A few different topics for this week’s MP report, so stick with me!
One of the questions that I have received from many of you pertains to the very popular ecoENERGY retrofit program. In particular many homeowners were interested to learn when the 2011 ecoENERGY program applications would be available. I am pleased to report back that the ecoENERGY program applications are now available online at www.ecoaction.gc.ca/homes or call 1-800-O-Canada (800-622-6232). I strongly encourage interested citizens to act quickly to take advantage of this program.
For those of you unfamiliar with the ecoENERGY program, homeowners are eligible to receive grants of up to $5,000 to make their homes more energy-efficient. To date roughly a quarter million homeowners are paying less and helping to conserve energy at the same time. In addition the ecoENERGY program has also helped to generate over $ four billion in economic activity and has assisted many homeowners in not just lowering energy costs but also helping to increase home equity. Please note that there have been some changes to the 2011 eco ENERGY from previous years including a new requirement for participants to register directly with the program prior to booking a pre-retrofit evaluation.
Another concern that I have heard from some citizens about is in regards to a recent tax compliance initiative by the United States government. The United State Internal Revenue Service has indicated that it will begin to enforce requirements that American citizens residing outside of the United States provide more detailed financial information on an annual basis. This enforcement would also apply to US Citizens holding joint citizenship with other countries including Canada. As a result of this intended enforcement action, a number of different but important concerns have been passed on to me in particular from those in the banking and financial services community. Late last week the IRS announced that it will delay this enforcement action until 2014. Our Federal Minister of Finance, Hon. Jim Flaherty is also aware of these concerns and has committed to working with the American Government to find a workable solution for all involved.
I have previously stated in my reports that Ottawa may be only 3000 km or so away, but sometimes to the people of Okanagan-Coquihalla it can feel more like 30,000 km. This makes it all the more important for Federal, Provincial and Municipal elected officials to work together with local community groups to make sure our priorities are reflective of the people we serve. In a recent meeting that I attended, it was refreshing to meet with Mayor & council, representatives from the chamber of commerce, economic development committee and a broad spectrum of not for profits who were able to brief me on the various initiatives they have undertaken. It says a lot about a community when you have sixteen volunteers willing to take several hours out of their busy day in order to meet and collectively work on a project that will be of benefit to their community. Meetings like these will become increasingly more important as we seek to balance our Federal budget in 2014, while addressing our communities needs, not its wants. To do otherwise may leave a greater burden of debt to our children and grandchildren. That is not only untenable but unacceptable. We must work together on common challenges while recognizing that there is only one taxpayer and to focus on priorities. Our children and our country deserve nothing less.
Last week's MP report to you resulted in one of my first dealings with our national media. As a city councillor I often worked with local media and enjoyed getting to know the many personalities that make up our local print, radio and TV voices. So I was most happy to participate on a live radio program to discuss my latest MP report, specifically on concerns that I had heard about human smuggling.
There was some surprise expressed that the taxpayers in Okanagan-Coquihalla took issue with immigration system being manipulated by criminals trying to illegally smuggle in human cargo for profit at the same time as also trying to jump the immigration line. The manipulation of our immigration system by criminals for profit at the expense of Canadian taxpayers is subject that many have told me they would like to see our Government take action on.
As we got further into the interview, it seemed that there was a misunderstanding as to the reasons for my writing a regular weekly MP report. While some might comment that it stands as an electioneering tool or an opportunity to rain my opinions down from a bully pulpit, I would humbly submit that by the very title of MP report, that I am reporting to the citizens that I represent. To be held accountable as your Member of Parliament, to report on my activities, ask for input and validate what I have been hearing. I have heard (from a variety of sources) that the distance from here to Ottawa is 3,000 or so kilometres but the distance from Ottawa to here seems to be more like 30,000. By submitting these reports, attending community events and other tools like door knocking, help to make sure that I am on the right track.
Listening and reporting are not just commitments that individual MP’s make; as a government we recognize the wide diversity of Canada and that those closest to the challenges and the opportunities are the ones we must listen to. Thus the Parliament of Canada’s Standing Committee on Finance is asking for taxpayers to share their ideas at the annual pre-budget consultation hearings. Submissions can be made in person or in writing. The deadlines to participate are as follows:
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Tel.: 613-992-9753 Fax: 613-996-1626 E-mail: FINA@parl.gc.ca
There will always be debate as to what are the best ideas to carry Canada forward. What is truly unique about our country is that we always develop ways and means for everyone to have their say and to test and challenge those ideas. We can all feel proud that when the last spike is hammered, the last soldier returns home or the last vote is counted, that we all had our part in it.
This past week was a very enjoyable one being back in the riding for Canada Day and getting a chance to visit communities such as Peachland, Okanagan Falls, Summerland, West Kelowna and Penticton. I would also like to sincerely thank the organizing committee for the Westside Daze event in West Kelowna for putting on a great celebration and for providing me with such a warm welcome. A good time was enjoyed by all who attended and the cake was great as well.
Over the past few weeks one of the more common concerns that I have heard from many of you across the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla is over Bill C-428. For those of you unfamiliar, Bill C-428 was a Private members bill introduced by former Federal Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla. This bill called for amendments to the Old Age Security Act that would see newly arrived citizens entitled to a monthly pension payment after just three years of residency instead of the current ten year requirement. It should be noted that this bill was introduced into the former 40th Parliament and has no official standing in the current 41st Parliament. In the event that a similar bill was proposed by another member and based on the overwhelming opposition that I have heard from so many of you I would not be in support of such a bill.
Another topic of concern that I heard about in my recent door knocking travels was related to illegal human smuggling and related jumping of the cue in immigration matters. Canada has some of the most generous immigration laws in the world and yet there are those will attempt to profit or circumvent our immigration laws solely for personal gain. These acts can not only put lives at risk, they can also unfairly impact those who are legitimately going through the process and following the rules and procedures. Our Government is taking action and has introduced Bill C-4 Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act. This act will create new tools that will allow Government to have more flexibility to respond to these situations should they arise in the future. Criminals who profit from human smuggling, should not be able to do so at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.
In my last MP report I mentioned that I was intending to use much of the summer as an opportunity to meet people from across our riding. I am pleased with the warm response of my listening tour thus far but I would like to again ask individuals, not- for- profits, businesses and local government representatives to meet with me and let me hear your thoughts, views and priorities. We live in a unique and diverse riding, one with many points of view that need to be heard- and voiced to Ottawa, so please contact my office at 250-770-4480 or via email at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca
Although I have been your Member of Parliament for a relatively short period of time, every moment has been rewarding and enjoyable in spite of being a very steep learning curve. I am certainly not alone; according to a recent report, our newly elected Parliament is a younger and more diverse one with a record number of female MP's and more members from careers other than law or medicine which was not the case in Parliaments past. What doesn't change is that all of us must work together constructively. Debate through dialogue and agreement into action are hallmarks of what has made this country great; we all must make sure that future generations inherit a Canada that we can all be proud of.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.