By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – The Harper government appears to have cooled on the idea of scrapping the purchase of the air force’s CH-148 Cyclone helicopters and is back in talks with the manufacturer to salvage the troubled $5.7-billion program.
The plan to acquire 28 maritime choppers to replace Canada’s 50-year-old CH-124 Sea Kings — which fly from the decks of Canadian warships — is years behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget, and apparently beset with technical glitches.
Earlier this fall, the Department of Public Works indicated it was looking at other aircraft because Cyclone manufacturer Sikorsky had only delivered four test aircraft, which National Defence has refused to formally accept.
Louis Chenevert, the chairman of United Technologies Corp., the owners of Sikorsky, told analysts in a conference call on Thursday that the company is having “productive discussions with the Canadian government” on the Cyclone program and that the talks are in the “advanced stages.”
Public Works Minister Diane Finley conceded the government “is in discussions” with Sikorsky to see if they can put together a plan to go forward.
Precisely what that entails, however, remains unclear.
“We are working. We had a third party come together and put a report together,” Finley said Friday at an event to announce the purchase of hard-top military shelters.
Last spring, Finley’s predecessor, Rona Ambrose, asked for an independent analysis of whether Sikorsky could deliver what it promised, and Finley says those recommendations are guiding the discussions.
The report suggested the government had 90 days from when it received the analysis to salvage the program, which was criticized by the auditor general a few years ago for being misrepresented as an off-the-shelf purchase rather than a development contract.
Finley’s officials asked Sikorsky’s rivals in October for detailed information, pricing, and potential delivery dates should the Conservative government cancel the existing contract.
AgustaWestland, which is marketing its HM-1 Merlin helicopter, and NH Industries, representing Eurocopter and the NH-90 chopper, both responded. Sikorsky was also asked for information about its other maritime helicopter, the MH-60 Sea Hawk, which is in service with the U.S. Navy.
Chenevert, however, said Thursday that his company intends to deliver eight helicopters this year, followed by eight more each in 2014 and 2015.
“The airplane is flying, people are training,” said Chenevert, who offered up photos of the training effort, which is taking place at a military base in Shearwater, N.S.
“Obviously, it is binary. I mean, if everything gets resolved, eight get delivered; if not, they move into next year and we know exactly what the math will be, but at this point in time, we’re planning eight, eight, and eight.”
Throughout most of 2013, the government and Sikorsky have been engaged in a public tug-of-war over when a final version of the helicopter would be ready for service, despite two contract extensions and more money for engine improvements.
There have been ongoing technical concerns that prompted the air force’s directorate of flight safety to issue a restricted flight certificate. Some of those worries involved whether the helicopter’s sensitive electronics were sufficiently shielded to prevent electro-magnetic interference.
Internal documents viewed by The Canadian Press earlier this year revealed that air force evaluators warned nearly a decade ago that the Cyclone might not measure up in terms of engine performance, acoustic noise and its ability to resist electronic interference.
The purchase was nonetheless allowed to proceed.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 3:15 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – The federal government has given the green light to the proposed consolidation of National Defence offices in the Ottawa area.
The reorganization is to be completed by 2019, a move officials say will save $750 million over 25 years.
The consolidation will also save another $160 million in improvements to existing offices that will no longer be needed.
Most of the amalgamation involves the relocation of 8,500 military and civilian employees to the former Nortel campus buildings, which the Harper government purchased in 2010 following the demise of the technology giant.
The number of National Defence buildings in the capital will shrink to seven from 40, as leases expire.
Neither Defence Minister Rob Nicholson nor Public Works Minister Diane Finley were immediately available for comment.
Published reports earlier this year suggested eavesdropping devices linked to China, left over from the Nortel days, were still embedded in the buildings.
A defence official, who spoke Friday on the condition of anonymity, dismissed the reports. He said military security experts found no such devices during a preliminary sweep.
The military’s operational command headquarters, currently located in eastern Ottawa, will remain a separate entity from the consolidated administration centre at the Nortel facility, which is located in the city’s south central district.
By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 3:13 PM - 0 Comments
TORONTO, Cananda – Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr has explained for the first time why he pleaded guilty to five war crimes, saying it was because he had been “left with a hopeless choice.”
In a new court filing obtained by The Canadian Press, Khadr says he knew the Americans could have held him indefinitely even in the highly unlikely case that he was acquitted.
“I was left with a hopeless choice,” Khadr, 27, says in the sworn affidavit.
“If I wanted the chance to eventually return to my home of Canada, I would have to be found guilty of crimes as determined by the U.S. government, which could then lead to me serving my sentence in Canada.”
The affidavit, filed in Federal Court, comes as part of Khadr’s $20-million lawsuit against the federal government for violation of his rights.
Without the plea agreement he signed in October 2010, Khadr says he would have faced the possibility of life-long detention and “continued abuse and torture” at Guantanamo Bay.
The entire agreement, he says, was put together by the American government.
Khadr also makes it clear that — in contrast to the agreed stipulation of facts in the plea deal — he has never believed Jews or Americans should be killed or deserve to die and says he never willingly joined an al-Qaida terrorist cell.
“Any participation in al-Qaida-related activities was at the demand of the adults around me,” his affidavit says.
He also says part of the American case against him was based on evidence supplied by Canadian intelligence officials, who interviewed him at the U.S. naval base.
The Americans detained Khadr as a terribly wounded 15-year-old following a four-hour firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002 in which a U.S. special forces soldier was killed.
Khadr says he has no memories of that battle or of the grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer.
He also insists he had no plans to kill any soldiers, nor did he attack any of the U.S. forces who entered the compound after the battle was over.
