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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Two senators facing fraud, breach of trust charges over expenses

   Canada column for Sunday, Feb. 9/14

   (c) By Jim Fox

   Two disgraced senators are facing criminal charges for fraud and breach of trust over travel and living expense claims.
   The Mounties have arrested Patrick Brazeau, a suspended former Conservative senator, and Mac Harb, a former Liberal senator who resigned from the upper house last summer.
   “I can assure you that we continue our work on other significant files," said assistant police commissioner Gilles Michaud.
   He was referring to investigations of allegedly fraudulent expenses claimed by suspended former Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.
   Police are also looking into the circumstances of $90,000 that Nigel Wright, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, gave to Duffy to repay disputed expenses.
   The investigation into Brazeau and Harb concern allegations they improperly declared homes outside the nation’s capital as their principal residences, allowing them to receive expenses to live in Ottawa near the Parliament buildings.
   Harb has repaid the Senate $231,649, Brazeau refused to reimburse $48,000 and Wallin has returned about $150,000 in travel expense claims.


   Proposed changes to Canada’s Citizenship Act mean it will take longer to become a Canadian.
   The overhaul is aimed at tightening the rules, cracking down on fraud and stripping Canadian citizenship from dual nationals who engage in terrorism.
   It will require maintaining a “physical presence” in Canada for four out of six years, instead of the current three out of four years, and to have paid Canadian income taxes.
   There will also be more stringent language requirements and the passing of a knowledge test.
   “Our government expects new Canadians to take part in the democratic life, economic potential and rich cultural traditions that are involved in becoming a citizen," said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.


    News in brief:
   - It’s been said that the Mounties “always get their man,” in this case Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. While in Coquitlam, British Columbia attending a funeral, Ford was given a $109 ticket for jaywalking. Ford, who has been openly critical of Toronto police investigating his alleged relationship with drug dealers, said the officer “singled me out when she said ‘You’re Rob Ford, come with me’.”
   - TD Bank suggests housing prices in Canada are about 10 percent overvalued, considering current expectations for higher interest rates. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. predicts fewer houses will be built as contractors adjust to rising rates and a slowdown in demand from first-time buyers. It expects about 187,300 housing starts this year and 184,900 next year compared with 187,923 in 2013.


   Facts and figures:
   The Canadian dollar got a boost from Friday’s report the economy gained 29,400 jobs in January, dropping the jobless rate by 0.2 percent to 7.0 percent.
   The dollar advanced to 90.58 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returned $1.1039 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 remains at 3 percent.
   Stock markets are higher, with the Toronto exchange index at 13,787 points and the TSX Venture index 960 points.
   Lotto 6-49: (Feb. 5) 3, 16, 18, 21, 28 and 47; bonus 5. (Feb. 1) 10, 14, 18, 27, 31 and 48; bonus 1. Lotto Max: (Jan. 31) 6, 10, 16, 27, 38, 40 and 45; bonus 39.


   Regional briefs:
   - Quebec Provincial Police say the death toll in a fire that destroyed a seniors’ home in L'Isle-Verte has risen to 28, with four people missing. There was speculation the fire early on Jan. 23 was caused by someone smoking. Police lieutenant Guy Lapointe said the cause hasn’t yet been determined.
   - Winnipeg – often dubbed “Winter-peg” – is having its coldest winter in 64 years, with 12 days below -30C (-22F) in January after a frigid December. The good news was that groundhog Winnipeg Willow didn’t see her shadow, with the folklore calling for an early spring. It was the same with Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam but Ontario's Wiarton Willie saw his shadow, meaning another six weeks of wintry weather.
   - Eastern Canada has been enduring bone-chilling cold along with a series of snowstorms that have closed Highway 401, Canada’s busiest highway, numerous times due to collisions. The latest was a pileup of 115 cars and trucks west of Belleville, Ontario on Wednesday in icy conditions and blowing snow, injuring several people.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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