stake in convenience store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard.
   With the latest acquisition, the Shoppers' name and stores will remain as a separate division of Loblaw.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

More demands to abolish Canada's non-elected Senate

   Canada column for Sunday, July 14/13

   (c) By Jim Fox
   There’s more support across Canada to abolish the non-elected Senate that’s caught in a negative light over a spending scandal.
   Federal New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair and Saskatchewan's Premier Brad Wall and his Saskatchewan Party believe the upper body serves no useful purpose and should be abolished.
   Prime Minister Stephen Harper had campaigned on reforming the Senate and wanted to find a way to have senators elected by the provinces they represent.
   Senators now are appointed for “life” – until age 75 – by the Governor General on the advice of the prime minister.
   Harper’s Conservatives have so far failed to reform the 105-member Senate that is responsible for considering government bills and giving “royal assent” or final approval.
   Constitutional experts say demands to abolish the Senate are “pointless.”
   That’s because the Constitution requires the approval of at least seven provinces representing 50 percent of the population to make any significant changes – and that’s far from possible at present.
   The Senate’s reputation has been rocked recently over allegations that four senators have made major improper housing or travel expense claims that are now being investigated.


   All but 200 of the 2,000 people forced from their homes when a runaway oil-tanker train derailed, killing up to 50 people, have been able to go home in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
   Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche met with Quebec Premier Pauline Marois to arrange for the distribution of $60 million the provincial government has pledged towards reconstruction and aid to families.
   Police are investigating whether the engineer properly set the brakes when he left the 73-car freight train parked for the night.
   It later hurtled eight miles downhill, derailed and exploded destroying a large part of the downtown and killing 24 people, with about 26 still missing.
   “I feel absolutely awful about this; I'm devastated by what's occurred in this community,” said Ed Burkhardt, head of the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Co., who visited the site.


   News in brief:
   - The heaviest one-day rainfall in Toronto’s history dumped almost five inches last Monday causing havoc with commuters and cut power to 300,000 customers and trapped people in high-rise elevators. Flood waters brought the subway system to a halt and surrounded a GO Transit commuter train. The 1,200 passengers on the two-level train were removed by police over five hours using inflatable boats near the Don River.
   - Three would-be Canadians are complaining to the Ontario Superior Court that they shouldn’t be forced to pledge allegiance to the Queen for citizenship. The three – from Ireland, Israel and Jamaica – oppose the oath on religious or conscientious grounds and suggest that pledging allegiance to Canada should be sufficient.


   Facts and figures:
   Canada’s dollar has advanced by almost two cents to 96.19 cents U.S. while the U.S. greenback is valued at $1.0395 in Canadian funds, before bank exchange fees.
   The Bank of Canada’s key interest rate is steady at 1 percent while the prime-lending rate is 3 percent.
   Stock markets are higher, with the Toronto exchange index at 12,488 points and the TSX Venture index 893 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (July 10) 7, 8, 11, 19, 25 and 46; bonus 17. (July 6) 21, 23, 24, 33, 38 and 44; bonus 45. Lotto Max: (July 5) 5, 12, 15, 39, 44, 46 and 49; bonus 18.


   Regional briefs:
   - British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is once again a member of the legislature after winning a by-election in Westside-Kelowna. After engineering the surprising come-from-behind Liberal win in last May's provincial election, Clark was defeated in her own district of Vancouver-Point Grey. Former Liberal politician Ben Stewart stepped aside to let Clark run.
   - A memorial garden was dedicated in Toronto at the site of one of Canada's worst aviation disasters. It was there Air Canada Flight 621 slammed into the ground with the deaths of 109 passengers and crew on July 5, 1970. The DC-8 was en route to Los Angeles from Montreal when it was attempting to land at Toronto's international airport.
   - Devastating floods that hit Calgary last month have resulted in many animals looking for new homes after some enclosures were destroyed at the Calgary Zoo. The Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, New Brunswick is the new home for two Hyacinth Macaws, the largest parrot species, as well as two giant anteaters.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Two Canadians held in "al-Qaida" type terrorist attack bid in Victoria, B.C.

