Dollars and sense

There are numerous issues of importance to our community and I’ve brought forth many in the House of Commons and at committee during the past few weeks.

In a recent speech, I highlighted how entertainment venues, performing arts, musicians, arts and culture have been hit particularly hard.

Virtual fundraising and a few virtual performances are not enough to continue sustaining them.

At the International Trade Committee, I questioned leaders from the bio-manufacturing industry where we heard how they've had “no success” and “no relationship” over the past three years on engaging with this Liberal government.

They’ve been calling, but no one is answering.

During debate, I had the opportunity to discuss Bill C-14, the government’s Fall Economic Statement.

The government was seeking to increase the federal debt ceiling by $700 billion, to $1.83 trillion. This is an increase of borrowing capacity of 56.8%.

It took 150 years for Canada to get to $1 trillion in federal debt. Now, after the billions of debt accumulated by the Liberals every year since 2015 and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were looking to increase the debt ceiling again, without a full explanation to taxpayers.

This limit goes far beyond what is required to fund emergency programs and stimulus, and would put our country in a perilous financial position.

The government finally tabled their first budget in more than two years. Acting in the best interest of Canadians, Conservatives have supported programs to help workers, businesses and not for profits, including the wage subsidy and the rent subsidy.

There are some good initiatives in the budget including the extension of some programs to help business.

However, we must acknowledge that continued impacts from the economic downturn and lockdowns are due squarely to the lack of data driven planning and vaccine procurement from the federal government.

I also spoke on how we need a clear, data-driven plan to re-open our economy when it is safe to do so.

At a time when residents want to see their lives return to normal, the federal government has been crystal clear in their desire to see our economy "re-imagined."

This budget is more of an election-spending budget than an economic-recovery budget. This budget is also based on assumptions with little room for variables such as inflation or interest-rate increases.

To table a budget without accounting for uncertainties is naïve. As anyone who has put together a business plan or household budget knows, this is not a good strategy.

One of the key points in the budget the government is something Liberal governments have been promising for decades – a government-regulated childcare system.

This one-size-fits-all childcare system certainly won’t work for all families, and provincial governments have to fully agree, including budgeting to pay their portion.

Many experts are chiming in on the budget. Jack Mintz from The Macdonald-Laurier Institute remarked, "you have to dig pretty deep to find any reference to a fiscal anchor in this eye-straining 724-page federal budget.”

John Ivison, in the National Post said, “this is a government that is far better at giving away money than generating it, collecting it or delivering services.”

Robert Asselin, former top adviser to both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Finance Minister Bill Morneau stated, “it’s hard to find a coherent growth plan” in the Liberal budget.

With increased complexity to this year’s tax season for many, and the finances of Canadians heavily impacted, Conservatives have called for the tax-filing deadline to be extended to June 30.

Last year, the government extended the tax filing deadline, and we hope they agree with and implement our reasonable recommendation.

On another note, it was recently Earth Day, and to commemorate, a friend and I went out and picked up roadside garbage in our community.

If we each do a little, it can add up in keeping our community beautiful.

If you need any assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share, feel free to reach out. 250-470-5075 or [email protected].

Community involvement

The past two weeks have been constituency weeks. The House of Commons did not sit, and I focused on connecting with residents and local organizations as well as volunteering.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out, and for all the informative conversations.

During this time, I also hosted three community outreach, virtual Roundtable meetings with the focus on three areas:

  • Small Business
  • Tourism
  • Housing.

My Official Opposition colleagues, who are the shadow ministers for these files, joined me to hear from local organizations on each of these important topics.

Thank you to all the individuals from the groups who attended, which included:

  • Tourism Kelowna
  • Kelowna Hotel and Motel Association
  • Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors,
  • BC Food and Restaurant Association
  • Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association
  • Festivals Kelowna
  • Big White Ski Resort
  • BC Hotel Association
  • Downtown Kelowna Association
  • Community Futures of the Central Okanagan
  • Lake Country Chamber of Commerce
  • Central Okanagan Development Commission
  • Uptown Rutland Business Association
  • Kelowna Chamber of Commerce
  • Interior Realtors
  • UDI Okanagan
  • Western Canadian Shippers Coalition
  • Canadian Homebuilders Association of the Okanagan
  • Journey Home Society.

We received a substantive number of insights, information, and suggestions from what collectively represents more than 5,000 businesses of all sizes, and from virtually all sectors, in Kelowna-Lake Country.

There was a lot of consensus on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed, and some great recommendations.

One of the most pressing concerns I’m sure we are all familiar with is affordable housing in the Okanagan. Many people are unaware of the multi government levels of tax burden that go into new building construction.

