Conservative ‘questionable practices’ changing Canada’s political landscape

“From what’s now in the public domain – this information can and likely will change – serious questions have been raised about whether at least a couple of Conservative senators were claiming public expenses while doing partisan party work,” Jeffrey Simpson wrote for The Globe and Mail today. Simpson’s article continued, “Senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy were among the star attractions at Conservative riding association meetings. Their previous television celebrity status guaranteed good turnouts and earned lots of money for party coffers. The former journalists became partisan tub-thumpers and, as such, were exceedingly useful to the party. It’s just that the costs of doing political road show work shouldn’t be paid for by the general public. If they were, it would be another example of the Conservative Party sailing close to the wind when it comes to the ethics and legality of doing politics. As long ago as the 2006 election, the Conservative machine was engaged in something that became known as the ‘in and out’ affair. The party transferred money to 67 riding association that then sent the money back to headquarters in order to claim a 60-per-cent rebate from the elections agency. This money ostensibly was for local electoral purposes, whereas in fact it helped buy national television advertising time. Elections Canada blew the whistle on the ‘in and out’ scam, which was defended vigorously by Conservative headquarters. Eventually, the party settled out of court, pleading guilty and returning $230,198. Among those involved were the party’s chief money man, Senator (of course) Irving Gerstein, and its chief campaign organizer, Senator (of course) Doug Finley, recently deceased.” Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Bank of Canada staying steady upon Carney exit

“Mark Carney oversees his last interest rate decision this morning, but he won’t be making waves. The Bank of Canada was never expected to hike its benchmark rate from its emergency low of 1 per cent. The question is whether it will change the language that accompanies the decision at 10 a.m. ET. The central bank has for some time now indicated that the next move in the overnight rate will be up, not down, no matter how far off that may be,” The Globe and Mail business writer Michael Babad reported today online. Babad’s article continued, “Some observers, however, believe it’s time to drop that signal given such tame inflation, now at just 0.4 per cent, but a still uncertain outlook. That’s not expected to happen, though, in the last decision under Mr. Carney as central bank governor. ‘Given this mix of subdued inflation and strengthening economic growth, we expect the bank to maintain its mild tightening bias especially given that this will be the last meeting before Stephen Poloz takes over as head of the central bank,’ said assistant chief economist Paul Ferley of Royal Bank of Canada. ‘To that end we look for the bank to hold the overnight rate at 1 per cent, and reiterate that rates are likely to stay low for ‘a period of time,’ after which ‘some modest withdrawal of stimulus will likely be required.’ The central bank’s policy statement this morning, added Derek Holt and Dov Zigler of Bank of Nova Scotia, will probably ‘draw a balance’ between caution over such low inflation and optimism over what’s believed to have been stronger-than-expected economic growth in the first quarter of the year. Economists expect a report from Statistics Canada Friday to show that gross domestic product expanded at an annual pace of 2.3 per cent to 2.5 per cent in the first three months of the year. They also don’t expect any change in interest rates until late next year or early 2015. Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

North Korea ‘rocket launching tests’ a cry for attention, analysts say

“North Korea continued firing short-range weapons over its own eastern waters today after a weekend of what it called ‘rocket launching tests’ intended to bolster deterrence against enemy attack. South Korean officials were investigating exactly what it was that the North was testing,” an Associated Press article wrote today, republished by The article continued, “North Korea regularly conducts short-range missile tests. Analysts say the recent launches appear to be weapons tests or an attempt to get U.S. and South Korean attention amid tentative signs of diplomacy after soaring tensions that followed UN sanctions aimed at a North Korean nuclear test in February. The two projectiles fired by North Korea on Monday had similar trajectories as four previous launches over the past two days, according to officials at Seoul’s Defense Ministry and joint chiefs of staff. Officials were analyzing whether the projectiles were missiles or rockets fired from a large-calibre gun North Korea may be developing, the officials said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.” Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Unpopular Tories continue to push Keystone

“Stephen Harper will travel to New York Thursday in yet another bid to sell skeptical Americans on the merits of the Keystone XL pipeline. More than a pipeline is at stake. Halfway though his majority-government mandate, a confluence of events and self-inflicted wounds have left the Prime Minister dangerously unpopular,” John Ibbitson wrote for The Globe and Mail today. The article continued, “The Tories are widely expected to lose the by-election in Labrador on Monday. Former cabinet minister Peter Penashue faces defeat at the hands of the Liberals, which would present an early electoral coup for the new leader, Justin Trudeau. And it’s not just the by-election. Polls suggest that if a general election were held tomorrow, Mr. Harper would lose it. But only the very foolish would predict such a defeat in two years time. Political fortunes are determined by fundamentals and events. Both continue to favour Mr. Harper, despite his present travails. How much trouble is this government in? Let us count the ways.

The Conservatives bet on President Barack Obama approving the initial Keystone project, and lost. The proposed Northern Gateway alternative that would send oil to Asian markets through British Columbia has been effectively scuttled by native and provincial political opposition. An agreement for a free-trade deal with the European Union is five months behind schedule, and counting. If CETA, as the proposed treaty is called, fails, that would be another major blow to the government’s credibility. On top of that, an audit last week concluded that a Tory senator (plus one former Tory and one Liberal) improperly claimed tens of thousands of dollars in expenses. In the lower house, a gaggle of Conservative MPs is resisting Mr. Harper’s determination not to permit any further debate on abortion. All this, combined with chronic complaints that the Tories are bull-headed on foreign policy and just plain nasty at home, have pushed the Conservatives into second place in a raft of polls, some of which show the party dropping below 30 per cent in support. Put it all together, and you have a damning indictment. But a guilty verdict in 2015 is far from settled. Mr. Harper will reshape his cabinet in a few weeks’ time, giving him a chance to put some friendlier faces in some key portfolios. Look for some combination of Eve Adams, Chris Alexander, Candice Bergen, Rick Dykstra, Shelly Glover, Kellie Leitch, Rob Moore and/or Michelle Rempel to advance into cabinet.” Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

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