Those denials, however, would have left him unable to enter the plea deal, which saw him given a further eight years behind bars.
He was transferred to Canada in September 2012 to serve out the rest of his sentence and is currently housed in an Edmonton maximum security facility.
The federal government has repeatedly denounced Khadr as an unrepentant terrorist.
Khadr is also appealing his underlying conviction in the U.S.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 3:04 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Attention political junkies: Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella says Canada’s house of sober second thought could have video cameras live-streaming debates from the upper chamber as early as this spring.
Cameras were installed in the elected House of Commons in 1977 — many will argue to the detriment of the quality of debate — but the Senate has resisted any such modernization.
Now, a four-member committee has been assembled to look into televising the appointed upper chamber.
The move is seen as an effort to sell the Senate’s merits to a public jaded by the ongoing expense scandals of several senators and an alleged bribery scheme involving the Prime Minister’s Office.
Kinsella says the committee will look for a modern, user-friendly and inexpensive way to video proceedings and then provide that video to broadcasters, possibly by streaming it live online.
With Parliament adjourned for the Christmas break, Kinsella told reporters that all the Senate scandal coverage has made for a tiring, frustrating year — but one that may end up reinvigorating what he calls a critical institution for the country.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 2:59 PM - 0 Comments
MONTREAL – The RCMP says charges have been laid against a businessman stemming from the Quebec sponsorship scandal.
Jacques Corriveau is facing charges of fraud against the government, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime.
The charges come after an investigation that was triggered nearly 11 years ago.
The Mounties allege in a news release today that Corriveau set up a kickback system on contracts awarded during the sponsorship program.
Police say Corriveau alleged he could exert influence on the federal government to ensure certain Quebec-based firms received lucrative contracts in exchange for several million dollars in kickbacks and benefits for himself and others.
Corriveau had close ties to former prime minister Jean Chretien.
The RCMP are to hold a news conference in Montreal later this afternoon.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 2:57 PM - 0 Comments
TORONTO, Cananda – Rob Ford is not commenting on a libel notice brought against him by a reporter who claims the Toronto mayor made remarks on TV that amounted to an accusation of pedophilia against him.
Ford refused to answer questions on Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale’s libel notice, which demands the mayor apologize for and retract what Dale calls a “false insinuation.”
Meanwhile, the mayor’s brother says Ford does not owe Dale an apology.
Coun. Doug Ford says he is “not too sure” what his brother meant in the comments that led to the libel notice but he says the move is “all about the Toronto Star.”
He calls the newspaper a “hurting” company which he claims is using Dale as a “pawn” to draw more readers.
In the interview broadcast Monday, Ford told host Conrad Black that Dale had perpetrated the worst invasion of his privacy during a May 2012 incident when he claimed the reporter was in his backyard, “taking pictures of little kids.”
Ford said “I don’t want to say that word but you start thinking what this guy is all about.”
The mayor said a day after the interview that he stood by “every word.”
Dale has said at no time did he ever take any photographs of the mayor’s family, house or even his property — and a police investigation bore that out.
The libel notice is the first step in the process of suing for defamation. If Ford refuses to apologize and withdraw the comments, Dale said, the mayor would have to be prepared to “repeat his lies under penalty of perjury” in a courtroom.
He said he was taking legal action reluctantly, and only because Ford was repeating lies about what had actually happened.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 2:57 PM - 0 Comments
TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. – A 37-year-old Quebecer has been charged with uttering death threats on Facebook against Premier Pauline Marois.
Daniel Brosseau was arrested on Thursday and arraigned in Trois-Rivieres today.
Brosseau is also charged with possession of brass knuckles.
Police seized computer information at his residence.
By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 12:39 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – The Harper government has awarded a $73.5-million contract for extra hard-top army shelters to an Ottawa firm, but remains mum on the future of a long-promised, $2-billion armoured-vehicle program.
The original deal for shelters was announced in 2009 as part of a logistics truck program, but Public Works Minister Diane Finley says the government has decided to order 99 more — to be used as field command posts and work spaces — on top of the 895 that were part of the first contract.
She wouldn’t comment on the fate of a separate, hotly debated plan to buy 108 close-combat vehicles, meant to accompany army’s Leopard 2 A6 and A4 tanks into battle.
Bids by three defence contractors — Nexter, BAE Systems Inc. and General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. — are set to expire Dec. 23.
The program has hung in the balance for months after the army signalled it was worried whether it could afford to train, operate and maintain the new set of vehicles in a time of tight budgets.
Finley was non-commital when asked whether the government intended to let the bids expire, which would effectively kill the program for a second time.
“We continue to work the Department of National Defence on that file,” she said Friday.
Having yet another major military purchase go down the drain would be a political black eye for the Conservatives, who’ve struggled to deliver on an extensive list of military equipment.
In addition to the uncertainty about the armoured vehicles, National Defence and Public Works in the summer of 2012 cancelled and subsequently restarted a program to buy 1,500 logistics trucks for the military.
The defence industry would be infuriated if the combat vehicle program fails, especially since each contractor has spent millions of dollars to take part in the bidding. The companies were required to hand over vehicles for testing, which included subjecting them to blasts and other extreme measures to determine whether they met Canadian requirements.
But a declining defence budget, particularly cuts to training and national procurement, have caused the army to reconsider whether bringing a new vehicle into service is possible.
Among other things, the army was worried about having to construct new buildings to house the specialized 36-tonne vehicles, which were conceived during the Afghan war as a necessary addition to protect troops from increasingly powerful roadside bombs.
