I was asked recently if it is difficult to come up with a different topic every seven days for my weekly MP report to citizens. It is difficult, however not for the reason that you might expect. The challenge is not finding new topics to discuss but rather narrowing down the many subjects available to one or two that can be briefly covered with the limited space available in my reports. Case in point this week I would like to reference the Liberal Government's efforts to muzzle the Parliamentary Budget Officer however a more pressing concern is the Liberals plans for a proposed $35 Billion Infrastructure Bank.
Why is the $35 Billion Infrastructure Bank a serious concern? Canadians pay taxes to the federal Government for a variety of different purposes and uses. One of the important uses of your tax dollars is building infrastructure. The challenge here is that $35 Billion in funding and guarantees that could be building Infrastructure in communities like Kelowna, Peachland, Penticton, Merritt or elsewhere in Canada will instead be diverted to create the Liberals new Infrastructure bank to be located in the Liberal stronghold of Toronto.
The concern here is that this Infrastructure Bank doesn’t actually build any Infrastructure. The role of the Liberals new Infrastructure Bank is to attract international investors to ultimately invest and privately build Infrastructure here in Canada. In order to attract sophisticated and often international investors the Government will be paying lucrative rates of return on large scale projects with a minimum price of $100 Million or more.
Why is this a concern? For starters the Liberal Government is borrowing money it does not have at lower rates of interest solely to subsidize higher rates of return to largely private investors. Worse, is that with a minimum project threshold of $100 Million many rural communities and even smaller to mid-size cities will not be able to afford projects of this magnitude. Despite this fact the taxpayers who live within these areas will be saddled with paying part of the borrowing debt and high rates of interest even though they do not directly benefit from the projects. Paradoxically this also comes at a time where new capital requirements put in place by a Federal Government regulator significantly limit the ability for sectors like Canadian insurance companies to invest in Canadian infrastructure. There are other concerns however this summarizes some of the more significant.
This week the NDP will table a motion in Ottawa to remove the Infrastructure Bank from the Liberals' omnibus budget bill so that it can be debated and opposed on a stand-alone basis. For those who might think the Infrastructure bank is only being opposed by Opposition parties alone it should be noted that other analysts such as the former Parliamentary Budget Officer through the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy has also has stated serious concerns and questioned the need for a costly new level of bureaucracy and administration to create a bank that borrows funds at relatively low interest rates solely to pay high rates of return to international investors.
It is my intent to oppose the Liberals new Infrastructure bank however I welcome your views on this topic. Do you support the Liberals $35 Billion Infrastructure Bank? I can be reached atDan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
One of the challenges that all Provincial and Federal Governments face is communicating policy in a manner that is easily understood by citizens. On the surface this may sound simple but sometimes policy can be difficult and timely to explain easily. Further, opposition parties and other interest groups may either intentionally or unintentionally mispresent policy in manner that may undermine or generate public opposition.
I mention these things as the current BC election has resulted in some issues being raised that require more information to properly scrutinize. As an example of this in the community of Merritt one of the largest lumber mills has shut down in the past year creating significant hardship for many in this community. As forestry is an area that falls into Provincial jurisdiction this has become an election issue specifically as it has been alleged by some that the reason this mill closed is related to raw log exports.
In principal most would agree that exporting raw logs to be processed in mills outside of British Columbia should not occur if BC Lumber mills are closing as a result of a lack of timber supply. This raises the question why has no Provincial Government of any political stripe actually banned raw log exports once in power.
Part of the answer to this question is understanding how the process around exporting raw logs, technically known as “unmanufactured timber” actually works. Essentially the process involves three steps. The first step is to acquire an exemption of the requirement that lumber harvested in BC is also processed in BC. Part of the exemption process involves advertising the timber supply in question to be potentially exported on a Provincial list of timber for sale. This bi-weekly advertising list means that a domestic BC mill operator has the opportunity to buy these raw logs before they could be legally exported from BC. If there is an offer to purchase an advisory committee will determine that price is fair market value for all parties involved. If the offer is deemed fair the logs in question will remain in BC to be processed by the successfully bidding mill owner. If there is no interest or suitable buyers found the logs will be considered surplus for BC’s domestic needs and be eligible for export.
Once raw logs are deemed surplus an application can be made for a BC Permit to export the logs in question before moving on to the final stage of the process that is a Federal permit for export. Why do some BC lumber mills not bid on these raw logs? There are a number of different reasons for this that may depend on specific circumstances. Many BC Mills have become highly specialized in dealing with specific types of timber to produce a unique value added product. In some cases the timber available for sale may not be of the type or quality desired by the Mill in question. In other circumstances the transport costs may not make purchasing logs in one area of BC economical if there is a sufficient distance to transport. Cost may be another factor more so if the raw logs are from a private forest owner or a First Nations community looking to obtain maximum value.
The intent of my column today is not to defend raw log exports as ideally I believe Governments of all political stripes support increased value added wood manufacturing here in B.C. Forestry remains a critically important industry to many communities in British Columbia and one challenge will be to encourage more investment into value added processing operations with access to a diverse range of markets.
Although raw logs is not an issue of federal jurisdiction I welcome your thoughts on ways Government can promote more value added wood manufacturing. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711
This week the USA administration announced that softwood lumber imports into the United States from Canada would be subject to new duties ranging anywhere from 3% up to 24%. The highest duties will be primarily against producers here in Western Canada. Within hours many media sources were running headlines reporting a trade war had erupted. Closer to home BC NDP leader John Horgan accused Premier Christy Clark of failing to resolve the matter even though it is entirely an issue of Federal jurisdiction that resides at the feet of the federal Liberal Government to resolve.
I mention these things because this is an issue that for some is easy to play partisan politics with as the BC NDP has illustrated. However in reality forestry is a critically important industry not just in our riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola but in many ridings in British Columbia and let us not forget other regions of Canada. As an example in my riding the largest private sector employers in West Kelowna, Merritt and Princeton are all lumber mills. In the riding immediately south, South Okanagan—West Kootenay represented by NDP MP Richard Cannings, this is also the case and is one of the reasons why MP Cannings recently introduced a private members bill promoting the use of wood in Government related construction projects.
In short this is an issue that should be above partisan politics. I mention that resolving the softwood lumber dispute is an area of federal responsibility as it is unfair and inaccurate to suggest that the BC Government, or any provincial Government for that matter, has the ability to resolve the Softwood Lumber dispute. To be clear it should also be pointed out that this is a long term dispute and not a full blown trade war as some are attempting to claim. I believe it is also important to add that the Liberal Government, and in particular our Prime Minister, has shown restraint in not getting involved in USA domestic politics despite that it would be politically convenient to do so. In fact to date I believe most political pundits would agree that our Liberal Government has made considerable effort to work proactively with the new United States administration in several areas.
I mention all of these things as I believe that partisan politics and finger pointing will not constructively assist this situation and our combined focus should be on getting an agreement. If we can work together on a united approach we will increase our odds of success. Ultimately this challenge occurs because much of the United States timber is harvested from private land owners who are more successful in driving up revenues then our crown land system used primarily here in Canada. This in no way suggests that our crown land timber is subsidized, in fact all evidence to date and success at many trade dispute resolution tribunals consistently rule in Canada’s favour.
To further complicate this matter when the Canadian dollar exchange rate is factored in at roughly between 74-76 cents USD this in fact becomes a discount that USA lumber producers must compete against. Interestingly enough the USA administrations recently added new duty rates essentially wipe out the currency advantage that works in Canada’s favour essentially meaning that Canadian produced lumber will now arrive in the United States at a similar cost as USA produced lumber. I mention this only to add some perspective from the other side of the border.
There is no question both the Federal and many Provincial Governments will employ many strategies to attempt to help mitigate and resolve this issue as quickly as possible. From my perspective I will continue to support all measures that can bring this matter to a resolution as quickly as possible. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711 and welcome your comments and questions on this topic.
Last week the Liberal Government introduced the much anticipated Marijuana legalization bill, technically known as Bill C-45 “The Cannabis Act”. First let me state that the Liberals clearly campaigned on legalizing marijuana and I have heard from several citizens who indicated this was one of the primary reasons they voted Liberal in the last election. I mention this point as I believe the Liberal Government does have a democratic mandate to move forward with this legislation.
