Ensuring timely access to benefits
This week is a "constituency week" meaning the House of Commons is adjourned while Members of Parliament are back in our home ridings. For 2016 there will be roughly 26 break weeks and 26 sitting weeks depending on when the House adjourns in June. From my perspective this is an effective balance on time spent equally between Ottawa and our home ridings and is why I remain opposed to efforts in Ottawa to further decrease the House of Commons work week.
Why is time in Ottawa important? Obviously debates, scrutiny of bills and legislations and passing or amending (and in some cases repealing) new and existing laws is critically important. Likewise passing of the federal budget, policy discussion and implementation as well as Parliamentary committee study are also much need aspects for our legislative process. However one overlooked item is problem solving. It is common for citizens to provide input and seek assistance from MPs on a variety of different issues. Over time in some cases a pattern may present that raises the question can a new and more effective ways of doing something be identified? Often these answers must be found and resolved in Ottawa. Researching through the Library of Parliament, meeting and consulting with civil servants, Officers of Parliament and Ministers along with senior department management may all play a role in how a particular problem on a local level is solved.
As an example one concern I have been working on recently involves Old Age Security (OAS). Although most citizens have little difficulty obtaining OAS benefits they are entitled to in some cases citizens may have difficulty accessing OAS in spite of having worked and paid taxes in Canada for decades. They may from a bureaucratic perspective, due to having resided in another country or having immigrated at a young age have to provide evidence of their residency in so far as being eligible to receive the OAS benefits they are entitled to. More often than not these situations can be resolved as other departments within the Federal Government may have the missing and necessary information however the onus is on the individual to first locate, then obtain and ultimately provide the information from one federal Government agency to another. This process is not only administratively complex it is also slow and can delay a person in need from receiving benefits in a timely manner. In addition for some citizens who may have physical or mental difficulties they may lack the ability or capacity to obtain and share this information and end up falling through the cracks.
This raises the question is there a better way to help people in this situation? If various departments within the Federal Government already have this information why not electronically share the information between them to help citizens in an easier and timelier way? The reason why this currently does not occur is ultimately related to personal privacy - currently in many situations Government departments are prohibited from sharing personal information. For the record I am not proposing to eliminate the prohibition on personal information sharing within Government departments however I am researching the possibility of departments having the ability to share specific information if the citizen in question provides written permission to do so in advance.
As we have many seniors in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola who have encountered this challenge I believe this will be an effective solution to provide assistance however I would also like to hear from citizens your thoughts on this proposal. Personal privacy is a subject that all citizens and elected officials should take seriously and that is why I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this proposal or any other matter before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
In two previous MP reports I have requested feedback from citizens on the subject of medically assisted dying in response to the Supreme Court decision that in effect has legalized this action pending legislation from Parliament. Recently the Liberal Government introduced that legislation and as this has been a subject that has generated a significant amount of feedback from citizens I would like to summarize Government Bill C-14 technically known as “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)”.
The goal of this act is to enable doctors as well as nurse practitioners and those who assist them to help eligible citizens end their lives without facing criminal charges for doing so. This naturally raises the question who is deemed to be an “eligible citizen” for the purposes of this legislation. The criteria includes a number of factors: A citizen must be at least 18 years old who has made a voluntary request with informed consent to be considered eligible for medically assisted dying. In addition this same citizen must have a serious and incurable disease or disability that is in an advanced state and is considered irreversible. It would also need to be demonstrated that the disease or disability in question was at a stage causing intolerable suffering with death being the most reasonably foreseeable outcome.
How would this work in practice? A citizen who believes they meet the criteria above can make a written request to receive medical assistance in dying provided this request is signed by two independent witnesses. If a citizen is unable to write this request because of a disability a representative can do so on that persons behalf provided two independent witnesses verify the request. Once the request has been submitted two independent doctors or nurse practitioners would then evaluate the request for eligibility. During this time a mandatory 15 day reflection period would be in effect unless death or a loss of capacity was imminent. Understandably a citizen could withdraw this request at any time during this 15 day period.
It is also proposed that Provincial health authorities would maintain confidential lists of doctors and nurse practitioners who are willing to participate with assisted suicide that would be made available to citizens seeking this assistance. The bill does not propose any mandatory language as it recognizes that there are medical professionals who do not support medical assistance in dying and may decide not to offer these services. It is further proposed that the Federal Government will collect and analyze data on the use of this program although it is unclear what information would be made public.
My thoughts? The bill clearly would enable medical assistance in dying as directed by the ruling from the Supreme Court. While there are some safeguards proposed ultimately the bill makes certain assumptions that an individual requesting medically assisted suicide is not coerced or otherwise requesting this assistance out of quilt or obligation solely based upon two individuals witnessing the request. This process is somewhat concerning as there is little consideration shown for those who may be suffering from an undiagnosed mental health condition such as depression.
Although I have other concerns ultimately our Supreme Court has made this ruling and to date the majority of the feedback that I have received from citizens has been supportive. My vote on Bill C-14 will be guided by the input that I receive from the citizens of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola on this topic. Given that the consensus so far has been largely supportive this is the direction that I am following while I continue to actively consult with local citizens. I welcome your comments, questions or concerns on this or any matter before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Bail in or Bail out?
For my previous two MP reports I have covered several concerns related to the recent 2016 Federal Budget and in turn have received some excellent feedback with many good questions and comments. One question that I have received a large amount of interest in relates to page 223 of the federal budget that details the Liberal Government plan for the bank recapitalization “bail in” regime. The reason why this is such a frequently asked question is some citizens believe this recapitalization plan announced in the Liberal budget would allow banks to take money from depositors to be used for a bank bailout during a financial crises. Understandably the concern that major banks could take your money in such a manner has created a considerable amount of concern for many citizens. Before plunging into this issue further let us start by acknowledging that this is an extremely technical subject and some simplification has been applied to summarize the issue to fit into this week’s report.
