It is sometimes said that in public office the challenges are many and the victories small. As elected representatives in Parliament, we often have the tendency to focus on how much or how little is spent across the vast areas of service and infrastructure that is provided to citizens.
However sometimes we must also take a moment to look at how services are being delivered to citizens and if common sense is being applied or can further improvements be made? I raise these questions as there are circumstances that occur from time to time where I believe government could better serve citizens and I would like to provide an example on that point to better illustrate.
Most citizens will work a variety of different jobs, spanning a career until retirement. Over many decades citizens will typically file tax returns annually with Revenue Canada as well as making contributions to EI and CPP. Imagine, upon retirement and applying for OAS to be told you must first prove you have been residing in Canada to qualify. Obviously there are rules in place to prevent newly arrived citizens who have not been paying into the system through their taxes from collecting but for someone who has paid for many decades this can be a serious point of frustration. In some circumstances some Canadians applying may have spent time out of the country for parts of their working years. More so, the reasons that can trigger these situations may be decades out of date. For many citizens to have diligently paid taxes over many decades to discover that Government may not use such records can be a very emotionally challenging experience. Further complicating this situation is the fact that most citizens do not retain previously filed income tax information from a decade or more back in history nor do they keep expired Passports or other out -of-date documents.
Fortunately this kind of situation does not occur frequently, but during my relatively brief time as a Member of Parliament I have encountered this problem enough that in my view, it is a concern. Why does this happen? There are a variety of factors but the ultimate reason is that although citizens typically think of the Federal Government as a single agency in reality Government is made up of different departments, agencies and other organizations that in the vast majority of instances do not share your personal information between them as they have obligations not to do so, under various laws like the Privacy Act as a chief example. Finding resolutions to the situations I have mentioned above often requires obtaining information separately from different agencies of Government so that information can, in turn,be shared with another agency to ensure in this case that OAS benefits are paid. This process can be time consuming and create hardship for someone in need. Many citizens in this situation have also pointed to the frustration of one agency of government not being aware of the information contained by other agencies. In summary this process as it currently works can be improved.
Increased information sharing between different agencies of Government is potentially the most efficient means to avoid situations such as this one from occurring and also to improve government services to citizens. However, there are also those who oppose any increased sharing of information between different agencies of government for reasons of personal privacy.
The intent of my MP report this week is not to promote or oppose increased information sharing by government agencies but rather to ask citizens your views on this subject. Is increased information sharing between different agencies of government something you support or something you are more likely to oppose? I welcome your input on this or any matter before the House of Commons. I can be reached via email at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711. As 2014 is soon to come to a close I would like to sincerely wish all residents of Okanagan-Coquihalla a safe and enjoyable New Year’s celebration along with a prosperous 2015.
One aspect that I enjoy most as a Member of Parliament is the great diversity of citizens and commentary that I hear throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla on an ongoing basis. One year ago I reflected on concerns I heard over the loss of both the Kamloops News and Merritt News; these concerns were not just local but in many cases national. As much as we live in an age of information citizens greatly value local media and the relationships they form with our communities.
Although we may not always agree with local editorial opinion it is important that we always respect free speech and the diversity of different points of view. As my weekly reports are often communicated to citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla through our local media I would like to take a moment to pass on my appreciation and thanks to those who work in community news publications be it in print, online or on air. Informed commentary from professional news organizations is a service that I believe we should not take for granted.
When looking back on this past year I would be remiss if I did not also mention that amount of new Mayors, councillors and regional district directors elected back in November. I have been in the process of working with local government to organize a number of elected officials forums so that members of the public can meet new representatives and also so that newly elected officials from different levels of government can meet each other. Although spats and disagreements between levels of government can make for great headlines it is also important that governments have the ability to work together in partnership to ensure infrastructure projects, services and other programs are carried out in an effective manner that is respectful to taxpayers. In Okanagan-Coquihalla we have a long standing history of successful partnership between the local, provincial and federal governments and based on the newly elected and re-elected officials I have met to date I believe this positive trend will continue.
