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Senate HR official wrapping up testimony at Duffy trial

Written By doni icha on Kamis, 16 April 2015 | 21.16

The Crown in the Mike Duffy Senate expenses trial is again questioning a Senate human resources official, only the second witness to testify so far.

Sonia Makhlouf is being questioned by Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer. She has spent the last two days in an Ottawa courthouse facing cross-examination by Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money provided by the prime minister's former chief of staff.

Today marks the eighth day of the trial. But the slow pace of the witness testimony prompted Ontario Court of Justice Judge Charles Vaillancourt to say on Wednesday he expected the trial would go on longer than the 41 days allotted.

Neubauer indicated on Wednesday he would need only about half an hour to question Makhlouf Thursday before the next witness is called.

Makhlouf's job was to assess Senate research contracts and ensure services being billed pertain to parliamentary business.

On Monday, her testimony was used by the Crown to build its case that Duffy charged taxpayers for non-Senate business through contracts with his friend Gerald Donohue. Those services included payments to a volunteer, a makeup artist and a personal trainer, and for an enlarged photo of family members and one of former U.S. president's wife Barbara Bush.

But Bayne has battled back. Under cross-examination, Makhlouf admitted the rules relating to a senator's office budget were vague and that senators have broad discretion over how money is used and over who they hire. She also conceded there was virtually no oversight of research work conducted by contractors on behalf of senators.

Bayne also argued the services expensed by Duffy that have been questioned by the Crown were all appropriate. He said that it may have been "administratively irregular" for Duffy to have some of these services paid as part of a research contract, but the work could be considered Senate related. Makhlouf agreed.

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Senate expenses 'administratively irregular' but appropriate, Duffy lawyer argues

Mike Duffy's lawyer attempted to swat away some of the accusations that his client billed for expenses not related to parliamentary functions, arguing that they may have been "administratively irregular," but appropriate work-related costs nonetheless.

Donald Bayne battled back against testimony given earlier this week by Sonia Makhlouf, a Senate human resources official, whose job it was to assess Senate research contracts and ensure the services being billed pertained to parliamentary business.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money provided by the prime minister's former chief of staff. On Wednesday, Ontario provincial court Judge Charles Vaillancourt told the court that he expected the trial would go on longer than the allotted number of days (41).

Today marked the seventh day of the trial, and Makhlouf has been only the second witness to testify.

Bayne went over Makhlouf's previous testimony. She had been asked on Monday if contracts would have been approved if the description of services included a $500 payment to a volunteer, a $500 payment to staff, payment for physical fitness training and payment for a makeup artist. She has said they would likely not have been approved because none of those services are considered parliamentary work,

She was also asked if photographic services, including enlarging a picture of Barbara Bush or an enlargement of an image of Duffy's daughter and grandson, would be approved.

Again, Makhlouf said it "has to be in the context of Senate business related."

But Bayne suggested these payments were all appropriate and expanded on those services. The expense for the physical fitness training was actually for a consultant to help Duffy with a project regarding the health and fitness of Canadians, Bayne said.

He suggested the makeup cost was for Duffy to attend a G8 meeting at the invitation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

Bayne said a $500 payment was to receive consulting services from a qualified expert on reputation management. Another $500 payment to a volunteer, Bayne said, was for office work conducted over five months.

And he also pointed out that photographs and development of films are valid uses of senators' expense budgets and that the Harper government has spent $2.3 million on photographic services.

Bayne argued that while it may have been "administratively irregular" for Duffy to treat some of these services as part of research and contracts, the work, as described by Bayne, would be considered senate related. And Makhlouf agreed.

Earlier, court heard that some contracts are approved after work has been completed and that in other cases, it's left to Senators to approximate the value of the work.

Mike Duffy trial: Day 5

Sonia Makhlouf, a Senate human resources official, left, has been testifying this week in Ottawa about now-suspended Senator Mike Duffy's contracts with his friend, Gerald Donohue. (Greg Banning)

Bayne was reviewing with Makhlouf contracts totalling nearly $65,000 that had been made with the firm of the suspended senator's friend, Gerald Donohue.

One of the contracts for editorial and writing services, was for $10,000, and to be completed between Feb. 23 and March 31, 2009.

