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From-The-Hill

Canada must take better care of its veterans says MP

Honouring their service

Early November is always a time to remember the brave members of the armed forces who have fought for Canada around the world so that we can live with justice and peace.

This year, I was honoured to speak at two ceremonies that honoured our veterans.

The first was at West Bench Elementary School in Penticton. It’s always nice to speak there because I grew up on the West Bench and that school is my alma mater. But it’s especially poignant to go to that school ceremony because the West Bench neighbourhood was developed as a Veterans Land Act subdivision after the Second World War, providing inexpensive lots to returning servicemen so they could have a place to live and raise their families.

I also spoke at the Remembrance Day service in Oliver, a community that literally owes its existence to a government program to provide land and housing to returning veterans after the First World War.

These huge housing projects happened across Canada after the two world wars, part of the unwritten pledge between Canada and the men and women who offer to put themselves in harm’s way for us. If they leave home on dangerous missions of our devising, we will take care of them when they return, with health care, pensions and housing.

Too often we put veterans affairs as the lowest priority of government action, sometimes blatantly so. Indigenous veterans of the Second World War returned to find they’d lost their status and received no pensions at all. Successive federal governments over the past few decades have slashed veterans’ pensions, closed Veterans Affairs offices and cut hundreds of jobs for veterans support workers.

While the housing projects of the 1900s did well by veterans, too many now find themselves homeless in the present housing crisis. Homelessness is often intertwined with mental illness and addiction, two other crises that impact veterans and that have paralyzed governments at all levels.

We must do better. When we wear our poppies every November, we must not just remember the veterans who served our country and honour those who paid the ultimate price for that service with their lives, we must also remember and honour that pledge, that unwritten promise, that we will take care of veterans when they return home.

•••

Just before the Remembrance Day break, the finance minister presented her fall economic statement.

Some of the items in the statement were expected, as they were part of the Liberal-NDP agreement and have been debated over the past few months. They include the dental care that will now be available for all children who need it, the doubling of the GST credit for low-income Canadians to help them with inflationary pressures and a one-time top-up of the Canada Housing Benefit for low-income renters.

Other announcements also reflected long-time NDP demands, including the elimination of interest on student loans and a pledge to lower credit card fees for businesses.

The latter issue has been an NDP demand since the days of (former party leader) Jack Layton, who pointed out Canadian businesses pay some of the highest credit card transaction charges in the world.

That issue was back in the news recently, as companies are now being allowed to pass on those charges to consumers. As the NDP critic for Small Business, in recent months I’ve met with executives from VISA, Mastercard, and Moneris to discuss this issue. I’m glad to see the government has finally agreed to seriously look into the matter.

Unfortunately, there were no announcements on other issues I’ve been pressing the government on, including a fairer excise tax system for producers of beer, wine and spirits and a living wage for our bright young researchers as they work on their graduate degrees.

I will continue that pressure to make sure these are dealt with in the spring budget.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan – West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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MP kept busy during October

Work of an MP

It’s been a busy month in Ottawa and I’d like to provide a short update on what my colleagues and I have accomplished in that time.

The big news is, of course, the passage of Bill C-31 which will bring interim dental care support for children under the age of 12 who do not have a dental plan at present.

This will allow parents to apply for up to $650 per eligible child if their household income is below $90,000.

This NDP-led dental support is interim in that it will be eventually replaced, in the next two years, by a full-fledged dental plan for all Canadians who meet the two main criteria around a lack of dental coverage and a lower income.

I’ve also continued my efforts to obtain proper funding for graduate students who are paid for their research work through one of the federal funding councils. The amounts paid by these scholarships have remained static since 2003, meaning that many students are receiving as little as $17,000 per year for full time work, forcing them to work for below minimum wage and living in poverty. I recently presented a large petition asking for this issue to be resolved.

I have met repeatedly with representatives from the beer and wine sectors who have deep concerns about the alcohol excise tax, which now escalates automatically with the cost of living.

