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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Senate expenses scandal winding down with charges withdrawn

   Canada column for Sunday, July 17/16

   (c) By Jim Fox

   The highly publicized Senate expenses scandal resulting in criminal charges against several Canadian senators has come sputtering to an end with the last fraud case dropped.
   “It’s official, I’m back in the Senate,” said an elated Sen. Patrick Brazeau.
   He had just learned that prosecutors were withdrawing fraud and breach of trust charges concerning his expense claims.
   Assistant Crown Attorney Suzanne Schriek told Judge Robert Maranger the prosecution believes there was no longer any “reasonable prospect of conviction” after the acquittal of Sen. Mike Duffy in April on similar charges.
   “Having seen the ‘proof’ against me, what a waste of time and taxpayer’s money – perhaps that’s the real scandal,” Brazeau said.
   The Senate ordered Brazeau to repay $55,000 in housing expenses and continues to pursue others for amounts it believes were inappropriately claimed.
   After Duffy’s high-profile, 62-day trial in which he was acquitted of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, the Senate dropped charges against retired Sen. Mac Harb.
   Police then decided not to proceed with any charges against Sen. Pamela Wallin whose expense claims were under review.


   Canada’s central bank has revised downward its economic outlook for this year due to the devastating impact of the Alberta wildfire.
   In an update, the Bank of Canada said the May fire, which forced 80,000 people to leave their homes in Fort McMurray with the loss of 2,400 buildings, led to an “economic contraction” in the second quarter of the year.
   The fire temporarily stopped production at oil sands facilities as the economy also grappled with lower oil prices and reduced export figures.
   The bank said the fire cut 1.1 percent from second-quarter growth as the economy contracted by 1 percent.


   News in brief:
   - Popular Member of Parliament Tony Clement said he will seek the leadership of the federal Conservative party to succeed former prime minister Stephen Harper. The politician from Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ontario said he would “usher in an optimistic modern Conservatism that appeals to urban Canadians, first-time voters and newcomers while preserving those values that unite us.”
   - The new housing price index jumped by 0.7 percent in May, the largest monthly increase since 2007. Statistics Canada said prices were driven by the hot markets of Toronto, Oshawa and Vancouver. In those cities, the average price of a single-family house has topped $1 million. The price index dropped in Regina and Charlottetown.


   Facts and figures:
   The Canadian dollar has advanced to 77.04 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returns $1.297 in Canadian funds, before exchange fees.
   The Bank of Canada’s key interest rate remains at 0.5 percent while the prime-lending rate is 2.7 percent.
   Markets are higher, with the Toronto Stock Exchange index at 14,503 points and the TSX Venture index at 764 points.
   The average price for gas in Canada has dropped to $1.02 a liter or $3.87 (Canadian) for a U.S. gallon.
   Lotto 6/49: (July 13) 2, 7, 25, 30, 34 and 36; bonus 6. (July 9) 23, 28, 30, 32, 42 and 44; bonus 24. Lotto Max: (July 8) 1, 8, 16, 25, 30, 42 and 48; bonus 28.


   Regional briefs:
   - Police have found the body of Taliyah Marsman, 5, of Calgary in a field three days after her mother, Sara Baillie, 34, was found murdered in her home. Edward Delten Downey, 46, who knew the single mother and child, is being held on murder charges. Police got a major lead in the case through viewing security video from area businesses.
   - About 400 people have returned to their homes after floodwaters receded in Saskatchewan. Widespread heavy rain led to a state of emergency in Estevan, Carrot River, Arborfield and the Shoal Lake Cree Nation. About 5.1 inches of rain fell in two hours.
   - Canadians vary in their tipping habits, with those in Ontario and Quebec likely to leave servers more than 15 percent while those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba say the “standard tip” is less than 10 percent. An Angus Reid Institute poll found people are split on the “no-tip compensation model” with a set amount charged as opposed to a voluntary one.


Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com

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