As a Member of Parliament I am often contacted by citizens requesting assistance with applications they have to submit to the Federal Government. Whether it's their application for Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) or a Permanent Resident Document, the processing times can be much longer than they expect.
In fact for those turning 65, it is recommended they have their applications in for OAS/GIS completed and sent well in advance of that significant birthday. One year prior is what I recommend.
It takes many months to process almost any kind of Federal Application and sometimes it can take years for completion.
The amount of your OAS benefit is calculated based upon how long you have been a resident of Canada. If you were born in Canada and have lived here for 40 years after your 18th birthday, things are pretty straight forward but your OAS/GIS application can still take many months to process.
If you were born outside of Canada or have spent time living abroad, it can complicate matters considerably. You must provide documentation which proves how long you have been resident in Canada. For people who came to Canada many years ago or with their parents as children, and have spent time outside Canada, it can be difficult and time consuming to gather the required documents you need to submit. Passports from 20 – 30 years ago or even just 10 years ago are often not kept. Other official documents to prove that you lived in Canada, like Provincial Medical Plan cards or certificates, Provincial or Municipal home ownership records that are sometimes not in the applicant’s possession any more. Who knew these documents would be required to get your OAS? Applications for replacement of Citizenship documents also take months or even more than 1 year to process.
Enough of my constituents have come to me with these challenges that I began to research what changes we could implement at the legislative level to help solve these problems. Many people think that Government is just one big department and that personal information is shared as needed between Service Canada, Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration and all the Provinces. The fact is that without your written permission, information which could support your application for OAS but might be held by another Department or level of Government cannot be shared. Some small progress has been made recently as Service Canada, which is responsible for processing your OAS/GIS application can now ask for information from Citizenship and Immigration with your permission, however, that can add many months to a processing time that is already far too long.
That leads to this week’s question - should we permit personal information about an applicant, with that applicant’s written permission, to be shared between Government Departments to make it easier and faster for applications to be processed? What has been your experience with a Federal Applications?
Contact me and tell me your story and if you think that information sharing between departments would have helped you.
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call 1-800-665-8711.
MP Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola riding. He is the Official Opposition Deputy Finance Critic. MP Dan welcomes any feedback and even tough questions.
Earlier this week on my facebook page I posted my thoughts on the use of social media blocking by elected officials. The post has generated a fair bit of discussion that is encouraging as many people have taken the time to express differing points of view. From my perspective when there is a large amount of interest on an issue it is one that citizens see as important.
On the surface an elected official blocking someone through social media may not seem like a significant event. However for the growing population who do use social media, blocking is a way of denying a person their voice to be heard. By extension as social media increasingly has become a tool for citizens to hold elected officials to account, the careless use of the block button by elected officials has become an easy way out instead of answering a difficult or unpopular question.
In some cases I have even learned of a practice called “pre-emptive blocking” where groups of citizens may be blocked by an elected official they have never interacted with online. This type of “guilt by association” we would never tolerate off line yet it has become an online practice by some elected officials and their senior staff.
To be clear I will continue to defend the right of elected officials to practice whatever social media policies they feel most comfortable with. Likewise for those who use social media for personal attacks, profanity and threats it is expected that such behaviours will not be tolerated. At the same I will also caution those who use the block button as a means to avoid accountability or debate. Social media ideally works both ways and citizens deserve the right to be heard.
On that note I am suggesting that elected officials, and those media and pundits who cover political circles to consider a social media forgiveness campaign. How about un-block (or un-mute) all of those citizens you have blocked over time and give people a second chance to engage. This may not work in all situations however elected officials being exposed to more diverse views and being held to account in my view helps build a stronger democracy.
I welcome your comments, questions and concerns and can be reached online at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call me
off-line toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
The ongoing threat of wildfire is one that is becoming all too common throughout many parts of British Columbia. When these fires occur they can cause massive amounts of damage that it is virtually unmeasurable for those who may lose a home, all their belongings and a lifetime of memories.
