As 2012 comes to a close I would like to highlight some of the political milestones that occurred during the past year. While some of these events may not have received much media attention, they are in my view important to take note of and are presented in no particular order.
The House of Commons held debate in 10 out of 12 months in 2012. As much as there is often media and opposition claims about the lack of debate on Parliament Hill in reality here in Canada your elected Members of Parliament were in the House of Commons debating bills and participating in committee review for the vast majority of the year. At a time when some countries are engaged in unrest or deeply divided conflict the wheels of Government here in Canada continue to turn as MP’s collectively from all sides of the House work hard to keep Canada strong. With some Provincial legislatures across Canada currently shut down now is the time to continue to keep Canada moving forward in order to ensure that we can attract investment that keeps Canadians employed and support our regional economies. At the same time we must also protect Canadians from those who would do us harm and ensure that we create a regulatory environment that is firm but fair and promotes innovation and prosperity. In my view it would be difficult to achieve these things if the House of Commons were not in session and it is an honour to work collectively in the House with such a diverse group of Canadians who represent the great diversity of our nation.
While MP’s continue to work hard, I am also proud of the fact that we have shown leadership and finally unanimously voted in favor of changes to the MP pension plan that are more respectful to taxpayers. I know that many Canadians work hard and struggle at times to pay bills and provide for their family. The MP pension plan was not something that taxpayers in Okanagan-Coquihalla considered fair or equitable and that is why I was one of the first on Parliament Hill to publicly call for changes that I was pleased to vote in favor of late in the fall. As Members of Parliament we cannot expect Canadians to make sacrifices that we would not also be willing to share in.
Another highlight of this past year for me was my second annual summer listening tour. Traveling throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla and meeting with people first hand and hearing comments, questions and concerns is something I view as critically important in the work that I do as an MP. The bills we pass in Ottawa must help keep people working and at the same time we must continue to help fund and provide services that citizens depend upon and partner with local and provincial governments to build infrastructure. Having my own private members bill passed was also a great honor but we cannot overlook other challenges in other industries that also need attention. This is something that I am continuing to work on daily. As an example in one local community within Okanagan-Coquihalla is a large scale private employer who provides hundreds of very well paying jobs. These jobs are currently threatened in large part as a result of industry specific regulation. As much as some oppose foreign investment the reality is that there are situations and circumstances when there is no Canadian based investment ready or willing to invest within certain sectors of our economy. In this case, without foreign investment there are up to 600 workers who could be unemployed. I believe that we must not overlook the importance of well paying jobs in our communities and I will continue to fight for these jobs and if necessary will introduce another private members bill to propose regulatory changes in this sector. As the year comes to a close and this is my final report for 2102 I would like to wish all citizens a prosperous and healthy 2013 New Year.
I have always been a strong believer in the principle of accountability. It is why I make every effort to ensure that my MP expenses are amongst the lowest in Western Canada, why I spoke out in favor of changes to the MP pension plan that were more respectful to taxpayers, and is why I do not use over-the-top rhetoric or profanity in the House of Commons. Since being elected, another belief I continue to act upon is personally returning phone calls, emails where possible, and compose weekly reports on events that occur in Ottawa and in the riding. As taxpayers, you provide significant resources to all levels of government and I believe firmly that your calls and concerns deserve to be heard. We may not always have agreement in a democratic country as diverse as Canada but I submit that one thing that sets us apart from others is that we are respectful of our differences and tolerant, at times even open minded, to the views and values of others.
With the final sitting of the House of Commons for the year of 2012 now concluded this will be my second year in Ottawa representing the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla in Parliament and I would like to take a moment to reflect on this milestone. For me the past two years have been an immeasurable learning experience, and a great honour serving as your MP. There is one overarching issue that continues to concern me and that is the lack of accountability in information that is presented online. To be clear, there are many justifiable reasons to disagree on policy and decisions of our elected representatives at all levels of government. However I am certain that most would agree that a genuine disagreement should be based on factually accurate information. More and more frequently, information being presented is not only factually inaccurate; at times it is even intentionally distorted in an effort to mislead. Frequently this misinformation is located online and often authored by “internet experts” or other “anonymous sources”. At times even conventional media sources can report on a story that may leave out important factual information, an example of this I will share:
Many of you have likely heard media reports of our Government “committing” to purchase the F-35 stealth fighter aircraft. The reality is that not only have no F-35’s been purchased to date, the decision to commit Canada to the joint strike fighter program (JSF) was actually made by the Liberal Government of the day back in 1997. In 2001 after a design competition the Lockheed Martin F-35 was awarded the contract over a rival aircraft design proposal from Boeing.
