Since I was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2011, I have submitted an MP report each week in an effort to better communicate with citizens.
When the House of Commons is sitting, it can often be a challenge to try and summarize a week of events in roughly 550 words. This week, because of world events that have occurred since the terror attacks in Paris that claimed 129 lives, words alone cannot put this horrific event into context. However we also must not shy away from discussing such a critically important topic that is of great importance to all citizens who live in a free and democratic society.
Over the past number of days, I have heard an unprecedented amount of concern regarding the new Liberal Government`s plans to accelerate the process of bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada before the end of the year.
In large part, the concern is overwhelming related to security. Citizens are rightfully concerned that those who would seek to do us harm might attempt to compromise the generosity of our refugee system in order to gain entry to Canada. These concerns are compounded by unconfirmed reports that possibly one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks could have gained entry posing as a refugee.
In addition, a growing number of security experts have cautioned that such a large number of refugees cannot be effectively or properly screened in such a small window of time. As a result of these concerns, many elected officials, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, have asked the Trudeau Liberal Government to slow down the process to ensure that it is done properly.
The concerns put forward by Premier Wall are very similar to what I am hearing from an overwhelming majority of citizens here in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, and they are concerns that, as the Official Opposition, we will be taking to the Liberal Government in Ottawa.
To date the Liberal Government has indicated the accelerated timeline that was set by the Liberals during the election will be maintained. Unfortunately, the Liberal Government has not released a formal plan, nor effectively communicated how this accelerated refugee process can be accomplished in a manner that does not compromise public safety.
More so, the new Public Safety Minister has been quoted as admitting that no vetting process is foolproof. To what extent the accelerated screening process is foolproof remains undetermined at this point, thus further creating legitimate concerns for citizens.
While the need for screening and security is clearly understandable, we must not overlook that the vast majority of refugees are only looking for a safe and welcoming country where they will not be in harm`s way. Many of these families undertook significant risks and left everything behind, in the hopes that a better future could be possible for themselves and their families.
Here in Canada, we are that future.
We can choose to get involved, to be welcoming and to support those individuals, groups, and organizations that often act as sponsors to help refugees settle in our towns and cities. While the need for security and adequate screening remains a critical concern, it must not be overlooked that successful immigration and integration depends upon a welcoming and inclusive society that respects and supports our diversity.
All of this has come to be part of what it means to be a Canadian.
I will continue to provide updates on this matter as they become available, and encourage all citizens to share comments and concerns with me at [email protected] or 1-800-665-8711.
Since my report from last week, all major parties have now had their first full caucus meetings in Ottawa. These first caucus meetings are important for a variety of reasons, but one that will be material to this report is the provisions related to The Reform Act.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Reform Act, it was a private member’s bill sponsored by MP Michael Chong. It proposed a number of measures to increase the power of individual Members of Parliament within their party caucus and by extension to reduce the power of the party leader. The Reform Act was widely supported by media, many pundits, and locally by a large number of citizens who took the time to share their support with me.
Ultimately, the Reform Act, after a number of amendments, was passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate, and is now law. As the 42nd Parliament is the first to convene since the Reform Act was passed, one of the legal requirements at the first caucus meeting of a party is to vote on what, if any, measures of the Reform Act would be adopted by the MPs of each party caucus.
The 99-member Conservative Opposition caucus voted to adopt two of the four measures from the Reform Act, and modified a third condition. This contrasts with the Liberal Government caucus, who voted to reject any measure of the Reform Act, with all 184 Liberal MPs unanimously agreeing to reject it and to maintain the status quo. The third party NDP has also announced they will not be supporting any measures of the Reform Act. It seems that the Conservative caucus is the only one to do so. Considering that the Reform Act passed with the overwhelming support of Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs in the last Parliament, it is disappointing to see only the Conservative caucus honour that vote in this 42nd Parliament.
On that same theme I would like to take a moment to thank the many veterans and citizens who gathered at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month to remember the great sacrifices of those courageous Canadians who served so bravely. We should never forget these valiant Canadians were not drafted to serve. Our fallen and veterans made a choice to stand against tyranny and oppression, and fought for the values that we must ensure we never take for granted.
In the next few weeks in Ottawa, new and re-elected Members will be sworn into the 42nd Parliament, with my own swearing in occurring on November 17th. The House of Commons will reconvene December 3rd with our first order of business being the election of our next Speaker, which is widely expected to be a member from the governing Liberal Party. On Friday December 4th, our Governor General will present the Speech from the Throne, announcing the priorities of the new Government in the upcoming sitting, and likely the parliamentary calendar will be set at that point for the remainder of the current session.