Another factor that adds to costs, one that’s especially prevalent right now, is supply chain issues driving up the cost of materials or parts. This also creates supply shortages.

Last Saturday, I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity Okanagan’s bottle drive at their ReStore location in Kelowna. The proceeds support affordable housing for families in need.

It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces donating their empties as they drove through. Thank you to all who donated, and to all who volunteered.

Keeping our community and natural environment clean is an issue I’m passionate about. I also participated in the Rutland Community Spring Clean-up.

The Central Okanagan Regional District provides a great service where they support such efforts with supplies and tools.

With our bags, gloves, reflective vests, and pickup tools, we spent the afternoon covering a lot of ground cleaning up multiple locations in Rutland -— just in time for spring.

A big thanks to the organizer, Christopher Bocskei as well as all the volunteers for your commitment to keeping our community clean.

There have been many unsung heroes during this pandemic, including our caregivers. These caregivers are special individuals, devoted to caring for loved ones. Their hard work and selflessness are even more remarkable amidst the pandemic.

Despite increased social isolation and other challenges, they remain committed to supporting family and friends.

Reflecting this past National Caregiver Day, I was reminded of the strongest person I’ve known, my mom. For 25 years, she selflessly looked after my dad with MS at their home until his final days.

I invite you to share your support, gratitude, and encouragement to the caregivers you may know.

The House of Commons will be sitting the next five weeks straight with many upcoming debates, votes on bills, and tabling of the first budget in over two years.

We look forward to seeing the insights on Canada’s present fiscal situation and how the budget lays out the roadmap to economic recovery.

If you need any assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share, feel free to reach out —
250-470-5075 or t[email protected].

Securing our future

A data-driven plan and securing our future

It has been more than a year since the start of the pandemic, and with many businesses still struggling and friends and family apart, it can sometimes be difficult to remain optimistic.

But as winter melts away, and Kelowna-Lake Country residents look ahead, I hear every day that people are looking for hope and a practical path to recovery.

It’s that time of the year when we all sit down and begin the process of filing our taxes.

To protect yourself against fraud, it’s important to be vigilant when receiving phone calls, mail, texts, or emails from someone claiming to be with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

If you search, "Slam the scam — protect yourself against fraud,” you’ll find an informative section on the CRA’s website on tips to recognize and protect yourself from a scam.

I was able to ask questions in the House of Commons last week about two topics — Buy American restrictions and vaccine export controls.

First, government representatives state they are only negotiating sector specific exceptions from Buy American policies, meaning the federal government will be handpicking which sectors (and potentially which businesses) fail or succeed.

Conservatives were able to negotiate a full exemption in 2009. Without an exemption, Canadian manufacturing jobs are at risk of moving south of the border.

Second, we have a right to be concerned and need assurances about the export measures being put on vaccine exports from the European Union and India, and how this may affect shipments to Canada.

I also had the opportunity to make another statement in the House of Commons about the affects of lockdowns on businesses. This time, I focused on local fitness and martial arts owners who have been hit especially hard.

As Conservatives, we called on the federal government to present a clear, data-driven plan to support the gradual, safe, and permanent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

Many businesses are on the brink and family and friends remain separated. I’ve heard from many constituents about the pandemic’s severe impact on their mental health.

Our communities have sacrificed so much and we need a plan for hope.

Conservatives led Canada through the last recession. As we look forward, we are once again putting forth a recovery plan that champions workers, families, and communities.

Here are our five priorities for Canada to secure the future.

Secure Jobs:

  • Take immediate action to help the hardest hit sectors (including women and young Canadians who have been impacted the most)
  • Assist small business and provide incentives to invest in, rebuild, and start new businesses

Secure accountability:

  • Toughen the Conflict of Interest Act and impose higher penalties
  • Toughen the Lobbying Act to end abuse by insiders

Secure mental health:

  • Boost funding to the provinces for mental health care
  • Provide incentives to employers to provide mental health coverage to employees

Secure our country:

  • Partner with pharmaceutical companies to increase production of critical medicines
  • Strengthen domestic production of PPE
  • Overhaul and rebuild Canada’s National Emergency Stockpile System

Secure Canada’s economy

  • Responsibly wind down emergency COVID support programs as Canadians are vaccinated and the economy re-opens
  • Ensure that stimulus measures are targeted and time limited

The approach we are taking is rooted in security, certainty, and accountability, not untested economic models. Time and time again this government has demonstrated an Ottawa-knows-best-approach.

You can see my continued “small business spotlight” features that I post on social media.

It’s also been wonderful to be out in the community again (safely) such as volunteering in Joe Rich at a community-led initiative and at a Rutland community spring clean up.

