As you may have heard, this week the House of Commons will resume sitting on Parliament Hill for what is expected to be another robust session of debate and discussion. Some of the already identified items on the projected order of business for this week include Government Bills C-48 and C-52. Bill C-48 is the “Technical Tax Amendment Act”. Over time tax amendments are often introduced by Government that make changes to various aspects of income tax and sales tax much as was done recently in Budget 2012. Ultimately these proposed tax amendments must be included within legislation and to date is has been well over 10 years since the Act was last updated thus creating a significant backlog. One of the benefits of a stable majority in the House is that these kind of technical tax amendment bills that are important to ensure the integrity of our tax system, were often neglected during the recent minority years of Liberal and Conservative governments. As this is more of a technical Bill it is not expected to be a controversial one and the tone of today's debate seemed to be generally supportive.
Bill C-52 “The Fair Rail Freight Service Act” is in response to recommendations made by the Rail Freight Service Review Panel. In summary, challenges can arise within sectors of the agricultural community in securing mutually supported agreements between shippers and railway companies. The lack of a successful agreement can serve as a barrier preventing producers from getting their goods to market in a manner that provides certainty. Bill C-52 proposes new incentives to help strengthen the agreement making process, specifically an arbitration process will be introduced in the event an agreement cannot be reached and monetary penalties can also be assessed if there are violations to an arbitrated agreement. I have spoken with constituents who are familiar with the Canadian rail system and were supportive of seeing these legislative changes. Much like Bill C-48, this is also a Bill that is not expected to be a controversial one, as the opposition parties at committee supported the legislation with no changes or amendments.
In addition to Government Bills, there will also be a number of Private Member’s Bill coming up for debate this week. Bill C-457 “An Act to Repeal the Clarity Act”, Bill C-452 “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons), Bill C-425 “An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act”, Bill C-444 “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code”, Bill C-460 “Sodium reduction strategy for Canada” and finally Motion M-412 “Hydroelectric Project”. In addition to private members business, Parliamentary committees will also again be sitting throughout the week while House votes may be occurring Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Not occurring this week but later this session will be the introduction of a new budget, along with continued debate on the following topics where bills have already been introduced to the House of Commons: Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act; the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act; the First Nations Financial Transparency Act; the Increasing Offender Accountability for Victims Act; the Northern Jobs and Growth Act; and the Safer Witnesses Act. If you have comments or concerns on any subject please do not hesitate to contact me at your convenience. As taxpayer’s your input is an important consideration for the work that we do in Ottawa and while we may not always reach agreement on issues of concern the importance of sharing views and exchanging information should never be overlooked.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached via email at Dan.email@example.com
This week will be the second term inauguration of President Obama. As much as there is often talk on the importance of diversifying Canada’s international network of trading partners and related markets, we should not overlook the importance of Canada’s strong economic relationship with the United States. In 1989 as some will recall, the Canada-US Free Trade agreement came into force. I would say that in its day it was not without controversy and politics; as much in play then as they are with trade and investment agreements today. Only now, we have the benefit of hindsight to look back for more perspective on this historic free trade agreement. Contrary to false and alarming claims made by critics at the time, the border has not disappeared and as proud Canadians we continue to celebrate our love for our country and what it means to be Canadian on July 1st of each year. Not only have hardworking Canadians proven that we can compete today globally, we stand tall and continue to uphold those values that have built this great nation into one of the world’s leading economies.
Since the Canada-US Free trade agreement began in 1989, Canada’s annual GDP has increased by over $1 trillion– that translates to almost 4.6 million more jobs here in Canada today. Two way trade with the United States has almost tripled. As I travel throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla and meet with employers there are many who depend upon free and unrestricted access to the United States market. However it is also important to recognize that although “Free trade” in principle provides unrestricted access, in reality there remain many barriers; regulatory red tape and other legislative road blocks that serve to stifle the movement of goods and services. For example the “trusted trader” program is intended to assist those companies with cross-border trade opportunities and yet the registration process requires dealing with two different agencies of government essentially requiring similar information. My former private members bill addressed the problem where Canadian wineries could legally sell to a customer in Texas or Asia but not into Alberta or Manitoba. As I mentioned in a recent MP report, international ownership restrictions in one sector could put hundreds of local workers out of a job. As another example in the wine sector- a winery looking to bottle and produce wine and create jobs here in the Okanagan will pay a duty on those grapes unless they are grown in Canada – even if there is a shortage of locally grown grapes.
