If you have been following the Fair Elections Act debate in
Ottawa you may have heard alarmist language applied from opposition and media that this bill is an unprecedented attack on democracy. This of course raises the obvious question is the Fair Elections Act an unprecedented assault on our democratic process? The answer is of course open to debate, much as it should be in any healthy democratic environment. However there is another developing aspect emerging to this discussion that concerns me greatly. Although it is fair to say critics have targeted a number of items to this bill (prior to Government responding with some 45 proposed amendments) the single greatest concern has focussed on vouching- a concern that is also addressed by a recent an amendment. Vouching for those who are unfamiliar in essence allows someone to declare their identity without producing acceptable identification, in this case to vote in a Federal election.
Locally of course requiring identification to vote is not unusual given that we use identification to determine voting eligibility between municipal boundaries and that of regional districts and by extension voting on consent for referendums on borrowing by-laws and other large scale
projects and referendums. In many cases identification and proof of residency are of course used to verify those eligible to vote are the same citizens who will be required to pay on the initiative in question. We also require identification as we recognize that at times there may be ratepayers with strong opinions on particular issues and it is important that one citizen cannot vote
more than once. These are the principles of fairness that we use in local elections to ensure the integrity of our democratic voting process. Yet at the Federal level– it is currently possible to vouch for identity without showing approved identification, through a process known as vouching. Much debate has occurred on the reasonableness or lack of reasonableness on requiring
identification to vote federally, as we typically do municipally with local government. Some have even suggested this is a constitutional issue, pointing out that the Charter guarantees “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”.
It deserves mention that charter rights apply to citizens of Canada– how are our rights and privileges as Canadians verified without proof of identification that confirms we are indeed Canadian citizens? And by extension would we support vouching at our border crossings that individuals entering Canada can claim to be Canadians without showing identification as proof? The answer to this question is also up for debate as there are some who do support vouching and feel it is unreasonable to require identification. My intent in this week’s report is not actually to enter into the debate on how reasonable it is (or is not) to require identification to
vote. I submit that every Canadian citizen has views on how reasonable it is (or is not) to require identification as part of our democratic process and I believe that is a healthy discussion in a democratically diverse country such as Canada.
hat troubles me in the vouching debate as it pertains to the Fair Election Act is that the opinions of everyday Canadians seem to fall to the wayside. If you follow Ottawa media reports it is commonly suggested that only “experts” and not everyday citizens are capable of forming an opinion on the
reasonableness of requiring ID to vote. We should always be mindful that we do not live in a technocratic society ruled by bureaucracy; we are an inclusive democratic society that draws in the views of all Canadians including experts and at time other stakeholders and specific interest groups. In this case, what the experts seldom point out is that currently 85% of our Canadian voting population currently has a drivers licence and this percentage rises considerably higher when you include the other 39 types of ID Elections Canada accepts in order to vote. In reality we know voter turnout is far less than 85% of registered voters-requiring identification is not the reason for declining voter turnout. In fact many of those currently employed by taxpayers to increase voter turnout are the very same experts in Ottawa arguing for the status quo to
prevail. Collectively we must all accept responsibility for declining voter participation and in particular those of us who are elected officials should be the first to shoulder the blame.
What is causing decreased voter turnout? I submit part of the decline is evident in the debate on the Fair Elections Act– I believe every Canadian is entitled to have an opinion on the reasonableness (or lack of) to requirement ID to vote. The question of if it is reasonable
requiring ID to vote is a matter of personal opinion; it is not a matter of “expert” conclusion as some in Ottawa are suggesting. That so many ”experts” (including some who have never worked or volunteered in an election) along with a willing media that in many cases does not recognize the dissenting views from everyday citizens is in my view troubling. I mention this as the feedback I have heard from many citizens is at odds with the tone in Ottawa. I am not suggesting
that all citizens support the Fair Elections Act, many have taken the time to express concerns, some even outright opposition however many have also made also made it clear they strongly support the act including the reasonableness to show identification to vote no differently that exists in other elections at different levels of government. I continue to welcome your comments and questions on the Fair Elections Act or any bill before Parliament.
One of many things I have learned in my time as a Member of Parliament is that when it comes to serious acts of senseless violence and the traumatic loss of loved ones is that while media attention is often very intense when these acts occur, they are more often than not short lived. Family and friends left behind from these brutal acts of violence never forget and even decades later are still impacted in ways that forever change their lives. In 1982 a disturbing act of violence took the lives of a loving family of six while on a camping trip in Wells Gray provincial Park. The shock of losing a local family including two young girls devastating many in the community of Westbank. Friends, co-workers and classmates to this very day are still reminded of this tragedy as every two years they are forced to re-live their loss and this horrific event.
