This week is a "constituency week" meaning the House of Commons is adjourned while Members of Parliament are back in our home ridings. For 2016 there will be roughly 26 break weeks and 26 sitting weeks depending on when the House adjourns in June. From my perspective this is an effective balance on time spent equally between Ottawa and our home ridings and is why I remain opposed to efforts in Ottawa to further decrease the House of Commons work week.
Why is time in Ottawa important? Obviously debates, scrutiny of bills and legislations and passing or amending (and in some cases repealing) new and existing laws is critically important. Likewise passing of the federal budget, policy discussion and implementation as well as Parliamentary committee study are also much need aspects for our legislative process. However one overlooked item is problem solving. It is common for citizens to provide input and seek assistance from MPs on a variety of different issues. Over time in some cases a pattern may present that raises the question can a new and more effective ways of doing something be identified? Often these answers must be found and resolved in Ottawa. Researching through the Library of Parliament, meeting and consulting with civil servants, Officers of Parliament and Ministers along with senior department management may all play a role in how a particular problem on a local level is solved.
As an example one concern I have been working on recently involves Old Age Security (OAS). Although most citizens have little difficulty obtaining OAS benefits they are entitled to in some cases citizens may have difficulty accessing OAS in spite of having worked and paid taxes in Canada for decades. They may from a bureaucratic perspective, due to having resided in another country or having immigrated at a young age have to provide evidence of their residency in so far as being eligible to receive the OAS benefits they are entitled to. More often than not these situations can be resolved as other departments within the Federal Government may have the missing and necessary information however the onus is on the individual to first locate, then obtain and ultimately provide the information from one federal Government agency to another. This process is not only administratively complex it is also slow and can delay a person in need from receiving benefits in a timely manner. In addition for some citizens who may have physical or mental difficulties they may lack the ability or capacity to obtain and share this information and end up falling through the cracks.
This raises the question is there a better way to help people in this situation? If various departments within the Federal Government already have this information why not electronically share the information between them to help citizens in an easier and timelier way? The reason why this currently does not occur is ultimately related to personal privacy - currently in many situations Government departments are prohibited from sharing personal information. For the record I am not proposing to eliminate the prohibition on personal information sharing within Government departments however I am researching the possibility of departments having the ability to share specific information if the citizen in question provides written permission to do so in advance.
As we have many seniors in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola who have encountered this challenge I believe this will be an effective solution to provide assistance however I would also like to hear from citizens your thoughts on this proposal. Personal privacy is a subject that all citizens and elected officials should take seriously and that is why I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this proposal or any other matter 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.