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Dan-in-Ottawa

Air travellers getting rights?

This week, the Liberal government introduced the Air Passenger Bill of Rights in the House of Commons.

Technically, these proposed changes are part of Bill C-49, “An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts."

What are some of these proposed changes? For the most part, it is proposed to have clearer regulations for situations that may commonly arise when travelling by air.

Some examples are compensation minimums for denied boardings that arise from overbooking, delays or other cancellations.

Guidelines also are proposed for lost or damaged luggage, even tarmac delays over an established length of time are now subject to this Bill. Other changes include children sitting next to a parent without an additional seat selection charge and standards for the safe transport of musical instruments.

Aside from these consumer friendly changes that I believe most air travellers will welcome, there are also some proposed changes from an industry perspective.

Most notable is that the current restriction on foreign ownership of a Canadian airline will be increased from 25 per cent up to 49 per cent. This change will not apply to specialty air services such as firefighting.

Another proposed change is new powers for the Transportation Minister to approve joint ventures between two or more different air carriers. This change is intended to help accommodate standard industry practices elsewhere and potentially to increase competition.

It is also proposed that airport security screening services provided by CATSA will now be supported on a cost recovery basis. The government promotes this clause as allowing for an airport to pay for additional airport security screening services to help establish new routes.

However, it could also result in a form of downloading where airport operators are forced to pay for a larger share of security services that in turn increases the costs of air travel. Presently airports create significant revenues for the Federal Government from fees and charges that are already paid for by passengers.

There is always a concern that some Canadians living near the border may instead use more price competitive alternatives at nearby U.S. airports. At this point more details and further clarification will be required.

My thoughts? One item I would like to see included would be an extended time frame for consumers who have airline credits to use those airline credits that currently expire within a fairly narrow window of time.

Overall, I believe the majority of these changes will be welcome while details on cost recovery for CATSA security services will need more clarification although in principle I am not opposed to cost recovery as a means of service delivery.

I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on the Transportation Modernization Act or any other subject before the House of Commons.



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Don't bank on Liberal idea

I was asked recently if it is difficult to come up with a different topic every seven days for my weekly MP report to citizens.

The challenge is not finding new topics to discuss but rather narrowing down the many subjects available to one or two that can be briefly covered with the limited space available in my reports.

This week, I would like to reference the Liberal government's efforts to muzzle the Parliamentary Budget Officer however a more pressing concern is the Liberals plans for a proposed $35-billion Infrastructure Bank.

Why is the $35-billion Infrastructure Bank a serious concern?

Canadians pay taxes to the federal government for a variety of different purposes and uses. One of the important uses of your tax dollars is building infrastructure.

The challenge here is that $35-billion in funding and guarantees that could be building Infrastructure in communities like Kelowna, Peachland, Penticton, Merritt or elsewhere will instead be diverted to create the new Infrastructure bank in the Liberal stronghold of Toronto.

The concern is that this Infrastructure Bank doesn’t actually build any Infrastructure.

The role of the new bank is to attract international investors to invest and privately build Infrastructure in Canada. In order to attract sophisticated and often international investors the government will be paying lucrative rates of return on large-scale projects with a minimum price of $100 million or more.

Why is this a concern?

For starters, the Liberal government is borrowing money it does not have at lower rates of interest solely to subsidize higher rates of return to largely private investors.

With a minimum project threshold of $100 million, many rural communities and even smaller to mid-size cities will not be able to afford projects of this magnitude.

Despite this fact the taxpayers who live within these areas will be saddled with paying part of the borrowing debt and high rates of interest even though they do not directly benefit from the projects.

Paradoxically this also comes at a time where new capital requirements put in place by a government regulator significantly limit the ability for sectors like Canadian insurance companies to invest in Canadian infrastructure.

There are other concerns however this summarizes some of the more significant.

This week the NDP will table a motion to remove the Infrastructure Bank from the Liberals' omnibus budget bill so that it can be debated and opposed on a stand-alone basis.

It isn't just the Opposition parties that oppose the bank. The former Parliamentary Budget Officer has also has serious concerns and questioned the need for a costly new level of bureaucracy to create a bank that borrows funds at relatively low interest rates to pay high rates of return to international investors.

It is my intent to oppose the Liberals new Infrastructure bank however I welcome your views on this topic.

Do you support the Liberals $35-billion Infrastructure Bank?



Logging an election issue

One of the challenges provincial and federal governments face is communicating policy in a manner easily understood by citizens.

This may sound simple, but sometimes policy can be difficult and timely to explain easily. Further, opposition parties and other interest groups may either intentionally or unintentionally mis-present policy that might undermine or generate public opposition.

I mention these things as the current B.C. election campaign has resulted in some issues being raised that require more information to properly scrutinize.

