Standoff over health accord

This week, much of the news coming out of Ottawa has been focused on extravagant and wasteful spending involving Liberal cabinet ministers.

The spending relates to thousands of dollars spent on luxury limousine service, paid access to an elite airport lounge and revelations of an expensive personal photographer being hired to promote the minister of the environment.

Although the sums of money involved are not in the millions, the intense media focus serves as a reminder of the need for elected officials to always be vigilant whenever spending tax dollars and rightfully so.

At the same time we should also not overlook that when the media is largely focused on a single issue; other issues of importance may be overlooked.

One particular issue that has received little attention (with the exception of Huffington Post reporter Althia Raj) relates to the ongoing discussions, which in reality is negotiations, between the federal government and the provinces for a new Canada health accord.

The negotiations are going so poorly that the Quebec minister of health is quoted as suggesting the discussions are currently stuck in a Mexican standoff-like situation.

At the core of the issue is, as is often the case with any government provided service, is money. 

"We don't think that $3 billion over three or four years is nearly enough to reflect the growing need of the older Canadians, particularly in British Columbia," said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake.

Considering the capital budget alone for the new Penticton Hospital Care tower expansion now exceeds $300 million, it is easy to understand why Canada’s provincial health ministers are concerned given our aging demographics.

In 2004, former prime minister Paul Martin announced a 10-year Canada Health Accord agreement that increased funding by six per cent a year.

In 2014, former prime minister Steven Harper extended this agreement until the 2016/107 fiscal year.

After that the increases were set to rise at a minimum rate of three per cent a year or greater in the event GDP growth exceeded this rate. So far, the Liberal government has not announced any changes to the current three per cent funding rate that is tied to potential GDP increases.

The provinces believe this annual increase in funding will not be sufficient to cover constantly rising health care costs.

The Canada Health Transfer from the federal government to Canadian provinces has gone from roughly $20 billion annually a decade ago to over $34 billion a year today.

For some provincial perspective, B.C. health care budget in 2000 was under $10 billion annually and is forecast to hit over $19 billion by the 2018/2019 fiscal year.

This rate of increased provincial health spending means that providing health care now consumes a greater percentage of the overall B.C. budget and that leaves less revenue for other important services. 

Based on these facts, it is easy to understand why Canadian health ministers are extremely concerned over long-term funding and rising health care costs.

At the same time, we must not overlook that over the next two decades the number of Canadian citizens over the age of 65 will basically double from roughly 4.7 million to over 9.3 million by 2030. This will seriously increase long-term health care costs.

It should also be recognized that the ratio of workers still in the workforce is declining over the same time frame.

I mention these facts because increased debt today carries rising interest costs that also eat into future budgets and likewise decisions to restore the age of OAS eligibility from 67 to 65 will add significant costs pressures at a time when scarce health care dollars will be even more in demand.

Ultimately, I believe more long-term strategic budgeting is essential and necessary to protect the sustainability of our Canadian health care system.

While restoring the age of OAS was politically popular, the prime minister has yet to provide a plan to address the long term needs of our aging population and required health care funding.

The current Mexican standoff over our new Canada Health Accord is a serious concern and I welcome your views on this subject. 

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


Sharing, and saving money

I was once told it is important to recognize 100,000 scheduled flights take off and land each day without drawing any media attention.

The flights that do not successfully take off and land become the focus of media stories, and often speculation, very quickly.

The context of this analogy was that in public office it is the scandals and failures that receive far more media attention than projects or policy that work as intended.

I mention this because this week it was particularly rewarding to participate in a media event profiling some of the more positive local initiates for public engagement.

CPAC, which many believe is the taxpayer-funded Canadian Parliamentary Access Channel, is a privately owned Canadian Public Access Channel that is owned and funded by Canada’s private broadcasters.

CPAC was in our riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola earlier this week to profile, among other events, the Summerland pilot project that involves my shared constituency office with MLA Dan Ashton.

Aside from considerable cost savings, this shared office also better serves local residents who are often unaware of what services are provincial or federal and as such are not bounced between two different offices that may be located in different communities.

As much as it makes sense for an MLA and an MP to share an office, this pilot project is the only identified shared office of this kind in Canada, hence the interest from CPAC in profiling this unique arrangement. 

I hope this idea of a shared office will catch on in other regions, and the added exposure of our beautiful region on CPAC will also draw visitors to our riding.

I would also like to publicly thank the mayors and councils in Princeton, Merritt and Keremeos for also making space available so that citizens in these communities can have access to their member of Parliament on a monthly basis to assist in matters of concern. 

Operating budgets do not allow for an MP or an MLA to open an office in every community in a geographically large riding, but when different levels of government work together to find efficiencies, services can become available on a more economical basis.

Citizens deserve to be heard and the ability to meet face to face with elected representatives is critically important.

I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to stop in and attend the mobile constituency offices as well as my regular office to provide input and ask questions. This information is very valuable to take back to Ottawa in late September when the house resumes. 

Just a reminder that the mobile constituency office schedule is as follows — Merritt City Hall on the first Tuesday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon, Princeton Town Hall on the second Wednesday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon and Keremeos Village Hall on the secnd Wednesday of each month from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

To schedule an appointment or share your comments or concerns with me I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

Another war on science?

During the last federal election, I made a point of attending almost every public all-candidates forum that my schedule would allow.

I believe I missed only two forums, one of which was not even in my riding.

At one forum, the former government, of which I was a member, was accused of being at "war” against federal scientists.