From a quick overview this Bill takes a very similar approach that I used with my wine bill that removes federal barriers but still allows Provinces to enact and adopt their own rules and regulations with respect to marijuana legislation. I will credit the Liberals for using this approach as it allows Provinces to individually respond to this legislation in whatever manner they believe is most workable.
So what is proposed? Bill C-45 proposes a number of measures related to the legalization of Marijuana, some of these include: that cannabis can only be sold to citizens age 18 or older although individual Provinces can raise the legal age limit if desired. It is further proposed that adults would legally be able to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis in public, and to grow up to four plants per household at a maximum height of one metre from a legal seed or seedling. However it should also be pointed out that until the new law comes into force, cannabis remains illegal in Canada, except for medical purposes.
With the proposed legalization also comes new proposed changes to penalties and enforcement with significant changes to impaired driving enforcement. A few examples of this include allowing the police to demand that a suspected driver provide an oral fluid sample on demand. New regulations would also be introduced with respect to restricting the THC level per millilitre (ml) of blood not unlike current restrictions related to blood alcohol content. There is also a provision to allow for mandatory roadside screening even if an officer does not have a suspicion of drug or alcohol use. Prison sentences of up to 14 years are also proposed for illegal distribution or sale of marijuana. It is also proposed that penalties of up to 14 years in prison may result for giving or selling marijuana to minors. These are just a few of the many changes that are proposed in Bill C-45 with respect to penalties and enforcement.
As is often the case with any proposed new legislation there are still many unanswered questions, a few of these include concerns from landlords as typically tenant insurance will be void if marijuana is grown in a rental property. Border crossings is another topic as the United States may refuse to allow entry to a citizen who has used marijuana. Policing and identifying legal marijuana from illegally sourced marijuana is also a serious concern as criminal organizations could potentially undercut legally sourced marijuana with higher THC content black market cannabis. There is also a concern that many cannabis vendors currently defying the existing laws may not comply with the new regulations and restrictions either thus ensuring that enforcement remains a challenge that many municipal and provincial police forces will be burdened with the costs of policing.
My thoughts? Many details will need to be worked out by individual provinces for a more detailed understanding of how the full implementation will occur that will be an important part of this discussion. One concern I do have is that the Canadian Medical Association, has stated that even occasional marijuana use can cause serious negative psychological effects on brain development up to the age 25. As a result of this medical evidence I believe a substantial public education campaign will be needed to better educate citizens on the mental health risks that marijuana legalization presents to children and young adults. I will continue to provide further updates on this topic as they become available. I welcome your comments and questions on marijuana legalization and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
Tuesday night was a disappointing evening in Ottawa. With only three hours advance notice the Liberal Government invited Parliamentarians for a technical presentation on the upcoming 2017 Budget Implementation Act, also known as the BIA. Once I arrived for the presentation it became very clear the reasons why. In spite of promising Canadians that the Liberal Government would not use omnibus legislation, the new Liberal BIA is a textbook example of an omnibus bill.
For those of you unfamiliar with an omnibus bill, essentially it is legislation that seeks to amend, repeal or enact several Acts, and is often characterized by the fact that it has a multiple number of separate initiatives that may be only loosely connected to the actual intent of the original bill, in this case the budget.
As an example, in this Liberal BIA it is proposed to weaken the independence of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (known in Ottawa as the PBO), a measure not related to the spending of funds outlined in the budget but rather a measure by the Liberals to weaken scrutiny of the spending. A disappointing but not surprising result given that the Liberals have been embarrassed by the PBO’s previous reports that famously exposed Liberal efforts to manipulate and hide the fact that they inherited a balanced budget from the previous Conservative Government or the recent PBO report revealing the Liberal`s slow and disjointed infrastructure spending.
Critics oppose omnibus bills arguing that with so much widely varied content an omnibus bill cannot receive the required parliamentary scrutiny for the many varied clauses. Another criticism is that some measures within an omnibus bill may be widely supported but other measures may be strongly opposed. As an example in this case weakening of the independence of the PBO would never stand as a single bill however it can more easily slip through in an omnibus bill where it will receive less scrutiny.
While the criticism against omnibus bills is certainly valid and should not be overlooked, I believe there is also another perspective that is deserving of consideration. A Government in challenging economic times has an obligation to enact as many measures as it believes is reasonably required to continue to build a stronger and more prosperous Canada. Within any Legislative or Parliamentary precinct there is ultimately a limited amount of time available that can also be subject to opposition delay tactics.
Government`s propose many of these measures because it believes they are beneficial to the citizens it collectively represents. In my view it is not unreasonable to use an omnibus bill for the purposes of enacting broad based legislation in areas supporting the economy, public safety, the environment or trade as a few examples.
In this case I am not faulting the Liberal Government for using an omnibus budget bill such as this. Where I do take issue with the Liberals is that they committed to Canadians they would not use omnibus bills; in fact they promised they would outright change the House rules to technically eliminate them. It was the Liberal`s choice to promise this during the election and their choice to table such a bill- regardless of whether or not our rules allow for them or not.
As with the promise to enact electoral reform or to return to a balanced budget by 2019, Canadians are witnessing a disturbing pattern of broken promises that were made to Canadians by this Liberal Government with little to no regard for keeping those promises. For a Government that promised “better was always possible”, I would submit a pattern of broken promises only serves to undermine our democratic process and increase cynicism among voters, and on that note I believe yes, this Liberal Government can do better.
My question this week – Do you support the limited use of omnibus bills or should they be prohibited as the Liberals promised? I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
This week the major theme in Ottawa has once again focused on the Quebec based manufacturer Bombardier after it was reported that six company executives were to receive $32 million in bonus payments. Bombardier, as many may recall, received an interest free $372.5 Million loan from taxpayers back in February. This loan was controversial in large part as Bombardier executives had previously stated publicly that the company did not actually need the loan having secured adequate funds elsewhere. Controversy over the announced $32 million in bonus payments did result in Bombardier voluntarily agreeing to defer half the bonus amount to the year 2020 if certain financial targets are met.
As my own critics like to point out in recent letters to the editor – opposing is not the same as proposing an alternative. It is an important point and one that I agree with. In this case could the $32 million in bonus payments to Bombardier executives be avoided until the company repays the $ 372.5 Million loan? The alternative answer is yes.
As an example when the former Conservative Government provided assistance to Air Canada this assistance came with terms and conditions. Some of these conditions included terms that executive compensation would be frozen at the rate of inflation and that any additional bonuses would be prohibited. Over and above these restrictions Air Canada was also banned from issuing dividends or allowing share repurchases.
The debate in this particular case is that the Liberal Government loaned $372.5 Million to Bombardier, interest free, with no similar terms of restrictions whatsoever. In fact at the same time Bombardier receives this loan it has also announced 7,500 jobs will be lost, 2,000 of these jobs in Canada alone. It was further revealed in Question Period this week that the Liberal Government has yet to sign off on the final paperwork for this loan and still has the option to add similar restrictions if it so desires.
My question this week pertains to government bailouts to private industry. In the event the Government does provide a form of assistance to a large scale Canadian employer is it reasonable to also require and enforce that executive bonuses and other shareholder related perks have limits placed on them until such time a loan and/or other relief measure is satisfied?
I welcome your comments, concerns and questions on this topic or any matter before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
One aspect of majority Governments that is not often discussed is the ability to control timing. As an example of this announcements that may not be received positively are often released late on a Friday, as was the case when the Liberals released alarming updated debt projections on Friday, December 23rd of last year. Another example is making an announcement during the same time frame the budget is introduced knowing full well the budget will overshadow other events and thus receive less scrutiny. An example of this occurred recently when the Liberal Government released a document they call the “Modernizing Parliament” document.
As an Opposition MP I have come to be increasingly skeptical when the Liberals introduce new documents using buzz words, as was the case with the Liberals “Democratic reform” that the Liberals reneged on only when their preferred version of democratic reform, the use of a ranked ballot, was not well supported by experts during a Parliamentary Committee study and submissions by Canadians who instead supported other proposals like proportional representation.
In this case of “Modernizing Parliament,” it is clear that the Liberals see less accountability and a shorter Parliamentary work week – both measures that benefit the majority governing Liberals, as the more modern new way of doing business. Essentially some of the measures being proposed include shortening the Parliamentary work week by eliminating Friday sittings, eliminating Opposition procedural tactics in the House of Commons and what I find most troublesome allowing the Prime Minister to only show up one day a week in Question Period.