My reason for pointing out that the Chrétien Liberals made this commitment is not a case of pointing the finger of blame at someone else but rather to illustrate just how far back this issue originates. We must also not forget that this is not the first time Canada has had to replace a strategically important aircraft that have become obsolete. Senior taxpayers will recall that we paid $ 478 Million in cancellation penalties when the Liberals cancelled the $4.8 Billion EH-101 helicopter order that was to replace the aging Sea-Kings. It should also be pointed out that cancelling the replacement for the Sea-King did not negate the need to replace this aging helicopter, it only delayed it further, and as we would ultimately discover at much greater cost to taxpayers. In fact it was the same Liberal Government who was subsequently forced to turn around only a few years later and purchase fewer replacement helicopters at an increased cost now estimated at $6.2 Billion. With the replacement Sikorsky helicopters behind schedule we still rely on 40 year old Sea-King helicopters which require 35 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air. It is important that we not repeat the mistakes of the past and that is why the “reset” button has in effect been announced by our government to ensure that whatever aircraft replaces the CF-18, we avoid following the expensive and costly lessons that we should not forget occurred with the replacement of the Sea-King. While I recognize that few taxpayers rejoice at the thought of replacing soon to be out of date aircraft, this does not, as we have learned in the past, negate the need to do so.
As always, I welcome your comments and concerns and would like to wish all citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla a Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at email@example.com
Recently Private Member’s Business has been the subject most frequently raised by a large number of constituents here in Okanagan-Coquihalla. For those of you unfamiliar with Private Member's Business, better known in Ottawa as PMB, all Members of Parliament (with the exception of Government Ministers, Parliamentary-Secretaries and the Speaker) have the ability to introduce either a Private Member's Bill or Motion into the House of Commons. I have also noted that there is often a misunderstanding about PMB’s and how they differ from Government Bills in many significant ways that can often lead to further confusion. A private members Bill is different from a motion in that a Bill contains actual proposed legislation that if ultimately passed would potentially change a law. As a result Bills are very time consuming and often complex documents to construct and require an immense amount of background research and resources as would be expected for any change to the law. For an individual member it can be very challenging to propose a PMB without having the availability of large scale resources that Government has at its disposal. There are often multiple potential solutions to any single issue, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. A potential Bill might seek to amend more than one statue, increasing its complexity and potential unintended consequences. Drafting can also be an issue that an individual parliamentarian may have to wrestle with.
The alternative to a Private members Bill is a motion. Private member’s Motions are essentially a draft resolution that if passed by a majority vote in the House of Commons, will form the opinion of the House and in turn can require the Government to take action on an issue as directed by a motion. There are also a few additional points to be aware of with Private Member’s Business. Although the process of debate for a Private member’s Bill follows the same pattern as a Government Bill, the Government does not have any standing in the selection or approval of private members business. Often I find that there can be confusion between a private member sponsored bill or motion as compared to a Bill proposed by government. It should be noted that ALL Members of Parliament (with the exception of Cabinet Ministers, Parliamentary-Secretaries and the Speaker) have a right as
Parliamentarians to submit a Bill or motion on virtually any subject they choose, even topics that the Government is not in support of. The one caveat is that if a Bill or Motion ultimately proposes an additional expenditure by Government, that Bill or Motion in turn requires the sponsorship of a Government Minister. It should also be noted that a lottery process is used in order to determine the order that MP’s can see their Bills and Motions debated in the House of Commons.
As I am a strong believer in accountability, I always encourage citizens to contact me directly to speak about any private members business that comes before the House that is of concern. Although there may not always be agreement on the outcome of a particular vote and many citizens may have differing points of view even on the same topic, increased information can in my view always lead to a better understanding. There are also times where a subject we may be generally supportive of will end up being opposed if a Bill is not properly constructed in a way that will achieve the proposed outcome.
