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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.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Canadian "snowbirds" and retirees could stay longer in U.S. under immigration reform bill

   Canada column for Sunday, May 5/13


   (c) By Jim Fox

   Canadian “snowbirds” could be able to spend more time – up to eight months from six months now annually – in the sunny south if a provision in the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform becomes law.
   Bill sponsor Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York also wants to make it easier for Canadians owning at least $500,000 in U.S. property to live year-round in America with a non-immigrant retiree visa.
   The proposed Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act said the changes would encourage Canadian tourism and increase economic growth.
   With the hundreds of thousands of Canadians spending extended periods in Florida, Arizona, California and Texas every year, it would be a boon to those economies.
   The Canadian Snowbirds Association, with 700,000 members, has been lobbying for the changes as the maximum limit for stays now without a visa is 180 days in a 12-month period, said president Bob Slack.
   Canadians who return home after six months away are unable to take further trips across the border in that one-year period.