Nov 26, 2013 / 5:00 am
As mentioned in a recent MP report, as a result of the positive feedback I received from last year's accountability report this will now become an annual report that I will submit to the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla. I will also follow the format used last year including information from the period of April 1st of 2012 up to March 31st of 2013 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 last year, 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 MP’s 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 under $55,000 – 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 offices here in Okanagan-Coquihalla and in Ottawa including all staff, leases, advertising and the above mentioned travel was $394,289. This amount is within the top 10 lowest expenses for a BC based MP. Currently the average total spending of an MP in British Columbia is roughly $445,000. Closer to home NDP MP Alex Atamanenko from B.C. Southern Interior has posted spending of $493,616 as a comparison. The highest spending BC based in MP is Liberal Hedy Fry at $516,429.
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 nor have I since being elected.
One other category of spending is spousal travel. The Board of Internal Economy allows for MPs to fly a spouse between Ottawa and a member's home riding. Post Media is credited with doing an analysis on these benefits and in turn also reported on them with a list ranking all MPs. The highest spending MP for spousal travel was now former Toronto-Centre Liberal MP Bob Rae at just under $57,000. My ranking on this list was 198 with spending of $900 dollars and 45 cents.
In terms of meetings and other community events (not including my regular duties in the House of Commons) this past year I attended or participated in over 400 –a similar number to the previous year. This does not include unscheduled events or daily phones calls that also occur throughout the year. Some good news to pass on is that the Board of Internal Economy has been implementing new or revised rules that in my view will help to keep expenses in check across the board. 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.
Nov 19, 2013 / 8:00 am
This past weekend I participated alongside a group of citizens from the community of Merritt and surrounding areas as part of a search and rescue effort, looking for a missing local resident at Stump Lake Ranch. Sadly, we were not successful in our efforts, but it is heartening that so many local citizens came out and helped in the effort to find a fellow community member. I would also like to take a moment to thank the many volunteers who are involved in search and rescue organizations in our local communities throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla. This challenging and highly valued service from so many volunteers is important for those who may be missing a loved one and is very community minded.
The House of Commons has again resumed session this week after a brief five day recess. We will continue discussions on Government Bills C-2 “Respect for Communities Act” and Bill C-3 “Safeguarding Canada’s Seas & Skies Act”. There will also be a number of Private Member`s Bills up for debate this week, including Bills C-428, “Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act”, Bill C-523 “Mandatory Disclosure of Drug Shortages Act”, Bill C-520 “Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament Act” and Bill C-461 “CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act.” If you would like further information on these or any other bill before the House of Commons do not hesitate to contact me at your convenience.
Also occurring this week is a vote on the opposition day motion from the NDP that was introduced last week. The motion suggests that the Keystone XL pipeline is not in Canada’s best interest. This has been an interesting debate as both our Government and the Federal Liberals are supportive of the Keystone XL project that the NDP has been actively opposing for some time. On a related theme, this past weekend there was also an effort to organize and demonstrate against the Northern Gateway pipeline in front of my Penticton office. As I was in Merritt and could not attend this gathering, I feel it is important to recognize that a number of citizens took the time to speak out against this particular pipeline project. I also hear from a number of citizens who are strongly supportive of pipelines in general or in some cases supportive of certain pipeline projects but opposed to others. This is certainly an area that I welcome further input from citizens on. While some have expressed opposition to pipelines, very few have proposed alternatives that do not include increased rail or truck transport that also carry risk.
Although the House of Commons is now in session until mid-December, if you have a comment, concern or question I am available by phone in the late afternoon and early evening here in BC while I am in Ottawa. I can be reached via email [email protected] or at 1-800-665-8711.
Nov 13, 2013 / 6:00 am
This week the House of Commons is on a five day break as Members of Parliament return home and have the opportunity to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies and gatherings. This year I was at Summerland Memorial park and later joined in gatherings that followed in Penticton, Peachland and Westbank Legion halls respectively. Honouring our veterans is a privilege of public office and it was very rewarding to join with so many Canadians who came out to show our sincere appreciation and respect for those brave men and women who gave so courageously to serve. I believe it is important when we remember our veterans that we are also mindful of those families who have lost a loved one in service to our country.
May we never forget the sacrifices of so many Canadians who have served or continue to serve in our armed forces.
Also occurring this week is the fiscal update from the Minister of Finance– currently Canada’s federal deficit for the 2012-2013 fiscal period stands at $18.9 billion– an amount that it is less than half of what existed in the 2009-2010 fiscal period and at the current rate of decline is expected to amount to a $ 3.7 billion budget surplus in the 2015-2016 fiscal period. These figures also take into account close to $3 billion in expected federal disaster assistance for Lac-Megantic and the province of Alberta related to flood damage. Canada’s employment also continues to improve; between July of 2009 and October of 2013 over one million more Canadians are now employed. This is roughly a 6.3% improvement in our national employment rate– other G7 countries over the same period of time range from Germany at 4%, the UK at 3.4% and Japan at 1%. Canada’s net debt to GDP ratio is currently just over 36%- this compares well to other G-7 countries such as the UK, France and the United States who are currently between 80-90% or Italy & Japan that are now over 100% net debt to GDP.
