Each year the Federal Government, along with the Provinces & Territories bring down the annual budget for the upcoming fiscal period. That is always a much anticipated day and typically a very involved week. Budget analysis, reactions and politics are all part of this process as budgets will often reveal expected announcements as well as the unexpected and sometimes even surprises. This year’s budget was no exception. From my own perspective there was one interesting surprise as my private members bill to allow the inter-provincial shipping of wine across Provincial borders directly to consumers (for personal consumption) will be expanded to also include beer and spirits. Given that Okanagan-Coquihalla is home to some excellent craft brewers along with a growing number of artisan distillers this is exciting news on the local level.
There are a number of other items in the budget that also stood out to me based on concerns I have heard from meeting with local citizens. One item is a $305 million investment to extend high-speed broadband internet service. Here in Okanagan-Coquihalla we currently have rural families with no internet service whatsoever– for these families, many who are farmers and run small businesses, this will bring new opportunities currently enjoyed by most Canadian households but not in many rural areas. It is estimated roughly 280,000 homes currently without service will soon have broadband access with this funding.
Another important investment is $222 million to implement new labour market agreements for persons with disabilities to help get skills training for available jobs. In addition is $11.4 million in funding to Community Works that will help persons with other disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorders help participate in the workforce. In virtually every community throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla I have met disabled citizens who receive financial support from the Provincial Government and are eligible for an income earnings exemption that can further supplement household income. Unfortunately many citizens in this situation have expressed frustration that a lack of skills training creates a further barrier to securing employment. More skills training can help bridge the gap and create more opportunities for disabled citizens to access the workforce.
Budget 2014 also creates significant new investments in programs to help older workers stay in the workforce as well as programs to create internships in high demand occupations including positions in small and medium-sized businesses to help youth job creation. This is especially helpful for youth as often it is the first job that can be the most difficult to land.
Budget 2014 also creates a new tax credit for Search & Rescue volunteers. Last fall I joined with a group of Merritt citizens in a search & rescue effort looking for a missing father. The expertise and efforts of search & rescue volunteers makes a huge difference in many parts of Okanagan-Coquihalla in saving lives and at times extracting deceased family members to help bring closure when unfortunate accidents occur. A special thank you to all of our search & rescue volunteers.
Although these are just a few items in Budget 2014 that I have referenced in this week’s MP report there are over fifty more that given enough space I would have also included details about. On a Provincial level I can also pass on that transfers from the Federal Government to British Columbia will also increase in Budget 2014. Total major transfers to BC will be just under $6 billion in total. Overall this is close to a 60% increase of Provincial transfers compared to 2005-2006 under the previous Federal Government. If you would like more information on Budget 2014 please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
For this week`s MP report I am going to add some inside
perspective on a few recent events that have occurred in Ottawa over the past few weeks. As many of you may have heard, recently the Leader of the Federal Liberal Party made an announcement that effective immediately, all Liberal Senators would be booted from the Liberal caucus in an effort to try and ensure that the Liberal Senators would become more independent.
Many in the media reacted swiftly calling the idea “bold” while debate remained on what, if any, difference might occur. What is interesting about this idea is that it was actually the NDP who back in late October of 2013 introduced a motion in the House of Commons calling for “the introduction of immediate measures to end Senators' partisan activities, including participation in Caucus meetings”– what is more interesting is that when the NDP first introduced this idea the media did not characterize it as being “bold”– most in fact ignored the NDP motion. What is also notable is that at the time the leader of the Liberals actually voted against the motion, accusing the NDP of political haymaking over the Senate. Privately many NDP MP’s I know are expressing disappointment and frustration that a NDP idea is treated differently in the media when it is adopted by another party.
The larger question is will expelled from caucus Senators become more independent? In the case of the Liberal Senators what was seldom reported was that within hours of being booted out of the Liberal caucus, the Liberal Senators met as a group and quickly re-elected the same Liberal Senate
leader, the same Deputy Leader and most surprising even elected the same Senate party whip before declaring they were still a Liberal Senate caucus. The fact that a group of supposedly independent Senators would vote in a whip and continue to sit as a Liberal Senate caucus ensures that the extra pay and perks of a caucus (that are not available to truly independent Senators) would still flow and be paid for by taxpayers. In other words, nothing really changed as a result of this announcement. The inside joke in Ottawa is formerly Liberal senators have now become Senators who are Liberals. Ultimately the only real means of reforming that Senate remains before the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue formal legal guidelines on how the Senate can be reformed or abolished at some point within this year.
