When any level of Government releases an annual budget often the focus tends to be largely and understandably on what programs and projects an elected government will increase or decrease funding on. Seldom is there much of a discussion on the long term impacts of a budget on future generations of citizens. In the case of the recent Federal budget introduced by the Liberal Government last week there are a number of important questions to be asked that I believe all Canadians should be mindful of, one of them I will summarize in this week's report.
Recently the TD Bank issued a forecast report predicting that the cumulated debt by increased deficit spending of the Liberal Government will reach $150 Billion over the next five years. Astute political watchers will know this is very close to the $154 Billion in debt that was added under the former Conservative Government before it returned to balance. This raises the question if both Governments are increasing similar amounts of debt, why is this now a concern? There are a number of reasons why I raise this issue. In the case of the former Government, this $ 154 Billion in new debt was added over a 10 year period with many of those years experiencing a worldwide economic recession not seen in decades. In the case of the $150 Billion in new debt from the Liberal Government this is being proposed in just half the number of years (only five) and at a time when Canada is not in a recession but rather a period of slow but positive economic growth.
The question to be raised is that if Government is increasing debt during a recession and still increasing debt when not in a recession but during a period of slow economic growth and aging demographics – at what point does a Federal Government ever pay off debt?
Why is this concern? The challenge with increasing debt is that there is ever increasing interest on that debt that must be maintained – not unlike paying the minimum balance on a credit card each month. In the case of Canada for the 2013/14 fiscal year over $28 billion was spent just on debt servicing. To put that number into context the total amount of health transfers from the Federal Government to the Provinces and Territories in the same fiscal year was $32 Billion. In other words from a Federal Government perspective we spend almost as much money servicing debt as we do helping to fund healthcare. As another comparison the National Defence budget for the same fiscal year was $21.5 billion, meaning we spend more on debt than we do on National Defence. From a percentage standpoint currently 10% of the entire federal budget is spent servicing debt and this is before another $150 billion in new debt from the Liberal Government is added.
Some view Government debt as being solely an ideological or partisan concern. The intent of this week’s report is to illustrate that increasing debt imposes real costs that must be paid. Ultimately as debt and interest on debt increases so will the debt servicing costs and money that could otherwise be spent funding more important government programs or services is instead diverted towards debt servicing. The fact that fiscal capacity is being lost to debt is seldom a focal point in budgetary discussion however it is an increasing problem that future generations of Canadians will be left to deal with.
From my perspective few citizens raise the concern of increasing Government debt and my primary purpose in raising this topic is to ask citizens if debt and having a balanced budget are concerns you view as important. Obviously increasing spending is far easier for elected officials to do than to decrease spending however at some point fiscal capacity will be diminished to the extent that future generations will have serious problems, particularly with our aging demographics, a topic I will cover in a future report. More so as most Canadian Provinces are also heavily in debt and some taxpayers are now paying in excess of 50% in combined income taxes not counting consumption taxes. I welcome your view on this subject. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free 1-800-665-8711.
As we were both members of the “Class of 2011” when we first elected to Parliament I soon found I was often in the company of Jim Hillyer. Jim was a quiet and unassuming man; that is until you engaged with him. Anyone who runs for public office often has a passion for ideas and Jim was certainly not lacking in this regard. He had strong views on how we could support communities, families and what the proper role of the state should be in defining those areas. Jim’s views often leaned towards protecting individual rights and increasing liberty. He was a fresh thinker who was able to listen to other viewpoints and pushed a number of us not to simply accept the status quo.
Unknown too many was the fact that Jim’s French was tres bien- (very good). Yet he seldom ever let on that he completely understood everything that was being said in Canada’s other official language, which probably would have come as a shock to many. He studied French, he told me, because he enjoyed learning and wanted to get a better understanding of other perspectives. Learning for Jim never stopped. He and I shared a love of reading, particularly by audiobook, and it was very common after a debate or caucus meeting, to see him moving to his next meeting with earphones on, listening to many works of history, both fiction and non fiction.
