March 25, 2015
The topic of my October 8th MP report from last year was outlining the Government of Canada`s intention (subject to a vote in Parliament) to implement a six month deployment in Iraq to join many of our allies engaged in an aerial combat mission against the terrorist organization ISIL. As the initial six month timeframe is soon to expire, earlier this week in the House of Commons our Prime Minister provided a report on the evolution of the situation along with a proposal that Canada renew its commitment to the international coalition and its mission against ISIL.
The Prime Minister stated that the good news is the alarming territorial spread of ISIL has been more or less halted and in some ways even pushed back. In large part this has been achieved in coordination with allied aerial bombing efforts that Canada is part of and from other response actions from the roughly 60 other members of the United Nations who have taken a stand against ISIL terrorism.
Aside from the military action against ISIL, Canada has also had success in helping to deliver humanitarian aid that includes help feeding 1.7 million people in Iraq, providing shelter and relief supplies to 1.25 million people and providing education to at least half a million children. Canada has also helped to support more than 200,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq with food, water, shelter and protection as it is well known ISIL will capture and murder aid workers, reporters and other humanitarian workers if not securely protected.
For these reasons it is proposed that Canada renew the mission against ISIL for a further 12 months similar to the initial terms with a few notable changes. Like the original mission, this would also require a vote in Parliament. The current commitment of 6 CF-18 fighter jets, 1 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft and 2 Aurora surveillance aircraft including required pilots and ground personnel to support these aircraft including ground forces already in the region is proposed to remain the same. The most notable change is the proposal to join President Obama and US Forces in also bombing ISIL terrorists in regions of Syria, something that was not proposed in the original six month mission. The reason Canada proposes to join the United States in this effort is due to the fact that ISIL has frequently retreated forces and equipment into Syria as a safe haven from allied aerial attack. The Prime Minister has also stated clearly that any action against ISIL within Syria will be done without the “the express consent of the Syrian government”. Some have asked on the legalities of aerial bombing within Syria without the consent of the Syrian Government. The United States Government, our lead ally in this mission, has presented legal grounds to the United Nations and in turn the Judge Advocate General legal analysis indicates these operations in Syria are legal and justifiable.
Much as was the situation previously both opposition parties have indicated they will continue to oppose military efforts against ISIL terrorism. I will continue to provide updates on this important matter as they become available. Also occurring this week in Ottawa has been ongoing committee review of Bill C-51 the Anti-Terrorism Act. Here the situation is different where the NDP continue to oppose the anti-terrorism bill while the Liberals have continued to vote with our Government in support of Bill C-51 as it moves through Parliament. As a reminder for further information on Bill C-51 please see my February 6th MP report. As always I welcome your comments and question on any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at email@example.com or toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.
One of the more commonly used terms in Canadian federal political discussions is the “Ottawa bubble” that can have a variety of different meanings, but typically is used to describe the culture on Parliament Hill that is often very different from what exists in many Canadian communities.
From my own perspective there are two aspects of the Ottawa bubble that I find most discomforting. One is the frequent trend to suggest that the views of everyday Canadians are irrelevant and only the views from interest groups and other highly partisan organizations are deserving of consideration in debate. As an example, frequently I find issues that are reported as being widely opposed in Ottawa are in fact strongly support by citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla. The other ongoing concern I have relative to discussion on Parliament Hill pertains to how your tax dollars are viewed in Ottawa, compared to in Okanagan Coquihalla.
To be clear, as taxpayers it is your money taken or otherwise paid to Ottawa from your wages, combined with various taxes and other user fees you pay that keep Ottawa running. The same applies to Victoria at the provincial level and also with your local municipality or regional district with property taxes. One thing all taxes have in common is that you pay them and the higher the amount of tax the more you will pay, the less money you will have remaining to provide for your own household expenses, savings or enjoyment. Conversely when taxes are cut, you will pay less and some of the money saved from taxes can be spent or saved in whatever manner best meets your personal needs.
I raise this point because in Ottawa, whenever our Government announces tax cuts you will seldom see the paying of less tax is reported as a savings for taxpayers. It is frequently, as was the case recently, reported as being a cost. From the perspective of many in Ottawa who depend upon your tax dollars for operating revenues, less taxes (that create savings to taxpayers) is a cost to them. It could mean fewer staff, less increases in wages or benefits, even the elimination of a program or possibly not the expansion or creation of another. For this reason the idea of citizens paying less in taxes tends to be looked down upon in Ottawa by those who earn a living from the payment of your taxes. Last year The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report on Federal tax changes that received little attention however the report contained some interesting information.
Federal income tax cuts announced by our government have resulted in accumulated savings to Canadians of $17 billion over the past decade. Likewise the cut to the GST rate has resulted in accumulated savings of $13 billion over a similar time frame. The same report also found that these tax cuts most benefitted “low-middle income earners (households earning between $12,200 and $23,300), effectively resulting in a 4% increase in after-tax income”. Even the lowest income earners in Canada who do not pay some taxes were found to have realized an after-tax gain of 2.2%. Surprisingly the top 10% of income earners realized a net after-tax gain of just 1.4%. These findings are in stark contrast to the narrative that tax cuts only help the wealthy and penalize the poor. In reality this report concludes that tax cuts over the past decade have resulted in higher after tax net income for all Canadians. This is also consistently why the overwhelming majority of citizens I hear from in Okanagan-Coquihalla support tax cuts and do not favour higher taxes.
