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In-Your-Service

Holding the government accountable

MP questions ministers

Serving in the official Opposition, one of my most important duties as a Member of Parliament is holding Liberal government Ministers accountable for both management and spending within their respective departments.

With the new federal budget recently released, Members of Parliament on the Human Resources Committee, on which I serve, were able to question several ministers about issues such as foreign workers at a government-subsidized company, benefits to persons with disabilities, questions about following ethics laws and an ever-increasing massive federal government IT project budget.

Conservatives questioned the labour minister about agreed-upon contracts with Stellantis N.V. to build the NextStar electric battery plant in Canada in exchange for $15 billion in federal tax incentives.

Canada's Building Trades Unions wrote to the government with their concerns that hundreds of foreign workers are displacing Canadian labourers at the construction site, calling it "a slap in the face."

We asked the the labour minister why he hadn't demanded a memorandum as part of the deal to guarantee hiring Canadian contractors for the Stellantis plant. The minister said he did not view this as his role, and it was a matter of provincial jurisdiction, even though potential foreign workers coming to Canada is a federal responsibility.

My questions to the persons with disabilities minister regarded recently revealed details about the proposed Canada Disability Benefit, which does not match the commitments made by the government. I heard from many local residents how this was a broken promise.

The proposed benefit would provide a maximum of $200 a month to recipients of the Disability Tax Credit starting in July 2025. The proposal has received widespread negative reaction from organizations such as the National Disability Network, which criticized its design for having "little impact on removing people with disabilities from poverty."

I asked the minister three times whether she agreed Canadians living with disabilities are facing a cost-of-living crisis. Unfortunately, she did not answer these direct questions. I also asked if she met with all her provincial counterparts, as the Canada Disability Benefit needs provincial buy-in to prevent clawbacks on provincial benefits.

Disappointingly, she stated she had not met with all of them, despite the fact she was appointed minister 10 months ago.

Recently, Global News published two stories concerning the employment minister’s former businesses. The minister remained listed as a director of a medical supply company for more than a year while the company competed for $8.2 million in government contracts.

Global News also reported the same minister, from Edmonton, received payments from his former lobbying company at the same time it was lobbying for $110 million in federal grants for its client, the Edmonton International Airport.

Conservatives repeatedly asked the minister to reveal how much he received in those payments, but he did not answer.

I also pushed for answers from the citizens’ services minister about missed service standards at Service Canada for essential benefits, including Employment Insurance, Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan. One service standard was only met 6% of the time, as recorded in Service Canada’s last fiscal report.

Additionally, the IT platforms these benefits operate on are being upgraded under the government's Benefits Delivery Modernization Program. That project has quickly gone massively over budget, by a staggering $2.6 billion. While the minister insisted it was not over budget, the minister's self-admitted, new $4.4 billion budget number is much higher than the program's original $1.75 billion estimate.

At the time of writing, my Conservative colleagues and I are preparing to question the housing and the families ministers.

Parliament was founded to ensure accountability by the government, a task I faithfully pursue as I continue to serve you in my role in the official Opposition.

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

Tracy Gray is the Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country.

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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Latest federal budget panned as a national debt builder

Canada's debt growing

With the Liberal government's ninth budget just tabled, I was cautiously optimistic we might see a change of direction to address inflationary food costs, high-interest rates impacting mortgage renewals and first-time home buyers trying to get into the market, and our ever growing national debt.

Conservative MPs asked for a budget that would “axe” the (carbon) tax on farmers and food, build more homes instead of bureaucracy, and cap spending with a dollar-for-dollar rule to bring down interest rates and inflation. Ottawa should be finding a dollar in savings for every new dollar of spending it wants to enact.

Unfortunately, the government recommitted itself to the same inflationary deficits that have pushed Canadians into a cost-of-living crisis.

In her budget speech, the finance minister talked about not passing ballooning debt on to our children. But that is exactly what this budget does.

Budget 2024 forecasts the federal debt will rise to $1.2 trillion this year and the interest we'll pay in servicing that debt will increase to $54 billion this fiscal year.

The budget also shows last year the government raised $51 billion in revenue from the GST. As a comparison, that means that every cent of GST Canadians, businesses, or not-for-profits pay on products or services they buy won't go towards a single government service or program. Instead, it will be used solely to pay the interest on the government's credit card. As another comparison, $54 billion is more than the federal government intends to spend on healthcare transfers to provinces this fiscal year.

