Former Liberal senators say they've been 'set free' from party caucus

Canada's Senate has been purged of its 32 Liberals who are now "independents" in the non-elected upper house.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took the action to remove the senators from the party's caucus in a move to reform the scandal-plagued Senate.

The now-former Liberal senators say they've been "set free" but suggest not much will change.

"We have agreed that we will style ourselves as the Liberal Senate caucus," said James Cowan, leader of the official Opposition.

The senators "will remain Liberal party members" and friends with elected Liberal members of Parliament, he added.

Trudeau said the move, called "bold and courageous," will reduce partisanship that should restore the Senate's role as "an independent chamber of sober second thought."

He has challenged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to do the same with the 57 Conservative senators.

Harper said Canadians want an elected Senate, not "a better unelected Senate."

Parliamentarian jokes about banning singers

Alyn Smith, a Scottish member of the European Parliament, has mockingly suggested a "retaliatory ban" on Canadian-born singers Justin Bieber and Celine Dion.

That's because a shipment of food products from the United Kingdom was detained by Canadian inspectors.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it rejected products beloved by British expats, including soft drink Irn-Bru, the spread Marmite and hot drink mix Ovaltine.

They were being shipped to Brit Foods that has stores in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

It's not an outright ban, the agency said, noting now the situation that caused uproar on both sides of the ocean happened because there wasn't the proper paperwork for all of the products in the shipment.

Smith now says he was joking about Bieber and Dion.

"As a gesture of goodwill, I've sent Mr. Bieber and Ms. Dion a crate of Irn-Bru, so they can sample our other national drink," he said.

News in brief

• Canadian military veterans are calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino over Conservative government plans to close eight offices. Those veterans' office services are being shifted to Service Canada centers and online to improve access, he said. Centers being closed are in Kelowna, Saskatoon, Brandon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sydney, Charlottetown and Corner Brook while the office in Prince George closed earlier.

• The Ontario government will raise the minimum wage by 75 cents to $11 an hour on June 1. It's the first increase in four years, but Premier Kathleen Wynne said increases will now come each year at the pace of inflation. Anti-poverty groups had been lobbying for a $14-an-hour minimum wage.

Facts and figures

Canada's dollar remains lower at 89.90 cents U.S. and the U.S. dollar returns $1.1123 in Canadian funds, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is steady at 1 percent while the prime-lending rate remains at 3 percent.

Stock markets are lower, with the Toronto exchange index at 13,687 points and the TSX Venture index 945 points.

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Regional briefs

• Ontario seniors 80 and older will have to take two screening tests in a revamping of the driver's license renewal program. The written knowledge test that must be taken every two years to keep driving is being replaced with the tests, including one of a driver's vision.

• One person was injured when huge rocks slid onto Highway 3 near Standing Rock, British Columbia. Heavy equipment was brought in to remove large boulders, some of as large as pickup trucks, police said. Earlier in the month, an avalanche rolled over Highway 16 near Mount Robson but there were no injuries.

• Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil wants the provincial auditor to investigate the two-year delay and over-spending to rebuild the historic schooner Bluenose II.

The high-profile project, initiated by the previous New Democratic government, has been bogged down by lawsuits, management infighting and political theater, he said. The Nova Scotia icon was to have cost $12.5 million to rebuild by 2012 but the bill now has reached $16.7 billion.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com.

Former Liberal senators say they've been 'set free' from party caucus 01/31/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 1, 2014 7:27pm]

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