This escalator was brought in during a time of very low and stable inflation, and no-one anticipated the dramatic increases we are seeing this year.

I met with the deputy minister of finance last week to press their case for various measures to lessen the impact on these important industries.

As NDP tourism critic, I have also met with members of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada to discuss the challenges in that sector.

Most of the concerns are about continuing difficulties at the border and in airports, and while the discontinuation of the ArriveCAN app has been a big relief, there is still much to be done.

During the Thanksgiving week, I was part of a parliamentary delegation to Malta and Albania. We met with parliamentarians of both countries to discuss important international issues, such as the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, cybersecurity and trust in government.

I was particularly interested to hear about the important role Albania has been playing in the transfer of Afghani refugees to Canada. Albania has also been an inspirational example of how a country can emerge from a half-century of extremely repressive totalitarianism to become a modern, progressive country in only two or three decades.

My Private Members Bill on environmentally friendly building materials is scheduled to be debated at the end of November. I had a very encouraging meeting with Public Works, at which top bureaucrats expressed full support for the bill, so I’m confident it will pass and become law.

My bill on the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights will now be debated next January or February.

Finally, on the affordability front, my NDP colleagues and I have been working hard to put money into your pocket to help make ends meet. The doubled GST rebates will be sent to eligible Canadians starting Nov. 4. The whole NDP caucus has been pushing for this help since early May.

The NDP has also been calling out the windfall profits made by big oil and gas companies and the big-box grocery retailers that have been driving inflation in Canada, much more than the two cents per litre increase to the carbon tax kicking in at the end of April that the Conservatives have been focused on.

A recent NDP motion called on all parties to launch an investigation of grocery chain profits. It received unanimous support in the House in mid-October and has forced a study by the Competition Bureau on grocery chain profits and how our government can take action to help Canadian families cope with rising costs.

Yesterday, the government was scheduled to release its fall economic statement, and we were watching for important initiatives and critical details about how the government will deal with the inflation and climate crises we are all facing.

I’ll report back in my next column.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



A bill that creates jobs and tackles climate change

MP's private members bill

It’s not often the government is presented with a private members’ bill that creates jobs, tackles climate change, adds value to natural resources and helps get around illegal foreign trade tariffs.

But that’s exactly what my latest private members bill does. Bill S-222 directs the Minister of Public Works to assess building materials for environmental benefits, including their carbon footprint, before approving design contracts for federal infrastructure projects.

This bill began its life as my Private Members Bill C-354 in 2016. I was inspired then by the example of Structurlam in Penticton, a company that was leading the mass timber sector in North America. Structurlam produces glulam beams and cross-laminated timber panels that can replace the steel beams and cement walls commonly used in large buildings around the world. Since then, Kalesnikoff Lumber has opened up a similar mass timber plant in South Slocan.

These mass timber products use conventional lumber produced in most sawmills around British Columbia to create strong, safe, and beautiful building materials that can be used to construct everything from skyscrapers and large civic buildings to highway bridges.

More and more, the world is turning to mass timber to construct large buildings. France has pledged to have 30 percent of its new large buildings made in this manner. Shifting the construction industry here to do the same involves educating architects and engineers of the characteristics and benefits of mass timber. But we also need to encourage local manufacturers to expand their production, and one of the best ways to do that is through government procurement. That’s exactly what this bill is designed to do.

Expanded production would mean that British Columbia sawmills could sell more of their lumber to mass timber plants, thus opening up a new market and lowering the reliance on exports to the United States that have been plagued repeatedly by illegal softwood lumber tariffs over the past 30 years. On top of that, mass timber can be exported to the United States without facing those tariffs, as it is a manufactured product, not raw lumber.

As the supply of logs has been reduced over the past decades through harvest, wildfire and beetle outbreaks, the forest industry has been searching for ways to get more value out of each tree cut. Mass timber won’t increase the forest harvest, but it will create more jobs and more value that stay in Canada.

