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Greetings to thousands of readers the past month from the United States and Canada, as well as the United Kingdom, Russia, India, Germany, France, Japan and Latvia.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Canadian mortage-rate deals end after government complains



   Canada column for Sunday, March 31/13

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Some people call it meddling but Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that pressuring banks not to engage in a mortgage-rate war is in the best interests of Canadians.
   Flaherty personally called Bank of Montreal (BMO) executives to complain when its five-year mortgage rate was reduced to 2.99 per cent this month.
   Members of his staff then contacted Manulife Financial the next day to express displeasure after dropping its five-year rate to 2.98 percent.
   There is a concern with current historically low rates “whether people can afford their mortgages when interest rates go up,” Flaherty said.
   Manulife quickly complied and put its rate back up to 3.09 percent while BMO’s rate was restored to 3.09 percent last Friday.
   Small Business Minister Maxime Bernier opposed Flaherty’s action, saying he wouldn’t dictate the rates the private sector should offer.
   “It’s supply and demand that decides the prices,” he said.
   “We want to ensure that mortgages remain affordable and stable and that the market stays stable and affordable in the long run for Canadian families," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Canadian government stays the course heading for a balanced budget in 2015



   Canada column for Sunday, March 24/13

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Canadian government will continue to practice restraint as it gets its fiscal house in order for a predicted balanced budget in two years.
   Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in presenting the federal budget, said dramatic cuts to program expenses will continue as the government shuffles priorities and reallocates resources.
   The reward will be a balanced budget in 2015, the first since 2008, and just in time for the Conservatives to campaign on their achievement for an expected election that year.
   There are projections the deficit for the current fiscal year will be $25.9 billion, up from $21.1 billion projected by Flaherty in the budget a year ago.
   The government plans to revamp its job-skills training to better meet employers’ needs; promote manufacturing development; begin a renewed 10-year fund for infrastructure spending; reduce import tariffs on hockey equipment and baby clothing; and crack down on tax cheaters with offshore accounts.
   Canadians need to realize the government “will be a benign and silent partner in their enterprise, not an overbearing behemoth squeezing them at every turn,” Flaherty said.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Justin Trudeau headed for "coronation" by Liberals



   Canada column for Sunday, March 17/13

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Justin Trudeau’s dream to one day succeed his late father, Pierre, as Canada’s prime minister appears to be moving a step closer.
   Montreal Member of Parliament (MP) Marc Garneau has dropped out of the Liberal leadership race to support Trudeau, 41, saying the outcome of the April 14 vote was “a fait accompli.”
   The former astronaut said a poll conducted by his campaign showed Trudeau with the endorsement of 72 percent of Liberals.
   Calling Trudeau the “overwhelming favorite,” Garneau was second with 15 percent support followed by Vancouver MP Joyce Murray at 7.4 percent and former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay with 5.2 percent.
   Garneau’s departure was a surprise to many as he said earlier a “coronation” of Trudeau was not in the party’s best interests.
   He also suggested that Trudeau lacked leadership credentials, experience and policy depth.
   Calling it “constructive” criticism, Garneau now says Trudeau has “risen to the occasion” and proved an unmatched ability to rally people to the party that dropped to third place in the Commons in the last election.
   Also in the race are David Bertschi, Martin Cauchon, Deborah Coyne and Karen McCrimmon.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Long lives Canada's appointed Senate: NDP bid to abolish fails



   Canada column for Sunday, March 10/13

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   A bid by the New Democratic Party to abolish Canada’s appointed Senate has failed in a 186-101 vote.
   Member of Parliament Craig Scott put forward the motion, calling it a “useless” body.
   He said Senators work in the upper chamber only an average of 56 days a year and are appointed virtually for life, able to serve until age 75.
   Known as the upper house of “sober second thought” to review government bills, the Senate has 105 members earning a base pay of about $132, 000 a year.
   Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government “promised” to reform the Senate but in the last seven years has appointed 58 members, Scott said.
   Even if passed, abolition would require a constitutional amendment approved by the provincial governments.
   The New Democrats “know full well the provinces aren't going to abolish the Senate,” Harper said.
   The government’s proposed reforms would limit Senators’ terms to nine years and allow the provinces to hold elections to choose its members.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Audits underway for four Senators over expense claims



   Canada column for Sunday, March 3/13

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   THE CANADIAN REPORT
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Three Senators, including former TV news journalist Mike Duffy, continue to be investigated over alleged improper housing expense claims.
   Auditors are also examining the travel expense claims of former TV news broadcaster Pamela Wallin.
   A Senate board is investigating allegations three Senators who live in Ottawa were improperly claiming allowances meant to compensate those who keep a secondary residence there.
   The board has reviewed documents from all 98 Senators such as driver’s licenses, health cards and residency information on their income tax returns.
   It identified potential problems with the claims of three Senators – Duffy, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau, who was removed from the Conservative caucus after being arrested for assault.
   External auditors are now looking at their expenses while Duffy has volunteered to repay the $22,000-a-year allowance.
   A report shows Wallin, representing Saskatchewan, has claimed travel expenses of $321,000 since September 2010.