On Wednesday, Bayne pointed out that, according to documents, human resources received the contract at the end of March, around the time the work would have been completed and the contract was set to expire. He also noted that, according to administration policy, contracts are supposed to be approved before work begins.

Makhlouf explained that senators would sometimes submit requests after the start date of a contract. Human resources, she said, would advise senators that next time they would "appreciate you send your request earlier."

But she insisted that Senate administration had a "legal obligation" to pay the contract.

Bayne said the guidelines and policies may be one thing, "but the practices are another." "Yes." Makhlouf replied.

On another contract with Donohue's firm, Duffy had written that the total cost was to be determined because it was based on an hourly rate. But Duffy was informed by another human resources officer (not Makhlouf) that a contract needs an actual amount.

Bayne said that human resources officer was basically telling Duffy he could give an approximate amount, and if he went over that amount he could modify it and put in another amount.

"That again is evidence of the degree of discretion all these senators have," he said. "Just put an amount in there and you can change it up or down later."

"Yes," Makhlouf replied.

On Tuesday, Bayne peppered Makhlouf with questions about senators' office budgets, and got her to concede that senators have broad administrative discretion when it comes to deciding how to use their office budgets, including who they can hire and the duties of their researchers.

But he also zeroed in on the research contracts themselves, and the lack of oversight relating to, as he put it, "whether the work was done, what was done, who did [the work], whether there was value for money for the taxpayer."

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New majority owner of CWB includes Saudi investors

G3 Global Grain Group will invest $250 million to become the new majority owner of the CWB, formerly known as the Canadian Wheat Board.

The new Winnipeg-based partnership was selected to take over CWB's operations after a process set in motion when the Conservative government ended its marketing monopoly.

Farmers who sell their grain through the CWB can receive free units in an independently managed trust, which will hold the remaining 49.9 per cent interest in the CWB.

G3 is a partnership between:

  • Majority partner Bunge Canada, a subsidiary of Bunge Limited, an agribusiness and food company operating in 40 countries worldwide.
  • SALIC Canada Limited, a subsidiary of Riyadh-based Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company, Saudi Arabia's main agriculture investment vehicle.

"This is a win for Canadian farmers," Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told reporters at a news conference Wednesday, saying it was also a win for Winnipeg's economy that the new company's headquarters would remain in Manitoba.

"Nothing's been given away."

CWB head Ian White and the new CEO for G3, Karl Gerrand, joined Ritz for the announcement. Despite the global pedigree of the companies behind the deal, Gerrand emphasized his roots growing up on a grain farm in Virden, Man.

Need for strong competitor

The 2011 legislation that ended the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over marketing Prairie wheat and barley gave the revamped wheat board — purged of farmer-elected directors and now run by a board of federal government appointees — until 2016 to come up with a privatization plan and until 2017 to implement it. Otherwise, it would be dissolved.

CWB spoke openly of wanting to beat that deadline in order to end uncertainty about its future as quickly as possible. 

Dayna Spiring, the CWB's chief strategy officer, said the CWB didn't want an investor that already had a "Canadian footprint" (and, presumably, may have been tempted to simply roll the CWB's assets into an existing operation).

"One more person in there moving grain is certainly not a bad thing," Ritz said, contrasting it with the situation farmers faced earlier when they were denied the right to decide where to sell their crops.

But NDP MP Pat Martin called the deal "the death rattle of a great Canadian institution" and said there was never a good business case for abolishing the wheat board in the first place.

"They're not even 'selling' it ... they're just handing it over free of charge to an American agri-food giant and their Saudi partner on the promise that the new owners will invest $250 million in the future," the Winnipeg Centre MP said in a statement.

"How is it good business to legislate a Canadian success story out of business and hand over its assets to your former competitors?"

Canadian taxpayers provided approximately $350 million to help CWB with transition costs. Ritz said this public money was necessary because CWB's assets were heavily leveraged at the time the monopoly ended. Nothing in Wednesday's deal results in any return for the federal treasury.

Secrecy around process

G3 will assume control over CWB's operations in Winnipeg, potentially by this summer, although the deal has not yet closed.