Economically, aside from the tremendous costs in fighting forest fires there is also the loss of crown timber and a lack of fibre can ultimately threaten the viability of a lumber mill. From a health standpoint the diminished air quality can cause harm to those with respiratory challenges who are often seniors. First responders and emergency service personnel can also be seriously stretched to the limit during a wildfire as is currently the situation in Kamloops and elsewhere in BC.
I mention all of these things as it is particularly disturbing to learn that some forest fires may well be intentionally set with the use of accelerants. Likewise more recently we have heard alarming reports of critically needed firefighting equipment being stolen and worse for those who may be evacuated because of a wildfire threat, their homes or business may be looted.
All of these actions are deeply troubling and very concerning for all involved.
Looting of evacuated homes of evacuees is particularly worrying as it places greater demands on law enforcement at a time when resources are already spread thin. Further, the evacuation process can be potentially undermined if residents feel their life long belongings may be subject to theft. All of these things, including the intentional and deliberate setting of a wildfire are a serious cause of concern throughout many regions of BC including here in the Okanagan where it has been reported two recent forest fires were intentionally set; one resulting in the loss of several homes in Lake Country and the other damaging a much loved public park.
My reason for raising these issues is currently there is no specific protection in the criminal code to deal with individuals who would commit crimes of this nature.
While theft and arson are subject to the Criminal Code, the action of committing these offences to create a wildfire or otherwise seek to commit criminal offences in relation to a wildfire are not specifically recognised under the criminal code. This leads me to my topic for this week’s report – should there be specific legal protection that references the intentional setting of a wildfire or committing acts of theft in relation to it?
In order to do this the Criminal Code would need to be amended; one possible approach would be to ensure that intentionally setting a wildfire or committing an act of theft in relation to a wildfire would be considered an aggravating factor in the sentencing of offenders. By extension the sentences for committing these types of crimes could also be stiffer. The use of aggravating factors in the sentencing of offenders already exists in the Criminal Code for cases involving offences around children and most recently for elder abuse.
My question this week – Do you support the idea of implementing aggravating factors in sentencing offenders who are guilty of intentionally setting wild fires or engaging in criminal actions as a result of a wildfire?
I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this or any topic before the House of Commons.
I can be reached atDan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Since being elected in 2015, the Federal Liberal Government has made numerous changes with respect to Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) policy that in many situations has made it more difficult to obtain a mortgage or in the case of re-financing an existing mortgage, more expensive. Generally the Liberal Government has reasoned these changes are intended to slow down the Vancouver and Toronto real estate markets and lower overall consumer debt.
Why would the Government want to slow down the real estate market in Toronto and Vancouver? The theory is if fewer buyers can qualify to purchase homes, the demand will decrease and prices will potentially drop as a result and by extension increase affordability in these markets.
The challenge with this particular approach is that CMHC policies are very much a 'one size fits all'. That means that although Vancouver and Toronto are the primary targets of these new restrictions, the rest of Canada is also subject to them and as a result many regions of Canada may be adversely impacted. This was feedback I heard extensively during hearings at the Finance Committee back in February when these changes were heavily scrutinized.
One particular point that was raised from one stakeholder is that while the Liberals crack down on debt taken on for home ownership, overlooked is the consumer debt on credit cards, third party loan outfits and elsewhere. The difference is that with debt taken on in home ownership there can be equity created and much lower interest costs in contrast to credit card debt.
It is a valid point.
More recently the Trudeau Liberal Government quietly announced that it will raid CMHC to the tune of $ 4 Billion over the next two years. This announcement received very little media attention and that is disappointing. For those who have mortgages with a down payment less than 20%, the CMHC fees required to provide insurance on that mortgage are substantial. Instead of reducing CMHC fees to make them more affordable or refund the surplus to those who have paid them, the Liberals are instead using CMHC as cash grab, contrary to the purpose of this organization.
