Where has the money gone?

If you follow my weekly reports, you know I find it frustrating when much of the Ottawa bubble is consumed by isolated issues that overshadow important concerns.

Currently, the Prime Minister’s winter vacation to a private Bahamas Island and the possibly illegal use of a private helicopter remain the focus in Ottawa of many media reports.

In my report from last week, I explained why the vacation issue was a concern, however, as the deputy critic for Finance, I have a duty to point out there is other, very serious financial information Canadians deserve to be made aware of.

If you followed the last Federal election closely, you will know that the Prime Minister promised to run modest deficits of $10 billion annually and would return to a balanced budget in 2019.

Shortly before Christmas, the Finance Department released updated fiscal forecast reports that indicate that without deliberate and direct action by Liberal Government, Finance Canada projects we will not return to a balanced budget until 2050.

If the current Liberal trend of running deficits that are much larger than the promised $10 billion a year also occurs Canadians total debt will be at an alarming level of $1.55 trillion by that point.

What is more concerning is as much as the Liberals have promised all of this spending is going to building Infrastructure the Parliamentary Budget Officer also released a report on Jan. 10 that states: 

“Government’s planned investments in infrastructure spending have not materialized in the first half of the year. Infrastructure transfers administered by Transport and Infrastructure Canada fell in comparison to the previous year."

In other words, infrastructure spending is in decline. In reality, it is government operational spending that has increased.

Where has this money gone?

Statistics Canada shows that the Trudeau Liberal Government hired 14,000 more government bureaucrats to work in the National Capital Region in 2016.

A recent 5.5 per cent pay raise plus a signing bonus for many federal government employees has also added many billions of new debt that has resulted in increased operational spending.

As I have also past pointed out, increased debt means increased payments on the interest that results in less money available to fund other government programs, services and projects.

It will likely also lead to higher taxation that reduces net take home pay. As you may have heard, the Liberal Government has also recently admitted it is giving serious consideration to tax changes that may impact many Canadians.

As one, example if you receive healthcare benefits provided by your employer, the Liberal government has indicated these may become taxable benefits. 

This would be particularly punitive in B.C. as we are the only province that charges MSP premiums for healthcare.

I appreciate my report this week will not sit well with some citizens, however I should also point out these are actual events that will at some point affect future Canadian taxpayers.

Some in Ottawa have gone so far as to suggest given this recent fiscal news the Liberal government prefers talking about private helicopter trips compared to increased taxes, higher debt and deficits as a result of increased operational spending with little infrastructure to show for it. 

As the deputy finance critic and as your ember of Parliament, I will continue to hold the Liberal government to account on these concerns and welcome your comments and questions. I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free 1-800-665-8711.

PM's vacation still hot

The two major stories out of Ottawa this week revolve around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s newly revealed vacation details followed by news of a small cabinet shuffle.

I believe most Canadians support and understand that the Prime Minister would enjoy an exotic vacation to a warmer climate not unlike many Canadians often do so why is this current vacation a controversy?

The answer is a tad more complex than one might expect.

In Canadian public office, we have very strict rules that limit and restrict financial benefits that a Minister of the Crown can accept and directly benefit from.

These restrictions also include gifts that cannot be legally accepted from any registered lobbyist. Obviously gifts have a momentary value and must be disclosed and this includes the value of accepting a stay at an exotic Bahamas private island as has been now revealed was the vacation destination of Prime Minister Trudeau.

The private island is owned by the Aga Khan who in turn is the head of an organization that is registered to lobby the Trudeau Liberal Government.

This same organization headed by the Aga Khan also received $55 million in Canadian public funding from the most recent Liberal Government budget and, as a result, the Conflict commissioner is investigating this matter further. 

I am not for a moment suggesting any wrongdoing on the part of the Prime Minister, but rather clarifying why this subject continues to be actively raised in Ottawa and more so as the Prime Minister’s office initially refused to provide details of the vacation.

