This week I was saddened to learn of the passing of former World War II veteran and retired Member of Parliament Fred King of Kaleden, B.C. Fred King was a kind, caring man who gave back greatly to his community in many different ways that extended well beyond his time in Ottawa. Although I considered Fred a close personal friend, he was also a mentor who offered support and sage advice on many issues around our region. From his time spent as a Member of Parliament Fred had many accomplishments although he was most proud of the work he performed securing federally owned lands that could be used for Okanagan College's Penticton campus. Some have pointed out to me before that if it were not for MP King's intervention, the Penticton campus may have been placed in a far less convenient location nor without considerable extra costs. Fred was a strong believer and supporter in our youth and the importance of upgrading skills and education. As some will know Fred continued to quietly provide support and assistance for many individuals in hopes they would have a better future.
What I most admired about Fed King was his sincere willingness to always help others, many who were complete strangers never asking anything in return only a desire to try and bring happiness and help to those who were in need. It is a privilege to consider Mr. King my friend and to recognize his contributions and his service for the betterment of others.
Another former Member of Parliament I would like to pay tribute to is our former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, who recently announced he will be retiring from Parliament, effective immediately. From my own personal experience Mr. Harper was perhaps one of the most misunderstood elected officials I have yet met who endured significant personal and public attacks that were at odds with my interactions with him during my time in the previous Parliament. In my experience Mr. Harper was someone who cared deeply about Canadian families and encouraged policies that promoted prosperity and employment. As my colleague MP Pierre Poilievre recently observed, under Mr. Harper’s term as PM the number of Canadians living in poverty declined down to a record low of 4.2% while middle class incomes rose by 11% and as we know Canadian middle class prosperity actually surpassed that of the United States for the first time in 2014; all while managing to balance the budget in the final year of the previous Parliament.
On a personal level as Prime Minister Mr. Harper also eliminated retroactively a gold plated pension perk that paid every former Canadian PM 66% of the PM salary on retirement. Eliminating this perk alone personally cost Mr. Harper (and saved taxpayers) between $1.5 million and $2 million in future retirement benefits. Mr. Harper also brought fairness to the formerly "gold plated" MP pension plan and to the public sector pension plan by ensuring that these plans were funded equally on a 50/50 contribution rate. These changes alone are estimated to save Canadian taxpayers close to $2.6 Billion over the next 5 years. What I most admired about our former PM was that he was not afraid to make difficult and unpopular decisions that were necessary for Canada’s long term prosperity. It should also be noted that his electoral rivals tried to paint him as someone who would try to dismantle our health care system by cutting federal transfer payments to provinces as the former Liberal Government had done to balance its budget woes. Mr. Harper consistently raised federal transfers each and every year while in office and insisted that his Ministers support these year over year increases while finding efficiencies in their departments and staying focused on growing the economy. While I appreciate some may see my comments as partisan I have met few people who believe reducing federal funding for important priorities like health care or that forcing MPs to pay more into their pension plan was a bad one. Ultimately leadership means taking principled positions and making at times difficult decisions and for that I would like to recognize Mr. Harper’s service to Canadians.
If you have a comment, question or concern about this week’s report or any federal matter I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or contacted toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
This week much of the news coming out of Ottawa has been focused on extravagant and wasteful spending involving Liberal cabinet ministers. The spending in question relates to thousands of dollars spent on luxury limousine service, paid access to an elite airport lounges, and revelations of an expensive personal photographer being hired to self-promote the Minister of the Environment. Although the sums of money involved are not in the millions the intense media focus serves as a reminder of the need for elected officials to always be vigilant whenever spending tax dollars and rightfully so. At the same time we should also not overlook that when the media is largely focused on a single issue; other issues of importance may be overlooked.
One particular issue that has received little attention (with the exception of Huffington Post reporter Althia Raj) relates to the ongoing discussions, which in reality is negotiations, between the Federal Government and the Provinces for a new Canada health accord. The negotiations are going so poorly that the Quebec Minister of Health is quoted as suggesting the discussions are currently stuck in a Mexican standoff like situation. At the core of the issue is, as is often the case with any Government provided service, is money. As B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake is quoted "We don't think that $3 billion over three or four years is nearly enough to reflect the growing need of the older Canadians, particularly in British Columbia,"
Considering the capital budget alone for the new Penticton Hospital Care tower expansion now exceeds $300 million it is easy to understand why Canada’s Provincial Health Ministers are concerned given our aging demographics. For some history on the Canada Health Accord in 2004 former Prime Minister Paul Martin announced a 10 year agreement that increased funding by a rate of 6% per year. In 2014 former Prime Minister Steven Harper extended this agreement until the 2016/107 fiscal year. After that the increases were set to rise at a minimum rate of 3% a year or greater in the event GDP growth exceeded this rate. So far the new Liberal Government has not announced any changes to the current 3% funding elevator that is tied to potential GDP increases. The Provinces believe this annual increase in funding will not be sufficient to cover constantly rising health care costs.