This past year has also not been without tragedy. The disturbing deaths of two Canadian forces soldiers who were brutally executed combined with the shooting on Parliament Hill are all events that will forever be in the memory of Canadians. However in the days and weeks after these horrific events we also witnessed not just a united Parliament, but more importantly, a united Canada. Although our freedoms were attacked Canadians, responded with compassion, kindness and a resolve to continue to stand against tyranny for our values. While changes have been made around the House of Commons and Parliament Hill, the principle of accessibility has not been compromised. Each day Canadians come from far and wide to experience Parliament first hand through tours and walking through the precinct. It was once pointed out to me that our Canadian Parliament was one of the very few in the world that is openly accessible to Canadians and is not fenced off where it can only be viewed but never experienced. These things are all part of what makes us Canadian and why on this Christmas I hope that every citizen gives thanks for family, friends, neighbours and our fellow citizens who collectively are the fabric of our great country. As the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla I would like to sincerely wish all citizens a Merry Christmas and enjoyable holiday season. As always I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Last Friday was the last sitting day of 2014 for the House of Commons as the House breaks for the holiday and allows Members of Parliament time to be back in home ridings before the session resumes in January of 2015. However as is often the case while the House of Commons rises the Canadian Senate continues to sit for a number of additional days and on Tuesday evening of this week nine Bills became law as Royal Assent was received on Bills C-45, S-211, S-5, C-483, C-442, C-428, C-43, C-525 and C-266.
What are these new laws? Bill C-45 is a Government Bill and in this instance is an Appropriations Act. Bill S-5 is a Senate Bill – An Act to amend the Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve Act. Bill C-43 is a Government Bill and also the Governments Economic Action Plan budget for 2014.
A number of Private Members Bills also received Royal Assent. Bill C-483 “An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act”. This act is an administrative one that transfers the authority to authorize a temporary escorted absence of a criminal convicted of first and second degree murder (within three years of full parole eligibility) to the Parole Board of Canada as opposed to a prison warden as is the current situation. Proponents of this Bill have suggested there is greater accountability to victims when the Parole Board of Canada is the authorizing authority in these types of situations.
Bill S-211 is “The National Health and Fitness Day Act” sponsored by BC Senator Nancy Greene-Raine; it is a Private Member’s bill first tabled in the Senate that designates the first Saturday in June as a day to promote increased participation in fitness and sports activities.
Bill C-442 was sponsored by BC MP and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and is the “Federal Framework on Lyme Disease Act” – this is a Bill I voted in support of and also heard strong support from a number of constituents across Okanagan-Coquihalla. Bill C-428 is the Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act– and is the first private members bill passed by a First Nations MP in the history of the House of Commons. I voted in support of this Bill and wrote about it in my December 30th MP report of last year.
The final two bills passed this week were both private members bill as well. Bill C-525 is the Employees' Voting Rights Act that provides for a democratic private ballot in matters of unionization and de-certification under federal jurisdiction. Finally Bill C-266, the “Pope John Paul II Day Act” designates that April 2 of each year be recognized as “Pope John Paul II Day”– this Bill does not propose that April 2nd would be a holiday rather a day to recognize some of the achievements of Pope John Paul II in promoting freedom and human rights.
Some of these Bill were strongly supported by all sides of the House of Commons while others were only supported by a small majority of votes. From my perspective while it is often disagreement that most defines the House of Commons the fact that a First Nations MP and also the leader of the Green Party with a caucus of just two Members of Parliament have introduced private members bills that have become law is evidence of the fact that diversity and debate remain healthy and vibrant in our Canadian Parliament. At times there will always be disagreement but across party lines there can also be consensus as Members of Parliament do work together in support on common areas of concern.
While it is often common to focus on the challenges and conflicts it should not be forgotten that collectively over the years our Parliamentary democracy, in spite of the many flaws and shortcomings has consistently helped to create the great country of Canada. It has been a privilege to represent the good people of Okanagan-Coquihalla over this past session that has also been a very productive one. As always I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on matters before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Late last week I had the pleasure of sending out a news release – for those of you who may have missed it here is the opening few paragraphs:
“Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas welcomes new regulations to better protect BC freshwater lakes from invasive species.