When we were first elected I remember Jim and I being part of what we proudly referred to as the “Conservative corner caucus” – sitting on the side of the House opposite of Government with the Opposition. We gave ourselves that name as it was more preferential then the more traditional term known as ‘the rump’ whereby the overflow of majority Government MPs go and sit on the opposition benches. While some within the corner caucus felt it was discouraging to sit apart from our majority caucus, Jim never complained pointing out we had some of the best seats in the House to view and keep track of what was going on.
Jim was one of those who quietly pushed the envelope, even if it rattled cages or made some uncomfortable in Ottawa. I can give no greater example of this than his motion 520, which Jim tabled on June 11, 2014 and breathed new life to the concept of asymmetrical federalism in Canada. By proposing an amendment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include Property Rights which would only apply to his home province of Alberta, he offered a different view on how constitutional change could occur by a grassroots bottom up processes. This of course contrasted with the top heavy forms of constitutional changes that we are more accustomed to as observed in the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords.
It was Jim’s contention that if his motion was adopted by Parliament with a reciprocal motion passed by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta , that was all that would be necessary. In Jim’s mind this debate would be started by backbench MPs and MLAs and would come down to a vote on a simple proposal - in this case property rights subject to a yay or nay vote. If passed this obviously would have had all sorts of policy implications- well beyond just property rights. Potentially an issue that would touch all levels of Government and inevitably be subject to a constitutional challenge given this was a piecemeal attempt for amending the constitution in the most unconventional of ways.
The motion never did end up being debated in the House of Commons and eventually Jim proceeded on with another piece of legislation, his point having been made to challenge the status quo by offering a different perspective on how constitutional reform could occur.
Due to multiple surgeries from an initial skiing accident, the last few years of his service Jim carried out his Parliamentary duties by electric scooter and crutches; yet I never heard Jim once complain or express remorse for his situation. I would imagine the long nature of the 2015 election posed problems for Jim, but I doubt he would ever raise them. He was quiet and relentless in this regard.
One subject we only talked about a few times was in the area of family and his religion. While our conversations were often interrupted by votes and points of order, I know he was a proud husband, a loving father and a person of profound faith.
To some Jim will only be known as someone who was once accused of making hand gestures in the House of Commons. From my perspective Jim was much more than that. While we shared a love for reading I cannot help but reflect that much as a book cannot be judged by the cover there was indeed much more to this quiet unassuming man from Alberta who I was proud to call my friend: Jim Hillyer. God bless the Hillyer family at this most difficult time.
This week the Liberal Government tabled the first budget for the 42nd Parliament in Ottawa. As some may recall during the recent election the Liberals promised their first two budgets would have deficits capped at $10 billion each year before returning to a balanced budget in 2019. The budget announced this week with a deficit of $30 Billion adds more debt than what was promised over the entire term and does not forecast a return to being balanced in 2019. With such a large increase in deficit spending the obvious question is where is this borrowed money going to be spent?
While it is difficult to summarize a budget document in a single MP report I can list some of the areas that are targeted for increased spending. Public Transit will see spending of $3.4 billion over the next three years. While public transit is not available in some parts of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola it will be helpful in others. Green infrastructure is another area in the budget targeted for $5 billion in spending over the next 5 years.
Spending on First Nations will also be significantly increased in Budget 2016 with a commitment of $8.4 Billion over five years. There are many First Nations communities within Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola and this funding can help ensure many much needed projects and programs are completed that are beneficial to the region.
In spite of such a large increase in deficit spending there are areas where spending will be decreased or other programs will be eliminated in this budget. One example of this is $3.7 Billion in planned military equipment spending is being deferred down the road. In addition, expenditures such as the children’s fitness and children’s art credit are being phased out starting by reducing them in half for 2016 and eliminated in 2017.
On a more local note Budget 2016 does propose to re-open the Veterans Affairs office in Kelowna although one cannot not be certain if this means at the same location or nor does the budget specify an exact date. From a British Columbia perspective ferries built outside of Canada and imported to Provinces operating ferry fleets will no longer be subject to a 25% tariff. The 15% percent mineral exploration tax credit that was introduced by the former Government and was set to expire at the end of March will be extended for another year until March of 2017. Given the importance of mining to many regions within Central Okanagan- Similkameen-Nicola this continued program can be of benefit to local economies. Tourism will also see a $50 million funding commitment however this is over two years and is Canada wide.
