It is another very busy week in Ottawa with a large amount of different but important events that will be challenging to summarize all in this week's report. First I would like to thank the many citizens and groups who took the time to comment on last week`s report regarding invasive species- in particular freshwater mussels. It is encouraging that many citizens are supportive of the need to be proactive against invasive species and I will provide further updates in this area as they become available. Two other subjects that I have heard a large amount of feedback from citizens on in Okanagan-Coquihalla this week include opposition to the recent reclassification of certain long guns and support for Elizabeth May’s Private Members Bill C-442 “National Lyme Disease Strategy Act”.
The decision to re-classify certain firearms is currently under review by Minister Blaney however the Minister has announced an amnesty program to ensure that existing individuals “in possession of these firearms can continue to possess their property without threat of criminal charges”. With respect to Bill C-442 currently this Bill has been introduced at first reading in the House of Commons and is now placed on the Order of Preference at number 18. I will also provide further information on the progress of this Private Member`s Bill as it comes forward for second reading debate in the House of Commons.
Recently in the House, Government Bill C-26 was also introduced, The “Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act”. This Bill proposes a number of changes to those convicted of serious child offences. Some of these changes include a requirement that those convicted of child sexual offences against multiple children to serve sentences consecutively– one after another rather than at the same time concurrently; along with an increase for maximum and minimum prison sentences for certain child sexual offences. Penalties will also be increased for violations of supervision orders and any crime committed while on house arrest or parole will be considered an aggravating factor at sentencing. In addition, registered sex offenders will also be required to disclose more information when travelling abroad and more availability for spousal testimony in child pornography cases will be made available. Thus far the comments I have heard from citizens on Bill C-26 have been supportive.
Also occurring this week is a motion, the full text is as follows:
“That the House recognize the importance of transparency and accountability in the expenditure of taxpayers’ money and also recognize that the majority of parties have already begun disclosing the travel and hospitality expenses of their Members; and therefore call on the Board of Internal Economy to instruct the non-partisan professional administrative staff of the House of Commons to begin posting all travel expenses incurred under the travel point system as well as hospitality expenses of Members to the Parliament of Canada website in a manner similar to the guidelines used by the government for proactive disclosure of ministerial expenses.”
As I am one of the MP’s who has already been voluntarily posting these expenses, I naturally will be supporting the motion to ensure this information is provided to taxpayers as a regular part of internal economy administration reporting. If you have comments or questions on any matter before the House of Commons do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Invasive species are sadly not new to Okanagan-Coquihalla. Cattle Ranchers have battled with the loss of valuable grazing lands on account of invasive weeds as much as fruit growers and farmers know the frustration of crop loss as a result of the European Starling.
Swimmers and boaters are familiar with Eurasian milfoil not unlike local fisherman who are well aware of the damaged caused by the introduction of Mysis shrimp into the Okanagan Lake system. All of these invasive species have caused ecological harm and in some cases financial loss both directly and indirectly as different levels of government have funded strategies to control, reduce or eliminate these unwelcome invasive intrusions into our local ecosystem.
From my perspective being proactive and vigilant to guard against future threats of invasive species is important. Recently the Okanagan Basin Water Board has undertaken a campaign to warn citizens and senior levels of government on the important need to take action against another invasive species: freshwater mussels. First I would like to commend the Okanagan Basin Water Board for the work they have done in bringing this matter forward. From the limited research I have undertaken there is indeed a potential serious threat to many of our valued freshwater lakes in Okanagan-Coquihalla and elsewhere.
Aside from the potential environmental harm, of particular concern is the fact that many citizens in our region depend upon safe, reliable drinking water that is drawn from the Okanagan Lake water system. Freshwater mussels are well known to clog intake pipes that in turn can cause considerable damage to pumps and filtration systems. Currently many of our water purveyors are already struggling to meet increased Interior Health water regulation standards and the added impact of damage to water infrastructure could be in the range of tens of millions of dollars along with the potential inconvenience of suspension of water service while repairs are undertaken. In short, an unacceptable situation.
