News Corp. considers splitting into 2 companies; stock jumps to 4-year high

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is preparing to spin off its newspaper business into a separate company, an acknowledgement that the printed page that gave rise to a media empire will never again be central to its future.

Murdoch’s plan to split his company represents a break from the past. The 81-year-old billionaire built the company from a single Australian newspaper he inherited from his father. And through the years, he maintained a fondness for newspapers even as he purchased entertainment companies and assembled a global conglomerate with a market value of $52 billion.

The Wall Street Journal, News Corp.’s flagship newspaper, reported late Tuesday that News Corp.’s board of directors will consider the plan Wednesday and possibly announce its approval Thursday morning.

Under the proposal, newspapers will be shunted off into a separate publicly traded entity, which Murdoch will control along with a second company that comprises News Corp.’s entertainment business. That portion of the company includes Fox News Channel, its broadcast TV network and the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

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Investors hailed Tuesday’s announcement that News Corp. is considering a split, sending the stock up $1.68, or 8.3 per cent, to close at $21.76 Tuesday. During the day, the stock was as high as $21.89, its highest level since hitting $21.90 on Oct. 25, 2007.

Analysts said the newspaper and book publishing division could be worth about $5 billion – what Murdoch paid the Bancroft family for Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, in 2007.

News Corp. investors have never liked that acquisition and over the last five years the stock price has stagnated, hurt by fears Murdoch would overpay for other newspaper assets.

By contrast, investors adore Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey, who along with Murdoch’s son James, the deputy COO, have been steering the company toward a future based on expanding profitable pay TV operations around the globe.

The split could be beneficial for both companies. Part of News Corp.’s problem in recent years is that it has been trying to please two kinds of investors with different, and somewhat conflicting, demands: Those looking to make a killing on a rising stock price and more conservative ones who like less risky, more predictable companies that pay generous dividends.

News Corp. has failed to please either. Its stock is no higher than it was five years ago, and it pays a dividend of just 17 cents a year, or 0.8 per cent of what it costs to buy a share. The average company in the S&P 500 stock index pays its owners cash each year equivalent to 2 per cent of its stock price.

A spin off might change this. It would free the TV and film business from the drag of the slower growing publishing business. And it would allow the publishing business the freedom to hike its cash payout.

“News Corp. has one of the best TV businesses, but some people like musty, dusty publishing companies that pay great dividends,” said Barton Crockett, an analyst at Lazard Capital. “It’s a good thing for shareholders.”

Crockett said newspapers have been raising dividends lately, and he thinks a separate News Corp. publishing business could do the same, possibly to 6 per cent, which is what rival Gannett Co. pays.

News Corp.’s move comes as Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom, enters the final stages of its review of whether satellite TV firm British Sky Broadcasting is “fit and proper” to hold a broadcast license. News Corp. holds a 39 per cent stake in BSkyB, but its ownership is in jeopardy because of the hacking probe.

Analysts said the separation of assets might appease regulators and help the company avoid being forced to sell its remaining stake, worth some $6.9 billion.

“I’m not saying it completely ameliorates Ofcom’s concerns. But I think it helps,” said Canaccord Genuity analyst Tom Eagan.

British investigators have been probing allegations that News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper journalists hacked into phones and bribed public officials in the hunt for scoops. The probe caused the company to abandon its bid for full control of BSkyB last year.

The media conglomerate did not specify Tuesday which businesses each company would contain, although The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the company is considering separating the newspaper and book publishing businesses from the entertainment arm.

News Corp.’s entertainment business is far more profitable. It accounted for about 75 per cent of the company’s revenue and nearly all of the operating profit in the first nine months of the fiscal year, which ends this coming Saturday.

Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger said in a research note that the split would allow the company to invest more in the growing entertainment field “without the baggage of publishing.”

A former News Corp. executive familiar with internal company deliberations says such a split has been talked about for years, although discussions gained new momentum in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, which erupted last July.

The former executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about internal company deliberations, said no final decision has been made.

Evercore Partners analyst Alan Gould said that without the publishing assets, revenue growth at the bigger TV and movie entity would nearly double to about 7 per cent a year.

It is unclear if the spun-off publishing unit would also bear the legal costs of the U.K. probe. In the first nine months of the fiscal year, probe costs have totalled $167 million.

The point of a split is not to create a smaller company “that would just wither and die,” said Tom Eagan, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity. It would have to contain enough profitable businesses to attract investors.

Eagan pointed to the successful spin-off of cable TV giant Time Warner Cable Inc. from the entertainment company Time Warner Inc. in March 2009. Because the cable division was more willing to pay out dividends and buy back shares, its stock price has more than tripled since then. Meanwhile, Time Warner Inc.’s stock price has doubled.

Time Warner shareholders were granted stakes in both separated companies and likely fared better than if the company hadn’t split, Eagan said.

So-called conglomerates that combine disparate businesses in one company were once popular. But the fashion for many years has been to slim down and simplify.

Motorola recently spun off its cellphone unit. Sara Lee Corp. is creating a new public company from its European coffee and tea business. Kraft Foods Inc. is also splitting in two – one for North American brands like Velveeta and one for Cadbury chocolates and other global snacks.

The problem for News Corp. isn’t just that newspapers and books make less money than television and film. It’s also that investors value the earnings from each differently. They are willing to pay less for a single dollar of earnings from the former than they are for a single dollar of earnings from the latter.

On Monday, investors buying News Corp. stock were paying the equivalent of $5.80 for every $1 of operating earnings that the combined company is expected to generate this year, according to Gould. That’s 20 per cent lower, or $1.50 less, than investors are paying for more pure play TV and film companies like CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc.

Do the math on News Corp.’s expected $6 billion in operating earnings this year, and that means the company is being valued $9 billion less than its TV and film rivals. Gould says the idea behind the split is to capture some of that $9 billion. He believes the company could do it and is recommending that his investing clients buy the stock.

