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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 . . .")

   Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford continues to go show up for work even though his city council has stripped him of most of his powers, staff and budget.
   Calling it a “coup d’etat,” Ford, who admitted to smoking crack cocaine and alcohol abuse, said voters should be able to pass judgment on him, not his fellow councilors.
   Ford, who is considering taking legal action or seeking an injunction against council’s decision, said there is “going to be outright war in the next election (a year from now).”
   He has refused to resign and said he is getting help for his much-publicized personal issues.


   News in brief:
   - Canadian shoppers along with their American neighbors are looking forward to “Black Friday” deals in the U.S. They are lured by the larger selection of stores and merchandise as well as lower prices and taxes. A Bank of Montreal poll said 47 percent of Canadians surveyed planned to shop over the border next Friday, up from 41 percent last year and they’ll spend an average of $292.
   - Railway companies have been ordered by the federal government to advise municipal officials when they are transporting dangerous goods through their communities. Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said it is a “protective” issue intended to improve safety. It follows the July 6 oil-tanker train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec that killed 42 people.
   - The Federal Court of Appeal has denied newspaper baron Conrad Black’s bid to personally address a group that will consider removing him from the Order of Canada. The court said Black, who served time in prison in Florida, can plead his case in writing regarding Canada’s highest honor. Taking back the order is being considered due to Black’s U.S. convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice when he headed the Hollinger newspaper chain.


   Facts and figures:
   Canada’s inflation rate dropped last month to 0.7 percent from 1.1 percent, the lowest since May, largely due to lower gasoline prices.
   Canada’s dollar is lower at 94.82 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returns $1.0545 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 for the week, with the Toronto exchange index at 13,505 points and the TSX Venture index 932 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (Nov. 20) 20, 26, 35, 37, 46 and 48; bonus 9. (Nov. 16) 9, 12, 17, 20, 21 and 37; bonus 31. Lotto Max: (Nov. 15) 1, 3, 10, 15, 25, 28 and 31; bonus 7.


   Regional briefs:
   - Taxpayers shouldn’t be concerned about cost overruns for the $2.5-billion bill to host the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Ontario’s Tourism and Sport Minister Michael Chan said the games are “on track” to stay within budget. Opposition politicians accused the Liberal government of trying to hide the actual cost being shared with the federal and city government.
   - Vancouver’s city council is changing its building code to outlaw the installation of door knobs in all new construction projects, including private homes. The ruling, designed to make buildings more accessible to everyone, calls for handle levers instead. It will take effect next March but will not affect existing homes.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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