Late last week the House of Commons adjourned after a raucous final few weeks of vigorous debate. One of the contentious subjects that arose again was on the subject of electoral reform. As many will know, the Prime Minister famously promised that "2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system"- a campaign promise that has since been abandoned by the Liberals.
The reason why this subject has again surfaced was due to the Prime Minister commenting to reporters this week at the end of sitting press conference that the opposition was to be blamed for not providing a path forward on electoral reform. A comment that most Ottawa observers and many MPs alike agree was absurd and inaccurate.
It is important to understand that the all-party Parliamentary committee studying electoral reform traveled in excess of 30,000 kilometers over a 4 month time frame and held roughly 60 different meetings hearing a wide range of input and opinion on this subject. The findings of that study were very similar to what I heard here in our region. Of those who did support democratic reform, there was overwhelming support for proportional representation. Likewise there was also a strong consensus that a formal referendum was necessary on the subject as ultimately democracy in Canada belongs to Canadians and not elected officials.
I mention these points as there most certainly was a path forward for the Prime Minister to proceed on electoral reform, unfortunately that path was of no interest. Why? Ultimately the preference of the Liberals was a ranked ballot and not proportional representation, as a ranked ballot system politically most benefits the Liberals. Unfortunately at the time the Prime Minister made his promise for electoral reform he offered no disclaimer that it would only apply for a ranked ballot system, an omission that has angered many in Canada who support proportional representation.
Regrettably the approach of "ranked ballot or nothing" essentially means the all-party committee studying electoral reform spent $600,000 on a report that ultimately was never going to be accepted unless it fit the Liberals preference. As much as I strive to be non-partisan in these weekly reports, the behavior of our Prime Minister in this particular area was regrettable. Increasingly Canadians see broken promises and I am of the opinion that if a leader has to break or go back on an electoral commitment, that he or she should state compelling arguments as to why these campaign promises are no longer possible or not in the national interest. Rather than taking responsibility, we see instead the blame being cast at others, in this case at the opposition who proactively worked together hearing the concerns of Canadians.
As I like to end my reports on a positive note I would like to take a moment to thank the many volunteers who will be putting on Canada Day events across our great country. In any democratic society there will always be those times where we agree to disagree. As Canadians we do so respectfully but more importantly on July 1st we will set aside those differences and we will collectively celebrate our love for Canada and the diversity we share as a nation. Please have a safe and enjoyable Canada Day!
I welcome your comments and questions and be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
In last week’s report I referenced the emerging new dynamic in Ottawa. The increasingly more independent Senate is interfering with the Liberal Government's Parliamentary agenda. While most of the response I've heard locally is supportive of the Senate reviewing and amending legislation they believe to be flawed, there are certainly some who oppose any intervention from an un-elected Senate over bills passed in a democratically elected house.
The primary issue I raised last week was the Liberal Government's proposed use of an “escalator tax” that would be levied on most wine, beer and spirits sold in Canada. Under an escalator tax essentially the tax rate is increased every year and is set by civil servants linked to inflation as opposed to having to come before the House for debate in the annual budget.
As I also speculated last week, despite considerable effort by the Liberal Government to the contrary, the Senate did indeed vote to amend the Liberal budget bill and removed the “escalator tax”. What happens next? Once the Senate amends legislation it must then be sent back to the House of Commons where the Liberals have already stated they will reject the amendment made by the Senate and insist on the inclusion of the escalator tax in the budget bill. This in turn has the potential to send the re-amended bill back to the Senate where it could potentially be amended again, thus creating a legislative standoff. At this point it is unclear what the outcome will be however many eyes in the Ottawa bubble are focused on this topic.
From a Parliamentary aspect it should not be overlooked that the idea of removing Senators from caucus to sit as independent Senators was championed and done by Prime Minister Trudeau. In that respect some observers point out that this problem is one of the Liberal's own creation. However a closer inspection reveals that the ‘Independent’ Senators appointed by the PM have actually voted in support of Liberal government bills close to 95% of the time. In reality it is former Liberal Senators now sitting as Independent Liberals and Conservative Senators who more frequently vote against Liberal legislation.
One point that all Ottawa pundits do agree on is that the greater independence of the Senate has ultimately created a more powerful Senate. This is a point that has not been lost on Ottawa lobbyists either. Recent lobbyist registry data shows that Senate lobbying has increased dramatically. In fact Senators were lobbied more in 2016 than any other year in history with close to 700 interactions recorded. In 2015, the last year the former Government was in power, this number was 217.
Although the vast majority of citizens I have heard from support the Senate’s current efforts to stop the escalator tax there, may well come a time when the Senate stages an intervention on a democratically passed Bill that the public may be more supportive of.