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Business Writer Bernard Condon in New York and Associated Press writer Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.

Katy Perry shows her side of breakup from Russell Brand on-screen in concert film

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Things aren’t all dreamy in Katy Perry’s new 3D concert film.

The pop star’s energetic Day-Glo performances and chart success – tying Michael Jackson’s “Bad” with five No. 1 singles from her album “Teenage Dream” – are undercut by heartbreak. She sobs uncontrollably backstage as her marriage to Russell Brand falls apart during her world tour, and talks about her dashed desire for “fairy tale” romance.

Perry co-produced “Katy Perry: Part of Me” and is now promoting it with the same energy she gave to the year-long “California Dreams” tour it documents. Like Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never,” the movie cross-cuts between concert footage and biography. It includes interviews with Perry’s friends, assistant, manager, makeup artist, Christian evangelical parents, and plenty of fans. Brand is on screen in several scenes but his presence is reduced by the end mostly to phone and text messages.

In an interview, Perry spoke about sharing her side of the breakup on-screen, leaning on her fans as “a support system,” and plans for her next album.

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The Associated Press: Your relationship with Russell Brand supplies the narrative arc of the film. It’s very personal. You’re crying on screen. Is it the same to you as doing a break-up song like “Wide Awake”?

Perry: Oh my God, I have tear ducts! Crazy! I am human! I think it was important for me to leave some of the more difficult things in the film so that it wasn’t just a narcissistic fanfare film about how great I am. Because I’m not all great. There might be moments of greatness but they are very hard-worked (sic). I think it was important to show that there are obstacles and problems in people’s lives and it’s OK if you have them. You just have to overcome them. … Sometimes if you want to achieve something great, there will be curveballs. You just have to dodge them every once in a while.

AP: There’s a clip in the movie where you tell Ellen DeGeneres you’re going to take a long nap when the tour is over. It seems like you never did. You never took a break.

Perry: I’m still having fun. When I thought of documenting this whole process of last year, I didn’t know it was going to be a huge movie with billboards and Hollywood and stuff. But I just knew that there was a huge wave coming and I wanted to be able to forever keep the memory of that wave. So I caught everything. I threw the net out very wide. And at the end of it it was over 300-plus hours of film. And it turned into this movie. And I’m glad. Because it sends a great message, it’s very inspiring and it’s another kind of layer of me that I’ve revealed in time.

AP: At one point in the film, you’re heartbroken and sobbing before going onstage in Brazil, where fans chant “We love you Katy” in Portuguese. The movie makes it feel like fan love replaces Russell Brand’s love – or at least helps you through the breakup.

Perry: Nothing was replaced. It was always there. … Yeah, of course, it’s a support system. It’s exactly like when I was signed to major labels and dropped. And the guys that really didn’t understand my artistic vision were like, “No, we’re not going to put her record out.” I packed up my things and went to Hotel Cafe, here in Los Angeles, which is a tiny venue. And I played my songs. … And people were supporting these songs. And they were telling me that this was the right thing to do. So there is no void filled. It’s just that it’s always been there.

AP: You wonder in the film about whether you can have a relationship and a career. Do you feel like there is an answer to that?

Perry: The answer is always changing for me, you know, because every day is kind of a bit of a surprise. Sometimes it’s a great opportunity, sometimes it’s a situation I have to deal with. So I don’t know. I still believe in love, most definitely. I’m just going to let that take the lead.

AP: Where are you at on the next album? Will there be a shift in your sound?

Perry: I don’t want to completely self-sabotage everything that I’ve got and alienate everyone. But I definitely want to take some chances as I always have. And after the movie comes out, I think it’ll be appropriate for me to go away for a while.

AP: Do you worry about getting overexposed?

Perry: I worry if it’s not real. I’m OK if everything is honest and truthful and relatable. If it’s fabricated and ill-motived, it’s not good. But I don’t try and involve myself in that type of stuff.

AP: What will change in your next phase in terms of balancing your public and private life?

Perry: I’ll continue to try and balance like a circus act. And I will just fight to always tell the truth. Even if it’s difficult.

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson on Twitter at 杭州桑拿按摩论坛杭州夜生活twitter杭州龙凤/ryanwrd

Spanish government debt auction sees rates double or triple as investor concerns mount

MADRID – Spain’s borrowing costs soared in a pair of short-term auctions Tuesday as investors worried that the country would not be able to manage an expensive rescue of its ailing banking sector.

The Treasury auctioned €3.1 billion ($3.9 billion) in the two maturities, just above its target range, and demand was strong.

But the cost was very high – an indication that investors are concerned that the Spanish government will be stuck with huge expenses after a European bailout of its fragile banking system.

The interest rate on 3-month bills was 2.36 per cent, nearly triple the 0.85 per cent paid in the last such auction on May 22. The rate on the 6-month bills was 3.24 per cent, nearly twice as much as the 1.7 per cent paid in May.

The auction came a day after Spain formally requested financial aid for its banks from its partners in the eurozone. The move was a formality – it had expressed its intent a week early.

Once again, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos did not say how much of the €100 billion ($125 billion) lifeline on offer the country planned to use.

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While the bailout will help the banks, the government is ultimately responsible for repaying the money. That has raised fears that it will be stuck with huge liabilities and that’s evident in the country’s borrowing costs.

Addressing a parliamentary commission Tuesday, de Guindos also said no new austerity measures have been set by Brussels as conditions for the loan.

That could irk other bailed-out countries that did have string attached to their rescues. However, on Monday Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy did say Monday that new “economic measures” were in the works even though the Spanish economy is back in recession. These are widely understood to include an increase in the sales tax, a tax on goods and services.

