Mired in bureaucracy

‎As a member of Parliament, I am often contacted by citizens requesting assistance with applications they have to submit to the federal government.

Whether it's their application for Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) or a Permanent Resident Document, the processing times can be much longer than they expect.

In fact, for those turning 65, it is recommended they have their applications in for OAS/GIS completed and sent well in advance of that significant birthday.

One year prior is what I recommend.

It takes many months to process almost any kind of federal application and sometimes it can take years.

The amount of your OAS benefit is calculated based upon how long you have been a resident of Canada.

If you were born in Canada and have lived here for 40 years after your 18th birthday, things are pretty straight forward, but your OAS/GIS application can still take many months to process.

If you were born outside Canada or have spent time living abroad, it can complicate matters considerably. You must provide documentation which proves how long you have been resident in Canada.

For people who came to Canada many years ago or with their parents as children, and have spent time outside Canada, it can be difficult and time consuming to gather the required documents you need to submit. Passports from 20–30 years ago or even just 10 years ago are often not kept.

Other official documents to prove that you lived in Canada, like Provincial Medical Plan cards or certificates, provincial or municipal home ownership records that are sometimes not in the applicant’s possession any more.

Who knew these documents would be required to get your OAS?

Applications for replacement of Citizenship documents also take months or even more than one year to process.

Enough of my constituents have come to me with these challenges that I began to research what changes we could implement at the legislative level to help solve these problems.

Many people think that government is just one big department and that personal information is shared as needed between Service Canada, Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration and all the Provinces.

The fact is that without your written permission, information which could support your application for OAS, but might be held by another department or level of government cannot be shared.

Some small progress has been made recently as Service Canada, which is responsible for processing your OAS/GIS application, can now ask for information from Citizenship and Immigration with your permission.

That can, however, add many months to a processing time that is already far too long.

That leads to this week’s question:

  • Should we permit personal information about an applicant, with that applicant’s written permission, to be shared between government departments to make it easier and faster for applications to be processed?  What has been your experience with a federal applications?

Contact me and tell me your story and if you think that information sharing between departments would have helped you.

I can be reached at [email protected] or call 1-800-665-8711.


Blocking the block button

Earlier this week on my FaceBook page, I posted my thoughts on the use of social-media blocking by elected officials.

The post has generated a fair bit of discussion, which is encouraging as many people have taken the time to express differing points of view. From my perspective, when there is a large amount of interest on an issue, it is one that citizens see as important.

On the surface, an elected official blocking someone through social media may not seem like a significant event. 

However, for the growing population who do use social media, blocking denies a person their voice to be heard.

By extension, as social media increasingly has become a tool for citizens to hold elected officials to account, the careless use of the block button by elected officials has become an easy way out instead of answering a difficult or unpopular question. 

I have even learned of a practice called pre-emptive blocking where groups of citizens may be blocked by an elected official they have never interacted with online.

We would never tolerate guilt by association off line, yet it has become an online practice by some elected officials and their senior staff.

To be clear, I will continue to defend the right of elected officials to practise whatever social media policies they feel most comfortable with. Likewise, personal attacks, profanity and threats on social media should not be tolerated.

At the same, I caution those who use the block button as a means to avoid accountability or debate. Social media ideally work both ways and citizens deserve the right to be heard.

On that note, I am suggesting that elected officials, and those media and pundits who cover politics, to consider a social media forgiveness campaign.

How about un-block (or un-mute) all those citizens you have blocked and give them a second chance to engage. 

This might not work in all situations, but elected officials being exposed to more diverse views and being held to account in my view helps build a stronger democracy.

I welcome your comments, questions and concerns and can be reached online at [email protected] or call me off-line toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

'Burning' wildfire arsonists

The ongoing threat of wildfires is all too common in many parts of British Columbia.

When these fires occur, they can cause massive amounts of damage that it is virtually unmeasurable for those who may lose a home, their belongings and a lifetime of memories. 

Economically, aside from the tremendous costs in fighting forest fires, there is also the loss of Crown timber and a lack of fibre can ultimately threaten the viability of a lumber mill.

From a health standpoint, the diminished air quality can cause harm to those with respiratory challenges who are often seniors. First responders and emergency service personnel can also be seriously stretched to the limit during a wildfire as is the situation in Kamloops and elsewhere in B.C.

I mention all of these things as it is particularly disturbing to learn that some forest fires may well be intentionally set with the use of accelerants.

More recently, we have heard alarming reports of critically needed firefighting equipment being stolen and worse for those who may be evacuated because of a wildfire threat, their homes or business may be looted.

All these actions are deeply troubling and very concerning for all involved.

Looting of evacuated homes of evacuees is particularly worrying as it places greater demands on law enforcement at a time when resources are already spread thin.

