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 why I remain opposed to efforts in Ottawa to further decrease the House of Commons work week by removing Friday sittings.
Why is time in Ottawa important?
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. They are also much needed 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. In some cases, a pattern may be shown over time that raises the question, “Can a new and more effective ways of doing something be found?”
Often these answers must be found and resolved in Ottawa. Researching through the Library of Parliament, and meeting and consulting with civil servants, Officers of Parliament and Ministers along with senior department management often plays a role in the way a particular problem on a local level is solved.
Obtaining Old Age Security benefits
As an example, one concern I have recently been working on involves Old Age Security (OAS).
Although most citizens have little difficulty obtaining OAS benefits, there are some who do, despite having worked and paid taxes in Canada for decades.
This may, from a bureaucratic perspective, be due to having resided in another country, or having immigrated at a young age. There may be a need to provide evidence of residency to show eligibilty.
More often than not these situations can be resolved, as other departments within the Federal Government may have the missing necessary information. However, the onus is on the individual to locate, 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 some citizens may have physical or mental difficulties, thereby lacking the ability or capacity to obtain this information. They can end up falling through the cracks.
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 more timely way?
The reason this does not yet occur is related to personal privacy - 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. I am researching the possibility of departments having the ability to share specific information if the citizen in question provides written permission in advance to do so.
As we have many seniors in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola who have encountered this challenge, I believe this would be an effective solution to provide assistance.
I would like to hear your thoughts on this proposal. Personal privacy is a subject that all citizens and elected officials should take seriously, so I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this proposal or any other matter before the House of Commons.
Bill C-14 - medical assistance in dying
In two previous MP reports, I have asked for feedback on the subject of medically assisted dying, in response to the Supreme Court decision that has in effect legalized this action pending legislation from Parliament.
I would like to summarize Government Bill C-14, technically known as “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)”.
The goal of this act is to enable doctors, as well as nurse practitioners and those who assist them, to help eligible citizens end their lives without facing criminal charges for doing so.
This naturally raises the question of who is deemed to be an “eligible citizen” for the purposes of this legislation. The criteria includes a number of factors: A citizen must be at least 18 years old, and have made a voluntary request with informed consent to be considered eligible for medically assisted dying.
In addition, the person must have a serious and incurable disease or disability that is in an advanced state and considered irreversible. It would need to be demonstrated that the disease or disability in question was at a stage causing intolerable suffering, with death being the most reasonably foreseeable outcome.
How would this work in practice?
A citizen who believes they meet the criteria above can make a written request to receive medical assistance in dying, provided this request is signed by two independent witnesses.
If a citizen is unable to write this request because of a disability, a representative can do so on that person’s behalf, provided two independent witnesses verify the request.
Once the request has been submitted, two independent doctors or nurse practitioners would evaluate the request for eligibility. During this time, a mandatory 15 day reflection period would be in effect, unless death or a loss of capacity was imminent. Understandably, a citizen could withdraw the request at any time during this 15 day period.
It is also proposed that provincial health authorities would maintain confidential lists of doctors and nurse practitioners who are willing to participate with assisted suicide. The list would be made available to citizens seeking this assistance.
The bill recognizes that there are medical professionals who do not support medical assistance in dying, and who may choose not to offer these services.
It is further proposed that the Federal Government will collect and analyze data on the use of this program, although it is unclear what information would be made public.
The bill clearly would enable medical assistance in dying as directed by the ruling from the Supreme Court. While there are some safeguards proposed, ultimately the bill makes an assumption that an individual requesting medically assisted suicide is not coerced or otherwise requesting this assistance out of guilt or obligation. This assumption is solely based upon two individuals witnessing the request. This process is somewhat concerning, as there is little consideration shown for those who may be suffering from an undiagnosed mental health condition such as depression.
Although I have other concerns, ultimately our Supreme Court has made this ruling, and to date the majority of the feedback that I have received from citizens has been supportive.
My vote on Bill C-14 will be guided by the input I receive from the citizens of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola. Given that the consensus so far has been largely supportive, this is the direction that I am following while I continue to actively consult with local citizens.
Comments, questions, concerns
Bail in or bail out
In my previous two MP reports, I covered several concerns related to the recent 2016 Federal Budget, and in turn have received excellent feedback, with many good questions and comments.
This is a frequently asked question because some citizens believe this recapitalization plan would allow banks to take money from depositors to be used for a bank bailout during a financial crises. Understandably, this has created a considerable amount of anxiety for many citizens.
Before plunging further into this issue, let us start by acknowledging that this is an extremely technical subject, and some simplification has been applied to summarize the issue in order to fit into this week’s report.
The obvious question is: Does this proposed bank recapitalization bail in regime allow banks to take your money during a financial crisis?
To answer this, it is important to understand what is actually being proposed, and why. One of the lessons learned during the recent economic crises is that many banks that failed (fortunately, none in Canada) were provided taxpayer financed bailouts, with little consequences to the key decision makers at the banks who were ultimately responsible for many of the high risk decisions being made.
For many taxpayers, this lack of accountability was unacceptable. In many cases, senior bank managers continued to collect extravagant bonuses, almost as a reward for engaging in risky behaviour.