The fate of CWB's downtown Winnipeg office space and current employees is not clear, although White said  Wednesday the building itself has been sold already. White will continue as CEO only through a transition period around the deal's closing.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada tendered a third-party study of the value of the CWB's assets but has refused to release that report. It has also refused to release any financial details of the CWB's operating results since the market opened up in 2012, citing sensitivities around competitiveness.

Due to confidentiality agreements, it's unclear exactly which multinational grain companies were in the running or how much they'd offered.

A Canadian farmer-investor bid for the CWB by the Farmers of North America group was based on a valuation of the CWB's assets at between $250 and $300 million. That bid was rejected last fall.

CWB now operates seven grain elevators in Western Canada and port terminals in Thunder Bay, Ont., and Trois Rivieres, Que. Four more grain facilities are under construction in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. 

Bunge Canada's terminal in Quebec City and its four elevators in Quebec are part of this deal. However, the new company does not have a port facility on Canada's West Coast, thought to be a weakness in terms of a global growth strategy for shipping more grain to Asia.

Gerrand said the company would be looking to solve this problem "in due course."

Foreign investment concerns?

Industry Canada has already given its blessing to the sale, Ritz said, although the Competition Bureau has yet to green light the new investor.

Gerrand pointed out that Saudi Arabia is already an important export market for Canadian grain, and SALIC targeted Canada for its surplus of high quality grain.

"We're not concerned about a foreign investor," the minister said, adding "every relevant farm group across Canada supports this move."

The minority stake offered to farmers is key to the deal's success. No grain company grows without shipping higher volumes of grain received from farmers, so it's now necessary to win their confidence.

Farmers used to elect directors to the former wheat board and share in its governance. Its assets were funded with their crop proceeds. A new seven-member CWB board going forward may include a representative from the farmers trust.

The minister and the CEOs struggled Wednesday to explain exactly how the farmer trust will work and whether the stake is permanent.

The trust will be capped at roughly $250 million, with shares already being allocated to farmers based on how much they sell or have sold to the new CWB since 2012. The farmers' stake in the trust was described as a "gift."

After seven years, however, G3 may have the option of buying out farmers. Some or all of the trust could also be sold to future shareholders — that's up to the three-person independent board set up to manage the trust.

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No prayers for mayors: What Saguenay ruling means for faith in the public sphere

Thou shalt not pray in council chambers.

At least not in the form of a public recitation to open meetings, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Wednesday, ending an eight-year legal case involving the right of city councillors in Saguenay, Que., to cross themselves and recite a 20-second Catholic prayer before official municipal business.

The unanimous decision from Canada's top court had an immediate impact across the country.

City of Halifax legal staff began reviewing its morning "invocation," which begins with the words "God our creator" and ends with "amen."


A crucifix above the Speaker's chair in the Quebec National Assembly has been described by some politicians more as a symbol of Quebec's heritage, not an item representing Christian faith. The cross was installed in 1936 by the order of then-premier Maurice Duplessis. (CBC)

Ottawa's city council also dropped its morning prayer on Wednesday, as did the community of Dieppe, N.B.
Both municipalities stated they would review the practice — something constitutional law expert Errol Mendes suspects many town and city councils will be doing in the days to come.

Just as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which formed the basis for the Supreme Court ruling, has a duty to ensure that no particular belief should be favoured or hindered, the court ruled that "the same holds true for non-belief."

In effect, Mendes explained, the ruling means freedom of conscience and religion includes the freedom not to observe any faith.

In a manner of speaking, "it's freedom from religion," he said. 

Applies nationwide

That should not be taken to mean that Canada is against all religion, however. Or even necessarily its public manifestation. 

'The Supreme Court of Canada…represents the legal perspective across the country'- University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon

The ruling, for example, did not deal with religious icons in provincial legislatures or the prayers that open parliamentary sessions in Ottawa. And there are some legal observers who feel that some forms of public prayer and reflection would be fine as long as they are not overtly exclusive.

In essence, the ruling said "just that we welcome religions of all faiths and practices in Canada — in the private sphere," Mendes said.

Although Wednesday's decision was based on the Quebec charter, Mendes said it's implicit that the ruling applies nationwide.

University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon, whose work on freedom of religion was cited as part of the Supreme Court decision, said the same provisions under the Quebec charter would be reflected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms anyway.


