Shuffling The Deck
This past week the Prime Minister announced a cabinet shuffle. Although media often portray cabinet shuffles as a type of crisis level event, there many reasons why a shuffle occurs and in this case I believe the Liberals are refocusing in several key areas. Most importantly, is the decision to divide the current Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs into two new and separate departments.
One of the new departments will be Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, headed up by Minister Carolyn Bennett and the other will be the Department of Indigenous Services with former Health Minister Jane Philpott in charge.
What will these two new departments do? In essence, one will focus entirely on the relationship between Government and Aboriginal Leadership, while the other will focus on delivery of services to First Nations communities.
The Liberal Government has cited that the former Ministry had become too large, delivered far too many services with an equally large mandate to be truly effective. As a result the Liberals believe that having two Ministries with different mandates will be a more effective solution.
I believe few would suggest that the status quo was not in need of improvement. However there are also concerns with this particular decision.
One aspect of governance that I have come across that applies at all levels, is that joint accountability can often lead to no accountability. In this case there will be a strong requirement for these two Ministries to work in partnership together while avoiding overlaps and missing gaps, all at the same time.
Another concern is creating another department with yet another Minister adds even more bureaucracy to a system that is already considered by many to be administratively overburdened.
The time line for First Nation communities needing decisions or approvals from Ottawa on important projects, delays and hurdles can be significant. Adding another department and Minister to the fold is unlikely to help the process.
What would have been an alternative?
The Liberal Government since being elected, has had one Minister for the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Perhaps a shuffle with a new and different Minister may have been a prudent course of action before engaging in the costly split and creation of an entirely new department.
As an example of this, it is not a secret that the former Conservative Government had some struggles with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Fortunately a shuffle and the introduction of a new face with extensive experience, Minister Erin O’Toole, made a significant positive change of direction in getting the Department back on track. Ironically Prime Minister Trudeau also just shuffled a new Minister of Veteran Affairs into this portfolio for similar reasons as Seamus O’Regan takes over from Kent Hehr.
Ultimately how a Minister runs a department from my experience can make a significant difference.
My question this week: Do you support the splitting of the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs into two different Ministries or should there have first been a change in Minister?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711
Tax Fairness Or Tax Attack
It is difficult to turn on the news these days without hearing yet another media story about the United States administration. Even the most trivial of presidential social media stories have become almost daily features during prime time news coverage of many Canadian news agencies. I mention this as all too often, important Canadian events are being overlooked or ignored at the expense of US political coverage.
Why is this a concern?
In Ottawa, at the moment, the Trudeau Liberal Government is pursuing a new direction they refer to as “tax fairness” for Canadians. The Liberals enjoy using buzzwords like “tax fairness”. This phrase is cover for the fact that they are really proposing to seriously increase the amount of tax certain groups of society will send to Ottawa. This is the Liberal plan to deal with their problem of massively increased deficit spending.
Why should you care?
One of the groups who will be most seriously adversely impacted by these proposed tax changes is Canadian Doctors.
First, let me pass on some background information.
Doctors often operate like a small business. They pay rent, hire and pay staff, obtain insurance, cover monthly utility expenses, purchase medical equipment and supplies along with paying a host of other expenses. As a result of operating much like a small business, Doctors, often incorporate as there are tax advantages to incorporation.
What are some of those tax advantages? For starters, business income is taxed at a lower rate than personal income. However, it should be pointed out that when a Doctor pays themselves a wage out of the net corporate after tax income, they are taxed again on that income at the same personal income tax rates as any other Canadian. Incorporation also provides other advantages in that family members can also be employed, not unlike any other small business. This can help increase overall household income at a lower potential personal income tax rate. On the surface, this is why the Liberal Government asks if it's fair to allow professionals such as Doctors to benefit from these taxation benefits.
However, there is another side to this discussion that is overlooked.
Doctors are not eligible for many of the same benefits as many working Canadians. There is no lucrative public sector pension plan for Doctors even though they work entirely within the public sector in most cases. Likewise employment insurance, maternity benefits, disability coverage and more, is not provided to Doctors. Coverage for these critically needed benefits must be provided and paid for by the Doctors themselves. In many cases, this is why Doctors will leave residual funds within the corporate framework. This allows them to access some of these benefits, maternity leave being but one example. Keep in mind when a Doctor is away for any reason, they suffer a loss of income or have to cover the costs of replacement coverage, all while monthly operating expenses remain in place.
The bottom line is if these “tax fairness” changes are pushed through by the Trudeau Liberal Government, they will seriously impact Doctors along with many other professionals all across Canada. While the potential outcome of these impacts is unknown given the already short supply of family Doctors, it is highly unlikely these tax changes will help with much needed recruitment and retention.
My question this week: Do you support the status quo of the current taxation policy with professionals such as Doctors or do you believe a tax increase would create more "tax fairness"?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
As a Member of Parliament I am often contacted by citizens requesting assistance with applications they have to submit to the Federal Government. Whether it's their application for Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) or a Permanent Resident Document, the processing times can be much longer than they expect.
In fact for those turning 65, it is recommended they have their applications in for OAS/GIS completed and sent well in advance of that significant birthday. One year prior is what I recommend.
It takes many months to process almost any kind of Federal Application and sometimes it can take years for completion.
The amount of your OAS benefit is calculated based upon how long you have been a resident of Canada. If you were born in Canada and have lived here for 40 years after your 18th birthday, things are pretty straight forward but your OAS/GIS application can still take many months to process.