Following the vacation controversy, the Prime Minister also announced a cabinet shuffle that will see the departure of the following Ministers:

  • John McCallum (Citizenship and Immigration)
  • Stéphane Dion (Foreign Affairs)
  • MaryAnn Mihychuk (Employment, Workforce Development and Labour)

The departure of these Ministers provided an opportunity for three new Ministers to join the Federal cabinet:

  • François-Philippe Champagne (International Trade)
  • Karina Gould, (Democratic institutions)
  • Ahmed Hussen, (Immigration).

The following existing Ministers were also shuffled into new portfolios:

  • Chrystia Freeland (Foreign Affairs) 
  • Patty Hajdu (Employment, Workforce Development and Labour)
  • Maryam Monsef (Status of Women).

My take on this shuffle is mixed. Government experience is critically important in a cabinet and the loss of veteran Ministers such as McCallum and Dion will no doubt be felt. 

At the same time, adding fresh blood is not necessarily a bad thing and given the failure to date for the Liberal fiscal plan to reap the promised benefits some new ideas at the cabinet table may be welcome.  

It is important to remember that citizens run for public office to help build stronger communities and a stronger Canada.

I know that MPs from all parties are concerned at the current economic direction Canada is heading and I believe we will continue to work diligently in 2107 toward constructive solutions.

I would also like to thank Stéphane Dion and John McCallum, who have spent many years in public office and have both recently announced they will be resigning as MPs to serve in other areas. 

I would also like to extend an invitation to you to come and meet with me.

I will be holding town hall meetings and constituents are welcome to share their views:

  • Saturday in West Kelowna at the Lions Community Hall, 2466 Main St.; 3-4:30 p.m. 
  • Sunday, in Kelowna at A. S. Matheson Elementary, 2090 Gordon Dr.; 3-4:30 p.m.

I look forward to hearing from you. Contact me at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

Liberals' burning issue

One challenge of being in government is having a core message overshadowed or buried by unintended events, sometimes of its own making.

Such was the case back in November when the Liberals announced plans to “speed up” the end of coal power in Canada by 2030.

Unfortunately for the Liberals, breaking news of the Prime Minister and his cabinet’s cash for access fundraising events quickly buried the coal announcement and as a result it received little public scrutiny.

I believe many Canadians support the idea of reducing the use of coal power in Canada and would embrace the Liberal Government announcement to accelerate its end in Canada.

As much as the government would like to be viewed as taking action against coal power, many of Canada’s coal power producing provinces have already either eliminated the use of coal power, such as Ontario, or are well on the way to doing so as is the case in Alberta.

Meanwhile B.C., Quebec and Manitoba do not generate any significant amounts of coal power. So what provinces are Canada’s largest generators of coal power?

The answer is Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

Interestingly enough the Liberal Government has quietly made side deals with both Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia that will allow them to continue to generate and use coal power beyond the 2030 deadline.

In other words, the announcement to accelerate the end of coal power by 2030 was really more for show than substance.

Fortunately, both of these provinces are taking other measures that will help reduce the GHG emissions from their respective coal power sectors.

Another somewhat overlooked government announcement was a new national agreement on carbon. What is interesting about this particular national agreement is that it is not truly national.

Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan have refused to join this agreement and British Columbia has secured what could be interpreted as a future veto.

Also of interest is the fact that the agreement is not a centralized national strategy and instead allows provinces to independently follow their own strategies. 

In British Columbia, a revenue neutral carbon tax is used while Ontario prefers a cap and trade system.

Why is this fact of interest?

In Ontario, under their Cap and Trade system already it has been quietly announced that some of Ontario’s largest polluters such as steel and smelter plants are being exempted from the regulations.

Likewise here in British Columbia, greenhouse growers have also been largely exempted from carbon tax while industries such as cement production also receive taxpayer provided relief to offset carbon tax expenses.