Earlier versions of the bill that singled out the use of wood were criticized by the cement industry, as they were developing new types of concrete that sequestered carbon dioxide as well. My bill avoids this by simply asking the Minister to use products that deliver environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration. And mass timber, made entirely of sequestered carbon that could easily remain intact for centuries, is a good candidate for that quality.

I’ve also heard concerns that large wood buildings might be a fire hazard, but studies by the Natural Resource Council have clearly demonstrated that buildings made with heavy glulam beams and cross-laminated timber panels are as safe or safer than concrete and steel structures. The thick wood beams and panels simply char slowly when in contact with flames, keeping firefighters safe and giving occupants more than adequate time to exit the building.

Bill C-354 passed in the House of Commons in 2018 but unfortunately died in the Senate when that parliament ended in 2019.

Sen. Diane Griffin then offered to table it in the Senate as Bill S-222 in this parliament, giving the bill more time and thus more of a chance for successful passage. Earlier this month, it passed third reading in the Senate and came to the House of Commons, where I introduced it at first reading.

It will proceed to debate before Christmas, and I hope that it will pass and finally become law sometime next spring.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.





We need to spend more on preventing impacts of climate change

Climate adaptation

On Sept. 24, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in Atlantic Canada laid waste to large swaths of the Atlantic provinces and eastern Quebec.

Hurricane Fiona took the lives of at least three people, destroyed many homes with gigantic storm surges and left a million people without power. Immediately after Hurricane Fiona hit, I sent a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons asking for an emergency debate to discuss the federal government’s response.

He granted my request, and the House debated the matter until midnight on Sept. 26—bringing reports from MPs in affected ridings, stories of courageous individuals and communities, but also talking about more long-term considerations.

We are living the impacts, and paying the costs, of climate change right now.

It is becoming increasingly clear we must re-assess federal programs designed to help communities prepare for the future, as well as deal with a litany of disasters.

While the full cost of Fiona remains to be calculated, the federal government has pledged $300 million to help the region recover. And Fiona wasn’t the only unprecedented storm in eastern Canada this year. On May 24, a “derecho” brought record-setting thunderstorms and tornados to a corridor between Windsor, Ontario, and Quebec City, killing 11 people and causing widespread damage. The insured cost of that event is estimated at $875 million.

These massive weather events are happening more often and with more intensity, and the costs are rising quickly every year. Coincidentally, the Canadian Climate Institute released a major study on these costs a few days after Hurricane Fiona struck.

Not surprisingly, the study found climate change is a serious and growing drag on Canada’s economy and a major financial burden on households in Canada. Specifically, it estimated climate change will add $25 billion in annual losses by 2025, with that figure rising to about $100 billion annually by 2050.

These losses go beyond the simple but substantial cost of repairing or replacing damaged homes and infrastructure. There are considerable knock-on effects that will have a huge impact on our economy. Increased infrastructure damage will slow economic growth, which in turn will lower household incomes. Investments will decrease as economic opportunities are reduced. Taxes and the cost of living will rise as governments are forced to spend more money on damage repair.

The Canadian Climate Institute’s report has five recommendations for governments. The first of the three I want to draw attention to is for governments to actually account for the economic threat posed by climate change. They should build these costs into economic analyses and decision-making. Secondly, they should strongly encourage, or even mandate, the private sector to take a similar approach. Thirdly, and perhaps most important from a climate adaptation viewpoint, the federal government must scale up adaptation funding to match the risks we are facing.

I have called for this action for more than a year now. We must spend at least as much preparing for climate change as we spend repairing damage from extreme weather events. That would save us a huge amount of money over the medium and long term. The report estimates that proactive action wwould provide a return on investment of up to $15 for every dollar spent.

Providing funds to communities to prepare for future climate events will also save lives and prevent heartbreaking destruction. Governments must truly act in a way that recognizes we are living the effects of climate change right now. They must also recognize even if we halted all greenhouse gas emissions today, the firestorms, floods and hurricanes we are witnessing now will be with us for centuries.

We must also act boldly to reduce those emissions to ensure these impacts don’t become intolerably worse.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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