Why does this last measure trouble me? Think back to what was viewed as the “Senator Duffy scandal” – without the ability to question the Prime Minister daily in the House of Commons it is doubtful this issue would have received the scrutiny it deserved. Conversely without the ability to question the Prime Minister daily would the talents of NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Question Period have been as well recognized by Canadians? Having been a member of the former 41st Parliament I believe our democratic interest was well served with the daily accountability from Question Period with an expectation the Prime Minister attends more than once a week.
At the same time the Liberals are proposing to spend less time in Ottawa they have also increased Parliamentary precinct spending by 18% since being elected. The House of Commons and Senate budget jointly is almost $700 million annually, an increase of roughly $100 Million since the Liberals were elected. In my view significantly increasing spending at the same time the Liberals are proposing to spend less time in Ottawa is misguided.
More importantly is the fact that as elected Members of Parliament we do not work for the Liberal Government, we work for Canadians. You are our employers and in my view it is up to Canadians to decide if they see higher spending on Parliament and getting a shorter work week in return is something you support. For the record both the Conservative and NDP Opposition caucuses fully oppose these measures. We were elected to a House of Commons that sits 5 days a week when the House is in session. I believe it is our duty as MPs to honour that work week commitment no differently than most Canadians do.
My question this week is do you support a shorter Parliamentary work week when the House of Commons is sitting? I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
This week the major talk in Ottawa revolves around the Liberal Government announcing the 2017 Budget document. This is typically the time where Government promotes what it believes are the benefits of said budget and opposition generally looks to point out those items they view as missing or otherwise lacking. For this week’s report I will pass on some of my own observations and thoughts from my perspective of the official opposition deputy finance critic.
My first observation was how inaccurate many of the advance rumours on this budget turned out to be. As an example while many expected the Liberals to honour a promise to phase out taxation benefits with stock options and capital gains none were targeted in this budget. Likewise another rumour that many airports located on federally owned lands would be sold is also off the table, at least for the moment.
The most frequently asked question on budget day is typically what taxes are being increased or decreased. In this case the changes in this budget are mostly tax increases in specific areas.
Some of those areas include a tax increase on alcohol and tobacco products, ride sharing services such as Uber are now taxable, and curiously the elimination of the transit tax credit for those who frequently use public transportation. Income taxes remain unchanged after being altered in the 2016 budget.
Although the Liberals promised to balance the budget in 2019 the fiscal update contained in Budget 2017 reveals that in reality the Liberals plan to run a deficit over $23 billion in 2019 with no plan to return to a balanced budget in the foreseeable future.
By the numbers Budget 2017 proposes a total budget deficit of $28.5 billion with a $ 3 billion risk buffer. If the risk buffer is removed the actual deficit would be around $25 billion. For added context the 2016 budget deficit is estimated at $23 billion so in that respect spending has increased by roughly $2 Billion.
Where is the increased spending going? The Liberals are using a different strategy in Budget 2017. Rather than spend relatively large amounts of funds in specific areas, such as infrastructure as an example, the Liberals are giving relatively small amounts of funding spread out over a much wider range of areas, far too many to include in this report. Some critics have already suggested this will result in these funds having little impact being spread too thin. From my standpoint while it would be easy to suggest this budget is trying to do too many things I believe taking a wait and see approach is prudent.
Overall my largest concern with this budget is the failure to indicate when the Liberals will return to a balanced budget. By the time the next election occurs the Liberals will have added over $100 Billion in new debt with literally no end in sight. While the Liberals argue this is investing in the middle class in my view it is mortgaging the middle class as future generations of Canadians will be left paying for what is basically a structural deficit.
As always I welcome your questions and comments on Budget 2017 and any matter before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
This week the House of Commons is adjourned and will resume next week with the much anticipated budget to be delivered on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. As is often the case there are considerable rumors circulating on the content of the budget. At this point the only details we know with certainty is the budget will again run a considerable deficit while the Liberal Government refuses to disclose when the budget will again return to balance, given that the promised date of 2019 will not be met.
For the Liberals, they have created a very serious problem. Increases in program spending along with a cut to income taxes in particular for those in the $100,000 up to $199,000 threshold have essentially created a structural deficit where spending now exceeds revenue each year by a sizable margin. To further complicate this situation, as I mentioned in last week’s report, in the year 2019 Liberals will also significantly increase infrastructure spending according to their fiscal plan. All of this means that in essence the Government is now out of money and is borrowing creating a situation where increasingly more money is spent paying interest on debt leaving less money available for other programs. In fact Canada now spend more on debt servicing each year than we do on National Defence. As you may also be aware Canada has recently been singled out for not fulfilling our NATO budgetary spending commitments.
For the Liberal Government who inherited a balanced budget, the sudden change in Canada’s fiscal situation has created a serious problem. With spending only set to increase, the only alternative for the Government is to increase taxes. This was recently contemplated with the idea to make employer provided health and dental plans to be considered as taxable benefits before the Government backed off on the idea. Currently the Government is now exploring other options where taxes can be increased without causing harm to the Canadian economy. I mention this fact as the new administration in the United States is currently in the process of lowering many taxes in particular for the corporate sector. Although the USA Presidential twitter feed seems to attract most of the media attention these days lower USA corporate taxes are a real concern for Canadian competitiveness. As one example Canadian business investment declined over 2% in the most recent fiscal quarter and has declined every fiscal quarter since the Liberal Government was elected.
The decline in investment is a particular concern as new investment typically leads to more jobs and by extension citizens who are employed and paying taxes instead of being unemployed and drawing benefits. The solution? The Liberal Government has hinted they will undertake a taxation review that many have speculated will be an exercise to eliminate various tax credits in an effort to increase revenue. It has also been suggested the Government may increase the capital gains tax. In theory most support an increased capital gains tax however the downside of such a move is a term called “asset lock” where assets are not sold in order to avoid paying taxes on the capital gains. Having assets on hold does little to stimulate the economy and likewise does not produce the revenue expectations of government thus creating a no win situation.
In my opinion the Government will need to concede that it has developed a spending problem and as generation we are currently leaving bills behind for our kids and our grand kids to resolve, a situation most I believe would agree is not responsible.
My question today relates to the budget. Do you believe the Government should place a greater priority on having a plan to return to balance? I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Back in late December the Liberal Government quietly released a rather ominous report from the Department of Finance that related to future debt projections based on the Liberal Governments current fiscal policy direction. The report indicated that unless there is a change in course Canada will continue to see annual deficit budgets until at least the year 2050. By that time Canada’s debt will have reached a rather staggering level of $ 1.55 trillion dollars. This of course stands in stark contrast to the return to a balanced budget in 2019 promise made by the Liberals prior to the last election. It is no wonder that the Liberals, it has since been reported, delayed releasing this report until Friday December 23rd instead of early October when it was first shown to the Finance Minister.
With so much newly created Liberal debt the question to be asked is where is this money all going? The Liberals will continually reference one of the areas of increased spending is infrastructure. In the past the former Conservative Government also significantly increased spending on infrastructure and in reality all levels of Government engage in infrastructure spending. With that in mind for this week’s report I would like to share more information regarding the Federal Government infrastructure spending as it will be current and increasingly future generations of Canadians who will be paying for it.
Currently the Government has announced $ 186.7 Billion in planned infrastructure spending. However on closer inspection that $ 186.7 Billion is being spent over the next twelve years. Roughly $ 100 Billion was already allocated for as regular infrastructure spending while the Liberals have called for a further $82 Billion increase of “new money” to raise that amount to reach the $186.7 Billion figure. What is more interesting is that only $13.6 Billion of that $ 186.7 billion will be spent over the next two years Canada wide. This is an important figure because for the first eight months of 2016 the Liberals ran a budget deficit of $ 12.7 billion and are estimated to hit a deficit over $ 25 Billion this year alone. In other words infrastructure spending is in large part not to be blamed for the Liberal Government massively increasing deficits and growing debt.
From another perspective when looking at the $ 12.7 Billion that is forecast to be spent on Infrastructure between 2016 and through to 2018 currently the Parliamentary Budget officer could only identify $ 4.6 Billion in actual projects meaning that as much as debt continues to increase many of the announced infrastructure dollars have yet to make it out to communities where they can provide economic and societal benefit.
