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.

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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.

Recreational property prices down in Sylvan Lake

Anyone looking for real estate in Alberta knows prices have gone up, but in one segment of the province’s recreational property market, the prices haven’t rebounded.

According to a recent Remax report, recreational property prices are down in Sylvan Lake.

Two years ago, prime waterfront homes were selling on average for over a million dollars in the community, now the average is about 750 thousand, says the report.

When Stepp wrote the analysis, he noted there were only three waterfront properties for sale in 2012. He says the market will rise when the oil industry does.

“Price of oil is maybe down a little bit right now. Share prices are down in a lot of oil companies. As that strengthens, you’re going to see people getting their money back into recreational property.”

He says that since the prices are down it’s an excellent time to be buying lakefront property.

“We have a good selection of lakefront properties right now. I would say they are actually on sale.”

Mayor of Sylvan Lake, Susan Samson says this is a unique case, caused by the economic downturn.

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“Traditionally lake front properties have held their own value and consistently have gone up, but since the downturn in the economy in 2008, we’ve seen less of a demand for those lake front properties.”

She says the demand is low and it will take time to see prices match those of pre-2008.
“I think the prices will take longer to creep up, but it’s a limited commodity and when it’s sold, it’s gone.”

However, there is another factor; those with means are being lured south to inexpensive places in the United States says Carmen Brodeur, a former Edmontonian now working as a realtor in Phoenix.

“You can get a very nice vacation home in Phoenix and Scottsdale for 200 to 300 thousand dollars; you don’t get much for that price point in Alberta at all.”

She says Phoenix has always been very popular for Albertans because there are a lot of direct flights from Edmonton and Calgary.

However, Sylvan Lake realtor Kevin Lapp says Sylvan is a great location for people living in the two major cities in Alberta because it’s so central and so close.

“The opportunity to move onto the water and be close to home and have your family here really drives the Sylvan Lake market.”

With files from Vinesh Pratap
 

Ad showing pot-banging PQ Leader Marois prompts legal threat

MONTREAL – A less-than-flattering ad of Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois, with a possible election approaching, has prompted a threatening legal letter.

The ad contains images of the opposition leader during a recent protest banging on pots, and casting a quizzical gaze at them.

The man who originally shot the video, and posted it on Facebook, is upset it’s now being used by the governing Liberals in a political ad and has sent a letter demanding it be taken down.

In their response Tuesday, the Liberals emphatically refused to withdraw the ad.

Premier Jean Charest defended the 15-second spot, which doesn’t contain a single word. All it does is show the PQ leader marching, banging pot covers together, and staring at those makeshift cymbals. The images are shown in black and white and slowed down for dramatic effect.

“This illustrates an episode in the political life of Pauline Marois that Quebecers have an interest in knowing,” Charest told reporters Tuesday.

“The image speaks for itself. We did not suggest a conclusion Quebecers should reach – given how obvious that conclusion is.”

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Marois spent the spring encouraging student protesters, even wearing their iconic red square on her lapel. Now, with an election approaching and polls suggesting the protests might have limited support, Marois has stopped wearing that red square.

A provincial election could be held as early as September, with a campaign beginning in August. Charest, however, has more than a year before he needs to call a vote.

A McGill University expert on intellectual property and Internet suggested the Liberals might be forced to stop running the ad because it goes against the creator’s moral rights under the Copyright Act.

Richard Gold said that Facebook is normally a grey area because certain uses are permitted when it comes to images, such as sharing a video with friends or commenting on it.

“But this is quite different,” he said. “This is taking it off Facebook and associating it with a cause.”

Gold said he doesn’t believe the Liberals have the right to use the video for their own purposes without permission, nor do they have the right to manipulate the footage.

He said this ad is different from a famous one made by the federal Conservatives. The notorious Stephane Dion, “not-a-leader,” ad used media footage from a 2006 leadership debate in which Dion responded to criticism from then-opponent Michael Ignatieff by saying, “Do you think it’s easy to make priorities?” The spot painted Dion as weak and indecisive.

Comparing this Marois ad to that one, Gold said regulated broadcasters generally make their footage available, while Seguin as a private citizen has no obligation to do so.

He said, however, that if the PQ had obtained rights to the video or if it was shot at their behest, then the Liberals might have an opening to argue that it’s fair game.

