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In-Your-Service

Financial news getting worse for Canadians

Poor financial forecasts

As your representative (in Parliament) for Kelowna-Lake Country, it’s important to me to hear the day-to-day concerns of residents so I can bring them to Ottawa.

I do this by meeting with residents and organizations, attending local events, activities and celebrations, and by dropping in on small businesses.

I’ve heard that with the ringing in of the new year, many people are feeling anxious about 2023. It's easy to understand why, with many significant organizations providing less than favourable forecasts for the year.

The Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy found both business and personal insolvencies are on the rise, with business insolvencies in Canada 58.3% higher in November 2022 than in November 2021. It was reported insolvency experts have seen the same trend in the Okanagan.

The Bank of Canada increased interest rates a record seven times in 2022. That, of course, hit families with mortgages and the timeline of when it will be felt hardest will depend on individuals personal situations.

Small businesses, still carrying extra debt from the pandemic, are now also running against the rise in interest rates as well as continued increases in other costs due to inflation. The Canadian Federation of Independent business (CFIB) reported the average small business took on $150,000 in new debt during the pandemic and many do not have sales back to pre-pandemic levels.

People have also been hit with higher food, fuel, home heating and housing costs, making it hard to pay for these basic necessities. Department of Natural Resources research found more than one in five Canadians indicated heating costs as a significant financial burden.

A Toronto-based food bank, Second Harvest, polled more than 1,300 Canadian charities on their outlooks for 2023 where they predicted a 60% increase in food bank usage.

An increase of that size would come on top of what our own Central Okanagan Food Bank reported was a 30% increase in use in 2022. The Mississauga Food Bank CEO said people have come in there asking about accessing Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) – not because of illness, but because they couldn’t afford to live. It’s heartbreaking to hear this feeling of hopelessness in Canada.

Recent opinion research in Maru Public Opinion's monthly household outlook index found more than one in four Canadians felt their financial position deteriorated in the last month. Canada’s record-high inflation continues to squeeze budgets and paycheques.

While federal ministers continue to argue inflation is not home-grown in any way, the last two governors of the Bank of Canada, Tiff Macklem and Mark Carney, both said the government's increased spending over the past few years contributed to Canada’s inflation rate.

Former finance minister, Bill Morneau, recently revealed that when he presented the prime minister with a pandemic spending plan crafted by the experts at the Department of Finance, he found his proposal ignored in favour of far larger spending targets.

“Calculations and recommendations from the Ministry of Finance were basically disregarded in favour of winning a popularity contest,” said Morneau.

We now know the cost of that popularity contest with the independent Auditor General of Canada reporting billions in taxpayer-funded pandemic relief went to ineligible recipients, including for large profitable corporations.

I’ll press the government to rein in its discretionary spending and focus on delivering core government services that Canadians expect and deserve.

I'll also advocate for much-needed tax relief on gas, groceries, heating and paycheques. People are struggling and looking for hope and I’ll stand up on these important issues.

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

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





Focusing on criminals, not firearm owners

Gun control legislation

As we look to the legislative calendar in Ottawa in 2023, one of the pieces of legislation I’ve heard a lot about from local residents over the past several weeks is the government’s last-minute amendments to Bill C-21, which would ban many hunting rifles.

In tandem with this, are continued concerns about the impact of the government’s soft on crime approach and the “catch and release” bail system for violent repeat offenders.

The government's amendments to Bill C-21 shocked Canadian hunters, farmers and sport shooters, who saw their firearms suddenly referred to as "weapons of war", with no consultation.

It also caused confusion in the very government that wrote the amendment and presented it at the 11th hour at the Public Safety committee. Liberal ministers declared the government had not banned hunting rifles, despite that intention being clear with the amendment that was presented.

The Liberals accused Conservatives and others of spreading "disinformation”, however, experts and registered firearms users started coming forth. The government's overly broad firearms regulations seems to have captured everything from Airsoft rifles to antique cannons on display at historic sites.

The results of the last-minute amendments display a clear lack of knowledge and understanding of the facts by the government.

As we know, law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters are not the cause of firearm violence in Canada.

