In late 2012 the community of Attawapiskat became a household name in large part due to a housing related crisis and again more recently on news that the former band co-manager has been charged with fraud. Frequently when there is a crisis situation or other unfortunate event or tragedy occurring within a first nation’s community, it becomes a large media event with multiple news stories. Unfortunately the majority of first nations' success stories are often less known and I believe most would agree that is unfortunate.
In the Okanagan, many citizens are familiar with the success of both the Osoyoos and Westbank first nations. I have written previously that some have raised that the Penticton Indian band to date has not yet achieved similar progress. Fortunately this is changing- and at a rapid pace.
Over the past five years the Penticton Indian Band has established a day care program, changed the direction of its economic development, built a beautiful new school with increasing enrollment and attendance levels. It has also begun construction on a new residential community on band owned lands. Furthermore it is very close to begin construction on a new commercial development project.
Unfortunately all of these events combined have generated less provincial media attention than the Boonstock concert that will be held on locatee lands this upcoming long weekend. I make a point of mentioning that Boonstock is occurring on locatee lands as many mistakenly believe that a band chief & council directly control events that can occur on locatee lands. For further information on this topic please reference my March 25th, 2014 MP report: http://www.danalbas.com/mp-reports/mp-report-for-okanagan-coquihalla-building-abridge-between-communities
From my perspective it is important to recognize the progress of our first nations communities locally who have all taken different paths to increase economic initiatives but also being mindful of incorporating traditional first nations' culture.
It is for these reasons I invited Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt to Okanagan-Coquihalla to meet with some local area chiefs and see firsthand the recent progress of the Penticton Indian Band and also of the considerable success of Osoyoos Indian Band. It was an honour to have the Minister accept the invitation and it was a productive visit. It provided some very beneficial learning opportunities, such as a youth roundtable where the Minister heard directly from young participants of a federal skills training pilot project, which was greatly appreciated. Also while Minister Valcourt was here he announced a federal contribution of support towards a proposed bridge crossing near Green Avenue. Some might remember the channelization process that occurred in the late 1950's. While it was seen at the time as a necessary improvement to help mitigate flood risk on both sides of the channel, this new bridge will offer new opportunities by providing better access to the lands that were severed.
As August will soon arrive, I am reminded that there is one month remaining for my summer listening tour. If you or your business or group would like to schedule a meeting please do not hesitate to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-800-665-8711.
Last week I wrote an MP report on a variety of subjects that also included the concern of interest groups using the courts on issues that they often fail to advance through a democratically elected Government. It is a situation that all levels of Government including municipalities, regional districts, provincial and federal government & related agencies deal with and one that taxpayers pay the bills for. It should also not be overlooked in our democratic process there is often disclosure on expense and assets of public office holders as well political donation limits (in some cases) and other safeguards to protect the public interest. Very few of these public disclosure and transparency measures apply in our judicial system.
Ultimately the intent of my report last week was to raise concerns I have heard from local citizens on this subject and also to start a discussion requesting further feedback from local citizens. Within a day of the report being published, a follow up radio interview was arranged out of Ottawa along with a number of related print and social media articles and within 72 hours a conversation from all parts of Canada was well underway.
The intent of this week’s report is not to recycle the subject from last week but rather to point out the significant importance of the internet and how that can enhance our ability to communicate, to do business and to share ideas and discussion all across Canada at a very rapid pace much as was experienced with last week’s MP report. News, events, commerce, education, civic engagement and more is all readily available to citizens of all ages as the Internet has become integrated into our society. Unfortunately for a segment of our citizens they are regrettably entirely shut out of the same online opportunities that so many take for granted. In some areas of Canada (and this includes parts of Okanagan-Coquihalla) there is no internet availability or wireless connectivity available.
A lack of cellular service in some regions also creates added challenges for emergency responders and those who may require their assistance.
In response to unserviced areas of Canada our Government has introduced the Connecting Canadians program that has a goal of connecting roughly 280,000 Canadians who currently lack high-speed internet services. A target has been set that 98 percent of Canadian homes by 2017 will have access to Internet services with a speed of 5 megabytes per second.