“The indicative cost estimate for infrastructure to support the fielded (close combat vehicle) is greater than was expected or planned for,” say documents released to The Canadian Press under access-to-information legislation.
“There is a risk that some of the requirements identified for infrastructure may be unaffordable, and that the (close combat vehicle) may be fielded with insufficient or less-than-ideal infrastructure.”
The army was also concerned about price tag of an electronic information exchange system between the contractor and defence staff, and the cost of an extended maintenance contract, at a time when the branch is facing a 22 per cent budget cut.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 12:37 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Canada’s top court will bring down a landmark decision on the legality of the country’s anti-prostitution laws next week Friday.
The ruling relates to challenges to laws against brothels, living off the avails and soliciting.
Ontario’s Appeal Court had previously struck down the laws against bawdy houses and altered the ban on living off the avails of prostitution to preclude exploitation.
It also upheld the ban on street prostitution.
The federal government appealed the decision that invalidated or altered the laws, while a group of sex-trade workers who brought the case initially appealed the soliciting ban.
The rulings were put on hold pending the outcome of the Supreme Court of Canada appeal.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in June.
At issue is whether the laws violate the rights of sex workers and whether they can then be justified as a reasonable infringement.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 12:36 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Independent MP Bruce Hyer is joining the Green party, a move that will double the party’s standing in the House of Commons.
The 67-year-old, second-term MP is a former New Democrat who left that party in April 2012 after breaking with NDP policy and voting to scrap the national long-gun registry.
The Ontario MP was first elected in Thunder Bay-Superior North in 2008 and re-elected in 2011.
In a statement, Hyer said joining the Greens will allow him to stand up for the interests of his constituents without the rigid discipline of the other parties.
“The Green party is different,” he said. “In fact, they’re the only federal political party that not only accepts but values democratic representation. The party does not and will not force their members to vote against the wishes of their constituents.”
Green Leader Elizabeth May, the only other Green MP, says she’s thrilled to have Hyer join her.
“I look forward to working with Bruce to break through the partisan gridlock and work on the issues that matter most to Canadians.”
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said Hyer is breaking faith with voters.
“Today’s self-centred decision by Bruce Hyer disrespects the voters of Thunder Bay-Superior North who sent him to Ottawa and serves to fuel the cynicism that has driven voters away from Canadian politics,” Angus said in a news release.
Angus said Hyer should resign and run in a byelection.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 11:44 AM - 0 Comments
TORONTO – Cisco Canada has signed a ten-year deal with the Ontario government that could see the company invest up to $4 billion in the province.
Cisco Canada president Nitin Kawale says the company will add up to 1,700 high-tech jobs within the first six years, with a focus on research and development.
The agreement also includes a framework with the potential to grow Cisco’s total Ontario employee footprint up to 5,000 by 2024.
Premier Kathleen Wynne was on hand for the announcement, and said the province will provide up to $220 million for the initiative.
Wynne says it’s the largest job-creating investment in Ontario’s high-tech sector, and calls it a substantial vote of confidence in the province’s educated workforce.
Cisco is a world leader in IT products and services.
By Julian Beltrame, The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 11:15 AM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Household debt in Canada hit a new all-time high in the just completed third quarter, but the tiny increase from the previous quarter suggests Canadians are reaching their limit on borrowing.
Debt to disposable household annual income rose a slim 0.6 percentage points to 163.7 per cent over the summer months, a time when Canadians were getting back into the housing market in a big way.
The increase means Canadians owe nearly $1.64 for every $1 in disposable income they earn in a year.
But analysts took comfort in the fact that the gain was the smallest third-quarter growth rate in 12 years, and that follows the smallest gain in a decade the previous quarter.
“Those figures should be encouraging for policy makers and suggest that the Bank of Canada’s belief that imbalances are evolving constructively is right on the mark,” said Benjamin Reitzes, a senior economist with BMO Capital Markets.
“Policy makers will continue to watch this metric, but rising interest rates and better income growth should stabilize, then nudge this ratio lower over the next few years.”
Speaking in Montreal on Thursday, central bank governor Stephen Poloz called household debt a major risk to the Canadian economy, suggesting the fear of stoking more borrowing as one reason he has not been even more dovish on interest rate policy.
“Growth in household borrowing has moderated and residential investment is on a more sustainable track,” Poloz assured the business audience, adding, however, that “nonetheless, the risks around this base case need to be managed.”
Policymakers are fixated on the debt ratio in part because it was at above 160 per cent that households in the United States and Britain ran into trouble about five years ago, contributing to defaults and the financial crisis that triggered the 2008-09 recession.
They also fear that at such elevated levels, many Canadian households would be unable to withstand a financial shock such as a loss of income, or a sudden spike in interest rates that raised debt services charges. That could lead to a sharp correction in home prices, as well as households pulling back on spending in other areas, thereby impacting the economy generally.
RBC economist Laura Cooper said in a note to clients that the most likely scenario is that as housing moderates, the pace of household debt accumulation will also ease.
“This would allow policymakers to focus their efforts on absorbing the still elevated excess capacity in the economy,” she said, adding that she expects the central bank will keep its trendsetting policy interest rate at one per cent until mid-2015.
A sizable $19.7 billion of borrowing on mortgages contributed the lion’s share to the $25.1 billion total household borrowing during the third quarter, which runs July-to-September. Total mortgage debt at the end of the third quarter stood at just over $1.1 trillion, up 1.8 per cent from the second quarter.
Consumer credit debt totalled $505 billion at the end of the quarter, up one per cent from the previous three-month period.
Despite the increase in debt, households continued to get richer in the third quarter as their net worth gained 2.2 per cent on the back of a strong stock market.
