One thing that can be said about events on Parliament Hill is that no two weeks are ever the same. All Parliamentarians were sad to learn this week of the passing of Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, Speaker of the Senate and a member of the Red Chamber for over two decades. Like other Canadians, Senator Nolin battled a rare form of cancer. Our thoughts and prayers are always with friends and families who have lost a loved one to such a cruel disease.
Also occurring on Parliament Hill this week was a visit from King Abdullah II bin al Hussein of Jordan. For those who may be unaware Jordan is the first Arab country to successfully complete a free-trade agreement with Canada that came into effect in October of 2012. Jordan is also one of two countries that have signed a peace agreement with Israel. Jordan has also accepted a large number of refugees fleeing Syria and opposes the terror organization ISIL.
Not occurring in Ottawa but certainly in the minds of many Canadians is the devastating earthquake tragedy in Nepal. Canada has deployed and successfully landed a Canadian Forces C-17 aircraft to deliver much needed personnel and supplies to the region to assist and search for survivors. If any citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla know Canadians travelling in that area requiring consular assistance please contact the Consulate of Canada in Kathmandu, Nepal at +977 (1) 444-1976 or the High Commission of Canada in New Delhi, India at +91 11 4178 2000. The Government of Canada will also be matching donations made by Canadians to registered Canadian charities in response to the Nepal earthquake between April 25– May 25, 2015.
After we hold a final vote in the House of Commons on Budget 2015, we will then move to debating Senate Bill S-4, the Digital Privacy Act, as well as Government Bill C-46, the Pipeline Safety Act and a number of private member’s bills and motions. For further information on any Bill before the House of Commons please contact me at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711. I would also like to pass on my thanks to the many individuals each week who take the time to pass on comments and questions on my weekly reports. Your ongoing input is valued and appreciated.
This week our Government introduced the 2015 budget. One of the most significant aspects of this budget is that it is balanced with a $1.4 Billion surplus that is forecast to eventually increase up to a $4.9 Billion surplus in 2019. A balanced budget means that Canada has the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G-7 and one of the lowest in the G-20.
Aside from being balanced, the 2015 budget also proposes a number of new measures; some already announced, such as the increased universal child care benefit and income splitting for families and other measures revealed on budget day. As is often the case, some budget measures have been widely supported – the reduction of the small business tax from 11% to 9% by 2019 has not only been supported by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, it is also supported by both the NDP and the Liberals after their leader initially voiced his opposition. However, expanding the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) maximum annual contribution to $10,000 as proposed in Budget 2015, is opposed by both opposition parties.
Other measures in Budget 2015 include reducing the minimum withdrawal requirements in a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) account to provide more flexibility for those who are retired. A new home accessibility tax credit has also been introduced that will help seniors and those who are disabled with expenses for required eligible home renovations and modifications, helping people to stay independent and in their homes longer. Employment Insurance (EI) related to compassionate care has also been increased, effective January of 2016, from the current maximum of six weeks to six months to better reflect the challenges of caring for a gravely ill family member.
In other areas it has been proposed to eliminate in-study student income from the Canada student loans assessment process and also there will be a reduced assumed parental contribution level in the same assessment process. Student loans will also be extended for short term educational programs for qualifying low and middle income students. These measures are in addition to expanding the Student Grants program that was highlighted earlier this month in a previous report.
On a Provincial level British Columbia will see $6.1 Billion in federal transfer payments this year – an important consideration given that former federal Governments actually decreased transfer payments to Provinces like BC. For the record federal transfer payments to BC, including the federal health transfer will continue to increase every year, supporting cherished programs like health care.
A few other measures that will be of benefit locally include a 10 year extension for tax incentives related to the investment of machinery and equipment. I have visited several local employers to see firsthand how new machinery and innovation is creating jobs that are needed in our local resource communities. I am also encouraged that there will be further exemptions for charitable donations involving private share and real estate donations related to capital gains taxes. Given the good work of many local charitable organizations, Hospital Foundations are one excellent example, this will help ensure more equity from donations remain in communities instead of Ottawa.
Public transit, science and research, military, and law enforcement are some other agencies benefitting from Budget 2015 that column space does not allow me to provide more details on along with many other agencies and service areas. A few examples are the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Thirty Meter Telescope Project, Canadian Tourism Association and others. For further information on Budget 2015 or any matter before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free 1-800-665-8711.
