As a result of previous positive feedback on what were my first and second accountability reports, I have made the commitment to submit annually to the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla a summary of fiscal expenditures over the past year. As in previous reports I will follow the format using information from the most recent fiscal period of April 1st of 2013 up to March 31st of 2014 in accordance with the Board of Internal Economy reporting periods. While some of this information is publicly available, it can be difficult to find and often exists at several different locations online or not at all. As stated previously, I believe it is important for citizens to have an annual summary on the activities of elected officials in public office including the related costs.
Office expenses and travel are typically the most scrutinized areas of spending for elected officials at any level of government. For Members of Parliament from British Columbia, our travel expenses are higher than those of MPs from other areas in Canada as a result of the fact that we fly the farthest distances between B.C. and Ottawa. My personal travel expense during this time frame was just over $ 49,000; this is down slightly from $55,000 that was spent in last year’s fiscal period. In my case this works out to roughly 420 hours in an airplane and I would estimate over 95% was regular coach class– I didn’t fly first class before being elected as an MP and I continue to make every effort to fly economy class where possible as an MP.
Total spending for my two offices here in Okanagan-Coquihalla and one in Ottawa including all staff, leases, advertising and the above mentioned travel was just over $355,746. This is also a decrease from the $394,289 that was spent in last year’s fiscal period. This amount is within the top three lowest expenses for a BC based MP. As a comparison closer to home, NDP MP Alex Atamanenko from B.C. Southern Interior has posted spending of $444,152 as a comparison.
Sponsored travel falls into a different category as Members of Parliament are invited from time to time to travel to other destinations both within and outside of Canada for a variety of different reasons. These invitations often include airfare and accommodations being paid for by the host and not taxpayers. When Members of Parliament accept these special trips they are required to disclose and report such travel to The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. I can confirm that while I did receive invitations of this nature I did not accept any complimentary trips or travel during the last fiscal period nor have I accepted any since being elected.
One other change I made during this past year is with my email. All MPs are given two email addresses, one that is public and the other that is private. This past year I had my private MP email account deleted. I now only have one MP email account [email protected] -this way when you send an email my way it is my one and only email account and you can be reassured I will be receiving and reading your email.
The information included in this week’s report is intended to provide a brief summary of some of the more commonly scrutinized expenses. If there is other information that you are interested in, please do not hesitate to contact me with your request. I can be reached via email at [email protected] or at 1-800-665-8711.
On this week, in what is the eleventh month, on the eleventh day and at the eleventh hour, Canadians will give pause to honour and reflect on the sacrifice of those brave soldiers who have served and continue to serve Canada. Over the past weeks Canada has again collectively grieved at the loss of life from soldiers in uniform who were targeted because of their commitment to serve Canada. As a country we will never forget these sacrifices and our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of these fallen members of our armed forces.
We must also not forget that these soldiers served to fight for democracy and for freedom. They serve to protect the innocent from those who would do them harm. These are Canadian values and what have built a stronger, greater Canada. Part of our national anthem is our commitment that as Canadians we stand and on guard with glowing hearts for our true north that is strong and free. On this Remembrance Day when we sing these words that define who we are as a country let us never forget these are freedoms that were fought for by brave man & women who continue to stand on guard to this very day.
I would also like to remind the citizens of Okanagan Coquihalla that in addition to our armed forces many brave Canadians also volunteer to serve. Canadian Doctors and medical care workers, journalists, teachers, aid workers and others have bravely volunteered to help those most in need in regions that are besieged by conflict. Increasingly these individuals have also been targeted by violent and oppressive forces who continue to engage in senseless violence.
During this Remembrance Day week let us remember, let us honour and let us give thanks for all of those who made the commitment to serve.
I was traveling throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla on Tuesday however for the duration of the week as the House of Commons is not sitting I am available to meet and hear your concerns first hand. I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and writes this weekly report for his constituents. His website is www.danalbas.com and has an archive of previous reports.
One thing all political parties agree on in Ottawa is the need to provide more support for Canadian families to help offset the considerable costs of raising children. Where there is disagreement is on what is the most effective means on how to achieve this goal that is also further compounded by the fact that Canada is a very vast and diverse country and what programs may be of benefit to some families may not be of benefit to others.
As an example, recently the NDP (if elected as Government) announced a future program for a nationally subsidized daycare program. Providing subsidized day care would be more of a benefit for families in large and moderately sized cities than it would be for remote rural families where no daycare services might be available. Furthermore, for families with a single parent who is either unemployed or unable to work because of disability, subsidized daycare is of no benefit whatsoever. Likewise for families who do not require childcare because of grandparents, extended family, friends or a stay at home spouse they would also not benefit from a subsidized daycare plan. I raise these issues not to criticize the NDP but rather to point out the challenges of any one size fits all Ottawa imposed program that may not meet the diverse needs of Canadian families.
Last week, our Government also announced a range of measures to help assist Canadian families that also in some cases will of more benefit to some families than others. The first announced measure I will discuss is the opportunity for families to pay less tax to Government through income splitting. What this means is if one spouse earns significantly more money than the other spouse they can transfer a portion of the higher income to the spouse with the lower income in order for the higher income spouse to end up in a lower tax bracket and pay less in tax. The maximum amount of tax that can be saved by income splitting has been capped at $2,000 to ensure that upper income earners do not excessively benefit from this program that also creates tax fairness. How does income splitting create tax fairness? Currently if both spouses each earn $40,000 for a combined household income of $80,000 the amount of federal income tax for each spouse is 15%. However if another household also with an $80,000 total income has one spouse earning $60,000 and the other spouse earning $20,000 that would result in one spouse paying 22% in income taxes compared to 15% for the lower income spouse. In spite of having the same $80,000 household income one family ends up paying more tax than the other family thus creating unfair tax policy. In this example the spouse with the higher income could transfer part of that income to the lower income spouse in order to be in a lower tax bracket and pay less in tax similar to what other families would pay with the same household income.