The value of shares and other equities gained 3.7 per cent in the quarter, while the value of household real estate gained 1.5 per cent.
On a per capita basis, Canadian net worth increased to $212,200, also an all-time high, from $208,300 in the second quarter.
On the government front, net debt edged to a nine-year high of 51 per cent of gross domestic product. By comparison, net government debt peaked at 93 per cent in 1996.
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 9:32 AM - 0 Comments
Usually, when we hear about U.S. Congress in Canada, we’re hearing about how it can’t do its job. Usually, there’s some kind of fiscal crisis, and we hear all about brinkmanship and hostility and breakdowns and acrimony. We also hear about all the congressional leaders, both Republican and Democrat, who face each other down and refuse to concede much at all. The president gets involved. Talks break down, then recommence, then break down all over. Then, at virtually the last second, some middling solution to the crisis of the time appears. Both sides lay down their rhetorical weapons and the nation endures.
This week, we’ve heard from two other people: Rep. Paul Ryan, who most of us remember as the guy who wanted Joe Biden’s job in 2012, and who now chairs the House of Representatives’ budget committee; and Sen. Patty Murray, the Democrat who chairs the Senate’s budget committee. The pair negotiated a budget deal that lasts two years. It eases those dramatic cuts, known as sequestration, that emerged after a past crisis. It cuts down the deficit by $23 billion. It’s modest, but it’s bipartisan.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on Ryan’s budget committee, was cautiously happy. ”It is not the budget agreement I or many of my colleagues would have written but I do believe on balance, at the margin, it represents a small but positive step forward,” he told CBS News after the budget passed through the House.
What’s remarkable is just how much legislators marginalized the Tea Party’s voice. The House vote was 332-94, including 169 Republicans. Those who joined forces with Democrats soundly drowned out the loud, proud right-wingers who stood opposed.
$1.012 trillion: Total spending approved by the House of Representatives for the 2014 fiscal year
“It’s doing what the American people expect us to do, and that’s coming together and finding common ground. Stick to our principles, but find common ground.” —Speaker John Boehner
What’s above the fold
The Globe and Mail Transport Canada will designate crude oil as a highly dangerous substance. National Post An attempt to return pro baseball to Montreal will likely fail. Toronto Star Hydro One‘s pension plan is almost as generous as OPG’s deal in Ontario. Ottawa Citizen Governor General David Johnston wants mentally ill soldiers to get help. CBC News Kim Jong-un‘s execution of his uncle could mean a wider purge of dissidents. CTV News The lineup to pay respects to Mandela’s body is still thousands long. National Newswatch The Conservative Party has lost 10,000 donors in a year.
What you might have missed
THE NATIONAL Polar bears. An environmental commission created under the NAFTA that ensures Canada, the U.S., and Mexico enforce their own environmental laws may conclude that Canada didn’t adhere to its federal Species at Risk Act when it didn’t declare polar bears a threatened or endangered species. THE GLOBAL Same-sex marriage. Australia’s top court threw out a law passed last October in the Australian Capital Territory that legalized same-sex marriage. The court deemed Parliament, which shot down a gay-marriage bill in September 2012, the final arbiter of the law. Twenty-seven marriages are now invalid.
By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
TORONTO – Mayor Rob Ford was slapped with a libel notice late Thursday for televised comments he made about a reporter, who said the remarks amounted to an accusation of pedophilia.
Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale would not comment on his suit that also names Vision TV, which aired the Ford interview, saying an article he wrote for his newspaper would have to stand.
“Enough is enough. I can’t tolerate it. I won’t tolerate it,” Dale wrote.
“I’m asking Ford to immediately retract the false insinuation that I am a pedophile. I am also serving Vision TV, which twice broadcast Ford’s vile and defamatory remarks…even though their interview was filmed days before it aired.”
The notice also calls for Vision TV to apologize.
Ford said a day after the interview that he stood by “every word.”
In the interview broadcast Monday, Ford told host Conrad Black that Dale had perpetrated the worst invasion of his privacy during a May 2012 incident.
“Daniel Dale is in my backyard taking pictures. I have little kids. He’s taking pictures of little kids,” Ford told the former media baron and convicted felon.
“I don’t want to say that word but you start thinking what this guy is all about.”
Dale maintains he was writing a story about a plot of public land adjacent to Ford’s house that the mayor wanted to buy, so he went to take a look when the mayor emerged from his home to confront him.
The reporter said at no time did he ever take any photographs of the mayor’s family, house or even his property — and a police investigation bore that out.
He said he was suing reluctantly, and only because Ford was repeating lies about what had actually happened.
He cited Ford’s comments on the Washington-based “Sports Junkies” program on Thursday in which Ford said, “When you’ve got young kids, that freaked me right out.”
The comments brought renewed attention to the “malicious and defamatory insinuation” that the reporter had some sort of “predatory interest in young children,” Dale said, adding that he has received strong support.
“Dozens of people, including people personally harmed by pedophilia, have offered me a total of thousands of dollars in donations for my legal fees,” Dale said.
The libel notice is the first step in the process of suing for defamation. If Ford refuses to apologize and withdraw the comments, Dale said, the mayor would have to be prepared to “repeat his lies under penalty of perjury” in a courtroom.
There was no immediate response from Ford or his lawyer to the libel notice.
On Tuesday, however, a defiant Ford refused to apologize to Dale or clarify his comments.
“I stand by my words, what I said with Conrad Black,” an angry Ford told a news conference.
“I stand by every word I said.”
ZoomerMedia, which owns Vision TV, posted a statement on the website for its radio station AM740.