Missing from the budget? From my own perspective while the budget does mention the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) international trade deals there is nothing significant on internal trade. A glaring oversight considering a new Agreement on Internal Trade is due this month and it appears to have fallen off the federal Government’s radar screen. There is also no mention in the budget on a number of Liberal election promises such as restored door to door mail delivery, a reduction in the small business tax rate and of course no plan to return a balanced budget in 2019.
This is only a brief summary of a 269 page budget document and I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on Budget 2016 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.
This week is a constituency week meaning the House is not sitting as Members of Parliament are back in their ridings before returning to Ottawa next week for just four days until the House rises again for two more constituency weeks before resuming on Monday April 11th. Part of the reason why I oppose the idea of the House of Commons no longer sitting on Fridays is due to the fact that I believe there is an adequate number of constituency weeks to achieve a balance between time in Ottawa and our home ridings as is. I will also raise the concern that by cancelling Fridays, we will eventually see the productivity of Thursday sittings plummet as MPs try to use Thursday as a travel day in order to take advantage of Friday in their ridings. In essence, Thursday will become the new Friday- meaning less votes on Thursday, less regular attendance on Thursday committees and debate in the House of Commons.
For this week’s MP report I would like to re-submit a portion of my MP report from February of 2015. While I seldom re- run a former report, in this instance the topic is one that I know all Canadians take very seriously; that is the subject of Doctor assisted suicide as it relates to a recent Supreme Court ruling. My reason for re-running a segment of my previous report is due to the fact that the riding boundaries have since changed as have our Parliaments over the past year and I believe it is important to hear from citizens in our new riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola on this important subject that will soon be before the House. When I last raised this topic I received a large amount of very sincere and at times heartfelt comments and thoughts. One particular constituent shared a perspective that I believe raises unique and important concerns that I would like to share with citizens for added perspective. The following is an edited excerpt from my Feb. 2015 MP report:
The citizen in question suffers from a very severe physical disability and opposes the legalization of assisted suicide. The reason for this opposition is not based on faith, nor a previous encounter with suicide or hope that a miracle cure will be discovered. The concern from this particular disabled citizen is guilt. As a severely disabled individual, this person relies very heavily on family to serve as specialized care givers. As many will know, providing specialized and end of life care for a severally disabled loved one can be a challenging experience. In this case the constituent who contacted me shared a great love and appreciation for family members in making great sacrifices to help them live a better quality of life.
The concern of this severely disable constituent is that legalized suicide would create an easy option for this person to end their own life with the assistance of a willing doctor. This person expressed a strong will to live. They have no desire to die. Where assisted suicide is a concern to this person is over a profound level of guilt. This guilt comes from the significant ongoing efforts of family members in providing specialized care. As legalized suicide could end the need for that care by not pursuing suicide, this individual would feel intense guilt that they are imposing on loved one’s when another option is available. Suffice to say this was a difficult and emotional conversation and I apologize in advance that I am not relaying this concern in the manner it truly deserves.
I have shared this point again as it illustrates a situation of a severely disabled person who does not wish to die but has admitted the guilt of not pursuing suicide to relieve family members from serving as care givers could potentially result in a reluctant medically assisted suicide. As I commented then, I do not believe this is a situation any Canadian would welcome and is one we should be mindful of in this discussion. As I discovered when I last requested input on this subject, there are other situations and different perspectives in this conversation that are well deserving of consideration. I welcome your views, opinions and experiences. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.
From time to time some of the more significant issues that arise out of Ottawa do not originate from within the House of Commons. This is certainly the case this week as news reports from CBC regarding a compliance and enforcement decision by the Canadian Revenue Agency has created considerable reaction among many Canadians.
If you are unfamiliar with this specific issue it has been reported by CBC that a major Canadian accounting firm advised affluent Canadians to invest significant amounts of money outside of Canada for the purposes of either tax mitigation or outright tax avoidance. A further investigation revealed through internally leaked CRA documentation that an agreement between CRA and those involved resulted in an agreement to pay back taxes owed without further penalty, fines or prosecution. It has been further reported that the Canadian Revenue Agency also insisted on a confidentiality clause so this deal would not be publicly disclosed.
