Last week was an interesting one on Parliament Hill as trade and foreign investment discussions remain an active topic in the House of Commons as well as in many Parliamentary committees. The Opposition NDP remain opposed to foreign investment and the vast majority of trade agreements that have come before the House to date. The NDP have also taken aim at the record of the Liberals when in Government pointing out that, and I quote directly from an NDP statement in the House “there were 10,000 foreign investment applications approved when the Liberals were in power, all of them rubber stamped. They never rejected a single one and never attached conditions”. In contrast and as I reported in last week’s report, our Conservative Government is the first in recent history to reject foreign ownership of Canadian owned resources as laid out in section 20 of the Canada Investment Act. Rejections of the recent Malaysian Petronas proposal and the rejection of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan in 2010 are examples of this. This discussion became more animated recently when current Liberal MP and the front running candidate for leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau announced strong support for the CNOOC Nexen deal calling it “good for Canada”. I reference this to point out that in spite of what you may sometimes hear, the diversity of opinion and democratic debate is certainly just as lively in Ottawa as it is in many coffee shops and letters to the editor throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla.
In last week’s report I also provided a real life example of how foreign investment creates well-paying jobs right here in our region- specifically the investment by the Mitsubishi Materials Corporation that led to the opening of Copper Mountain Mine in Princeton. Last week’s report focussing on the importance of rural resource communities and mining generated a large amount of feedback as many citizens were aware of the importance of mining to communities such as Princeton, Okanagan Falls, Merritt, Logan Lake and elsewhere but in many cases were not aware that foreign investment was involved. That being said, I also hear from citizens who do not support mining, trade and foreign investment as well as hearing from citizens who would be more supportive under different circumstances.
Many of the points raised are of great interest to me. Some have rightly asked; why do we need to rely on foreign investment? While many people can recognize the economic benefits and jobs of these kinds of projects, one has to be mindful that although Canada is blessed with natural resources, our comparatively small population makes it challenging to fund all of these projects with Canadian investment alone. Even the Canadian Pension Plan, like many large funds, diversify the holdings internationally in order to protect the investments and generate a return. To encourage those who wish to diversify and invest in Canada, it is important to offer protection and certainty overinvestment capital. The need for transparent environmental processes that are straight forward and timely is important. Likewise is the importance to have international agreements in place that outline administrative process and dispute resolution mechanisms. These have all been topics of debate in the 41st Parliament and ones that we have addressed or continue to work on. While government certainly has a role to play in creating a strong and accountable regulatory environment, it is not the government that puts forward potential projects- it is up to the private sector to propose projects whether a refinery, smelter, mine, production facility or otherwise.
A secondary and equally important consideration is that in order to increase value added exports, Canada must have international markets to sell into, which is why our government has put such an emphasis on expanding trade. Whether it be in blocks of countries such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union or bilateral agreements like Canada-India free trade agreement that is currently under negotiation. This is why since 2006 our Government has concluded trade agreements with nine different countries and has initiated negotiations with 60 other countries. Using the example of India, few are aware that Canada and India have a rapidly growing commercial trading relationship – last year the bilateral trade between our two countries generated roughly $5 billion in revenues, a 23% increase over the previous year. While many have suggested these numbers are based on imports into Canada, in reality more than half of this amount, $2.6 billion, is actually based on Canadian exports into India. At a recent Diwali event at the temple in Summerland, I heard a tremendous amount of support for the Prime Minister's efforts to expand our trade with India. It should also be pointed out that it is not just those that have familial ties with India that would benefit from a free trade agreement. Dried vegetables, fertilizers, paper, paperboard, aircraft and related parts are some of Canada’s most common exports into India- coming from all across this great country. India has a market that exceeds 1.2 billion people and has forecast annual economic growth of 6.3 per cent between now and 2017. India is one of many countries that represent an important opportunity that can be filled by Canadian expertise, products and services that create local jobs and support our regional economies. I should also add the International Trade agreements do come before the House of Commons for full debate, much has occurred recently in the debate on a trade agreement with Panama. For more information on any free trade agreement or to share your comments, questions and concerns please do not hesitate to give me a call. I can be reached toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A lot has been said around the discussion of natural resource development over the past several weeks. Whether it is a letter to the editor, a newspaper column or the subject of conversation at your local cafe, it is clear that there is a diversity of opinion. It is important to first recognize that our riding benefits substantially from these projects. In Okanagan Falls, the largest local employer develops and creates world class mining components. In Merritt, a long term employer has recently announced the permanent closure of a mine, where the negative impact on the local economy has yet to be fully realized. While out door knocking, I heard some of the views on resource development from long time Logan Lakers. They spoke about the hard times that followed when the nearby mine was closed for a time and the accompanying impacts on the local school and house prices as families moved to find work elsewhere. Since the mine resumed operations, they pointed to the positive impacts to the tax base and by attracting young families to work in the mine. Pointing to the flood of children walking home after the three o'clock bell and to the many ATV's and snowmobiles in driveways of local families, one can certainly recognize their point.
During my time as a Member of Parliament I have yet to meet anyone who has suggested that the re-opening of the Copper Mountain Mine in Princeton has not been an extremely important and welcome support for the Princeton and area economy. In fact I have met many small business owners throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla who have both directly and indirectly benefited from the increased economic activity from this mine that represents an investment in excess of $400 million dollars. More importantly than the dollars is that this mine will directly employ close to 300 people in a resource community much in need of well paying jobs and of course the related spin off jobs will also benefit other sectors of the small business community.
