As much as the House of Commons is often viewed as an adversarial environment there are also those times, albeit rare, when there is unanimous support for the passage of a bill. In the last Parliament, I was fortunate to have unanimous support for the passage of my bill to remove a prohibition era federal restriction preventing the personal movement of wine across provincial borders. Later the Government would expand on this bill to also include beer and spirits. Recently in the House of Commons another private member’s bill has received unanimous support and has also passed through the Senate and recently received Royal Assent.
Bill C-224 “An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” was sponsored by MP Ron McKinnon from Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam. This is a very important bill that may save lives. For many families in communities through British Columbia and Canada the opioid crisis is a very serious and real concern. Although the crises is reported on almost daily, often when a tragedy is concerned, not told are the countless others who suffer from addiction and may be only one drug away from an overdose that could be fatal.
Unfortunately history has shown that often when an overdose does occur in some cases it may not be reported to emergency responders in a timely manner as those who are with the overdosed individual fear law enforcement involvement once 9-1-1 has been called. These delays in treatment often end up in death.
Bill C-224 changes that. Technically Bill C-224 ensures that “ an exemption from charges of simple possession of a controlled substance as well as from charges concerning a pre-trial release, probation order, conditional sentence or parole violations related to simple possession for people who call 9-1-1 for themselves or another person suffering an overdose, as well as anyone who is at the scene when emergency help arrives”. In other words calling for help when an overdose occurs will now ensure that there will not be criminal charges against the good samaritan(s) that attempt to save a life. While more Government action is needed against the opioid crises any step that can help save lives is an important one.
For those who have asked about the progress of the Liberal Government Bill to legalize marijuana it has currently had introduction and first reading with debate to begin in the near future.
I welcome your comments and questions and be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
Air Passenger Bill of Rights
This week in the House of Commons the Liberal Government introduced what is being called the “Air Passenger Bill of Rights”. Technically these proposed changes are part of Bill C-49 “An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts”.
What are some of these proposed changes? For the most part it is proposed to have more clear regulations for situations that may commonly arise when travelling by air.
Some examples are compensation minimums for denied boarding’s that arise from overbooking, delays or other cancellations. Guidelines also are proposed for lost or damaged luggage, even tarmac delays over an established length of time are now subject to this Bill. Other changes include children sitting next to a parent without an additional seat selection charge and standards for the safe transport of musical instruments.
Aside from these consumer friendly changes that I believe most air travellers will welcome there are also some proposed changes from an industry perspective. Most notable is that the current restriction on foreign ownership of a Canadian airline will be increased from the current level of twenty five percent up to forty nine percent. This change will not apply to specialty air services such as firefighting.
Another proposed change is new powers for the Transportation Minister to approve joint ventures between two or more different air carriers. This change is intended to help accommodate standard industry practices elsewhere and potentially to increase competition.
It is also proposed that airport security screening services provided by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority or CATSA will now be supported on a cost recovery basis. The Government promotes this clause as allowing for an airport to pay for additional airport security screening services to help establish new routes. However it could also result in a form of downloading where airport operators are forced to pay for a larger share of security services that in turn increases the costs of air travel. Presently airports create significant revenues for the Federal Government from fees and charges that are already paid for by passengers. There is always a concern that some Canadians living near the border may instead use more price competitive alternatives at nearby USA airports. At this point more details and further clarification will be required.
My thoughts? One item I would like to see included would be an extended time frame for consumers who have airline credits to use those airline credits that currently expire within a fairly narrow window of time. Overall I believe the majority of these changes will be welcome while details on cost recovery for CATSA security services will need more clarification although in principle I am not opposed to cost recovery as a means of service delivery.
I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on the Transportation Modernization Act or any other subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
I was asked recently if it is difficult to come up with a different topic every seven days for my weekly MP report to citizens. It is difficult, however not for the reason that you might expect. The challenge is not finding new topics to discuss but rather narrowing down the many subjects available to one or two that can be briefly covered with the limited space available in my reports. Case in point this week I would like to reference the Liberal Government's efforts to muzzle the Parliamentary Budget Officer however a more pressing concern is the Liberals plans for a proposed $35 Billion Infrastructure Bank.
Why is the $35 Billion Infrastructure Bank a serious concern? Canadians pay taxes to the federal Government for a variety of different purposes and uses. One of the important uses of your tax dollars is building infrastructure. The challenge here is that $35 Billion in funding and guarantees that could be building Infrastructure in communities like Kelowna, Peachland, Penticton, Merritt or elsewhere in Canada will instead be diverted to create the Liberals new Infrastructure bank to be located in the Liberal stronghold of Toronto.