“As there is now the threat of legal action, ZoomerMedia will not be making a statement until such time as we can consult with our attorneys to consider the allegations and determine next steps,” the statement said.
Also late Thursday, Black told The Canadian Press that Dale was on thin ice with the action.
“If the Star goes to court with this turkey, they’ll be killed,” Black said in an email.
“They raised the pedophilia question; Ford didn’t.”
Black declined to discuss the matter further or elaborate on previous comments that Dale might have a case because it was now a legal action.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who has assumed most of the mayor’s powers in light of the various scandals, has denounced Ford’s comments as “beyond the pale” and called on him to apologize.
By The Associated Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
BANGKOK – For years, protesters in Thailand have used social media to organize rallies. Now they’re taking smartphones to a new level.
Apps have been created that allow phones to help protesters perform the high-pitched, raucous noisemaking that is a staple of Thai demonstrations.
More than 70,000 people have downloaded one application that mimics the shrieking sound of a whistle — the symbol of the “whistle-blowing campaign” against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The new app is called “Nok Weed,” Thai for whistle, and it lets users choose the colour of their whistle, adjust the volume and then tap the screen to sound it.
According to its creator, the app “doesn’t do much and isn’t very useful” but it claimed the top spot on Google Play Store’s trending list last month within days of its Nov. 4 debut. Most of the downloads for the Thai-language app were in Thailand but 1.2 per cent have come from Egypt, another country fraught with political turmoil.
The app’s popularity coincides with the rallies that started six weeks ago, attracting thousands of Bangkok’s smartphone carrying upper- and middle-classes in a country that is one of the world’s biggest users of social media.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 5:38 AM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – A federal ban on inefficient light bulbs goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, almost seven years after it was announced with fanfare by a then-rookie Conservative government.
But the tough regulations are being watered down, and there are no federal rules yet on recycling a class of bulbs that meet the new standard but contain toxic mercury.
The Conservative government announced an aggressive plan in 2007 that would effectively remove most incandescent bulbs from retail shelves in favour of more expensive alternatives, such as compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs.
The new rules were set to start in 2012, but then were postponed to Jan. 1, 2014, to “allay” consumer concerns about cost and flexibility.
In the meantime, the government proposed allowing a newer kind of incandescent bulb, filled with halogen gas, to remain on store shelves even though it doesn’t meet the tough efficiency standards that were proposed in 2007 when the environment was top of mind for most Canadians.
By The Associated Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 5:27 AM - 0 Comments
BEIJING, China – World stock markets were tentative Friday as investors prepared for the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision next week on whether to reduce its monetary stimulus.
Asia’s heavyweight market benchmark, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225, rose 0.4 per cent to 15,403.11 and Hong Kong, Taiwan and Sydney also rose. Shanghai and Seoul declined.
In Europe, London’s FTSE 100 shed 0.1 per cent to 6,440.29 and France’s CAC 40 was down 0.1 per cent at 4,066.75. Germany’s DAX added 0.1 per cent to 9,022.77.
“The unwinding of unconventional monetary policy is a good thing long term. However it will cause short-term vibrations,” said Evan Lucas, a strategist for Australia’s IG Markets, in a report.
Futures augured gains on Wall Street, with Dow futures up 0.2 per cent.
In Asia, Singapore gained but markets fell in Thailand, Malaysia and Jakarta, which might be more exposed if a reduction in the Fed’s stimulus hurts U.S. demand for imports or sparks short-term capital flight from Asian economies.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.1 per cent to 23,245.96. Taiwan’s Taiex added 0.2 per cent to 8,376.44 and Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.7 per cent to 5,098.4. China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.3 per cent to 2,196.07.
Strong U.S. retail sales and signs of an imminent budget agreement in Congress have reinforced expectations that the Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Dec. 17-18 might decide to start reducing its $85 billion worth of monthly financial asset purchases.
The U.S. stimulus has buoyed stocks over the past few years, and its potential reduction has jolted markets in recent months. However, any tapering is expected to be accompanied by a renewed commitment by the Fed to keep interest rates low. That, analysts say, helps explain why stock markets are still trading at relative highs and why bond markets aren’t too volatile.
The focus will likely remain on the Fed until its decision next Wednesday.
The future of the Fed’s stimulus has been the main driver across all markets since May, when chairman Ben Bernanke first mooted the possibility.
Benchmark crude oil for January delivery was off 1 cent at $97.49 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 6 cents on Thursday to settle at $97.50.
In currency markets, the dollar rose to 103.56 yen from 103.56 yen. The euro gained to $1.3767 from $1.3745.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, December 13, 2013 at 5:26 AM - 0 Comments
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – More than two-thirds of New Zealanders who voted in a national referendum Friday said they oppose the government’s program of state asset sales.
The results of the poll are symbolic only. The referendum is not binding and the conservative government says it plans to carry on with its policy.
The government this year raised 4 billion New Zealand dollars ($3.3 billion) by selling 49 per cent stakes in energy companies Mighty River Power and Meridian Energy and a 20 per cent stake in national carrier Air New Zealand.
It plans next year to sell a 49 per cent stake in a third power company, Genesis Energy.
Preliminary results showed voter participation in the mail ballot was a relatively low 44 per cent. About 895,000 people voted against the sales and 433,000 in favour.
Opponents say the program is unnecessary and ideologically driven. The government argues it has helped it reduce foreign debt and allowed it to invest in hospitals, schools and roads.
Opposition leader David Cunliffe said in a statement that New Zealanders always knew the sales were a terrible idea and the government should now call off its Genesis plans.