Rather than just oppose, I would like to propose an alternative. Instead of taking $4 Billion from CMHC to go into general revenue, why not offer a GST exemption on new housing up to $750,000, similar to what the BC Government has done with the property purchase tax exemption. This policy would reduce the costs of home ownership by tens of thousands of dollars. At the same time this policy would help stimulate economic activity through increased construction, would increase housing supply and would help Canada’s value added wood producers hit hard by the current softwood lumber dispute.
My question this week – Instead of a $4 Billion cash grab from CMHC would you support those funds being used for a GST rebate on new housing?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call 1-800-665-8711
In last week’s report I raised the fact that Ottawa is soon to restrict Credit Unions from using terms like “bank, banker, and banking”. The reaction I heard from citizens was one of overwhelming opposition and in many cases bewilderment. I should also add that the sheer number of responses I heard was also very significant. Clearly this is an issue that many in our region have strong feelings about.
What can be done about it? The legislation that allows Ottawa to restrict Credit Unions from using these words is contained in the Bank Act. I am currently in the process of drafting a Private Members Bill to amend the Bank Act that will remove these language restrictions and allow Credit Unions to continue to successfully operate as they have for many decades now.
Unfortunately the order that Private Members Bills can be debated in the House of Commons are decided by a lottery style draw that does now allow this Bill to presented in a timely manner. In the interim a local citizen is in the process of having an online petition approved by the House of Commons that citizens can sign online.
If there is strong support for this petition I am hopeful that the Liberal Government will either amend the Bank Act to remove this attack on Credit Unions or at a minimum intervene and ask that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions review this enforcement decision. Almost without exception I have not heard any support at all for restricting Credit Unions from using terms like bank, banker or banking. As one citizen observed – will food banks be targeted by Ottawa next?
My question this week – would you support my Private Members Bill to amend the Bank Act and by extension would you be willing to sign an online petition opposing this attack on our Credit Unions?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711
Sometimes I find Ottawa related media coverage can be frustrating.
As an example you have likely heard this week one or more stories related to President Trump and Russia.
However have you heard that Canada’s Credit Unions are once again under attack from Ottawa?
As a result I wrote the following Op-Ed on this topic that I would like to share for my MP Report this week.
Do you bank with a Credit Union? Soon, thanks to the long arm of Ottawa, that may come to an end.
You see last week the federal agency responsible for regulating banks and other financial institutions quietly issued new regulations that will damage the thousands of credit unions and caisses populaires that operate across our country.
The regulations issue a blanket prohibition on the use of terms like “bank”, “banker”, and “banking” by basically any entity other than the big banks. Credit unions, who have traditionally been allowed to use common terms like “bank with us” or “online banking”, will no longer be allowed to do so.
And why the sudden change?
No explanation has been forthcoming. This has left credit unions and their customers confused as to why they would want to change a decades-old practice. The result of these changes will be increased costs for credit unions, which will have to pay for changes to signage and other marketing. Moreover, it will put them at a further competitive disadvantage when compared to the big banks.
Over the past several months, credit unions and Parliamentarians alike have reached out to the regulator and to the Finance Minister to strongly oppose these changes. In fact, at an All-Party Credit Union Caucus meeting on Parliament Hill, MPs and Senators from all parties agreed that these changes were unnecessary and harmful.
Unfortunately their views seem to have fallen on deaf Liberal ears.
There are over 300 credit unions nationwide that serve over 5.5 million members.
Credit unions provide a community-focused approach to finances and are regularly recognized as leaders in customer service. Instead of making business harder for these important institutions, we should be looking for ways to help ensure that credit unions can thrive and prosper in our communities.
It is not too late for the Finance Minister to step in and change these regulations. I call on him to do the right thing.
What can you do? Contact your local MP and tell them you value banking with your credit union and to stop this regulatory attack against Credit Unions and Caisses Populaires.
