This week's MP report for Okanagan-Coquihalla: Reflecting on some of the events of 2013
As this is my final MP report for 2013, I wanted to reflect back on some of the events of the past year that stand out in my work as a Member of Parliament for our riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla. On a personal note, one of the events that I followed closely was the criminal trial that resulted in a guilty verdict for the individual who took the life of Penticton resident Lynn Kalmring. As I shared in the House of Commons, Lynn was a loving mother, sister, daughter and friend to all who loved her. Lynn's life was tragically taken in a senseless and brutal act of domestic violence. There are many details that cannot be publicly shared out of respect for the privacy of Lynn’s family but it remains clear to me that there is still much work to be done to help victims of serious crime and domestic violence. While the outcome of the trial was welcomed by the Kalmring family, we should never overlook the magnitude of loss that is experienced and how victims can continue to be re-victimized in a system that is slowly evolving to recognize the need for change. I have spoken in support of two such measures in the House of Commons this past year and will continue to endorse legislative changes that better protect victims of serious crime and domestic abuse.
Another series of events that occurred in late 2013 have also been quite telling from my perspective. Two of my colleagues in caucus both reached significant milestones with their private member’s bills in December. One of these members was widely reported about in the media and the other was from my perspective largely ignored by the same media. The private member’s bill you did hear about was Bill C-559, the Reform Act of 2013, introduced by Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong. The private member’s bill you didn’t hear about was Bill C-428, the Indian Act Replacement and Amendment Act introduced by Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River MP Rob Clarke. What is more surprising over the difference in media coverage on these two bills is that while Bill C-559 has not yet been deemed as votable, Bill C-428 passed 3rd reading debate in the House of Commons and is now before the Senate at 1st reading. What is also noteworthy is that MP Rob Clarke, the author of bill C-428, is also a member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation. In fact, the Library of Parliament has confirmed that going back as far as 1867, no private member’s bill introduced by a member of First Nations origin has ever received Royal Assent or passed third reading in the House of Commons. For those that do follow my MP reports, you are likely reading about MP Clarke’s historic achievement in the House of Commons for the very first time. When one considers both the symbolic importance of this achievement by MP Clarke and the important subject matter of the bill, it raises concern that it has been overlooked by many.
I mention Bill C-428 and MP Rob Clarke as it is my view that all too often a First Nation’s success story or achievement is ignored, while the challenges such as in Attawapiskat (as an example) remain front page news for weeks on end. Rob Clarke’s Bill C-428 and Michael Chong’s Bill C-559 both share one trait in common– they propose a challenge to the status quo and suggest that we consider reform if there is a better and more effective means to govern. As we head into 2014 and the promises of the New Year I believe we can all keep an open mind and ask ourselves what things we can change to improve in ourselves and those around us. While it is undeniably true that we as a country have incredibly much to be thankful for, we should also never cease to challenge ourselves and others to do better. As Canadians we always succeed when we rise to the challenge of building a stronger Canada. As always if you have a comment, question or concern, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-665-8711. My sincere best wishes to all for a prosperous New Year in 2014!
MP Report for Okanagan-Coquihalla: New Light bulb standards to take effect and Merry Christmas from the Albas family
It is rare that I re-submit a previously completed report however in this case with the upcoming January 1st 2014 deadline for certain classes and wattages of incandescent light bulbs much of this information has been requested.
With the start of the New Year in 2014 will be changes to Canada’s national lighting standards that in turn will impact some of the light bulbs that will be available for sale. The new standards establish energy efficiency levels for light bulbs sold in Canada that also calls for less energy efficient incandescent bulbs in certain wattages to be phased out. Specifically the standards will apply for bulbs in the 75- and 100-watt range after January 1, 2014, and bulbs in the 40- 60-watt range on or after December 31, 2014. Once the new standards are in place consumers will have energy efficient lighting choices that include light emitting diodes (LEDs), compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and with the most recent amendment incandescent halogen bulbs. It should also be noted that not all light bulbs currently on the market will be affected by these changes – for example decorative lamps and related light bulbs, appliance bulbs, three-way fixtures, chandeliers, rough service/utility bulbs, oven lamps as well as specialty bulbs for agriculture and industrial applications will all be exempt from these new regulations.
Why introduce these light bulb energy efficiency standards? There are a number of reasons for these changes. Currently lighting (on average) accounts for roughly 10% of household energy use. By using more energy efficient light bulbs nationally the cumulative energy savings are estimated at more than $750 million by 2025 with corresponding greenhouse gas emission reductions by up to 7.5 mega-tonnes over the same time frame. At the same time, these regulations also parallel the same standards being introduced in the United States. Having the same lighting standards across North America will also benefit those in the lighting and electrical sectors including manufacturers, wholesalers and importers. Canada is one of eighteen countries currently in the process of implementing minimum standards in light bulb energy efficiency.
