Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Jun 16 2015, Page 7

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - June 16, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE A7 winnipegfreepress. com CANADA WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, TUESDAY, JUNE 16, 2015 A 7 Bringing Hope to Life. 1.866.246.4723 | HSCHomeLottery. com ™ HSC Home Lottery is a trademark. LGA 1822- RF SPEND YOUR SUMMERS AT FALCON LAKE . GET YOUR TICKETS TO WIN! 3 DAYS TO ABSOLUTE FINAL DEADLINE! OTTAWA — The Harper government says Senate reform is in the premiers’ hands. “ The Supreme Court has now said that if you want to make those changes, it will require consent from the provinces, certainly more so than we had hoped,” Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said Monday. “ The ball is now firmly in the court of the provinces to take that initiative, and I can assure you that if we were to see an initiative from the provinces that matched ours either on reform or on abolition, I expect we would respond to that.” The court ruled in April 2014 after Prime Minister Stephen Harper sought advice on the legalities of Senate reform. Harper introduced several Senate reform bills that failed. The Supreme Court said major reforms require the approval of Parliament and at least seven provinces representing half the population, and abolition requires the approval of all 10 provinces. Harper hasn’t appointed a new senator since 2013 and almost one- fifth of the seats are vacant. He faces a lawsuit over the vacancies. “ They are starting to act as if this is something other people will have to do,” said Roger Gibbins, a political scientist and former president of the Canada West Foundation. “ I will say I think this is an abdication of leadership on this.” Gibbins said the federal government has many options. They include meeting with premiers, holding a referendum on abolition to push the provinces, or set up an advisory committee to recommend non- partisan Senate appointments, something similar to what Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has suggested. Gibbins said Harper will face the issue in the election since NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is campaigning on a platform to abolish the Senate. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger is also getting heat on the Senate issue. The chief complaint: although the provincial NDP has long held the position to abolish the Senate, Selinger isn’t taking the lead. He has released statements reiterating a motion passed by the government in favour of abolition in 2013, but has refused interviews, saying he has more important things to think about. Sources say Selinger took heat from caucus members last week for not being more outspoken, and say they believe Selinger’s friendship with Liberal Sen. Maria Chaput may be behind his reluctance. In a statement released last week, Selinger said the Senate should be abolished but also pointed to “ the good work of some individual Manitoba senators like Maria Chaput.” Winnipeg MP Pat Martin said he is frustrated. “ Manitoba should be leading the parade,” he said. mia. rabson@ freepress. mb. ca O TTAWA — An aide to Senate Speaker Leo Housakos says it was known that staff took shortcuts when they filed travel claims for senators. Loren Cicchini is the second veteran Senate staffer to tell suspended Sen. Mike Duffy’s trial senators would regularly pre- sign travel- claim forms before they were filled in and submitted to financial administrators. Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, several of them in connection to trips he took while claiming to be on Senate business. Cicchini doesn’t submit such expense claims for Housakos in her current role as parliamentary affairs adviser, but did so for former Conservative senator JoAnne Buth for about a year and for retired Tory senator Michael Meighen for more than 20 years. She said she never told Senate finance what she was doing. “ I was never asked, nobody was ever asked and it’s not something that I would have volunteered because I was aware that it’s not right to pre- sign something,” Cicchini testified under Crown questioning. “ It was an agreement between senator Meighen and myself. He trusted me, and it was a matter of trust.” Last week, former Duffy assistant Diane Scharf testified that pre- signing forms was common practice in the office, as a means of saving time. Cicchini said she can’t pinpoint how she found out about the practice, but people talked about it. “ It’s like rumours. You hear it. You don’t know where it comes from and you don’t know exactly where you heard it,” she said under cross- examination. The Crown’s main objective by calling Cicchini as a witness was to undermine the testimony of another Duffy assistant, Melanie Mercer. Mercer told the court last week Cicchini and another Conservative assistant were assigned to shadow her when she was starting out, and show her the ropes. One of the pieces of advice Mercer said she got was to get expense claim forms pre- signed. Cicchini worked in an office next to Duffy’s and said she remembered answering questions for Mercer. But she said she was never asked to train her, nor does she remember being in a conversation about pre- signing the forms. It’s unclear whether the recent testimony on the creative Senate office practices will help or hurt Duffy. On the one hand, the Crown could paint a picture of a system where Duffy and others abused the public’s trust. On the other hand, it could bolster Duffy’s defence that while he might have taken part in administrative irregularities, it doesn’t amount to criminal behaviour. — The Canadian Press Provinces must lead on Senate reform: Tories By Mia Rabson Travel claims pre- signed Staffer questioned at Duffy fraud trial By Jennifer Ditchburn E DMONTON — Alberta’s New Democrats launched the post- Tory period of provincial politics Monday with a throne speech announcing bills to ban corporate and union political donations and to increase taxes on large corporations and the wealthy. The bills follow through on promises made in last month’s election campaign that ended with Rachel Notley and the NDP toppling a nearly 44- year Progressive Conservative dynasty. “ Our political system has been far, far too dependent on funds from a narrow range of donors with deep pockets, and far too removed from the interests of ordinary people,” Notley told reporters before the throne speech. “ We will tilt the playing field back in Albertans’ favour, so that their interests come first.” The speech, read by new Lt.- Gov. Lois Mitchell, outlined the government’s goals for a legislature sitting expected to last a few weeks. The flagship bill is titled An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta and proposes to ban corporate and union donations to political parties. Corporate donations, including hefty cheques from oil companies and other businesses, have historically made up a substantial portion of fundraising for the Progressive Conservatives. The NDP has relied on union donations to fill its coffers. In 2014, the NDP brought in almost $ 777,000 in donations, about 11 per cent of which came from unions. PC interim leader Ric McIver said banning corporate donations will “ tilt the political scale” toward the NDP, while forcing businesses to find less- transparent avenues to get their contributions to the parties. “ If corporations want to give money, they’ll have to find a legal way to encourage other people to do it,” said McIver, one of nine Tories in the legislature. The second bill, An Act to Restore Fairness to Public Revenue, proposes a “ modest” increase to corporate income taxes, Notley said. She has promised to raise the rate to 12 per cent from 10 per cent. The small- business rate would remain at three per cent. The bill includes a plan to scrap Alberta’s 10 per cent flat income tax and introduce higher rates on the top 10 per cent of tax- filers. “ We are returning to a more typical Canadian tax system,” said Notley, who said the province would still have the lowest overall tax burden. Brian Jean, leader of the Opposition Wildrose party, said he would support the ban on political donations, but not the tax hikes. “ No government should ever consider raising taxes until it has cut waste and introduced efficiencies on how government operates,” Jean said. The NDP plans to introduce an interim supply bill to keep the money flowing while the caucus crafts a budget to be introduced in the fall. Notley announced the creation of a 17- member, all- party committee to improve accountability and fairness in areas such as whistleblower protection, electioneering and conflicts of interest. That report is to be done within a year. — The Canadian Press SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES An aide to Senate Speaker Leo Housakos ( above) testified at the Duffy trial Monday. Tax increases, donation ban in NDP speech Alberta premier follows through on election promises By Dean Bennett JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS Alberta Premier Rachel Notley motions to the crowd before the throne speech in Edmonton Monday. A_ 07_ Jun- 16- 15_ FP_ 01. indd A7 6/ 15/ 15 10: 34: 40 PM

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