Why do I say they are forced? The individual responsible for taking the lives of this family: David Shearing (who has since changed his name to David Ennis), is due for yet another legislated review that could potentially lead to being paroled. For the family and friends left behind, this means another trip they must finance to travel a significant distance in order to appear at the review.
I believe we should all take a moment to reflect on this situation. September is a time of year when children and families are getting ready for a new school year. It should not be a time when families and friends are forced to travel a significant distance at great expense solely to relive a life-altering tragedy and face the individual who forever destroyed their families and friendships. The fact that the victims are forced to continually make this journey and relive this horror every few years is in my view unthinkable. It seldom makes the news these days but when I hear from the victims, friends and classmates this is a situation that continues to cause great pain and suffering for all of them. Many live in fear to this day in the event that parole is ever granted. As I shared in the House of Commons in June of last year, it should not have to be this way. No family should be forced to endure reliving such a horrific tragedy over and over at parole hearings. Many citizens I have heard from in Westbank/West Kelowna agree and currently a petition and other advocacy campaigns are underway to help gain support to take action in this situation.
I support the citizens of Westbank in these efforts and that is why I am also supporting Private Members Bill C-587 from Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes. Bill C-587 (formerly Bill C-478 from Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan) “Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons Act”. Bill C-587 is a very specific bill that is intended to impact only those individuals convicted of very serious criminal acts involving abduction, sexual assault and ultimately murder. Bill C-587 does not propose to alter the period of time a criminal convicted of these combined acts would spend in jail. What Bill C-587 does propose is to offer a judge the added discretionary ability of increasing the period of parole ineligibility from the current 25 year maximum up to a maximum of 40 years. The intent of this bill is solely to spare family’s and victims the trauma of having to appear at a parole hearing every two years as is currently the case for those in West Kelowna appearing at the Alberta located hearing for David Ennis. This Bill, if passed, would have also been of benefit to families who lost loved ones from other convicted murderers such as Clifford Olson (now deceased) Paul Bernardo, David James Dobson and others. This Bill is currently awaiting second reading debate. If you would like further information on this or any bill before the House of Commons please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Parliament Hill was rocked last week with the devastating news of the unexpected loss of our colleague, the Hon. Jim Flaherty. Media coverage on events in Ottawa tends to be focused on those moments that are most controversial or in many cases out of the norm. Unfortunately as the “out of the norm” scenes are most frequently shown many believe there is a strong dislike between Members of Parliament on different sides of the House. In reality for many MPs, more so those in the west with greater travel distances, we collectively spend as much time if not more time with our colleagues than in some cases we spend with our families. In many ways the House of Commons, while adversarial and intense, is still like a second family for many of us. To lose someone so unexpectedly is shocking and more so when it is an individual who behind the scenes always took a great deal of time and interest in the well being of others. I will always recall taking an issue forward from a constituent in Summerland to Minister Flaherty who not only took the time to hear the suggestion, within six months took action. Service to others with a smile was a hallmark of Minister Flaherty’s career and I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to share a kind word during this difficult time. For those who have expressed an interest, there will be a book of condolences for Minister Flaherty’s family at both my Penticton and West Kelowna offices from now until the 25th of April.
Recently you may have heard that the Canada Revenue Agency website was potentially compromised by a computer virus known as the “Heartbleed Bug”. It has been suggested that it is possible a limited amount of personal information, more specifically SIN numbers, may have been wrongfully accessed. ESDC, Service Canada and CRA staff is currently taking actions to identify those individuals who may have had personal information breached as a result of this virus. All individuals who may be impacted by this “Heartbleed virus” will receive notification from the Canada Revenue Agency that will provide a special contact number and additional information on this matter. Although it has been suggested the breach affected roughly 900 individuals if you or anyone you know believes they may have been impacted by this event and have not been contacted by CRA please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Currently there are a number of issues that I am hearing about. The subject of temporary foreign workers remains an issue of concern for many citizens although it should be pointed out while most are very concerned over misuse of the program there are also those who are strongly supportive of it, as was recently the case in Merritt. I have also have had a few citizens drop in and share their concerns on Canada Post. Another area of more recent concern is a campaign from poultry farmers who have illustrated the importance of timely grain feed shipment to local farms. Recently I have also been contacted by citizens both for and against changes to the Elections Act as proposed in the Fair Elections Act, otherwise known as Bill C-23. Currently this act is being reviewed both in the House of Commons and the Senate where it has been suggested that amendments will be proposed. It is my personal view that Bill C-23 will likely see some revisions before potentially moving onto third reading debate. Once a more finalized version of the Bill has been put forward I will speak further on this particular subject as I believe it is of importance. On the subject of amendments, recently the Reform Act of 2013 from my colleague Michael Chong has also been amended into a new Bill (now the recently tabled Reform Act of 2014) that I will be asking for more input on in future report.
