Canada briefs – December 17

The federal government wants the provinces to sign on to a proposal allowing small firms, employees and even the self-employed to pool resources on new, low-cost pension plans.

Ottawa wants more pension options

OTTAWA — The federal government wants the provinces to sign on to a proposal allowing small firms, employees and even the self-employed to pool resources on new, low-cost pension plans.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has written his provincial counterparts, asking them to agree to the framework when they meet in Kananaskis, Alta., on Sunday and Monday.

The new plans could be in place by the end of 2011, he said.

Flaherty said creation of what he called “pooled registered pension plans” would address the issue of many Canadians in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who don’t regularly sock away enough for their retirement years.

As well, he said, many small and medium-sized businesses which can’t afford to set up pension plans for their employees would be able to offer them.

“It would make a nice easy way for people to save for their retirement, it would be relatively painless and it would have the professional management (insurance companies) that larger pension plans have,” he explained.

The government and provinces have also discussed expanding the Canada Pension Plan, but Flaherty said agreement on that issue would be difficult. Alberta opposes the move and Quebec’s intentions are not clear.

Liberal critic Judy Sgro accused Flaherty of taking the easy way out on pension reform.

“This is a baby step … but it’s not going to do much for (many) self-employed, for women that are in and out of the work force, for those in rural Canada. This applies to a very small segment,” she said.

Under the federal proposal, the pooled, low-cost plans would be based on defined contributions. It would be available to any type of employee, as well as the self-employed.

In his letter, Flaherty noted the plan would require federal and provincial regulations to be harmo to Canadians.

“This would improve the range of retirement saving options available to Canadians as well as provide low-cost retirement options allowing participation by employees — with or without a participating employer — and the self-employed.”

Paradis in hotseat over staffers

OTTAWA — Two more Conservative staffers have been fingered for blocking access to records but their boss is refusing to say whether he has passed on the files to the federal information commissioner.

The involvement of Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis’ staff in access-to-information files was raised by all three opposition parties during question period Thursday, with some MPs calling for the minister’s resignation.

A former aide to Paradis, Sebastien Togneri, resigned in October when it emerged he intervened at least four times in the release of government records while Paradis was Public Works minister.

The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that two other members of the minister’s political staff, Jillian Andrews and Marc Toupin, also tried to stop the release of documents on at least two separate occasions in 2009.

Such meddling by political staff is expressly forbidden, and the Prime Minister’s Office has reminded staff to adhere to the legislation.

Paradis’ office also failed to answer questions about whether Andrews and Toupin reported to Togneri on access-to-information issues, whether they currently handled access-to-information files, and whether they had ever been reprimanded for their actions relating to the release of records.

“The minister pretended he had no idea what was going on. That is possible if only one staffer were involved, but there were three, if not more. This has the smell of a cover-up,” said Liberal MP Wayne Easter.

Top court to hear Black libel appeal

Colleagues-turned-critics of Conrad Black, who once accused the former Hollinger chief executive of running a “corporate kleptocracy,” will get one last chance to defeat Black’s bid to sue them for libel in a country he no longer calls home.

The Supreme Court of Canada decided Thursday to hear the appeals of Richard Breeden and other defendants of an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal for Ontario that found Black’s libel case can proceed in that province.

The former media mogul is attempting to sue members of a special committee of Hollinger International — where Black was once the chairman and CEO — over statements about his use of shareholder money. The statements were published on the Sun-Times Media Inc. website and republished by many media outlets in Ontario.

The defendants include a number of high-profile former directors, advisers and a vice-president at Hollinger Inc., some of whom formed a special committee to look into allegations of corruption at the newspaper giant.

They argue that neither Black nor any of the parties involved are Canadian and thus the suit should not be heard in Ontario. But Black says the province is where he established his reputation.

Islamist website praises disguise

VANCOUVER — The young Chinese asylum seeker who boarded a plane for Canada disguised as an elderly white man has drawn the attention of visitors to an extremist Islamist website, who have praised the elaborate plan as a potential tactic.

Shumukh al-Islam, an al-Qaida affiliated website meaning Islamic Honour, has an ongoing Arabic-language discussion on the young man’s entry into Canada.

A forum on the site praised the idea as a tool for so-called “holy warriors.”

“This is a great idea that can benefit the mujahedeen,” one member, with the name Attique of the North, wrote shortly after the discussion began on Shumukh al-Islam. “Truly this will benefit the mujahedeen,” another anonymous person wrote.

The website recently posted pictures and previously undisclosed information of Taimour Abdulwahab, the suicide bomber in Sweden who blew himself up in Stockholm.

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