June 25, 2015
Although it has been reported that the 41stParliament is now dissolved, technically the House stands adjourned and is set to reconvene in September however as the election writ is expected to be dropped prior it is widely expected that this 41st Parliament will not sit again. The end of any legislative session is always a busy time in the scramble to see Bills passed from the House of Commons to make it into the Senate hopefully to make it through the upper chamber for Royal Assent.
This was a process I went through with my private member’s Bill C-311 on wine importation back in June of 2012 and was also a process that my colleague MP Michael Chong went through late last week with his private members bill on democratic reform. As many may recall the Reform Act of 2014 is one I have supported in Parliament and referenced in a few previous MP reports. It is also a Bill that has just received Royal Assent and is now law. I would like to thank the many citizens who took the time to communicate with me on that particular bill as well as others. On a similar theme this week I was also pleased to learn that the Province of Nova Scotia has now joined the “Free My Grapes” initiative and will also now be allowing direct to consumer shipping of BC wine to citizens in Nova Scotia and conversely BC residents can order some of the excellent wines of Nova Scotia. It is rewarding that four Canadian Provinces are now supporting the free trade of Canadian wine with potentially more to follow. On that note I would also like to recognize the BC Government who continues to work towards the removal of inter-provincial trade barriers in support of our local economies.
Near the conclusion of the 41st Parliament I had an opportunity to thank the many outgoing Parliamentarians and House of Commons staff who have worked very long hours away from family during the operations of the House over the past four years. On the same note I would also like to wish a happy retirement to Southern Interior Member of Parliament Alex Atamanenko. MP Atamanenko represented a large and diverse riding and has worked hard over the past nine years in Ottawa. I know that Mr. Atamanenko’s friendly demeanour and sincere advocacy on issues will be warmly remembered by many of his constituents.
By the numbers the 41st Parliament was a productive one with the passing of roughly 117 Government Bills, 44 other private Bills and 30 motions from Private Members, all over the past four years. It has been reported that no other Parliament in the past two decades has had as much legislation pass through the House of Commons. The past four years have also witnessed two different leaders of the official opposition due to the untimely passing of former NDP leader Jack Layton as well as two Liberal leaders, once an interim leader was replaced with Mr. Trudeau. This Parliament was also described as one of the youngest when first elected and of course also the first with the NDP as the official opposition party as the Liberals were the third party in the House. In October of 2014 an armed assailant attacked the House of Common before being killed by security officers. This disturbing event was not actually the first of its kind. In 1966 an assailant blew himself up in a Centre Block bathroom while prepping a bomb. Overall the 41st Parliament has been through a number of events that has also included some all night sittings, extended hours, filibusters and of course exchanges of colorful and at times interesting language.
In roughly four months time Canadians will again head to the polls to elect Canada’s 42ndParliament. What the composition and structure of that Parliament will be like is up for Canadians to decide and that is one of the true privileges of living in a democracy.
With the House now adjourned I am available for meetings and welcome your phone calls. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and writes this weekly report for his constituents.
Now retired Speaker of the BC Legislature and local MLA Bill Barisoff once commented that the wheels of government often turn slowly but they do continue to turn. It was over a year ago in one of my April 2014 MP reports that I first referenced the serious concern of aquatic invasive species here in the Okanagan and in particular the need to take action on invasive freshwater mussels. This was an issue that was raised by the Okanagan Basin Water Board, various local government elected officials and also citizens within Okanagan-Coquihalla. Since that time I have been actively working on this issue in Ottawa in the hopes that invasive species regulations that help to address this important situation would be introduced and become legally enforceable.
In December of 2014 I sent out a news release to local media encouraged over the announcement of proposed invasive species regulations that had at that time just been publicly introduced. These proposed Canada wide regulations had been announced by my Kelowna Lake Country colleague MP Ron Cannan and I on behalf of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea, along with other important stake holders in attendance. From that point the proposed regulations undergo a formal review process until they are released in the Canada Gazette, when they become legally enforceable. While it is understandable this review process would take time, once May and now June has arrived, so does boating season on many of BC’s freshwater lakes. The need for the regulations to be in force is time sensitive and an important measure towards prevention. For the past month this has been one of my priority tasks in Ottawa and it is without haste that I can now announce that as you read this week’s MP report our new invasive species regulations have been published in Canada’s Gazette and are now in force.
It is important to recognize that this is one of many steps required to protect British Columbia freshwater lakes; however all steps can and will make a difference. From my perspective it is also important that I make clear as a Member of Parliament the concerns I take forward to Ottawa are those that are raised here in the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla. On that note I would like to recognize West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) and the rest of the OBWB staff and directors along with many citizens who expressed concern on this issue. While there is more work to be done it is rewarding to have these new regulations in place in spite of nearly fourteen months elapsing since my first report on this subject in 2014. My thanks to all who worked hard to raise concern on this important issue.