As the House of Commons is currently on the Easter break I am available for the next ten days to meet with you to discuss areas of concern and to answer questions that you may have. Please contact me at email@example.com or via phone at 1-800-665-8711.
Invasive species are sadly not new to Okanagan-Coquihalla. Cattle Ranchers have battled with the loss of valuable grazing lands on account of invasive weeds as much as fruit growers and farmers know the frustration of crop loss as a result of the European Starling.
Swimmers and boaters are familiar with Eurasian milfoil not unlike local fisherman who are well aware of the damaged caused by the introduction of Mysis shrimp into the Okanagan Lake system. All of these invasive species have caused ecological harm and in some cases financial loss both directly and indirectly as different levels of government have funded strategies to control, reduce or eliminate these unwelcome invasive intrusions into our local ecosystem.
From my perspective being proactive and vigilant to guard against future threats of invasive species is
important. Recently the Okanagan Basin Water Board has undertaken a campaign to warn citizens and senior levels of government on the important need to take action against another invasive species: freshwater mussels. First I would like to commend the Okanagan Basin Water Board for the work they have done in bringing this matter forward. From the limited research I have undertaken there is indeed a potential serious threat to many of our valued freshwater lakes in Okanagan-Coquihalla and elsewhere.
Aside from the potential environmental harm, of particular concern is the fact that many citizens in our region depend upon safe, reliable drinking water that is drawn from the Okanagan Lake water system. Freshwater mussels are well known to clog intake pipes that in turn can cause considerable damage to pumps and filtration systems. Currently many of our water purveyors are already struggling
to meet increased Interior Health water regulation standards and the added impact of damage to
water infrastructure could be in the range of tens of millions of dollars along with the potential inconvenience of suspension of water service while repairs are undertaken. In short, an unacceptable
Ultimately invasive mussels are most likely to be spread by a contaminated boat or trailer from another
region most likely originating either from outside of Canada or from eastern Canada. Fortunately boats
transported from eastern Canada will most likely be out of the water for five days (given the distance) that is considered sufficient time that a mussel cannot survive out of water. Thus the largest threat in our region would be from boats south of the boarder where there are currently freshwater lakes contaminated with invasive mussels. It is critically important to intercept a contaminated
boat and trailer on land before it enters a freshwater lake, thus enhanced enforcement at Canadian border crossings is an obvious measure to prevent the spread of freshwater mussels. As a secondary consideration, the integrated roadside enforcement unit that currently patrol BC roads may stop a boat and trailer for safety defects could potentially have an expanded role to inspect for invasive mussel growth. Additionally the same may apply to local Conservation officers who frequently patrol lakes and boat launches looking for fishing violations could be another consideration.
Obviously these potential solutions involve joint Federal and Provincial Government collaboration and
likewise local government could work with marinas, yacht clubs and other boat launching areas with an
education campaign. At the moment regulation around invasive species such as freshwater mussels is already under review and I plan on meeting with several Ministers in Ottawa to expedite greater vigilance at border crossings– more so now as the 2014 boating season has yet to begin. The
intent of this report is to provide an update on what I believe is an important issue and the efforts
underway to help mitigate them. As always I welcome your comments on this or any concern; my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or alternately I can be reached via phone at 1 (800) 665-8711.
Additional update: Another point comes courtesy of the Okanagan Basin Water Board – to remind boaters that a vessel infected with invasive freshwater mussel larvae may live inside moist areas of a vessel for extended periods of time –potentially for as long as a month thus pointing to the need for a thorough inspection process.
The temporary foreign worker program has again made major headlines across British Columbia. This week complaints centered on a number of fast food restaurants in Victoria. The complaint was that temporary foreign workers were being offered employment over Canadian workers who were also available for work. If these allegations are established as being accurate, an offending employer could face significant fines and even imprisonment. At the present time these allegations are being actively investigated by the same integrity division that has been involved in the situation I referenced in last week’s report that involves a resident of South Africa teaching dance in the community of Merritt under the temporary foreign worker program.