Further, the evacuation process can be potentially undermined if residents feel their belongings might be stolen.

All these things, including the deliberate setting of a wildfire are a serious cause of concern throughout many regions of B.C., including here in the Okanagan where two recent forest fires were intentionally set.

One resulted in the loss of several homes in Lake Country and the other damaged a much loved public park.

I'm raising these issues because there is no specific protection in the Criminal Code to deal with individuals who commit crimes of this nature.

While theft and arson are subject to the Criminal Code, starting a wildfire or otherwise committing criminal offences in relation to a wildfire are not specifically recognized.

This leads me to my topic for this week’s report – should there be specific legal protection that refers to wildfire arson wildfire or committing acts of theft in relation to it?

To do this, the Criminal Code would need to be amended.

One possible approach would be to ensure that  wildfire arson or committing an act of theft in relation to a wildfire would be considered an aggravating factor in the sentencing the offenders.

By extension, the sentences for committing these types of crimes could also be stiffer. The use of aggravating factors in the sentencing of offenders already exists in the Criminal Code for cases involving offences around children and most recently for elder abuse. 

My question this week:

  • Do you support the idea of implementing aggravating factors in sentencing offenders who are guilty of intentionally setting wildfires or engaging in criminal actions as a result of a wildfire?

I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this or any topic before the House of Commons.  I can be reached at [email protected] or call 1-800-665-8711 toll free.

Liberals raiding CMHC

Since being elected in 2015, the Liberal government has made numerous changes to Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) policy that has made it more difficult to obtain a mortgage.

These changes have also made re-financing an existing mortgage more expensive.

Generally, the Liberal government has reasoned these changes are intended to slow down the Vancouver and Toronto real estate markets and lower overall consumer debt.

Why would the government want to slow down the real estate market in Toronto and Vancouver? The theory is if fewer buyers can qualify to purchase homes, the demand will decrease and prices will potentially drop as a result and by extension increase affordability in these markets. 

The challenge with this particular approach is that CMHC policies are very much one size fits all.

Although Vancouver and Toronto are the primary targets of these new restrictions, the rest of Canada is also subject to them and as a result many regions of Canada may be adversely impacted.

This was feedback I heard extensively during hearings at the Finance Committee back in February when these changes were heavily scrutinized.

One stakeholder pointed out that while the Liberals crack down on debt taken on for home ownership, they overlook the consumer debt on credit cards, third party loan outfits and elsewhere.

The difference is that with home ownership debt, there can be equity created and much lower interest costs in contrast to credit card debt. It is a valid point.

More recently, the government quietly announced that it will raid CMHC to the tune of $4 billion over the next two years. This announcement received very little media attention and that is disappointing.

For those who have mortgages with a down payment less than 20 per cent, the CMHC fees required to provide insurance on that mortgage is substantial.

Rather than reduce CMHC fees to make them more affordable or refund the surplus to those who have paid them, the Liberals are instead using CMHC as cash grab contrary to the purpose of this organization.

Rather than just oppose, I would like to propose an alternative.

Instead of taking $4 billion from CMHC to go into general revenue, why not ioffer a GST exemption on new housing up to $750,000, similar to what the B.C. government has done with the Property Purchase Tax exemption on new housing.

This policy would reduce the costs of home ownership by tens of thousands of dollars.

At the same time, this policy would help stimulate economic activity through increased construction, would help increase housing supply and would help Canada’s value added wood producers hit hard by the current softwood lumber dispute.

My question this week:

Instead of a $4 billion cash grab from CMHC, would you support those same funds supporting a GST rebate on new housing?

More Dan in Ottawa articles

About the Author

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola which include the communities of Kelowna (specific boundaries), West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton and Merritt.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth 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 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.

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 borders.

Dan’s parliamentary record includes being recognized by the Ottawa Citizen in 2015 as one of only five Members of Parliament in Canada with a 100% voting attendance record.  Locally in British Columbia,  MP Dan Albas has been consistently one of the lowest spending Members of Parliament on office and administration related costs despite operating two offices to better serve local constituents.

 MP Dan Albas is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top ten most active Members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and also continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

In October of 2015 MP Dan Albas was re-elected to Parliament representing the new riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola.  Dan is currently the Deputy Finance Critic, serving with Finance Critic, MP Gerard Deltell and sits on the Standing Committee on Finance.

Dan is honoured to serve the residents of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola as their Member of Parliament.

MP Dan Albas welcomes your input, so please contact him by e-mail, phone or mail.

He can be reached at:

Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola's MP office
2562-B Main Street
West Kelowna, B.C. V4T 2N5
Email: [email protected]
Phone toll free: 1.800.665.8711
Fax: 250.707.2153

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories