There have been a number of items occurring in Ottawa this week that are deserving of mention. Most important I believe is a report from Canada’s Auditor General Michael Ferguson describing challenges that some veterans encounter in obtaining mental health services & benefits. I believe all Canadians agree strongly that lengthy delays for veterans services and benefits are unacceptable and more so in an important area such as mental health. While it is true that Canada currently has 415 full time mental workers and a ratio of soldiers to mental health support professionals that is one of the highest in NATO these services are of limited value if they cannot be readily accessible by those who need them.
One of the challenges in providing specialized government services is ensuring that the services are provided to those intended to receive them. Recently many citizens in Ottawa were shocked and disturbed to discover an individual who is not a member of our armed forces wearing a decorated uniform on Remembrance Day. The end result of this unfortunate incitement has resulted in death threats and an official police investigation. While it is obviously important to have a process the can identify veterans in need of services from those who have not served, we must also ensure this process is timely and can be navigated easily by veterans and their family members. From all accounts this is a process that needs improvement and I am certain I speak on behalf of all citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla in supporting further measures that simplify and expedite this process.
Also occurring in Ottawa this week is the ongoing fallout over two members of the Liberal caucus being suspended for alleged personal misconduct involving two unidentified members of the NDP caucus. Although I have been asked about this particular issue it is generally my rule not to comment on the actions of others within and outside the House of Commons. This issue has been the focus of many in Ottawa media circles and in my view that can take away from other items of importance also occurring on Parliament Hill. I do believe it is important to send a strong message that violence of any kind against women is unacceptable and the past few weeks in Ottawa should serve as a reminder of the need for respectful relations within and outside of the workplace and always erring on the side of caution.
Also occurring in Ottawa this week is debate on Government Bills C-42 Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act and Bill C-18- Agricultural Growth Act. There is also a number of Private Members Bills such as Bill C-583- An Act to amend the Criminal Code (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) Bill C-585– An Act to Amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (Period of Residence) and Bill C-574- An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (use of wood) For further information on these or any Bill before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me.
Before I close this week I would like to acknowledge and thank the many municipal leaders who participated in their final council, regional district or school board meeting. Your past service to your community is appreciated and it has been a pleasure to work with many of you over the past few years. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to those newly elected and re-elected for what will be a first ever 4 year term. I am currently in the process of working with local MLAs and Mayors to organize a series of elected officials forums where citizens can meet your elected representatives in a casual format to exchange ideas and discuss items of concern firsthand. The first of these will be held this Saturday in Penticton between 10 am and noon at the Penticton Trade & Convention Center. No reservations are required and I hope to see many citizens take the time to stop in for a coffee to say hello. For more information I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
As a result of previous positive feedback on what were my first and second accountability reports, I have made the commitment to submit annually to the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla a summary of fiscal expenditures over the past year. As in previous reports I will follow the format using information from the most recent fiscal period of April 1st of 2013 up to March 31st of 2014 in accordance with the Board of Internal Economy reporting periods. While some of this information is publicly available, it can be difficult to find and often exists at several different locations online or not at all. As stated previously, I believe it is important for citizens to have an annual summary on the activities of elected officials in public office including the related costs.
Office expenses and travel are typically the most scrutinized areas of spending for elected officials at any level of government. For Members 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 during this time frame was just over $ 49,000; this is down slightly from $55,000 that was spent in last year’s fiscal period. In my case this works out to roughly 420 hours in an airplane and I would estimate over 95% 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 where possible as an MP.
Total spending for my two offices here in Okanagan-Coquihalla and one in Ottawa including all staff, leases, advertising and the above mentioned travel was just over $355,746. This is also a decrease from the $394,289 that was spent in last year’s fiscal period. This amount is within the top three lowest expenses for a BC based MP. As a comparison closer to home, NDP MP Alex Atamanenko from B.C. Southern Interior has posted spending of $444,152 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 and not taxpayers. When Members of Parliament accept these special trips they are required to disclose and report such travel to The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. I can confirm that while I did receive invitations of this nature I did not accept any complimentary trips or travel during the last fiscal period nor have I accepted any since being elected.
One other change I made during this past year is with my email. All MPs are given two email addresses, one that is public and the other that is private. This past year I had my private MP email account deleted. I now only have one MP email account firstname.lastname@example.org -this way when you send an email my way it is my one and only email account and you can be reassured I will be receiving and reading your email.
The information included in this week’s report is intended to provide a brief summary of some of the more commonly scrutinized expenses. If there is other information that you are interested in, please do not hesitate to contact me with your request. I can be reached via email at email@example.com or at 1-800-665-8711.