How will this work? The first step is to identify those areas of Canada that are currently lacking in sufficient service. As part of my summer listening tour (I am more than happy to meet with you whether at my office or at your favourite coffee shop), I am hoping to hear from citizens who either are impacted by a lack of service or possibly have friends and families that are currently impacted. The next step after affected areas are identified will be for Internet Service Providers (ISP) to apply for grants to bring service into areas currently lacking. Some rural communities like Logan Lake have already shown interest in this program. This process is targeted to occur in the fall of this year so that grants can be awarded in the spring of 2015. Once the grants are distributed projects can begin and ideally by this time next year areas currently lacking internet services can be online and part of Canada’s internet infrastructure. If you or someone you know currently lacks internet services please send further information to my office for follow up. I can be reached at email@example.com or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Before I close I would like to sincerely thank the many fire crews, emergency first responders, members of local and regional government including literally hundreds of volunteers who have helped citizens during the recent forest fire activity in our region.
Being evacuated from your home with the threat of an advancing wildfire is a stressful time for families and the work of so many citizen volunteers to help accommodate citizens and pets is greatly appreciated by all involved. Canada Day may have passed for 2014 but there have been many days of late to give thanks for living in a country where so many come together to help their fellow citizens in times of need.
To date I have been greatly enjoying my summer listening tour– the opportunity to meet with citizens, organizations and employers firsthand is very valuable and helpful in the work that I do as a Member of Parliament. I also find that consistently the issues raised by citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla are very different than many of the topics raised by the media in Ottawa. At times there seems a strong disconnect.In Ottawa I find increasingly that the views and opinions of experts are often pushed to the forefront, while the views and opinions of every day citizens fall to the waysideand that should represent a growing concern to all of us.
As an example during the debate on the Fair Elections Act, one of the key areas of disagreement was over the reasonableness of requiring ID to vote in a Federal election no differently from what is used in local elections where a Mayor or council, rural director or school trustee are elected. The reality is the requirement on how reasonable it is to produce ID to vote is a matter of opinion- one that all Canadians can and should feel entitled to have or share. Yet in Ottawa the opposition and some in the media suggest that these are matters for expert opinion and that everyday Canadians voices are somehow lesser or don’t count. By not being inclusive in our institutions and processes we risk ignoring, perhaps even alienating individual Canadians. This leads to another subject that I believe is worthy of consideration–the Supremacy of Parliament.
What is the Supremacy of Parliament and why should you care? A fundamental principle of democracy is that ultimately citizens, through the democratic process, can elect a government they believe is best suited to make the decisions, policy and draft laws, that in our case will help build a stronger Canada. Obviously in any democratically diverse society there is a difference of opinion on these subjects and that is why we have elections. It should also be pointed out a Government that citizens disagree with can also be voted out of power. Where does the Supremacy of Parliament come in? To illustrate the answer to this question I will use an example: in 2009 a Liberal MP introduced Bill C-428 that proposed newly immigrated citizens could begin collecting OAS retirement benefits within three years of arriving in Canada (assuming they were 65 or older) rather than wait the ten year residency requirement. The outrage from Canadians opposing this bill was significant- in fact to this very day I still receive frequent opposition from citizens to this bill. What happened to Bill C-428? In a word: democracy. Ultimately an election occurred and the Liberal MP who authored Bill C-428 was not re-elected. In other words the bill was defeated through our democratic process.
To illustrate the Supremacy of Parliament, suppose after the election instead of accepting electoral defeat of the Member and the bill, that a court challenge was mounted and a judge then declared Bill C-428 to be a charter right and ordered that newly arrived citizens to Canada could begin collecting OAS benefits within three years of residency in spite of the fact that Canadians opposed this bill and voted against it. In essence an un-elected and unaccountable judge would have enacted policy against the democratic will of an elected Government. In essence this is where the Supremacy of Parliament is a consideration– should democratically elected Government set policy or un-elected judges? To be clear, this is for some an easy answer and to others a point of considerable debate. Courts can provide valuable guidance in complex cases as not everything can be anticipated when drafting law; however to see policies rewritten that download cost to taxpayers without representation is a concern we should be mindful of. The intent here is not to persuade opinion but rather to provoke discussion on this subject. While my example of Bill C-428 is a hypothetical one, in reality a recent case has provided further grist for the mill on this topic.