Some have suggested that the tax fairness achieved by income splitting only benefits wealthy families. This is also largely false and I will provide an example to illustrate why. In an affluent household where both spouses earn in excess of $150,000 (or more) each spouse is already in a top tax bracket and thus there is no excess income to transfer from one spouse to the other spouse to take advantage of a lower tax bracket. That is not to suggest income splitting works for all families. For example an extremely low income family that is below the income earnings threshold and is not currently paying income tax obviously would not benefit from paying less tax when they are not currently paying income tax. Likewise for a single parent with no spouse to split income with there is also no tax benefit to income splitting. It is for these reasons that our Government also announced a significant increase to the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) that is payable to all qualifying families including low income and single parents.
The announced increase to the UCCB will be a 60% increase to parents for each child up to 6 years of age increasing the current monthly payment of $100 to $160. The UCCB will also be significantly expanded– for the first time ever the UCCB will also provide direct support of $ 60 per month for each child between the ages of 6-17. Collectively the increased UCCB will provide increased direct benefits to roughly four million Canadian families. It should also be made clear that the existing child care benefit for low income families is also being fully maintained. Aside from income splitting and increased UCCB the Government also announced an increase to the child care expense deduction to $8000 per child up to 7 years of age and $5000 for children aged 7-16. These changes will apply in the 2015 taxation year. The Children Fitness Tax Credit will also be doubled to $1000 in the 2015 taxation year and allocated as a refundable tax credit to ensure low income families can benefit from this credit.
You may notice I have mentioned both the NDP and Government family support programs but not the Liberal program. This is not partisan oversight on my part however to date aside from criticizing the NDP and Government programs the Liberals have yet to offer any Family support program policy with the exception that Liberals have promised to eliminate all or part of our Government family support program if elected. Who has the best program? Ultimately that question is up to Canadian families to decide upon. I believe we are fortunate as Canadians that we have democratic choice and the ability to vote for policies that we believe will best support Canadian families and build a stronger Canada.
It has been just over one week since the tragic events in Ottawa and Quebec occurred that have given us all pause to reflect, mourn and in many cases share personal feelings on these disturbing events. In turn I have also received a large amount of feedback from citizens on a variety of issues. Some of the issues I have heard from citizens on range from not repairing the bullet damage within the House of Commons for historical perspective, to ensuring that honor guard is armed and in some cases increased. Feedback I have also heard is for security to be increased within the House of Commons but generally not to the extent that Parliament Hill is off limits and inaccessible to Canadians. While many citizens have expressed an understanding for changes to occur most are also concerned that changes are measured and carefully implemented. The need to achieve a balance and not significantly compromise rights and freedoms of Canadians is another concern I have heard from many citizens. Lastly, I continue to receive supportive messages and well wishes from constituents that have been greatly appreciated throughout this ordeal. I am listening to these concerns carefully and ensuring that they are passed on in Ottawa.
One Bill that has been introduced this week is Bill C-44 “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act”. It should be noted this Bill was not drafted in response to last week’s events; in fact the Bill was due to be tabled into the House of Commons on the very day the shooting occurred and as a result was delayed until this week. Ultimately Bill C-44 seeks to modernize Canada’s ability to collect foreign intelligence and investigate threats including the ability to provide security assessments. In order to achieve these objectives Bill C-44 proposes a number of measurers that in large part will increase the investigative tools available to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Some of these measures include confirming the Federal Court can issue warrants for CSIS to investigate threats to our national security outside of Canada. Another measure is providing the Federal Court with “the authority to operate within the scope of relevant Canadian law when issuing warrants to authorize CSIS to undertake certain activities to investigate a threat to the security of Canada outside of Canada”. It is also proposed to protect the identity of CSIS sources from disclosure in a similar manner as would be afforded to informants to Canadian law enforcement agencies. This same protection would also apply to employees of CSIS. Although there was some speculation and concern raised that the identity provisions would be exempt from judicial oversight, the legislation does contain language that ensures judicial oversight is respected in this act. In more plain language this means that provisions within this act ensure a Judge ultimately has jurisdiction over identity protection.
Bill C-44 also proposes amendments to the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” that will, and I quote directly “will enable the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, and treason or spying offences, depending on the sentence received." Although many citizens I have heard from are supportive of individuals with dual citizenship having Canadian citizenship revoked in the event they engage in acts of terrorism there are others who disagree with such measures. As always I welcome your comments, questions and concern on this or any Bill before the House of Commons.
Before I close this week I would like to sincerely thank the many citizens who have taken the time over the past week to share your concerns, thoughts and feelings. In times of great tragedy and loss, the ability of Canadians to come together and collectively mourn while standing proud for our values and what we stand for as a country has helped many through what is a difficult time. Last week I expressed my concern that we do not allow events such as these to change Canada. After the past week I have been reminded that brutal acts of senseless violence will never change who we are as Canadians. That is what sets us apart and is what we collectively celebrate together on the 1st day of July for over 147 years.
Read more Dan in Ottawa articles
- Parliament unified Oct 24
- Issues at home and in Ottawa Oct 16
- Intense debate in Ottawa Oct 9
- House of Commons and elected office Oct 2
- Input matters Sep 25
- Debate resumes in Parliament Sep 18
- Parliament set to resume next week Sep 11
- Criticism and government Sep 4
- Neighbours make a difference Aug 28
- Opportunity exists in our own backyard Aug 21
- First Nations Financial Transparency Act Aug 14
- Showcasing success Jul 31
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