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs pointed out restrictions on legal firearms would not “meaningfully” address the real issue about gun violence, as it is illegal weapons that have led to the gun violence. That violence is primarily related to illegal guns smuggled into Canada by gangs and organized crime groups, most of whom do not purchase their weapons legally or are registered and trained firearms owners.

The Assembly of First Nations came out opposed to Bill C-21, saying it infringes on their treaty rights.

Unfortunately, rational calls by legal firearms owners have not changed the mind of the prime minister, who, in an end-of-year interview, said his government would still seek to ban many firearms used by Canadian hunters.

For years, Conservatives have called on the government to focus on illegal firearms and gun smuggling, uphold public safety and protect the rights of victims.

Related to this, the government’s Bill C-5 in this parliament removes minimum sentences for many serious crimes, including those involving firearms.

Bill C-75 which became law in 2019, included provisions for bail reform, including for violent repeat offenders. In part it reads, “A peace officer, justice or judge shall give primary consideration to the release of the accused at the earliest reasonable opportunity and on the least onerous conditions.”

Conservatives opposed both those bills and have called for a reverse of the government’s soft on crime approach and for a reverse of the bail system’s “catch and release” approach for repeat violent offenders.

Since the fall, five police officers in Canada have been tragically slain in the line of duty. This past year, violent crime was up 32%. Since (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau’s government has been in power, gang related killings have gone up by 92%. The facts speak for themselves.

As a local hunter recently pointed out to me, while the government says its new laws are to get firearms off Canadian streets with Bill C-21, his legal firearms have never been on any streets. Divisively defaming law-abiding Canadians as perpetrators of violent crime is not factual. The legal possession of safely stored personal property, often passed down as family heirlooms, should not be criminalized.

I will continue to stand up for the rights of hunters, farmers, sport shooters and for the victims of crime, while advocating for policies and legislation that focuses on prosecuting criminals, especially violent repeat offenders.

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



MP looks back over the 2022 political year

MP's year in review

2022 was a milestone year in many ways.

I often refer to sudden acts of generosity as the “Spirit of Kelowna-Lake Country”. We saw this spirit many times throughout the year, including when people stepped up to help our local Ukrainian community, and Ukrainian refugees as their homeland came under attack.

Canada saw 40-year high inflation. The high-tax, high-spend, high-debt agenda of the NDP-supported Liberal government is hitting people hard and stories about how people and small businesses are struggling are heartbreaking.

The Governor of the Bank of Canada said Canada’s inflation is home grown. With record housing prices, rising interest rates and economic slowdown, we can all see the dream of home ownership for many is now just that, a dream. To combat these problems, I've fought for tax relief on gas, groceries and home heating.

The number one topic residents reached out about most was the invocation of the Emergencies Act for the first time. Conservatives fought against unscientific federal mandates and various legislation, including removing minimum sentencing for serious crimes, internet censorship, online changes to help only the largest media organizations and the prohibition of rifles used by hunters, farmers, First Nations and sport shooters.

The Auditor General released a scathing report on the (government’s) housing strategy to curb homelessness and another which highlighted billions of tax dollars that were misallocated in Canada’s pandemic spending towards unqualified applicants and the largest corporations.

I introduced my first Private Members Bill, the “End the Revolving Door Act”, to provide mental health assessment, addiction treatment and recovery in federal penitentiaries. More than 70% of people sentenced to jail struggle with addiction and my bill provides a common-sense approach to help people, their families and the communities they return to.

As a person adopted at birth, I also put a motion on notice similar to what other countries have, to celebrate adoption by calling for a National Adoption Awareness Month.

It was a privilege to be appointed as Employment, Future Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion critic by new Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre. I’ve focused on looking at the labour crisis in Canada and what common sense policies can be implemented.

Leading the Conservative team on the Canada Disability Benefit bill, I was happy to recommend an amendment that was passed at committee for expedited benefit reviews to see if there are unintended issues, such as interactions with other programs that could affect people.

It also was wonderful to be around the community, volunteering and attending fundraisers, pancake breakfasts, community cleanups, visiting farms as part of my annual farming tour and meeting with residents, businesses and not-for-profits organizations.

Paying tribute to veterans at numerous Remembrance Day events was important to me as well as having our booth set up at car shows, Vaisakhi and Canada Day, where I saw lots of people coming to chat and kids enjoying our colouring table.

