Wednesday, March 4th-0.7°C
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Dan Albas

Individuals and political parties

As I have commented in the past, many of the major issues on Parliament Hill are often very different from the concerns heard back at home. MPs who are suspended from their caucus, satellite office expenses and costs of inappropriate partisan mailings, and most recently an MP floor crossing are issues that receive a considerable amount of media attention in Ottawa but are less frequently raised by citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla.

All of these issues are quite rare but floor crossings are unique as they tend to involve an MLA or an MP leaving one party they were presumably elected as a member of to join another party they were not first elected as a member of. As some may know the NDP have a long standing position that any floor crossing should automatically trigger a by-election, a position that we were reminded of last week continues to be subject to this debate.

In this conversation it is important to recognize that citizens can be elected without a party affiliation, often we refer to these citizens, once elected, as Independents. Likewise there may also be an MP or MLA who was elected as a member of a political party that decides to leave that party or join another. These can be very difficult decisions for all involved however they are legitimately recognized positions in public office. In fact the House of Commons Procedure and Practice manual confirms that “members are not obliged to retain that party label during the whole of their mandate.” and further states “A Member who changes party allegiance is under no obligation to resign his or her seat and stand for re‑election”.

My thoughts on this? I disagree with the NDP position that a member crossing the floor should trigger a by-election. Ultimately a party cannot exist if it does not elect Members to a Parliament or Legislature in electoral ridings. For individually elected members to retain the right to leave a party, sit as an independent, or join another party are all means that a member can use to help ensure a party is held accountable. I mention this as also coming back before the House this week for debate is Conservative MP Michael Chong’s private member`s bill “The Reform Act of 2014”, that seeks to rebalance Parliament by increasing the powers available to party caucuses, individual MPs and electoral riding associations. This has been a widely debated bill but one that most citizens I have heard from are supportive on and one that I have also supported within the House of Commons.

Over the past months as the federal election approaches we have witnessed how some willing candidates have been summarily dismissed and blocked from running for a particular party. In some cases cause is given but in many cases no cause is provided and in extreme circumstances litigation has occurred. From my standpoint I have observed how some who are supportive of the democratic reform act have turned a blind eye to arbitrary candidate blocking. Ultimately this serves as a reminder to why the Democratic Reform Bill is one that should be taken seriously not just by elected officials, but also by those who are actively involved in various political parties and organizations that democracy should be an open process. Nomination battles, as they are sometimes called, can be challenging but they are an important part of our democratic process. For further comments and concerns I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.





Seeking input on Supreme Court ruling

 
I am often surprised at the number of different events occurring each week that can pose a challenge to provide a summary given the limited space available in my weekly columns. One topic that I believe is of interest and concern to all Canadians is last week’s Supreme Court Ruling striking down Canada’s existing law against assisted suicide. This is without question a subject that many Canadians have very strong feelings about. It is not uncommon as a Member of Parliament to hear a diversity of views on subjects of this nature. One such citizen who took the time to contact me has presented some serious concerns that I believe we should all be mindful of.

The citizen in question suffers from a very severe physical disability and opposes the legalization of assisted suicide. The reason for this opposition is not based on faith, nor a previous encounter with suicide or hope that a miracle cure will be discovered. The concern from this particular disabled citizen is guilt. As a severely disabled individual, this person relies very heavily on family to serve as specialized care givers. As many will know, providing specialized and end of life care for a severally disabled loved one can be a challenging experience. In this case the constituent who contacted me shared a great love and appreciation for family members in making great sacrifices to help them live a better quality of life. 

The concern of this severely disable constituent is that legalized suicide would create an easy option for this person to end their own life with the assistance of a willing doctor. This person expressed a strong will to live. They have no desire to die. Where assisted suicide is a concern to this person is over a profound level of guilt. This guilt comes from the significant ongoing efforts of family members in providing specialized care. As legalized suicide could end the need for that care by not pursuing suicide, this individual would feel intense guilt that they are imposing on loved one’s when another option is available. Suffice to say this was a difficult and emotional conversation and I apologize in advance that I am not relaying this concern in the manner it truly deserves.

