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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.


   After a week of silence, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford denied drug-use allegations against him.
   “I do not use crack cocaine nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” Ford said Friday.
   “As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I’ve never seen or does not exist.”
   He blamed the media, in particular the Toronto Star, for judging him “without any evidence.”
   A video that allegedly shows him smoking what appears to be crack cocaine was first reported by the U.S. gossip website Gawker.com.
   Ford also praised Mark Towhey, his chief of staff, whom he fired and had advised him on how to handle the issue.


   News in brief:
   - The Supreme Court has ruled that former Quebec Lieutenant-Governor Lise Thibault must stand trial for allegedly defrauding taxpayers of $700,000 through double-billing and lavish spending. Thibault, 73, who was Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Quebec, had petitioned the court seeking to avoid a trial.
   - City council voted 40-4 to reject a proposal to build a $4-billion casino and entertainment complex in Toronto. The council had sought $100 million in annual fees but the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission’s last offer was $53 million. The commission is now asking if any neighboring cities might be interested in a less-opulent proposal.
   - “If you are reading this, I am dead,” Peter Worthington, a retired globe-trotting foreign correspondent and co-founder of the Toronto Sun, wrote in a self-penned obituary. Worthington, who was 86, is survived by his wife Yvonne Crittenden, an Australian-born journalist, three children and six grandchildren.


   Facts and figures:
   Canada’s dollar dipped to 96.86 cents U.S. on Friday while the U.S. greenback returned $1.0323 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 12,655 points and the TSX Venture index at 946 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (May 22) 1, 20, 24, 33, 37 and 43; bonus 42. (May 18) 5, 24, 26, 28, 33 and 45; bonus 31. Lotto Max: (May 17) 8, 18, 21, 27, 33, 46 and 49; bonus 26.


   Regional briefs:
   - A two-day advisory to boil drinking water affecting 1.3-million residents of Montreal was lifted on Thursday. Mayor Michael Applebaum said the warning was a precaution after an unexpected drop in water volumes at the Atwater filtration plant that is being renovated. There were concerns the water might be contaminated by sediment.
   - Police arrested Mark Smich, 25, of Oakville, Ontario for first-degree murder in the death of Tim Bosma, 32, of Ancaster, who disappeared after taking two men on a test drive of his truck. Dellen Millard, 27, of Toronto was arrested earlier on a similar charge and police are seeking a third suspect. The burned remains of Bosma were found on a farm owned by Millard near Kitchener.
   - Residents of the Atlantic provinces are being advised by the Canadian Hurricane Center to prepare for an active storm season. The center said an unusually warm tropical Atlantic Ocean is one of the factors behind the forecast of up to 20 hurricanes moving up the coast in the season beginning June 1.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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