The concern here is that this Infrastructure Bank doesn’t actually build any Infrastructure. The role of the Liberals new Infrastructure Bank is to attract international investors to ultimately invest and privately build Infrastructure here in Canada. In order to attract sophisticated and often international investors the Government will be paying lucrative rates of return on large scale projects with a minimum price of $100 Million or more.
Why is this a concern? For starters the Liberal Government is borrowing money it does not have at lower rates of interest solely to subsidize higher rates of return to largely private investors. Worse, is that with a minimum project threshold of $100 Million many rural communities and even smaller to mid-size cities will not be able to afford projects of this magnitude. Despite this fact the taxpayers who live within these areas will be saddled with paying part of the borrowing debt and high rates of interest even though they do not directly benefit from the projects. Paradoxically this also comes at a time where new capital requirements put in place by a Federal Government regulator significantly limit the ability for sectors like Canadian insurance companies to invest in Canadian infrastructure. There are other concerns however this summarizes some of the more significant.
This week the NDP will table a motion in Ottawa to remove the Infrastructure Bank from the Liberals' omnibus budget bill so that it can be debated and opposed on a stand-alone basis. For those who might think the Infrastructure bank is only being opposed by Opposition parties alone it should be noted that other analysts such as the former Parliamentary Budget Officer through the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy has also has stated serious concerns and questioned the need for a costly new level of bureaucracy and administration to create a bank that borrows funds at relatively low interest rates solely to pay high rates of return to international investors.
It is my intent to oppose the Liberals new Infrastructure bank however I welcome your views on this topic. Do you support the Liberals $35 Billion Infrastructure Bank? I can be reached atDan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
One of the challenges that all Provincial and Federal Governments face is communicating policy in a manner that is easily understood by citizens. On the surface this may sound simple but sometimes policy can be difficult and timely to explain easily. Further, opposition parties and other interest groups may either intentionally or unintentionally mispresent policy in manner that may undermine or generate public opposition.
I mention these things as the current BC election has resulted in some issues being raised that require more information to properly scrutinize. As an example of this in the community of Merritt one of the largest lumber mills has shut down in the past year creating significant hardship for many in this community. As forestry is an area that falls into Provincial jurisdiction this has become an election issue specifically as it has been alleged by some that the reason this mill closed is related to raw log exports.
In principal most would agree that exporting raw logs to be processed in mills outside of British Columbia should not occur if BC Lumber mills are closing as a result of a lack of timber supply. This raises the question why has no Provincial Government of any political stripe actually banned raw log exports once in power.
Part of the answer to this question is understanding how the process around exporting raw logs, technically known as “unmanufactured timber” actually works. Essentially the process involves three steps. The first step is to acquire an exemption of the requirement that lumber harvested in BC is also processed in BC. Part of the exemption process involves advertising the timber supply in question to be potentially exported on a Provincial list of timber for sale. This bi-weekly advertising list means that a domestic BC mill operator has the opportunity to buy these raw logs before they could be legally exported from BC. If there is an offer to purchase an advisory committee will determine that price is fair market value for all parties involved. If the offer is deemed fair the logs in question will remain in BC to be processed by the successfully bidding mill owner. If there is no interest or suitable buyers found the logs will be considered surplus for BC’s domestic needs and be eligible for export.
Once raw logs are deemed surplus an application can be made for a BC Permit to export the logs in question before moving on to the final stage of the process that is a Federal permit for export. Why do some BC lumber mills not bid on these raw logs? There are a number of different reasons for this that may depend on specific circumstances. Many BC Mills have become highly specialized in dealing with specific types of timber to produce a unique value added product. In some cases the timber available for sale may not be of the type or quality desired by the Mill in question. In other circumstances the transport costs may not make purchasing logs in one area of BC economical if there is a sufficient distance to transport. Cost may be another factor more so if the raw logs are from a private forest owner or a First Nations community looking to obtain maximum value.
The intent of my column today is not to defend raw log exports as ideally I believe Governments of all political stripes support increased value added wood manufacturing here in B.C. Forestry remains a critically important industry to many communities in British Columbia and one challenge will be to encourage more investment into value added processing operations with access to a diverse range of markets.
Although raw logs is not an issue of federal jurisdiction I welcome your thoughts on ways Government can promote more value added wood manufacturing. 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.
Central Okanagan – Similkameen – Nicola