Before I close this week I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to share comments, questions and concerns with me over the past week. Your input is greatly valued. I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Ottawa is once again a hub of activity as Members of Parliament arrived to our capital, and for a few days many departing and retiring MP’s will also be in attendance as the changeover occurs. The 42nd Parliament is, so far, a very demanding one on House administration, as there are over 200 newly-elected rookie MPs who will require offices, staff, orientation, and training that can lead to delays in getting up and running. Also occurring this week was the official swearing in ceremony for our incoming Prime Minister at Rideau Hall, along with the traditional swearing in of the new cabinet.
The new Liberal cabinet, at 31 members, is smaller than the 39 member cabinet that was announced after the 2011 election by our former Prime Minister. The new cabinet also follows a gender parity policy mandated by the Liberals, so there are fifteen women and 15 men in the cabinet. If you are wondering why the math does not add up to 31 members, it is due to Prime Minister Trudeau naming himself as a Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth in his cabinet.
My thoughts? While it is somewhat customary for opposition members to criticize a newly appointed cabinet, I will largely refrain. For any newly elected Premier or Prime Minister, it is always a challenging task to select a cabinet in which there are so many variables that must be taken into consideration. Compromises are not always popular.
On a local level I have heard some complaints that British Columbia has just three cabinet seats compared to Ontario and Quebec that have 18 seats combined. However, I would caution that the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries have yet to be announced by Prime Minister Trudeau, and I believe there is a good chance that one or more will end up in British Columbia, and may likely include our new Kelowna-Lake Country MP Steven Fuhr.
I would also like to congratulate our new Ministers who are from British Columbia: Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of National Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan, and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough, all from the Lower Mainland. A criticism I do have of the new cabinet is that one of the portfolios eliminated to achieve a smaller cabinet means there is no longer a Minister of State for Seniors. This is a concern that I will share in Ottawa.
On a final note, this week the Official Opposition is currently meeting, and is expected to name a new interim leader shortly. This, in turn, will lead to the announcement of a shadow cabinet of official critics. The third party NDP is also meeting this week, and is also expected to announce its own shadow critic line up shortly. Hopefully by the time you read this week’s MP report, the Liberal Government will have announced the date when Parliament will be recalled for an expected throne speech. My expectation is that it will occur in early December, however this date has yet to be confirmed.
I would like to thank the many citizens who have shared comments and questions with me over the past week. This input is very valuable, and I invite all citizens to take a moment to share your concerns. I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
The interior of BC now has four new, and two returning, Members of Parliament, one with the incoming government, three with the official opposition, and the two remaining with the third party (as it is frequently referred to within the House of Commons).
In some situations, the electoral boundaries between these different MPs may be geographically well-defined, but may not be convenient for citizens due to different MP office locations, or how the electoral boundaries commission arbitrarily applied riding borders that may have separated closely linked communities.
Such situations often create a challenge for citizens to decide which MP they should contact for assistance in the event the MP, who is closest and most convenient, is representing a different electoral region.
Wherever possible citizens should contact the MP who represents the electoral region they reside in, since MPs have unique legislated rights and protections under various acts of Parliament to represent citizens specifically located within their electoral region.
In addition, MPs are provided with generous resources to assist citizens, even those in remote areas of a riding. On the same theme, citizens also have a right to contact MPs from other electoral regions for assistance that may or may not be provided, depending upon the circumstances and the discretion of the MP in question.
From my own experience, it is common for MPs from other parties and/or regions to refer citizens to their own MP, as this respects the intent of Canada’s single-member, simple-plurality voting system.
From my perspective as the MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, my office will continue to assist citizens to the best of our ability, and will look forward to working with other MPs in our region, regardless of party affiliation.
Ultimately, assisting citizens remains my top priority, and I expect our newly elected MPs will share this sentiment, as they work towards opening up new constituency offices as soon as is reasonably possible.
Unfortunately, there is little news to share from Ottawa at the moment, as the transition period will be under way for many weeks. It is still unclear when the House of Commons will be recalled by the new Government, once in place.
Next week will likely be more active, as it is expected that a new cabinet will be announced, and potentially a date will also be revealed on when the House of Commons will resume. Normally in a non-election year the House would sit for five weeks at this point, with another five weeks’ schedule prior to the end of the year.
On a closing note I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to share thoughts and comments with me over the past ten days.
The volume of feedback has been significant, and is greatly appreciated. I welcome your input, and can be reached via email at [email protected] or toll free at 1.800.665.8711
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