Thousands of residents responded to my many surveys sent to homes. Reaching out allows me to gain important feedback, which I bring to Ottawa. Thank you to everyone who engaged with my surveys over the course of the year.

Many residents had challenges accessing federal government services, including the CRA, passports, NEXUS, immigration, veterans’ disability, or various benefits. Most departments are not meeting service standards. I want to thank my team members for their dedication to serving our residents while they overflow with opportunities to serve.

I hosted a ceremony to present the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pins to locals who contributed to our community. We didn’t realize at the time that it was the day before Queen Elizabeth II’s passing. Parliament was recalled and I attended the National Commemorative Ceremony in Ottawa.

I advocated for a full-service passport office in Kelowna so residents don’t have to travel to Surrey. The statistics justify this addition to service, and many local organizations support my initiative.

It is an honour to serve the residents of Kelowna—Lake Country as your voice in Ottawa.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and happy New Year.

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

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





Auditor General's pandemic spending audits raise questions

Pandemic repayments

The affects of record-high inflation continue.

Canada’s Food Price Report released this week predicted the average family of four will pay $1,065 more for food in 2023, coming off already high food inflation. It’s reported that charities are seeing donations down while the need for their services are increasing.

We know domestic inflation is connected to measures undertaken in response to the pandemic, which pushed Canada's debt above the $1 trillion mark for the first time in our history. The governor of the Bank of Canada called Canada’s inflation home-grown.

All parliamentarians supported actions to provide relief and protect public health early during COVID-19, however, the spending continued and even the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported hundreds of billions of that new spending by the (government) were not on pandemic relief. The Conservatives were also concerned programs lacked controls and disincentivized work.

That's why Parliament asked the Auditor General of Canada (AG) to audit pandemic benefit and procurement programs.

Her report was released this week, with conclusions rightfully raising the alarm over how the government ran pandemic relief programs and with how it plans to run future programs.

Upon auditing procurement (government purchases), the AG found the government secured hundreds of millions of vaccines, yet the Public Health Agency of Canada failed to track and minimize wastage by leaving doses to expire.

(The AG) found a $59-million-dollar vaccine tracking program was sidelined for Excel sheets, which, combined with poor data sharing with provincial health authorities, led to 13.6 million expired vaccines being disposed of, all while developing countries were looking for vaccines.

Upon auditing several relief programs, including CERB, the AG found the government failed to verify those who received benefits qualified for them. She found post-payment verifications have been repeatedly delayed by the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada.

The AG identified at least $32 billion in overpayments and suspicious payments that require further investigation. This massive hole in the Canadian budget represents almost 10% of the government's $334 billion annual tax revenues.

Specifically, the AG found $15 billion in pandemic aid went to companies profiting throughout the pandemic – many who paid out shareholders and executive bonuses. She also found Canadians not living in Canada, or sentenced to prison, received benefits despite the programs not being designed for those purposes. Another observation was that programs disincentivized work.

All this is concerning for new programs the government is rolling out with similar attestation processes, such as the dental care and rental cheque programs.

The same issues of government mismanagement and applicant fraud exist, as well as people who may genuinely believe they are (eligible) yet may get investigated in the future and forced to pay the money back, creating uncertainty and hardship.

Conservatives gave the government clear warnings right from the beginning of the pandemic that, while it was necessary in an emergency to get aid to Canadians quickly, some controls should have been in place, with rigorous and timely post-payment controls along with the halting of wasteful spending. It’s disappointing these warnings were not followed, with the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars and record high inflation.

The AG made several recommendations to the government. Shockingly, in the House of Commons, the national revenue minister called into question the independence of the AG saying the reports were politically motivated with pressure from Conservatives.

Of note, the AG was appointed by the Liberals, and is a non-partisan, independent officer. She refuted the accusation in a public statement.

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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About the Author

Tracy Gray, Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, is her party's critic for Employment, Future Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

She is a member of the national caucus committee’s credit union caucus, wine caucus, and aviation caucus.

Gray, who has won the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the 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, sat on the Passenger Transportation Board from 2010-2012 and was elected to the board of Prospera Credit Union for 10 years.

In addition, she served on the boards of the Okanagan Film Commission, Clubhouse Childcare Society, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Okanagan Regional Library and was chairwoman 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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