This week is "RED TAPE AWARENESS WEEK" and I believe it is important that we not just take notice, but take action to eliminate those barriers that are standing in the way of creating and sustaining jobs. Sometimes the solutions are relatively simple, for example in my Bill, an amendment of roughly 50 words helped open up the Canadian wine market to Canadians. A proposed change to the Food and Drug Regulations that would allow provincially regulated pharmacy technicians to transfer prescriptions to another pharmacy could benefit 15,000 pharmacists and save close to $ 9 million annually in administrative costs. Another change is the ability to consolidate business accounts under one business number when dealing with the CRA. This change allows business owners to spend more time running the business instead of time spent dealing with the criteria of the CRA. Another new initiative is the one for one rule. This rule ensures that each time a new regulation is introduced, it will be offset by the removal of another existing regulation. Canada will be one of only a handful of jurisdictions in the world to undertake such a leading-edge approach. There are more initiatives that are underway however these examples represent our Government’s commitment to help business owners grow and focus on generating revenue and jobs instead of being mired in regulatory red tape that in some cases can date back many decades or more.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached via email at Dan.firstname.lastname@example.org
This week I have had a large number of requests for comment regarding the ongoing challenges of the Attawapiskat First Nation, and related events that have occurred recently in Ottawa. To be clear, it is relatively easy to criticize the financial management practices at Attawapiskat. At a time when some are living in appalling conditions, the Chief and her live-in partner who is also the band co-manager have a combined household income reported to be $250,000 per year. When asked about the $250,000 the band co-manager is quoted as “I think it’s adequate for the job that is being done”. A recent Deloitte Audit along with a management letter from the Band’s own accounting firm Ross, Pope & Co., have raised very serious questions regarding the accounting practices and lack of documentation to illustrate where millions in spending has gone. However as easy as it may be to criticize the lack of financial accountability in Attawapiskat, we must also recognize that criticism does little to help those living in Attawapiskat who do not have the benefit of a $250,000 household income. For those living in appalling and unacceptable conditions, very serious challenges remain.
There is also, in my view, a much larger problem; one that was highlighted on Monday, October 15, 2007. It was on this day that Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird gave a historic speech in the BC Legislature to recognize the first reading of a Bill that would ultimately bring into law, a treaty agreement for the Tsawwassen First Nation. Inside the Legislature many First Nations leaders had gathered to celebrate the success of this milestone agreement however outside of the Legislature a different group of First Nations leaders had also gathered to protest against the treaty and related process. This strong disagreement and lack of a consensus based approach within First Nations was what occurred again last week in Ottawa. While Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo gathered with other First Nations leaders in a meeting with the Prime Minister, other First Nations leaders disagreed so strongly with this meeting that they attempted to create a physical blockade to prevent the meeting from even occurring. The fact that there is such a strong lack of consensus among different First Nations leaders is clearly serving as a barrier to find solutions which would improve the lives of so many.
Closer to home I often asked why instead of protesting, more bands do not follow the example of successful bands such as the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Westbank First Nation. It is important to recognize that there are many variables unique to individual bands that must be taken into consideration; a subject I wrote about in my September 3rd, 2012 MP report. However, one key aspect that both Westbank and Osoyoos share is the ability to utilize band lands for economic development initiatives through long term leases. Ironically one of the provisions of Bill C-45 is to streamline and make it both easier and faster for those bands that do make the decisions to enter into long term leases to be able to do so. In other words, Bill C-45 actually makes it easier for First Nations to follow the same economic principles that have been successful for Westbank and Osoyoos if they choose to do so, and only if they choose to do so. Yet some band Chiefs are opposed to having the process of leasing band lands simplified, even though they can choose not to do so. I mention this point only to put into context the degree of challenge that exists with such strongly differing opinions.
