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Parliament cleans the slate for a new year

Just ahead of 2011, Parliament Hill has three new MPs, two new senators, and one interim integrity commissioner (who pundits hope has more integrity than the last one). There’s no shortage of irony in the dying days of 2010. Telecommunications giant Bell Canada has been fined for … making phone calls.

Top News: There are new faces on Parliament Hill this month, as the Conservatives and Liberals debut new members of Parliament, elected in byelections on Nov. 30. The ruling Conservatives welcome two new members, while the Liberals welcome one. Notably, one of the new Conservatives is Toronto’s former police chief, Julian Fantino. He is widely expected to be awarded a cabinet portfolio when Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes a cabinet shuffle in January. The Conservatives are also welcoming two new senators, appointed this month and securing Tory control of the Upper House.

There’s also a new face in the Public Sector Integrity Commission, after former integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet was disgraced by a report from the auditor general. The report found Ouimet, who suddenly quit in October, had mistreated her employees – yelling, swearing and berating them – and failed to fulfil her mandate, not pursuing the complaints submitted to her office. The new integrity commissioner, appointed on a six-month interim basis, is expected to re-examine the dismissed complaints.

Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin also released a scathing report, this one on the summer’s G20 summit in Toronto, charging that civil rights were violated by the government’s passage of a secret regulation that police used to detain protestors. While police arrested more than 1,100 people, fewer than 300 were charged.

Police and military moved in to assist hundreds of motorists who were stranded for two days in a blizzard on a southern Ontario highway. Many abandoned their vehicles for temporary shelters, and only returned to retrieve their cars once conditions improved. One man died of exposure outside his vehicle.

Anti-tobacco groups are vocalizing their support for larger, updated warning labels on Canada’s decade-old cigarette cartons – even as Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq appears poised to refocus funding elsewhere. While a decision won’t come until the new year, Aglukkaq has said she favours cracking down on contraband cigarettes and launching a social media campaign against smoking.

A pre-budget report prepared for Parliament by the finance committee was scrapped after a Conservative MP’s aide leaked the report, in its entirety, to five Tory-friendly lobbyist firms. The aide was promptly fired, but it was too late for the $500 000 report, produced ahead of the new federal budget, expected in February.

Money: The Senate’s finance committee has recommended Parliament eliminate the penny from circulation. The one-cent copper coin has lost 95 percent of its purchasing power since it was first introduced in 1908, and now costs 1.5 cents to make.

Telecommunications giant Bell Canada was slapped with a record-breaking $1.3 million fine by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Bell, which was awarded a contract to operate the country’s anti-telemarketing “Do-Not-Call” list, admitted it broke the very rules it was entrusted to enforce by calling people whose numbers were registered to sell its own products and services.

Father-daughter powerhouse Frank and Belinda Stronach are both stepping back from the auto parts giant Frank founded, Magna International. Frank accepted a $1-billion buyout to give up control of the company earlier this year while Belinda announced her resignation just this month. Belinda could be contemplating a return to public life. She served as a member of Parliament from 2004-2008.

Canada and the European Union continue to make progress on a free trade deal that could be finalized by the end of 2011. Trade ministers describe the deal as entering the “final crucial stages.” The deal could add $12 billion the Canadian economy, the federal government says.

Elsewhere: The end-of-the year itch inspired some bizarre behavior in Canadian politics at the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.

Rob Ford, the newly elected mayor of Toronto, was upstaged at his own inauguration ceremony by special guest Don Cherry, an outspoken national hockey commentator. Cherry took aim at “all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles” and declared the right-wing Ford would be the best mayor Canada’s largest city has ever had. In playful protest to the rant, some city counsellors arrived at work the next morning wearing pink themselves.

Prince Edward Island’s Transportation Minister Ron MacKinley claimed to have God on his side in a provincial debate on Sunday shopping. MacKinley pointed out to his fellow legislators that Progressive Conservative leader Olive Crane’s recent fall happened just after she gave a television interview defending the bill she introduced, which would ease Sunday shopping restrictions. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” MacKinley said to the applause of his fellow Liberals.

Overall, the year ends on a high note – or five. Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to the piano at the Conservative caucus holiday party and belted out five songs in a 30-minute rock set. Opposition leader Michael Ignatieff’s rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – while perhaps more festive – has failed to garner as many clicks on YouTube.

http://www.globalpost.com/passport/canada/101228/parliament-cleans-the-slate-new-year