News of this confidential deal has created considerable reaction in large part as most Canadians who have encountered similar challenges with the Canadian Revenue Agency have faced fines with interest, prosecution and even in extreme cases garnishment, asset seizure and even foreclosure. The perception here is that a deal was offered by CRA that would not be available to most Canadians.
This situation in my view does raise serious concerns. Although elected officials do not make decisions related to compliance and enforcement by the Canada Revenue Agency there is an expectation of fairness and consistency to be applied equally to all Canadians. Federally elected officials can also expect accountability from public agencies such as Revenue Canada. In this specific case there is still information that is lacking. Who ultimately made this decision and the reasons why will need to be disclosed in a publicly transparent manner. It is critically importance for taxpayers to have confidence in institutions such as the Canada Revenue Agency and the decision makers involved in compliance and enforcement actions. As I believe more information will be forthcoming on this subject I will provide further updates as they become available.
Also occurring this week is a rare State dinner at the White House in Washington DC where our Prime Minister will be a special guest. This dinner has created a significant amount of media interest in Ottawa as well as rampant speculation from political pundits. From a British Columbia perspective I am hoping that our Prime Minister will use this diplomatic opportunity to raise the critically important need for a new Canada United States softwood lumber deal. Communities in Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola such as Princeton, Merritt and West Kelowna all have one or more lumber mills that are significant employers as well many surrounding communities such as Keremeos, Logan Lake and Summerland also have forestry dependent small business operations. As forestry is an important industry to our region I am hopeful that our Prime Minister has success in advancing causes important to British Columbia and Canada at this rare event.
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.
It should never be forgotten that elected officials work for the public and should be accountable to the people we collectively serve. This was one of the reasons why in last week’s MP report I asked citizens to share their input with me on these weekly reports and what changes and suggestions people would like to see for future reports, more so now given my role as an opposition MP. The response was significant and very encouraging. I would like to sincerely thank the many citizens who took the time to offer some very valuable suggestions and ideas that will be incorporated in future reports.
One comment I heard frequently was to spend less time on events widely covered in media and more time on issues that are less covered. Taking that feedback to heart this week I will mention a few topics that were not widely covered but may be of interest. One issue that was announced last week is that MP office budgets are being increased. Currently MP office budgets have been frozen since the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The increase announced last week is a 20% raise to MPs basic office budgets, a 5% increase to travel accounts and a 20% increase to House officer’s budgets in Ottawa.
These budgets are intended to allow MPs to pay for increases in rent and staffing costs as well other expenses encountered when running several offices between the riding and Ottawa. I should also add that an increased budget does not necessarily in this case lead to increased spending. Any unused funds from an MP’s annual office budget are returned to Ottawa each year with the exception of a 5% carryover that an MP can apply to their next fiscal year. All of these funds, when spent, are reported in a Member’s annual financial report and in my case I also provide an annual accountability report to make this and other information easier to find and compare with previous years. To date since I was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2011 I have never yet maximized my available budget spending and have returned unused funds to Ottawa. I expect this trend to continue.
Another change being contemplated in Ottawa is shortening the work week when the House of Commons is in session. Generally when MPs are in Ottawa the House of Commons will sit from Monday to Friday with the rare exception of a holiday creating a shorter week when the House will adjourn. For the majority of time the House sits it typically does so for two or three weeks in a row before adjourning for typically one or occasionally two constituency weeks. A Parliamentary committee is currently exploring that the House of Commons no longer sit on Fridays. The intent of this change is intended to help improve the family life balance for Members of Parliament.
My thoughts on this? Currently for a BC based MP travelling either to or from Ottawa the travel time takes the better part of a day so having a Friday strictly for travel would allow for more time back home. However as it stands now there is currently 24 Fridays the House is sitting in 2016 meaning the elimination of Fridays would mean over a loss of one month of House time. That is significant. It should also be pointed out the current obligations that include sitting 5 days a week when the House is in session were well known to all who put their names forward and were elected as MPs only a short time ago. As I believe it is important that elected MPs fulfill the obligations they were elected under I will be opposing these changes. I welcome your comments, question and concerns 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.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.