This week Canada hosted Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India for an official visit. For many Canadians this was a rare and exciting opportunity to see a world leader visit several parts of Canada where large crowds turned out in greetings. Prime Minister Modi’s visit is also a reminder on the importance of positive international relationships between Canada and other countries. One announcement made during this visit is that roughly seven million pounds of uranium concentrate from Saskatchewan will be sold to India for electricity generation over the next 5 years. Canada is the 2nd largest Uranium exporter in the world with annual exports exceeding $1 billion from an industry that support roughly 5,000 direct mining related jobs.
Also on the a similar theme of international relations, Canada announced this week that a contingent of roughly 200 Canadian Armed Forces training personnel will be deployed to Ukraine to assist with military training of Ukrainian forces. The training activities relate to explosive ordinance including dealing with improvised explosive device disposal, military police training and medical training. Flight safety and logistical assistance will also be provided to the Ukrainian National Guard. Many of these efforts will also be coordinated with the United States, who is also providing assistance to help ensure that Ukraine can better defend, maintain its sovereignty and provide for more stability in the region. This fulfills a request for assistance from the Government of Ukraine and will not be a combat role.
On a different subject, these past two weeks have been a welcome break from Parliament Hill. I have been meeting directly in different parts of Okanagan-Coquihalla with many citizens, groups and even a class of middle school students. On Thursday of last week I received an email from a concerned citizen that I believe is deserving of mention. The issue raised in the email was the subject of teenage suicide. It is not an issue often discussed and in fact it has been a long standing tradition that suicide is often reported in a way that intentionally does not disclose the means of death. While there are those who continue to support suicide being reported on in this manner, it has also been suggested that doing so fails to reveal the true extent that incidents of suicide and attempted suicide occur in our communities. The purpose of why I mention this subject today is to ask citizens for your input and experience on this topic. Has youth suicide or attempted suicide impacted you or someone you know? I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has experiences on this subject. All responses will be treated as strictly confidential and as mentioned in a previous report, communications shared with elected Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies are exempt from freedom of information legislation requests.
Next week the House of Commons will again be in session, with the 2015 Budget set to be introduced along with the tabling of balanced budget legislation. Your comments and questions are welcome and can be sent to email@example.com or 1-800-665-8711.
While the overnight temperature in Ottawa continues to be well below zero, the temperature inside the house has been steadily rising with vigorous debate on a number of bills and on Monday the vote to extend Canada`s mission against the ISIL terrorist organization. As was the case previously with the initial six month mission the vote to extend for a further 12 months was passed. For more information on this topic please see my MP report from last week.
Another hot topic on Parliament Hill has been the ongoing committee stage review of Bill C-51, otherwise known as the anti-terror bill. With most of the witnesses having now presented their views, the committee finished the clause by clause review where a small number of clarifying amendments were approved. As has been the case since literally before Bill C-51 was introduced it remains opposed by the NDP and supported by both the Liberals and Government. For more information on Bill C-51 please see my February 6th MP report.
Also being debated or voted on this week is a number of private members bills and motions that include: motion M-533 “Citizen consultation preceding natural resource development”, Bill C-628 “An Act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and the National Energy Board Act”, Bill C-613 “An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Access to Information Act“, Bill C-642 “An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act”, Motion -550 “Rail service” and Bill C-644 “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act”.
In late October of 2013, I covered the topic of MP and Senator expenses and mentioned that the Auditor-General would be performing an audit of all Senator related expenses. While that audit is not yet complete it has been suggested it will be released prior to the end of June. Expenses of Members of Parliament are governed by the House of Commons through the Board of Internal Economy and published annually. MP expenses are also a subject I cover as part of my yearly accountability report, my last yearly report was released in November of 2014. In my view the expenses of elected officials should always be subject to scrutiny and I will continue to provide updates on this subject as they become available.
One item that was not well covered by Ottawa media this week but is very good news for Canada is a recent announcement from Honda Canada. Honda currently owns and operates a factory in Alliston, Ontario that will begin producing the next generation Honda CR-V. What is exciting about this announcement is that these next generations Honda CR-V’s built here in Canada will be built for export to the European market. This if the first time in history that Honda will build vehicles in Canada for export to Europe and this is made possible by the Canada– EU free trade agreement that will eliminate a tariff of 10%. Although this particular announcement is largely to the benefit of Ontario here in Okanagan-Coquihalla and in British Columbia we have many high quality manufacturers who can also benefit from free trade access to the roughly 500 million consumers in the European market. While some have focussed on the recent oil price drop and resulting revenue shortfalls we should not ignore the importance of trade and the opportunity of new markets that can create jobs and support our local economies. If you have questions or comments on these or other Federal issues, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.