There is widespread backlash by local residents and national groups representing persons living with disabilities with the government's proposal in the budget for the Canada Disability Benefit, which won’t be implemented until well into 2025, leaving more questions than answers.

Many with disabilities are already among the hardest hit by this cost-of-living crisis. There have been five years of Liberal ministerial photo ops and announcements, and people are tired of all the broken promises.

The budget’s title is “Fairness for Every Generation.” Skyrocketing federal debt will consume more and more of our tax dollars while potentially putting future social, environmental or security initiatives at risk. I would argue that isn't worth the cost to any generation and certainly isn’t fair to young adults and kids who will bear the brunt of paying the debt down (in the future).

This unwavering commitment to higher debt and higher deficits has characterized the Liberal government's last nine years.

Also, over the last nine years, we’ve seen a doubling of rent, mortgage payments and down payments. We have seen a record two million visits to food banks in a single month. This is not coincidental and is, in fact, the consequence of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal deficits driving up costs.

That's what both the Bank of Canada and former Liberal finance minister John Manley confirmed when they said the federal government's deficit spending was pressing on the inflationary gas pedal, forcing the Bank of Canada to balloon interest rates as a brake.

New program spending outlined in Budget 2024 won't meaningfully impact consumers' costs if inflation is not brought under control, therefore lowering interest rates and if the government continues to increase taxes, which they are. Food, gas prices and unemployment are also predicted to rise through 2024. That is why David Dodge, the former Liberal-appointed governor of the Bank of Canada, said this budget is the worst budget he's seen since 1982.

These are just some of the reasons I and my Conservative colleagues will vote against the Liberal government's ninth debt and deficit-fuelled budget.

If you need assistance with federal 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.



MP ties federal government to B.C.'s overdose death crisis

Call for drug policy reversal

The addiction crisis and government drug policies

I recently spent a day door-knocking in our community and the two top issues I heard at the doorsteps related to families experiencing an affordability crisis, along with drug-related crimes and addiction. Many people gave me examples of safety issues they’ve experienced around open drug usage.

We are seeing the tragic results of the provincial NDP government’s—supported by the federal Liberal government—drug decriminalization policy experiment on our streets and in families.

B.C. was the first province in Canada to implement illicit drug decimalization policies, which took effect Jan. 1, 2023. In 2023, the coroner's office sadly reported 2,511 deaths (from overdoses)—the highest rate of overdose deaths in B.C.’s history, where roughly one person every four hours fatally overdosed. Those aren’t just statistics, they were family members and neighbours.

While no one solution will solve this public health crisis, what the government is doing isn’t working and, in fact, many argue is making it worse. Federal Liberal and NDP MPs ignore solutions to get addiction treatment and recovery to people suffering from addiction—like when they voted down my Private Members Bill C-283 - End the Revolving Door Act.

Dozens of leading addiction doctors have now come out imploring the federal government to cancel or amend Canada’s “safe supply” policies, citing the federal government misrepresented the programs to the public, causing further harm to communities and vulnerable people with addictions as they are seeing new patients suffering from addiction and overdoses. Yet the federal mental health and addictions minister doubled down in statements at committee on her unwavering commitment to their drug policies.

I spoke in the House of Commons on behalf of parents in my community and across B.C., raising their concerns about not bringing their children to parks and playgrounds due to permitted open drug use. Crime has become rampant in our neighbourhoods, hurting families and small businesses.

It was reported recently that in Kamloops, a mother found what appeared to be a baggie of drugs in her kids’ candy haul at an Easter egg hunt.

On the criminal justice side of this, the current federal government’s soft on crime approach brought forth Bill C-5, which removed minimum sentences for many serious crimes, including drug trafficking and the production of illicit drugs. The removal of deterrence measures is something Canada’s Conservative official Opposition opposes. Recognizing addiction as a public health issue does not mean reducing the consequences for those who prey on vulnerable people.

It has been widely reported that a serious problem is government supplied, taxpayer-funded hard drugs end up in the hands of organized crime to be trafficked in the black market across Canada, fuelling the toxic drug crisis. The RCMP in Campbell River, and most recently in Prince George, seized thousands of prescription drug pills, many of which were diverted from the B.C. government’s safe supply program.

A recently leaked internal memo from B.C.’s Northern Health Authority (sent to staff at G.R. Baker Hospital in Quesnel) revealed how staff were instructed to tolerate drugs and weapons in their workplace. The backlash was swift. Though the memo was through a provincial body, the federal government’s drug decimalization policies were cited as a catalyst.