If you were born outside of Canada or have spent time living abroad, it can complicate matters considerably. You must provide documentation which proves how long you have been resident in Canada. For people who came to Canada many years ago or with their parents as children, and have spent time outside Canada, it can be difficult and time consuming to gather the required documents you need to submit. Passports from 20 – 30 years ago or even just 10 years ago are often not kept. Other official documents to prove that you lived in Canada, like Provincial Medical Plan cards or certificates, Provincial or Municipal home ownership records that are sometimes not in the applicant’s possession any more. Who knew these documents would be required to get your OAS? Applications for replacement of Citizenship documents also take months or even more than 1 year to process.
Enough of my constituents have come to me with these challenges that I began to research what changes we could implement at the legislative level to help solve these problems. Many people think that Government is just one big department and that personal information is shared as needed between Service Canada, Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration and all the Provinces. The fact is that without your written permission, information which could support your application for OAS but might be held by another Department or level of Government cannot be shared. Some small progress has been made recently as Service Canada, which is responsible for processing your OAS/GIS application can now ask for information from Citizenship and Immigration with your permission, however, that can add many months to a processing time that is already far too long.
That leads to this week’s question - should we permit personal information about an applicant, with that applicant’s written permission, to be shared between Government Departments to make it easier and faster for applications to be processed? What has been your experience with a Federal Applications?
Contact me and tell me your story and if you think that information sharing between departments would have helped you.
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call 1-800-665-8711.
MP Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola riding. He is the Official Opposition Deputy Finance Critic. MP Dan welcomes any feedback and even tough questions.
Earlier this week on my facebook page I posted my thoughts on the use of social media blocking by elected officials. The post has generated a fair bit of discussion that is encouraging as many people have taken the time to express differing points of view. From my perspective when there is a large amount of interest on an issue it is one that citizens see as important.
On the surface an elected official blocking someone through social media may not seem like a significant event. However for the growing population who do use social media, blocking is a way of denying a person their voice to be heard. By extension as social media increasingly has become a tool for citizens to hold elected officials to account, the careless use of the block button by elected officials has become an easy way out instead of answering a difficult or unpopular question.
In some cases I have even learned of a practice called “pre-emptive blocking” where groups of citizens may be blocked by an elected official they have never interacted with online. This type of “guilt by association” we would never tolerate off line yet it has become an online practice by some elected officials and their senior staff.
To be clear I will continue to defend the right of elected officials to practice whatever social media policies they feel most comfortable with. Likewise for those who use social media for personal attacks, profanity and threats it is expected that such behaviours will not be tolerated. At the same I will also caution those who use the block button as a means to avoid accountability or debate. Social media ideally works both ways and citizens deserve the right to be heard.
On that note I am suggesting that elected officials, and those media and pundits who cover political circles to consider a social media forgiveness campaign. How about un-block (or un-mute) all of those citizens you have blocked over time and give people a second chance to engage. This may not work in all situations however elected officials being exposed to more diverse views and being held to account in my view helps build a stronger democracy.
I welcome your comments, questions and concerns and can be reached online at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call me
off-line toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
The ongoing threat of wildfire is one that is becoming all too common throughout many parts of British Columbia. When these fires occur they can cause massive amounts of damage that it is virtually unmeasurable for those who may lose a home, all their belongings and a lifetime of memories.
Economically, aside from the tremendous costs in fighting forest fires there is also the loss of crown timber and a lack of fibre can ultimately threaten the viability of a lumber mill. From a health standpoint the diminished air quality can cause harm to those with respiratory challenges who are often seniors. First responders and emergency service personnel can also be seriously stretched to the limit during a wildfire as is currently the situation in Kamloops and elsewhere in BC.
I mention all of these things as it is particularly disturbing to learn that some forest fires may well be intentionally set with the use of accelerants. Likewise more recently we have heard alarming reports of critically needed firefighting equipment being stolen and worse for those who may be evacuated because of a wildfire threat, their homes or business may be looted.
All of these actions are deeply troubling and very concerning for all involved.
Looting of evacuated homes of evacuees is particularly worrying as it places greater demands on law enforcement at a time when resources are already spread thin. Further, the evacuation process can be potentially undermined if residents feel their life long belongings may be subject to theft. All of these things, including the intentional and deliberate setting of a wildfire are a serious cause of concern throughout many regions of BC including here in the Okanagan where it has been reported two recent forest fires were intentionally set; one resulting in the loss of several homes in Lake Country and the other damaging a much loved public park.
My reason for raising these issues is currently there is no specific protection in the criminal code to deal with individuals who would commit crimes of this nature.
While theft and arson are subject to the Criminal Code, the action of committing these offences to create a wildfire or otherwise seek to commit criminal offences in relation to a wildfire are not specifically recognised under the criminal code. This leads me to my topic for this week’s report – should there be specific legal protection that references the intentional setting of a wildfire or committing acts of theft in relation to it?
In order to do this the Criminal Code would need to be amended; one possible approach would be to ensure that intentionally setting a wildfire or committing an act of theft in relation to a wildfire would be considered an aggravating factor in the sentencing of offenders. By extension the sentences for committing these types of crimes could also be stiffer. The use of aggravating factors in the sentencing of offenders already exists in the Criminal Code for cases involving offences around children and most recently for elder abuse.
My question this week – Do you support the idea of implementing aggravating factors in sentencing offenders who are guilty of intentionally setting wild fires or engaging in criminal actions as a result of a wildfire?
I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this or any topic before the House of Commons.
I can be reached atDan.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.
Central Okanagan – Similkameen – Nicola