From a political perspective the timing is very interesting. While the Liberals have announced a significant $ 186.7 Billion of spending on infrastructure and continue to cite increased infrastructure spending when queried on significantly increasing debt, in reality very little of the announced infrastructure spending will have occurred by 2018, in theory just $ 12.7 Billion. More troubling is that of that $ 12.7 Billion, much of that has yet to be allocated. This means that by 2019, which just so happens to be an election year, The Liberals will need to significantly accelerate their infrastructure spending which has not, to date, kept pace with how fast the same Liberal Government has been accelerating deficit budgets and increased debt.
As the Deputy Finance Critic the fact that the current rise in debt and deficits is clearly un-related to increased spending on infrastructure is a serious concern. Basically this situation means that current program spending is unsustainable and is potentially creating a structural deficit that will present serious challenges for future generations of Canadians. My question for this week is how concerned are you at the lack of progress on getting infrastructure projects going contrasted against the growth in deficit budgets and debt? I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711
One of the frustrations I experienced in the last Parliament as a member on the Government side of the House was how certain Government bills and related legislation were at times intentionally mispresented by interest groups and others solely to incite opposition. As an example of this it was often implied that Bill C-51 “The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015” would allow for peaceful law-abiding protesters to be arrested without cause at a protest or demonstration. These claims were erroneously made despite the fact the Bill contained language that clearly stated Bill C-51 specifically excluded “lawful advocacy or protest” from its application in defining legal and illegal protests with respect to “interference with critical infrastructure”.
When I became a member of the Official Opposition one of the commitments I made was to not use similar tactics that in my view only serve to mislead Canadians. I offer these comments as recently I have noted that a Bill introduced by the Liberal Government, specifically Bill C-23 “The Preclearance Act” is being targeted with many similar misleading and inaccurate claims much as was targeted at Bill C-51.
If you are unfamiliar with Bill C-23, in the words of the Liberal Government, it will expand the limited number of current US Customs staffed pre-clearance locations in Canada (as an example in airports such as Vancouver and Calgary for USA bound passengers) to a greater number of locations in Canada (that because of Bill C-23) will expand to include passage by land, water and train.
Some are claiming that Bill C-23 allows US Customs Agents to engage in activities that are against Canadian law while on Canadian soil. While these allegations have been successful in stirring up concern and opposition to the Preclearance Bill, the actual legislative summary is clear on this point and I quote accordingly “establishes that the exercise of any power and performance of any duty or function by a United States preclearance officer is subject to Canadian law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Human Rights Act”.
From another perspective, it has been suggested that entering the United States may be more difficult for some Canadian citizens as a result of the new administration. While I have not yet personally heard from any constituents to verify these claims I will observe that if a Canadian citizen is going to be refused entry into the United States for whatever reason it is far more convenient for that refusal to occur in Canada at a pre-clearance location rather than in the United States where a deportation and related unplanned air travel costs can present a far more serious inconvenience. For that reason alone I believe the Liberal Government is taking a prudent course of action in expanding the pre-clearance program that by most accounts has proven to be a simpler, more accessible way to travel across the border for those citizens who decide to visit to the United States.
I welcome your views on this subject: are you supportive of expanding USA pre-clearance as described above in Canada? I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free 1-800-665-8711.
As much as there has been considerable attention on how the new American administration may impact Canada from an economic perspective, overlooked thus far has been the impact to Canada on illegal refugee entry. As you may be aware in parts of Manitoba and Quebec there has been a significant increase of refugees illegally crossing into Canada creating considerable concern on the overall integrity of Canada’s immigration and refugee system. The concern is that if refugees can enter Canada illegally in an effort to obtain status it may encourage others to follow a similar course of illegal action as opposed to making a legal application through the existing process.
To be fair to the refugees, there are concerns they may be deported from the Unites States as a result of a crackdown on illegal immigration by the new administration. At the same time, Prime Minister Trudeau has stated that Canadians will welcome those who are turned away or refused entry in the USA. Although I do not believe the Prime Minister intended to encourage illegal entry into Canada his comments have certainly encouraged some to do precisely that.
To further complicate this situation Canada and the Unites States in 2002 signed the “Safe Third Country Agreement”. This agreement essentially means that any person seeking refugee status must make a claim in the first country they arrive in, either Canada or the United States. Meaning that the recent refugees crossing the border illegally from the United States into Canada cannot, in effect, apply for refugee status here in Canada. As a result some, including the NDP, have called on the Liberal Government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. An action that to date the Liberals have stated they will not consider.
This is a difficult situation as many of those illegally entering Canada, if they are deported back to the United States, may well again be deported back to their home countries where very real threats and dangers may exist. At the same time if Canada does allow the “Safe Third Party” agreement to be suspended it will set a precedent that could result in potentially significant amounts of refugees illegally entering Canada and at the same time undermining the integrity of our refugee and immigration system. For that reason I believe the Liberals will need to proceed cautiously in how this situation is resolved.
Currently there is no legislative measures being contemplated in the House of Commons with respect to this matter. On the same theme I would be interested in hearing your views on the subject of refugees illegally entering Canada from the United States. Do you support the Safe Third Country agreement being lifted or should our current laws remain in effect and be enforced? I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Earlier in the week all eyes were focused on the White House for the historic first meeting of President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau. While no official agreements were reached at this meeting by most accounts it was a positive first encounter of the two world leaders. While many were disappointed and critical that Prime Minister Trudeau did not publicly denounce some of President Trump’s policies in my view I believe our Prime Minister set the right tone and was wise to not engage in United States political debate. Canada and the United States share the world’s most successful trading relationship and while the Prime Minister may have earned political favour here in Canada for engaging in United States political advocacy the decision to refrain and focus on a more cordial tone was from my perspective a wise choice. Hopefully in the near future this new relationship will result in agreements on softwood lumber and other trade related measures in a mutually beneficial manner.
With so much attention on this meeting overlooked was recent changes coming to Canada’s mortgage regulations and one in particular that I would like to share more information on. As a Member of the Finance Committee one of the duties we perform is to hear from expert witnesses and industry stakeholders on how newly announced or changed finance regulations can impact Canadians. As an example of this with respect to the mortgage changes we learned that for those who might re-finance an existing mortgage there are some potentially significant changes that may result in Canadians paying much higher interest rates on a re-financed mortgage.
Currently Canadians who re-finance a mortgage have the security of having that mortgage insured by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) this guarantee means the mortgage is of low risk to lenders and as a result many lenders, including several private lenders, compete to offer very competitive interest rates. This is often why homeowners will take advantage of re-financing a mortgage as the low interest funds might be used to invest in a small business, to finance home renovations or even help deal with a lifestyle change such as divorce or a pro-longed strike or lockout. Debt consolidation is another potential factor. Whatever the reason one may choose to refinance a mortgage, the CMHC Insurance is a protection available to Canadian homeowners. With the proposed mortgage changes this CMHC Insurance on a re-financed mortgage will be taken away.
The lack of CMHC Insurance of a re-financed mortgage does not mean one cannot still re-finance however without the CMHC Insurance the interest rates will be considerably higher and there will be fewer competitors as we heard from many expert witnesses at the Finance Committee.
From my perspective these changes are puzzling. CMHC is not a program subsidized by Canadians. Those who use the services of CMHC pay fees that not only fully cover the costs of CMHC they in fact turn a profit with net income in excess of $2 billion annually. If anything these changes will not only cost Canadians who re-finance more money in higher interest rates, they will likely also see a reduction in the profit created by CMHC derived from the user fees. So why is the Liberal Government making these changes? As yet we don’t know. Several bureaucrats interviewed at the Finance Committee have yet to offer up a coherent answer. As a result I tabled a motion for the Finance Minister to attend in person to explain this policy decision. Fortunately my motion was supported by enough Liberal MPs on the Finance Committee to pass and I will have a further update on this subject.
My question today is a simple one. Do you believe Canadians should continue to receive CMHC Insurance on a re-financed mortgage? I welcome your comments and concerns on this or any topic before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711
“We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first past the post” – Justin Trudeau, during the June 2015 election writ period.
