It should never be forgotten that elected officials work for the public and should be accountable to the people we collectively serve. This was one of the reasons why in last week’s MP report I asked citizens to share their input with me on these weekly reports and what changes and suggestions people would like to see for future reports, more so now given my role as an opposition MP. The response was significant and very encouraging. I would like to sincerely thank the many citizens who took the time to offer some very valuable suggestions and ideas that will be incorporated in future reports.
One comment I heard frequently was to spend less time on events widely covered in media and more time on issues that are less covered. Taking that feedback to heart this week I will mention a few topics that were not widely covered but may be of interest. One issue that was announced last week is that MP office budgets are being increased. Currently MP office budgets have been frozen since the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The increase announced last week is a 20% raise to MPs basic office budgets, a 5% increase to travel accounts and a 20% increase to House officer’s budgets in Ottawa.
These budgets are intended to allow MPs to pay for increases in rent and staffing costs as well other expenses encountered when running several offices between the riding and Ottawa. I should also add that an increased budget does not necessarily in this case lead to increased spending. Any unused funds from an MP’s annual office budget are returned to Ottawa each year with the exception of a 5% carryover that an MP can apply to their next fiscal year. All of these funds, when spent, are reported in a Member’s annual financial report and in my case I also provide an annual accountability report to make this and other information easier to find and compare with previous years. To date since I was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2011 I have never yet maximized my available budget spending and have returned unused funds to Ottawa. I expect this trend to continue.
Another change being contemplated in Ottawa is shortening the work week when the House of Commons is in session. Generally when MPs are in Ottawa the House of Commons will sit from Monday to Friday with the rare exception of a holiday creating a shorter week when the House will adjourn. For the majority of time the House sits it typically does so for two or three weeks in a row before adjourning for typically one or occasionally two constituency weeks. A Parliamentary committee is currently exploring that the House of Commons no longer sit on Fridays. The intent of this change is intended to help improve the family life balance for Members of Parliament.
My thoughts on this? Currently for a BC based MP travelling either to or from Ottawa the travel time takes the better part of a day so having a Friday strictly for travel would allow for more time back home. However as it stands now there is currently 24 Fridays the House is sitting in 2016 meaning the elimination of Fridays would mean over a loss of one month of House time. That is significant. It should also be pointed out the current obligations that include sitting 5 days a week when the House is in session were well known to all who put their names forward and were elected as MPs only a short time ago. As I believe it is important that elected MPs fulfill the obligations they were elected under I will be opposing these changes. I welcome your comments, question and concerns on this or any subject 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.