In my view it is also important that citizens be aware that while CFL bulbs offer high energy efficiency and long life they also contain a small amount of mercury, roughly enough to cover the tip of a ball point pen. Although no special handling is required in the use of these bulbs in the event a CFL bulb breaks Health Canada does have recommendations on best practices for clean up Some of the recommendations include allowing the room to ventilate for 15 minutes prior to entry, and to use gloves when picking up the glass and sticky tape for loose pieces. Using a vacuum or broom is not recommended as this can spread the dust to other areas of your home. For more information on CFL bulbs and disposal of broken CFL bulbs the Health Canada website has some helpful information, please goto: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/prod/cfl-afc-eng.php
The intent of this week’s report is to help eliminate confusion on Canada’s minimum energy efficiency light standards given many recent questions on this topic. If you have further question on this or any topic please do not hesitate to contact my office at via email at email@example.com or via phone at 1-800-665-8711. Before I close this week's report, I would like to take a moment to wish all citizens a safe and enjoyable holiday season along with best wishes for the New Year. As many of may have an opportunity to be away from work over the holiday’s if you do have a comment or concern please do not hesitate to send it my way at your convenience. Please enjoy a very Merry Christmas from my family to yours.
Recently I was asked how it is determined what subjects will be mentioned in my weekly MP reports. This is a great question and one that I have not covered previously. Since my first day elected as a city councillor I have always made a point of reading emails and returning phone calls from citizens. In my view hearing the concerns of people is a critically important part of being accountable and having a better understanding on issues of concern. Typically the issues that are more frequently raised in a given week will be the same issues I will reference in my weekly MP reports. From time to time I also get requests to cover a specific area of concern and in some weeks what I hear from citizens may be at odds with what are the major media events being reported by the news media.
This week I had anticipated much of the discussion would be on the recent announcement from Canada Post regarding door to door delivery changes and new stamp prices. To my surprise over the past week I have heard very little overall on these changes and of the comments I have heard the vast majority were understanding that changes in technology and societal trends create a need for Canada Post to respond. Over the past few weeks the single largest issue from a feedback perspective remains the subject of last weeks MP report– Bill C-559 “The Reform Act of 2013” introduced by my colleague Michael Chong. I greatly appreciate the response to last week's report and I have noted that many citizens have taken the time to send in some very detailed comments now that the full content of the Bill is publicly available. I continue to welcome your input on this very important subject that is clearly a concern of many citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla.
Earlier this week I was honoured to represent the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Hon. Gerry Ritz for an announcement at a local business, a short drive away from the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland. The announcement was a funding contribution under the Growing Forward 2 agricultural innovation program. As many local citizens are well aware, there is a growing demand for natural plant extracts. Phytochemicals, such as antioxidants can be found in fruits, vegetables, as well as plant-based beverages like tea and wine. These natural chemicals not only help plants defend against environmental threats such as damage from pests or ultraviolet light, but can also assist against heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
One of the challenges is to find an efficient method to extract the phytochemicals from plants as currently the process involves the use of chemicals that often fall under the category of dangerous goods. The funding announced this week will support a new process that use uses pressurized water, rather than solvents and chemical agents to extract the phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables. Obviously the use of water rather than chemicals reduces health and environmental hazards and also ensures that extracted phytochemicals have a higher level of purity. The need to develop new and innovative value added agricultural products is an important one for our region. The new trade deal with the European Union proposes to eliminate up to ninety-five per cent of current tariffs when it comes into force. This in turn can create new markets and new opportunities for our region and ensure our valued agricultural sector remains a sustainable and important part of our future.
There have been very few bills that have generated as much discussion, debate and
feedback as Bill C-559. This is quite remarkable given that this Private Member`s Bill was only tabled into the House late last week and has yet to be deemed votable or to reach second reading. You may ask, "What exactly is Bill C-559? ". It is called the Reform Act of 2013 and was introduced recently by my colleague MP Michael Chong.
Depending upon who you ask, the reactions to this Bill have ranged from being viewed as the salvation of our Parliamentary democracy to declarations that the Bill is an all out assault on
the democratic principles which have helped shape our great country. Media pundits, academics, retired politicians, interest groups and most importantly, citizens have all taken the time to comment on this Bill with a passion and a level of interest rarely observed, at least from my limited time as a Member of Parliament. I view this level of engagement as very encouraging and to date the
majority of the input I have heard locally is supportive of this Bill.
There is also something which extends beyond this Bill that I believe is worthy of
note. In the days prior to Bill C-559 being introduced into the House of Commons, an advocacy organization began a lobbying campaign with local MP`s, calling on them to support this democratic reform Private Member`s Bill. I mention this due to the fact that the actual provisions of the Bill at that
point were unknown with many openly supporting the bill based on what they believed to be the contents and objective– in this case an “increase” in democracy. The challenge for legislators is that the actual content of what is proposed in a bill is of equal if not more importance that the
intent. Does Bill C-559 increase democracy?