That’s exactly what the Liberals argued Tuesday in a note to the video poster, Guy Seguin. The reply was somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

“You will understand our surprise at your claim today that you do not consent to having these images reproduced or used for political purposes,” said the letter from Karl Blackburn, the Quebec Liberals’ director general.

“The images in question were obtained on the Facebook page of the Parti Quebecois candidate in the Argenteuil riding, Roland Richer,” he said, referring to the PQ candidate who recently won a byelection.

“This candidate spread them for political and partisan purposes, without any reservations and with the explicit or implicit consent of the person who filmed them…

“Furthermore, in consulting your Facebook page, ‘Let’s dump the Liberals,’ which uses our own logo, I noticed that you also used a parody of an ad we paid for and authorized. So it seems evident to us that you understand very well the political context.”

-With files by Alexandre Robillard and Andy Blatchford

Bank study warns global potash supply capacity could outstrip demand by 2020

CALGARY – Global supplies of potash could outstrip demand by between 59 and 100 per cent by the end of the decade, a research report from Rabobank warns.

The European bank said Tuesday the North American potash consortium Canpotex and its European counterpart BPC won’t sit idly by while rivals bring on additional supplies.

But Rabobank said one of the key variables will be the degree to which Brazil, India and China are prepared to endure uneconomic projects – either in their own countries or through investments abroad – in order to meet their own needs.

Collectively, the three countries accounted for about 40 per cent of the world’s potash imports.

“In the end, it is mainly geopolitical and long-term strategic security parameters that justify such investments,” Rabobank analyst Dirk Jan Kennes said in a release.

“From a pure economics angle, many of these investments might render losses if prices come under pressure due to oversupply.”

Another factor is the ability of producers to secure financing for their mines, which is more of a problem for small players than for major ones, Rabobank said.

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Canada has one of the world’s largest supplies of potash. Exports of the key crop nutrient have been a major source of trade as well as tax revenue for the province of Saskatchewan.

Canpotex markets the fertilizer abroad on behalf of the three biggest Saskatchewan producers: Potash Corp. (TSX:POT), Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU) and the American potash producer Mosaic Co. (NYSE:MOS).

Agrium spokesman Richard Downey said the cost of building a new mine from scratch is too high to make economic sense for most fertilizer firms these days.

“The challenge is everybody says they’re going to build one, but until you’ve actually committed the billions of dollars it takes to build a new mine, there’s actually very little that has actually been announced that has started construction,” he said.

German company K+S Group broke ground on its $3.25-billion Legacy mine last week in what will be the first new potash mine in Saskatchewan in nearly 40 years.

Ango-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton is undertaking a feasibility study for its multibillion-dollar Jansen mine in Saskatchewan, with an eye to beginning production in 2015. There has been some speculation that project may be delayed due to market conditions, but the company has said it remains on track.

Aside from those, most companies are pursuing so-called brownfield projects – expansions to existing facilities that are much quicker and cheaper to bring on.

Calgary-based Agrium, for instance, announced late last year it would spend $1.5 billion to expand production from its Vanscoy facility in Saskatchewan from two million to three million tonnes annually.

Canadian diver Despatie pleased with progress since resuming physical activity

MONTREAL – Canadian diver Alexandre Despatie said he’s pleased with his progress since resuming physical activity last week.

Despatie suffered a concussion two weeks ago after hitting his head on the board in Madrid while training for a Grand Prix event.

He was hospitalized and required surgery to close a 10-centimetre wound near his hairline.

On Tuesday, the two-time Olympic silver medallist provided an update on his recovery.

“Things are going great,” Despatie said in an audio recording released by Diving Canada. “Obviously it’s a process, there are steps to follow which I’m doing.

“But I haven’t had a headache in five days even though we’re increasing the training, which is a really good sign.”

Despatie, from Laval, Que., said the stitches were scheduled to be removed later Tuesday.

He plans to resume regular training soon and is hopeful that he’ll be ready in time to compete at the London Olympics next month.

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“The biggest test in my rehab I think – mentally and physically – is yet to come and it’ll be going back in the pool, starting diving again,” he said. “Obviously it’s the same idea to go one step at a time and make sure that everything goes the way it should be.

“But in general we’re really progressing forward, which is the most important thing.”

Despatie, 27, was injured while practising an inward three-and-a-half, during which his head spins back towards the board during rotation.