The new conservative Spanish government has already enacted a wave of spending cuts, raised income and property taxes and frozen civil servant wages.

De Guindos reiterated that Spain’s three biggest banks — Santander, BBVA and CaixaBank — will not need aid to meet new capitalization requirements. He said the aid requested will not surpass the €100 billion the government has available, and that terms of the loan are being negotiated. These terms are expected to be announced by July 9.

The minister said that banks which do accept loan money might have to separate toxic assets from clean ones, although he did not go so far as to say Spain will create a bad bank. So far the government has resisted such a step, which de Guindos said the EU wants.

He said this asset separation would be an additional step for individual banks that need it, aside from measures applying to the whole banking sector in Spain. He did not elaborate.

A key problem for Spain is that its banks hold massive amounts of its government bonds. So as those bonds lose value, the banks take losses, fueling a vicious cycle of uncertainty over the banks’ and the government’s finances.

Those concerns were evident in Moody’s decision Monday to downgrade 28 Spanish banks, including international heavyweights Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA. The agency cited the banks’ exposure to the government’s bonds and said they are vulnerable to further losses from Spain’s real-estate bust.

“The problem facing Spanish banks, which is again being reflected in rising Spanish bond yields, is that no-one is clear on how much bailout money Spanish banks will end up needing,” said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets.

Hewson noted that it also remains unclear what conditions will come attached to the aid for Spain’s banks. If, in the event one of the rescued banks fails, the eurozone bailout fund gets the right to be repaid before other creditors.

The Moody’s downgrade had been widely expected and stock markets were mostly steady on Tuesday.

But tensions remained high in bond markets. In the secondary bond market, where auctioned debt is traded freely, the yield on Spanish 10-year bonds edged up 0.23 percentage points to close at 6.81 per cent, a painfully expensive rate. The yield last week punched through the 7 per cent level, a level seen as unsustainable over the long term.

Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry reported that the central government budget deficit had soared to 3.41 per cent of GDP in the first five months of 2012, just 0.09 percentage points below the targeted figure agreed with the European Union for the entire year.

Spain has agreed to aim for an overall deficit of 5.3 per cent of GDP for 2012 based on a projected 3.5 per cent figure for the central government, 1.5 per cent for regional governments and 0.3 per cent for town halls.

Tuesday’s figure, up 30 per cent on the same period last year, was due to advance payments to regional governments, increased Social Welfare costs and reduced income, the ministry said.

Spain is battling to slash its deficit, which was 8.5 per cent last year, to the EU limit of 3 per cent of GDP by 2013.

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Ciaran Giles contributed to this report.

Court rules agency is ‘unambiguously correct’ in using law to curb global warming gases

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the first-ever U.S. government regulations aimed at reducing the gases blamed for global warming.

The rules, which had been challenged by industry groups and several states, will reduce emissions of six heat-trapping gases from large industrial facilities such as factories and power plants, as well as from automobile tailpipes.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said that the Environmental Protection Agency was “unambiguously correct” in using existing federal law to address global warming, denying two of the challenges to four separate regulations and dismissing the others.

The ruling is perhaps the most significant to come out on the issue since 2007, when the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases could be controlled as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, a step the Bush administration had resisted.

It also lands during a presidential election year where there are sharp differences between the two candidates when it comes to how best to deal with global warming.

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President Barack Obama’s administration has come under fierce criticism from Republicans, including Mitt Romney, the party’s almost certain presidential nominee, for pushing ahead with the regulations after Congress failed to pass climate legislation. In 2009, the EPA concluded that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, triggering controls on automobiles and other large sources. But the administration has always said it preferred to address global warming through a new law.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called the ruling a “strong validation” of the approach the agency has taken.

The court “found that EPA followed both the science and the law in taking common-sense, reasonable actions to address the very real threat of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from the largest sources,” Jackson said in a statement.

Carol Browner, Obama’s former energy and climate adviser, said the decision “should put an end, once and for all, to any questions about the EPA’s legal authority to protect us from dangerous industrial carbon pollution,” adding that it was a “devastating blow” to those who challenge the scientific evidence of climate change.

At a meeting in the state of New Hampshire last year Romney, said it was a mistake for the EPA to be involved in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas.

“My view is that the EPA is getting into carbon and regulating carbon has gone beyond the original intent of the legislation, and I would not go there,” he said.

The court on Tuesday seemed to disagree with Romney’s assessment when it denied two challenges to the administration’s rules, including one arguing that the agency erred in concluding greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.

Lawyers for the industry groups and states argued that the EPA should have considered the policy implications of regulating heat-trapping gases along with the science. They also questioned the agency’s reliance on a body of scientific evidence that they said included significant uncertainties.

The judges – Chief Judge David Sentelle, who was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, and David Tatel and Judith Rogers, both appointed by Democrat Bill Clinton – flatly rejected those arguments.

“This is how science works,” the unsigned opinion said. “EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

Industry groups vowed to fight on.

“Today’s ruling is a setback for businesses facing damaging regulations from the EPA,” said Jay Timmons, president and chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers. “We will be considering all of our legal options when it comes to halting these devastating regulations. The debate to address climate change should take place in the U.S. Congress and should foster economic growth and job creation, not impose additional burdens on businesses.”

Environmentalists, meanwhile, called it a landmark decision for global warming policy, which has been repeatedly targeted by the Republican-controlled House.

“Today’s ruling by the court confirms that EPA’s common-sense solutions to address climate pollution are firmly anchored in science and law,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defence Fund.

The court also dismissed complaints against two other regulations dealing with pollution from new factories and other industrial facilities. The plaintiffs had argued that the EPA misused the Clean Air Act by only requiring controls on the largest sources, when the law explicitly states that much smaller sources should also be covered.