“What Mr. Trudeau proved himself today to be is a liar of the most cynical variety of politicians saying whatever it takes to get elected” NDP MP Nathan Cullen, February 1st, 2017
Ottawa has been in an uproar this past week over news from Prime Minister Trudeau that his promise on democratic reform will join the growing list of broken Liberal promises.
What is most alarming and disappointing about the announcement to abandon democratic reform is that the reason offered by the Liberals was that there was no clear consensus on how to move forward. While not everyone supported the idea of electoral reform of those who did there was overwhelming support expressed for proportional representation and claims to the contrary are patently untrue.
Likewise there was also strong support for a democratic referendum on this very question of electoral reform. Curiously the Liberal Government spent millions on an online democratic reform survey but deliberately left out asking questions of this very nature leaving many to speculate “the fix” so to speak, was set some time ago.
It is unclear where the Liberal Government will go from this point as there has been a very significant outcry from many Canadians who did strongly support changes being made to our electoral process. I mention this because recently we did see an example where the Liberal Government did in fact hear the concerns of Canadians and responded accordingly.
As you may recall in last week’s report I briefly referenced the potential for the Liberal Government to make taxation changes that would see employer provided health and dental benefits become a taxable benefit. Such a tax change could cost Canadians families over $1,000 a year or more and as a result many were strongly opposing this potential new tax grab. Fortunately the Liberal Government listened and the Prime Minister confirmed that health and dental benefits plans will not be treated as a taxable benefit. I will applaud the Government for listening to the concerns of Canadians on the important topic of not raising taxes.
Another concern I have been raising in Ottawa is related to recent changes to mortgage regulations. Last week at the Finance Committee we heard from many expert witnesses on how newly proposed mortgage changes may adversely impact Canadians.
While many are aware of mortgage changes that raise the threshold to qualify for a mortgage, many were very surprised to learn that under the proposed changes those who want to re-finance an existing mortgage will find it more difficult to obtain financing due to less financing options and more than likely an increase to the mortgage rate.
The reason for this is under the new set of rules; Mortgage Insurers such as CMHC, Genworth, and Canada Guarantee will no longer be able to provide mortgage insurance for refinances. This affects many of Canadian lenders who need to obtain the backing of mortgage insurance for all mortgages, regardless of the nature of the mortgage.
As the public servants involved in this area could not provide a coherent reason for this punitive policy a motion I put forward to have the Finance Minister appear directly before the Finance Committee was adopted thanks in part to some Liberal MPs voting in support. I will provide a further update on this subject as it becomes available.
I welcome your comments and concerns and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
It was my intent this week to cover the topic of employer provided health benefits potentially being taxed by the Liberal Government. This is by far the largest single issue that I have heard from constituents since the beginning of this Parliament; however that is not surprising given recent media reports that the Conference Board of Canada estimated a family earning $45,000 annually could end up paying an extra $1,167 a year in Federal taxes. This study was based on a family from Ontario, however it is understandable why many Canadians are deeply concerned about the potential for such a substantial federally imposed taxation increase. This is a subject I will cover in greater detail in a future report.
The subject that needs to be addressed this week is the senseless and brutal violence that took the lives of six Canadians at a Quebec City mosque. The intent of my report is more than to simply condemn this brutal and unacceptable violence that has no place in Canadian society. I would also like to pass on some troubling observations. If you followed the reporting of this incident closely you will know that many credible news organizations reported unverified information that included details such as multiple suspects and in some cases names were even published– all prior to official information being released by the police. The trouble I have with this is that when a name is publicized by media that suggests it could be a more common name from a Muslim populated country there is immediate speculation that the event in question may be some form of Jihadi inspired terrorism.
Had this tragedy been committed by a recently arrived refugee indeed very serious concerns would be raised about the integrity of our refugee vetting process and inevitably would also raises suspicions and weaken public trust at the thought other potential terrorists may have also slipped into Canada through the cracks. This can compromise, undermine and overlook that refugees come to Canada to escape these very things and is counterproductive to building the strong and diversified Canada that we all collectively celebrate on July 1st of every year.
We now know, thanks to verified information from the police, that the only suspect involved in this disturbing indecent is a University student born and raised in Quebec. While I will credit news organizations like CBC for quickly correcting the record, I would also like to point out considering our societal sensitivity to these tragedies it is critically important that we not rush to get out details that may be misleading or worse as we saw were completely incorrect. In other words it`s important to take the time to wait for official police information and refrain from reporting unverified information that can lead to dangerous speculation.
I would also like to take a moment to extend sincere condolences to the family and friends who have lost loved ones in this senseless tragedy. I know in all parts of Canada, there is collective grieving with many vigils to show unity against this brutal act of disturbing violence, terrorism and hate related crime. Our diversity in Canada is part of what makes us stronger as a nation. May we always live in a country where we stand united to defend those values. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call 1-800-665-8711.
It was back in my Nov. 10th MP report that I last raised the subject of then President Elect Donald Trump where I speculated among other things that the Keystone XL pipeline approval was a strong possibility while the likelihood of seeing a national carbon tax in the United States was not.
Given the recent inauguration of now President Trump there is certainly a new level of concern for what this will mean to Canada, in particular to the many small business owners who depend upon either directly or indirectly free trade with the United States.
At this point there is only speculation to answer this question however there is in my view a pattern emerging to what direction the Trump administration is heading in trade renegotiations. What is that pattern? Thus far it appears that those countries that most enjoy a trade surplus at the expense of the United States are potentially being targeted. Mexico, as one example, currently enjoys a $60 Billion dollar trade surplus and already manufacturers such as Ford have announced they will abandon planned investment in Mexico and instead bring some of those dollars back into the United States. While many around the world see this as protectionism across the border it is viewed as nationalism in an effort to increase well-paying US manufacturing jobs in the auto sector. We should not overlook that here in Canada our Federal Liberal Government also just secured a major investment with Honda for upgrades to an automobile plant in Ontario. The primary difference in approach is in Canada over $80 Million was offered to Honda in joint Federal and Provincial corporate subsidies whereas in the United States the Trump administration threatened an import tax to achieve a similar outcome.
China is suggested to also be a potential target of the Trump administration considering it currently enjoys a trade surplus of close to $370 Billion with the United States. The primary concern expressed from the Trump administration is manufacturers taking advantage of lower labour costs to move jobs outside of the United States into countries such as China. Although seldom reported this is not a new concern for the United States. Under the former Obama administration the United States filed some 16 World Trade Organization complaints against China alleging unfair trade practices. The Trump administration has suggested further increasing tariffs potentially as high as 45% to encourage manufacturing investment to remain in the United States. The Trudeau Liberal Government by contrast has expressed interest in going in a very different direction by potentially establishing a free trade relationship with China, who currently enjoys a trade surplus over Canada of roughly $46 Billion annually.
So where does this leave Canada with the United States? From a trade perspective Canada and USA have a far more balanced relationship. In 2015 Canada enjoyed a trade goods surplus of $15 Billion however an offsetting trade deficit on services at $27 Billion meant that overall the United States had a total trade surplus of $12 Billion. When one considers the total value of trade in goods and services between Canada and United States is over $660 Billion it is clear this relationship is overall working well for both countries. Likewise in Canada there is typically no significant labour savings in manufacturing when compared to the United States. Generally lower corporate and small business taxes along with the preferable exchange rate have been Canada’s leading assets for attracting investment. The Trump administration is not unaware of these factors and has committed to lowering US corporate taxes to levels similar to here in Canada. What is of concern is that Canada is increasing payroll costs through expanded CPP and implementing a national carbon tax– both increase costs that a competitor in the United States would not have to swallow. At this point I am more concerned that Canada will make itself less competitive for investment and that can harm jobs that will benefit other countries. It should also not be overlooked that many countries who do enjoy a large trade surplus are not implementing carbon taxes or other cost increases onto employers. Here in Canada investment continues to decline while net new jobs are not increasing. Let us all hope this trend will start to be reversed in 2017.
As always I welcome your comments, questions and concerns and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
If you follow my weekly reports often you will know at times I find it frustrating when much of the Ottawa bubble is consumed on somewhat isolated issues that often overshadow other important concerns. Currently the topic of the Prime Minister’s winter vacation to a private Bahamas Island and more specifically the possibly illegal use of a private helicopter remains the focus in Ottawa of many media reports. In my report from last week I explained why the vacation issue was a concern however as the Deputy Critic for Finance I have a duty to point out there is other, very serious financial information Canadians deserve to be made aware of.