Ultimately invasive mussels are most likely to be spread by a contaminated boat or trailer from another region most likely originating either from outside of Canada or from eastern Canada. Fortunately boats transported from eastern Canada will most likely be out of the water for five days (given the distance) that is considered sufficient time that a mussel cannot survive out of water. Thus the largest threat in our region would be from boats south of the boarder where there are currently freshwater lakes contaminated with invasive mussels. It is critically important to intercept a contaminated boat and trailer on land before it enters a freshwater lake, thus enhanced enforcement at Canadian border crossings is an obvious measure to prevent the spread of freshwater mussels. As a secondary consideration, the integrated roadside enforcement unit that currently patrol BC roads may stop a boat and trailer for safety defects could potentially have an expanded role to inspect for invasive mussel growth. Additionally the same may apply to local Conservation officers who frequently patrol lakes and boat launches looking for fishing violations could be another consideration.
Obviously these potential solutions involve joint Federal and Provincial Government collaboration and likewise local government could work with marinas, yacht clubs and other boat launching areas with an education campaign. At the moment regulation around invasive species such as freshwater mussels is already under review and I plan on meeting with several Ministers in Ottawa to expedite greater vigilance at border crossings – more so now as the 2014 boating season has yet to begin. The intent of this report is to provide an update on what I believe is an important issue and the efforts underway to help mitigate them. As always I welcome your comments on this or any concern; my email address is [email protected] or alternately I can be reached via phone at 1 (800) 665-8711.
Each year the Federal Government, along with the Provinces & Territories bring down the annual budget for the upcoming fiscal period. That is always a much anticipated day and typically a very involved week. Budget analysis, reactions and politics are all part of this process as budgets will often reveal expected announcements as well as the unexpected and sometimes even surprises. This year’s budget was no exception. From my own perspective there was one interesting surprise as my private members bill to allow the inter-provincial shipping of wine across Provincial borders directly to consumers (for personal consumption) will be expanded to also include beer and spirits. Given that Okanagan-Coquihalla is home to some excellent craft brewers along with a growing number of artisan distillers this is exciting news on the local level.
There are a number of other items in the budget that also stood out to me based on concerns I have heard from meeting with local citizens. One item is a $305 million investment to extend high-speed broadband internet service. Here in Okanagan-Coquihalla we currently have rural families with no internet service whatsoever– for these families, many who are farmers and run small businesses, this will bring new opportunities currently enjoyed by most Canadian households but not in many rural areas. It is estimated roughly 280,000 homes currently without service will soon have broadband access with this funding.
Another important investment is $222 million to implement new labour market agreements for persons with disabilities to help get skills training for available jobs. In addition is $11.4 million in funding to Community Works that will help persons with other disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorders help participate in the workforce. In virtually every community throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla I have met disabled citizens who receive financial support from the Provincial Government and are eligible for an income earnings exemption that can further supplement household income. Unfortunately many citizens in this situation have expressed frustration that a lack of skills training creates a further barrier to securing employment. More skills training can help bridge the gap and create more opportunities for disabled citizens to access the workforce.
Budget 2014 also creates significant new investments in programs to help older workers stay in the workforce as well as programs to create internships in high demand occupations including positions in small and medium-sized businesses to help youth job creation. This is especially helpful for youth as often it is the first job that can be the most difficult to land.
Budget 2014 also creates a new tax credit for Search & Rescue volunteers. Last fall I joined with a group of Merritt citizens in a search & rescue effort looking for a missing father. The expertise and efforts of search & rescue volunteers makes a huge difference in many parts of Okanagan-Coquihalla in saving lives and at times extracting deceased family members to help bring closure when unfortunate accidents occur. A special thank you to all of our search & rescue volunteers.
Although these are just a few items in Budget 2014 that I have referenced in this week’s MP report there are over fifty more that given enough space I would have also included details about. On a Provincial level I can also pass on that transfers from the Federal Government to British Columbia will also increase in Budget 2014. Total major transfers to BC will be just under $6 billion in total. Overall this is close to a 60% increase of Provincial transfers compared to 2005-2006 under the previous Federal Government. If you would like more information on Budget 2014 please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla. To sign up for his weekly MP report or read his blog, please go to www.DanAlbas.com.