The judges, when presented with these arguments in February, cautioned the industry groups and states to be careful what they wished for. If EPA chose to follow the letter of the law, they said, greenhouse gas regulations would place even more of a burden on industry and other businesses.

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Follow Dina Cappiello’s environment coverage on Twitter (at)dinacappiello

Facing deadline for judge’s ruling, American Airlines workers seek to resume contract talks

DALLAS – Flight attendants and mechanics at American Airlines want to resume contract talks as a deadline nears for a federal judge to rule on whether the airline can impose its own terms on workers.

Separately, the pilots’ union board was meeting Tuesday to reconsider whether to let members vote on American’s final contract offer.

Tuesday’s developments raised the prospect that American could negotiate voluntary cost-cutting deals with all three of its labour unions, which seemed unlikely just a week ago.

The Transport Workers Union said that negotiators for American’s mechanics expected to meet soon with company officials. Last month, mechanics rejected a company offer that was approved by five smaller groups of ground workers.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants said Monday night that it was seeking to resume negotiations too. Company spokesman Bruce Hicks said American looked forward to more talks with the flight attendants.

The unions are facing a Friday deadline for U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane to rule on whether American can throw out labour contracts and temporarily impose its own terms for pay, benefits and working conditions.

The judge has already postponed a decision twice, including a one-week delay until Friday to give the Allied Pilots Association more time to consider American’s latest offer. The union said its board needed more clarification from American on some terms.

American had sweetened its offer to pilots, proposing a 17 per cent cut in pilot costs with no layoffs instead of an earlier 20 per cent cut that included eliminating 400 pilot jobs.

The unions all back a potential takeover of American parent AMR Corp. by US Airways Group Inc., which has offered fewer layoffs and other cuts than American proposed. AMR filed for bankruptcy protection in November.

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Gang leader arrested after weekend stabbings in Montreal

 MONTREAL- A man described by police in the past as a dangerous and violent street gang leader has been charged with two counts of attempted murder in a case where two men were stabbed outside a bar in the Plateau over the long weekend.

Jean-Philippe Celestin, 31, described in the past as the leader of a Montreal street gang called the K-Crew, appeared at the Montreal courthouse on Monday.

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He faces five charges in all in an assault that left one man in critical condition early Saturday morning outside the outside Commission des Liquers du Plateau, a nightclub on St. Laurent Blvd. near Mont Royal Ave.

The man who was more seriously injured was listed as being in stable condition as of Sunday.

A second man arrested in the attempted murders is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon, police said.

During the weekend the Montreal police said they believed the stabbings occurred as the result of a dispute that had started in a bar and that the violence occurred as the victims left.

In 2009, Celestin was described by police as the leader of a drug trafficking network that was very active on St. Laurent Blvd. A police investigation, dubbed Project Norte, targeted several members of the K-Crew, including Celestin.

In 2007, during a hearing before the Regie des alcools, des courses et des jeuxs, the provincial liquor board, the K-Crew was described as “a major and emerging street gang” in Montreal.

During the same hearing Celestin was described, by a police expert, as the most violent and most dangerous member of the gang.

On March 24, 2010, Celestin pleaded guilty to conspiracy and possession of drugs with the intent to traffic in the Project Norte case and was sentenced to an 18-month prison term.

As part of the same sentence, Celestin was on probation when he was arrested during the long weekend as a suspect in the attempted murders.

 

B.C. flooding leaves engaged couple high and dry

SICAMOUS, B.C. – Up until this past Saturday, just before noon, Andre Robert was eagerly awaiting getting hitched to his fiancee come December in Hawaii.

Then the rain started, and within two hours and a 15-centimetre jump of water, the couple’s plans washed away along with large swaths of their town.

Widespread flooding in Sicamous, B.C., has halted the 29-year-old’s boat rental business just as the seasonal boom was about to go full throttle.

“We can go do the cheapy Justice of the Peace kind of thing, but we were hoping to go to Hawaii and elope on the beach there somewhere,” said Robert as he powered a boat from A.J.’s Marine Rentals through just one of multiple swollen lakes and rivers in British Columbia.

“I told her, if I don’t have any money it’s pretty hard to get married.”

About 350 people in the summer tourism town of 3,100, more than 340 km northeast of Vancouver, were ordered evacuated and its Two Mile subdivision was declared under a state of emergency after the weekend’s natural disaster.

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It topped the list of a series of communities in the B.C. Interior, the Kootenay region and the Fraser Valley where flooding is impacting lives. Across the province, about 700 people have been forced from their homes and another 1,000 remain prepped to evacuate on a moment’s notice.

Sicamous residents’ livelihoods are usually propelled by 100 days between June and September.

But fast-flowing waters, sprung from torrential showers and rapid snowmelt, cleaved a path of physical and economic devastation through the region.

That weather has stymied business for the marinas, boat and houseboat rental outlets. Local hotels, floating grocery stores and spin-off shops are suffering, too, and all say they haven’t experienced such conditions in years, if ever.

“This is going to be outrageous, it’s a little scary,” Robert said. ” Now, we’re going to be cut down to about 30 days in August. There’s a ripple effect for everybody in the community.”

The storm on Saturday triggered a massive debris flow that began when a local river became plugged with logs from previous rains. Massive pressure released the jam, sending rafts of water diverting from within the banks and thrusting the material down a road, through a parking lot and cascading around waterfront property.

A cottage was pushed off its foundation, several dozen vehicles were submerged in a mudslide, and an asphalt road gave way to leave gaping holes that swallowed vehicles.

“There’s a lot of people that just have this as their summer residence, so they probably don’t even know about it yet,” said Ken Meyer, 50, as he scoured a 40-metre sinkhole with a blue pick-up truck resting inside.

“It’s going to take a long time to clean up. It’s pretty sad to see our community looking like this.”

In other parts of town, locals canoed through parking lots, removing possessions from otherwise inaccessible homes.

