Trudeau defends Iraq mission secrecy, accuses Tories of endangering lives

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government’s clampdown on information about Canada’s mission in Iraq is necessary to protect Canadian soldiers on the ground.

But interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says the government is trying to hide the fact the troops are engaged in combat with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The heated exchange in the House of Commons came after military officers revealed recently that Canadian soldiers are spending more time on the front lines and engaging in more firefights with ISIL.

But neither the officers nor the government would provide specific details.

Speaking in question period, Ambrose said the military held more briefings and provided more information about Canada’s role in the fight against ISIL under the previous government.

She also said Canadians shouldn’t have to learn about the mission from Twitter.

But Trudeau accused the Conservatives of putting Canadian soldiers in harm’s way with their openness while they were in power.

He said that unlike the previous government, the Liberals would not endanger soldiers for a communications exercise.

The Canadian Press

Cost of passengers’ food and drinks on Trudeau flights to Philippines, Turkey — $1,300 per person

OTTAWA — Passengers who accompanied Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his first two international trips were apparently well fed.

The government has revealed, in response to a written question by the Conservatives, that the cost of food and beverages supplied aboard a government Airbus used for the trips amounted to just over $1,300 per person.

Conservative MP Blaine Calkins calls the price tag “outrageous.”

But a spokesman for National Defence, which is responsible for the government’s fleet of air craft, says the total includes the actual cost of catering and delivering multiple meals on each round trip, as well as related costs such as disposable cutlery, napkins, dish washing, airport administrative fees and security charges and local taxes.

Daniel Lebouthillier said the defence department “tries to keep costs to a minimum” when choosing items from a catering company’s menu. But the department’s options are “sometimes quite limited” when dealing with caterers at overseas airports.

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian PressPrime Minister Justin Trudeau departs after attending the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey on Monday, November 16, 2015., en route to the APEC Summit in the Philippines. The government has revealed, in response to a written question by the Conservatives, that the cost of food and beverages supplied aboard a government Airbus used for the trips amounted to just over $1,300 per person.

The total also includes the cost of feeding and watering journalists who covered the trip, which would have been wholly or partially recovered since media outlets pay hefty fees for a seat on the prime minister’s plane.

Given the number of legs in each of the lengthy trips and the number of meals served, the Prime Minister’s Office said the cost actually works out to $54 per person for each meal — which compares favourably to the $41.70 per person the previous Conservative government acknowledged spending in 2009 on meals during trips on Challenger jets, smaller air craft which are used only for short-haul flights within Canada and occasionally the United States.

Calkins was not mollified by the explanation.

More than $1,000 for food and beverages per passenger per trip “is more than the average Canadian earns in two weeks,” he said.

“Again, I’m just not sure anybody’s minding the store when it comes to remembering that it’s taxpayers who are on the hook for all these things.”

Calkins said the meal tab is part of a “pattern” of excessive spending by the Trudeau government, which has been plagued for weeks by the disclosure of generous expenses claimed by political staffers, including the prime minister’s top two aides, for relocating to Ottawa and by ministers for limousine and photographers’ services.

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian PressTrudeau arrives in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, to attend the APEC Summit. The Prime Minister’s Office said the cost actually works out to $54 per person for each meal — which compares favourably to the $41.70 per person the previous Conservative government acknowledged spending in 2009 on meals during trips on Challenger jets.

Some of those expenses, including a portion of the Trudeau aides’ moving expenses, have been reimbursed.

The latest disclosure shows that $72,040 was spent on food and beverages for 55 passengers — including almost two dozen journalists — aboard the prime ministerial plane during a trip to Turkey and the Philippines last November for a G20 summit and an APEC leaders’ summit.

Another $81,383 was spent on food and drink for 62 passengers — including more than a dozen journalists — aboard the prime minister’s plane for a trip later the same month to London, where Trudeau met the Queen, Malta, where he attended a Commonwealth summit, and Paris, where he participated in a United Nations climate change conference.

For security reasons, the prime minister is required to fly only on a government plane, even for purely personal trips.

By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper pledges higher RRSP withdrawal limit for 1st time homebuyers

Stephen Harper says a Conservative government would raise the amount that first-time homebuyers can draw out of their RRSPs to buy a house — from $25,000 to $35,000 — if elected.

At a campaign stop in Vancouver, Harper said a Conservative government would increase the upper limit of what’s known as the Home Buyer’s Plan. Under current rules, a would-be homebuyer can withdraw up to $25,000 from his or her RRSP without paying a penalty, as long as the money will be used to help pay for a first home.

The homebuyer must also pay back the funds within 15 years, and doesn’t get the benefit of the tax credit while replenishing the money.

Under the new Conservative proposal, that limit would be increased to $35,000.

“For most Canadians, the family home is their biggest asset and their most significant investment in their future financial security. It’s also the centre of their lives,” Harper said.

Since the plan started in 1992, more than 2.8 million Canadians have used the plan to help pay for a first home, the Canadian Real Estate Association, which represents realtors across the country, said in a release following the policy pledge.

The plan would cost the government $30 million a year in lost tax revenue starting in the 2017-18 fiscal year, Harper said.

Foreign buyer scrutiny

Harper also promised to take a closer look at how foreign money may be influencing the housing market in Toronto and Vancouver, two cities that have seen outsized gains in home prices for several years now.

“We need to ensure we have the necessary information to assess the situation and take action,” an announcement on the website for the Conservative Party of Canada said.