As an example, in Merritt, one of the largest lumber mills has shut down in the past year, creating significant hardship for many in this community.

Since forestry is a provincial jurisdiction, this has become an election issue specifically as it has been alleged by some that the reason this mill closed is related to raw log exports.

In principle, most would agree that exporting raw logs to be processed in mills outside British Columbia should not occur if lumber mills are closing as a result of a lack of timber supply. This raises the question why no provincial government of any political stripe banned raw log exports once in power.

Part of the answer is understanding how the process around exporting raw logs, technically known as “unmanufactured timber” actually works. Essentially, the process involves three steps.

The first step is to acquire an exemption of the requirement that lumber harvested in B.C. is also processed in B.C. Part of the exemption process involves advertising the timber supply in question to be potentially exported on a provincial list of timber for sale.

This bi-weekly advertising list means that a domestic mill operator has the opportunity to buy these raw logs before they could be legally exported. If there is an offer to purchase, an advisory committee will determine that price is fair market value.

If the offer is deemed fair, the logs will remain in B.C. to be processed by the successfully bidding mill owner.  If there is no interest or suitable buyers found, the logs will be eligible for export.

Once raw logs are deemed surplus, an application can be made for a permit to export the logs before moving on to the final stage of the process — a federal permit for export.

Why do some B.C. lumber mills not bid on these raw logs?

There are a number of reasons for this that may depend on specific circumstances. Many mills have become highly specialized in dealing with specific types of timber to produce a unique, value-added product.

In some cases, the timber for sale may not be of the type or quality desired. In other circumstances, the transport costs may not make purchasing logs in one area economical if there is a sufficient distance to transport.

Cost may be another factor, more so if the raw logs are from a private forest owner or a First Nations community looking to obtain maximum value.

The intent of my column today is not to defend raw log exports as, ideally, I believe governments of all political stripes should support increased value-added, wood-manufacturing in B.C. 

Forestry remains a critically important industry to many communities and one challenge will be to encourage more investment into value-added, processing operations with access to a diverse range of markets.

Although raw logs is not an issue of federal jurisdiction, I welcome your thoughts on ways government can promote more value added wood manufacturing.



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Lumber war looming?

This week, the U.S. administration announced that Canadian softwood lumber will face new duties ranging  from three per cent up to 24 per cent.

The highest duties will be primarily against producers here in Western Canada. Within hours, many media sources were running headlines reporting a trade war had erupted.

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan accused Premier Christy Clark of failing to resolve the matter even though it is entirely an issue of federal jurisdiction.

I mention these things because this is an issue that for some is easy to play partisan politics with as the B.C. NDP has illustrated.

In reality, forestry is a critically important industry not just in the Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola, but in many ridings in British Columbia and other regions of Canada.

In my riding, the largest private sector employers in West Kelowna, Merritt and Princeton are all lumber mills.

In the riding immediately south, South Okanagan-West Kootenay represented by NDP MP Richard Cannings, this is also the case, and is one of the reasons why Cannings recently introduced a private member's bill promoting the use of wood in government related construction projects.

This issue that should be above partisan politics. Resolving the softwood lumber dispute is an area of federal responsibility and it is unfair and inaccurate to suggest that the B.C. government, or any provincial government, can solve the problem.

It should also be pointed out that this is a long-term dispute and not a full-blown trade war as some are attempting to claim.

It is also important to add that the federal government, and in particular our prime minister, has shown restraint in not getting involved in U.S. domestic politics despite that it would be politically convenient to do so.

I believe most political pundits would agree that our Liberal government has made considerable effort to work proactively with the new United States administration in several areas.

Partisan politics and finger pointing will not constructively assist this situation and our combined focus should be on getting an agreement. If we can work together on a united approach we will increase our odds of success.

Ultimately, this challenge occurs because much of the United States timber is harvested from private land owners who are more successful in driving up revenues then our crown land system used primarily here in Canada. 

This in no way suggests that our Crown land timber is subsidized. In fact, all evidence to date and success at many trade dispute resolution tribunals consistently rule in Canada’s favour.

To further complicate this matter when the Canadian dollar exchange rate is factored in at roughly between 74-76 cents US, this becomes a discount that U.S. lumber producers must compete against.

The U.S. administrations recently added new duty rates that essentially wipe out the currency advantage that works in Canada’s favour. Canadian produced lumber will now arrive in the United States at a similar cost as U.S. produced lumber.

I mention this only to add some perspective from the other side of the border.

There is no question both the federal and many provincial governments will employ many strategies to attempt to help mitigate and resolve this issue as quickly as possible.

From my perspective, I will continue to support all measures that can bring this matter to a resolution as quickly as possible. 



More Dan in Ottawa articles

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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/mp-report 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

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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