The B.C. Nurses’ Union president stated that open drug use and weapons have become “a widespread issue of significant magnitude” and that the problems increased dramatically after drug decriminalization; where “before there would be behaviours that just wouldn’t be tolerated, whereas now because of decriminalization, it is being tolerated.” Nurses have cited examples of health and safety issues.

About three years ago, the first U.S. state to implement drug decriminalization was Oregon. Recently, Democratic regulators in Oregon recognized their public failure in drug decriminalization and voted to reverse course. It's not too late for the federal government to recognize its mistake in approving the B.C. government’s drug policy request, and reverse it.

Conservatives are focused on strengthening laws to focus on victims, not criminals, and on treatment and recovery to help those suffering from addiction.

Tracy Gray is the Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country.

(Editor’s note: After the RCMP initially said it noticed an alarming trend over the last year of uncovering increasing amounts of prescription drugs in trafficking investigations, the RCMP’s assistant commissioner in B.C. and B.C.’s solicitor general both later said diversion of safer supply drugs was not widespread.)

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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Financial pressures build on food banks in Canada

Food banks busier than ever

Not only has the affordability crisis affected households and businesses, not-for-profits have been hit hard as well.

It was reported the Central Okanagan Food Bank set new records for the number of appointments in January with 9,097, and just under that number in February. To visualize that, it’s more people than could fill Kelowna’s Prospera Place arena.

This comes at a time when Food Banks B.C. reports 30% of all food bank users in the province are children and 20% more seniors are seeking assistance. Tragically, it also reported there's been a 30% drop in donations across British Columbia.

The UBC Student Union Okanagan also reported 43% of undergraduate students experience food insecurity due to the high cost of living.

According to Canada's Food Price Report, the cost of food for the typical family of four is expected to rise by $700 in 2024.

Second Harvest, Canada's largest food rescue organization, says food banks nationwide expect to brace themselves for an 18% increase in demand this year, which translates to more than a million people. Its survey also found the average funding demand per non-profit food program has increased by 13% from last year, which already saw record increases.

There are reports of a Facebook group called the Dumpster Diving Network, where 8,000 Canadians share tips on finding food in dumpsters because they cannot afford groceries. It is unbelievable that this is occurring in Canada. It’s like families and not-for-profits are rowing in one direction while the federal government is going in the other.

A significant driver in the cost-of-living crisis has been the carbon tax set by the federal Liberal government, which is set to increase again, by 23%, on April 1. This will increase the cost across the entire food chain including farmers, manufactures, transporters, warehousers, and retailers.

The federal government mandates what the carbon tax amount is, and it is increasing it every year, with plans to quadruple it (by 2030). Provinces can administer it through charging and collecting themselves (like in B.C., which is why you see “B.C. Carbon Tax” on your home heating bill) or the federal government will. Either way, it’s the same amount.

I recently had a resident forward me his home heating bill, where his gas usage was $50 and the carbon tax was $72. A local small business owner also showed me his gas bill, where $750 was carbon tax. Following the government's plan, the carbon tax will increase from $65 to $80 per tonne on April 1 and is scheduled to rise incrementally to $170 per tonne in 2030. As the carbon tax escalates annually, the financial burden on families and small businesses will intensify.

The operating costs of not for profits are increasing, and the cost to purchase food for food banks is increasing as well.

Conservative MPs tried to force the federal government to cancel the planned April 1 tax hike. Seven provincial governments, Liberals and Conservatives, joined in this effort, calling for the planned 23% increase to be canceled. A recent Leger poll also showed 69% of Canadians oppose increasing the carbon tax on April 1. Unfortunately, Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs voted down the Conservative motion to cancel the planned increase. As a result, Canadians will continue to pay more for groceries, gas and home heating.

The carbon tax is also not helping Canada meet its climate goals. Last year's Climate Change Performance Index had Canada falling four spots to 62nd out of the 67 countries measured.

I have frequently written about the spirit of Kelowna-Lake Country and the ability of our community to come together quickly to help those in need with repeatedly opening our doors, wallets, and hearts to those struggling. We are blessed with amazing people who give so much of their time volunteering at our local not-for-profit organizations.

My Conservative colleagues and I remain steadfast in advocating to stop tax increases and end the federal carbon tax, in Ottawa.

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

Tracy Gray is the Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country.

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]

 



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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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