Why do I mention the importance of the Copper Mountain mine to a community like Princeton? Because this critically important project for the economy of the Similkameen region was made possible through foreign investment. The Mitsubishi Materials Corporation invested a significant amount of capital into this project so that it would become a reality. This investment has created hundreds of well paying jobs in our region and in turn the resource royalties paid to the British Columbia Provincial Government help cover the costs of important services such as healthcare and education. In fact the B.C. Government forecasted roughly $400 million in revenues from the B.C. mining sector alone in 2010, not to mention that the average wage in this sector is in the $100,000 range annually. As mentioned earlier, Okanagan Falls, Logan Lake and Merritt also directly depend upon the mining sector to help provide jobs that support local families and local economies.
If you have been following area newspapers as of late, you will know that critics including some of the opposition parties both provincially and federally oppose trade and foreign investment. Yet these same critics frequently ignore that foreign investment is what helps to create important jobs right here in Okanagan-Coquihalla and at the same time provides important revenues to Governments at all levels that in turn pays for important services that citizens depend upon. Crown resources will always be owned by British Columbians and in turn Canadians, no agreement proposed today alters that fact. This is why the crown receives resource royalty revenues when the opportunities to capitalize on resources extraction are made available with further revenues benefitting throughout the process. For taxpayers to receive the highest possible return for the rights to engage in responsible resource development, a competitive bidding process is often involved to ensure the highest price is realized. Opening up this market to foreign investors not only has the potential to directly benefit Provincial resource royalty revenues, it can also directly benefit local economies as evidenced in Princeton.
FIPA agreements, as mentioned in a previous MP report, are not full scale trade agreements but rather are agreements that help to provide certainty to investors that outline the rules, obligations, administration and dispute resolution mechanisms that can both protect and promote foreign investment in the respective countries party to the agreement. In the event that foreign investment seeks to gain ownership of a Canadian resource company, this decisions is not subject to a FIPA agreement but rather is subject to the Investment Canada Act. The Government of Canada will either approve or reject an application based on the six clear factors that are laid out in detail in section 20 of the Investment Canada Act. These decisions will only be made after very careful review and extensive scrutiny. The Conservative Government is the first in recent history to reject foreign ownership of Canadian owned resources as was recently done with the rejection of the Malaysian Petronas proposal and was also done with the rejection of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan in 2010. Our Government will continue to make decisions that build on our track record of encouraging economic growth, job creation and prosperity in Canada.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 1 (800) 665-8711.
This week I would like to submit my annual accountability report.
It was my intention to do this earlier in the year however it was only late last
week that the Board of Internal Economy tabled the audited individual members’
expenditure reports. The following information is for the period from April 1st
of 2011 up to March 31st of 2012 in accordance with the Board of Internal
Economy reporting periods. Although much of this information is publicly
available, it is often difficult to find and may exist within several different
areas of government. I believe it is important for citizens to have an annual
summary on the activities of elected officials in public office and the
following information is based on the most common requests that I receive from
Without question, spending and travel are typically the most scrutinized areas. In the context of a Member of Parliament from British Columbia, our travel expenses are higher than those of MP’s from other areas in Canada as a result of the fact that we fly the farthest distances between B.C. and Ottawa. My personal travel expense for the time frame was just over $49,000 – in my case this represents roughly 400 hours in an airplane and I would estimate close 98% was regular coach class – I didn’t fly first class before being elected as an MP and I continue to make every effort to fly economy class
as a Member of Parliament. Total spending for both my offices here in Okanagan-Coquihalla and in Ottawa including all staff, leases, advertising and travel was $316,625. Currently the average total spending of an MP in British Columbia is roughly $ 445,000. Closer to home NDP MP Alex Atamanenko from B.C. Southern Interior has posted spending of $516,131 as a comparison.
Sponsored travel falls into a different category as Members of Parliament are invited from time to time to travel to other destinations both within and outside of Canada for a variety of different reasons. These invitations often include airfare and accommodations being paid for by the Host provider and not taxpayers. When Members of Parliament accept these invitations they are required to disclose and report such trips to The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. I can confirm that I did not accept any complimentary trips or travel since being elected.
House Attendance: At some point over the years you may have heard about MP’s who rarely venture into the House of Commons while they are in Ottawa unless votes are occurring. From my perspective I try to be in the House of Commons for a portion of each day the House is sitting. During my first year as an MP, there were only three sitting days that I was not in attendance for votes in the House of Commons. In each of these circumstances I was asked to represent the government at an announcement here in Okanagan-Coquihalla. When not in the House of Commons, I am most often in one of the two Parliamentary Committees I sit on or another Parliamentary Committee covering for an MP who may have a scheduling conflict. In total I attended over 915 different events between Ottawa and Okanagan Coquihalla, that included nearly 300 different meetings and roughly 130 community events with the remainder being other
Parliamentary or constituency related functions. Not included are unscheduled
events or daily phone calls.
The above information is intended to provide a brief summary of the most commonly
asked questions regarding my activities for the first year as a Member of Parliament working on your behalf in Ottawa. If there is other information that you are interested in, please do not hesitate to contact me with your request. Likewise if this annual accountability disclosure is not of interest to you, please let me know otherwise I will look to post a similar report this time next year.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.