A water ban was put into effect after a 20,000 litre gas tank toppled into Mara Lake, the major water body where many high-end cottages are located. Beaches normally filled with revellers were under water.

Road closures meant the only way to reach Two Mile was by boat.

A hefty stationary bicycle was heaved from inside onto one cottage owner’s lawn, a place where he said the young adults in his family played Bocci ball only days earlier.

When the downpour started, the group started sandbagging. By 2 a.m. they determined it was futile.

“Then the flow got too high for the sand bags and we let nature take its course. It was a very difficult decision,” said Bob, who asked for anonymity to protect his home from looters, as he surveyed the damage from his dock.

The retired vacationer from Calgary, whose family has had the home for 40 years, said the coming months will be rough – but he is certain that residents with pull together.

“It’s a town that cares and Sicamous will get through it. However, there’s going to be a lot of heartache in the meantime,” he said.

“This is a vacation paradise – and it will be again.”

Elsewhere in the province, 35 homes in the Creston area of southeastern B.C. were placed on evacuation alert Tuesday as the community declared a local state of emergency because of localized flooding.

The Kootenay River nearby is rising and heavy rains are forecast for the region, with up to 40 millimetres expected to fall before the storm passes.

Officials say nearby Kootenay Lake is expected to peak by the end of the week and forecasters say the lake could reach a height not seen in half a century.

Saskatchewan is lending resources and expertise to B.C. to help deal with the wide-spread flooding.

Three emergency services officers and an eight-person rapid response team has arrived in Chilliwack with equipment, including eight kilometres of flood barriers, five automated sandbagging machines and pumps.

Alex Ovechkin ready to be turned loose by new Caps coach Adam Oates

CHICAGO – Alex Ovechkin is ready to be turned loose again.

The Washington Capitals star was wearing a wide grin Tuesday after learning that the team’s new head coach, Adam Oates, has a track record of encouraging offensive play. That’s a distinct departure from the defence-first system preached by previous boss Dale Hunter.

“It’s not blocking the shots and it’s not dump and chase,” Ovechkin said during the NHLPA’s executive board meetings. “Any system that I play I learn a lot. I’m an offensive guy, it’s not a secret to anybody, and I’m pretty excited and very happy to hear the Caps signed that kind of guy who likes offence.”

After learning Oates had been hired, Ovechkin gave him a call of congratulations.

The two don’t have a history. In fact, all Ovechkin knew of Oates was seeing his sometimes animated displays behind the New Jersey Devils bench. The 49-year-old Oates was one of the NHL’s best setup men during his playing career and was credited with helping turn the Devils into a more potent team during two years as an assistant.

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“I just talked to him briefly and he seems to be a great person,” said Ovechkin. “I’m looking forward to working with him and again, you’re always excited when something big happens with your team. …

“I hope we’re going to work well and we’re going to play and we’re going to win I think.”

Ovechkin has seen his offensive production dip dramatically the last two seasons. The Capitals captain seemed to be out of favour with Hunter at times during the playoffs, when his ice time dipped as low as 13 minutes per game.

The Russian intends to build a strong relationship with the new coach. He hopes it might help him get back to being the most dangerous scorer in the league.

“I think coaches and players have to have a good relationship, especially in the kind of situation where we have right now,” said Ovechkin. “It’s nice.”

Alberta Tory lashes out at expensive perks for government cabinet ministers

OTTAWA – A Conservative MP is sounding off against the expensive perks given to cabinet ministers.

And in a sharp, online rebuke of his caucus, Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber is airing a complaint other Tory MPs say they’re also hearing about on the doorsteps this summer: that the government is wasting people’s money.

Rathgeber reports he was in Grenfell, Sask., a town of around 1,000 people last month, and found that the champagne tastes of senior Tories were at the top of people’s minds.

In May, CTV revealed that more than half a million dollars in overtime was paid to ministerial drivers and some remained on standby almost all year long.

“The $600,000 in limousine driver overtime did not play well with the small prairie town sensibilities,” Rathgeber wrote on his blog. “How could the average payout be $20,000 and how could the chart-topping minister’s driver rack up $40,000 in overtime charges?

“Admittedly, I had no answers. The cabinet minister limousine service represents one of the most egregious displays of Ottawa opulence.”

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Rathgeber, who represents the riding of Edmonton-St. Albert, wrote that he understands why ministers need to be driven around Ottawa, but doesn’t understand why they need such expensive car service while on Parliament Hill.

“Surely there is a more cost-effective method of getting cabinet ministers to and from meetings,” he wrote.

“Surely, as government preaches fiscal discipline, such extravagance must be eliminated.”

In the House of Commons, the government has defended the cost of cars and drivers.

“Our ministers are working long hours for the economy, long hours for jobs, long hours for the people of Canada,” Treasury Board President Tony Clement said at the time.

“Sometimes that means a bit of overtime by the drivers.”

The government is reviewing the rules, though a spokeswoman for Clement noted that the issue of overtime and salaries are governed by union agreements.

The story on driver costs followed revelations by The Canadian Press that International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda spent $16 on a glass of orange juice at a hotel and $1,000 a day on limousines during a 2011 conference in London.

Rathgeber noted that Oda apologized and repaid the money but suggested people may not be forgiving.

“In Grenfell, most of the attendees have never ridden in a limo and none of them have ever drunk $16 orange juice,” he wrote.

“Surely, they would appreciate if government took more care in spending their money.”

In an interview, Rathgeber said he was airing a complaint he’s also hearing in his own riding.

“We all have a job and my job as a member of Parliament and as a member of the Conservative caucus is to hold the government to account, even though I am a member of the government caucus,” he said.

“I still think that I have a responsibility to do what I can to ensure taxpayers get value for their dollars.”