My question for you this week is do you agree with this decision to restrict Credit Unions from being able to use words like “bank”, “banker”, and “banking”?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
The Fourth of July is Independence Day in the United States. It was also on July 4th this week when it was reported that the Liberal Government had agreed to apologize and pay $10.5 Million to Omar Khadr. For those of you unfamiliar with Omar Khadr, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for participating in an al-Qaeda sponsored war crime after admitting to killing US Army combat medic Sgt. Christopher Speer.
This decision by the Liberals to potentially pay in excess of $10 Million to Omar Khadr has created the largest amount of negative feedback and in many cases outrage, of any issue I have come across during my time in elected office. The questions I most frequently am asked is why did the Liberals offer this deal to Omar Khadr and what can be done to stop it?
At this point the Liberals have yet to formally confirm or explain the reasons behind this reported $10.5 Million payment. What we do know is that the Supreme Court was of the opinion that Omar Khadr’s human rights were violated during the time he was in prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and that Canadians officials were aware of this.
It should be noted that the Supreme Court rulings on Omar Khadr’s human rights violations did not include any financial compensation. As a result Omar Khadr had commenced legal action against the Canadian Government suggesting it should be held responsible for the treatment he received at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. For reasons yet unknown rather than vigorously fight this lawsuit it is reported that the Liberals have instead offered $10.5 Million and an apology to Omar Khadr to settle this legal claim.
In a related action, the widow of the US Army Combat medic killed by Omar Khadr had filed a legal action in 2015 against Mr.Khadr and was ultimately successfully awarded $134.2-million in damages. It has also been reported the widow may file a claim in Canada in an effort to have the $134 million judgement enforced in Canada thus potentially impacting the payment of the $10.5 Million to Omar Khadr.
So back to the original question, what can be done to stop this? In this case, only the Liberal Government can stop this agreement and related $10 Million payment from going forward. If that were to occur the legal case would most certainly continue. Most of the documented involvement of Canadian officials was between the years 2003 and 2004 under the Liberal Governments of former Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and later Paul Martin. If this case were to move forward it is conceivable the former actions of these governments would be heavily scrutinized.
For the record, I was a member of the Conservative caucus in the previous 41st Parliament where the Conservative Government staunchly opposed the payment of any funds to Omar Khadr. It should also be pointed out that some do support the payment of these funds to Omar Khadr and have applauded the Liberals for offering a settlement as opposed to more litigation. My question this week is do you support or oppose the $10.5 Million payment to Omar Khadr?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Late last week the House of Commons adjourned after a raucous final few weeks of vigorous debate. One of the contentious subjects that arose again was on the subject of electoral reform. As many will know, the Prime Minister famously promised that "2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system"- a campaign promise that has since been abandoned by the Liberals.
The reason why this subject has again surfaced was due to the Prime Minister commenting to reporters this week at the end of sitting press conference that the opposition was to be blamed for not providing a path forward on electoral reform. A comment that most Ottawa observers and many MPs alike agree was absurd and inaccurate.
It is important to understand that the all-party Parliamentary committee studying electoral reform traveled in excess of 30,000 kilometers over a 4 month time frame and held roughly 60 different meetings hearing a wide range of input and opinion on this subject. The findings of that study were very similar to what I heard here in our region. Of those who did support democratic reform, there was overwhelming support for proportional representation. Likewise there was also a strong consensus that a formal referendum was necessary on the subject as ultimately democracy in Canada belongs to Canadians and not elected officials.
I mention these points as there most certainly was a path forward for the Prime Minister to proceed on electoral reform, unfortunately that path was of no interest. Why? Ultimately the preference of the Liberals was a ranked ballot and not proportional representation, as a ranked ballot system politically most benefits the Liberals. Unfortunately at the time the Prime Minister made his promise for electoral reform he offered no disclaimer that it would only apply for a ranked ballot system, an omission that has angered many in Canada who support proportional representation.