By the numbers the Canada Health Transfer from the federal government to Canadian provinces has gone from roughly $ 20 Billion annually a decade ago to over $ 34 Billion a year today. For some provincial perspective on this the BC health care budget in the year 2000 was under $ 10 billion annually and is forecast to hit over $19 Billion by the 2018/2019 fiscal year. This rate of increased provincial health spending means that providing health care now consumes a greater percentage of the overall BC budget and that in turn leaves less revenue for other important services. Based on these facts it is easy to understand why Canadian Health Ministers are extremely concerned over long term funding and rising health care costs.
At the same time we must not overlook that over the next two decades the number of Canadian citizens over the age of 65 will basically double from roughly 4.7 million citizens today to over 9.3 million by 2030. This will seriously increase long term health care costs. It should also be recognized that the ratio of workers still in the workforce is declining over the same time frame. I mention these facts because increased debt today carries rising interest costs that also eat into future budgets and likewise decisions to restore the age of OAS eligibility from 67 to 65 will add significant costs pressures at a time when scarce health care dollars will be even more in demand. Ultimately I believe more long term strategic budgeting is essential and necessary to protect the sustainability of our Canadian health care system. While restoring the age of OAS was politically popular the Prime Minister has yet to provide a plan to address the long term needs of our aging population and required health care funding.
The current “Mexican Standoff” over our new Canada Health Accord is a serious concern and I welcome your views on this subject. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711
I was once told that it is important to recognize that each day globally there is roughly 100,000 scheduled flights that will take off and land without drawing any media attention. It is those flights that do not successfully take off and land that will become the focus of media stories and often speculation very quickly. The context of this analogy was that in public office it is often the scandals and failures that tend to receive far more media attention then projects or policy that work effectively as intended. I mention this as this week it was particularly rewarding to participate in a media event profiling some of the more positive local initiates for public engagement.
CPAC, who many often believe is the taxpayer funded Canadian Parliamentary Access Channel, is actually a privately owned Canadian Public Access Channel that is owned and funded by Canada’s private broadcasters. CPAC was in our riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola earlier this week to profile among other events the Summerland pilot project that involves my shared constituency office with local area MLA Dan Ashton. Aside from considerable cost savings this shared office also better serves local residents who are often unaware of what services are Provincial or Federal and as such are not bounced between two different offices that may be located in different communities. As much as it makes sense to share an office between an MLA and an MP this pilot project is to date the only identified shared office of this kind in Canada hence the interest from CPAC in profiling this unique arrangement. Hopefully this shared office will catch on in other regions and the added exposure of our beautiful region on CPAC will also draw a few new visitors to experience our riding.
On the theme of shared offices I would also like to publicly thank the Mayor and Council in Princeton, Merritt and Keremeos for also making space available so that local citizens in these respective communities can have access to their Member of Parliament on a monthly basis to assist in matters of concern. Operating budgets do not allow for an MP or an MLA to open an office in every community in a geographically large riding however when different levels of government work together to find efficiencies services can become available on a more economical basis. Citizens deserve to be heard and the ability to meet face to face with elected representatives is critically important.
Before I close this week’s report I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to stop in and attend the mobile constituency offices as well as my regular office to provide input and ask questions. This information is very valuable to take back to Ottawa in late September when the house resumes. Just a reminder that the mobile constituency office schedule is as follows - Merritt City Hall on the 1st Tuesday of each month from 9am to 12pm, Princeton Town Hall on the 2nd Wednesday of each month from 9am to 12pm and Keremeos Village Hall on the 2nd Wednesday of each month from 1pm to 4pm. To schedule an appointment or share your comments or concerns with me I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711
During the last Federal election I made a point of attending almost every public all candidate forums that my schedule would allow. By the end of the writ period I believe I missed only two forums, one of which was not even located within my riding. At one particular forum the former Government, of which I was a member, it was accused of being at "war” against federal scientists.
When I attempted to explain that I had met with several scientists over the previous term of Government and never had this point communicated directly to me, many in the crowd expressed disbelief. After all it seemed the official narrative was that our Government had waged a war against scientists and the Liberals under Justin Trudeau were promising to do things differently.
I mention this because this week it has been reported in Ottawa just how differently the Liberal Government is treating scientists employed by the Federal Government. In fact it has now been reported that the Liberal Government will preside over, and I quote directly “the biggest ever recorded cut to the number of federal environmental scientists”. According to forecasts from Statistics Canada there will be a loss of roughly 400 jobs that represents a 10% cut compared to the final year under the former Government. As the Liberal Government is disputing the forecast provided by Statistics Canada I will provide a follow up on this subject as it becomes available.
On the same theme related to scientists many will recall allegations the former Government “muzzled” federal scientists, yet another promise the Liberal Government claimed it would rectify. However recently released data has revealed that in fact federal scientists were not muzzled in the manner as often described in the media. In fact for the final year of the former government close to 1500 media interviews were provided by federal scientists. Recently the Union representing federal government scientists reported that many federal scientists are currently being prevented from participating in conferences and that science related communications policies are unevenly applied across the federal public service.