His blog was posted as Conservative cabinet ministers, parliamentary secretaries and MPs fanned out across the country to plug the government’s budget bill at a series of events Tuesday.

Rathbeger said he knows the money spent on drivers wouldn’t make a dent in the deficit.

“It’s an issue I guess of optics, and it’s an issue of leadership,” he said.

“At a time when we are attempting to get our fiscal house in order and we’re asking Canadians to make some sacrifices, with respect to government programs and services that are offered, I think it’s incumbent upon politicians to do the same.”

Complaints about Oda’s expense claims have found their way into caucus meetings since the story broke in April.

MPs are concerned about further blowback from Canadians if the minister isn’t replaced in a widely expected cabinet shuffle this summer.

Since 2006, Harper has been expanding the size of his cabinet, which in turn increases its cost.

In 2011, the bill for salaries and perks for him and the other 38 ministers and junior ministers was about $9 million, the highest on record.

Ontario Tory MP Rick Dykstra said he, too, has received an earful about Oda’s spending and cabinet cars in the last few months.

But he said the budget is prompting questions as well and not the kind he’s used to hearing.

Ever since he’s been back in his St. Catharines, Ont., riding, Dykstra said he’s received a “boatload” of queries on the marathon voting session in the Commons earlier this month, when MPs voted continuously for almost 24 hours on hundreds of opposition amendments to the budget bill.

“It’s very rare when I get constituents actually talking to me about what’s happened in the House of Commons, actually in the House itself,” Dykstra said.

Rathgeber is the latest backbencher to pop his head over the wall of silence that usually keeps Tories from public criticism of the government.

Earlier this month, Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney spoke out against planned cuts to coast guard services being made as part of the government’s overall drive to slash spending.

And in May, another B.C. Tory, David Wilks, raised concerns about the budget and the lack of say backbenchers have in overall government policy.

Class action lawsuits on overtime at CIBC, Scotiabank can go ahead: appeal court

TORONTO – The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in a pair of decisions Tuesday that lawsuits against CIBC (TSX:CM) and Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) involving unpaid overtime may go ahead as class action cases.

The lawsuits allege workers were denied overtime pay even though they were assigned heavier workloads than could be completed within their standard working hours.

“The proposed common issues raise the requisite degree of commonality for purposes of certification,” Chief Justice Warren Winkler wrote in the decision in the Scotiabank case.

“I also agree that a class proceeding is the preferable procedure for resolving these issues.”

A lower court had denied class action status to the CIBC case, while a different court had allowed class action status be granted to the Scotiabank lawsuit.

However, the appeal court felt both cases should be handled the same way.

Cindy Fulawka, a personal banking representative at Scotiabank, filed her class action lawsuit against the bank in December 2007 seeking to represent some 5,000 Scotiabank personal or senior bankers, financial advisers and small business account managers.

In the CIBC case, Dara Fresco, a teller, filed a lawsuit in June 2007.

Despite the ruling to allow the bank class action lawsuits to go ahead, the appeal court found a similar lawsuit against Canadian National Railway Co. (TSX:CNR) lacking.

The appeal court overturned a lower court decision and ruled a lawsuit seeking unpaid overtime in that case may not go ahead as a class action.

“The absence of commonality is fatal to the certification of this action,” Winkler wrote.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

The cases heard by different panels of judges, but Chief Justice Winkler sat on all three.

HangZhou Night Net

Youngest senator has poorest attendance record in the Canadian Senate

OTTAWA – The youngest senator in the upper chamber also has the poorest attendance record for this session of Parliament.

Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau, 37, was absent for 25 per cent of the 72 sittings between June 2011 and April 2012, the Senate attendance register shows.

By the end of that period, the Quebecer was four days away from being fined. Senators are allowed to miss up to 21 days in each parliamentary session for religious holidays, family illness or obligations, and funerals and grief.

They can also be away on public business, such as travel or a parliamentary delegation, as long it was unavoidable.

After that, they can be fined $250 for each day missed.

The records for May and June have not been submitted yet.

Between June 2011 and April 2012, Brazeau also missed 65 per cent of meetings at the aboriginal peoples committee on which he sits.

And he was away for 31 per cent of the meetings of the human rights committee, where he is deputy chair.

The senator, appointed in 2008 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sent an email response to a request for comment.

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“The very simple answer to your question with respect to my attendance or lack thereof is for personal matters,” said Brazeau, former national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

He did not elaborate, but later posted a message on Twitter directed to the reporter who wrote this article, Jennifer Ditchburn of The Canadian Press: “while u smile Jen, others suffer. Change the D to a B in your last name and we’re even! Don’t mean it but needs saying.”

The comment provoked a Twitter firestorm, and Brazeau later tweeted an apology:

“I apologize for my comments,” he wrote. “They were done because of my personal circumstance regarding your story.

“I’m a hardworker and take my position seriously but personal issues always comes 1st. Ppl are sometimes in need. Sorry!”

Brazeau was highly visible in the media in late March, as he faced Liberal MP Justin Trudeau in a televised charity boxing match. He was favoured to win, but lost the fight in a technical knockout.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said Brazeau is the “latest poster boy” for a democratically challenged institution.

“It’s surprising that he shows up at all,” said Angus. “He’s got a gig for life. There’s no accountability, there’s no censure, he’s going to sit there until he’s 75.”

The NDP supports abolishing the Senate.

Other senators who top the absentee list are Liberal Romeo Dallaire and Conservative Janis Johnson. Both senators say they have good reasons for their absences.

Dallaire’s records show he is six absentee days away from being fined, having missed 22 per cent of the Senate sittings.

The author and retired army lieutenant-general said he has a lot of public engagements, and spent three-and-a-half weeks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic continuing his research on child soldiers.

“I took that time, as much as I could over Easter, but it ran over into Senate days,” Dallaire said in an interview.