“We’re announcing that our government will commit to collecting data on foreign buyer activity in Canada’s housing market. We will take action in co-ordination with provinces, as necessary, to ensure foreign investment in Canada’s housing sector increases the availability and affordability of homes for Canadians.”

Campaign material provided by the Conservatives to The Canadian Press pointed to rules in other countries that force foreign investors to only purchase homes under construction, or to limit home ownership for foreign nationals to just the time that they live in the country.

About 15 per cent of the condos in Vancouver are empty year-round by some estimates, with the owners sitting on the properties hoping to make a profit as the prices of homes rise. Other estimates, including one calculation by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, puts the number at 2.4 per cent of the condo market.

There is also speculation that investors are driving up the cost of housing in Vancouver, raising concerns of a housing bubble in Canada’s hot housing market.

CBC News

More time equals more money: Five reasons why Stephen Harper will likely call an early election

BY POSTMEDIA NEWS
Much has been written and said about changes to the Elections Act that will affect voters. New identification rules mean you won’t be able to use your voter card as ID; vouching for other voters will be restricted; and the role of Elections Canada has been changed. Some of these changes have been challenged in the courts.

Other changes to the Elections Act, passed into law recently with the Fair Elections Act, means we can likely expect an early start to the election period. With the first debate of all the federal leaders set for Aug. 6, don’t be surprised to hear the election has been called shortly after. Here is why.

1. The longer the campaign goes, the more money parties and candidates can spend, and they get 50 per cent of whatever they spend from taxpayers.

The spending limit on past elections was fixed. This time, every additional day above 37 days, the party and candidates can spend an additional 1/37th of that limit. That is approximately $685,000 a day for the party and over $900,000 a day for the candidates in all 338 ridings combined. For example, if the election starts on Aug. 10, an additional 29 days, the total party spending limit would go from $25 million to $45 million and total riding limits would increase from $34 million to more than $60 million. A combined $105 million per party. Although per-vote subsidies have been eliminated, the rebates that parties and local campaigns receive will mean the taxpayer could be on the hook for up to $53 million per party after this election, this on top of the estimated $300 million it costs to run the election itself.

2. Local riding associations/candidates cannot get loans.

In the past, when a candidate or local district association did not have the money raised to run a campaign, they could go to a bank and get a loan. Under the new rules, a loan can only be guaranteed by individuals who are not already donors, and to a maximum of $1,500. To get a $30,000 loan (a bare-bones campaign in most ridings), a candidate would need to find 20 individuals willing to sign for their $1,500 share of the loan. This is an advantage to district associations and candidates with more money raised; candidates who walk into the writ period with little fundraising could face a big challenge in meeting expenses.

3. A party can transfer money to a district association, and a district association can transfer money to another district association.

There are district associations that have a lot of money, more than they could possibly spend in a single election or two. There are also district associations that have less money who can accept transfers from either the central party, or from those richer associations. The cumulative effect of spending on advertising, signs, flyers, staff and other resources will be a tremendous advantage to the party with the most to spend.

4. There will be more numerous and more varied advertising.

Expect to see more ads, and different types of ads, in this election, as campaigns target segments of the population with issue-specific ads, or based on regional and local issues. In the 2004 election, you could expect to see five to 10 ads run nationally per party. As production technology becomes cheaper, we can expect dozens of ads online, on TV, or both. With district association limits now exceeding $200,000 and many costs fixed, expect to see more local and regional advertising.

5. Third party advertisements and PAC spending are limited during the writ.

Until the election is called, there are few rules on third parties. Political Action Committees (PACs) and other third parties can spend as much as they want to support their agenda. Once the writ of election is issued, spending limits become much more restrictive. A third party can spend a total of $205,800 across Canada during a 37-day campaign, and no more than $4,116 in any riding. Similar to the party and riding limits, this increases by 1/37th for every day the election is above 37 days. Even if the election is twice as long as that, the limits would increase by a fraction of increase to party and candidate limits. If there are more PACs opposing the current government than supporting it, an early election call will benefit the government.

The call of the election is of course up to one person, the current prime minister. Despite the fixed election date law, there are no rules on how long the campaign leading up to election day can be. With so many clear advantages to the party with the most money to spend, it’s not likely we will see a standard 37-day election.

As most of us enjoy the Civic Holiday with friends and family this Aug. 3, the federal parties will be gassing up the planes, polishing the campaign buses and dusting off their signs. Some of you may choose to ignore the campaign until after Thanksgiving, but hopefully the extra $75 million (give or take) it’s costing us this time will be enough motivation for more of us to get out and vote.

Quito Maggi is the CEO of Mainstreet Research

STATEMENT BY THE PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA TO MARK THE CELEBRATION OF HOLI

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement to mark the celebration of Holi:

“Laureen and I would like to extend our best wishes to all those celebrating the Hindu spring festival of Holi, both in Canada and around the world.

“Originally celebrated as an agricultural festival in India hundreds of years ago to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring, Holi brings together family and friends to celebrate peace and friendship, and look forward to new beginnings with optimism and joy.

“Holi, also known as the Festival of Colours, is celebrated with many ancient festive traditions that include lighting of bonfires on the festival eve; singing, dancing and gift-giving; sharing of festive meals; and throwing bright-coloured powder and water dyes onto one another to celebrate and welcome spring.

“This festival serves as an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect on the tremendous contributions of Canada’s dynamic Hindu community to building a peaceful, pluralistic and prosperous country, and to learn more about Hindu culture and traditions.

“On behalf of all Canadians, I wish everyone celebrating a happy, fun-filled and colourful Holi.”