In 2012 our Government made changes to health care coverage for refugee claimants attempting to seek permanent entry into Canada. At the time it was noted that the refugee health care plan was more generous than the health care plans available to and paid by Canadian taxpayers. It was also observed that some of the refugee claimants accessing our taxpayer financed medical plan were coming from free, democratic rule of law countries such as the United States. As a result of these and other factors, changes were made by our Government to the refugee health program to ensure that legitimate refugee claimants were recognized and that abuses could not take place. Recently (as you may have heard) a Federal Court judge has ruled that the changes made by the Government contradict the Charter and has ruled against them. Our Government believes it is unfair for Canadians to pay the costs of a health care program for asylum seekers that is more generous than what they themselves receive and to exclude illegitimate claims. As a result our Government is appealing this ruling. This is a decision that some citizens are very supportive of and others strongly oppose. I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
The first week of my summer listening tour has been a very productive and interesting one. Many of the citizens I have spoken to have diverse views and also some unique ideas and suggestions. One suggestion that I have heard from a few different citizens involves renaming Old Age Security (OAS) to Elder Security or something along those lines. As always I welcome your input and suggestion on this or other matters before the House of Commons
Another more recent subject I have heard a number of comments about is the current Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) “Let’s talk TV – A conversation with Canadians” review on subjects such as television programming delivery and availability. More specifically the comments I have heard pertain to a submission from the CBC that proposes users and subscribers of “over the top streaming services” (such as is provided by Netflix) are charged an additional tax on their monthly bill. This particular tax revenue would be provided to the Canadian Media Fund who in turn uses this fund to subsidize Canadian television production that often appears on the CBC and other networks such as Bell, Shaw and Rogers (to name a few). Currently the subscribers of over the top streaming services are exempted from being taxed by this fund. Many of the comments I have heard to date come from Netflix subscribers who object to being taxed to fund television production they do not watch or in some cases even subscribe to. This is a subject I welcome your views on that can also be shared directly with the CRTC at http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/talktv-parlonstele.htm
Before I close this week I would like to thank the many citizens who took the time to sign the petition opposing the release of convicted mass murderer David Ennis (formerly David Shearing) who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of the Johnson-Bentley family from West Kelowna. This is an issue I have heard serious concern from many citizens throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla and they are strongly opposed to David Ennis being released. I would also like to recognize the formers classmates and other citizens who have been seriously impacted by horrific violence who have made significant efforts to gather signatures and will be presenting them at the upcoming parole hearing in September.
As my summer listening tour is now underway I welcome opportunities to meet with you to hear your comments, questions and concerns first hand. To arrange an appointment I can be reached at email@example.com or toll free at 1-800665-8711.
The Canada Day long weekend is easily my favourite time of year. It’s when Canadians from all walks of life join together in celebration for all that we love about our great country. This Canada Day I was able to attend Canada Day ceremonies and festivities in Okanagan Falls, Penticton, Summerland, Peachland, West Kelowna, Merritt and Logan Lake. The drive around Okanagan-Coquihalla serves not only as a reminder of what a truly beautiful region we live in but also of the many great people who live here. In every community I visited there were many families taking the time to get involved and sharing in all that we love about Canada. I would also like to thank so many people for taking the time to offer greetings and give their input to me. Hearing directly from people firsthand is some of the most valuable and insightful feedback that I receive and is part of why each summer I travel around our region as part of my summer listening tour. For my 2014 summer listening tour I would like to invite citizens, groups and organizations along with employers to contact my office to arrange a time for a meeting. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1(800)665-8711 as I find July and August often pass by quickly and I would like to meet with as many citizens as possible.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.