In last week’s MP report I committed to providing further updates as they become available with respect to the Liberal Government’s plan to relocate 25,000 refugees to Canada prior to the end of 2015. This week more information has been provided on this topic that continues to be raised by citizens in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola daily.
The most significant announcement from the Liberal Government this week is that the timeline to relocate 25,000 refugees prior to the end of 2015 will not be met. Instead the revised deadline has been extended to fall into March of 2016. Other changes include privately sponsored refugees now being included within the total number of 25,000 refugees relocated to Canada. It has also been announced that refugees who are women, children, families and men that may be members of LGBT communities will be prioritized for refugee status.
How does this process work? Canada will accept referrals from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who has identified refugees from Jordan and Lebanon that meet the criteria. Refugees who are accepting relocation to Canada will complete an iris scan to confirm their identity. Once identity has been confirmed, the Government has indicated that the process will include a medical examination, screening for communicable diseases and also security screening including biometric scans that includes finger printing and digital photo identification which will be cross referenced with various immigration, law enforcement and security databases. Refugees who successfully pass through this screening process will then be issued permanent resident visas and flown free of charge (in the past refugees were loaned airfare fees) via private charter aircraft to either Montreal or Toronto airports.
After landing in Canada refugees will be resettled in 36 different cities across Canada with 13 being located in Quebec and the remaining 23 outside of Quebec including several here in British Columbia. At this point the full list of cities and breakdown of numbers for each of these cities has not been publicly released however is expected in the near future. Some will view these recent changes as broken election promises from the Liberal Government. From my perspective the original timeline announced by the Liberals was an arbitrary political one and I will credit the Government for recognizing that taking the time to process and resettle refugees properly are far more important considerations than meeting its own politically self-imposed timelines. While all Canadians may have different views on this topic I believe we are united in the desire to see new citizens welcomed in a manner that offers the best possible chance for success for everyone as we grow our Canadian family.
Also occurring this past week was an announcement by the Leader of the official opposition, Hon. Rona Ambrose appointing the opposition critic positions. It is an honour for me to be named as the critic for Inter-Provincial trade which also includes labour mobility. As Canada enters into an unprecedented new era of international trade deals it remains critically important that our local producers have full and free access to our Canadian domestic market across Provincial borders. As always I welcome your comments, questions and concerns. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
A better future
Since I was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2011, each week I have submitted an MP report in an effort to better communicate with citizens. When the House of Commons is sitting it can often be a challenge to try and summarize a week of events in roughly 550 words. This week, because of world events that have occurred since the terror attacks in Paris that claimed 129 lives, words alone cannot put this horrific event into context. However we also must not shy away from discussing such a critically important topic that is of great importance to all citizens who live in a free and democratic society.
Over the past number of days I have heard an unprecedented amount of concern regarding the new Liberal Government`s plans to accelerate the process to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada before the end of the year. In large part the concern is overwhelming related to security. Citizens are rightfully concerned that those who would seek to do us harm might attempt to compromise the generosity of our refugee system in order to gain entry to Canada. These concerns are compounded by unconfirmed reports that possibly one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks could have gained entry posing as refugees. In addition a growing number of security experts have cautioned that such a large number of refugees cannot be effectively or properly screened in such a small window of time. As a result of these concerns many elected officials, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, have asked the Trudeau Liberal Government to slow down the process and ensure that it is done properly.
The concerns put forward by Premier Wall are very similar to what I am hearing from an overwhelming majority of citizens here in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola and are concerns that as the Official Opposition we will be taking to the Liberal Government in Ottawa. To date the Liberal Government has indicated the accelerated timeline that was set by the Liberals during the election will be maintained. Unfortunately the Liberal Government has not released a formal plan nor effectively communicated how this accelerated refugee process can be accomplished in a manner that does not compromise public safety, more so as the new Public Safety Minister has been quoted as admitting that no vetting process is foolproof. To what extent the accelerated screening process is foolproof remains undetermined at this point thus further creating legitimate concerns for citizens.
While the need for screening and security is clearly understandable, we must not overlook that the vast majority of refugees are only looking for a safe and welcoming country where they will not be in harm`s way. Many of these families undertook significant risks and left everything behind in the hopes that a better future could be possible for them and their families. Here in Canada, we are that future. We can choose to get involved, to be welcoming and to support those individuals, groups and organizations that often act as sponsors to help refugees settle in our towns and cities. While the need for security and adequate screening remains a critical concern it must not be overlooked that successful immigration and integration depends upon a welcoming and inclusive society that respects and supports our diversity. All of this has come to be part of what it means to be a Canadian. I will continue to provide updates on this matter as they become available and encourage all citizens to share your comments and concerns with me at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or 1-800-665-8711.
