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PM hiding from Parliament?

Back in May, the Trudeau Liberal government announced its preference for four summer sittings of the House of Commons' special COVID committee.

These sittings were set to occur on:

  • July 8
  • July 22
  • Aug.12 
  • Aug. 26.

Many MPs and party leaders planned their schedules to participate on these days. 

As an example, this week I am in Ottawa where I was able to ask several questions to the minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau planned to be away during this week's sitting and could not be held accountable.

There are so many important questions right now. 

One question asked by an NDP MP was:

"How can Canadians currently receiving CERB plan for the transition to EI at the end of the month when it is just weeks away and they have no idea what the details will be?"

Unfortunately, the minister replied that the government is not in a position to provide any details until “next week." 

Next week is less than two weeks from the time the CERB benefit ends. 

If someone collecting CERB receives less money on EI, this is something they will need to budget for.

I asked a number of questions including the challenge facing many expectant mothers who, because of COVID, were just short of accumulating the required hours to be eligible for the Canada maternity benefit.

Unfortunately, the minister couldn’t answer this question either.

Also occurring this week, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Yves-Francois Blanchet, has demanded that:

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his finance minister and his (The Prime Minister’s) chief of staff resign.”

Mr. Blanchet has taken issue with:

  • Details of the WE Charity contract
  • Revelations the administration of the commercial rent relief program went to a company where the husband of the PM’s chief of staff is employed as a senior executive. 

In order to carry out his threat, Mr. Blanchet indicated the Bloc will table a confidence motion against the Trudeau Liberal government this fall.

The only way such a motion could pass is if all three opposition parties, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and Conservatives, voted in favour.

Generally speaking, this is how many minority governments ultimately fall.

My question this week relates to this potential non-confidence motion.

  • In the event the Bloc Québécois tables a non-confidence vote in the Trudeau Liberal government that could potentially trigger a fall election, would you vote in favour or against?

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



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COVID app not perfect

There are times, despite efforts to the contrary, that government at all levels end up running into situations where there is a no-win scenario.

Case in point, recently the Trudeau Liberal government announced a federal application (or app) for smart phones, designed to assist in COVID-19 contact tracing.

This app utilizes Bluetooth technology to exchange random phone codes whenever you are in close proximity to other users who are utilizing the same app on their cell phone.  

In the event one of these users has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, all other app users who were in proximity to this individual can receive a confirmation alert.

In order to satisfy individual privacy concerns the app does not use GPS tracking, nor does it record your identity or any of your personal identification. 

Currently, this app is fully functional for the purposes of contract tracing in Ontario, but it is my understanding that it will be coming to more provinces in the future. 

There have been some criticisms of the app, largely around the fact it is only compatible with smart phones that are not older than five years and also have the latest operating systems from Apple or Android installed. 

This leaves those with older devices, as well as those who do not use smart phones at all, out in the cold. 

It may turn out that some will be unaware that the app does not work with their existing phone, only to become surprised when it becomes clear that it will not operate on their device.

The bottom line here is the app is not perfect. 

From my perspective the government deserves credit for taking an innovative approach that has been successfully used in other jurisdictions. 

As with most technological approaches to public policy issues, it is only over time where further refining and enhancements of the technology can lead to widespread adoption and better results. 

I have written to the Privacy Commissioner in regard to this and his office has created a privacy framework for reviewing any Government of Canada contact tracing app.

Recently Daniel Therrien, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, stated that:

  • “Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections.
    I will use it.” 

After having done the research for this report and given my work involves a lot of travel and meeting various people at different kinds of Parliamentary meetings, I have chosen to install the app.

My question this week is:

  • Have you or would you download the Canada COVID-19 alert app on your handheld device?

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



Winery taxes popping?

While it would be relatively easy to cover the latest developments of the WE Charity Foundation, I would rather focus on outcomes of government policies.

More specifically, when former Conservative Finance minister, the late Jim Flaherty, created a very important policy to the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys.

On July 1, 2006, Minister Flaherty announced that wines that were produced in Canada, with 100% Canadian grapes, would be fully exempt from paying the federal excise tax on alcohol.