I raise this point today as it illustrates a situation of a severely disabled person who does not wish to die but has admitted the guilt of not pursuing suicide to relieve family members from serving as care givers potentially would result in a reluctant suicide. This is not a situation I believe any Canadian would welcome and is one we should be mindful of in this discussion. I can also appreciate that there are other situations and different perspectives in this conversation that are deserving of consideration. As I believe all citizens share concerns on this subject I welcome your views, opinions and experiences. I can be reached at [email protected] or toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.


A closer look at MP pensions

Before I begin this week’s report I would like to thank the many citizens who respond each week and in particular for the overwhelming response I received from last week’s report on changes to the MP pension plan. One question that a number of citizens raised is what does the MP pension plan moving to a 50/50 cost sharing relationship mean in actual dollars. The answer to this question can vary on account of a number of variables that, like most pensions, include the overall length of time served, the amount of income an MP earns averaged over a five year period, having served for a minimum of six years to be eligible for a pension and finally an MP lifespan once being eligible to collect a pension.

In order to provide more context on this question I will provide an example: under the current pension plan, a MP who retires with nine years of service will be entitled to receive an annual pension of $46,036 per year once they reach retirement age. In order to qualify for that pension, the MP would have contributed roughly $11,665 dollars per year over the nine years for a total paid of just under $105,000. Taxpayers on the other hand would have contributed roughly $68,641 each year over the nine years for a total paid in excess of over $617,000. Easy to understand why these pensions have been referred to as “gold plated” since they were introduced in the 1950s by the Liberal Government of the day.

How does this compare to the revised pension plan with 50/50 cost sharing? As many have asked about my own MP pension I can state that I do not qualify for an MP pension, however for sake of example if an MP served for nine years under the revised MP pension plan, upon retiring they could expect an annual pension of roughly $39,398. Under the revised system instead of paying $11,665 per year the revised amount would be roughly $39,000 per year. Over a nine year term this amounts to just over $350,000 split equally with taxpayers as opposed to the over $617,000 paid for by taxpayers under the current MP pension plan. While both pension plans are very generous, it is easy to see how 50/50 cost sharing on MP pension plans and in the federal public service pension plan will save taxpayers $2.6 billion over the next five years.

Moving forward to this week, debate in Parliament continued on Bill C-518, the private members bill that is summarized by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as a bill to “revoke the taxpayer-funded pension of MPs and Senators convicted of serious crimes against taxpayers”- to confirm I spoke in support of this Bill and will continue to support bill C-518. Another Bill that I have spoken in support of that is in the House this week is Bill C-21, the “Red Tape Reduction Act” that I have heard strong support for from small business owners in Okanagan-Coquihalla. Bill C-44 “The Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act” is also before the House this week. This is a bill I referenced in my October 30th MP report for those looking for further information. Aside from Bill C-518 other private members business in the House includes Bill C-626 “An Act to amend the Statistics Act” and motion M-534 “Child poverty” along with debate on these Bills will also be a number of votes and Parliamentary committee work is also actively underway.

 

As always if you have a comment, question or concern on any matter before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.





Parliamentary pensions

Next week the House of Common will be back in session as the spring sitting will be underway on Monday, January 26th. Currently the House of Commons is scheduled to sit from January 26th until the end of June with a few break weeks scattered throughout. Normally after the end of June the House would rise and resume in late September– given that this is an election year it is unexpected that the House will sit after June unless a matter arises that results in the Parliament being recalled, a rare occurrence.

As this is the final year for the 41st Parliament it also means the end of what many have called “gold plated” MP Pensions. When I was first elected in 2011 concerns about the MP Pension plan were among some of the topics frequently raised by citizens and in turn I was one of the first Members of Parliament in Ottawa to publicly support changes to the MP Pension plan that were more respectful to taxpayers. Ultimately our Government did make changes that will become implemented for those MP’s elected into what will become the 42nd Parliament. The changes to the MP Pension plan will see a Member of Parliament pension contributions move towards equal 50/50 cost sharing, a change that is also being implemented to the federal public service pensions. I also discovered that some citizens believe a retired Member of Parliament who has qualified for an MP Pension can immediately begin collecting pension benefits upon retirement from Parliament. Under the current rules a qualifying MP cannot begin to collect a pension until they turn 55 although this is also being phased out and newly elected MPs, much like newly hired federal public service workers, will have a new retirement age set at 65. These combined changes to the MP pension plan and the federal public sector pension plan are estimated to save taxpayers $2.6 billion over the next five years.