For this week's MP report I am going to add some inside perspective on a few recent events that have occurred in Ottawa over the past few weeks. As many of you may have heard, recently the Leader of the Federal Liberal Party made an announcement that effective immediately, all Liberal Senators would be booted from the Liberal caucus in an effort to try and ensure that the Liberal Senators would become more independent.
Many in the media reacted swiftly calling the idea “bold” while debate remained on what, if any, difference might occur. What is interesting about this idea is that it was actually the NDP who back in late October of 2013 introduced a motion in the House of Commons calling for “the introduction of immediate measures to end Senators' partisan activities, including participation in Caucus meetings”– what is more interesting is that when the NDP first introduced this idea the media did not characterize it as being “bold”– most in fact ignored the NDP motion. What is also notable is that at the time the leader of the Liberals actually voted against the motion, accusing the NDP of political haymaking over the Senate. Privately many NDP MP’s I know are expressing disappointment and frustration that a NDP idea is treated differently in the media when it is adopted by another party.
The larger question is will expelled from caucus Senators become more independent? In the case of the Liberal Senators what was seldom reported was that within hours of being booted out of the Liberal caucus, the Liberal Senators met as a group and quickly re-elected the same Liberal Senate leader, the same Deputy Leader and most surprising even elected the same Senate party whip before declaring they were still a Liberal Senate caucus. The fact that a group of supposedly independent Senators would vote in a whip and continue to sit as a Liberal Senate caucus ensures that the extra pay and perks of a caucus (that are not available to truly independent Senators) would still flow and be paid for by taxpayers. In other words, nothing really changed as a result of this announcement. The inside joke in Ottawa is formerly Liberal senators have now become Senators who are Liberals. Ultimately the only real means of reforming that Senate remains before the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue formal legal guidelines on how the Senate can be reformed or abolished at some point within this year.
While on the topic of Senators many citizens have contacted me recently to express support for Private Members Bill C-518 from my Conservative colleague MP John Williamson. The Canadian Taxpayer’s federation has also engaged in a campaign calling for public support of this bill. What does Bill C-518 propose? I have already spoken in favour of Bill C-518 moving forward in debate to review stage and my comments on this Bill from Hansard were as follows:
“We know Canadians expect that if parliamentarians are convicted of egregious crimes, they should face consequences. No different from everyday Canadians would expect to face consequences if convicted of an egregious crime, yet we also know that this is currently not the case. I would like to commend the member for New Brunswick Southwest for his work to attempt to remedy this. Currently, if a senator or member of Parliament retires or resigns prior to being convicted, or otherwise manoeuvres to avoid being expelled or disqualified from Parliament, that individual is still entitled to his or her full pension, including the employer's share, which is funded by taxpayers. In other words, if one retires or resigns before being convicted of a crime, one still benefits from a generous pension plan. This is, in itself, an outrage to many taxpayers." – MP Albas excerpt from Hansard
I will continue to provide updates on Bill C-518 as it progresses through debate as there has been a strong level of interest in this bill. Also occurring this week is the introduction of the budget that is happening on Tuesday, February 11th and will be the topic of next week’s report. If you have any questions or concerns on Bills before Parliament please do not hesitate to contact me directly. I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711. To sign up for his weekly MP report or for his report archive please go to www.DanAlbas.com
Read more Dan in Ottawa articles
- Discussing services for Veterans Feb 4
- House of Commons resumes Jan 30
- Wireless code of conduct Jan 21
- Canada's energy future Jan 14
- The importance of local media Jan 7
- Healthy discussion & local innovation Dec 17
- Discussing the Reform Act Dec 10
- Annual Accountability Report Nov 26
- The politics of pipelines Nov 19
- On track to a balanced budget Nov 13
- Being clear on the public trust Nov 5
- Opinions abound on Parliament Hill Oct 29
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