Over the past seven days since last week’s report significant progress has been made in the hopes that in the future dance classes for children in Merritt will continue to be offered. Some of the questions I most frequently receive from concerned citizens on this issue is the lack of an obvious common sense solution and slow timeframe of the compliance process. As I am discovering first hand there are a number of variables in these situations that are all deserving of consideration. Obviously, no Canadian desires to see temporary foreign workers exploited while in Canada– to help guard against exploitation complaints can be reported through email email@example.com or by phone at 1 800 367-5693. Although a complainant may decide to publicly identify themselves, the Government handles all complaints of this nature as strictly confidential.
The compliance process is in many ways one and the same as an investigative process and depends upon actual evidence being presented to ensure employers and workers in Canada under the temporary foreign worker program are honouring the commitments agreed to under the initial agreement to participate in the program. There may be a need for verification that a worker has been fully compensated and legitimately paid and not syphooned off by third parties or elaborate kickback schemes to circumvent the law. It also should be pointed out that investigators with the Integrity Division acquire expertise in methods that are frequently used by some in an attempt to exploit the temporary foreign worker program and resulting best practices for compliance are used to help resolve cases of non compliance. All of this unfortunately takes time.
My intent of this week`s report is not to defend how the Integrity Division of the Temporary Foreign worker program has worked in Merritt with the Love to Dance Academy but rather to provide some context on some of the reasons why compliance concerns can be quite extensive to satisfy. Fortunately progress continues to be made in Merritt and I am hopeful that lessons learned here can offer future efficiencies in other areas with similar circumstances.
A few other points for this week. In last week’s report I mentioned that youth who are twelve years of age or older may apply for their own SIN number. I should have also provided more detail on this point: for children under twelve years of age, parents or other legal guardians can apply for a child’s SIN number- for example, if someone wished to set up a Registered Education Savings Plan. Twelve years of age is when a youth can apply for a SIN card on their own. Another point comes courtesy of the Okanagan Basin Water Board – to remind boaters that a vessel infected with invasive freshwater mussel larvae may live inside moist areas of a vessel for extended periods of time –potentially for as long as a month thus pointing to the need for a thorough inspection process. If you have a comment, question or concern on any matter before the House of Commons I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
I have written in previous reports and spoken on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the House of Commons. The feedback from constituents for a number of years has been consistent in supporting tighter regulations that ensure Canadians are provided the first opportunity for employment and that those who become temporary foreign workers are not abused or taken advantage of. Recent regulatory changes have also supported these principles and up
until recently, most citizens were strongly in support of enhanced regulation in this area.
Unfortunately a situation has arisen in the community of Merritt where changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and compliance issues could result in the loss of a community dance instructor from South Africa. For privacy reasons there is considerable information that I cannot
share that has led to these challenges however it is also apparent that in my view, this process is currently failing the community of Merritt. I have long maintained that there must be a balance between regulatory oversight and acknowledging what the real circumstances are. To date in this
instance, regulatory oversight appears to be usurping common sense and regrettably the temporary foreign worker program does not provide the same avenues for reconsideration that are available under other immigration programs. In summary, the Merritt situation demonstrates that when a community does strongly support the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the program has shown it lacks the ability to recognize that. This is something we need to change. Much of my work in Ottawa over the past weeks and in particular this week has been to attempt to find an avenue to rectify this situation within the framework of Government that must treat compliance issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in a fair and equitable way. This is an issue that I will continue to actively work on.
On the subject of employment related matters, as of April 1st, the plastic Social
Insurance Cards (SIN cards) we are all familiar with will no longer be issued by the Government of Canada. Instead of a plastic SIN card, applicants will receive a paper letter that contains your SIN number. There is no fee to apply for this new paper issued SIN number. One frequently asked question by those keen to join the workforce, is what age can a young person apply to receive a SIN number? The answer is anyone who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident 12 years of age or older can apply for a SIN number.
One final question I have received this week is in regards to recent claims that the Federal Government is cutting $36 billion from Health Care. These claims are misleading and false. In reality the Federal Government budgeted health transfers to Canadian Provinces and Territories will increase annually. To be clear, each year the Provincial Governments and Territories
will receive more funds from the Federal Government then the previous year. Currently health transfers from the Federal Government are at a record level of $32 billion per year. By the end of the decade health transfers will surpass $40 billion. What will be changing in 2017 is how the funding formula is calculated for health transfers. After 2017 the transfer formula will be based on a three-year moving average of nominal Gross Domestic Product, with a guaranteed minimum increase to health transfer funding of at least 3 per cent per year. In other words each a year a
Province will continue to receive more funds then the previous year thus there is a guaranteed annual increase to the Provinces and territories and not a cut in funding as was done by previous federal Governments.
If you have a comment, question or concern on any matter before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me 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.