The obvious question is does this proposed bank recapitalization “bail in” regime allow banks to take your money during a financial crisis? In order to answer this question it is important to understand what is actually being proposed and why. One of the lessons learned during the recent economic crises is that many banks that did fail (and fortunately none in Canada) were provided taxpayer financed bailouts with little consequence to the key decision makers at the bank in question who ultimately were responsible for many of the high risk decisions being made. For many taxpayers this lack of accountability was unacceptable. Further this type of a taxpayer financed bailout regime meant there were few consequences to senior bank managers who in many cases continued to collect extravagant bonuses almost as a reward for engaging in risky behaviour.
We know when a major bank fails it can have devastating effects on our economy and for local citizens. For this reason many banks are considered too large and too important to fail. However the challenge is how can accountability can be increased so that risky behaviour is not rewarded in the future by taxpayer financed bailouts? The idea behind a formal bank recapitalization regime is that in the event of a financial crises major shareholders of the bank – in other words those who are investors in the bank, along with major creditors who have previously decided to do business with the bank in question, would see their investment in the bank converted from being a bank liability into common shares so the bank could continue to operate. In other words the owners of the bank, in effect being the shareholders and the major creditors, would be the parties who would see their investment converted into common shares until such time the bank returned to profitability.
How does this benefit taxpayers? The simple answer is that for those citizens who deal at a bank, credit union or financial institution that did not engage in practices that compromised the viability of the institution in question they are not forced to financially subsidize and reward poor management that occurred elsewhere. Further for the bank management that did run an institution into insolvency they would be held to account by the shareholders and creditors of the bank in question.
What about bank depositors? This is where the largest concern is for everyday consumers who bank with a major institution but are not shareholders or the primary creditors. As this policy discussion and related consultation has evolved in Canada for some time it should be noted that the stated position of the previous Government is that deposits from Canadian consumers would be excluded and protected from a Bank recapitalization regime. Although the current Liberal Government to the best of my knowledge has not made a similar policy commitment to exclude and protect depositors from these proposed changes it is in my view reasonable to conclude the intent would be the same and they will do so. As this legislation and further details are still pending on this subject I will confirm this speculation when possible. For more questions, comments or concerns on this or any topic please contact me email@example.com or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Our aging population
Last week’s report raised concerns that Government budgets, such as the recent Liberal Federal budget, often focus too much on short term thinking and ignore the long term impacts on many subjects that will impact future generations of Canadians. This week the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer issued a report that also criticized that recent Liberal budget noting that the time horizon for consideration of cost impacts has been significantly shortened by the Liberals. The PBO further went on to report that overall the changes made by the Liberals in this budget “have made it more difficult for parliamentarians to scrutinize public finances.” – for partisan readers of my report please note these are the words of the PBO and not my own.
Last week I provided specific examples on how Canadians now spend 10% of our entire federal budget just on debt repayment that will only further increase now that the Liberals have ignored their electoral commitment to return to balanced budgets in 2019. In this week’s report I would like to discuss another long term challenge that in my view has also been ignored in the federal Liberal budget and that is our aging demographics.
In 2012 the former Prime Minister announced that starting in the year 2023 the age of eligibility for OAS benefits would be increased from 65 up to 67 to be fully implemented by the year 2030. In Budget 2016 these proposed OAS changes were cancelled. I will leave out the politics and instead provide some information that relates to this subject.
When OAS was first created in 1952 the age of eligibility was 70. At that time the average life expectancy was 66 for men and 71 for women. In 1965 the OAS qualifying age was lowered from 70 to 65. Today the average life expectancy is 79 for men and 83 for women, meaning citizens are collecting OAS benefits for much longer. There is also another consideration. Currently seniors are the fastest growing demographic in our society. In fact over the next two decades we know that the amount of Canadian citizens over the age of 65 will basically double from roughly 4.7 million seniors today to over 9.3 million by 2030.
Why does this matter? Today OAS spending costs $36 billion a year and based on the aging demographics of our society is expected to rise to $108 billion by the year 2030. On the surface this may not seem like a challenge until you consider that currently for every one retired citizen receiving OAS benefits there is a ratio of four working Canadians not receiving OAS benefits helping to fund them. By 2030 this ratio will be again be cut in half with just two working Canadians not receiving OAS benefits paying for twice as many citizens who are eligible. In other words there will be significantly more citizens who receive OAS benefits and significantly less citizens not receiving OAS benefits who will be attempting to pay for the costs of that. For added context in 1975 there was a ratio of 7 working taxpayers for every citizen over 65.
Why does the ratio of fewer working taxpayers to those over 65 matter? The simple answer is income tax. Nearly 50% of all federal revenue comes from income tax compared to GST that generates roughly 10% of revenue. Fewer working Canadians will result in significantly decreased income tax revenue while aging population demographics result in significantly higher costs for programs such as OAS. Keep in mind these are not partisan concerns, these are the realities of our demographics. While many may not have agreed with raising the age of OAS eligibility, it was one proposed solution to this pending fiscal challenge. Budget 2016 eliminated this proposed solution and offers no long term solution to deal with the problem. Make no mistake today’s youth will be the ones facing this challenge and is part of the reason they have become known as “generation squeezed”.
I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this or any subject before the House of Commons and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Central Okanagan – Similkameen – Nicola