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Dan-in-Ottawa

Shenanigans in Ottawa

This week in Ottawa, it was revealed that Finance Minister Bill Morneau is now being investigated by the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

This investigation centers around his involvement in a pension bill that may have financially benefited a company that Morneau was reported to own roughly $21 million worth of shares in.

Ottawa pundits have observed that this is the first time both a sitting Prime Minister and the Finance Minister have been under ethics investigations at the same time.
 
As is often the case when a government is under an ethics scandal, efforts are made to change the channel.

Early this week, the Liberal government announced it would publicly post an online mandate tracker where Canadians can see the governments progress on key initiatives. In theory, this a good idea, however in execution the Liberals have come up short on this one and I will explain why.
 
The first challenge with the Liberal mandate tracker is that it is not based on the promises that the Liberals made in order to get elected.

Rather the mandate tracker is based on the mandate letters to the Ministers of the Liberal Government. For example, the Liberals promised to restore Canada Post door to door delivery. However in the mandate letter to the Minister who oversees Canada Post, only a review of door to door mail delivery was requested but not a restoral of service.

As the Liberals have conducted the review of door to door mail service, they can boast they have met this commitment even though it falls short of what was actually promised during the election.
 
The other challenge I have with the mandate tracker is that the Liberal government themselves decide how much they have actually accomplished.

In other words, it is not the Parliamentary Budget Officer or any other independent and objective department providing this information.

Ultimately, I would submit this mandate tracking idea could have had more usefulness to Canadians if it were handled differently.
 
Also this week we learned the long awaited details of the Liberal government's new peacekeeping measures. As some may recall during the election, Trudeau had suggested that Canada was out of peacekeeping business and promised an increase in Canadian peacekeeping forces.  

This promise led to a commitment from the Prime Minister before the 2016 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in the U.K., to provide up to 600 troops and 150 police for a specific deployment that was promised to be announced at a future date.
 
Today, we know this 2016 commitment will be yet another promise that is not fully honoured by this Prime Minister. Instead, only 200 personnel and 50 police will be provided in primarily training and transport roles. There will be no specific deployment zone despite many promises and overseas trips to explore potential peacekeeping opportunities over the past two years.
 
I am not suggesting that Canada will not continue to serve a useful role in UN peacekeeping operations with this significantly reduced commitment. My observation is that once again we see a pattern where Trudeau is pleased to make a significant announcement with a photo opportunity, as was done in the 2016, only to move the goal posts at a later date.
 
My question this week:

  • Should the Prime Minister have fully honoured his 2016 commitment to the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference?


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Tax thriller in Ottawa

The major issue reverberating around Ottawa this week was the release of the Paradise Papers.

The Paradise Papers are leaked documents containing the names of individuals involved in offshore accounts that, in some cases, are used to avoid paying domestic taxes.
 
It has become a political issue because one of the names on the list happens to be the Liberal Party of Canada's chief fundraiser.

This same individual accompanied the prime minister to an exclusive dinner at the White House during the Obama administration. This, in turn, raised the question why a Liberal Party fundraiser was brought to an exclusive dinner when the Liberal government's Natural Resource minister was left off the guest list.

The prime minister has refused to answer this question.

I think it is important to recognize that being named on the Paradise Papers is not indicative of having done anything illegal. The real issue is, we have observed the Canada Revenue Agency attempt to tax employee discounts. At the same time the Liberal government attempted a large tax grab against farmers and small business owners.

Meanwhile, individuals of immense wealth can utilize offshore accounts and family trusts here at home with no proposed taxation change whatsoever.

In many ways, this creates two tiers of taxation where the wealthiest are treated differently by this Liberal government then every-day Canadians. 

This raises a question on exactly how much potential tax revenue is lost by these types of tax policies. Officially, this is known as the tax gap. The tax gap is the government's potential tax revenue as opposed to the amount of tax revenue it is actually able to collect. 

In the United States, this type of taxation data has been tracked and publicly disclosed for many years. 
 
As the recent release of the Paradise Papers has brought the extent of this problem to light, many have questioned what the tax gap is in Canada.

Unfortunately, the Canada Revenue Agency refuses to disclose this information. In fact, there has been considerable effort in Parliament by MPs and senators to obtain this information. There has been no success.

Some have estimated that the tax gap could be as high as $47 billion annually; this is a serious and growing concern. 
 
The Liberal government has justified the position of the Canada Revenue Agency, arguing that Canadians tax information is confidential and as a result this data should not be released.

The Liberals have also pointed out they are increasing the budget for the Canada Revenue Agency for enforcement and investigation purposes.
 
My question this week:

  • do you believe that Canada Revenue Agency should join countries such as the United States, Sweden, Australia and others in publicly disclosing the tax gap?


Should marijuana be legal?