One of the proposals of this Bill is to end a requirement that a locally elected candidate who intends to run for a political party is formally endorsed by the leader of the party in question. What is interesting on this point is that it was actually a Liberal Government in the 1970’s who introduced this requirement in large part to ensure that special interest groups could not unduly influence the candidate selection process at the local level. In many respects, the requirement for formal endorsement by a party leader has acted as a disincentive in attempting to influence a candidate selection process as the results can be nullified by a party leader if desired. Bill C-559 proposes to eliminate this safeguard.
Another proposal in the Reform Act allows for 15% of a party caucus to initiate a leadership review process and ultimately the majority of caucus MP’s attending a leadership review meeting could in
effect remove a democratically elected Prime Minister and in-turn could install a new Prime Minister solely based on a majority caucus decision with no democratic participation from Canadians. A similar clause is also proposed in the democratic reform bill with respect to how an MP can be removed from or re-instated to caucus. If 15% of the caucus membership requests a review and a
majority of caucus members in attendance at the review in question vote for the removal or re-instatement of another MP (within caucus) that majority vote would stand regardless of the intentions of the Prime Minister. The intent of these proposals is to increase the power of individual MP’s and to decrease the ability of the Prime Minister to unilaterally make decision with respect to
caucus composition. In other words the Prime Minister would be more susceptible to the demands of individual Members of Parliament or smaller groups of MP`s as opposed to the consensus of caucus or `team` approach that has emerged over the past few decades.
One other point of interest is that should Bill C-559 be adopted, the implementation date would be 7 days after the next election. This would mean that some provisions around candidate selection would not actually be implemented until possibly the year 2019. Will these proposed changes increase democracy? To date I have read the bill and dozens of opinion editorials both for and against the
Reform Act that offer different but valid points. I would still like to hear from more citizens on this bill once the actual contents are better known. I believe almost everyone supports increased democracy in our electoral process. However the details of how that is best achieved (otherwise known as reading the fine print) should not be overlooked. For the record I support increasing democracy, transparency and accountability in our political process and welcome
your comments and views on this important subject. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1 (800) 665-8711 and I do
look forward to hearing from you.
Last week I released my second annual accountability report to the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla and was encouraged by the strong level of response from local residents and from media on the efforts to increase transparency. As one member of the media pointed out, determining how elected
officials spend tax dollars should not require the effort of one or more access to information requests. I agree. Those who disagree with releasing more detailed financial information often point out that the amounts of money in question are comparatively small as a percentage of overall spending and that
the increased administration required is ultimately, not cost effective. While these are valid arguments and should be considered on a case by case basis to ensure there is indeed a benefit to the public, they should not be used as a barrier against increased public scrutiny. There is also a more compelling consideration and that is the matter of public trust. Citizens expect elected
officials to act honourably and to spend tax dollars prudently in a fiscally respectful and accountable manner. As we also know– those objectives are not always met and over time this can diminish the trust that citizens have in their Government. While the media is often fixated on those incidents where tax dollars were not spent in an acceptable manner, often there is much less
attention paid to genuine efforts that are being made to help increase fiscal accountability.
Last week I mentioned that the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy was implementing new or revised rules that, in my view, will help to keep expenses in check across the board. This week I would like to reference some of the changes that I wholeheartedly support. One of the more
common criticisms of House of Commons expense reporting is that it has traditionally been lacking in detail and is only posted once a year. To rectify these deficiencies, the reports to the public will now be released quarterly (beginning in April of 2014) and more detail will be provided. In future
reports, secondary accommodation expenses will be reported as a separate category while events, gifts and meeting expenses will also be reported in individual categories and not consolidated, as is the case currently. Travel rules will also be changed to include a requirement that a traveler must be
identified, the destination, dates and purpose of travel and individual trip cost clearly stated. Currently many of these details are reported only in a consolidated annual format.
Aside from these changes being implemented by the House of Commons, many Members of Parliament within the Conservative and Liberal caucuses are also volunteering to begin publicly posting monthly expenses that will be posted on the MP’s website. Although the NDP have
currently refused to join these efforts to voluntarily disclose monthly MP travel expenses, it is encouraging that a majority of MP’s not in the NDP are supporting these volunteer efforts to help increase transparency. I will also be among those MP’s participating in the voluntary expense disclosure that is linked to my MP website.
I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to voice strong support for increased financial transparency and accountability in MP spending. Having strong support from the citizens of
Okanagan-Coquihalla for increased expense reporting is a message that I continue to share and support in Ottawa. Much as with the changes to the MP pension plan these proposals are not always popular within the Parliamentary precinct however having a strong mandate from citizens is an important part of our democratic process. Although more work is still required in these areas, based on the feedback I have received from taxpayers I will continue to support efforts that increase the transparency of MP spending. If you have a question in this or any matter before the House please do not hesitate to contact me directly. I can be reached via email at email@example.com 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