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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Investigators probing added Senate expense claims

   Canada column for Sunday, April 5/15

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The Senate expenses scandal has expanded to include more than 100 current and former senators whose claims are being investigated.
   This comes as the trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy for fraud, bribery and breach of trust is to begin on Tuesday.
   As well, investigators allege that suspended Senator Pamela Wallin submitted 150 "suspicious" expense claims while on personal business.
   A former consul general in New York City and prominent broadcaster, Wallin has paid back $154,191, but faces no criminal charges at present.
   The expense claims of the senators, including one for more than $100,000, are being examined to see if they should have been reimbursed for flights, meals and other perks charged to Senate business.
   Arrested earlier and facing trial for fraudulent expense claims along with Duffy, also a former national TV news broadcaster, are suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau and retired senator Mac Harb.
   Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the Senate scandal puts into question the judgment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who appointed Wallin, Brazeau and Duffy.


   Traumatized passengers on an Air Canada plane that slammed to the ground while landing at Halifax Stanfield International Airport are being given $5,000 each from the airline.
   In letters to the 133 passengers on last Sunday night’s flight from Toronto, the airline said the money is to cover expenses and there is no requirement for them to sign any commitment or waiver.
   Investigators haven’t said why the Airbus A320 slammed into the ground short of the runway after taking out an antenna tower and skidding to a stop in a snowstorm.
   During the landing, the plane lost its landing gear, nose cone, had an engine snap off and a wing damaged.
   Twenty-five passengers and the two pilots were injured and treated at hospitals.


   News in brief:
   - Canada’s Conservative government used its majority in Parliament to approve a one-year extension of its combat mission against the Islamic State in Syria. Also approved was expanding the effort to include missions into Syria. Brigadier-General Dan Constable said air strikes by CF-18 jets over Syria will begin within days. The jets have been used the past six months only in Iraq.
   - Finance Minister Joe Oliver said that despite a falloff in crude oil prices the Conservative government will announce a balanced budget on April 21. The budget announcement was delayed to give the government more time to gauge the impact of oil prices on the economy as the country is a major crude producer. The budget will still allow major family tax-and-benefit measures to be implemented before the federal election in October.


   Facts and figures:
   Canada’s dollar is higher at 80.12 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returns $1.2479 in Canadian funds, before bank exchange fees.
   The Bank of Canada’s key interest rate is steady at 0.75 percent while the prime-lending rate is 2.85 percent.
   Stock markets are higher, with the Toronto exchange index at 15,026 points and the TSX Venture index at 683 points.
   The average price of gasoline in Canada is up at $1.05 a liter or $3.99 (Canadian) for a U.S. gallon.
   Lotto 6/49: (April 1) 4, 7, 12, 16, 22 and 24; bonus 41. (March 28) 12, 15, 21, 23, 40 and 48; bonus 8. Lotto Max: (March 27) 3, 7, 15, 23, 29, 31 and 45; bonus 46.


   Regional briefs:
   - Target’s hasty retreat from Canada has been moved up after a failed two-year mission. Target Canada’s three distribution centers and its Toronto-area headquarters have been closed and all 133 stores will be gone by April 12. The company sought creditor protection in January after it was unable to keep the shelves stocked and meet pricing expectations against the long-established Walmart Canada and Costco.
   - Nine people aboard the disabled Nova Scotia schooner Liana’s Ransom were rescued in high seas by the U.S. Coast Guard off Massachusetts. The ship left Halifax for the Caribbean but ran into engine and mast trouble off Gloucester. A crewmember was treated at a hospital for a concussion after hitting his head jumping into a lifeboat. Attempts were being made to recover the ship that was taking on water off the coast of Maine.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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