Although the finance minister and his assets not held in a blind trust, leaving a potential conflict of interest investigation looming, remains an active in Ottawa, it will not be the topic of this week’s report.

Instead, I would like to solicit your thoughts on the pending legalization of marijuana.

In the last election, the Liberals openly campaigned on the legalization of marijuana. I raise that point as I believe the Liberals received a democratic mandate from voters to move ahead with marijuana legalization.

The intent of my column is not to wade into ideological discussion on this topic but rather to hear concerns that in turn can be passed on in Ottawa.

Some of the concerns I have heard are quite varied.

From landlords, I have heard that insurance will not cover rental units where marijuana is present. From potentially approved and legally licensed growers,

I have heard concerns that they might be illegally undercut by those selling marijuana with a higher THC content under the table tax free.

More recently, I have heard concerns from food vendors that their products at a wholesale level might be contaminated with marijuana and resold as edible marijuana potentially creating a liability concern.

From a law enforcement standpoint, I have heard that it might be difficult — if not impossible — to determine the point of origin between legal and illegal marijuana.

Locally, NDP member of Parliament Richard Cannings (South Okanagan West Kootenay) has raised another concern that chronic users of marijuana may have higher THC levels in their blood that could subject a user to  to potentially unfair criminal charges if operating a vehicle.

Those who frequently cross the border have questioned what impact legal marijuana use in Canada would have on someone crossing into the United States.

Local governments have asked about who will pay for potentially higher policing costs while ultimately provinces will be responsible for setting policy.

At this point, there are no answers to any of these concerns that have been raised, but given that the Liberal government has promised to implement legalization in less than a year, the answers will need to be found relatively soon.

The above is only a small sampling of concerns that I have heard and do not include comments around secondary smoke and smoking marijuana in public places.

I have also heard many questions from educators on how to restrict marijuana from teenagers given scientific evidence has shown potential harm for brain development among youth if using marijuana.

My question this week:

  • What concerns do you have, if any, on the legalization of marijuana?


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Good news, bad news

This week in Ottawa began with the finance minister under fire for failing to place his investments into a blind trust and also refusing to disclose them in the House.

As a result, the Liberals made the politically wise decision to move up the fall fiscal update. Select media in Ottawa were leaked certain details suggesting that this would be a "good news" fiscal update with increased revenues and a promise to further increase the child benefit program.

In the end, we learned that the "good news" was the fact that the Liberals revised deficit was going to be just under $20 billion this year.

For the Liberals, this was good news as they had thought the deficit would be even higher.

For the Opposition, this deficit is basically double the size of the modest deficits the Liberals promised.

In fact, the Liberals are now on a path to add $100 billion in debt over the next seven years with no plan to return to balance whatsoever.

I participated in a press conference with Diabetes Canada last Sunday where it came to light that many vulnerable citizens with Type 1 diabetes are being denied the Disability Tax Credit from the Canada Revenue Agency.

This has shocked both the people applying and physicians, as many have qualified in previous years, but have been rejected with no clear explanation as to what has changed.

Subsequently, I have raised this in Question Period with some urgency. The government has denied this is an official change of policy and is working on this issue. 

If you, or someone you know, is having difficulty with the CRA over this problem, please contact my office at 1-800-665-8711 for assistance.

On another note, I would like to pass on a sincere thank you to the many citizens who responded to my previous MP reports regarding the enforcement of the Bank Act.

For those of you unfamiliar, Ottawa had announced that it intends to prohibit Credit Unions from using the terms bank, banking and banker. Many citizens have shared with me strong opposition to these heavy handed tactics that will add cost and create confusion to consumers and unfairly impact credit unions.

As a result, this week I tabled my private member’s bill C-379 that proposes to amend the Bank Act and allow credit unions to continue using the terms bank, banking and banker.

My question this week:

  • Do you see tabling a budget deficit that is roughly double the size of what was promised as "good news"?


More Dan in Ottawa articles

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About the Author

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola which include the communities of Kelowna (specific boundaries), West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton and Merritt.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth 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 served as campaign chair for the United Way of the South Okanagan-Similkameen in 2006-7 and 2010-11, both times surpassing their fundraising goals.

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 borders.

Dan’s parliamentary record includes being recognized by the Ottawa Citizen in 2015 as one of only five Members of Parliament in Canada with a 100% voting attendance record.  Locally in British Columbia,  MP Dan Albas has been consistently one of the lowest spending Members of Parliament on office and administration related costs despite operating two offices to better serve local constituents.

 MP Dan Albas is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top ten most active Members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and also continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

In October of 2015 MP Dan Albas was re-elected to Parliament representing the new riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola.  Dan is currently the Deputy Finance Critic, serving with Finance Critic, MP Gerard Deltell and sits on the Standing Committee on Finance.

Dan is honoured to serve the residents of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola as their Member of Parliament.

MP Dan Albas 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



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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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