Ironically, one of Saskatchewan’s arguments against a carbon tax is that it is pointless to tax industries only to return that same money in the form of subsidies or other relief related exemptions. 

The point of my report today is not to debate the merits of a carbon tax or coal power production in Canada, but to illustrate the government efforts to tackle these GHG emissions related industries may be more for appearance than substance.

Considering that the United States is moving in a different direction, it will be critically important to keep a close eye on both Canada's competitiveness and the effectiveness of the Liberal Government policy.

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

Deju vu all over again

2016 in review

Over the next few weeks. most media organizations will feature year in review related articles and columns.

It's also important to review the past year in the House of Commons from a legislative perspective.

The last 12 months under the Trudeau Liberal government has resulted in one of the most unproductive Parliaments in recent history, with only 14 bills receiving Royal Assent. 

Of these 14 bills, six were appropriation related, granting government access to spending money, meaning there has been just eight bills implemented by the Liberals thus far.

A closer inspection of these eight bills reveals that two are directly related to the budget and one was technically related to trade provisions and was left over from the previous Conservative government.

Thus, in essence, there have been five unique bills passed by the Liberals as part of their broad agenda of real change.

Normally, a Canadian Parliament under a majority government would have passed 40-45 bills thus illustrating why this particular Liberal Government is being labelled by many in Ottawa as extremely unproductive.

Should this be a concern to Canadians? Obviously, the answer is a matter of opinion and not fact, however if one was expecting significant regulatory changes to date this has largely not occurred.

To be fair, the Liberal government has continued to promise that it will introduce more legislation in the upcoming year, pending the outcome of a large number of different consultations currently underway.

One example is the current ongoing consultation on democratic reform that I discussed in last week’s report.

I should also add that not all changes made by a sitting government have to be implemented through legislation.

For example, when the Trudeau government decided to effectively abolish the First Nations Fiscal Transparency Act rather than use a bill to repeal the legislation.

It announced it would not implement or enforce any penalties against a First Nation band council that does not comply with publicly disclosing expenditures. 

From my perspective, what is more concerning is that the Liberals continue to hint that they would like to eliminate Friday sittings in the House of Commons – meaning there would be one fewer day each week that the House can debate legislation. 

A lack of a Friday sitting would also mean one less day for Question Period, which is alarming considering that Trudeau has missed more than half of all Question Periods.

For the record, I have spoken out in the House of Commons against shutting the House down on Fridays and will continue to oppose this measure.

Despite the lack of Liberal legislation, one item that has not changed is the House of Commons operations, including the costs of 338 MPs that came in just over $60 million for the first half of the current fiscal year.

Once the full fiscal year has concluded, I will once again release my annual fiscal accountability report and provide in detail what my expenses were for the period. 

Some may welcome the lack of legislation as it supports the status quo and means that laws passed by previous Parliaments remains largely unchanged.

As this is a subjective area of concern, I welcome your views on this topic: is the significant lack of legislation under the current Government a concern or is this largely a non-issue?

As always, I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House of Commons.

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

Alternatively, I will be holding town hall meetings and constituents are welcome Saturday, Jan. 14 in West Kelowna at the Lions Community Hall, 2466 Main St., 3- 4:30 p.m. or on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Kelowna at A. S. Matheson Elementary, 2090 Gordon Dr., 3- 4:30 p.m. to share their views.

I look forward to hearing from you.

More Dan in Ottawa articles

About the Author

Dan Albas has been a Penticton resident since 1981. After attending Okanagan University College, he chose 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.

He has served as campaign chair for the United Way of the South Okanagan-Similkameen in 2006-07 and 2010-11, both times surpassing their fundraising goals.

As a community leader, he was elected to Penticton City Council in the 2008 municipal elections, where, as a first time candidate, he won with 5,656 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 Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola as their Member of Parliament. He has made good on his commitment to establish a personal blog with his http://www.danalbas.com/mp-report site, where he chronicles his activities as the Member of Parliament for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.

Dan 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.

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