   Canada column for Sunday, July 7/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   A Canadian man and woman are behind held in jail after an attempted terrorist attack in Victoria that was eerily similar to that in Boston.
  The Mounties said they foiled the attack motivated by an "al-Qaida ideology" that involved three pressure-cooker bombs set to blow up outside the British Columbia legislature during Canada Day celebrations last Monday.
   After arresting John Nuttall, 38, and Amanda Korody, 30, police showed photos of what they said were homemade bombs in pressure cookers similar to those that killed three people and injured more than 260 during the Boston Marathon two months ago.
   "This self-radicalized behavior was intended to cause maximum impact and harm to Canadian citizens at the B.C. legislature on a national holiday," said Assistant Mountie Commissioner Wayne Rideout.
   The Canadian Security Intelligence Service informed the force of the plot five months ago that resulted in the arrests of the two suspects in Abbotsford.
   Investigators said the police ensured the bombs posed no public threat as they contained only “inert” explosives that couldn’t be detonated.
   The pressure cookers had been filled with rusty nails, screws and washers designed to kill and maim bystanders.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Massive floodings kills three, forces 100,000 people from homes in Alberta

   Canada column for Sunday, June 23/13


   By Jim Fox

  Massive flooding in Alberta has resulted in three deaths and led to more than 100,000 people being forced from their homes.
   Calgary and dozens of communities declared states of emergency as rain-swollen rivers overflowed their banks.
   Entire communities including High River and Bragg Creek were under mandatory evacuation orders on Friday while in Calgary, the downtown was deserted as businesses and schools were closed.
   The Mounties called in the military for assistance in removing people by helicopters from their rooftops and where roads had been washed out.
   The Edmonton police force sent about 100 officers to help out in Calgary and protect unoccupied neighborhoods.
   Days of heavy rain flooded the Bow River Basin causing problems in a wide area from Banff and Canmore in the Rockies to Calgary and beyond in the north and south to Lethbridge.
   South of Calgary, three people were killed in the high waters including two women swept to their deaths by the Highwood River.
   Water levels on the Bow River were expected to begin subsiding over the weekend, said Bruce Burrell of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Police now investigating Canadian Senate expense scandal and Ontario government email deletions

   Canada column for Sunday, June 16/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   Scandals involving a Senator’s expense claims and the destruction of government correspondence in Ontario are now being investigated by police.
   The Mounties have launched a “formal investigation” into the Canadian Senate expenses scandal and the involvement of Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff.
   Wright resigned from Harper's staff last month after it was learned he gave $90,172 to Senator Mike Duffy to pay back money that was “improperly” claimed as housing and other expenses.
   Harper said he was unaware of the “gift” to Duffy that opposition politicians suggest was intended to interfere with an internal audit of Duffy's expenses and to buy his silence.
   An audit also resulted in Senator Mac Harb being ordered to repay $231,649 in expenses and Senator Patrick Brazeau must repay $48,745 for disallowed living expenses.
   Auditors are still looking a travel expense claims of $321,000 paid to Senator Pamela Wallin.
   Ontario Provincial Police are now investigating the destruction of emails by senior staff in the Liberal government concerning the cancelation of contentious gas plants at a cost of $585 million to help the party win last year’s election.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Concerns grow for Canada's Conservative government as Alberta politician defects

   Canada column for Sunday, June 9/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   There are more concerns for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives as an Alberta member of the caucus has quit to become an Independent.
   Edmonton politician Brent Rathgeber said he left the Conservative party because its ideals have been sacrificed to political expediency.
   Rathgeber said a major concern was being told what to do, say and how to vote “like a trained seal.”
   “It's difficult as a lawyer and as a Member of Parliament to find my role to be subservient to unelected masters half my age at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO),” he said.
   The office is currently embroiled in a controversy over Harper’s now-former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s secret check for $90,172 given to Conservative Senator Mike Duffy to repay “improper” expense claims.
   Two other former Conservative Senators are also being investigated over expenses.
   Harper said he did not know of the payment to Duffy, which Rathgeber said is not surprising, as "a lot of stuff goes on in the PMO that the prime minister doesn't know about."