If you followed the last Federal election closely you will know that the Prime Minister promised to run modest deficits of $10 billion annually and would return to a balanced budget in the year 2019. Shortly before Christmas the Finance Department released updated fiscal forecast reports that indicate in fact that without deliberate and direct action by Liberal Government, Finance Canada projects that we will not return to a balanced budget until at least the year 2050. If the current Liberal trend of running deficits that are much larger than the promised $10 Billion a year also occurs Canadians total debt will be at an alarming level of $1.55 trillion by that point in time.
What is more concerning is as much as the Liberals have promised all of this spending is going to building Infrastructure the Parliamentary Budget Officer also released a report on January 10th that states, and I quote directly “Government’s planned investments in infrastructure spending have not materialized in the first half of the year. Infrastructure transfers administered by Transport and Infrastructure Canada fell in comparison to the previous year”. In other words infrastructure spending is actually in decline. In reality it is Government operational spending that has increased. Where has this money gone? Statistics Canada shows that the Trudeau Liberal Government hired 14,000 more government bureaucrats to work in the National Capital Region alone in 2016 and a recent 5.5% pay raise plus a signing bonus for many federal government employees has also added many billions of new debt that in turn has resulted in increased operational spending.
As I have also past pointed out increased debt means increased payments on the interest of that debt that in turn results in less money available to fund other government programs, services and projects. Inevitably it will likely also lead to higher taxation that reduces net take home pay. As you may have heard the Liberal Government has also recently admitted they are giving serious consideration to tax changes that may impact many Canadians. As one example if you currently receive any healthcare benefits provided by your employer the Liberal Government has indicated these may become taxable benefits in the near future. This would be particularly punitive here in BC as we are Canada’s only Province that charges MSP premiums for healthcare.
I appreciate my report this week will not sit well with some citizens however I should also point out these are actual events that will at some point affect future Canadian taxpayers. Some in Ottawa have gone so far as to suggest given this recent fiscal news the Liberal Government prefers talking about private helicopter trips compared to increased taxes, higher debt and deficits as a result of increased operational spending with little infrastructure to show for it. As the Deputy Finance Critic and as your Member of Parliament I will continue to hold the Liberal Government to account on these concerns and welcome your comments and questions. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free 1-800-665-8711.
The two major stories out of Ottawa this week revolve around Prime Minister Trudeau’s newly revealed vacation details followed by news of a small cabinet shuffle. I believe most Canadians support and understand that the Prime Minister would enjoy an exotic vacation to a warmer climate not unlike many Canadians often do so why is this current vacation a controversy? The answer is a tad more complex than one might expect.
In Canadian public office we have very strict rules that limit and restrict financial benefits that a Minister of the Crown can accept and directly benefit from. These restrictions also include gifts that cannot be legally accepted from any registered lobbyist. Obviously gifts have a momentary value and must be disclosed and this includes the value of accepting a stay at an exotic Bahamas private island as has been now revealed was the vacation destination of Prime Minister Trudeau.
On a related theme the private island where the Trudeau family vacationed happens to be owned by the Aga Khan who in turn is the head of an organization that is registered to lobby the Trudeau Liberal Government. This same organization headed by the Aga Khan also received $55 million in Canadian public funding from the most recent Liberal Government budget and as a result the Conflict commissioner is investigating this matter further. I am not for a moment suggesting any wrongdoing on the part of the Prime Minister but rather clarifying why this subject continues to be actively raised in Ottawa and more so as the Prime Minister’s office initially refused to provide details of the vacation in question.
Following the vacation controversy the Prime Minister also announced a cabinet shuffle that will see the departure of the following Ministers: John McCallum (Citizenship and Immigration) Stéphane Dion (Foreign Affairs) and MaryAnn Mihychuk (Employment, Workforce Development and Labour) The departure of these Ministers provided an opportunity for three new Minister to join the Federal cabinet: François-Philippe Champagne (International Trade) Karina Gould, (Democratic institutions) and Ahmed Hussen, (Immigration). The following existing Ministers were also shuffled into new portfolios: Chrystia Freeland (Foreign Affairs), Patty Hajdu (Employment, Workforce Development and Labour) and Maryam Monsef (Status of Women).
My take on this shuffle is mixed. Government experience is critically important in a cabinet and the loss of veteran Ministers such as McCallum and Dion will no doubt be felt. At the same time adding fresh blood is not necessarily a bad thing and given the failure to date for the Liberal fiscal plan to reap the promised benefits some new ideas at the cabinet table may be welcome. A Cabinet shuffle is never an easy task for any leader and time will tell if these changes will help reverse the current direction. It is important to remember that citizens run for public office in order to help build stronger communities and federally a stronger Canada. I know that MPs from all parties are concerned at the current economic direction Canada is heading in and I believe we will continue to work diligently in 2107 towards constructive solutions. I would also like to take a moment and public thank Stéphane Dion and John McCallum who have spent many years in public office and have both recently announced they will be resigning as MPs to serve in other areas.
I would also like to extend an invitation to come and meet with me. I will be holding town hall meetings and constituents are welcome Saturday, January 14th in West Kelowna at the Lions Community Hall 2466 Main Street; West Kelowna from 3:00pm–4:30 PM or on Sunday, January 15th in Kelowna at A. S. Matheson Elementary at 2090 Gordon Drive, Kelowna from 3:00–4:30 PM to share their views. I look forward to hearing from you! Contact me at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
One of the challenges of being in Government is that sometimes the core message a Government is attempting to promote may become overshadowed or even buried by other unintended events sometimes of the Governments own making. Such was the case back in November when the Liberals announced plans to “speed up” the end of coal power in Canada by the year 2030. Unfortunately for the Liberals breaking news of the Prime Minister and his cabinet’s cash for access fundraising events quickly buried the coal announcement and as a result it received little public scrutiny.
I believe many Canadians support the idea of reducing the use of coal power in Canada and on the surface would embrace the Liberal Government announcement to accelerate the end of coal power in Canada. As much as the Federal Liberal Government would like to be viewed as taking action against coal power, in reality many of Canada’s coal power producing Provinces have already either eliminated the use of coal power, such as Ontario, or are well on the way to doing so as is the case in Alberta. Meanwhile Provinces such as BC, Quebec and Manitoba do not currently generate any significant amounts of coal power. So what Provinces currently are Canada’s largest generators of coal power? The answer is Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.
Interestingly enough the Liberal Government has quietly made side deals with both Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia that will allow these Provinces to continue to generate and use coal power beyond the 2030 deadline. In other words, the announcement to accelerate the end of coal power by 2030 was really more for show than substance. Fortunately both of these Provinces are taking other measures that will help reduce the GHG emissions from their respective coal power sectors.
Another somewhat overlooked Government announcement was a new national agreement on carbon. What is interesting about this particular national agreement is that it is not truly national. Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan have refused to join this agreement and British Columbia has secured what could be interpreted as a future veto. Also of interest is the fact that the agreement is not a centralized national strategy and instead allows Provinces to independently follow their own strategies. As an example in British Columbia a revenue neutral carbon tax is used while Ontario prefers a cap and trade system.
Why is this fact of interest? As an example in Ontario under their Cap and Trade system already it has been quietly announced that some of Ontario’s largest polluters such as steel and smelter plants are being exempted from the regulations. Likewise here in British Columbia greenhouse growers have also been largely exempted from carbon tax while industries such as cement production also receive taxpayer provided relief to offset carbon tax expenses. Ironically one of Saskatchewan’s arguments against a carbon tax is that it is pointless to tax industries only to return that same money in the form of subsidies or other relief related exemptions.
The point of my report today is not to debate the merits of a carbon tax or coal power production in Canada but rather to illustrate the Government efforts to tackle these GHG emissions related industries may be more for appearance of taking action than actual substance. Considering that the United States is currently moving in a different direction under the incoming new administration it will be critically important to keep a close eye on both Canada's competitiveness and the effectiveness of the Liberal Government policy in this area. I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this or any topic before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Over the next few weeks most media organizations will feature year in review related articles and columns. On the same theme I believe it is also important to review the past year in the House of Commons from a legislative perspective. To be candid the last 12 months under the Trudeau Liberal government has resulted in one of the most unproductive Parliaments in recent history with only 14 bills to date receiving Royal Assent. Of these 14 Bills, 6 were Appropriation related granting Government access to spending money meaning there has been just 8 Bills implemented by the Liberals thus far. A closer inspection of these 8 Bills reveals that 2 are directly related to the Budget and one was technically related to trade provisions and was left over from the previous Conservative Government. Thus in essence there have been 5 unique Bills passed by the Liberals as part of their broad agenda of real change.