The Reform Act (in practice)
Since my report from last week all major parties have now had their first full caucus meetings in Ottawa. These first caucus meetings are important for a variety of reasons but one that will be material to this report is the provisions related to The Reform Act. For those of you unfamiliar with the Reform Act, it was a private member’s bill sponsored by MP Michael Chong. It proposed a number of measures to increase the power of individual Members of Parliament within their party caucus and by extension to reduce the power of the party leader. The Reform Act was widely supported by media, many pundits and locally by a large number of citizens who took the time to share their support with me.
Ultimately the Reform Act, after a number of amendments, was passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate and is now law. As the 42nd Parliament is the first to convene since the Reform Act was passed, one of the legal requirements at the first caucus meeting of a party is to vote on what, if any, measures of the Reform Act would be adopted by the MPs of each party caucus. The 99 member Conservative Opposition caucus voted to adopt two of the four measures from the Reform Act and modified a third condition. This contrasts with the Liberal Government caucus who voted to reject any measure of the Reform Act with all 184 Liberal MPs unanimously agreeing to reject the Reform Act and maintain the status quo. The third party NDP has also announced they will not be supporting any measures of the Reform Act. It seems that the Conservative caucus is the only one to do so. Considering that the Reform Act Passed with the overwhelming support of Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs in the last Parliament it is disappointing to see only the Conservative caucus honour that vote in this 42nd Parliament.
On that same theme I would like to take a moment to thank the many veterans and citizens who gathered at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month to remember the great sacrifices of those courageous Canadians who served so bravely. We should never forget these valiant Canadians were not drafted to serve. Our fallen and veterans made a choice to stand against tyranny and oppression and fought for the values that we must ensure we never take for granted today.
For the duration of the next few weeks in Ottawa new and re-elected Members will be sworn into the 42nd Parliament with my own swearing in occurring on November 17th. The House of Commons will reconvene December 3rd with our first order of business being the election of our next Speaker, which is widely expected to be a member from the governing Liberal Party. On Friday December 4th, our Governor General will present the Speech from the Throne, announcing the priorities of the new Government in the upcoming sitting and likely the parliamentary calendar will be set at that point for the remainder of the current session.
Before I close this week I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to share comments, questions and concerns with me over the past week. Your input is greatly valued. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
An update from Ottawa
Ottawa is once again a hub of activity as Members of Parliament have arrived in our capital and for a few days many departing and retiring MP’s will also be in attendance as the changeover occurs. The 42nd Parliament is so far a very demanding one on House administration as there are over 200 newly elected rookie MP’s that will require offices, staff, orientation and training that can lead to delays in getting up and running. Also occurring this week was the official swearing in ceremony for our incoming Prime Minister at Rideau Hall along with the traditional swearing in of the new cabinet.
The new Liberal cabinet at 31 members is smaller than the 39 member cabinet that was announced after the 2011 election by our former Prime Minister. The new cabinet also follows a gender parity policy mandated by the Liberals, so there are fifteen women and 15 men in the new cabinet. If you are wondering why the math does not add up to 31 members, it is due to Prime Minister Trudeau naming himself as a Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth in his cabinet.
My thoughts? While it is somewhat customary for opposition members to criticize a newly appointed cabinet, I will largely refrain. For any newly elected Premier or Prime Minister, it is always a challenging task to select a cabinet where there are so many different variables that must be taken into consideration and compromises are not always popular. On a local level I have heard some complaints that British Columbia has just three cabinet seats compared to Ontario and Quebec that have 18 seats combined; however I would caution that the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries have yet to be announced by Prime Minister Trudeau and I believe there is a good chance one or more will end up in British Columbia and may likely include our new Kelowna-Lake Country MP Steven Fuhr.
I would also like to congratulate our new Ministers who are from British Columbia that include Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of National Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough, all from the Lower Mainland. A criticism I do have of the new cabinet is that one of the portfolio’s that was eliminated to achieve a smaller cabinet means there is no longer a Minister of State for Seniors and this is also a concern I will share in Ottawa.
Finally this week the Official Opposition is currently meeting and it is expected will name a new interim leader shortly that in turn will lead to the announcement of a shadow cabinet of official critics. The third party NDP is also meeting this week and is also expected to announce its own shadow critic line up shortly. Hopefully by the time you read this week’s MP report the Liberal Government will announce the date when Parliament will be recalled for an expected throne speech. My expectation is that this will occur in early December however this date has yet to be confirmed.
I would also like to thank the many citizens who have shared comments and questions with me over the past week. This input in very valuable and I invite all citizens to take a moment to share your concerns. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or 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