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The Tuesday news briefing: An at-a-glance survey of some top stories


Highlights from the news file for Tuesday, Nov. 21

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COST TO FIX PHOENIX TO SKYROCKET, AUDITOR SAYS: The federal government's chronic salary struggles will take more time and more dollars than the three years and $540 million projected to fix the snafu-stricken Phoenix public service pay system, the auditor general warned Tuesday — an escalating "fiasco" that the governing Liberals laid squarely at the feet of their Conservative predecessors. Auditor Michael Ferguson even went so far as to warn that the government may be "in a similar situation" to Australia, where a comparable problem has already cost more than $1.2 billion over the last eight years and still isn't completely fixed. Ferguson's review found that, in all, there were 150,000 employees with pay problems that needed correcting at the start of summer, and a value of over $520 million worth of mistakes. The Liberals will provide a full and detailed cost estimate to fix the system, but not until next May, with plans to finalize by next month a preliminary road map of dozens of projects aimed at fixing Phoenix.

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CANADIANS GETTING BAD SERVICE FROM CRA, AUDITOR FINDS: Some taxpayers may be filing tax returns using erroneous information supplied by the Canada Revenue Agency, the federal auditor general warned Tuesday after tabling an audit that found just getting through to the department's helplines is an even greater challenge than the government lets on. Michael Ferguson's latest report to Parliament said callers all too often get a busy signal or a message to hang up and try back later when they try to contact the taxman by telephone — and when they do get through, they're not guaranteed of getting the right answers to their questions. "When we called the call centres of the Canada Revenue Agency and we posed our questions, about 30 per cent of the responses that we got back were not right," Ferguson told a news conference — a "very concerning" finding that could be causing problems for Canadians who file their own returns. Ferguson couldn't say how many people might be affected — only that some surely have been.

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MUGABE RESIGNS AS ZIMBABWE'S PRESIDENT AFTER 37 YEARS: Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who once vowed to rule for life, resigned Tuesday, succumbing to a week of overwhelming pressure from the military that put him under house arrest, lawmakers from the ruling party and opposition who started impeachment proceedings and a population that surged into the streets to say 37 years in power was enough. The capital, Harare, erupted in jubilation after news spread that the 93-year-old leader's resignation letter had been read out by the speaker of parliament, whose members had gathered to impeach Mugabe after he ignored escalating calls to quit since a military takeover. Well into the night, cars honked and people danced and sang in a spectacle of free expression that would have been impossible during his years in power, whose early promise after the end of white minority rule in 1980 was overtaken by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations. Recently ousted Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was to take over as the country's leader within 48 hours so that he can move "with speed to work for the country," said a ruling party official, Lovemore Matuke.

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TRUMP DISCOUNTS ACCUSATIONS OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT AGAINST MOORE: U.S. President Donald Trump discounted allegations of sexual assault against Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and said Tuesday that voters should not support Moore's "liberal" rival. Trump addressed the swirling controversy surrounding Moore for the first time since top Republican leaders called on Moore to step aside more than a week ago. "We don't need a liberal person in there," Trump said of Moore's rival, Democrat Doug Jones. "We don't need somebody who's soft on crime like Jones." Trump said he will announce next week whether he will campaign on Moore's behalf. Trump spoke to reporters Tuesday at the White House before leaving for a Thanksgiving break at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Six women have accused the Republican Moore of pursuing romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s. Two have accused him of assault or molestation. Moore has denied the allegations. Trump dismissed questions from reporters about him backing a man accused of sexual assault over a man who is a Democrat. He pointed to Moore's assertion that the candidate did nothing wrong. He also noted that the allegations came from behaviour alleged to have happened decades ago.

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ROUND OF NAFTA TALKS END WITH DEADLOCK ON HARD ISSUES: A round of NAFTA talks concludes Tuesday with all key issues still deadlocked. Sources say the negotiators made progress on a variety of technical files, nearly concluding some less-controversial chapters like digital trade. But on hot-button files like autos, dairy and dispute resolution, they cite no real progress. Different sources from the host country, Mexico, say their negotiators have been aligned with Canada on most of these controversial files; they spent this week-long round delivering presentations explaining how various U.S. positions will hurt all three countries. The Mexicans especially played hardball on the issue of Buy American: they warned that if the U.S. insists on ramping up protectionism in public procurement, they could do the same and the net result would be more painful for the U.S. The Mexico City round ends with uncertainty on multiple fronts, including: whether President Donald Trump will try pulling out of NAFTA and what will happen if a deal isn't done by the end of the current schedule of talks ending in March.