I mention these things because last week another report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer concluded that the recently announced family tax cut by our Government will, and I quote directly “will have a net fiscal impact of $2.2 billion in 2015”. The Ottawa Bubble was quick to report this as a $2.2 billion cost to Ottawa, however for Canadian families that is $2.2 billion in tax savings that stays in your household budget and will not be spent in the Ottawa bureaucracy. While some oppose tax cuts and believe citizens should pay more in taxes- whether it be pension income splitting for seniors or income splitting for families, it is my view that all Governments must continue to strive for efficiencies and keep taxation levels affordable for all of its citizens. If you would like to share your thoughts with me on this or any other issue, I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
As I have stated previously, there is no formal requirement for Members of Parliament to submit reports to citizens nor are there guidelines as to what format or frequency reports to local residents should have. From my perspective, the primary reason why I submit weekly reports is to pass on as much information as possible so that in turn I can hear feedback in the form of comments, concerns and questions from the people of Okanagan-Coquihalla. Although seldom a week will go by without hearing from citizens I have noted that some reports generate far more responses then others. I am always extremely grateful for the efforts of citizens to pass on comments and questions. At times these comments sometimes share deeply personal information that may help to better illustrate a citizens perspective on a certain area of concern. Citizens should know that all personal information provided to both an MLA and an MP are protected with the strictest of confidentiality and are not subject to freedom of information laws. Personal information is never shared without the consent of the individual in question; I raise this so that citizens can have confidence to freely contact their elected officials and share information in a secure manner.
In last week’s report I outlined proposed changes to life sentences to ensure that for extremely serious & disturbing crimes (such as a crime involving heinous acts such as pre-mediated abduction, rape and murder), where a life sentence would mean a life sentence without a formal parole process. While the majority of the feedback I received was supportive of these proposed changes, some of the opposing criticism was also noteworthy. One such criticism was the suggestion that parole is largely an infallible process.
As I was reminded this past week long time residents of Summerland will know this is not the case. Citizens in Summerland will recall that in 1997 a criminal was released on parole only to promptly skip his curfew at a half-way house in Calgary. Located in Summerland was the ex-spouse of this recently paroled criminal. Like many victims of domestic violence this ex-spouse feared greatly for her safety and had specifically requested to be notified if her ex-spouse was released from prison on parole. No phone call ever arrived from the National Parole Board upon release nor when the curfew was breached at the half way house.
Sadly what did happen was a paroled criminal arrived at a Summerland motel where he located his ex-wife who was with her mother and the couple’s two children. In front of his own two children in cold blood he murdered their mother and grandmother in a truly disturbing act of violence. These murders occurred while parole had been breached and also in spite of a no contact restraining order. Further investigation found no evidence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the murder, no evidence of mental health disorders and without remorse, regret or responsibility shown by the murderer. It should also be pointed out this murderer (under the rules at the time of the sentencing) is potentially eligible for parole in two years.
While these instances may be relatively rare, this is one of several tragedies I have encountered in Okanagan-Coquihalla. While the circumstances may differ what remains constant is that all too often the victims are forgotten. Out of respect for the now adult children I have refrained from using names in this particular case however we should not overlook that victims have rights and they should never be forgotten nor placed behind the rights of criminals. I welcome your comments and questions on this or any matter before the House of Commons and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-665-8711.
This week our Prime Minister announced that a new Government Bill will be introduced in the House of Commons early next week. This bill proposes to change the terms of parole for some of Canada’s most disturbing and senseless acts of murder to ensure that in these situations a life sentence in jail more closely resembles a sentence for life. It will be proposed that in serious criminal cases that involve a conviction of first degree murder, that is murder that is both planned and deliberately executed, would be subject to a life sentence without parole.
What types of serious criminal offences would apply? A kidnap or sexual assault that results in a murder, first degree murder of police, correctional guards or other law enforcement personnel, and acts of terrorism are a few examples where life sentences without parole could apply.
Although parole eligibility would be eliminated in these situations those who have served a life sentence after a minimum of 35 years could apply to the Minister of Public Safety for exceptional release. Decisions on application for special release would ultimately be subject to Ministerial approval and not part of a conventional parole hearing process.
While these proposed changes would only impact a relatively small number of our most serious criminal offenders they will be welcome news for a very important segment of Canadians: the friends, families and victims who are left behind after such a senseless loss. Many are unaware that Canada’s current parole entitlement to criminals means that even those with potentially no hope of release are still able to participate in a parole hearing every two years. For family and friends of a murdered loved one, this often results in travelling a significant distance to be forced to re-live one of life’s most traumatizing moments every two years. It is a very painful process that is often referred to as “re-victimization” and as I have stated previously in the House of Commons, for victims it should not have to be this way.
While some think of well publicized murders such as Clifford Olson or Paul Bernardo, even here in Okanagan-Coquihalla the family and friends of the Johnson and Bentley families have been forced to re-live this tragedy as convicted murdered David Shearing remains eligible for these parole hearings. Last fall I presented a petition of over 10,000 signatures from Okanagan-Coquihalla to the Minister of Public Safety opposing the release of Mr. Shearing. For many volunteers, who in some cases have also lost loved ones, the process of collecting these signatures is a painful but important exercise.
Although there have been private members bills previously that have proposed an end to this re-victimization of families through the current parole process, none to date have received Royal Assent. A Government Bill, though not retro-active, would ensure families who have been victimized by brutal and senseless acts of first degree murder would not be forced to continue to revisit such a devastating trauma every two years. I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached via email at email@example.com or at 1 (800) 665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.