Mayor Jean Tremblay of Saguenay, shown crossing himself, has argued that reciting a 20-second prayer before city council meetings respects Quebec's Catholic heritage. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Wednesday that elected officials cannot open meetings with a prayer. (CBC)

"When the Supreme Court of Canada makes a determination, even when it relates only to a particular circumstance of the Quebec charter, the fact is it represents the legal perspective across the country," Moon said. 

The right-to-pray matter began in 2007, when Sagenuay resident Alain Simoneau, an atheist, first filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal about elected officials praying in council chambers before meetings.

Mayor Jean Tremblay, a devout Catholic, was ordered to cease the practice. He instead appealed the decision to the Quebec Court of Appeal, which ruled in his favour in 2011.

Simoneau bumped the case up to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed last year to hear it.

Parliament possibly exempt

In its decision on Wednesday, the court ruled that the recitation of the prayer infringed on freedom of religion rights by "profess[ing] one religion to the exclusion of all others." 

A "neutral public space," the ruling said, must be "free from coercion…and is intended to protect every person's freedom and dignity."

Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay

Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay won his appeal to hold prayers before council meetings. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

While the city of Saguenay argued that even the House of Commons holds a prayer before its sessions, the court reasoned that such proceedings are likely subject to parliamentary privilege.

Tremblay and the city of Saguenay have been ordered to pay Simoneau $33,200 in compensatory damages, punitive damages and costs.

What wasn't ruled upon in this case, however, was Simoneau's original demand for the removal of religious iconography such as a crucifix and a Sacred Heart statue from Saguenay's council chambers.

Diana Ginn, who teaches a course on law and religion at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law, noted that the symbols were not covered in the Supreme Court decision because the original tribunal judgment focused only on the prayer issue.

"Therefore, it had to be set aside for this case," she said. "But there's nothing to stop somebody from bringing a complaint against the Sacred Heart."

A crucifix still overlooks the speaker's throne in the Quebec National Assembly, though politicians including Quebec Premier Pauline Marois have argued it is a cultural symbol, not a religious article.

"This balance of how do you find the line between what's a reflection of the history of a place, and what's an expression of religion that's allowable in the face of state neutrality is going to lead to a lot of discussion," Ginn said.

Public prayer not fully banned

Wednesday's ruling doesn't mean praying is strictly banned in any kind of public-service context.

"There is no complete ban on prayer," said Gilles Levasseur, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

"You can still have a statement that encompasses everybody, or invites reflection from people for their own beliefs,"

Levasseur said. "The key thing is the wording. It might not be a 'prayer,' maybe it's something generic. Maybe it's a 'recital' — some time to reflect on goodness of society and what we need to do to improve the wellbeing of our society," he said.

Mendes suggested another workaround.

"How about a moment of silence? Atheists can still reflect on what the meaning of life is. It could be an alternative," he said.

"A moment of silence can also just be a moment of reflection. I think even those who don't believe in any religion can probably get behind that."

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Election-year budget will still offer some giveaways despite 'fragile' economy: Chris Hall

Finance ministers nearly always save a surprise for budget day, what media folks unfailingly refer to as a "goodie," intended to give Canadians something to remember from a document that's otherwise dedicated to producing a whole lot of numbers.

Joe Oliver will be no exception on Tuesday when he tables his first budget, the Conservatives' last, before the scheduled fall election.

As usual it will be called Canada's Economic Action Plan. A better title might be Cheques and Balances.

The government has already announced its modified version of income-splitting for families with children 17 and under. And the first cheques will be mailed out this summer under a richer, expanded Universal Child Care Benefit.

Total cost to the treasury? About $4.5 billion a year.

Oliver has also promised, repeatedly, that this budget will be balanced.

Plus he is bringing in legislation to require future budgets to be balanced except in exceptional circumstances, such as the kind of global recession that prevented the Conservatives from balancing the books for the past seven years.

You would think that doesn't leave much room for more goodies.

But this is an election year, when moral and political imperatives collide.

Budget 2015 will be the foundation for whatever campaign platform Stephen Harper puts before voters to convince them that four more years of Conservative rule is in both their best interests.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper's targeted tax giveaways offer a new definition of retail politics. (REUTERS)

Government insiders suggest the budget could include money to address climate change issues, to encourage companies in the non-energy sector to hire new employees, or to address barriers to First Nations development.

