For those of you who follow my reports frequently you may recall a previous incident I reported on that involved a dance instructor located in the Merritt area who was in Canada working under the temporary foreign worker program. Unfortunately due to what can be described as a series of administrative errors and the slow turning wheels of bureaucracy, ultimately the instructor was required to leave Canada for a period of time before the situation could be resolved. As I also mentioned in that same report the temporary foreign worker program is not an immigration program meaning that there are fewer avenues available to address challenges such as these when they occur.
I am happy to report that after a rather significant amount of effort across the board, this dance instructor has again returned to Canada and hopefully in the near future will resume providing dance lessons to children in the Nicola Valley. Throughout this process one of the challenges that I observed is the requirement for Government to ensure that all terms and conditions of a program are in compliance. Part of the compliance process requires producing many documents that verify information that has been requested. This is of course can be frustrating for all involved not to mention time consuming and at times it can be easy to overlook why such a thorough verification process is established.
Over the course of this summer another situation arose in a different community involving temporary foreign workers, although this time in a different program related to seasonal agricultural workers. As is often a limitation in these situations there is not a significant amount of information that can be shared, however what can be passed on is that two seasonal agricultural workers found themselves in an unacceptable and deplorable situation. In this case an intervention occurred and fortunately these workers are no longer in a perilous situation however I believe it is also important to recognize that it was the good nature of kind hearted neighbours who became aware of this issue and took action on it.
Whenever these situations occur it is in my view important for elected officials to review the circumstances and related policy to try and ensure that a similar situation does not occur again in the future. I have heard of the importance to our agriculture sector from a number of small and medium sized farm operations and other businesses who rely heavily on this program to remain viable and competitive. It is also imperative that we not overlook the importance for government programs to provide transparency so that members of the public can support a process with confidence. No citizen or government would tolerate these kinds of abuse, whether it is localized or widespread. The industry itself must also recognize that it is in its own best interest to continue to encourage best practices and not just compliance. In other words, a balance must be created that is workable for farmers and for seasonal agricultural workers that will retain broad public support. This is an area I believe is deserving of more attention and I would like to welcome your comments on this or any other subject before the House of Commons.
Before I close this report I would like to sincerely recognize the efforts by local citizens, who in spite of language barriers came together to help two individuals who were truly in need. This act of kindness made a difference and will not be forgotten by the individuals involved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
The subject of internal trade has been a prominent one recently in large part as our Government has recently launched the "One Canada, one national economy” initiative to together identify and choose strategies that can increase internal trade. One of the more obvious remedies to increase internal trade is to identify and remove barriers that prevent inter provincial trade from occurring... an action that sounds relatively simple yet in practice is more difficult to achieve.
Why is internal trade important? One example comes courtesy of a local winemaker who recently shared a success story on doing a large business deal in Asia where wine grown and produced here in Okanagan-Coquihalla will be sold there. It is worth pointing out that in spite of it now being legal to ship wine across Provincial borders this same BC wine still cannot be sold directly to consumers in Ontario for the simple reason the Ontario Government continues to oppose it. Fortunately the Manitoba Provincial Government in contrast has been more progressive and allows direct to consumer wine shipments.
Trade barriers are not just restricted to commodities; these barriers can also apply to labour. For example a nurse who is highly educated and with many years of on the job experience in one Province may not meet standards in another. In some areas of Canada where there is a particular skills shortage these certification challenges can create labour mobility problems. Trade barriers can also affect entire sectors. As an example in some regions of Canada, restrictive Provincial policy has made it more difficult for agricultural products such as apples, certain dairy products including cheese and canola to move freely between Provinces.
What is more surprising is that in 1995, all Canadian Provinces have signed on to a document known as the AIT (Agreement on Internal Trade) that also has provision on dispute resolution mechanisms. The AIT disputes seldom receive much media attention however it has not been uncommon over the years for various Provinces to challenge other Provinces restrictive policies that prevent movement of goods and labour. Overall there has been just 55 disputes over the past nineteen years- on average less than three disputes a year of all Canadian Provinces and territories, the only exception being Nunavut that instead has observer status.
Why does this matter? Over my listening tour this summer I have had a chance to visit with a number of local small business owners. Many of our most successful local employers are increasingly depending on trade as a key part of their business. In fact it is quite impressive the market reach that many Okanagan-Coquihalla small business owners have achieved: some Cherry growers are now selling into destinations as far away as Hong Kong. Many of these new markets have been opened up as part of trade deals negotiated with other countries. Twenty years ago when the AIT agreement was first signed off on Canada had just two free trade agreements signed. Today Canada has negotiations concluded or agreements in progress with forty-three different countries representing over 1 billion potential new customers worldwide.
This all takes me back to the original example of the local winemaker who recent did a deal in Asia that he could not legally do in Ontario. If we continue to turn our back on internal trade barriers, we will increasingly see more of our local production going offshore. While it is critically important to have a diversified trading network to create stability in our local economies we must also recognize that there are both market, labour and environmental efficiencies in supporting increased internal trade. We can also provide more value to educational training opportunities if those skills can be employed Canada wide and not selectively in certain provinces. Ultimately as Canadians one of our unique qualities is a deep level of understanding that in spite of our vastness and diversity we are always stronger when we are as a country united as opposed to one divided. Supporting increased internal trade is one way we can continue to build a stronger Canada. I welcome your comments on this or any subject related to the House of Commons and can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 1-800-665-8711.
Recently I have received a number of inquiries on the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. In large part the comments have been raised over the financial disclosure (as required under the law) that a BC First Nations Chief from the Kwikwetlem First Nation received over $914,000 in the 2013/2014 fiscal year. Further commentary occurred this week when it was reported that if elected to government, the leader of the Liberal Party would scrap the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act. The bill was opposed by the Liberals in the House of Commons. This leads to the question: what is the First Nations Financial Transparency Act?
Over the past few months during my annual summer listening tour I have met with a number of citizens, employers, groups and organizations to hear concerns, questions and suggestions from the many residents of Okanagan-Coquihalla. In turn I have taken these concerns forward to various departments and Ministers in Ottawa and will continue to actively work on many of the suggestions that are put forward on an ongoing basis. Some of the comments that were presented I have raised in my weekly reports; most recently raising the topic of judicial activism, an uncomfortable subject for some and a serious concern for others.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.