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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.


   A Canadian census survey shows there are more foreign-born residents in the country than ever before, mainly from Asia while Africans are arriving in greater numbers.
   The National Housing Survey shows that Canada is home to 6.8-million foreign-born residents, or 20.6 percent of the population.
   About one person in five is a visible minority, while in nine cities they have become the majority.
   It found 91 percent of the immigrants live in metropolitan areas, with 63.4 percent in the Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver areas.
   While Toronto continues as the top destination, newcomers are increasingly settling in the Prairies.
   Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax and Montreal all saw their share of newcomers grow.


   News in brief:
   - Former U.S. vice president Al Gore told the CTV television network he stands by his criticism of Canada’s oilsands as one of the “dirtiest sources” of carbon fuel. In an earlier interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, Gore said he understands the desire to exploit “the great wealth" oilsands can produce but they damage natural landscapes and contribute to “the reckless spewing of pollution.”
   - The continuing Quebec corruption investigation has led to the arrest of Gilles Vaillancourt, 72, ex-mayor of Laval, and 36 others on charges ranging from fraud to gangsterism. Those arrested included other politicians and aides, lawyers and people with ties to the construction industry. Police said a three-year investigation concerned corruption and collusion in the issuing of work contracts.


   Facts and figures:
   The Canadian economy added 12,500 jobs overall last month as the unemployment rate was steady at 7.2 percent.
   The Canadian dollar dipped on Friday to 98.87 cents U.S. while the U.S. greenback returned $1.0113 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 were mixed Friday with the Toronto exchange index up at 12,563 points and the TSX Venture index lower at 961 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (May 8) 12, 21, 23, 24, 38 and 46; bonus 36. (May 4) 8, 9, 13, 22, 35 and 36; bonus 6. Lotto Max: (May 3) 4, 6, 21, 26, 30, 34 and 35; bonus 39.


   Regional briefs:
   - Near-record high temperatures are taking some of the bloom off the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa. The more than 1-million colorful tulips began wilting as the capital’s temperature rose into 80s at mid-week. The festival began in 1953 when the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa as gratitude for Canadians sheltering Princess Juliana and her daughters during the Second World War’s Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
   - Heavy equipment and mining company Caterpillar Inc. is closing a second Ontario plant with the loss of 330 jobs. The latest casualty is the tunnel-boring equipment plant in Toronto that Caterpillar bought five years ago. Last year, Caterpillar closed its London, Ontario locomotive plant putting 465 employees out of work during a lockout and moved production to Muncie, Ind.
   - Sydney Taylor, 21, an Acadia University student, fell to her death during a graduation trip with 120 classmates in Cancun, Mexico. Taylor, who earned an honors in political science from the Nova Scotia university, fell from a third-floor room balcony at the Hotel Gran Caribe Royal. Police said alcohol was a factor in the incident.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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