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RCMP found no evidence Jean Chretien lobbied illegally on N.S. visit: premier

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  • HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s premier says the RCMP has found no evidence that former prime minister Jean Chretien carried out illegal lobbying during a visit to his Halifax office last year.

    Stephen McNeil said a complaint that Chretien carried out lobbying on behalf of a proposed container port in Cape Breton had been investigated and dropped, citing a news release Wednesday from the Mounties.

    The Mounties declined to confirm if Chretien was the unidentified subject of their news release.

    The release said police “began an investigation which determined there was no evidence of lobbying and the investigation concluded without charges.”

    McNeil told reporters at the legislature that the findings are clear.

    “I went through the (police) interview and the RCMP have confirmed it,” he said.

    “They went through a number of questions with me. …I have all the faith of law enforcement in the province to follow all the complaints that brought forward to them.”

    “They followed this one through and confirmed no lobbying had taken place.”

    Retired union activist John McCracken launched a complaint last year to the RCMP, alleging the former politician should have registered under the provincial Lobbyists Act before visiting the premier.

    At the time of the March 21, 2018, meeting, Chretien was an international adviser to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, which was seeking investor support for the Cape Breton container port project.

    The day before the meeting, Chretien had attended a conference in Sydney and told reporters about his role as an international adviser to the group.

    When a Cape Breton Post reporter asked Chretien how he’d market the Sydney container port to the premier, the former prime minister said he felt the premier would be in favour of a provincewide approach to container ports.

    The provincial Liberal government has been cautious about the Sydney proposal, as a 2016 study prepared for the province and the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency recommended against public money for a terminal that would compete against the Halifax port.

    As the interview continued, Chretien was asked if the province should invest money in the container port proposal, and he replied: “I hope so.”

    According to the registrar of lobbyists, the former prime minister was not a registered lobbyist at the time of his visit, and she sent him a letter at the time informing about requirements of the act.

    McCracken said the RCMP’s lead investigator told him that in order to proceed further, one of the three people at the meeting would have had to have provided evidence that lobbying occurred.

    “Obviously, I’m disappointed. Very disappointed,” he said in an interview.

    However, McNeil repeated his view that no lobbying occurred.

    “We were working towards whether or not there are economic opportunities for the province and the region,” he said.

    “He (Chretien) often gets a chance to regale great stories about his time when he was in office when you’re around him and often that’s what you spend a lot of time talking about.”

    Aides to the former prime minister did not respond to emails asking for comment on the news release.

    Tim Houston, the leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party, said the fact police had to become involved means the province’s rules around lobbying need to be updated in order to provide more transparency.

    “Nova Scotians should be able to know if somebody lobbied their government and what the topic was,” said Houston.

    “We shouldn’t have to call the RCMP to see if that happened. It’s silly that’s what had to happen here.”

    NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the province needs a registrar of lobbyists capable of making determinations around lobbying.

    “A registrar of lobbyists would have made an assessment here and made a judgment and everybody would have to follow it,” said Burrill.

    He said it’s unclear what definition of lobbying police used.

    “They (police) are offering an analysis of private conversations that took place,” Burrill said. “On the basis of what evidence we don’t know.”

    — Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

    Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press


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    New Leger polls suggests federal Liberals lagging Conservatives

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  • OTTAWA — A new poll conducted by Leger for The Canadian Press suggests the governing federal Liberals have lost ground to the Conservatives over the past month.

    Overall, 31 per cent of respondents polled after the federal budget was released Tuesday said they would vote for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals if an election were held now, a decline of about three percentage points from February.

    That compared with 37 per cent who said they would back the Conservatives under leader Andrew Scheer, a one-point increase from February, while 12 per cent said they would vote NDP and eight per cent the Greens.

    Scheer also jumped ahead of Trudeau on the question of who would make a better prime minister as the Tory leader got the backing of 25 per cent of respondents compared with 24 per cent for Trudeau, who has been struggling to contain damage from the SNC-Lavalin affair.

    As for the budget, which the Liberals are hoping will help turn the page on SNC-Lavalin, 12 per cent of respondents said it was good and 19 per cent that it was bad, but 39 per cent said they didn’t really know about it.

    Leger’s internet-based survey, which cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples, was conducted March 19 and 20 using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology and heard from 1,529 Canadians who are eligible to vote and were recruited from the firm’s online panel.

    The Canadian Press


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    National

    Liberals pledge $253 million to undo Tory-era changes to benefits tribunal

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  • OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are promising to spend more than $250 million to revamp the body Canadians turn to with disputes over access to federal benefits, partially restoring the system that existed before the Conservatives created the Social Security Tribunal.

    The tribunal hears appeals of government decisions on things like eligibility for employment insurance and the Canada Pension Plan that, before 2013, were overseen by four separate bodies.

    Key changes included cutting the number of people hearing most cases from three to one, and replacing part-time hearing officials in many places with full-time staff in fewer locations.

    In an interview this week, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government will bring back the three-person hearings for the first layer of appeals inside the tribunal, and retain the single arbitrator for the second, and final, layer.

    He says the changes respond to rare agreement from labour and employer groups that some sort of return to the three-panel hearing system was needed.

    Tuesday’s federal budget proposes spending $253.8 million over five years, beginning in April, to make the system easier to navigate and shorten decision times.

    “It was felt by EI commissioners and the stakeholder communities, both employers and employees, that there was a lack of transparency, and a lack of collaboration in the way in which the system was working,” Duclos said in an interview Wednesday.

    “So despite the fact that it was not in my mandate letter, we did feel that it was important to transform the system and there will, therefore, be a return to a tripartite system — more fair, more respectful, faster, (and) more collaborative.”

    When the Conservatives unveiled their plans to create the Social Security Tribunal, they argued it would streamline the appeals process and save millions of dollars.

    A report last year from consulting firm KPMG estimated the tribunal saved federal coffers about $22.6 million a year, but waits for decisions also shot up as the tribunal was undermanned and overwhelmed with cases and didn’t have a proper transition plan.

    Average timelines for decisions increased from approximately 44 days to more than 200, and in the worst case, average wait times of 884 days for decisions on CPP disability benefits that were highlighted in a critical 2016 auditor general’s report.

    What the Liberals heard in closed-door meetings and consultations with stakeholders, labour and employers groups, as well as experts over the last three years were calls for a return to the system as it existed before the tribunal’s creation.

    At the same time, the KPMG report warned against that, arguing the tribunal could be improved, and some who worked in the system felt things were much better than what existed before.

    “(I)t became eventually very clear to me in conversations with employers and employees — and I can tell you there was a consensus, which is rare in that environment … that we needed to transform, to reform that system for all sorts of reasons,” Duclos said. “The first was that it was very unfair, very complex and to the most vulnerable workers in our country, it was not only unfair, but also very slow.”

    The tribunal has been changing its operations as officials waited for the budget announcement to publicly detail the future of the tribunal.

    Appellants can choose whether to have hearings in person, on the phone or by videoconference. Rule changes have also made it easier to launch appeals and wait times have dropped. The backlog of cases has fallen from about 7,250 in April 2017 to 3,925 at the end of last year.

    The budget shows that there will be $36 million spent on the overhaul over the next 12 months, rising to $59 million in fiscal year 2021-2022, and setting in at $57 million annually thereafter.

    — Follow @jpress on Twitter.

    Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


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    march, 2019

    fri8mar - 30aprmar 85:30 pmapr 30Real Estate Dinner Theatre5:30 pm - (april 30) 10:00 pm

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