Parliament Hill was rocked last week with the devastating news of the unexpected loss of our colleague, the Hon. Jim Flaherty. Media coverage on events in Ottawa tends to be focused on those moments that are most controversial or in many cases out of the norm. Unfortunately as the “out of the norm” scenes are most frequently shown many believe there is a strong dislike between Members of Parliament on different sides of the House. In reality for many MPs, more so those in the west with greater travel distances, we collectively spend as much time if not more time with our colleagues than in some cases we spend with our families. In many ways the House of Commons, while adversarial and intense, is still like a second family for many of us. To lose someone so unexpectedly is shocking and more so when it is an individual who behind the scenes always took a great deal of time and interest in the well being of others. I will always recall taking an issue forward from a constituent in Summerland to Minister Flaherty who not only took the time to hear the suggestion, within six months took action. Service to others with a smile was a hallmark of Minister Flaherty’s career and I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to share a kind word during this difficult time. For those who have expressed an interest, there will be a book of condolences for Minister Flaherty’s family at both my Penticton and West Kelowna offices from now until the 25th of April.
Recently you may have heard that the Canada Revenue Agency website was potentially compromised by a computer virus known as the “Heartbleed Bug”. It has been suggested that it is possible a limited amount of personal information, more specifically SIN numbers, may have been wrongfully accessed. ESDC, Service Canada and CRA staff is currently taking actions to identify those individuals who may have had personal information breached as a result of this virus. All individuals who may be impacted by this “Heartbleed virus” will receive notification from the Canada Revenue Agency that will provide a special contact number and additional information on this matter. Although it has been suggested the breach affected roughly 900 individuals if you or anyone you know believes they may have been impacted by this event and have not been contacted by CRA please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Currently there are a number of issues that I am hearing about. The subject of temporary foreign workers remains an issue of concern for many citizens although it should be pointed out while most are very concerned over misuse of the program there are also those who are strongly supportive of it, as was recently the case in Merritt. I have also have had a few citizens drop in and share their concerns on Canada Post. Another area of more recent concern is a campaign from poultry farmers who have illustrated the importance of timely grain feed shipment to local farms. Recently I have also been contacted by citizens both for and against changes to the Elections Act as proposed in the Fair Elections Act, otherwise known as Bill C-23. Currently this act is being reviewed both in the House of Commons and the Senate where it has been suggested that amendments will be proposed. It is my personal view that Bill C-23 will likely see some revisions before potentially moving onto third reading debate. Once a more finalized version of the Bill has been put forward I will speak further on this particular subject as I believe it is of importance. On the subject of amendments, recently the Reform Act of 2013 from my colleague Michael Chong has also been amended into a new Bill (now the recently tabled Reform Act of 2014) that I will be asking for more input on in future report.
As the House of Commons is currently on the Easter break I am available for the next ten days to meet with you to discuss areas of concern and to answer questions that you may have. Please contact me at [email protected] or via phone at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla who writes a weekly report for his constituents and his website www.danalbas.com has an archive of previous reports.
The temporary foreign worker program has again made major headlines across British Columbia. This week complaints are centered on a number of fast food restaurants in Victoria. The major complaint was that temporary foreign workers were being offered employment over Canadian workers who were also available for work. If these allegations are established as being accurate, an offending employer could face significant fines and even imprisonment. At the present time these allegations are being actively investigated by the same integrity division that has been involved in the situation I referenced in last week’s report that involves a resident of South Africa teaching dance in the community of Merritt under the temporary foreign worker program.
Over the past seven days since last week’s report significant progress has been made in the hopes that in the future dance classes for children in Merritt will continue to be offered. Some of the questions I most frequently receive from concerned citizens on this issue is the lack of an obvious common sense solution and slow timeframe of the compliance process. As I am discovering first hand there are a number of variables in these situations that are all deserving of consideration. Obviously, no Canadian desires to see temporary foreign workers exploited while in Canada. To help guard against exploitation complaints can be reported through email [email protected] or by phone at 1-800-367-5693. Although a complainant may decide to publicly identify themselves, the Government handles all complaints of this nature as strictly confidential.
The compliance process is in many ways one and the same as an investigative process and depends upon actual evidence being presented to ensure employers and workers in Canada under the temporary foreign worker program are honouring the commitments agreed to under the initial agreement to participate in the program. There may be a need for verification that a worker has been fully compensated and legitimately paid and not siphoned off by third parties or elaborate kickback schemes to circumvent the law. It also should be pointed out that investigators with the Integrity Division acquire expertise in methods that are frequently used by some in an attempt to exploit the temporary foreign worker program and resulting best practices for compliance are used to help resolve cases of non compliance. All of this unfortunately takes time.
My intent of this week`s report is not to defend how the Integrity Division of the Temporary Foreign worker program has worked in Merritt with the Love to Dance Academy but rather to provide some context on some of the reasons why compliance concerns can be quite extensive to satisfy. Fortunately progress continues to be made in Merritt and I am hopeful that lessons learned here can offer future efficiencies in other areas with similar circumstances.
A few other points for this week:
In last week’s report I mentioned that youth who are twelve years of age or older may apply for their own SIN number. I should have also provided more detail on this point: for children under twelve years of age, parents or other legal guardians can apply for a child’s SIN number (for example, if someone wished to set up a Registered Education Savings Plan). Twelve years of age is when a youth can apply for a SIN card on their own.