As an example, I have recently heard from a large number of local citizens regarding last week’s introduction of a Private Member's Motion that proposes to condemn sex selective abortion practices. For the record I believe that almost all citizens in principle condemn the idea of terminating a pregnancy for reasons solely pertaining to sex selection. However the subject of pregnancy termination is also one that our Prime Minister made a commitment during the campaign period to not introduce into the House of Commons if elected into Government. It is also a commitment that I shared in response to questions that I was asked in all candidates’ forums. Although there are times when new information arises and situations may change that require elected
officials to reconsider a previous position, in this case I believe that the commitment made to oppose the introduction of this issue into the House of Commons must prevail. As the Member for Okanagan-Coquihalla, I publicly condemn the practice of gender based termination of pregnancy without reservation and would suggest that the majority of citizens in our riding and country would as well. In this instance I believe we can publicly condemn this practice without the further need to do so within the House of Commons and while I do continue to condemn this practice I will not be supporting this issue moving forward should it appear before the House of Commons. I welcome your views on this or any subject of concern.
There are currently two weeks left for debate on Parliament Hill before the end of 2012 and as was the case last year, it is widely expected that filibusters and procedural tactics will be at a premium as Government seeks to have legislation passed that the Opposition opposes. Most prominent will be Bill C-45, the Jobs and Growth Act. For those unfamiliar with the Jobs and Growth Act, it is the second act to implement provisions of the Budget for 2012 and as a result our Government will introduce time allocation this week to help ensure that the Budget for 2012 is actually passed in 2012. Time allocation is often confused with closure, a different Parliamentary procedure. Time allocation sets a fixed period of time that is available in the House of Commons to debate a specific stage of debate during a Bill. Closure differs from time allocation in that closure in effect ends debate and calls for a vote. Interestingly enough from a Parliamentary perspective, closure is a long term procedural tactic that will be one hundred years old in 2013 while time allocation is a far more recent Parliamentary procedural phenonmenon that was created as an alternative to closure and has continued to evolve over the past few decades.
One area of the Jobs and Growth Act that I believe many in Okanagan-Coquihalla would be supportive of but has not received a great deal of attention is changes to our tax policy as it relates to the environment. The phasing out of the Atlantic Oil and Gas tax credit is one such policy. Our Government is committed to improving the neutrality of the tax system as it currently exists in different sectors of the economy. In part this is a result of a commitment by G-20 Leaders to rationalize and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term. Another measure in the act is the addition of a capital cost allowance that would incentivize those who would like to generate renewable energy. This would include a variety of equipment that would generate or conserve energy by using a renewable energy source such as wind, solar, small hydro, or using fuels from waste like landfill gas, wood waste, manure; perhaps making more efficient use of fossil fuels with high efficiency cogeneration systems. Given that there has been a fair amount of interest in communities such as Merritt, Penticton and Princeton in these kinds of projects and the accompanying jobs both in construction and ongoing operations, it is my hope that these kind of initiatives will be well received and help create opportunities in these and other communities.
Another initiative that our Government recently announced were regulatory changes in the automotive sector that will harmonize recent similar changes in the United States that promote increased fuel economy for cars and trucks sold in Canada. This not only keeps our auto sector competitive and in sync with the large US market, but will also conserve fuel. The new regulations will begin implementation in 2017 and by 2025 will see vehicles that consume 50% less fuel and at the same time emit 50% fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to a vehicle sold in 2008. Collectively in the period from 2017 to 2025 these new regulatory changes are estimated to reduce green house gas emissions by 162 MT. As some of you may be aware, our Government also announced heavy duty vehicle GHG emissions regulations earlier this year that will begin to take effect in 2014. Also announced in September of this year are final regulations to reduce emissions in the coal-fired electricity sector. This sector by sector approach does have critics however the 2012 Canada Emissions Trends report shows that combined efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada are working. Currently Canada is at the halfway point in reaching a targeted reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. It should also be noted that a previous Government who signed an international agreement but then took no further action actually saw an increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 27%. Although jobs, the need to support our local economies and responsible resource development are frequent topics of discussion, it should be noted that there are a number of initiatives like the ones mentioned previously that are often overlooked. Although you may not hear about some of these environmentally related measures in the Jobs and Growth Act, it is important to recognize that this act proposes to not only keep our economy strong but also to promote diversification and innovation in our great country.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.