This week the USA administration announced that softwood lumber imports into the United States from Canada would be subject to new duties ranging anywhere from 3% up to 24%. The highest duties will be primarily against producers here in Western Canada. Within hours many media sources were running headlines reporting a trade war had erupted. Closer to home BC NDP leader John Horgan accused Premier Christy Clark of failing to resolve the matter even though it is entirely an issue of Federal jurisdiction that resides at the feet of the federal Liberal Government to resolve.
I mention these things because this is an issue that for some is easy to play partisan politics with as the BC NDP has illustrated. However in reality forestry is a critically important industry not just in our riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola but in many ridings in British Columbia and let us not forget other regions of Canada. As an example in my riding the largest private sector employers in West Kelowna, Merritt and Princeton are all lumber mills. In the riding immediately south, South Okanagan—West Kootenay represented by NDP MP Richard Cannings, this is also the case and is one of the reasons why MP Cannings recently introduced a private members bill promoting the use of wood in Government related construction projects.
In short this is an issue that should be above partisan politics. I mention that resolving the softwood lumber dispute is an area of federal responsibility as it is unfair and inaccurate to suggest that the BC Government, or any provincial Government for that matter, has the ability to resolve the Softwood Lumber dispute. To be clear it should also be pointed out that this is a long term dispute and not a full blown trade war as some are attempting to claim. I believe it is also important to add that the Liberal Government, and in particular our Prime Minister, has shown restraint in not getting involved in USA domestic politics despite that it would be politically convenient to do so. In fact to date I believe most political pundits would agree that our Liberal Government has made considerable effort to work proactively with the new United States administration in several areas.
I mention all of these things as I believe that partisan politics and finger pointing will not constructively assist this situation and our combined focus should be on getting an agreement. If we can work together on a united approach we will increase our odds of success. Ultimately this challenge occurs because much of the United States timber is harvested from private land owners who are more successful in driving up revenues then our crown land system used primarily here in Canada. This in no way suggests that our crown land timber is subsidized, in fact all evidence to date and success at many trade dispute resolution tribunals consistently rule in Canada’s favour.
To further complicate this matter when the Canadian dollar exchange rate is factored in at roughly between 74-76 cents USD this in fact becomes a discount that USA lumber producers must compete against. Interestingly enough the USA administrations recently added new duty rates essentially wipe out the currency advantage that works in Canada’s favour essentially meaning that Canadian produced lumber will now arrive in the United States at a similar cost as USA produced lumber. I mention this only to add some perspective from the other side of the border.
There is no question both the Federal and many Provincial Governments will employ many strategies to attempt to help mitigate and resolve this issue as quickly as possible. From my perspective I will continue to support all measures that can bring this matter to a resolution as quickly as possible. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711 and welcome your comments and questions on this topic.
Last week the Liberal Government introduced the much anticipated Marijuana legalization bill, technically known as Bill C-45 “The Cannabis Act”. First let me state that the Liberals clearly campaigned on legalizing marijuana and I have heard from several citizens who indicated this was one of the primary reasons they voted Liberal in the last election. I mention this point as I believe the Liberal Government does have a democratic mandate to move forward with this legislation.
From a quick overview this Bill takes a very similar approach that I used with my wine bill that removes federal barriers but still allows Provinces to enact and adopt their own rules and regulations with respect to marijuana legislation. I will credit the Liberals for using this approach as it allows Provinces to individually respond to this legislation in whatever manner they believe is most workable.
So what is proposed? Bill C-45 proposes a number of measures related to the legalization of Marijuana, some of these include: that cannabis can only be sold to citizens age 18 or older although individual Provinces can raise the legal age limit if desired. It is further proposed that adults would legally be able to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis in public, and to grow up to four plants per household at a maximum height of one metre from a legal seed or seedling. However it should also be pointed out that until the new law comes into force, cannabis remains illegal in Canada, except for medical purposes.
With the proposed legalization also comes new proposed changes to penalties and enforcement with significant changes to impaired driving enforcement. A few examples of this include allowing the police to demand that a suspected driver provide an oral fluid sample on demand. New regulations would also be introduced with respect to restricting the THC level per millilitre (ml) of blood not unlike current restrictions related to blood alcohol content. There is also a provision to allow for mandatory roadside screening even if an officer does not have a suspicion of drug or alcohol use. Prison sentences of up to 14 years are also proposed for illegal distribution or sale of marijuana. It is also proposed that penalties of up to 14 years in prison may result for giving or selling marijuana to minors. These are just a few of the many changes that are proposed in Bill C-45 with respect to penalties and enforcement.
As is often the case with any proposed new legislation there are still many unanswered questions, a few of these include concerns from landlords as typically tenant insurance will be void if marijuana is grown in a rental property. Border crossings is another topic as the United States may refuse to allow entry to a citizen who has used marijuana. Policing and identifying legal marijuana from illegally sourced marijuana is also a serious concern as criminal organizations could potentially undercut legally sourced marijuana with higher THC content black market cannabis. There is also a concern that many cannabis vendors currently defying the existing laws may not comply with the new regulations and restrictions either thus ensuring that enforcement remains a challenge that many municipal and provincial police forces will be burdened with the costs of policing.