Before I go any further I would like to credit Ottawa journalist David Akin who factually documented these details and disclosed them to the public. Not surprisingly news of the Liberal Government “war on science” was not broadcast in most major media networks who seem often more concerned covering our new Prime Minister on vacation, often found in many beautiful locations across Canada (including the Okanagan) and at times shirtless. You likely also did not hear that Statistics Canada recently reported the over 30,000 jobs were lost across Canada in the latest July release. These job losses are among the worst recorded in roughly five years. The one positive is that here in British Columbia we are currently leading all Canadian provinces with the lowest unemployment rate for July at 5.6%.
As the official opposition it is our role to report on details that are of national concern to Canadians and more so at a time when many media organization favour the Prime Ministers vacation coverage to documenting serious concerns related to jobs and employment. From my perspective the biggest concern I see is the new Government has reduced the sized of TFSA contributions and also has not followed up on promised small business tax cuts. This in addition to increasing delays on major project approvals have all combined and reduced the flow of investment needing to help enhance job creation.
This is a subject I will continue to raise in Ottawa along with the need to eliminate internal trade barriers that could also help jump start our Canadian economy. Yet another measure that Liberal Government opposed in Ottawa despite my putting forward a motion that even the NDP and Green Party were in full support of. When Canada’s unemployment rate starts to rise as dramatically as it has in July I do not believe we can sit back and be complacent. Action is needed to get the results that keep Canadians working.
As always I welcome your comments, questions and concerns and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or contact me toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
This week the Liberal Government announced a new means of appointing judges to our Supreme Court that I believe all Canadians should take an active interest in. As is often the case whenever a new process is announced by a sitting government it will be rightfully subject to scrutiny and criticism from opposition Members of Parliament. Often the very same process will receive praise from those who are friends and supporters of the Government, or who may benefit from this change of policy. For this reason it is always interesting to observe what groups come out publicly in favour of a change of process or policy.
This new process for appointing a Supreme Court Justice somewhat parallels how the Liberals changed the process to appoint a Senator. In both cases the Liberal Government will first politically appoint a panel of individuals who in turn will then recommend the appointments to sit as either a Senator or in this case a Supreme Court judge. In other words those who are appointed will in turn do the appointing. Critics often describe this appointment arrangement as “by the elites for the elites” while the Government and supporters will claim it is a more non-partisan process free from political influence.
Who is correct? While it is unfair to label an appointed panel of citizens as elitist, it must not be overlooked that the Government will first politically appoint the panel members in question and as such maintains political control of the composition of the panel membership.
The greater concern that I have with this arrangement is that the public may not easily discern who is ultimately responsible if the process of selecting a Justice doesn’t yield its intended purpose- a high quality candidate that helps the highest Court function as intended. Should citizens point their finger at un-elected people who are politically appointed who now have the ability to recommend Senators and Supreme Court judges with no democratic accountability or the Prime Minister that appointed them? In my experience, joint accountability often leads to little or no accountability. For example if an MLA or an MP appoints a person to a position of service, ultimately that MLA or MP in question can be held accountable for that appointment by the people who elected him or her by either re-electing them or voting them out of public office. Having appointed panels in effect creates a buffer that in my opinion reduces democratic accountability. There is also a concern that elected officials are subject to public disclosure with respect to conflict and finances that appointed individuals are exempt from.
I will provide another example of this. As many citizens will know the Liberal Government has indicated it would like to change how Members of Parliament are elected. The Liberals have further stated that this change should not be done with a democratic referendum but rather through a series of consultations and with input from “experts” in Ottawa. One of these experts told the committee that, and I quote directly: “Middle-class people often don’t know anything more than poorer working class people, but they have a stronger sense of entitlement”. The expert then went further to say “Poor people and working class people tend to shy away from situations where their ignorance will be exposed”. In other words, the view from this expert is that many Canadians are essentially not intelligent enough to have their say on how our democratic system that helped build Canada should be changed. These comments are completely unacceptable and are precisely why a referendum is required because our democracy belongs to all Canadians, regardless of income level and expert opinion.
In the case of Supreme Court judges we know that our Supreme Court is increasingly making decisions in place of elected officials. As an example the recent ruling on legalizing medically assisted dying that reversed a previous Supreme Court ruling was done in a manner that was rushed with little consideration for the fact that an election was set to occur. Ultimately elected Members of Parliament have no ability to participate in this selection process while politically appointed but unelected panels will now have a tremendous amount of power and influence in potentially shaping Canadian society. Considering the scope of these changes and the fact that the Government seems to want to consult on almost every other aspect of public policy, this unilateral decision without broad discussion is concerning. In my view this diminishes democratic participation however this is a matter that I greatly welcome your views on. As always I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call 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.