The Solution? As I mentioned earlier, and in my Sept 3rd, 2012 MP report, I believe that each First Nation is unique. As is often the case, one size fits all Ottawa imposed solutions seldom find success in an area where there is so much diversity. I also believe it is important that Government at all levels attempts to engage and work with individual bands on a one to one basis. In my view we must also focus more on the many First Nation success stories and not always on the failures. Fortunately we currently have many great things occurring within the Penticton Indian Band and there is a positive working relationship between the leadership of the Band, and all levels of Government. The projects we are collectively working on will greatly help to increase economic development, employment and revenue for the band and for our region collectively. I am excited at the opportunity that is currently before us, and hope in the very near future this will be a success story unique to our region.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at email@example.com
January of each year is the opening of “income tax” season– the period of time up until April 30th of 2013 when 2012 income taxes must be filed with the Canada Revenue Agency. Recently I had a constituent request federal income tax rates from the year 2000 in order to compare with the income tax rates for 2013. The results are somewhat interesting and I would like to share them with you for general interest. In the year 2000 there were three federal income tax brackets– the first $ 30,004 dollars was taxed at a rate of 17%, the next $30,004 up to $60,009 was taxed at a rate of 25% and all income over $60,009 was taxed at 29%.
In 2013 there are two significant changes; the first is that there are now four tax brackets instead of three as was the case in the year 2000. The first income tax bracket now applies on income up to $43,561 and is taxed at a rate of 15%. The second tax bracket is on income between $43,652 up to $87,123 and is at a rate of 22% while the third tax bracket is on income over $87,123 up to $135,054 and is at a rate of 26%.
Obviously the highest tax bracket is now on income in excess above $135,054 and is still taxed at the same rate as was the highest income tax bracket in the year 2000 at 29%. Clearly the most significant changes in income tax rates over the past decade have been reduced income tax rates for lower income Canadians.
The second major change introduced by our Government in 2006 and expanded in many budgets since has been targeted tax relief to help support families and at the same time promote employment that helps to drive our local economies. Targeted tax relief measures include the following: The Family Caregiver Tax Credit, The Medical Expense Tax Credit, The First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit, The Children's Fitness Tax Credit, The Hiring Credit for Small Business, The Children's Arts Tax Credit, The Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit, The Tradesperson's Tool Deduction, The Textbook Tax Credit, The Universal Child Care Benefit, The Tax-Free Savings Account, The Registered Disability Savings Plan, The Canada Employment Credit, The Public Transit Tax Credit and The Volunteer Firefighters' Tax Credit. Although I have had one citizen to date request higher income taxes, the overwhelming majority of taxpayer’s I have heard from welcome tax relief and keeping more of their hard earned net income within the family household.
If you would like more information on these tax credits further information is available on either the CRA website or toll free via the CRA call center. In addition there are also many tax professionals and in some areas volunteers who can be of further assistance. My office will also be sending a mailout, outlining many of these measures for your future reference.
One other major tax change in recent years is the ability to file your income tax return online. The average processing time for an online submitted tax filing is typically two weeks compared to 4-6 weeks for a paper filed return. It should also be noted that the method you choose to file your income tax return in no way increases or decreases the potential for an audit. Income tax is rarely a popular topic among most taxpayers however our Government is proud of the tax relief we have provided to Canadian families. Recently our Government announced public sector pension reforms that will begin the process of rebalancing public sector employer and employee pension contributions to an equal 50-50 cost sharing model. In addition the retirement age for new federal public sector jobs will be increased to age 65. These changes alone will save taxpayers $ 2.6 Billion over the next five years. I encourage all taxpayers to claim any credits that you may be entitled to when you file your 2012 income taxes.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.