He won silver in springboard at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens to become the first Canadian male to earn an Olympic medal in diving.

After breaking his foot a few weeks prior to the 2008 Games in Beijing, Despatie won silver again.

Montreal Impact ready to unveil former Italian international Marco Di Vaio

Toronto FC coach Paul Mariner calls him a “difference-maker.” Montreal coach Jesse Marsch marvels at his attacking skills.

The fans will get to see former Italian international Marco Di Vaio for themselves Wednesday night as the Impact (5-8-3) host Toronto (1-10-2).

The 35-year-old designated player is finally eligible to play in MLS and is expected to see action at Saputo Stadium.

That’s bad news for Toronto, whose backline has already conceded a league-worst 28 goals this season.

“He’s a guy that really good at stretching defences, because the runs that he makes along the line are very intelligent and he times his runs really well,” said Marsch.

Di Vaio, who will wear No. 9, also knows what to do around the net. He scored 142 goals in 342 Serie A games in Italy with Lazio, Bari, Salernitana, Parma, Juventus, Genoa and most recently Bologna.

“He’s very gifted in terms of different ways to finish plays, of setting up plays. His eye for scoring goals and setting up attacking plays makes him unique and different,” added Marsch.

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HangZhou Night Net

Di Vaio’s arrival is timely for the Impact, who have lost fellow Italian striker Bernardo Corradi to a knee injury sustained in training. Montreal is also without influential Italian defender Matteo Ferrari and there are injury question marks around forward Andrew Wenger (hamstring) and defender Nelson Rivas (abdominal strain).

Marsch can count on the offensive skills of Brazilian playmaker Felipe and American defensive midfielder Collen Warner.

For Mariner, the derby match in Montreal is another challenging away match.

Since taking over for the departed Aron Winter, the former English international is 0-1-2 and has seen his team settle for 3-3 and 2-2 ties after throwing away leads in Houston and against New England. He opened his tenure with a 2-0 loss in Kansas City.

Wednesday marks the fourth meeting between Montreal and Toronto this season in what has quickly become a fierce rivalry.

The Impact won the previous league encounter 2-1 at home in April but the next month saw Toronto knock Montreal out of the Amway Canadian Championship 2-0 on aggregate.

In the second leg of that cup encounter, a 2-0 win in Toronto. Marsch had to be separated from then Toronto assistant Bob De Klerk at the final whistle.

The Montreal coach declined to discuss the incident after that game and was gracious towards his opposition prior to this week’s encounter.

“I think they’re much better than their record and I think they’ve played quite well lately,” he said.

Mariner sees positives for his team but says they have to put 90 minutes-plus together in a game.

“Seventy-five, even 93 and 30 seconds isn’t good enough in this league,” he said, mindful of the second-half stoppage goal conceded against New England.

The Toronto coach acknowledged Tuesday he is looking for help in defence.

“It’s pretty obvious that we need a boss back there. We need somebody that can control that backline.”

Canadian international Adrian Cann is currently rehabbing a minor knee injury while Jamaican international Dicoy Williams is coming back from major knee surgery. Canadian teenager Doneil Henry has been thrust into the starting lineup at 19 while English fullback Richard Eckersley is currently playing out of position at centre back.

“We have a problem at the centre of the defence,” said Mariner. “We’ve got a player in Doneil Henry who looks like he could go all the way. He’s got absolutely everything to be successful but he’s a young player … This is a very, very tough league for a kid to come into and play consistently well. He’s already gone past our expectations for this season.”

Montreal is also looking for the right mix at the back, having conceded 26 goals in 16 games.

“We’re continuing to try to figure out how to limit opportunities. And then when opportunities come, how to try and decrease the amount of goals we give up,” said Marsch. “It’s been an ongoing process. It’s been something we’ve been well aware of. From the beginning, we’ve talked about the fact that expansion teams give up a lot of goals.”

NOTES – Montreal is 2-0-0 at its new home, defeating Houston 4-2 and Seattle 4-1 … Ecuador winger Joao Plata will not travel with Toronto, still feeling the effects of a hamstring tweak … The three TFC players arrested last week in Houston for public intoxication – forwards Nick Soolsma and Luis Silva and defender Miguel Aceval, were slated to be part of the travel party to Montreal … Toronto has Italian left back Alberto Giulliatto, formerly with Treviso, on trial.