One other aspect of the federal government budget update that is often overlooked pertains to funding transfers to the Provinces. While previous Governments have made efforts to achieve a surplus federal budget this was in part realized by reducing funding transfers to the Provinces that in many respects is simply a form of downloading fiscal problems. The most recent fiscal updates confirms that key provincial transfer funds such as the Canada Health transfer, Canada social transfer, gas tax and other transfer programs are all increasing to the Provinces over the next six fiscal periods. Providing set funding increases over a defined period of time can better help provincial governments budget and partner with local governments to provide critical services that citizens depend on. Ultimately there is only one taxpayer and it is important for all levels of Government to not avoid making difficult decisions by downloading fiscal challenges onto others.
Over the course of this week I will be in many communities throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla before the House of Commons resumes session next week. If there is an issue of concern, a comment or question that you have please do not hesitate to contact my office.
I can be reached at 1-800-665-8711 or via email at [email protected]
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla. His blog is DaninOttawa.com <http://danalbas.us4.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=5fb21c684a6f7994d6e2422d5&id=6cfbf5aaa2&e=21aa3a682f> and previous MP reports can be read at the www.danalbas.com <http://danalbas.us4.list-manage.com/track/click?u=5fb21c684a6f7994d6e2422d5&id=070bf1e170&e=21aa3a682f> website.
Nov 5, 2013 / 5:00 am
Hearing from constituents is in my view a critically important part of elected office. Many citizens take the time to offer constructive advice that can help public office holders do a more effective job in representing constituents. From my own perspective I greatly value the comments and feedback that I receive back each week in response to my weekly reports. In last week’s discussion I raised the topic of the Senate and in particular recent efforts to suspend a number of Senators without pay. I also shared some of the feedback I had received on this subject that was overwhelming outrage as most citizens feel strongly that Senators should be held to the same standards as everyday citizens. One criticism I heard from a number of individuals is that I did not firmly state my position on this subject. Having since re-read last week’s report I agree with my critics in that I did not clearly state my stance on this issue as clearly as I should have and in this week’s report I would like to remedy that.
For the record, I fully support the suspension of these Senators without pay and while the majority of citizens I have heard from also strongly support this position, there are a few who disagree. The argument most frequently made from those who support the Senators not being suspended suggest that “due process” should be the guiding factor. The challenge with that, (and as I stated in last week’s report) from my experience “due process” as it pertains to elected officials spending tax dollars usually amounts to finding a loophole to justify an expense arguing that it did not technically break any rules and as such there should be no consequences. As I also passed on last week (with an example), this practice has clearly gone on in Ottawa for far too long– this is why there is literally entire chapters of rules governing members business in order to close previous loopholes that have allowed for the exploitation of tax-dollars by elected officials. I should also add this is not a partisan issue; there have been many examples over the years from Members representing all major political parties that have abused tax dollars in expense claims.
The message that I hear loudly from citizens and what I believe needs to be understood in Ottawa is that this issue is not about a procedural argument finding a way to suggest a rule was broken or not. This is an issue of trust- the public trust. When Canadians elect fellow citizens to represent them in government they expect tax dollars to be respected and used fairly and ethically when it comes to the expenses of public office. No different than I believe citizens expect elected officials to act honourably, refrain from using profanity, to show up for work and as legislators to not break the law. For the vast majority of citizens I hear from, if they were to misuse use tax dollars or abuse the funds from an employer they would expect serious consequences for that behaviour. This same expectation extends not just to the Senate but to all elected officials. Last year I posted an annual accountability report. In this report I attempted to provide as much information as possible on a variety of different subjects including travel, sponsored travel, meetings and other activities related to my position as a Member of Parliament. After doing this report I received a strong level of support from citizens who appreciated the information and effort for increased transparency. As a result of that feedback I am currently in the process of preparing what will become an annual accountability report summarizing my actions and expenses over the past year. Although there is no formal requirement for a Member of Parliament to issue annual accountability reports beyond what is already publicly available, I believe increased transparency helps to maintain the integrity of our democratic process. While Canadians may differ on what policies will best serve the public interest, such as more free trade versus protectionism or perhaps the desirability of lower versus higher taxes, there is one thing we agree on: the need for elected officials to serve in a way that respects the public trust.
It is my intention to have my annual accountability report released within the next few weeks and I will welcome your questions and feedback. I can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 1-800-665-8711. I look forward to hearing from you.
Read more Dan in Ottawa articles
- Opinions abound on Parliament Hill Oct 29
- A busy week in Ottawa Oct 22
- Services & amenities often overlooked Oct 15
- New minimum energy light standards Oct 8
- Respectful dialogue: a stronger Canada Oct 1
- Economic spin offs and employment Sep 24
- Back to school Sep 3
- New 2015 Federal Election boundaries Aug 27
- Prorogation explained Aug 20
- Discussing local CBC concerns Aug 13
- Jobs & skills training: national interest Jul 31
- Policies matter to local economy Jul 24
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