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Dan-in-Ottawa

Weakened accountability

This has been a highly unusual time in Ottawa.

Last week the leader of the Bloc Quebecois threatened the Liberal government.

What was the threat?

That the Bloc would not support resuming regular in-person sittings of the House of Commons unless Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to a number of Bloc demands.

Not to be outdone, the NDP also used the threat of returning to regular Parliament as a bargaining chip against the prime minister.

In the case of the NDP, they offered to support continuing the suspension of Parliament in exchange for the Liberal government attempting to implement mandatory paid sick leave for employees.

As you may have heard, the Liberal government, desperately not wanting regular sittings of Parliament to resume, accepted the NDP terms and are currently having discussions with the provinces and territories.

The reason why there are discussions, or more likely negotiations, is because, with the exception of federally regulated workplaces, the vast majority of Canadian workers fall under provincial labour legislation. 

It is deeply troubling that both the Bloc and the NDP used the resumption of regular sittings of Parliament as a bargaining chip against Prime Minister Trudeau.

While the NDP are claiming a victory for their efforts to derail regular sittings of Parliament in return for a commitment for mandatory paid sick leave, there is an inconvenient truth that the NDP is avoiding.

Had regular sessions of Parliament resumed, the NDP could have introduced mandatory sick leave as an opposition day motion, where it could be properly discussed and debated on the floor of the House of Commons.

Already during this Parliament there have been opposition day motions that have been passed despite the minority Liberal government voting against them.

Not only are there no opposition day motions, there will also be no private member’s business as well as a loss of other Parliamentary debates and discussions.

All of this will be in effect until Sept. 21 of this year, where the same political bargaining situation could resume.

Let's be honest, this was not a health and safety related deal between the NDP opposition and the Liberal government.

MPs will continue to sit in Ottawa, in person, four days a week from now until June.

The difference is, that instead of sitting in regular Parliament for those four days, MPs will instead continue to sit as part of the special COVID-19 committee.

As mentioned previously, the special COVID-19 committee meetings have limitations for opposition parties as well as for individual Members of Parliament.

I will state publicly that I am deeply disappointed in the NDP, who have denied the Official Opposition from being able to fully hold this Liberal government to account.

The job that voters sent us to do, to raise concerns on their behalf in Ottawa, is now seriously limited.

If the NDP did not want to do the job voters elected them to do, they could have remained at home in their ridings and allowed the Official Opposition to hold the government to account.

Instead they cut a deal that diminishes our role to hold the government accountable during a critical time in Canadian history.

My question this week:

What are your thoughts on this?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.



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At risk of CERB claw back

In my report last week, I referenced media reports on public servants being directed to ignore potential cases of fraud for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

It had been reported that potentially “200,000 CERB applications have already been ‘red-flagged’ as possibly fraudulent because of dubious claims of past employment income and other factors.”

Since my report, it's been additionally reported that even the CERB applications where applicants clearly did not meet the eligibility requirements, public servants have been instructed to ignore those facts and ensure the payments are processed regardless.

The Liberal government’s response to these concerns has been to suggest that applications cannot be scrutinized in a timely manner and that all fraudulent claims will be clawed back.

Unfortunately, this response from the prime minister fails to recognize that public servants actively discovered these issues of non-compliance and in turn shared them with media organizations after having been told to ignore them. 

In other words, it is possible to have integrity screening at the same time CERB applications are being processed.

The prime minister has made the political decision to ignore potential cases of fraud.

Why does this matter?

For every program this government has created, it has also created an eligibility criteria.

This process often results in some people not meeting that criteria and potentially falling through the cracks.
That is why it has been important for the government and opposition to work together to identify these areas so they can be addressed.

Fortunately because of that work, many of these cracks have been filled.

To ignore fraud will put some Canadians into a situation where the funds they received, but were not entitled to, will be clawed back.

This could happen at a future date where they might not have these funds available.

This can result in other benefit support payments being garnisheed, creating a new level of hardship.

In the case of CERB, there are now close to eight million people collecting this $2,000 monthly benefit.

The most recent Statistics Canada labour-force survey showed that roughly three million people had become unemployed.

It was further reported that another 2.5 million people were working less than half their normal hours because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

This is a total of 5.5 million people who, based on the Liberal government’s CERB eligibility criteria, would potentially be eligible for the benefit.

With close to eight million people now collecting the CERB benefit, there is a considerable debate on why these numbers do not more closely reconcile.

Meanwhile our federal auditor general is reported as stating that a “lack of government funding has created significant technological, cyber security and staffing issues for the office, hampering his ability to fulfill his mandate.”

The office of the auditor general has requested additional funding of $10.8 million from the yet to be delivered 2020-21 federal budget.

My question this week:

Do you believe there is enough fiscal oversight on how your tax dollars are being spent during this pandemic?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.



Should we ignore fraud?

There are now currently 7.7 million Canadians collecting the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) across Canada.

This CERB benefit program was one that had support of MPs from all parties in the House of Commons.

I believe that most Canadians would agree with the importance of a financial assistance program to assist citizens during an unprecedented economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

At the same time, I also believe that Canadians would expect the government to distribute these funds with integrity and in a manner that is respectful of your tax dollars.