Regrettably the approach of "ranked ballot or nothing" essentially means the all-party committee studying electoral reform spent $600,000 on a report that ultimately was never going to be accepted unless it fit the Liberals preference. As much as I strive to be non-partisan in these weekly reports, the behavior of our Prime Minister in this particular area was regrettable. Increasingly Canadians see broken promises and I am of the opinion that if a leader has to break or go back on an electoral commitment, that he or she should state compelling arguments as to why these campaign promises are no longer possible or not in the national interest. Rather than taking responsibility, we see instead the blame being cast at others, in this case at the opposition who proactively worked together hearing the concerns of Canadians.
As I like to end my reports on a positive note I would like to take a moment to thank the many volunteers who will be putting on Canada Day events across our great country. In any democratic society there will always be those times where we agree to disagree. As Canadians we do so respectfully but more importantly on July 1st we will set aside those differences and we will collectively celebrate our love for Canada and the diversity we share as a nation. Please have a safe and enjoyable Canada Day!
I welcome your comments and questions and be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
In last week’s report I referenced the emerging new dynamic in Ottawa. The increasingly more independent Senate is interfering with the Liberal Government's Parliamentary agenda. While most of the response I've heard locally is supportive of the Senate reviewing and amending legislation they believe to be flawed, there are certainly some who oppose any intervention from an un-elected Senate over bills passed in a democratically elected house.
The primary issue I raised last week was the Liberal Government's proposed use of an “escalator tax” that would be levied on most wine, beer and spirits sold in Canada. Under an escalator tax essentially the tax rate is increased every year and is set by civil servants linked to inflation as opposed to having to come before the House for debate in the annual budget.
As I also speculated last week, despite considerable effort by the Liberal Government to the contrary, the Senate did indeed vote to amend the Liberal budget bill and removed the “escalator tax”. What happens next? Once the Senate amends legislation it must then be sent back to the House of Commons where the Liberals have already stated they will reject the amendment made by the Senate and insist on the inclusion of the escalator tax in the budget bill. This in turn has the potential to send the re-amended bill back to the Senate where it could potentially be amended again, thus creating a legislative standoff. At this point it is unclear what the outcome will be however many eyes in the Ottawa bubble are focused on this topic.
From a Parliamentary aspect it should not be overlooked that the idea of removing Senators from caucus to sit as independent Senators was championed and done by Prime Minister Trudeau. In that respect some observers point out that this problem is one of the Liberal's own creation. However a closer inspection reveals that the ‘Independent’ Senators appointed by the PM have actually voted in support of Liberal government bills close to 95% of the time. In reality it is former Liberal Senators now sitting as Independent Liberals and Conservative Senators who more frequently vote against Liberal legislation.
One point that all Ottawa pundits do agree on is that the greater independence of the Senate has ultimately created a more powerful Senate. This is a point that has not been lost on Ottawa lobbyists either. Recent lobbyist registry data shows that Senate lobbying has increased dramatically. In fact Senators were lobbied more in 2016 than any other year in history with close to 700 interactions recorded. In 2015, the last year the former Government was in power, this number was 217.
Although the vast majority of citizens I have heard from support the Senate’s current efforts to stop the escalator tax there, may well come a time when the Senate stages an intervention on a democratically passed Bill that the public may be more supportive of.
I welcome your comments on this or any subject before the House and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
In my May 25th, 2016 MP Report I wrote:
“If you have been following our Canadian Senate you may know that a recent effort has been underway by the Liberal Government to appoint Senators who are considered “Independent” as they are not political members of the Government's Liberal caucus. More recently Senators have also been appointed by the Prime Minister with the benefit of being selected by a panel of appointees who in theory are selecting citizens without political considerations being part of the criteria. These recent Senate reform efforts have also resulted in a number of Senators who were formerly affiliated with party caucuses to resign and also sit as Independent members of the Senate. The end result is that there are now more independent senators and a different structure in place from a political perspective than had existed previously.”