Dallaire missed 17 per cent of meetings on both the national security and defence committee and the subcommittee on veterans affairs. Minutes show Dallaire also wasn’t present for two of the five meetings of the special anti-terrorism committee.

Johnson was missing from the Senate floor 19 per cent of the time. She is eight days away from being penalized financially.

Johnson emphasizes that she has had a good attendance record during her 22 years in the Senate. The Winnipeg resident says she is the sole caregiver for a terminally ill aunt. She added that she was ill during the winter and her office failed to note that in the register.

Johnson also notes she is co-chair of the Canada-United States Inter-parliamentary Group.

“I pride myself in doing my job and I work really hard in the province as well. … I take it very seriously.”

Johnson missed two-thirds of the meetings of the energy, environment and natural resources committee. She says was directed to sit on the committee against her wishes, by Sen. Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate.

“What happened is they were in the middle of a report or coming to the end of a report that I had nothing to do with,” Johnson said of her appointment to the committee last June.

“I asked the leadership not to put me there, but (Sen. LeBreton) said, please just stay there.”

Johnson’s record was better for the foreign affairs committee, but she was still absent 24 per cent of the time.

Many senators got to April with perfect attendance. They included Conservatives Con Di Nino and Jacques Demers and Liberals Jim Munson and Percy Downe.

During the last parliamentary session, Liberal Sen. Nick Sibbeston was fined for missing 22 days – one more day than he was entitled to.

Poor attendance was more of an issue a decade ago, when a handful of senators missed vast amounts of sittings.

Liberal Andrew Thompson resigned in 1998 after the Ottawa Citizen revealed he only attended about five per cent of sittings over more than a decade.

Sheen back on TV in ‘Anger Management,’ but Canadians will have to wait

Looking for Charlie Sheen this week? You may have to cross the border to see him.

The former “Two and a Half Men” star returns Stateside on Thursday in his new comedy “Anger Management.” The long-awaited series originates on the U.S. cable network FX.

Surprisingly, FX Canada, which is owned by Rogers (which also owns City and OMNI stations), does not have the Canadian rights to the series. The rights belong to CTV, which trumped the acquisition as their big “get” at their recent fall preview upfront to advertisers and press in Toronto.

CTV usually takes pains to simulcast U.S. acquisitions. Aside from a sneak preview during their Summer Olympic Games coverage, they’re holding “Anger Management” back until the fall.

That’s a strategy that has worked in the past for CTV with American cable shows such as Betty White’s “Hot in Cleveland.” Canadians, however, may be confused this week after seeing Sheen on the cover or Rolling Stone and Playboy, promoting his series on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” or seeing several references to the series this week on the Internet as well as on popular magazine shows such as “Entertainment Tonight.”

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CTV is no doubt gambling that Sheen’s new show will open big in the U.S. – kicking in a deal that will eventually lead to 100 episodes being shot for the series. Instead of just ordering one pilot, FX asked executive producer Bruce Helford (“The Drew Carey Show”) to make an initial 10 episodes with Sheen. He plays a counsellor in the series who has an ex-wife (played by Shawnee Smith), a teenage daughter (Vancouver-native Daniela Bobadilla) and his own therapist (Selma Blair).

“The idea, like most shows about therapists,” says Helford, “is that his life is more screwed up than his patients.”

Helford joined Sheen at a low-key, night-time, outdoor meeting with a select group of reporters at the most recent TV critics press tour in Los Angeles. He believes shooting one pilot is an old-fashioned network concept that just doesn’t make sense anymore.

“With 10 episodes, we can create an arc, get great writers, it gives us creative security.”

In television, however, there is no such thing as ratings security. “Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays,” a CBC series about a patient/therapist relationship, was a critical success but a ratings flop last season.

“Anger Management” carries the extra burden of high expectations. If the first 10 episodes do well enough, an order for 90 more episodes – to be shot at a blistering year-and-a-half pace – will automatically kick in.

If the ratings do not meet expectations, FX can walk away from the deal.

Which means “Anger Management” could be cancelled before CTV begins airing the series this fall.

Helford says he’s working hard to try and ensure that doesn’t happen. Averse to flying, Helford says he first met Sheen on Skype. His first impression was, after a year of bizarre headlines where the actor seemed bent on self destruction, Sheen had righted himself.

“What ever he had gone through, he had gone through,” says Helford.

The writer/producer has worked with some challenging personalities before, including Roseanne. He’s used to shaping shows around stand up comedians, including George Lopez, Carey and Norm Macdonald, but says Sheen’s acting skills bring another dimension to the series. As for the demands of cranking out 100 episodes in under two years, Helford points out that he once ran four network TV comedies at one time -“The Drew Carey Show,” “George Lopez,” “Nikki” and “The Oblongs.”

In Helford, Sheen says he has a partner he can truly partner with – unlike, he implies, his last boss, “Two and a Half Men” showrunner Chuck Lorre.

Helford says having Sheen in on the creative decisions was always the deal.

“Whenever I do a show with a star, we partner,” says Helford. “We’re doing this together. You have some control over your destiny and it really makes a difference. It’s why Drew and George worked their asses off when we worked as a team.”

“Anger Management” premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on FX. CTV plans to offer a sneak peak at it during their Olympic coverage and then launch the series in Canada this fall.

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Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

Only Hufnagel and Trestman have more than three years of CFL coaching experience

VANCOUVER – The winds of youthful change are blowing along CFL sidelines and having a ripple effect in some front offices as the 2012 regular season approaches.

Four of the league’s eight teams will have new coaches this year as first-timers take over in B.C., Saskatchewan, Toronto and Hamilton. Of the four holdovers, only two – Calgary’s John Hufnagel and Montreal’s Marc Trestman – have been with their teams for more than three seasons.