We know when a major bank fails it can have devastating effects on our economy and for citizens. For this reason, many banks are considered too large and too important to fail.
How can accountability be increased in future so that risky behaviour is not rewarded by taxpayer financed bailouts?
The idea behind a formal bank recapitalization regime is that in the event of a financial crisis, major shareholders of the bank – in other words those who are investors in the bank, along with major creditors who do business with the bank in question - would see their investment in the bank converted from being a bank liability into common shares, so the bank could continue to operate.
In other words, the owners of the bank, in effect being the shareholders and the major creditors, would see their investment converted into common shares until such time the bank returned to profitability.
How does this benefit taxpayers?
The simple answer is, those citizens who deal at a bank, credit union, or financial institution that did not engage in such practices are not forced to financially subsidize and reward risky behaviour and poor management that occurs elsewhere.
Further, the bank management that runs an institution into insolvency would be held to account by the shareholders and creditors of the bank in question.
What about bank depositors? Here lies the largest concern for everyday consumers who bank with a major institution but who are not shareholders or the primary creditors.
As this policy discussion and related consultation has evolved in Canada for some time, it should be noted that the stated position of the previous Government is that deposits from Canadian consumers would be excluded and protected in a Bank recapitalization regime.
To the best of my knowledge, the current Liberal Government has not made a similar policy commitment to exclude and protect depositors from these proposed changes, however it is, in my view, reasonable to conclude that the intent would be the same, and they will do so.
As this legislation and further details are still pending on this subject, I will confirm this speculation at a future date.
In last week’s report, I raised concerns that Government budgets, such as the recent Liberal Federal budget, often focus too much on short term thinking while ignoring the long term issues that will impact future generations of Canadians.
This week, the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer issued a report that criticized the recent Liberal budget, noting that the time horizon for consideration of cost impacts has been significantly shortened by the Liberals. The PBO reported that overall, changes made by the Liberals in this budget “have made it more difficult for parliamentarians to scrutinize public finances”. For partisan readers of my report, please note these are the words of the PBO, and not my own.
Last week, I provided specific examples of the ways Canadians currently spend 10% of our entire federal budget just on debt repayment. This will further increase now that the Liberals have ignored their electoral commitment to return to balanced budgets in 2019. In this week’s report I would like to discuss another long term challenge that, in my view, has been ignored in the federal Liberal budget: Our aging demographics.
In 2012, the former Prime Minister announced that, starting in 2023, the age of eligibility for OAS benefits would be increased from 65 to 67, to be fully implemented by the year 2030. In Budget 2016, these proposed OAS changes were cancelled. I will leave out the politics, and will simply provide information that relates to this subject.
When OAS was first created in 1952, the age of eligibility was 70. At that time, the average life expectancy was 66 for men and 71 for women. In 1965, the OAS qualifying age was lowered from 70 to 65. Today, the average life expectancy is 79 for men and 83 for women, meaning citizens are collecting OAS benefits for much longer.
Here is another consideration: Currently, seniors are the fastest growing demographic in our society. Over the next two decades, the number of Canadian citizens over the age of 65 will double from roughly 4.7 million today to over 9.3 million by 2030.
Why does this matter? Today, OAS spending costs $36 billion a year, and, based on the aging demographics of our society, is expected to rise to $108 billion by the year 2030.
On the surface, this may not seem like a challenge, until you consider that currently, for every one retired citizen receiving OAS benefits, there is a ratio of four working Canadians, not receiving OAS benefits, who are helping to fund them.
By 2030 this ratio will be again be cut in half, with just two working Canadians not receiving OAS benefits but paying for twice as many citizens who are eligible. In other words, there will be significantly more citizens who receive OAS benefits, and significantly fewer citizens not receiving OAS benefits but paying for the cost of it.
For added context, in 1975 there was a ratio of 7 working taxpayers for every citizen over 65.
Why does the ratio of fewer working taxpayers to those over 65 matter? The simple answer is, income tax. Nearly 50% of all federal revenue comes from income tax, compared to GST which generates roughly 10% revenue. Fewer working Canadians will result in significantly decreased income tax revenue, while aging population demographics will result in significantly higher costs for programs such as OAS.
Keep in mind, these are not partisan concerns, these are the realities of our demographics. While many people did not agree with raising the age of OAS eligibility, it was one proposed solution to this pending fiscal challenge. Budget 2016 eliminated this proposed solution, and offers no long term solution to deal with the problem. Make no mistake, today’s youth will be the ones facing this challenge, which is part of the reason they have become known as Generation Squeezed.
More Dan in Ottawa articles
- A 'gift' of debt to your kids Mar 31
- Budget 2016 Mar 24
- Of death and dying Mar 17
- Taxes - unfair? Mar 10
- On budgets, Friday sittings Mar 3
- Seeking your input Feb 25
- Spending priorities Feb 18
- ISIS: Mission in flux Feb 11
- Energy a contentious issue Feb 4
- A national unity crisis? Jan 28
- Canada and terrorism Jan 21
- Talking trade Jan 14