“2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”. Many may or may not recall this election promise from now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that continues to be a topic of serious debate and discussion both here in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola and in Ottawa. As the Minister responsible for Electoral Reform continues to stumble along in this file many are questioning if this will end up being yet another broken promise from the Trudeau Liberal Government.
For the record the input I have heard from citizens in our region has been overwhelming in support of a referendum on electoral reform. My fall mail out which asked if constituents desired a referendum before any Government sought to make whole scale changes- such as moving from the current system proposed in the Liberal election promise. The volume of responses was the largest I have seen since becoming a MP with 86% in favour of a referendum. In my town halls I heard both calls for retaining the current system or to move to a proportional system. In fact many calls and comments I have heard recently is frustration and sometimes outrage from citizens who have received the Government’s latest attempt at consultation with an electoral reform postcard via mail or participated in the widely mocked online electoral reform survey and have not been given the direct opportunity to voice support for either proportional representation or the right to a democratic referendum.
In Ottawa the Liberals continue to insist that Prime Minister Trudeau’s promise to Canadians will be met however it is becoming increasingly unclear as to how that will occur. As some may be aware that the special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform, after conducting Canada wide consultations, recommended that a referendum on democratic reform was important to Canadians and that those who do support reform tend to strongly favour proportional representation. Regrettably the Minister responsible for Electoral Reform dismissed the committee report and made disparaging comments about the work of the committee and was eventually forced to apologize after even Liberal members took issue with the Minister for dismissing the views of so many Canadians.
While this has been occurring the Privacy Commissioner has recently come out and opened an investigation into the online democratic reform survey, given that invasive questions based on household income are required in order to be included in the collected data. The outcome of this investigation remains unknown.
Will the Liberals provide the opportunity for a democratic referendum that includes proportional representation? At this point the answer is unknown however many Liberal MPs have been circulating talking points that a referendum is “too complicated” or “takes too much time” or that the law would need to be changed to have one. I find these comments unacceptable for a number of reasons. From the citizens I have heard from in favour of proportional representation make well-reasoned arguments in support of their position and do not seem unable to grasp the concept as many Liberal MPs are wrongly suggesting. As far as “changing the law” this is a non-issue given the Liberals hurriedly amended the law to rush through gender neutral changes to O Canada, much as they did to abolish financial disclosure for unions. The fact that Liberals who have a majority in the House of Commons try to suggest they cannot change the law in a timely way suggests this is a tactic to potentially deny Canadians the right to a referendum they deserve.
My thoughts? Ultimately I am on the record stating that I believe Canadian democracy belongs to Canadians and not to any political party. This means that Canadians deserve a democratic referendum and that should include the right to vote for proportional representation as one of the options. As Elections Canada has repeatedly warned the Government that a significant amount of time is required to implement any electoral change in time for the next election the longer the Liberals take to bring forward a position the greater the chances it will not and cannot be implemented in time. In Ottawa that is often called “talking out the clock” and with Electoral Reform, the time is fast running out.
I welcome your comments and concerns on democratic reform or any matter before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or 1-800-665-8711.
As an opposition MP I am always mindful of an old quote that suggests “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain- and most fools do” it is one of the reasons why I often make a point to propose alternatives to Government policy in place of constant opposition. At the same time I think it is also important to credit the Government on those measures that on balance can help to build a stronger Canada. Last week the Liberal Government announced that it would be approving both the Enbridge Line 3 and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline projects while cancelling the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
Here in British Columbia the approval of the Trans-Mountain pipeline in particular is a subject of considerable debate and opposition in many areas of the Province. The Trans Mountain approval is subject to 157 binding conditions that are intended to address concerns ranging from First Nations, environmental, project engineering as well as safety and emergency response. The value of this project is just under $7-billion and will create 15,000 new jobs during construction. This pipeline will also generate $4.5 billion in federal and provincial government revenues. While I realize my agreement with this Liberal government decision will comes as a disappointment to some it should be noted that this project essentially replaces the existing Trans Mountain pipeline system between Edmonton, Alberta, and Burnaby, British Columbia that is now over 50 years old. The new pipeline will also be twinned to increase capacity. In my view I agree with the Government that this pipeline is ultimately in our Canadian national interest.
The Enbridge Line 3 approval is also a pipeline replacement project, subject to 37 binding conditions addressing similar concerns to the Trans-Mountain approval. Line 3 is valued at just under $ 5 billion to replace slightly over 1,000 kilometres of existing pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Gretna, Manitoba and will create roughly 7,000 new jobs during construction. Revenues to the Federal and Provincial Government will exceed $500 million.
While many oppose Canadian oil resources being exported at the same time there is little protest against oil imports to Canada, in particular Eastern Canada, where Oil is imported from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola and Nigeria among others. It should also not be overlooked that these offshore countries do not have carbon tax or other environmental regulations in effect similar to Canada. It is for this reason that many support the Energy East pipeline project as it could greatly eliminate the need to import foreign oil and also take capacity from Western Canada oil producers thus reducing demand to export. In both of these scenarios tanker traffic would also be greatly reduced that in turn also lessens dependence on oil by rail.
While there is no perfect solution the recent pipeline approvals by the Prime Minister has the potential to increase employment and generate more revenues for the Federal and several Provincial Governments. Overall I believe the Government made the right decision in granting these approvals, more so when one considers both of these projects are replacing existing pipeline infrastructure with newer and safer technologies. I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on the recent pipeline approvals or any other topic before the House of Commons.
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.