At the time I wrote that I also observed “that all eyes will be on the Senate for more reasons than usual.” And one year later, more so today, that is precisely what is occurring in Ottawa.
Why do I mention this?
As some of you may recall recently I wrote about the subject of escalator taxation that was being introduced by the Liberals. Escalator taxation is when a tax will increase every year by default at the rate of inflation that would not be annually determined or debated by democratically elected Members of Parliament.
In this current case the tax escalator would be set on most beer, wine and spirits sold in Canada along with user fees in other areas. The concern of course is that this is a slippery slope that if left unchallenged may lead to other taxes also quietly receiving annual escalators set by unelected department officials in Ottawa.
Reaction to my report on this subject was overwhelming with many concerns expressed and strong opposition. Comments such as “taxation without representation” were common and some pointed to the loss of many well-paying jobs when the former Hiram Walker plant near Kelowna shut down the last time an escalator tax was used and applied to spirits in Canada.
I mention all of these things because a number of Senators have decided to stage an intervention and seek to potentially amend the Liberals budget bill in the Senate to stop the use of escalator taxation. As one Senator describes it “"If the government wants to increase the excise duties on alcohol, which is completely legitimate, then it should do so manually every year, in every budget. Automatic increases don't take into account the state of the economy”.
While many welcome this potential intervention by the chamber of “sober second thought” and point to this as a reason why the Senate exists others are quite strongly opposed. Those who disagree have expressed concerns that an un-elected Senate has no business amending legislation put forward and passed by a democratically elected House.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Should Senators intervene in what they view as flawed legislation or as they are unelected and unaccountable should they refrain?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711
This week the Liberal Government announced a new defence policy for Canada. While details are still being revealed, here is some of the information that has been released.
In terms of dollars it is proposed that annual operational military spending will be increased from $18.9 Billion in the current fiscal year and will rise to $32.7 Billion in the 2026-2027 budget. Part of this increased spending means that 3,500 more military personnel can be added to the total regular force size that will be increased to 71,500 troops overall.
In addition it is also proposed to make significant upgrades to Canada’s military hardware. The current CF-18 jet will be replaced with 88 yet to be named replacement jet fighters. It is also proposed to add remotely piloted attack aircraft, often referred to as Drones although the exact number has yet to be announced. It is also proposed to either upgrade or replace many existing aircraft such as the CC-150 Polaris, CC-138 Twin Otter and CP-140 Aurora. Air to air missiles, communications and radar systems are also proposed for modernisation.
Part of the equipment upgrades will also apply to the Canadian Navy as it is proposed to add 15 new surface combat ships and two joint supply ships. Five to six Arctic patrol ships have also been proposed including more modernization for the current four Victoria class submarines. Weapons such as torpedoes will also be part of the upgrade effort.
Vehicles, weapons, cyber capabilities and even space capabilities will also be included in the modernization and expansion efforts.
This is only a partial summary of a fairly extensive proposal. From my perspective there is little dispute that our Canadian Forces are in serious need for upgraded and modernized capabilities.
We have an outstanding group of Canadians who serve in our armed forces and they deserve the tools necessary to serve the interests of Canada both at home and abroad. I do have some concerns with this proposal. As a significant amount of purchases will be required having an efficient and effective procurement process will be vitally important. To date Federal Governments of all political stripes have long struggled with implementing an effective procurement process and this area will in my view remain a challenge.
My other major concern is the obvious. How does this ambitious plan get paid for? As is the case with most announcements from this Liberal Government the spending is typically back loaded with little spending now and the majority schedule to occur after the next election and is imposed on future Governments who may or may not support these initiatives. At the same time the Liberals have not announced where this significant amount of money to pay for it will come from. Given that the Liberals are currently running deficits significantly larger then promised and refuse to present a plan when they will return to a balanced budget it is unclear if this spending will result in even more debt or if taxes are going to be significantly increased. At a minimum Canadians deserve to know these details.