This is also the last full week the House of Commons will be in session with only a few sitting days expected for next week. Later this week the Board of Internal Economy will also release the annual publishing of the members’ expenditures report for 2014‑2015. This is important information for taxpayers as it relates to the annual spending of Members of Parliament. As with previous years I will use this and other information to release my 4th annual accountability report in the near future and will welcome your scrutiny. If you have any comments or questions on matter before the House of Commons I can be reached via email at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and writes this weekly report for his constituents. His website is www.danalbas.com and has an archive of previous reports.
Although there are a number of events occurring in Ottawa this week, the issue that is dominating most of the media spotlight is the recently released audit of the Senate from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG). This audit of the Senate covered the fiscal periods of 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, reviewed $186 million in spending contained in roughly 80,000 expense items involving 116 sitting and recently retired Senators.
The findings? Of the $186 million reviewed in the AG Senate Audit approximately $975,000 has been identified as either questionable or spent in a manner that is not in accordance with Senate rules. This questionable spending involves 30 of the 116 Senators audited; 21 of the 30 Senators have been publicly listed in the OAG Senate audit while the remaining 9 of these 30 Senators, also publicly named, have been referred to law enforcement for further investigation.
The OAG Senate audit also provided an opportunity for Senators identified in the audit to respond to the expense claims that have been referenced in addition there is also Senate created process that involves dispute resolution where there is disagreement. The Senate expense resolution process will be led by retired Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie. While it is not possible in the space of this column to list all of the Senator responses to the audit to date some Senators have admitted error in certain cases and made repayments while other claims are in dispute.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson has also made observations and recommendations regarding the Senate audit that include concerns over a lack of accountability and transparency and that in many areas Senators can make decisions that are more economical for taxpayers. In total the AG has called for a transformational change in how expenses are administered and the need to do so in a more accountable and transparent manner.
My thoughts? I have long been a supporter of increased transparency and accountability. This is why I make a point of publishing an annual accountability report that includes many items either not normally publicly disclosed or not easily located. To date my annual accountability reports have been well received and I encourage all elected officials to find ways to share similar information. Once concerning aspect of the Senate audit is that while just under $1 million in potentially questionable spending has been identified, the cost of this particular OAG Audit of the Senate is currently listed as $23.6 million. While I continue to fully support increased accountability and transparency it is also important for cost effective solutions to be identified. Canadians deserve a process that creates confidence in how your tax dollars are spent with regard to expenses of elected Members of Parliament and un-elected Senators.
It is also important to recognize that while some have promoted the idea of eliminating or de-funding the Senate, this could not be achieved without a national constitutional consensus among all of our Canadian Provinces and Territories. For more information on the Canadian Senate please see my February 26, 2013 MP report. For more information on the OAG Senate Audit or any matter before the House of Commons please contact me email@example.com or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
A number of events are occurring in Ottawa on and around Parliament Hill this week. One event that I believe is of interest to all Canadians are ceremonies related to the release of the summary report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. For those who may be unfamiliar, this was a report into one of our countries darkest times as aboriginal children were taken from their families and communities to attend residential schools. For many aboriginal students horrific injustices occurred in these institutions where it has been revealed that children suffered serious abuse, violence, and thousands of children were never to return home. In some cases the location and remains of loved ones are still unknown to family members.
The summary report released this week is roughly 400 pages and contains 94 recommendations intended to help achieve true reconciliation. The full report will be released in the near future that will also be responded to by government. Some of the key recommendations involve increased education for all Canadians regarding the history of residential schools in Canada as well as improving education for first nation’s children and greater efforts to close the poverty gap that exists in many first nation communities. From my perspective I believe we must work in partnership to identify solutions that reduce poverty and increase education completion rates. It is also important to focus on employment and healthy living including accessible healthcare. True reconciliation is an important principle to help overcome this unacceptable chapter in Canadian history. We must also recognize the courage of many victims who came forward to share their painful experiences with the commission. I will report again on this important topic again when the full report is released and more information is available.
This week in Ottawa also saw the release of the independent investigation and related report into the shooting that occurred on Parliament Hill in October of 2014. This report concluded that 56 shots were fired between RCMP and House of Commons security. Of the 56 shots fired 31 hit the assailant with 2 of these 31 considered to be rapidly fatal. Neither drugs nor alcohol were detected in the post-mortem investigation of the deceased. The report also identified areas of concern with respect to House of Commons security protocols and in total proposes 66 recommendations.
Closer to home I have been asked for comment regarding child killer Allan Schoenborn being issued escorted day pass by the BC Review board. For those who may be unaware, in 2008 Mr. Schoenborn murdered his three children: 10-year-old Kaitlynne, 8-year-old Max, and 5-year-old Cordon in Merritt before fleeing police. I have heard from the family directly who shared this horrific tragedy with members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in June of 2013. This was truly one of the most heartbreaking events heard by this committee as the family continues to live in fear of Mr. Schoenborn to this very day. This is an example where parts of our justice system still can fail victims and families. Although legal changes have occurred since this disturbing act of violence was committed these changes cannot be applied retroactively and will not change this difficult situation for the family. In my view these situations are unacceptable and I will continue to support putting the interests and concerns of families and victims ahead of criminals. No family should be forced to relive a horrific event and live in fear for their safety. I welcome your comments and questions on the subjects mentioned today or any other matter before the House of Commons. I 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.