"It doesn't have to be big numbers," says Jennifer Robson, a former Liberal political staffer who's now a professor of political management at Carleton University.

"But it has to be strategic and surgical because they don't have a lot of fiscal room to play with in an election year. And they have to get it right."

Tuesday's focus

The broad themes of Oliver's budget are already known: jobs and growth, keep taxes low, allow families to keep more of their hard-earned income.

But the focus on Tuesday will be sharper, making sure voters understand the Liberals and New Democrats can't be trusted to manage the economy through what the Conservatives call a fragile economic recovery.

That last bit presents a challenge, especially for a rookie finance minister who is introducing this budget weeks later than usual as his department tried to cope with the impact of plunging oil prices.

Government revenues, of course, are also down as a result of oil's drop. Growth projections had to be scaled back. On Wednesday, the Bank of Canada announced the first three months of the year had produced zero, that's right, zero economic growth.

And that wasn't the only bad news this week.

Canada's manufacturing sales slumped for a second straight month in February, down 1.7 per cent on a month-over-month basis and well below even the pessimistic projections of private sector forecasters who predicted a modest 0.3 per cent gain.

And the price of oil?

Well, it jumped on Wednesday to reach a high for the year of  about $55.50 a barrel for light, sweet crude.

That jump may underline Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz's assessment on Wednesday that the positives in the economy will outweigh the negatives in the second half of the year. But it is still roughly $25 a barrel less than the price  Oliver's officials had based their initial 2015 calculations on.  

That economic uncertainty has finance officials still working on the final draft of some of the government's budget this week.

What to expect

The Conservative message will be that Canadians know best how to spend their money, not government.

So look for more targeted personal and business tax breaks in the budget. Not large but focused on, for example, allowing Canadian companies to compete.

Those are expected to include another extension of the accelerated capital cost allowance, which allows companies to write off investments in new technologies more quickly. There might also be certain income tax cuts aimed at the middle class, to dull recent opposition attacks.


Thomas Mulcair will also be watching Tuesday's revenue numbers closely. (Reuters)

There could also be targeted spending initiatives. Expect money to be earmarked for Canada's national security agencies — CSIS and the RCMP — to allow them to fulfill the wider anti-terrorism mandate set out in Bill C-51.

Similarly, there is likely to be more money for the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, or SIRC, which has been chronically under-funded over the years.

What isn't known is how much money will be available, and whether the amounts will come close to what these agencies have been seeking in the aftermath of the October attack on Parliament Hill and the killing of two Canadians soldiers.

The government has been busy lining up some extra spending money, with the sale of Ottawa's remaining shares in GM Canada, expected to net roughly $3.2 billion, being a prime example.

And for the opposition parties this budget is also critical heading into an election. Carleton's Jennifer Robson says both the NDP and Liberals need to see the forecasts to ensure their own costing is right.

The NDP, for example, has promised to raise the federal minimum wage, and to bring in a national, $15-a-day child-care program.

The Liberals have promised to reverse the Conservative's income-splitting plan, and to bring in a national framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Both opposition parties insist they won't run a deficit.

In an election year, it's all about cheques and balances. 

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Investor ​G3 Global Grain Group taking over former Canadian Wheat Board

Written By doni icha on Rabu, 15 April 2015 | 21.16


$250M investment gives Winnipeg-based venture majority ownership in CWB commercialization process

By Janyce McGregor, CBC News Posted: Apr 15, 2015 9:34 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 15, 2015 9:34 AM ET

A newly established agribusiness partnership based in Winnipeg has been selected as the majority investor for the former Canadian Wheat Board. 

CWB's search process concluded early, with a $250-million investment from G3 Global Grain Group.

A press release from G3 says it has acquired a majority interest, of 50.1 per cent, in CWB, with the minority ownership interest to be held in trust for the benefit of farmers.

The transaction is expected to close in July 2015, it says.

G3 was formed through a partnership between:

  • Bunge Canada, a subsidiary of Bunge Limited.
  • SALIC Canada Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company.

More to come

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The House

  • Week One of the Mike Duffy trial Apr. 11, 2015 2:01 PM This week on The House, with week one of the Mike Duffy trial now in the books, we break down the first week of proceedings and the political implications of the case with the CBC's Terry Milewski, Radio-Canada's Emmanuelle Latraverse, the former law clerk of the House of commons Rob Walsh and the Senate's longest-serving member Anne Cools.