This was a policy that, according to Wine Growers of Canada President Dan Paszkowski, has “resulted in more than 400 new wineries and 40 million litres of new wine sales.

“The annual economic impact of this growth is $4.4 billion annually. Now that was a smart federal program with a solid ROI."

Here in the Okanagan, we have all witnessed many wineries and resulting spin-off business emerge throughout literally every community. 

Flash forward to 2017, the Trudeau Liberal government introduced a permanent measure to create an “escalator excise tax” in that year’s federal budget.

What is an escalator excise tax?

It is a tax that: 

“would be levied on most wine, beer and spirits sold in Canada. Under an escalator tax, essentially the tax rate is increased every year and is set by civil servants linked to inflation as opposed to having to come before the House for debate in the annual budget.”

As the Conservative opposition at that time, we opposed this tax.

Unfortunately, Australia, a country that imports a significant amount of wine into Canada, filed a trade challenge with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over this policy.

The reason — the Trudeau escalator tax would increase the cost of Australian wine to Canadian consumers every year, however, 100% Canadian grown and produced wines would be exempt.

This week, it was quietly announced that the Trudeau Liberal government will, over the course of the next two years, remove the excise exemption for 100% Canadian grown and produced wines, thus increasing their costs.

How this will impact our local wineries here in the Okanagan and elsewhere at this point remains unknown.

B.C. wineries already pay a significant amount of taxes to local, provincial and federal governments that competing wines outside of Canada do not pay.

There is also the added test that currently only three Canadian provinces allow winery to consumer shipping directly from outside the home province.

With restaurants generally purchasing less wine on account of reduced hours and capacity, these are now tough times for an important local industry to our region.

Ironically, with wines sales being reduced, the considerable amount of excise and sales tax on wine is also reduced, thus netting less government revenue in these areas.

My question this week comes back to the escalator tax:

  • Do you support a tax automatically increasing each year, set in legislation, as opposed to being fixed and reviewed each year in a budget?

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





Response to COVID-19

The House of Commons reconvened briefly this week to allow Parliament to pass Bill C-20:

  • “An Act respecting further COVID-19 measures.”

Bill C-20 proposed a number of different measures, such as allowing the extension of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) until Dec.19.

The bill also included the ability of government to update much of the CEWS program criteria until Nov. 21.

A CEWS “top-up” subsidy, of up to an additional 25%, will now be available for employers that have been harder hit by the pandemic and are in industries that may require more time to recover.

Aside from the many changes to the CEWS program, Bill C-20 also allows the federal government to share some personal information.

The reason for this is to complete a one-time payment to Canadians with disabilities.

To qualify, an applicant must hold “a valid Disability Tax Credit (DTC) certificate (eligible persons not yet in possession of such a certificate would be able to apply for one up to 60 days after Royal Assent to be considered for the one-time payment).”

Canadians receiving the Canada Pension Plan disability benefits or Quebec Pension Plan disability benefits as well as those receiving disability supports provided by Veterans Affairs Canada will also qualify.

Those who meet this eligibility criteria will receive a non-taxable, one-time payment of up to $600.

It is expected that approximately 1.7 million Canadians will qualify for this benefit.

Aside from the debate and passing of Bill C-20 in the House of Commons, there were also two days of question period.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not participate in Question Period the first day, he did attend the second day and was questioned heavily on the decision of his government to sole-source a $910-million volunteer program to the WE Charity, which has since been cancelled.

As the shadow cabinet critic for employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, I was pleased that Parliament was able to pass the much-needed disability benefits in Bill C-20.

My question this week is not about Parliament.

In the Okanagan there have been reports of a growing number COVID-19 cases from local social gatherings.

  • How satisfied are you about the current actions undertaken by all levels of Government to contain
    COVID-19?

 I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 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 for Employment, Workforce Development & Disability Inclusion.

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.

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

MP Dan welcomes comments, questions and concerns from citizens and is often available to speak to groups and organizations on matters of federal concern. 

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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