Normally a Canadian Parliament under a majority Government at this point in the mandate would have passed between 40 to 45 Bills thus illustrating why this particular Liberal Government is being labelled by many in Ottawa as extremely unproductive. Should this be a concern to Canadians? Obviously the answer to this question is a matter of opinion and not fact however if one was expecting significant regulatory changes to date this has largely not occurred. To be fair the Liberal Government has continued to promise that it will introduce more legislation in the upcoming year pending the outcome of a large amount of different consultations currently underway, as one example is the current ongoing consultation on democratic reform that I discussed in last week’s report.
I should also add that not all changes made by a sitting Government have to be implemented through legislation. For example when the Trudeau Liberal Government decided to effectively abolish the First Nations Fiscal Transparency Act rather than use a Bill to repeal the legislation the Liberal Government instead announced it would not implement or enforce any penalties against a First Nation Band Council that does not comply with publicly disclosing expenditures.
From my perspective what is more concerning is that the Liberals continue to hint that they would like to eliminate Friday sittings in the House of Commons – meaning there would be one fewer day each week that the House sits available to debate legislation through the House. A lack of a Friday sitting would also mean one less day for Question period which is alarming considering that Prime Minister Trudeau has missed more than half of all Question Periods to date. For the record I have spoken out in the House of Commons against shutting the House down on Fridays and will continue to oppose this measure.
Despite the lack of Liberal Legislation in the House of Commons one item that has not changed are the House of Commons operations including the costs of 338 MPs that came in just over $60 million for the first half of the current fiscal year. Once the full fiscal year has concluded I will once again release my annual fiscal accountability report and provide in detail what my expenses were for the period. Some may welcome the lack of legislation as it supports the status quo and means that laws passed by previous Parliaments remains largely unchanged. As this is a subjective are of concern I welcome your views on this topic – is the significant lack of legislation under the current Government a concern or is this largely a non-issue?
As always I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at email@example.com or toll free at 1-800-665-8711. Alternatively, I will be holding town hall meetings and constituents are welcome Saturday, January 14th in West Kelowna at the Lions Community Hall 2466 Main Street; West Kelowna from 3:00pm – 4:30 PM or on Sunday, January 15th in Kelowna at A. S. Matheson Elementary - 2090 Gordon Drive, Kelowna from 3:00pm – 4:30 PM to share their views- I look forward to hearing from you!
“2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”. Many may or may not recall this election promise from now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that continues to be a topic of serious debate and discussion both here in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola and in Ottawa. As the Minister responsible for Electoral Reform continues to stumble along in this file many are questioning if this will end up being yet another broken promise from the Trudeau Liberal Government.
For the record the input I have heard from citizens in our region has been overwhelming in support of a referendum on electoral reform. My fall mail out which asked if constituents desired a referendum before any Government sought to make whole scale changes- such as moving from the current system proposed in the Liberal election promise. The volume of responses was the largest I have seen since becoming a MP with 86% in favour of a referendum. In my town halls I heard both calls for retaining the current system or to move to a proportional system. In fact many calls and comments I have heard recently is frustration and sometimes outrage from citizens who have received the Government’s latest attempt at consultation with an electoral reform postcard via mail or participated in the widely mocked online electoral reform survey and have not been given the direct opportunity to voice support for either proportional representation or the right to a democratic referendum.
In Ottawa the Liberals continue to insist that Prime Minister Trudeau’s promise to Canadians will be met however it is becoming increasingly unclear as to how that will occur. As some may be aware that the special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform, after conducting Canada wide consultations, recommended that a referendum on democratic reform was important to Canadians and that those who do support reform tend to strongly favour proportional representation. Regrettably the Minister responsible for Electoral Reform dismissed the committee report and made disparaging comments about the work of the committee and was eventually forced to apologize after even Liberal members took issue with the Minister for dismissing the views of so many Canadians.
While this has been occurring the Privacy Commissioner has recently come out and opened an investigation into the online democratic reform survey, given that invasive questions based on household income are required in order to be included in the collected data. The outcome of this investigation remains unknown.
Will the Liberals provide the opportunity for a democratic referendum that includes proportional representation? At this point the answer is unknown however many Liberal MPs have been circulating talking points that a referendum is “too complicated” or “takes too much time” or that the law would need to be changed to have one. I find these comments unacceptable for a number of reasons. From the citizens I have heard from in favour of proportional representation make well-reasoned arguments in support of their position and do not seem unable to grasp the concept as many Liberal MPs are wrongly suggesting. As far as “changing the law” this is a non-issue given the Liberals hurriedly amended the law to rush through gender neutral changes to O Canada, much as they did to abolish financial disclosure for unions. The fact that Liberals who have a majority in the House of Commons try to suggest they cannot change the law in a timely way suggests this is a tactic to potentially deny Canadians the right to a referendum they deserve.
My thoughts? Ultimately I am on the record stating that I believe Canadian democracy belongs to Canadians and not to any political party. This means that Canadians deserve a democratic referendum and that should include the right to vote for proportional representation as one of the options. As Elections Canada has repeatedly warned the Government that a significant amount of time is required to implement any electoral change in time for the next election the longer the Liberals take to bring forward a position the greater the chances it will not and cannot be implemented in time. In Ottawa that is often called “talking out the clock” and with Electoral Reform, the time is fast running out.
I welcome your comments and concerns on democratic reform or any matter before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or 1-800-665-8711.
As an opposition MP I am always mindful of an old quote that suggests “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain- and most fools do” it is one of the reasons why I often make a point to propose alternatives to Government policy in place of constant opposition. At the same time I think it is also important to credit the Government on those measures that on balance can help to build a stronger Canada. Last week the Liberal Government announced that it would be approving both the Enbridge Line 3 and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline projects while cancelling the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
Here in British Columbia the approval of the Trans-Mountain pipeline in particular is a subject of considerable debate and opposition in many areas of the Province. The Trans Mountain approval is subject to 157 binding conditions that are intended to address concerns ranging from First Nations, environmental, project engineering as well as safety and emergency response. The value of this project is just under $7-billion and will create 15,000 new jobs during construction. This pipeline will also generate $4.5 billion in federal and provincial government revenues. While I realize my agreement with this Liberal government decision will comes as a disappointment to some it should be noted that this project essentially replaces the existing Trans Mountain pipeline system between Edmonton, Alberta, and Burnaby, British Columbia that is now over 50 years old. The new pipeline will also be twinned to increase capacity. In my view I agree with the Government that this pipeline is ultimately in our Canadian national interest.
The Enbridge Line 3 approval is also a pipeline replacement project, subject to 37 binding conditions addressing similar concerns to the Trans-Mountain approval. Line 3 is valued at just under $ 5 billion to replace slightly over 1,000 kilometres of existing pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Gretna, Manitoba and will create roughly 7,000 new jobs during construction. Revenues to the Federal and Provincial Government will exceed $500 million.
While many oppose Canadian oil resources being exported at the same time there is little protest against oil imports to Canada, in particular Eastern Canada, where Oil is imported from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola and Nigeria among others. It should also not be overlooked that these offshore countries do not have carbon tax or other environmental regulations in effect similar to Canada. It is for this reason that many support the Energy East pipeline project as it could greatly eliminate the need to import foreign oil and also take capacity from Western Canada oil producers thus reducing demand to export. In both of these scenarios tanker traffic would also be greatly reduced that in turn also lessens dependence on oil by rail.
While there is no perfect solution the recent pipeline approvals by the Prime Minister has the potential to increase employment and generate more revenues for the Federal and several Provincial Governments. Overall I believe the Government made the right decision in granting these approvals, more so when one considers both of these projects are replacing existing pipeline infrastructure with newer and safer technologies. I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on the recent pipeline approvals or any other topic before the House of Commons.
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.