One other possible change to MP pensions is courtesy of a private members bill from my Conservative colleague MP John Williamson. In the past some Members of Parliament, including Senators, have been convicted of serious criminal acts. Many Canadians have found it offensive when a convicted criminal who was formerly an MP or Senator can continue to collect generous pension payments on behalf of Canadian taxpayers. Worse, there is currently a loophole where an MP or Senator who is facing criminal charges can retire or resigns prior to being convicted so they can be fully entitled to a full Parliamentary pension including benefits for life. Private Members Bill C-518 proposes a mechanism that Members of Parliament and Senators convicted of serious crimes would no longer be entitled to collect a generous taxpayer provided Parliamentary pension and related benefits. This bill is supported by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and to date all citizens in Okanagan Coquihalla that I have heard from on this subject. I have previously spoken in support of this Bill in the House of Commons and intend to do so again as this bill returns for debate next week.

I mention changes to both the gold plated MP pension plan and the federal public sector pension plan for a reason. As many citizens will know our Government recently announced increasing the universal child tax benefit and also extending it to children over six years old that will ensure all families working or not will receive more support. Our Government has also proposed tax fairness for families– and to be clear these changes can result in families sending less of their household income to Ottawa. Often those in opposition suggest that Ottawa cannot afford for families to pay less tax back to Ottawa. What is seldom pointed out is that families paying $2.6 billion less over five years towards MP and public sector pensions means that some of that money can in fact be returned to Canadian families. As I have mentioned previously we are fortunate in a democracy that the subject of taxes and paying more or less of your money to Ottawa is one of many subjects that is part of healthy democratic discussion and debate.

As always I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House, I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.



Read more Dan in Ottawa articles




About the Author

Dan Albas has been a Penticton resident since 1981. After attending Okanagan University College, Dan choose to move into small business where his company Kick City Martial Arts has flourished, training hundreds of men, women and children to bring out their best. For his work on child safety and awareness, Dan was the recipient Penticton’s “2005 Young Entrepreneur of the Year” award.

Dan and his wife Tara reside in West Kelowna, where they raise their four daughters.

Dan has served as campaign chair for the United Way of the South Okanagan-Similkameen in 2006-7 and 2010-11, both times surpassing their fundraising goals.

As a community leader, Dan was elected to Penticton City Council in the 2008 municipal elections, where as a first time candidate he won with 5656 votes, topping the polls. Through his work as a city councillor, Dan has proven himself to be a strong constituency worker delivering results and standing up for what he believes in. Dan took a leading role on public safety by proposing aggressive panhandling and dog control bylaws; he proposed a review that greatly helped his community to balance the books and to focus on core services by eliminating wasteful or unnecessary spending. His Penticton Politics website blog has offered new ways for constituents to communicate on important issues.

On June 28 of 2012 Dan became one of the first MP’s in recent history to have a Private Members Bill (Bill 311) C-311 become law with the unanimous all party support of both the House of Commons and the Canadian Senate.  Bill C-311 “An Act to amend the Importation of intoxicating liquors Act” amended a prohibition era law to prevented the free trade of wine over provincial boarders.

Dan is honoured to serve the residents of Okanagan-Coquihalla as their Member of Parliament. He has made good on his commitment to establish a personal blog with his www.DaninOttawa.com site, where he chronicles his activities as the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla.

Dan welcomes your input, so please contact him by e-mail, phone or mail. He can be reached at:

Okanagan- Coquihalla’s MP office
Suite 202-301 Main Street
Penticton, BC V2A 5B7
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 250-770-4480
Fax: 250-770-4484
Toll Free: 1-800-665-8711







The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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