My thoughts? Many details will need to be worked out by individual provinces for a more detailed understanding of how the full implementation will occur that will be an important part of this discussion. One concern I do have is that the Canadian Medical Association, has stated that even occasional marijuana use can cause serious negative psychological effects on brain development up to the age 25. As a result of this medical evidence I believe a substantial public education campaign will be needed to better educate citizens on the mental health risks that marijuana legalization presents to children and young adults. I will continue to provide further updates on this topic as they become available. I welcome your comments and questions on marijuana legalization and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
Tuesday night was a disappointing evening in Ottawa. With only three hours advance notice the Liberal Government invited Parliamentarians for a technical presentation on the upcoming 2017 Budget Implementation Act, also known as the BIA. Once I arrived for the presentation it became very clear the reasons why. In spite of promising Canadians that the Liberal Government would not use omnibus legislation, the new Liberal BIA is a textbook example of an omnibus bill.
For those of you unfamiliar with an omnibus bill, essentially it is legislation that seeks to amend, repeal or enact several Acts, and is often characterized by the fact that it has a multiple number of separate initiatives that may be only loosely connected to the actual intent of the original bill, in this case the budget.
As an example, in this Liberal BIA it is proposed to weaken the independence of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (known in Ottawa as the PBO), a measure not related to the spending of funds outlined in the budget but rather a measure by the Liberals to weaken scrutiny of the spending. A disappointing but not surprising result given that the Liberals have been embarrassed by the PBO’s previous reports that famously exposed Liberal efforts to manipulate and hide the fact that they inherited a balanced budget from the previous Conservative Government or the recent PBO report revealing the Liberal`s slow and disjointed infrastructure spending.
Critics oppose omnibus bills arguing that with so much widely varied content an omnibus bill cannot receive the required parliamentary scrutiny for the many varied clauses. Another criticism is that some measures within an omnibus bill may be widely supported but other measures may be strongly opposed. As an example in this case weakening of the independence of the PBO would never stand as a single bill however it can more easily slip through in an omnibus bill where it will receive less scrutiny.
While the criticism against omnibus bills is certainly valid and should not be overlooked, I believe there is also another perspective that is deserving of consideration. A Government in challenging economic times has an obligation to enact as many measures as it believes is reasonably required to continue to build a stronger and more prosperous Canada. Within any Legislative or Parliamentary precinct there is ultimately a limited amount of time available that can also be subject to opposition delay tactics.
Government`s propose many of these measures because it believes they are beneficial to the citizens it collectively represents. In my view it is not unreasonable to use an omnibus bill for the purposes of enacting broad based legislation in areas supporting the economy, public safety, the environment or trade as a few examples.
In this case I am not faulting the Liberal Government for using an omnibus budget bill such as this. Where I do take issue with the Liberals is that they committed to Canadians they would not use omnibus bills; in fact they promised they would outright change the House rules to technically eliminate them. It was the Liberal`s choice to promise this during the election and their choice to table such a bill- regardless of whether or not our rules allow for them or not.
As with the promise to enact electoral reform or to return to a balanced budget by 2019, Canadians are witnessing a disturbing pattern of broken promises that were made to Canadians by this Liberal Government with little to no regard for keeping those promises. For a Government that promised “better was always possible”, I would submit a pattern of broken promises only serves to undermine our democratic process and increase cynicism among voters, and on that note I believe yes, this Liberal Government can do better.
My question this week – Do you support the limited use of omnibus bills or should they be prohibited as the Liberals promised? I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
This week the major theme in Ottawa has once again focused on the Quebec based manufacturer Bombardier after it was reported that six company executives were to receive $32 million in bonus payments. Bombardier, as many may recall, received an interest free $372.5 Million loan from taxpayers back in February. This loan was controversial in large part as Bombardier executives had previously stated publicly that the company did not actually need the loan having secured adequate funds elsewhere. Controversy over the announced $32 million in bonus payments did result in Bombardier voluntarily agreeing to defer half the bonus amount to the year 2020 if certain financial targets are met.
As my own critics like to point out in recent letters to the editor – opposing is not the same as proposing an alternative. It is an important point and one that I agree with. In this case could the $32 million in bonus payments to Bombardier executives be avoided until the company repays the $ 372.5 Million loan? The alternative answer is yes.
As an example when the former Conservative Government provided assistance to Air Canada this assistance came with terms and conditions. Some of these conditions included terms that executive compensation would be frozen at the rate of inflation and that any additional bonuses would be prohibited. Over and above these restrictions Air Canada was also banned from issuing dividends or allowing share repurchases.
The debate in this particular case is that the Liberal Government loaned $372.5 Million to Bombardier, interest free, with no similar terms of restrictions whatsoever. In fact at the same time Bombardier receives this loan it has also announced 7,500 jobs will be lost, 2,000 of these jobs in Canada alone. It was further revealed in Question Period this week that the Liberal Government has yet to sign off on the final paperwork for this loan and still has the option to add similar restrictions if it so desires.
My question this week pertains to government bailouts to private industry. In the event the Government does provide a form of assistance to a large scale Canadian employer is it reasonable to also require and enforce that executive bonuses and other shareholder related perks have limits placed on them until such time a loan and/or other relief measure is satisfied?
I welcome your comments, concerns and questions on this topic or any matter before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.