“I think it says a lot about growth, and I think it talks a lot about opportunity and, honestly, organizations having faith in some new people,” said new B.C. Lions coach Mike Benevides. “It also talks to the fact that people want to be competitive and organizations want to win. My situation (taking over a Grey Cup champion) is a little bit different, but most of the time, change comes because the organization is not happy with the way (the previous season) went.”

Most of the newcomers this year and from recent seasons are in their 30s and 40s.

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“I’m happy to see a lot of young first-time coaches given an opportunity,” said B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono. “I hate to say this in a negative way, but the passing of (longtime CFL coach) Cal Murphy is kind of an indication that the old order has to be replaced by the new order. You want to leave the league strong.”

Buono, 62, spearheaded the most profound change as he ended his legendary 22-year coaching career with Calgary and B.C. last December shortly after the Lions won the Grey Cup, the fifth of his career.

At first glance, Benevides faces less pressure than the other newcomers, because he was a longtime Lions defensive and special teams assistant. The other hires – Corey Chamblin in Saskatchewan, Scott Milanovich in Toronto and George Cortez in Hamilton – are still getting used to their respective organizations.

However, Benevides dismissed the idea that he faces less pressure than the others.

“In terms of what you want to get done, the pressure always exists,” he said. “It’s performance-based. You have to win every week.”

Benevides, a 44-year-old Toronto native who wears a hoodie and headset, has a different style than the stoic Buono. The new Lions coach high-fived and bumped fists with players during pre-season game warm-ups and served Freezies to all players still around on the final day of training camp as a reward for their hard work and intensive playbook studying. Benevides has also had part of the team’s practice facility redeveloped into a large player lounge that includes new big-screen TVs, a kitchen, computers and Internet connectivity, and arranged for the team to serve breakfast to players on a daily basis as part of his bid to create a family-like atmosphere.

Contending he is comfortable on a different life stage, Buono is now focusing on recruiting and signing talent in the GM post he previously held and playing more of an ambassadorial role with the franchise under an added vice-president’s title.

“It’s a little bit more methodical,” said Buono of his revised role. “The point is just trying to find out where you belong at the right time.”

Although he is away from the sidelines during games, he still takes great pride in assembling a strong organization.

“You want to be part of a good organization,” he said. “But then the other thing too is, you want to have the ability to have a succession plan to allow things to grow. I’m not sure you’ve done a good job if, (once) a person leaves, everything falls apart.”

In Saskatchewan, the Roughriders are looking to Chamblin, 35, after luring him away from his Hamilton defensive co-ordinator’s position, to provide more coaching stability. Greg Marshall was fired midway through the 2011 season and replaced by the since-retired Ken Miller, who had stepped down from his coaching duties to focus on a front-office role.

The Riders missed the playoffs after reaching the Grey Cup the previous two seasons under Miller.

“I’ve never been a head coach, but I’ve been a leader of the (defensive backs), a leader of the defence, and now I’m the leader of the team,” said Chamblin, also a former Calgary and Winnipeg assistant. “I’ve had success in each one of those areas, so what I need to do now is make sure that we have success as a team.”

During the pre-season, the Birmingham, Ala., native worked to remain in “teacher mode” while attempting to build a team identity quickly.

“First of all, we have to make sure this is a tough football team,” said Chamblin. “When we’re up, we have to stay up and when we’re behind, we have to fight and come back.”

In Toronto, Jim Barker has relinquished his coaching duties while remaining as general manager as Milanovich attempts to improve on the Argos 6-12 mark in 2011.

“We got rid of the old, stodgy guy and brought in a young, energetic guy,” said Barker.

He expects an easier transition to a full-time GM’s role than during his first attempt with the Stampeders in 2005.

“Last time, I had never done it, so I did everything I could to learn what a GM has to do,” he said.

Barker contended he is comfortable with the job change. He did not expect to remain long as a coach when he took the Argos helm for a second time in February 2010.

“Finding players is something I’ve always had an interest in,” said Barker. “As much as I love coaching, as I get older, this is a better place for me.”

Milanovich, a 39-year-year-old former journeyman CFL, NFL and XFL quarterback from Butler, Pa., honed his coaching skills as an assistant with the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe, the Stampeders and, most recently, the Alouettes.

According to Barker, he has a great presence, has earned his players’ respect and has “zero tolerance” for undisciplined troops.

“It’s certainly not a country club atmosphere,” said Barker.

Even though Milanovich is young in age, he is not young in “football years.”

In Hamilton, general manager Bob O’Billovich bucked the trend towards youth by appointing 61-year-old Cortez. The Port Arthur Texas native finally gets to be a CFL head coach after amassing 18 years of experience in the league as an assistant with various teams and shuffling between college and the NFL. He has also coached high school football.

“It’s very nice to be in charge of the program and answer to yourself and know that, when you get put on the scene, it is ultimately your decision,” said Cortez.

He has replaced Marcel Bellefeuille, who was fired after Hamilton went 8-10 last season.

“(Cortez) probably could have got a head coaching job, maybe, five or 10 years ago,” said Buono. “George, as stubborn as he is, is only going to take the situation that gives him the best chance to win.”

Cortez said he was never formally offered a CFL head coaching job before, but added he always had a core vision of what it would take to be successful in the CFL, and he was never presented with the right opportunity until now.

Buono said the chance for Cortez to run his own show on the field offset any financial sacrifices.

“Sometimes it’s not always just about the dollars and cents,” said Buono. “It’s an opportunity, and you’ve got to look at opportunity. Is something like this going to come around for George again? I’m not sure it would have.”

Meanwhile, Kavis Reed, 39, returns for his second season in Edmonton after guiding the Eskimos to the 2011 Western Final, and third-year Winnipeg coach Paul LaPolice, 42, looks to return to the Grey Cup after the Blue Bombers lost to the Lions in November.