Unfortunately, this week we learned that may not be the case.

Both the CBC and, in greater detail, the National Post have reported some alarming news.

To quote from the National Post:

“A memo told employees not to halt payment or trigger investigations for potential abuse, while department has suspended 'compliance and enforcement' of EI program.”

It has been further reported that potentially “200,000 (CERB) applications have already been “red-flagged” as possibly fraudulent because of dubious claims of past employment income and other factors.”

And now we learn that federal civil servants have been instructed to ignore CERB applications they consider potentially fraudulent.

I had the opportunity to directly ask the Prime Minister during a recent virtual Parliament session if he or any of his ministers had signed off on this disturbing memo that instructs civil servants to ignore potential cases of fraud.

Despite asking several times, the Prime Minister refused to directly answer my questions, if he or any minister signed off on this policy.

The Prime Minister will only state that “in this unprecedented situation, our focus has been on helping as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.”

While I suspect no one will dispute the desire to assist those in need, the question remains, did the Prime Minister or one of his ministers direct civil servants to ignore fraud?

This is potentially $400 million per month in fraudulent CERB payments.

The Prime Minister stated that, at some point in the future, his government will clean up fraudulent claims "after the fact,” but then who authorized this policy to ignore fraud as it happens?

The PM only now declaring his government will clean up after the fact, once the possible fraud has been leaked by civil servants, raises serious and troubling questions on how this government spends your tax dollars.

My question this week:

Is there ever a time where you believe a government should intentionally ignore potential fraud when it comes to a taxpayer financed program?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.



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Strong opinion on gun ban

I do not normally issue a “spoiler alert” in my weekly reports. However, this week I will focus on the recently announced semi-automatic rifle ban from the Prime Minister.

For those with no interest in this subject, this report may be of little value to you.

Aside from strong personal opinions on this recent announcement, I have also been hearing some confusion and misunderstanding that I will attempt to clarify.

From a misunderstanding perspective, many citizens have correctly pointed out that military assault rifles in Canada have long been illegal.  

It has been suggested by many that the Liberal government is intentionally attempting to mischaracterize certain semi-automatic rifles, selected for this ban, as being “military grade” or “assault style” and using other terms that have no legal definition in Canada. 

This is true. Many of the terms used to describe the rifles chosen for this ban do not exist within the Canada Firearms Act.

Another point of confusion has been the headline:

“Trudeau announces ban on 1,500 types of 'assault-style' firearms”

While I have already referenced the misleading “assault style” term that does not exist within the Firearms Act, the number “1,500 firearms” has also led to confusion.

There is essentially 11 different types of semi-automatic rifles that have been arbitrarily selected for this ban. 

Because these eleven types of rifles are manufactured by several different manufacturers, and in multiple different configurations, there are potentially 1,500 different variations of these core eleven rifle designs affected by this ban.

As for why these eleven rifle designs were selected by Prime Minister Trudeau, the PM has stated: 

"These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time," Trudeau said. "There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada."

CBC has also reported that the PM has “acknowledged that most firearms owners are law-abiding citizens. He said hunters don't need this sort of firepower.”

The last statement reported from CBC is of interest.

The semi-automatic rifle ban is not being done through a bill nor being debated and voted on in Parliament.

Instead, the PM has decided to carry out this ban through an executive regulation change, known as an 'order in council.'

Having now read this particular order, buried at the bottom is this sentence: 

“Recognizing that some Indigenous and sustenance hunters could be using previously non-restricted firearms for their hunting and may be unable to replace these firearms immediately, the Amnesty Order includes provisions for the limited use of these firearms for such purposes.”

This statement clearly acknowledges that, in actual fact, these rifles are used for hunting and provides an amnesty to allow aboriginal hunters to continue to use them accordingly. 

The Liberal government has yet to explain this contradiction.

The rifle ban also proposes a “buy-back” plan where owners of these restricted rifles will, at some point in the future, be able to receive financial compensation for “selling” these rifles to the government at a currently unknown rate.

There is also a two-year amnesty for owners of these restricted rifles, while the government determines future steps on how the buy-back will work.

From my perspective, this issue should come before Parliament where it can be studied at committee stage.

Committee stage review is a critically important part of a bill’s progress, where experts and other affected groups can provide evidence on the proposed piece of legislation. 

Ultimately evidence can lead to amendments and that is how legislation can be improved to better serve Canadians.

It also allows democratically elected MPs the opportunity to vote on such a bill, so citizens can hold us to account.

As it currently stands, this order in council allows none of these things to occur and that is not how our Parliament should deal with this topic, in a transparent and democratically accountable manner.

My question this week:

Do you agree?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.



More Dan in Ottawa articles

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About the Author

Dan Albas, Conservative member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, is the shadow minister of innovation, science, economic development and internal trade, and sits on the standing committee on finance.

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.

In British Columbia, Dan has been consistently one of the lowest spending MPs on office and administration related costs despite operating two offices to better serve local constituents.

Dan is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 most active members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

He can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.



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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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