Each week I am thankful to receive a significant amount of feedback on my weekly MP reports that often also contains suggestions on topics for future reports (for the record I welcome suggestions for future reports). One subject that has arisen a few times is questions on the differences between being a Government MP compared to an opposition MP. It is a good question. In many ways there are very few differences, particularly here in the riding where helping citizens with Federal Government issues remains a priority. Where the differences are more evident is in Ottawa.
From an Ottawa perspective obviously sitting on the opposition side of the House of Commons is a significant change as is the fact that in a majority Government most votes will be won by that Government and not the opposition. However one of the other major change is the fact that opposition has a job to criticize and oppose the Government as well as from time to time propose alternative policies and ideas.
Criticizing in opposition is obviously a new role for me however one aspect of being a critic that is also relevant is the fact that as opposition often you will share information that may not be popular with citizens. As an example in last week’s report many citizens did not enjoy learning that of the $5.3 Billion in spending commitments made by the new Liberal Government, $4.3 Billion will be spent entirely outside of Canada. While some no doubt may have celebrated this news the vast majority of citizens I heard from were, to put it mildly, angry. From my perspective I try to compose reports in a non-partisan manner that does not provoke an angry reaction from citizens.
The reason why I raise this issue is to seek input on what format you would like to see in future MP reports. As an example more time could be spent explaining, or attempting to explain Government policy as opposed to relaying the facts of it for readers to decide upon. Conversely some have stated a preference for reports more critical of Government in areas that are often overlooked by the media. As always there is the option to continue my current approach that tends to vary based upon what events are occurring in Ottawa along with some reports based upon questions and or requests from citizens. Your input on this subject or any other before the House of Commons is greatly appreciated.
On an entirely different theme this week in Ottawa the Liberal Government has presented a fiscal update that indicates the Federal Government will soon be running a much larger deficit then what was promised during the last election. Part of this increased deficit is due to a slowing economy and the deterioration of oil prices and the remainder of the increased deficit will be related to increased Governmental spending. Until the Federal Budget is presented on March 22nd the exact increase of the rising deficit will be unknown. The Federal budget is a topic I will provide more information on as it becomes available.
I would also like to take a moment to congratulate Kelowna Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr on being named as the Chair of the Select Standing Committee on National Defence. One of the priorities of this committee will be the replacement of Canada’s CF-18 fighters, a subject that I believe Mr. Fuhr’s experience in this field can be of benefit to all Canadians. As always I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711
Since my last report, we have now passed the first 100 days in office since the new Liberal Government was sworn into power. As is customary, this 100 day milestone is marked by close scrutiny of Government actions from a wide variety of media and pundits. One particular analysis that caught my attention was from journalist David Akin who examined the spending habits within the first 100 days of the current Liberal Government compared to the former Conservative Government. By the numbers the former Conservative Government announced $3.9 Billion in spending commitments within their first 100 days. In contrast the new Liberal Government has announced spending commitments totalling $5.3 Billion in its first 100 days in office.
What is most interesting is that $4.3 Billion of the total $5.3 Billion that the Liberals have announced will be spent entirely outside of Canada, leaving just $1 Billion to be spent on projects within Canada. By comparison of the $3.9 Billion announced by the former Conservative Government in the first 100 days virtually all of it was for projects and programs within Canada; only $211 million was spent outside of our borders. Obviously this different direction in spending priorities was part of the promised change that the Liberal Government was elected under. We will learn more about the future spending priorities of the Federal Government when the Minister of Finance tables his first budget on March 22, 2016.
Also occurring this week in the House of Commons this week will be debate and a vote on the recently announced Liberal mission changes related to the campaign against the terrorist group ISIS. For more information on these changes and the new mission please see my MP report from last week that can be found here:
Before I close this week I would like to thank those citizens who came out to attend my `Hold your MP to account` town hall in West Kelowna recently. The attendance was very encouraging and many good questions were asked by citizens who held me to account on a variety of different subjects. Given the success of this event I will also look to have similar accountability town halls in other communities in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola over the coming months. Also a reminder for those who cannot make these town halls I am always available for your comments, questions and concerns at: email@example.com or toll-free at 1-800-665-871
This week is a constituency week, when the House of Commons is not sitting after having been in session for the previous two weeks and the House will resume next week for a three week session until the next constituency week. For the sake of interest between now and the House adjourning on June 23rd for the summer recess there will be a total of six constituency weeks and thirteen sitting weeks remaining. What happens during a constituency week? Contrary to the opinion of some a constituency week is not a holiday for MPs or MLAs. Constituency weeks provide opportunities to meet with local citizens as well as other groups and organizations in a Member’s home riding. Constituency weeks also provide opportunities for Government Ministers as well as Opposition critics to travel into different regions of Canada to attend similar meetings and in some cases Government may also make announcements relevant to certain areas. As we also learned this week the Government may also choose to announce a major policy change during a constituency week as was the case when Prime Minister Trudeau finally announced a new policy on Canada’s mission against the terror group ISIS.