But Finance Minister Bill English said the referendum was a “costly stunt” and opponents would be disappointed after less than 30 per cent of all eligible voters cast a vote against the sales.
The referendum was held after asset sale opponents gathered more than 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for the vote.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 8:54 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – A high-profile Conservative Senator is retiring from the upper chamber effective in June 2014.
Hugh Segal says he is going to become master of the University of Toronto’s Massey College.
Segal was at odds with his party this fall over its decision to push through legislation suspending three senators at the heart of the ongoing expense scandal without pay.
There has been speculation he would depart, though in a statement released Thursday he praised Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his “support and counsel” during his time in the Senate.
Segal was appointed to the Senate in 2005 by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, but had a long career as a backroom power in federal and Ontario politics.
Segal served as chief of staff to Brian Mulroney and there was an effort in 1993 to draft him to run in the leadership race to succeed the prime minister.
In 1998 Segal did seek the leadership of the then Progressive Conservative party and finished second to Joe Clark.
Segal also held a senior position in the government of former Ontario premier Bill Davis.
“As a proponent of senate reform I have spoken in favour of term limits as a feasible start to this process,” Segal said in a statement issued Thursday night.
“Late 2014 would mark my ninth year in the senate and the time is right for new challenges.”
The current master of Massey, John Fraser, issued a statement calling Segal a “warm, engaging and energetic figure.”
Segal is the third Conservative senator to quit in recent weeks—Ontario Sen. David Braley announced earlier this month he is quitting while Nova Scotia Sen. Gerald Comeau said last month he is stepping down.
Segal’s departure will not affect the Harper government’s commanding majority in the upper chamber, where it currently holds 57 seats compared to 32 for the Liberals.
By Emily Senger - Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 5:12 PM - 0 Comments
Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale is going to sue Toronto Mayor Rob Ford over comments the mayor made during an interview with Conrad Black.
Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke made the announcement of the defamation lawsuit on Twitter Thursday afternoon.
#robford reporter Daniel Dale will sue over the pervert accusation with the Toronto Star's full and complete support. Stand by.
— Michael Cooke (@TorStarEditor) December 12, 2013
In the interview, which aired Monday on Vision TV, Ford seemed to suggest that Dale—who has been reporting on the mayor’s ongoing problems during the crack video scandal—is a pedophile.
On Tuesday, Ford told reporters he stands by his words.
On Wednesday, Dale wrote a story in the Star refuting Ford’s claims, under the headline “Rob Ford is lying about me, and it’s vile.” Dale wrote that he had consulted a lawyer and was considering his options.
In an article posted on the Star’s website Thursday, Dale writes that he was ready to announce his intentions not to sue on Thursday morning. Then he heard Ford making the same false accusations on a D.C. sports radio station Thursday morning. “I planned to say in my announcement that I would reconsider my decision if the mayor were to repeat his lies in the future,” Dale writes. “I woke up this morning to learn that he is already repeating them.”
Dale writes that if ZoomerMedia, which owns Vision TV, and Ford do not apologize, he will launch further legal action. The video of the interview where Ford originally made his comments was already removed from both the Vision TV website and YouTube earlier in the week.
Dale also writes that he will remain on the city hall beat, with support from the Toronto Star.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 5:03 PM - 0 Comments
TORONTO – Ontario should significantly raise the gas tax and borrow more money to help raise the tens of billions of dollars needed for public transit expansion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, a government-appointed panel said Thursday.
One option is to hike the gas tax by three cents a litre in 2015, climbing to 10 cents after eight years, the panel said. The province could cap the increase at five cents a litre after three years if it hikes the Harmonized Sales Tax by half a percentage point after that.
At the same time, the government should redirect the HST that it collects on the gas tax — about $80 million a year in the GTHA — to transit and raise corporate taxes by half a percentage point to 12 per cent.
Ontario currently imposes a levy of 14.7 cents per litre on unleaded gasoline and 14.3 cents per litre for diesel, which hasn’t changed in more than 20 years.
The gas tax increase would cost the average household in the GTHA about $80 in the first year and $260 after eight years, the report said.
But sitting in traffic for an additional 32 minutes a day could cost a driver more than $700 a year, it said.
“People will get the math,” said panel chairwoman Anne Golden, who said she drove to the news conference, but does use public transit.
Even though both the HST and gas tax are collected across the province, residents outside the GTHA won’t be subsidizing transit in the metropolitan area, she said. They would receive their share of both the HST and gas tax to fund their own projects.
The plan does not ask too much from any one group, she said.
“Riders will pay through their fares … drivers are going to be asked to give through a very carefully graduated increase in gas and fuel taxes,” Golden said.
“Business is going to be asked to contribute through a very modest increase to the corporate income tax and government is being asked to contribute by redeploying the HST funds that it already earns on the gas and fuel taxes.”
Doing nothing to fund transit will have dire consequences in Ontario, Golden warned.
“If we don’t do something to change the pattern of how people move and get to work, we’re going to be in an even worse situation than people now already agree we’ve reached, a kind of tipping point when it comes to congestion and crowding on our transit system,” she said.
Premier Kathleen Wynne echoed Golden’s comments.
“If we abdicate this responsibility now and we do not make investments in transit, then future generations will look back and say: ‘What were you thinking?’”
When fully implemented, the whole proposal will provide between $1.7 billion and $1.8 billion annually for the GTHA, the report said.
But the governing Liberals say they haven’t decided if they will raise the gas tax and borrow up to $2.50 for every $1 the province raises in new revenue, as the report suggested.
The report also proposes a dedicated trust fund so drivers know the extra tax they are paying can be used only for public transit improvements — something the Liberals have already said they plan to do.