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Duffy's lawyer to continue cross examination of Senate HR officer

The lawyer for Mike Duffy will continue to cross-examine a Senate human resources officer today, building on his case that the institution is administered by broad and vague rules and guidelines with no oversight of work contracts submitted by senators.

Sonia Makhlouf, whose job is to assess Senate research contracts and ensure the services being billed pertain to parliamentary business, will take the stand for her second day. Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, is expected to finish his questioning of Makhlouf this morning at the Ottawa provincial courthouse, but the Crown could redirect.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money provided by the prime minister's former chief of staff.

On Tuesday, Bayne peppered Makhlouf with questions about senators' office budgets, and got her to concede that senators have broad administrative discretion when it comes to deciding how to use their office budgets, including who they can hire and the duties of their researchers.

But he also zeroed in on the research contracts themselves, and the lack of oversight relating to, as he put it, "whether the work was done, what was done, who did [the work], whether there was value for money for the taxpayer."

Makhlouf also noted that only basic information is provided in contracts, including a couple of lines describing the services to be provided, and the signature of the senator. She said human resource and finance officials are often left in the dark about the work done because it's all carried out at the discretion of the senator. 

On Monday, Makhlouf's testimony was used by the Crown to build its case alleging the suspended senator charged taxpayers for non-Senate business through contracts with his friend, Gerald Donohue. Those services included payments to a volunteer, a makeup artist and a personal trainer, and for an enlarged photo of family members and one of Barbara Bush.

Makhlouf had testified that Senate contracts would not be awarded based on those services because none of them would be considered parliamentary work. 

But Bayne challenged some of that testimony Tuesday, referring to the Senators' handbook on the use of Senate resources. He said those guidelines clearly state that items such as advertising, publicity, film development and photographic services can all be properly billed as expenses.

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Liberals lose lead to Tories for 1st time since Trudeau took over: Eric Grenier

For the first time since Justin Trudeau took over the party two years ago, the Liberals have lost the lead in national voting intentions.

While that has placed the Conservatives in top spot, it is the New Democrats who have benefited from the Liberals' slip.

ThreeHundredEight.com's latest poll averages put the Conservatives narrowly ahead with 32 per cent support. The Liberals trail with 31 per cent, while Thomas Mulcair's NDP is in third with 22 per cent.

The Greens stand at an average of 7 per cent support in the polls, with the Bloc Québécois at 5 per cent.

Federal polling averages, Apr. 9

Federal polling averages, with polls in the field to Apr. 9, 2015. (ThreeHundredEight.com)

Stephen Harper's Conservatives have swapped positions with the Liberals almost by default, as the party has been consistently polling at between 32 and 33 per cent since early December and the Liberals have slipped.

Trudeau's party was polling at between 33 and 34 per cent for the first three months of the year, but has been dropping over the last three weeks.

This is taking place as the New Democrats put together their most positive string of polls in more than a year. That was the last time the NDP managed at least 23 to 25 per cent support in four consecutive polls, the same streak they are currently riding.

With these levels of support, the Conservatives would likely win between 120 and 161 seats. That puts them short of the 170 needed to form a majority government. The Liberals would take between 98 and 136 seats, while the New Democrats could win between 61 and 88 seats.

The Greens would likely take two seats, with one to nine seats going to the Bloc Québécois.

NDP gains come in Ontario, B.C.

Liberals votes appear to be trickling to the New Democrats in the areas the party can least afford. In Ontario, where the Conservatives are holding steady with 37 per cent, the Liberals have dropped four points in two months to 35 per cent. The NDP, meanwhile, has picked up three points, sitting at 19 per cent.

With those numbers, the Conservatives could take 49 to 65 seats, with the Liberals winning 40 to 57 and the NDP pocketing 14 to 17.

The NDP is also taking support away from the Liberals in another battleground province. The Liberals and Conservatives are tied with 29 per cent apiece in British Columbia, but that represents a drop of five points over the past two months for the Liberals. The NDP has increased its share by five points to 27 per cent.

The Greens, at 13 per cent, continue to post their best numbers in the country here.