I welcome your comments on this or any subject before the House and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
In my May 25th, 2016 MP Report I wrote:
“If you have been following our Canadian Senate you may know that a recent effort has been underway by the Liberal Government to appoint Senators who are considered “Independent” as they are not political members of the Government's Liberal caucus. More recently Senators have also been appointed by the Prime Minister with the benefit of being selected by a panel of appointees who in theory are selecting citizens without political considerations being part of the criteria. These recent Senate reform efforts have also resulted in a number of Senators who were formerly affiliated with party caucuses to resign and also sit as Independent members of the Senate. The end result is that there are now more independent senators and a different structure in place from a political perspective than had existed previously.”
At the time I wrote that I also observed “that all eyes will be on the Senate for more reasons than usual.” And one year later, more so today, that is precisely what is occurring in Ottawa.
Why do I mention this?
As some of you may recall recently I wrote about the subject of escalator taxation that was being introduced by the Liberals. Escalator taxation is when a tax will increase every year by default at the rate of inflation that would not be annually determined or debated by democratically elected Members of Parliament.
In this current case the tax escalator would be set on most beer, wine and spirits sold in Canada along with user fees in other areas. The concern of course is that this is a slippery slope that if left unchallenged may lead to other taxes also quietly receiving annual escalators set by unelected department officials in Ottawa.
Reaction to my report on this subject was overwhelming with many concerns expressed and strong opposition. Comments such as “taxation without representation” were common and some pointed to the loss of many well-paying jobs when the former Hiram Walker plant near Kelowna shut down the last time an escalator tax was used and applied to spirits in Canada.
I mention all of these things because a number of Senators have decided to stage an intervention and seek to potentially amend the Liberals budget bill in the Senate to stop the use of escalator taxation. As one Senator describes it “"If the government wants to increase the excise duties on alcohol, which is completely legitimate, then it should do so manually every year, in every budget. Automatic increases don't take into account the state of the economy”.
While many welcome this potential intervention by the chamber of “sober second thought” and point to this as a reason why the Senate exists others are quite strongly opposed. Those who disagree have expressed concerns that an un-elected Senate has no business amending legislation put forward and passed by a democratically elected House.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Should Senators intervene in what they view as flawed legislation or as they are unelected and unaccountable should they refrain?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711
This week the Liberal Government announced a new defence policy for Canada. While details are still being revealed, here is some of the information that has been released.
In terms of dollars it is proposed that annual operational military spending will be increased from $18.9 Billion in the current fiscal year and will rise to $32.7 Billion in the 2026-2027 budget. Part of this increased spending means that 3,500 more military personnel can be added to the total regular force size that will be increased to 71,500 troops overall.
In addition it is also proposed to make significant upgrades to Canada’s military hardware. The current CF-18 jet will be replaced with 88 yet to be named replacement jet fighters. It is also proposed to add remotely piloted attack aircraft, often referred to as Drones although the exact number has yet to be announced. It is also proposed to either upgrade or replace many existing aircraft such as the CC-150 Polaris, CC-138 Twin Otter and CP-140 Aurora. Air to air missiles, communications and radar systems are also proposed for modernisation.
Part of the equipment upgrades will also apply to the Canadian Navy as it is proposed to add 15 new surface combat ships and two joint supply ships. Five to six Arctic patrol ships have also been proposed including more modernization for the current four Victoria class submarines. Weapons such as torpedoes will also be part of the upgrade effort.
Vehicles, weapons, cyber capabilities and even space capabilities will also be included in the modernization and expansion efforts.
This is only a partial summary of a fairly extensive proposal. From my perspective there is little dispute that our Canadian Forces are in serious need for upgraded and modernized capabilities.
We have an outstanding group of Canadians who serve in our armed forces and they deserve the tools necessary to serve the interests of Canada both at home and abroad. I do have some concerns with this proposal. As a significant amount of purchases will be required having an efficient and effective procurement process will be vitally important. To date Federal Governments of all political stripes have long struggled with implementing an effective procurement process and this area will in my view remain a challenge.
My other major concern is the obvious. How does this ambitious plan get paid for? As is the case with most announcements from this Liberal Government the spending is typically back loaded with little spending now and the majority schedule to occur after the next election and is imposed on future Governments who may or may not support these initiatives. At the same time the Liberals have not announced where this significant amount of money to pay for it will come from. Given that the Liberals are currently running deficits significantly larger then promised and refuse to present a plan when they will return to a balanced budget it is unclear if this spending will result in even more debt or if taxes are going to be significantly increased. At a minimum Canadians deserve to know these details.
I welcome your comments and questions on the new Defence Plan or any matter before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-888-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.