Today Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea announced new proposed Invasive Species Regulations that create new regulatory tools that will help to prevent the spread of invasive species such as freshwater zebra and quagga mussels. The new regulations will create importation prohibitions at the border including other provisions relating to control and eradication.”
As I pointed out in the news release these new regulations are an important first step to better protect BC freshwater lakes from invasive species. We know here in southern BC that lakes such as Osoyoos, Okanagan and the Shuswap are very popular with destination boaters. We also know that there are now several lakes south of the border that are infested with invasive species such as freshwater mussels. Having regulations in place at the border is a critical first step towards prevention. In the event a major lake has been infested the potential to spread to other nearby lakes is significantly increased; with so many pristine freshwater lakes in British Columbia this is a matter that could have a serious impact on British Columbia. Although this announcement is encouraging other measures will also be required and this will be an issue I will continue to work on.
Another recent announcement is from Government is the recent introduction of the Price Transparency Act. This Act proposes new regulatory powers for the Commissioner of Competition to investigate situations where retail practices result in pricing being significantly higher for an the same item sold in Canada compared to a lower price in the United States. Unequal pricing, often referred to as geographic price discrimination, can result in Canadian consumers facing significantly higher prices for similar goods then what can be purchased from across the border. There are other factors that can influence price that can include tariffs, transportation costs, variable exchange rate, market size and insufficient competition. The Price Transparency Act will allow the Commissioner of Competition an expanded mandate to investigate all of these factors to determine why a differential in pricing exists and what remedies may be available. It is estimated that Canadians frequently pay prices that are between 10% to 25% higher for goods in Canada compared to the United States. The intent of the Price Transparency Act is to help lower these price differentials and extend the purchasing power for Canadian consumers. For further information on this or any Bill before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or via phone at 1-800-665-8711.
Before I close I would like to extend an invitation to West Kelowna and area residents to attend an elected officials meet and greet with the newly elected Mayor & Council of West Kelowna this Saturday, December 13, 2014 at the OK Regional Library Westbank branch located at #31 – 2484 Main Street in West Kelowna from 10:30 AM- 12:30 PM.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and writes this weekly report for his constituents. His website is www.danalbas.com and has an archive of previous reports.
This week is another busy one in Ottawa with large a number of Bills up for debate or votes as well as a motion from the NDP. Thalidomide was a drug briefly approved by Health Canada in 1961 that was intended to provide relief from nausea and other morning sickness related symptoms among pregnant women. Unfortunately this drug turned out to have very catastrophic consequences– even death. For those surviving babies some commonly occurring birth defects include deafness, blindness, disfigurement, cleft palate, and many other internal disabilities. Today there are fewer than 100 survivors in Canada.
The NDP motions on Thalidomide read as follows:
“That, in the opinion of the House: (a) full support should be offered to survivors of Thalidomide; (b) the urgent need to defend the rights and dignity of those affected by Thalidomide should be recognized; and (c) the government should provide support to survivors, as requested by the Thalidomide Survivors Taskforce.”
This was a motion that I supported and in fact was supported by all Members of Parliament that will ensure survivors of Thalidomide are provided much needed supports for the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Also occurring this week is continued debate on Bill C-43 The Economic Action Plan budget bill for 2014 and a number of private members bills including Bill C-628— An Act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and the National Energy Board Act (oil transportation and pipeline certificate) Bill and Bill C-524 — An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (election advertising) there will also be a private bill from the Senate Bill S-213— An Act respecting Lincoln Alexander Day.
On a local note I would like to thank the citizens who came out for our Penticton Elected officials forum. This was a worthwhile venue and I appreciated the opportunity to hear concerns and also to meet some of our newly elected members of council. I am currently in the process of organizing more of these events in other parts of Okanagan-Coquihalla. As next week will be the final week in Ottawa before the house breaks for the holidays I will soon be back in the riding and available for meetings. To arrange an appointment or to pass on other comments or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Subscribe to the MP Report
Sign up now to get Dan's weekly MP report emailed directly to you!
Sign up now to get a monthly MP Report mailed directly to your home.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.