On this week, in what is the 11th month, on the eleventh day and at the eleventh hour Canadians will give pause to honour and reflect on the sacrifice of those brave soldiers who have served and continue to serve Canada. Over the past weeks Canada has again collectively grieved at the loss of life from soldiers in uniform who were targeted because of their commitment to serve Canada. As a country we will never forget these sacrifices and our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of these fallen members of our armed forces.
We must also not forget that these soldiers served to fight for democracy and for freedom. They serve to protect the innocent from those who would do them harm. These are Canadian values and what have built a stronger, greater Canada. Part of our national anthem is our commitment that as Canadians we stand and on guard with glowing hearts for our true north that is strong and free. On this Remembrance Day when we sing these words that define who we are as a country let us never forget these are freedoms that were fought for by brave man & women who continue to stand on guard to this very day.
I would also like to remind the citizens of Okanagan Coquihalla that in addition to our armed forces many brave Canadians also volunteer to serve. Canadian doctors and medical care workers, journalists, teachers, aid workers and others have bravely volunteered to help those most in need in regions that are besieged by conflict. Increasingly these individuals have also been targeted by violent and oppressive forces who continue to engage in senseless violence.
On this Remembrance Day let us remember, let us honour and let us give thanks for all of those who made the commitment to serve.
I will be traveling throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla on Tuesday however for the duration of the week as the House of Commons is not sitting I am available to meet and hear your concerns first hand. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
One thing all political parties agree on in Ottawa is the need to provide more support for Canadian families to help offset the considerable costs of raising children. Where there is disagreement is on what is the most effective means on how to achieve this goal that is also further compounded by the fact that Canadian is a very vast and diverse country and what programs may be of benefit to some families may not be of benefit to others.
As an example, recently the NDP (if elected as Government) announced a future program for a nationally subsidized daycare program. Providing subsidized day care would be more of a benefit for families in large and moderately sized cities than it would be for remote rural families where no daycare services might be available. Furthermore, for families with a single parent who is either unemployed or unable to work because of disability, subsidized daycare is of no benefit whatsoever. Likewise for families who do not require childcare because of grandparents, extended family, friends or a stay at home spouse they would also not benefit from a subsidized daycare plan. I raise these issues not to criticize the NDP but rather to point out the challenges of any one size fits all Ottawa imposed program that may not meet the diverse needs of Canadian families.
Last week, our Government also announced a range of measures to help assist Canadian families that also in some cases will of more benefit to some families than others. The first announced measure I will discuss is the opportunity for families to pay less tax to Government through income splitting. What this means is if one spouse earns significantly more money than the other spouse they can transfer a portion of the higher income to the spouse with the lower income in order for the higher income spouse to end up in a lower tax bracket and pay less in tax. The maximum amount of tax that can be saved by income splitting has been capped at $2,000 to ensure that upper income earners do not excessively benefit from this program that also creates tax fairness. How does income splitting create tax fairness? Currently if both spouses each earn $40,000 for a combined household income of $80,000 the amount of federal income tax for each spouse is 15%. However if another household also with an $80,000 total income has one spouse earning $60,000 and the other spouse earning $20,000 that would result in one spouse paying 22% in income taxes compared to 15% for the lower income spouse. In spite of having the same $80,000 household income one family ends up paying more tax than the other family thus creating unfair tax policy. In this example the spouse with the higher income could transfer part of that income to the lower income spouse in order to be in a lower tax bracket and pay less in tax similar to what other families would pay with the same household income.
Some have suggested that the tax fairness achieved by income splitting only benefits wealthy families. This is also largely false and I will provide an example to illustrate why. In an affluent household where both spouses earn in excess of $150,000 (or more) each spouse is already in a top tax bracket and thus there is no excess income to transfer from one spouse to the other spouse to take advantage of a lower tax bracket. That is not to suggest income splitting works for all families. For example an extremely low income family that is below the income earnings threshold and is not currently paying income tax obviously would not benefit from paying less tax when they are not currently paying income tax. Likewise for a single parent with no spouse to split income with there is also no tax benefit to income splitting. It is for these reasons that our Government also announced a significant increase to the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) that is payable to all qualifying families including low income and single parents.
The announced increase to the UCCB will be a 60% increase to parents for each child up to 6 years of age increasing the current monthly payment of $100 to $160. The UCCB will also be significantly expanded– for the first time ever the UCCB will also provide direct support of $ 60 per month for each child between the ages of 6-17. Collectively the increased UCCB will provide increased direct benefits to roughly four million Canadian families. It should also be made clear that the existing child care benefit for low income families is also being fully maintained. Aside from income splitting and increased UCCB the Government also announced an increase to the child care expense deduction to $8000 per child up to 7 years of age and $5000 for children aged 7-16. These changes will apply in the 2015 taxation year. The Children Fitness Tax Credit will also be doubled to $1000 in the 2015 taxation year and allocated as a refundable tax credit to ensure low income families can benefit from this credit.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.