During the next few weeks, many Kelowna-Lake Country residents will be celebrating significant religious holidays including Passover, Holi, and Easter. While these holidays will be different than in years past, I wish you and your family meaningful celebrations in what way you can.

If you need any assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share, feel free to reach out. 250-470-5075 or [email protected]


Priorities, recommendations

We recently passed the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a global pandemic.

While I continue to be impressed by the spirit of Kelowna-Lake Country, there is no doubt that the physical, mental, and economic impacts of COVID-19 have been severe.

I’ve heard from many in our community who are not only concerned about their own physical health and that of loves ones, but those whose mental health has suffered due to the pandemic.

Many people are struggling financially as businesses have shuttered and personal or business savings have dried up.

A report published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, the COVID Misery Index, rated overall well-being and misery due to COVID-19 policies.

It showed that of 15 similar advanced countries, Canada has the fifth highest number on the scale, with higher scores indicating more misery — showing Canadians have suffered more than many other countries as a result of the pandemic.

Three main categories captured the disease impact, economic impact, and management response of each nation by measuring performance on 16 metrics.

It’s time for the Liberal government to step up and show a clear data-driven plan for a path out of the lockdown. It is also the federal government’s responsibility to provide an economic roadmap.

As we rebuild our economy, fiscal transparency and accountability are more important than ever. However, the federal government has continually delayed the release of a budget for two years now.

The government prorogued parliament last summer in order to give themselves a new mandate, and yet seven months later, Canadians still do not have an economic recovery plan or budget.

While the federal government has spent a lot of time talking about a budget, referring to it as “the most significant one of our lifetimes,” the reality is every G7 country made it a priority to present a budget to its citizens in 2020, as did all Canadian provinces and territories.

It is the role of the Official Opposition to hold the government to account and put forward recommendations. Like all Canadians, we want a successful vaccine rollout as well as utilization of other tools to get us through this pandemic.

On March 11, we put forward an Opposition Day motion calling on the government to include in the next federal budget support for workers in sectors heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic including industries such as hospitality, tourism, charities, airlines, and small-and medium sized business.

We’ve recommended practical measures such as providing repayable loans to airlines in exchange for consumer refunds, job guarantees, and restrictions on executive compensation, and the restoration of regional routes.

We also called for improvements to support and lending programs to prevent a wave of bankruptcies and layoffs.

We cannot allow the pandemic to destroy livelihoods in many sectors. By helping those most impacted, we can secure jobs, and quicken our economic recovery.

The government continues to bring forth bills in no logical order on their legislative agenda in parliament. Instead of prioritizing legislation on Canada-U.K. trade so that a deadline would be met in order to continue having tariff-free trade, the government instead prioritized legislation so they can have an election.

The Official Opposition were able to negotiate debating the trade agreement so businesses have certainty, and this bill passed in the House of Commons.

I was slated to debate on what would have been my third speech last week, but did not have an opportunity because the government, supported by the Bloc Quebecois, shut down debate on Bill C-7.

This bill came back to Parliament from the Senate dramatically expanding medical assistance in dying (MAID) to include those whose sole underlying condition is mental illness.

This expansion goes far beyond the original C-7 and against the serious concerns mental health and disability groups brought forth to the Justice committee.

I’m continuing with my “small business spotlight” features and on my social media you’ll also see several short videos about a number of topics such as International Women’s Day and the Kelowna Canadian Italian Club’s 55th anniversary.

There are a couple community clean-ups being planned, so reach out to my office if you are interested, and as details come in, we can pass the contact information on.

If you need any assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share, feel free to reach out. 250-470-5075 or [email protected].

More In Your Service articles

About the Author

Tracy Gray, MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, is the Official Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Export Promotion and International Trade.

She also serves on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, and is a member of the National Caucus Committees Credit Union Caucus, Wine Caucus, and Aviation Caucus.

Gray, who has won the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the year, and Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award, worked for 27 years in the B.C. beverage industry.

She founded and owned Discover Wines VQA Wine Stores, which included the No. 1 wine store in B.C. for 13 years. She has been involved in small businesses in different sectors — financing, importing, oil and gas services and a technology start-up — and is among the “100 New Woman Pioneers in B.C."

Gray was a Kelowna city councillor for the 2014 term, on the Passenger Transportation Board 2010-2012, and elected to the board of Prospera Credit Union for 10 years.

In addition, she served on the Okanagan Film Commission, Clubhouse Childcare Society, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Okanagan Regional Library as a Trustee and was chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

She volunteers extensively in the community and welcomes connecting with residents.

She can be reached at 250-470-5075, and [email protected]

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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