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford loses staff; Ontario Premier raises concerns

   Canada column for Sunday, June 2/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   The staff exodus continues from the office of embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who denies reports he is a drug user.
   Now, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has waded into the controversy that has made international headlines and is daily fodder for TV talk show hosts.
   “The mayor needs to deal with his personal issues,” Wynne said, adding: “It would be better if he were able to deal with them, confront them and allow the city to move on.”
   Wynne said the provincial government is “monitoring it very carefully,” but said there was “no clear path of action” where it could intervene.
   Ford has said little aside from disputing claims about a purported cell-phone video that appears to show him smoking crack cocaine.
   Drug dealers offered to turn over the video to the new media, asking $200,000 for it.
   The U.S. website Gawker, said the money has been raised but the video, which Ford said doesn’t exist, can’t be found.
   In another development, two men have been arrested for the murder of one of the alleged drug dealers shown in the video.
   After Ford fired his chief of staff Mark Towhey, five other members of his staff have quit but the mayor said business continues as usual.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mounties probing Senate expense claims; Harper "extremely angry" over controversy

   Canada column for Sunday, May 26/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Mounties are investigating the expense claim scandal that has caused a shake-up in the Senate and the office of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
   The police are probing whether there are “grounds to launch a criminal investigation” into expenses paid to Senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb.
   Harper said he is “extremely angry” over the controversy and news that Nigel Wright, fired as his Chief of Staff, secretly gave Duffy $90,172 to repay inappropriate housing and travel expenses.
   Other fallout led to Duffy, Brazeau and Pamela Wallin quitting the Conservative caucus to remain as Independents in the appointed Senate.
   An audit continues into Wallin’s travel expense claims of $321,824. 
   Harb, a former Liberal and now Independent, is contesting a demand he repay $51,482 as is Brazeau who is said to owe $48,744, both for improper housing claims.
   Harper said he was not aware of Wright’s payment to Duffy and was “not happy” with the actions of some Senators and the conduct of his office.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Duffy resignation from Conservatives in Senate over new inappropriate expense allegations

   Canada column for Sunday, May 19/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   Mike Duffy has resigned as a Conservative senator after new allegations surfaced about inappropriate expense claims and a “secret” loan to pay them back.
   Pending a resolution, Duffy said the public controversy “has become a significant distraction to my caucus colleagues and to the government” and that he will remain in the Senate as an Independent.
   An investigation into questionable housing allowances and travel expense claims led to a Senate committee demanding that Duffy and two other Senators repay about $190,000.
   Duffy paid back $90,000 that also included expenses claimed from a Florida vacation but it was now learned the money was given to him by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright.
   Harper’s office called it a personal gift but Duffy referred to it as loan that raises the possibility it could be considered an ethics’ violation.
   The Canadian Press news service also reported Duffy campaigned for the Conservatives during the 2011 election while claiming to be on Senate business.
   Senator Mac Harb is contesting the demand that he repay $51,482 as is Senator Patrick Brazeau who is said to owe a repayment of $48,744 in housing expenses.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

No fraud as three Senators told to pay back nearly $200,000 in housing allowances: Prime Minister

   Canada column for Sunday, May 12/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   Prime Minister Stephen Harper is rejecting suggestions that three Senators defrauded taxpayers by collecting nearly $200,000 in invalid housing allowances.
   It’s a case of “fuzzy rules” rather than impropriety, Harper said after independent audits into dubious housing allowance claims resulted in a Senate committee demanding that the money be repaid.
  The allegations of impropriety involve Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb.
   “The auditor has concluded that the rules in place were not clear,” Harper said, adding that the Senate “expects better judgment” from its members.
   Harb said he will challenge the ruling in court and has resigned from the Liberal caucus until the matter is settled.
   Duffy blamed confusing rules that led him to mistakenly claim about $90,000 that he has repaid and that included money “erroneously claimed” as expenses while on a Florida vacation.
   The allowances are intended to compensate out-of-town Senators who must maintain a second home in the capital.
   A separate audit into Senator Pamela Wallin's travel expenses is continuing.