Never let it be said that Canadians are not a diverse and energetic population when it comes to expressing personal points of view on a range of different topics. This is something that I welcome, as it indicates to me that people are engaged in the discussion of how we can build a better country. Recently I covered the topic of a proposal for the Glacier Discovery Walkway project in Jasper National Park. The intent of my report was not to ask citizens to support or oppose that project but rather to clarify what was being proposed in response to inquiries from constituents. In the days that followed, I heard from citizens who are very strongly in favour of the project and from those who believe there should be no public amenities whatsoever in national parks.
Recently another topic that I am hearing a diverse range of opinions about pertains to the subject of pensions. Currently there are concerns being expressed to me by many public sector employees regarding the future of their pension plans. At the same time I am also hearing from taxpayers with concerns about the costs of public sector pension plans, as well as the costs of pension plans for Members of Parliament. There has been much speculation recently in the media that there may be pending changes to pensions within the public sector. Currently our Government is looking at all forms of public sector spending in order to find efficiencies and savings without raising your taxes. At this point, all options are being considered. I will state for the record that should changes be proposed to the MP pension plan that is more respectful of the taxpayer I will fully support such initiatives. I will note that individuals in the public service pay into and earn them; however contributions and benefits must be fair to the taxpayers who help fund them.
My office also receives on a regular basis questions from many citizens about the different programs that the Federal Government administers, like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). For your information, here are a few points about these programs:
The CPP is generally funded equally by you and your employer during your working years. CPP can provide benefits for loss of income created by disability or retirement. The benefits are ultimately calculated by how much you have contributed and over what length of time. Currently the maximum CPP retirement pension amount is just under $ 1000 monthly at age 65. You can start collecting CPP as early as 60 or as late as 70 however different rates would apply. In contrast OAS provides a modest pension to most Canadians at age 65, if you have lived in Canada for at least 10 years. For the record, federal Liberal bill 428 that proposed lowering the 10 year residency requirement was not passed by Parliament. The maximum OAS payment is just under $ 550 monthly for those individuals with 40 years or more of residency after their eighteenth birthday. Seniors with earnings in excess of roughly $ 70,000 per year will gradually receive a lesser OAS benefit that ultimately is eliminated for an income in excess of $ 112,000 a year.
The GIS is specifically for lower income seniors 65 and older with an income of roughly $ 16,000 annually or less. If you have questions for any of the above programs you can contact Service Canada toll free at 1-800-622-6232 for further information.
While these three programs are generally well known, they certainly aren’t the only ones that the Federal Government administers as part of a broader social safety net. In fact, 60% of the money that is spent at the Federal level is in transfers which go direct to individuals or the provinces for their use. With increasing demographic pressures coupled with the backdrop of a fragile economic recovery, the one thing we can count on is a robust discussion of our options, as we look to do our part in the building of a better Canada.
Our Government’s economic action plan has been largely credited with helping to create an economic and investment environment that has created close to 600,000 new jobs during one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. In the context of jobs and job creation we often hear that one of the obstacles for employers is bureaucratic red tape. To date I am realizing firsthand that there is some legitimacy to these claims. Many people would be shocked with how large an impact that Government can have on the bottom line of a thriving business, by the change of a single directive. As elected officials we must always keep in mind that our decisions will often impact the lives of our fellow Canadians. I was reminded of this most recently, as I had an opportunity to recently visit a Service Canada location where approximately 75% of the inquiries are about Employment Insurance. The value and importance of having a job cannot be overstated and as taxpayers we must also be mindful of the challenges that increased unemployment presents to Canadian families.
Recently I have encountered two situations that I believe are thought provoking and worthy of discussion. Investment is a term that many Canadians understand, however when this term is expanded to include foreign investment, often some view non- Canadian investors from a more negative perspective. Although it is not widely reported, many Canadian industries are regulated from an ownership and investment perspective. One particular sector, as an example, limits by percentage the share of foreign ownership in a Canadian company. One challenge that can emerge is when a company in such a sector requires additional investment to survive and only non- Canadian investors respond. If this investment is denied as a result of where capital originates, then potentially hundreds of extremely well paying jobs in a moderately sized community could be lost permanently. Clearly this is a challenging situation and often it is not a hypothetical one but a reality.
In another example a project proposed for a region could have significant positive economic impacts for generations including the creation of hundreds of jobs and also increasing the local tax base. In this example the project in question may primarily require suitable access. However as it not uncommon, sometimes citizens in an area will reject road related projects if they result in increases of traffic and noise. In addition costly and time consuming traffic and engineering studies are also a requirement that even if properly addressed may still not overcome objections from local citizens. As many will be aware, these types of projects and proposals are not uncommon in many different regions.
While there is a debate about the role of government in direct job creation, there is certainly no debate that government has a strong role to play. The examples above demonstrate how the decisions of elected officials at all levels of government can have a significant impact on job creation within a specific region. I have noted in my brief time both as a city councillor and now as an MP that opposing something is often far easier than standing up in support. However after my visit to the Service Canada location I believe we must all take a moment to think of those currently unemployed and in search of a job and ask what we can do in support of job creation. For the record in both of the examples above I will continue to support jobs and our local economies.
I will never know what public office would have been like prior to the Internet, however I am quickly learning that online information is something that needs to be scrutinized very carefully. Over this past weekend I was made aware of claims that the Jasper National park was soon to be privatized and had been sold to an International company. Further this international company planned on charging all park users an entrance fee in order to help finance large scale private development within the park. Fairly serious claims and fortunately none of them are true. This type of misinformation seems to be occurring on a more frequent basis within certain segments of the online internet community.
I would like to thank those citizens who were sceptical of such claims and forwarded this misinformation to me for further clarification that I am more than happy to provide. What is really occurring is that Parks Canada, back in 2010, initiated a public consultation process to identify a vision for the Icefields Parkway. The goal is to increase learning opportunities and enhance the abilities for park visitors to enjoy the environment and gain insights into the regions ecological and cultural heritage. Brewster, a company who has for many years operated the unique “ice explorer” buses in the area, has proposed to add a new feature to the well known Ice field glacier adventure. The new feature being discussed is a glacial discovery walk, complete with a handicapped accessible 400 meter interpretive boardwalk featuring a glass-floored observation platform extended 30 meters over the Sunwapta Valley below.
Cleary some individuals will not be supportive of this type of a feature within the Jasper National park not unlike those who opposed the introduction of motorized ice explores when they were first introduced over thirty years ago. However since that time over 10 million visitors have utilized the increased access to better understand and enjoy the unique learning opportunities of the ice fields. Many local citizens and tourists the world over have also at one time or another travelled in an ice explorer and can recall many fond memories of that unique experience. Regardless of supporting or opposing increased public amenities in public parks any suggestion that Jasper National Park is being sold or that mass scale development is occurring is patently false. It should also be noted that park user fees remain at the sole responsibility of Parks Canada. In reality when and where private services are offered in public parks those revenues are typically used to offset park operating costs ensuring that actual park users pay an additional share over and above average Canadian taxpayers.
It was not my intention this week to cover the Jasper National Park in my weekly MP report as there are more localized concerns I had intended to discuss. However with such a strong level of misinformation on the topic and many local citizens asking for clarification I felt it was important to relay to the citizens of Okanagan Coquihalla that Parks Canada is not selling parks as some have wrongly suggested. As the House of Commons will not sit again until the end of the month on January 30th I would be interested in hearing from you. If you have time for a meeting or even a phone to relay your concerns I encourage you to contact me to schedule an appointment. I can be reached at 250-770-4480 or 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.