Wynne has also said she’ll issue so-called “green bonds” next year to fund public transit.
The government has said the gridlock in the Toronto region is already costing the economy $6 billion a year.
But hiking the tax on gasoline will drive up the cost of everything and won’t create any jobs, said the Progressive Conservatives.
“I think the people will revolt,” said Tory critic Doug Holyday, a former Toronto city councillor.
“That’s no more than a sin tax, just like increasing the cost of alcohol and cigarettes because you want people to quit smoking and drinking, so they want people to quit driving and they want the drivers to pay for the transportation of the whole area.”
Both opposition parties say new levies aren’t needed to build public transit.
The Tories say they can find the money within existing budget to pay for transit, while the New Democrats haven’t said how they’d fund it.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she doesn’t want to give the Liberals another “blank cheque” to waste people’s money with tax hikes.
“There’s no way that we’re going to be supporting new taxes, whether it’s gasoline tax of five or 10 cents, whether it’s a half a per cent increase in the HST,” she said.
Golden, who’s urging an end to partisan warring over transit, said they’re both wrong.
“There’s absolutely no evidence to support the idea that this can be funded from efficiencies or savings,” Golden said.
A spokeswoman for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the panel’s gas tax hike proposal is “troubling.”
“Especially after consulting with the public and hearing loud and clear that it doesn’t trust the government with more hard-earned tax dollars,” Plamen Petkov said in a statement.
Wynne appointed the panel in September — at a cost of about $90,000 — to examine proposals from the transit planning agency Metrolinx, which made many of the same recommendations.
Metrolinx proposed a five-cent-a-litre regional gas tax hike, a business parking levy, development charges and an increase in the HST.
Wynne has ruled out the idea of increasing property taxes, but has promised to bring in tolls for drivers who want to use high-occupancy lanes but don’t have enough passengers.
The panel rejected tolls, saying it’s too costly and takes too long to implement.
History has shown that raising the gas tax isn’t always a politically wise move. Former prime minister Joe Clark saw a quick defeat of his brief Progressive Conservative government after proposing to raise the gas tax by four cents per litre in the 1979 election campaign.
But the Liberals in British Columbia were re-elected in 2009 despite introducing a carbon tax that added seven cents to a litre of gas.
Wynne said her government will continue to invest in public transit because that’s what the province needs.
“You can pick one piece of the plan and say ‘Well that’s really hard to campaign on,’ but I know that people need transit, they want investment in transit, they want GO to be increased.”
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 4:23 PM - 0 Comments
MONTREAL – Quebec authorities are calling it a first — an elected official denouncing people after being the target of alleged corruption.
The province’s anti-corruption squad, known as UPAC, is giving Chateauguay Mayor Nathalie Simon full marks for filing a complaint with police this past September.
The mayor was hailed as a hero Thursday as the unit announced four arrests in a corruption sweep in the working-class town south of Montreal.
Police allege the four men were trying to corrupt Simon with money and personal favours in exchange for decisions that would lead to influential positions within the city’s administration or to land being re-zoned for development projects.
The men are expected to be arraigned in February on charges that include fraud against the government, conspiracy, municipal corruption and breach of trust.
More arrests may be forthcoming.
UPAC chief Robert Lafreniere said Simon’s bravery was key to ending the corruption strategy that targeted her administration.
“We have benefited from the extremely rare yet exemplary co-operation of an elected official,” Lafreniere told a news conference.
“Nothing can be held against Ms. Simon. To the contrary, she honourably denounced an unacceptable situation.”
He noted that Simon is the first elected official to come forward in such circumstances.
Lafreniere said Simon’s name was made public because in part it would be clear who was being targeted.
He said it was important to highlight the “exceptional character of the present case” and that he hoped Simon’s actions would encourage other politicians to follow suit.
Police afforded Simon the protection they felt was necessary, he added.
The province’s anti-corruption czar said things are improving in the fight against corruption but that it will take a lot of effort to change a deep-rooted culture.
“It’s clear that some people haven’t gotten the message — in a case like this we’re not talking about allegations from 2007 or 2008, we’re talking about 2013,” Lafreniere said. “So we say we need to be alert and vigilant.”
A summary of the unit’s corruption-fighting efforts for 2013 will take place next week.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – The Senate’s ethics officer is being asked to investigate the role of the Conservative party’s chief fundraiser in the alleged cover-up of Sen. Mike Duffy’s dubious expense claims.
Liberal Sen. Celine Hervieux-Payette wrote Lyse Ricard on Thursday, asking her to look into the actions of Conservative Sen. Irving Gerstein.
The self-described Tory bagman allegedly agreed to use party funds to reimburse Duffy for paying back his disputed living expenses, according to RCMP documents filed in court last month.
Gerstein eventually balked when the tab rose to more than $90,000 — a sum paid ultimately by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s then chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Gerstein has confirmed he did dip into the Tory till to reimburse Duffy for $13,000 in legal fees.
At Wright’s behest, Gerstein also allegedly contacted Deloitte managing partner Michael Runia in a bid to ensure the audit of Duffy’s expenses would make no finding as to whether his primary residence was his longtime home in Ottawa or his cottage in Prince Edward Island, the province he was appointed to represent.
In her letter to Ricard, Hervieux-Payette says Gerstein appears to have violated the upper house’s conflict of interest code by interfering in the work of the Senate’s internal economy committee, which had ordered the audit, in order to promote Duffy’s financial interests.
In June, Ricard suspended an investigation into the Wright-Duffy deal after the Senate referred the matter to the Mounties.
However, Hervieux-Payette said there’s no reason for the ethics watchdog to steer clear of Gerstein’s role in the affair.