Most of the noise in Ottawa this week has been focused on varying degrees of outrage related to a statement from Prime Minister Trudeau on the passing of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The Prime Minister’s statement and comments on his death has been widely criticized internationally for not referencing the numerous human rights violations that have occurred in Cuba under the Castro regime. From my perspective while I believe the statement could have been worded in a manner more reflective of these human rights violations it is also important to not allow issues such as this one to overshadow other important concerns, one of these is the Liberals pending new “Infrastructure Bank”.
In my November 3rd MP report I shared several concerns about the Liberals promised new $35 Billion Federal Infrastructure Bank. In that report I questioned the need to develop yet another federal agency as well an expensive new federally run bank. I also pointed out one of the advantages of Government borrowing money is that Government can do so at rates much lower than the private sector can. In order for the Infrastructure Bank to gain any private sector investors, the bank will need to pay competitive rates of return– these interest rates will of course be higher than the rates that the Government can borrow at so in effect this new Infrastructure Bank could ultimately end up subsidizing private investors who would enjoy lucrative and guaranteed rates of return – this in my view is not the role of Government.
This is in stark contrast to what the Liberals proposed in their election platform. Originally they said it would be set up to help all Canadian municipalities to access lower cost borrowing rates and would be largely used to finance social housing.
Since writing that report the Liberals have now announced further details on the Infrastructure Bank that in my view should be of very serious concern to citizens in our region. The most troubling aspect of the mandate for the Infrastructure Bank is that it will only fund projects with a price tag of $100 Million or more. While major cities such as the Liberal strongholds of Toronto and Vancouver have projects within this price range, for smaller and rural municipalities these types of projects are completely un-affordable. As the Canadian Press recently reported the Finance Minister has admitted that global investors will only invest in "large transformational projects" that produce enough revenue from which they can earn a high rate of return on their investment. In other words the Liberal Government is borrowing money it does not have at reduced rates so that Canadian taxpayers can finance and subsidize high rates of return for private international investors.
What is more disappointing about this scheme is that taxpayers in rural, smaller and even mid-size municipalities will be taking on this debt, will help pay for the high interest paid to private investors and will not even be eligible or able to afford the projects in question because of the pricey $100 Million minimum price tag. Worse is that the roughly $32 Billion the Liberals are borrowing to use as seed money for the creation of the Investment Bank is money that could but will not be spent on building infrastructure in the very same municipalities that will not be able to participate in this expensive program. This Infrastructure Bank in my view will be detrimental to not just our region but many regions across Canada.
As it is my practice to not just oppose but also propose I have a different idea. Instead of paying lucrative returns to private global investment firms the Liberal Government could instead increase the rate of return on Canada Savings Bonds so that everyday Canadians could benefit and at the same time lower the $100 Million project minimum so that the majority of Canadian municipalities can participate. As always I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
Generally speaking Canadians tend not to hear much in the media about our Canadian Senate unless it involves a Senator spending scandal. I mention this because this week a group of Conservative Senators on the Senate Finance committee made the rare and unusual decision to amend a Government spending bill in a way that may be of some interest to citizens.
As many will recall during the last election one of the Liberal promises was a plan to reduce income taxes on the middle class that ultimately would be revenue neutral as a result of income taxes being increased on citizens who earn over $200,000 per year. Credit to the Liberal Government as they have been in the process of enacting some of their electoral promises however it has been done in a manner that some take disagreement with that ultimately has resulted in the Senator amendment in question.
One challenge in enacting tax cuts for the middle class is defining who exactly is the “middle class” from the perspective of the Liberal Government. In this case many were surprised that the proposed tax cuts for the middle class did not apply to most in need Canadians earning below $45,000 per year. More surprising was that the same middle class tax cuts also applied to citizens earning between $100,000 up to $199,000 per year. I have yet to hear any citizens supporting a tax cut for citizens earning close to $200,000 annually. As it turns out, when citizens in the $100,000 to $199,000 income level are included in the ‘middle class’ tax cut it turns out the plan is not in fact revenue neutral as was promised. Overall the cost of the Liberal middle class tax results in an annual deficit ranging between $1.2 Billion and possibly as high as $1.7 Billion each year. As the annual budget is currently forecasting deficits for the duration of the Liberal Government term these tax cuts are in fact unsustainable– this is where the Conservative Senator`s amendment comes in.
Ultimately the amendment from Senator Larry Smith proposes to eliminate the tax cut for citizens earning above $ 90,000 so in that respect those earning between $100,000 up to $199,000 would no longer see an income tax cut if the amendment was adopted. The amendment further proposes to increase the tax cut for those earning between $45,000 up to $53,000 and would keep the existing tax cut for those earning between $53,000 up to $90,000. It should also be noted that this amendment is also revenue neutral meaning that it would not add an additional $1.2 to $1.7 Billion in new debt annually.
At this point it remains unclear if the Senate will support this amendment however it will provide a test for those newly appointed non-partisan Senators to see if they blindly vote against this amendment in favour of the original Government Bill or not. In the event the Senate does pass this amendment it would return to the House of Commons for a vote from elected MPs. My question to citizens is what are your thoughts on this amendment? Does it make sense to increase the income tax cut for lower income citizens and eliminate the income tax cut for those earning between $90,000 up to $190,000 and eliminate the deficit created by this in the process? Or should un-elected Senators oppose the amendment and support the Liberals tax cut as is, given that it was a campaign promise that provided a mandate for these changes, despite not being revenue neutral as was promised.
As always I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this subject or any other before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free 1-800-665-8711.
This week in Ottawa I had a second opportunity to speak in opposition to the Liberal Government’s budget implementation bill. Aside from the fact that thus far the Liberal plan has resulted in economic downgrades and we've seen none of the 40,000 net new jobs that was promised in Budget 2016, I also raised the uncomfortable issue of debt. As it stands today looking at the 2013/2014 fiscal year the Federal Government spent just over $28 Billion a year servicing debt.
To put that number into perspective that is currently almost as much money as is spent on the Canadian Health Transfers to provinces that was just over $30 Billion in that same year. In other words the Federal Government is currently spending almost as much money on servicing debt as it is spending on healthcare and this Liberal budget increases debt by another $25 Billion this year alone and is on track to add $113 billion in new debt by the 2020-21 fiscal year.
There is also no longer any plan to return to a balanced budget. Given that debt is rising at the same time health care funding increases are being reduced the Federal Government will soon spend more on debt interest then healthcare, a fact I believe many will find troubling.
However as I have also pointed out in Ottawa, it is easy to be a critic. Part of my commitment to citizens in our region as an opposition MP is to not just oppose but also from time to time propose alternative ideas that can build a stronger and more prosperous Canada. What did I propose the Liberal budget should do instead?
First I made it clear that I do not believe that MP’s and other citizens earning up to $199,000 per year need an income tax cut as the Liberals are proposing in this budget. Recently as many potential home owners have discovered, the Liberals are making changes to the mortgage rules that are so severe by the departments own internal projections our Canadian housing market may lose 10% of all sales this year. This will adversely impact many families not just in our region but all across Canada. What is more frustrating is that these mortgage changes, largely intended to combat the rising house prices in the Liberal strongholds of Toronto and Vancouver, will adversely impact the rest of Canada. This is why I frequently speak out against one-size fits all Ottawa imposed “solutions”
So what is the answer? In my view the Federal Government should not be penalizing future homeowners as a means to try and lower housing prices. How about instead creating incentives to increase the supply of new housing?
Increasing the new housing supply would have several benefits for Canadians. Primarily increased housing supply will help to meet demand and in turn lower prices. Further, if more Canadians can move into home ownership and out of rentals that in turn will free up capacity for always in demand rental housing. An increased supply of rental housing can also help lower rental rates and hopefully increase affordability.
Another added benefit to increasing new home supply is that it will create jobs and help support many local economies across Canada given how many sectors are involved in the construction industry. As an added benefit much of Canada’s home building industry is supplied almost exclusively by Canadian value added wood products who would benefit from the increased activity at a time when the Federal Government has made no progress on the softwood lumber deal.
These are only a few of the many benefits of such a policy that could be enhanced if Ottawa considered raising the threshold for the GST rebate on new housing. In my view promoting instead of penalizing new home owners is an important economic alternative proposal that could be explored in this Liberal budget.
As always I welcome your views on this or any topic before the House of Commons and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament elect for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.