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FEDS RELEASE SUITE OF CANNABIS REGULATIONS: Health Canada has unveiled a consultation paper with a suite of proposed cannabis regulations, including mandatory warnings on all products, similar to those on tobacco. The regulations released Tuesday are now up for public consultation for the next 60 days. They include a proposal for the development of health warning messages for areas including the risks associated with cannabis use during pregnancy, the dangers of impaired driving and dangers of combining cannabis with other substances, including alcohol. Health Canada says the purpose of the consultation paper is to solicit feedback. Earlier Tuesday, Statistics Canada said it plans to start measuring the economic and social impacts of recreational pot — even before Canada legalizes it. The statistical agency says it wants to gradually develop capabilities to capture and report information on non-medical cannabis prior to its legalization.

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INQUIRY TOLD INDIGENOUS FAMILIES CONTINUALLY RETRAUMATIZED: The aunt of an Indigenous woman who was found dead at the bottom of a hotel laundry chute says families shouldn't have to continually go before the media to be heard. Delores Stevenson testified about the death of her niece, Nadine Machiskinic, at the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women in Saskatoon. Stevenson said families are being repeatedly traumatized as they push for accountability in the justice system. The coroner ruled Machiskinic's death in January 2015 was accidental, but the jury at a coroner's inquest said it could not determine the cause of her death. Stevenson told the inquiry that she approached the coroner's office many times and that it has been a nightmare trying to get answers for the last 2 1/2 years. Machiskinic's family questioned how she fit through the opening of the laundry chute, which was only 53 centimetres wide, and why it took police 60 hours to begin investigating. Stevenson has said it was presumed that Machiskinic walked into the laundry room and passed out or overdosed.

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LAURIER APOLOGIZES TO TEACHING ASSISTANT: An Ontario university is apologizing to a teaching assistant after her superiors criticized her for airing a clip of a debate on gender-neutral pronouns. Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University, played a clip from TVO's current affairs program "The Agenda" featuring a debate involving outspoken University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, who has refused to use gender pronouns other than he and she. Shepherd says she played the clip to two communications tutorials in a bid to demonstrate that grammatical constructs such as gender-specific pronouns can have unexpected impacts on society. After a student complaint, Shepherd said her superiors criticized her for failing to condemn Peterson's views, noting that they told her a neutral approach was akin to remaining neutral on the views of Adolf Hitler. Laurier President Deborah MacLatchy has issued a statement saying she heard recordings of the meeting between Shepherd and her bosses and says the meeting does not reflect the university's values. Shepherd's immediate supervisor also issued an open letter apologizing to her, saying she was right to encourage discussion of opposing views but emphasizing the need to put controversial topics in context.

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RBC JOINS RANKS OF BANKS DEEMED TOO BIG TO FAIL: The Royal Bank of Canada is the first Canadian lender to be added to the Financial Stability Board's list of global systemically important banks, which are deemed too big to fail. The FSB, which co-ordinates the work of national financial authorities and international standard-setting bodies, added RBC as it removed French bank Groupe BPCE, keeping the total number of institutions on the list at 30. "This designation reflects the size and scale of RBC's global operations," RBC said in a statement Tuesday. Banks that receive this global systematically important banks (G-SIBs) designation face increased regulatory expectations designed to reduce the likelihood of a failure, and the ripple effects on the global economy. That includes a higher capital buffer and higher supervisory expectations. RBC, which is Canada's largest bank by market capitalization, says it was ranked in the lowest G-SIB capital surcharge bucket and that it already meets the requirement of a one per cent capital buffer. The bank "does not expect any impact to its capital position with this designation," RBC added.

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SINGER MICHAEL BUBLE HOSTING 2018 JUNO AWARDS: Canadian singer Michael Buble will be the host the 2018 Juno Awards. Buble had been tapped to host the music awards show last year before he bowed out when his son Noah was diagnosed with cancer. The native of Burnaby, B.C., announced earlier this month that he was getting back to work next year. Bryan Adams and Russell Peters hosted last year's Junos in Ottawa. The 2018 Juno Awards will be staged at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on March 25. This is the fourth time Vancouver has played host to the awards ceremony, which celebrates achievement in Canadian music. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced earlier this year it is reinstating the comedy album of the year category after a 33-year hiatus.

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The Canadian Press

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