“We have no indication whatsoever that Sen. Gerstein is being investigated by the RCMP,” she said in an interview, adding that he is so far only a witness who’s been questioned by the Mounties as part of their investigation into Wright and Duffy.
The Conservatives have used their majority in the Senate to thwart several previous efforts by the Liberals to get Gerstein and Runia, who audits the Conservative party’s books, to testify about their role in the affair.
“This is the last recourse that I have,” Hervieux-Payette said of her request to Ricard.
The internal economy committee has heard from Gary Timm, the lead Deloitte auditor on the Duffy file, and two other members of his team. Timm confirmed Runia called him during the audit to inquire about how much Duffy owed in invalid expenses.
He insisted he shared no information with Runia and that the integrity of the confidential audit was not compromised.
By James Keller, The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 2:11 PM - 0 Comments
VANCOUVER – Former Vancouver Olympic CEO John Furlong says the RCMP have closed an investigation into allegations of sexual assault against him by a former student and found no evidence to support criminal charges, prompting him to declare he’s been “fully cleared” in one of a series of allegations and lawsuits facing him.
The allegations stem from Furlong’s time teaching in northern B.C. in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which first surfaced in a newspaper article last year. The article quoted several people who said they were former students and claimed to have been verbally and physically abused by Fulong. It’s now the subject of a libel lawsuit by Furlong targeting the author.
Three people, including Beverly Abraham, have filed lawsuits against Furlong alleging sexual abuse, and the RCMP launched its own investigation into Abraham’s claims.
Furlong publicly released a letter Thursday written by an RCMP investigator in Prince George, under the heading: “John Furlong — allegation of sexual assault.”
“Based on the facts uncovered, the allegations made by Beverly Abraham are not supported,” wrote Cpl. Quinton Mackie in a letter sent to Furlong’s lawyer, dated Dec. 5.
“Reasonable and probable grounds do not exist on which to recommend charges against John Furlong to Crown counsel. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are no longer investigating John Furlong with respect to this allegation.”
Two months ago, during a media blitz that saw Furlong defend his reputation and lash out at the reporter behind the original article, the former Olympic official released an earlier letter from the RCMP he received in April.
That letter also said the RCMP “found nothing to substantiate the complaint,” but it also suggested investigators “continue to speak to people” whose names had surfaced in court documents, according to a copy of the letter published by Global News. At the time, the RCMP publicly insisted the investigation remained open.
Neither a spokesman for the RCMP nor Mackie could be immediately reached Thursday to comment on the force’s latest letter to Furlong.
Furlong issued a written statement in which he said the RCMP’s letter to him “fully exonerates” him with respect to Abraham’s allegations. He said his lawyers would be requesting a trial date to deal with her lawsuit.
“I am grateful that the record has now been fully cleared in this matter, and Beverly Abraham’s allegations have been proven to be incorrect,” the statement said.
Some of Abraham’s claims — though not her allegations of sexual abuse — were first published in a September 2012 article written by freelance writer Laura Robinson for the Georgia Straight newspaper. Furlong used his written statement to repeat his attacks on Robinson’s character, describing her as reckless.
Furlong’s written statement does not mention the other two lawsuits he is also facing.
Grace West and another plaintiff, a man who has asked that his name not be published, have filed lawsuits alleging sexual abuse — all of which Furlong has denied.
The Roman Catholic diocese that ran Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake has filed statements of defence that say it could find no records indicating West or the other plaintiff attended the school in the years they claimed to have been victims of abuse.
The Abraham case is the only one that has been confirmed to have been the subject of a formal police investigation.
All three clients are represented by the same lawyer, Jason Gratl, who said the RCMP’s latest letter to Furlong does not change his intention to pursue the lawsuits. He welcomed Furlong’s intention to set a trial date in Abraham’s case.
“Good,” he said, when told of Furlong’s intention to bring the case to trial.
“We’d like a joint trial with all of the plaintiffs.”
Gratl predicted the case likely wouldn’t see the inside of a courtroom for two or three years.
None of the allegations against Furlong or Robinson have been tested in court.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 1:22 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Government House leader Peter Van Loan is striking back at critics of Canada Post’s planned service cuts, comparing them to wealthy big-city dwellers who complained about having to lug their trash to the curb.
The Crown corporation says it will phase out door-to-door mail delivery in Canada’s urban centres as a way to stem rising financial losses — a move that would also slash thousands of jobs.
The plan to deliver mail to communal neighbourhood “superboxes” impacts about one-third of all Canadian households.
Van Loan, who summoned reporters to trumpet the government’s accomplishments during the now-ended fall session of Parliament, says most of his constituents get their mail from superboxes and it presents no big deal.
He says it reminds him of a time when residents of Toronto’s ritzy Rosedale neighbourhood complained about spending cuts that forced garbage collectors to stop coming up their driveways to collect the trash.
Van Loan says most Canadians are already getting their mail from superboxes and that Canada Post made the decision after consulting with customers.
“I am reminded of a time when the city of Toronto was going through some rationalization and trying to figure out how to deliver services,” he said.
“The good people of Rosedale did not like the idea (that) no longer would the garbage man come up to the side of the house to take the garbage, it was going to have to be like it was for everybody else in the country, they would have to get it at the end of the driveway.”
The Canada Post announcement came Wednesday, one day after the House of Commons rose for its holiday break.
Rural residences — a big Conservative constituency — will be spared from the latest service cuts.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who is responsible for the post office, says Canadians are sending fewer letters and parcels than ever, leaving the Crown Corporation with no choice but to make tough decisions.