I welcome your comments and questions on the new Defence Plan or any matter before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-888-665-8711.
As much as the House of Commons is often viewed as an adversarial environment there are also those times, albeit rare, when there is unanimous support for the passage of a bill. In the last Parliament, I was fortunate to have unanimous support for the passage of my bill to remove a prohibition era federal restriction preventing the personal movement of wine across provincial borders. Later the Government would expand on this bill to also include beer and spirits. Recently in the House of Commons another private member’s bill has received unanimous support and has also passed through the Senate and recently received Royal Assent.
Bill C-224 “An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” was sponsored by MP Ron McKinnon from Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam. This is a very important bill that may save lives. For many families in communities through British Columbia and Canada the opioid crisis is a very serious and real concern. Although the crises is reported on almost daily, often when a tragedy is concerned, not told are the countless others who suffer from addiction and may be only one drug away from an overdose that could be fatal.
Unfortunately history has shown that often when an overdose does occur in some cases it may not be reported to emergency responders in a timely manner as those who are with the overdosed individual fear law enforcement involvement once 9-1-1 has been called. These delays in treatment often end up in death.
Bill C-224 changes that. Technically Bill C-224 ensures that “ an exemption from charges of simple possession of a controlled substance as well as from charges concerning a pre-trial release, probation order, conditional sentence or parole violations related to simple possession for people who call 9-1-1 for themselves or another person suffering an overdose, as well as anyone who is at the scene when emergency help arrives”. In other words calling for help when an overdose occurs will now ensure that there will not be criminal charges against the good samaritan(s) that attempt to save a life. While more Government action is needed against the opioid crises any step that can help save lives is an important one.
For those who have asked about the progress of the Liberal Government Bill to legalize marijuana it has currently had introduction and first reading with debate to begin in the near future.
I welcome your comments and questions and be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
This week in the House of Commons the Liberal Government introduced what is being called the “Air Passenger Bill of Rights”. Technically these proposed changes are part of Bill C-49 “An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts”.
What are some of these proposed changes? For the most part it is proposed to have more clear regulations for situations that may commonly arise when travelling by air.
Some examples are compensation minimums for denied boarding’s that arise from overbooking, delays or other cancellations. Guidelines also are proposed for lost or damaged luggage, even tarmac delays over an established length of time are now subject to this Bill. Other changes include children sitting next to a parent without an additional seat selection charge and standards for the safe transport of musical instruments.
Aside from these consumer friendly changes that I believe most air travellers will welcome there are also some proposed changes from an industry perspective. Most notable is that the current restriction on foreign ownership of a Canadian airline will be increased from the current level of twenty five percent up to forty nine percent. This change will not apply to specialty air services such as firefighting.
Another proposed change is new powers for the Transportation Minister to approve joint ventures between two or more different air carriers. This change is intended to help accommodate standard industry practices elsewhere and potentially to increase competition.
It is also proposed that airport security screening services provided by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority or CATSA will now be supported on a cost recovery basis. The Government promotes this clause as allowing for an airport to pay for additional airport security screening services to help establish new routes. However it could also result in a form of downloading where airport operators are forced to pay for a larger share of security services that in turn increases the costs of air travel. Presently airports create significant revenues for the Federal Government from fees and charges that are already paid for by passengers. There is always a concern that some Canadians living near the border may instead use more price competitive alternatives at nearby USA airports. At this point more details and further clarification will be required.
My thoughts? One item I would like to see included would be an extended time frame for consumers who have airline credits to use those airline credits that currently expire within a fairly narrow window of time. Overall I believe the majority of these changes will be welcome while details on cost recovery for CATSA security services will need more clarification although in principle I am not opposed to cost recovery as a means of service delivery.
I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on the Transportation Modernization Act or any other subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.