While on the topic of Senators many citizens have contacted me recently to express support for Private Members Bill C-518 from my Conservative colleague MP John Williamson. The Canadian Taxpayer’s federation has also engaged in a campaign calling for public support of this bill. What does Bill C-518 propose? I have already spoken in favor of Bill C-518 moving forward in debate to review stage and my comments on this Bill from Hansard were as follows:
“We know Canadians expect that if parliamentarians are convicted of egregious crimes, they should face consequences. No different from everyday Canadians would expect to face consequences if convicted of an egregious crime, yet we also know that this is currently not the case. I would
like to commend the member for New Brunswick Southwest for his work to attempt to remedy this. Currently, if a senator or member of Parliament retires or resigns prior to being convicted, or otherwise manoeuvres to avoid being expelled or disqualified from Parliament, that individual is still entitled to
his or her full pension, including the employer's share, which is funded by taxpayers. In other words, if one retires or resigns before being convicted of a crime, one still benefits from a generous pension plan. This is, in itself, an outrage to many taxpayers. “– MP Albas excerpt from Hansard
I will continue to provide updates on Bill C-518 as it progresses through debate as there has been a strong level of interest in this bill. Also occurring this week is the introduction of the budget that is
happening on Tuesday, February 11th and will be the topic of next week’s report. If you have any questions or concerns on Bills before Parliament please do not hesitate to contact me directly. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
The last week has been a busy one on Parliament Hill with far too many topics to raise in the limited space of this week’s report. For that reason I would like to focus on the topic that I believe is of greatest importance and that is veteran services and how that relates to the closure of eight Veterans Affairs offices.
Currently in Canada there is just under 600,000 veterans with roughly 130,000 of those veterans having a file with Veterans Affairs. Historically there have been 68 Veterans Affairs offices in Canada including one in Okanagan-Coquihalla that is located in Penticton. The Penticton office is not one of the eight recently closed. These Veteran Affairs offices have certainly been beneficial for veterans in the 68 communities they are located in however this also leaves many regions of Canada without an office
to service as an access point for veterans services. It should also be noted that veteran affairs offices do not actually provide services directly to veterans– these offices serve as administrative points of contact so that veterans can ultimately access the services and benefits they do need.
Aside from appearing at a Veterans Affairs office in person, veterans do have other options to obtain services from Veterans Affairs. By far the most popular option is through the telephone as each year there are slightly over 700,000 calls made by veterans to Veterans affairs. In home service is also available to those veterans who may have mobility challenges however in home visits are not currently tracked so it is unclear how many veterans utilize this service. More recently Veterans Services have also been offered online; although some have questioned the ability of veterans to access
services online currently 15,000 veterans have accessed services electronically.
In order to further increase the accessibility options for the many veterans who live in regions of Canada that are not among the 68 with a Veterans Affairs office, our Government is expanding Service Canada to also include the ability to access Veterans Affairs benefits and Services. This decision ensures that veteran services can be accessed at roughly 600 more Service Canada locations than was previously possible. In eight communities in Canada a situation arose where a Service Canada office was in extremely close proximity to a pre-existing Veterans Office. As an example in five of these
community’s Service Canada and Veterans affairs offices were located in the same building and in two other circumstances were within a kilometer of each others. In these situations of close proximity the decision was made to close the veterans affairs office and transfer some of the staff to the Service Canada office. Once these changes are in effect there will be 60 Veterans Affairs offices remaining combined with 600 Service Canada locations meaning veterans who desire to access service in person will have over 650 locations across Canada to do so.
From a funding perspective, veteran benefits have been increased overall by close to $5 billion in new and additional funding- this has been invested to expand the eligibility for the permanent impairment allowance, setting monthly minimums for veteran’s in rehabilitation, doubling the funds available to a family under the funeral and burial program are just a few examples of where the increased funding is being spent. This does not mean that challenges do not remain. We are also fortunate in Canada that the Royal Canadian Legion operates 1,461 branches Canada wide. The Legion is a valuable resource in representing the interests of veterans and works closely with all levels of Government to help ensure that the needs of our veterans are looked after.The Legion also provides support services to veterans that are made possible through donations to the poppy fund. I believe that Canadians are united
in sharing the view that it is critically important veterans receive the benefits and services that they need. If you would like further information on specific veteran programs or services please do not hesitate to contact me directly. I can be reached via email at email@example.com 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.