Canada briefs – January 7

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page plans to release three substantive reports in the run-up to the March budget, despite the Conservative government’s decision to prorogue Parliament.

Budget officer to deliver three reports before budget

OTTAWA — Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page plans to release three substantive reports in the run-up to the March budget, despite the Conservative government’s decision to prorogue Parliament.

With key decisions to be made on the content of the 2010 budget, Page told the Globe and Mail that he owes it to MPs to publish the reports while they are still timely.

His next report will explore an issue that has been a sensitive one with the government.

It will provide an in-depth analysis in support of the view that Canada faces a “structural” deficit — meaning the country will be stuck in the red even when the economy bounces back.

Also before March, Page’s office will release a report updating projections for government revenues, and a report probing the dollars going in and out of Canada’s EI program.

MPs were scheduled to resume sitting in the House of Commons on Jan. 25, but the Harper government has suspended Parliament until early March.

“Our objective is to ensure parliamentarians have timely access to relevant analysis,” Page told the Globe.

Dead boy was in foster care

WINNIPEG — Officials have confirmed that an 11-year-old boy presumed dead in a house fire on a remote northern Manitoba reserve was in foster care.

His death is raising questions about the province’s child welfare system, because RCMP were told only two days after the deadly fire that he was missing.

The blaze that erupted Saturday on the Shamattawa reserve also killed another person who has not been identified.

RCMP originally believed no one died, because the homeowners were found safe elsewhere.

But relatives eventually realized the boy — a grandson of the homeowners — was missing, and his remains were found Tuesday.

Child welfare officials say proper protocols were followed, but there may have been a miscommunication between the boy’s foster home and his grandparents.

PMO hired Bush spokesman

OTTAWA — Documents from the U.S. Justice Department show that a former spokesman for George W. Bush received a second sole-source contract from the Prime Minister’s Office for American communications advice.

Ari Fleischer was first hired last spring to help Stephen Harper get American media exposure in advance of a critical G20 summit in London.

But a second communications contract with the PMO, worth the same $24,500 as the first, was paid out to Fleischer on Sept. 28.

No details of the additional work were provided in Fleischer’s latest filing under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is date-stamped Dec. 15, 2009.

However, information provided by Fleischer on the original G20 contract sheds new light on his activities on behalf of Canada’s prime minister.

Canadian news consumers, who this week are seeing their first limited interviews with Harper about his Christmas holiday decision to suspend Parliament, might aspire to the access provided to conservative American columnists — seven of whom enjoyed dinner with Harper in Washington last March 29 at the invitation of Fleischer.

One charged in bomb scare

LONDON, Ont. — Police have laid charges against a 17-year-old male after a bomb scare tforced the evacuation of neighbourhood.

The youth has been charged with having care or control of an explosive substance with intent to endanger life and having care or control of an explosive substance.

Police called in the bomb squad after they arrived at the home Monday morning on a medical call. A male, 17, was taken to hospital.

Eventually, 20 homes were evacuated, and police obtained materials from the home in question by using a robot.