And in Atlantic Canada, the only region in Canada where the Liberals hold a definitive lead, Trudeau's support is starting to falter. From 53 per cent at the beginning of the year, the Liberals have dropped to 46 per cent. Marginal gains have been made by the Tories, NDP and Greens in the region.

Voting intentions are holding steady in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where the Conservatives lead with 42 per cent. The Liberals trail with 30 per cent and the NDP with 20 per cent.

Liberals, NDP stagnant in Quebec

The New Democrats have not replicated their gains in Quebec, however. The Liberals and NDP are tied at 27 per cent support in the province. By comparison, the Liberals were at 34 per cent and the NDP at 32 per cent in October.

Both the Conservatives, up six points since then to 20 per cent, and the Bloc Québécois, up four points to 19 per cent, have been the beneficiaries. But the Liberals and NDP are still on track to take the bulk of the province's seats: 29 to 45 for the NDP and 19 to 25 for the Liberals.

The Tories could triple their current representation in Quebec, with between 13 and 18 seats. The recent candidacies for the Conservatives of Gérard Deltell, former ADQ leader, and Alain Reyes, the popular mayor of Victoriaville, should help in that regard.

Provincial spill-over in Alberta?

The most unexpected development in federal polling has been the steep drop of support for the Conservatives in Alberta. As Jim Prentice's Progressive Conservatives find themselves in a three-way race, the federal Tories have dropped nine points in the last two months in Stephen Harper's own backyard.

The Conservatives still dominate the province with 46 per cent, but if that number holds on election day it would be the party's worst performance in Alberta since 1963.

The Liberals, at 25 per cent, are holding steady. But the federal NDP has replicated some of the provincial NDP's gains in Alberta, increasing its support by seven points in the last two months. They now stand at 19 per cent, and could conceivably be in the running for two to three seats. The Liberals could win four to seven, with the Tories taking the remaining 23 to 28.

ThreeHundredEight.com's vote and seat projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. Upper and lower ranges are based on how polls have performed in other recent elections. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the country, based on regional shifts in support since the 2011 election and taking into account other factors such as incumbency. The projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level. The polls included in the model vary in size, date, and method, and have not been individually verified by the CBC. You can read the full methodology here.

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Indian PM begins official visit in Ottawa with Harper meeting

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is meeting with Gov. Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa this morning as he kicks off the first full day of his three-day Canadian visit.

A number of key Conservative MPs, including Defence Minister Jason Kenney, were on hand to greet Modi when his plane arrived Tuesday in Ottawa.

After meeting with Johnston at Rideau Hall, Modi will then hold talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper before both leaders head to Toronto to attend an Indian diaspora.

CBC News will livestream Modi's arrival on Parliament Hill at around 9:40 a.m. ET, followed by his joint statement after his meeting with Harper at 11 a.m. ET.

Trade, energy, the environment, security, and culture are expected to be among the issues Harper and Modi will discuss during the visit.

Indian PM Harper 20150414

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves as he arrived in Ottawa Tuesday evening. His packed schedule Wednesday will see him on Parliament Hill for talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper before heading to events in Toronto later in the day with Indo-Canadian groups. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Harper will also accompany the charismatic Modi to Vancouver and will have no less than 16 fellow Conservatives appearing with them at various events.

Modi's visit is the first to Canada by an Indian prime minister since Indira Gandhi was hosted in 1973 by then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Finalizing a deal two years in the making that would see Saskatchewan's Cameco Corp export peaceful nuclear material to India will also be a major priority.

And Louise Comeau, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, would like to see Modi and Harper prod each other to make strong commitments to reduce greenhouse gases ahead of the UN climate conference in Paris in December.

"Neither country is performing to its best potential," she said. "We have a very large population in Canada with connections in India — we have opportunities for trading in clean energy."

The visit will also give Canadians their first glimpse of Modi, who swept to power last May.

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Supreme Court rules against prayer at city council meetings


Mayor Jean Tremblay of Saguenay, Que., argued reciting prayer respects Quebec's Catholic heritage

CBC News Posted: Apr 15, 2015 9:56 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 15, 2015 9:56 AM ET

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this morning that elected officials do not have the right to recite prayers at municipal council meetings.

More to come

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