Another point comes courtesy of the Okanagan Basin Water Board – to remind boaters that a vessel infected with invasive freshwater mussel larvae may live inside moist areas of a vessel for extended periods of time –potentially for as long as a month thus pointing to the need for a thorough inspection process.
If you have a comment, question or concern on any matter before the House of Commons I can be reached at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
I have written in previous reports and spoken on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the House of Commons. The feedback from constituents for a number of years has been consistent in supporting tighter regulations that ensure Canadians are provided the first opportunity for employment and that those who become temporary foreign workers are not abused or taken advantage of. Recent regulatory changes have also supported these principles and up until recently, most citizens were strongly in support of enhanced regulation in this area.
Unfortunately a situation has arisen in the community of Merritt where changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and compliance issues could result in the loss of a community dance instructor from South Africa. For privacy reasons there is considerable information that I cannot share that has led to these challenges however it is also apparent that in my view, this process is currently failing the community of Merritt. I have long maintained that there must be a balance between regulatory oversight and acknowledging what the real circumstances are. To date in this instance, regulatory oversight appears to be usurping common sense and regrettably the temporary foreign worker program does not provide the same avenues for reconsideration that are available under other immigration programs.
In summary, the Merritt situation demonstrates that when a community does strongly support the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the program has shown it lacks the ability to recognize that. This is something we need to change. Much of my work in Ottawa over the past weeks and in particular this week has been to attempt to find an avenue to rectify this situation within the framework of Government that must treat compliance issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in a fair and equitable way. This is an issue that I will continue to actively work on.
On the subject of employment related matters, as of April 1st, the plastic Social Insurance Cards (SIN cards) we are all familiar with will no longer be issued by the Government of Canada. Instead of a plastic SIN card, applicants will receive a paper letter that contains your SIN number. There is no fee to apply for this new paper issued SIN number. One frequently asked question by those keen to join the workforce, is what age can a young person apply to receive a SIN number? The answer is anyone who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident 12 years of age or older can apply for a SIN number.
One final question I have received this week is in regards to recent claims that the Federal Government is cutting $36 billion from Health Care. These claims are misleading and false. In reality the Federal Government budgeted health transfers to Canadian Provinces and Territories will increase annually. To be clear, each year the Provincial Governments and Territories will receive more funds from the Federal Government then the previous year. Currently health transfers from the Federal Government are at a record level of $32 billion per year. By the end of the decade health transfers will surpass $40 billion. What will be changing in 2017 is how the funding formula is calculated for health transfers. After 2017 the transfer formula will be based on a three-year moving average of nominal Gross Domestic Product, with a guaranteed minimum increase to health transfer funding of at least 3 per cent per year.
In other words, each year a Province will continue to receive more funds then the previous year thus there is a guaranteed annual increase to the Provinces and territories and not a cut in funding as was done by previous federal Governments.
If you have a comment, question or concern on any matter before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and writes a weekly report for his constituents. Previous reports are available on his website www.danalbas.com under the MP reports section.
Even as far away as Ottawa the success of the Westbank and Osoyoos First Nations in terms of investment and development are well known. From time to time I am also asked about why Penticton Indian Band has not to date been as successful in attracting similar levels of investment and development. There are of course many reasons for this, however there are also some factors that are unique to Penticton that are often not taken into consideration in this discussion. One of the challenges for many First Nations bands is that not all land is band land– many lands are “locatee lands”– these lands are very similar to privately held land where locatees can make land use decisions independently of locally elected band Chiefs and their respective councils.
Although a First Nations band cannot directly control locatee lands, a band Chief & council do have similar authority to enact expropriation and can collect revenues from improvements on locatee lands through taxation. Ultimately when reserves were first created borders were established between band lands and locate lands. Unfortunately for some bands, specifically the Penticton Indian Band, many of the bands most economically valuable lands are geographically isolated by a combination of different factors. In some cases band lands are isolated by locatee lands, as is often the case for Penticton, however it should also be noted that both the airport and the channelization of the Okanagan River system (that was done to prevent flooding and prevent costly property damage) also strategically cut off economically viable lands from critically needed access and services.
Without access and services it is difficult to attract investment and development that in turn generates revenue and creates employment. It is for these reasons that the Penticton Indian Band has been working with all levels of government to build a new bridge between the two communities that will allow the band to attract development and investment similar to other successful First Nations in the Okanagan. It is also important to recognize these projects do not occur overnight. The massive regulatory burden dealing with multiple levels of Government takes significant time and resources to overcome. Currently work on the proposed Green Ave. bridge has been underway in excess of ten years and there are still hurdles that must be overcome. The subject of funding for the bridge construction has also been raised. Recently the Federal Government contributed $500,000 towards this economic project through Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. The majority of the remaining funding will come from a variety of different sources however I can confirm that the Federal Government will not be the primary source of funds for this project.
Projects like a new Green Avenue bridge crossing and the Skaha Hills vineyard, golf course and residential development will be key in creating new revenues and economic development for both the Penticton Indian Band and the region. The Skaha Hills development in particular will also help to increase Penticton airport visits; representing another important consideration as the South Okanagan remains committed to attracting a second airline and connecting access through Calgary and points further East.
The House of Commons is back in session this week and if there is a comment, question or concern you have on any matter before the House please do not hesitate to send me an email at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
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- Discussing services for Veterans Feb 4
- House of Commons resumes Jan 30
- Wireless code of conduct Jan 21
- Canada's energy future Jan 14
- The importance of local media Jan 7
- Healthy discussion & local innovation Dec 17
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