As was promised by the Liberals during the election and also announced this week, our CF-18 fighters that have been part of the allied air coalition against ISIS will be withdrawn and returned to Canada. However these will be the only aircraft withdrawn as our Polaris refueling and Aurora surveillance aircraft will remain in the region to assist the continued bombing operations by our coalition partners. In addition the current 69 members of our Armed Forces who are on the ground providing training and assistance with bombing activities will be increased almost three fold to 230 soldiers. Another change is that small arms and related ammunition will also now be provided to Iraqi security forces along with the deployment of Canadian helicopters to provide medical evacuations. Over and above these changes, the current humanitarian aid being provided in the region will also be increased. The total cost of the new mission is estimated to increase as a result up to $1.6 Billion in total over the next three years.
My thoughts? It is disappointing the Prime Minister did not make this announcement in the House of Commons where the original mission was announced on March 24th of 2015. An announcement in the House allows the Opposition to directly question the Government and an opportunity to respond while at the same time also ensures the Prime Minister’s comments are on the official record. Why is this important? During his response speech to the current mission announced last year Justin Trudeau, then leader of the third opposition party stated (and I quote directly) “We can and we should provide that training far from the front lines.” In reality, and as confirmed by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, our training soldiers will be continue working near the front lines “painting targets” that in turn will be bombed by our allied coalition partners under the new Liberal announced plan.
This also raises another point of concern I have. The fact that Canada will continue to provide reconnaissance aircraft to locate targets, as well as to provide aerial tankers so allied bombers can reach those targets, and finally troops on the ground to paint the targets to be bombed demonstrates the critical importance of aerial bombing to this mission. Yet while Canada remains implicitly and actively involved in the bombing of ISIS the withdrawal of our CF-18s in essence suggests we support our allies doing this heavy lifting but no longer stand shoulder to shoulder carrying an equal load as has always been the Canadian way.
I welcome your thoughts, questions and comments on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
The subject of pipelines has featured prominently in Ottawa including on Wednesday when the Liberal Government will announce a new pipeline review process and then Thursday the Official Opposition Conservatives will table a motion calling on the Liberal Government to express support for the Energy East project along with a number of other conditions. At the time of my writing this week’s MP report it is unknown what the new pipeline review process will be or what the outcome of the motion on Thursday is.”
I have included this reference from last week as I can start this report by updating on this information. The Liberal Government did announce a revised pipeline review process that contrary to promises of an entirely new process in effect takes much of the existing process and adds some new considerations. Some of these considerations include more public consultations in particular with First Nations as well upstream GHG (greenhouse gas emissions) will also now be assessed. The combined effect of these new measures also means the review process will be further delayed.
My thoughts on the new review policy? Having met with several groups and citizens who oppose new Canadian pipeline development the message often communicated is that new pipelines will not be supported under any circumstance. Thus lengthening the review process in my view is unlikely to sway those opposed to pipelines to support them, in fact within twenty four hours of the new review process announcement many prominent anti-pipeline organizations including some First Nations groups rejected the Liberal changes. Ultimately delaying the decision is an unhelpful measure. I do see value in tracking GHG emissions however on that same note all infrastructure projects have a GHG footprint and selectively tracking GHG emissions from some projects and not others seems counter-productive if the Liberal Government is truly serious about meeting reduced GHG emission targets.
This leads to the Opposition motion that reads:
“given this time of economic uncertainty, the House: (a) recognize the importance of the energy sector to the Canadian economy and support its development in an environmentally sustainable way; (b) agree that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil; (c) acknowledge the desire for the Energy East pipeline expressed by the provincial governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and New Brunswick; and (d) express its support for the Energy East pipeline currently under consideration.”
Although this motion did not call for Energy East to be formerly approved it was still rejected by the Liberal Government in a whipped vote and was also opposed by the NDP in a similar manner. It is clear that the debate on Canadian pipelines is far from over.
Also being debated this week is a Government Bill C-4 from the Liberals that proposes a number of changes mostly related to Unions. Specifically the right for a worker to have a private ballot when voting on Unionization for a federally regulated work environment is being repealed under this Bill. Also being repealed is the union fiscal transparency act that would require unions to publicly disclose wages, benefits and other Union expenses that are taken from tax deductible union dues. Ironically on the same day the Liberals announced Bill C-4 Elections Canada reported the Liberal Party of Canada had taken an illegal union donation during the recent October election. As the Official opposition we believe in increased financial transparency and the right to a private ballot for workers and will oppose this Bill.
I welcome your comments, questions and concerns and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.