When I attempted to explain that I had met with several scientists over the previous term of government and never had this point communicated directly to me, many in the crowd expressed disbelief.

It seemed the official narrative was that our government had waged a war against scientists and the Liberals under Justin Trudeau were promising to do things differently.

I mention this because this week it has been reported in Ottawa just how differently the Liberals are treating scientists employed by the federal government.

It has now been reported that the Liberal government will preside over, and I quote directly, “the biggest ever recorded cut to the number of federal environmental scientists.”

According to forecasts from Statistics Canada, there will be a loss of roughly 400 jobs — a 10 per cent cut compared to the final year under the former government.

As the Liberal government is disputing the forecast provided by Statistics Canada, I will provide a follow up on this subject as it becomes available.

On the same theme related to scientists, many will recall allegations the former government “muzzled” federal scientists, yet another promise the Liberal government claimed it would rectify.

However recently released data has revealed that in fact federal scientists were not muzzled in the manner as often described in the media. In fact, for the final year of the former government, close to 1,500 media interviews were provided by federal scientists. 

Recently the union representing federal government scientists reported that many federal scientists are being prevented from participating in conferences and that science related communications policies are unevenly applied across the federal public service.

Before I go any further, I would like to credit Ottawa journalist David Akin who documented these details and disclosed them to the public.

Not surprisingly, news of the Liberal government “war on science” was not broadcast in most major media networks who seem often more concerned covering our new prime minister on vacation, often found in many beautiful locations across Canada (including the Okanagan) and at times shirtless.

You likely also did not hear that Statistics Canada recently reported that over 30,000 jobs were lost across Canada in the latest July release. These job losses are among the worst recorded in roughly five years.

The one positive is that here in British Columbia we are currently leading all Canadian provinces with the lowest unemployment rate for July at 5.6 per cent.

As the official opposition, it is our role to report on details that are of national concern to Canadians and more so at a time when many media organization favour the prime minister’s vacation coverage to documenting serious concerns related to jobs and employment.

From my perspective, the biggest concern I see is the new government has reduced the sized of TFSA contributions and also has not followed up on promised small business tax cuts.

This in addition to increasing delays on major project approvals have all combined and reduced the flow of investment needing to help enhance job creation.

This is a subject I will continue to raise in Ottawa along with the need to eliminate internal trade barriers that could also help jump-start our Canadian economy.

Yet another measure that Liberal government opposed in Ottawa despite my putting forward a motion that even the NDP and Green Party supported. 

When Canada’s unemployment rate starts to rise as dramatically as it has in July, I do not believe we can sit back and be complacent.

Action is needed to get the results that keep Canadians working.

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


Elites picking elites

Canadians should take an active interest in how the Liberal government plans to appoint judges to our Supreme Court. 

When a government announces a new process, it is scrutinized and criticized by the opposition.

Often, the same process will receive praise from those who are friends and supporters of the government, or who may benefit from this change of policy.

For this reason, it is always interesting to observe what groups favour a change of process or policy.

This new process somewhat parallels how the Liberals changed the process to appoint senators. 

In both cases, the Liberal government first appoints a panel, which will then recommend people to sit as either a senator or a Supreme Court judge.

Those who are appointed do the appointing. Critics often describe this arrangement as “by the elites for the elites” while the government and supporters claim it is a more non-partisan process free from political influence.

Who is correct? While it is unfair to label an appointed panel of citizens as elitist, it must not be overlooked that the government will first politically appoint the panel members and maintains political control of the composition of the panel membership.

My concern with this arrangement is that the public may not easily discern who is ultimately responsible if the process of selecting a justice doesn’t yield its intended purpose — a high quality candidate who helps the highest court function as intended.

Should citizens point their finger at un-elected people who recommend senators and Supreme Court judges with no democratic accountability or the prime minister who appointed them?

In my experience, joint accountability often leads to little or no accountability.

For example, if an MLA or an MP appoints a person to a position of service, ultimately that MLA or MP can be held accountable by the people who elected him or her by either re-electing them or voting them out of public office. 

Having appointed panels in effect creates a buffer that reduces accountability.

There is also a concern that elected officials are subject to public disclosure with respect to conflict and finances that appointed individuals are exempt from.

As many citizens will know, the Liberal government has indicated it would like to change how members of Parliament are elected.

This change will not be done with a referendum, but through a series of consultations and with input from “experts” in Ottawa. 

One of these experts told the committee that: “Middle-class people often don’t know anything more than poorer, working-class people, but they have a stronger sense of entitlement.

“Poor people and working-class people tend to shy away from situations where their ignorance will be exposed.”

This expert believes many Canadians are not intelligent enough to have their say on how our democratic system that helped build Canada should be changed.

These comments are unacceptable and are precisely why a referendum is required because our democracy belongs to all Canadians, regardless of income level and expert opinion.

In the case of Supreme Court judges, we know that our Supreme Court is increasingly making decisions in place of elected officials.

The recent ruling on legalizing medically assisted dying that reversed a previous Supreme Court ruling was rushed with little consideration for the fact that an election was set to occur.

Ultimately, members of Parliament have no ability to participate in this selection process while politically appointed but unelected panels will now have a tremendous amount of power and influence in potentially shaping Canadian society.

Considering the scope of these changes and the fact that the government seems to want to consult on almost every other aspect of public policy, this unilateral decision without broad discussion is concerning. 

I think this diminishes democratic participation, but I welcome your views. 

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

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/dan-in-ottawa-blog 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
10-2483 Main Street
West Kelowna, BC V4T 2Y8
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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