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In-Your-Service

Bringing Kelowna-Lake Country issues to Ottawa

The work of an MP

My role as your Member of Parliament is to bring the voice of Kelowna—Lake Country to Ottawa, rather than be Ottawa’s voice in Kelowna—Lake Country.

That’s why in this week’s column, I’m going to highlight some of the work I’ve been doing to bring your priorities to Ottawa.

The rapid increase of housing prices in our community over the last several years is one of the most pressing issues facing our residents. From first-time homebuyers to new parents and to seniors on fixed incomes, the housing crisis is impacting everyone.

Recently, a local 15-year-old said to me “the dream of home ownership - is only a dream.” That comment hits the core of what has become one of the most frequent debates in the House of Commons and I quoted it to the parliamentary secretary to the federal housing minister when I asked why the government’s housing initiatives have failed to cool housing prices in the Okanagan.

I wish I could say the parliamentary secretary answered my questions substantively, but sadly, what I got for an answer was a rehashing and doubling down of the government’s dysfunctional housing policies over the past seven years, which have failed to have any impact on bringing prices down during their time in government.

A senior recently said to me she was holding her electric bill in one hand while looking in her pantry and deciding whether to pay her bill or buy food. That was just after she told me she and her husband had to go back to work part-time.

I brought the resident’s comments to Question Period. Thirty-year high inflation is hurting everyone and yet the government in Ottawa is failing to grasp the struggle everyday people are going through.

I also often look to meet with locals when they are in Ottawa and did so with an owner of a local RV dealership who was bringing forth issues affecting the RV and campground industries.

Our visit happened to coincide with the Canadian Environment Commissioner's release of his carbon tax study, which showed the government had not addressed the impact the carbon tax has had on small business owners across our country.

As I was questioning the environment minister that same day, I used our local RV business as a real-world example of how the minister’s policies were falling short of the government’s commitment to help small businesses recover.

While a real answer was sadly not forthcoming from the minister, I was happy to host our local resident to watch in the House of Commons during Question Period that day.

If you plan to visit Ottawa, now that Parliament has re-opened to the public, be sure to reach out to me so I can let you know what is required to get a tour or attend Question Period.

Also, that week, I had the opportunity to invite Michael J. Balingall, the chairman of the Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association and senior vice-president of Big White Ski Resort, to present at the Industry Committee on how tourism businesses have been impacted over the last few years, and what needs to be done to restore competitiveness.

He touched on the need to streamline processes to ensure travellers have confidence when coming to Canada, the need to address backlogs and labour shortages in our airports, as well as onerous red tape like the ArriveCAN application. We also heard about labour shortages many of our local small businesses are experiencing, and proposals about how to improve this situation.

You can see videos of some of the examples I cite in this column on my social media and on my website.

As Parliament continues to sit, I look forward to continuing to stand up for Kelowna-Lake Country in Ottawa.

If you need any 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.



191909


MP deluged with passport renewal delay complaints

Passport renewal delays

In Parliament, bills are meant to be carefully brought under the microscope of elected representatives to determine whether they are relevant to deal with real problems, while government services should be there to serve the public.

However, unfortunately, we are seeing the opposite. While the government is looking to cut down on scrutiny to pass its legislation quickly, the services it is responsible for have never been more slowly provided.

The government’s latest tactic to control Parliament its recent passing of Motion 11, with support from the NDP, granting the government new powers. It extends sitting hours in the House of Commons with no notice and without an agreed to quorum of MPs being present, meaning Liberal MPs don’t have to show up to debate their own legislation during this time.

Motion 11 can abruptly interrupt the work of Parliament's committees by cancelling them. Committees study a whole range of important topics to Canadians and their work will be delayed.

It also gives the prime minister the power to adjourn the House of Commons until September at his pleasure.

We’ve seen the prime minister halt the work of Parliament before, with prorogation in 2020 to end the investigation into his dealings in the WE Charity scandal and then with the snap election in 2021.

The new powers effectively also give the government the ability to speed up the passage of a host of new laws. They've done this already by moving to cut off debate on the expensive omnibus Budget 2022, and the online “censorship” Bill C-11, both of which went to a vote to move the legislation along with little debate.

The irony isn’t lost on me that the government is therefore censoring debate on a bill dealing with censorship.

Transparency in our laws and accountability to all of Parliament are not bugs in the system. They are features of our democracy and are in place to ensure we pass good laws, not quick laws.

•••

On another topic, with so many looking to finally travel, passport renewals are seeing high rates of applications and slow times for delivery.

My constituency office has received a huge amount of correspondence from residents about their difficulties in getting their passport renewed.

I've heard from constituents stuck for hours on the phone and in line-ups only to receive no assistance. There are reports of people being paid up to $50 an hour to hold spots in lineups.

One local situation particularly struck me from a mother who applied for renewals for her and her family in early March and was told she had plenty of time to receive the passport in time for a family trip in May. Service Canada was telling MPs at that same time there would be delays.

Another situation was a local senior, without a computer, who was turned away from a Service Canada office because he didn’t bring in forms accessed online and there were none there for him to fill out. My constituency team was pleased to serve him and assisted with printing off the forms he needed at my office.

Now families, who did the right thing and applied early, still stand to lose out on their passports and are cancelling long-anticipated trips at great cost and disappointment. I will continue to press the government to remove mandates so all can travel as well.

This isn't the fault of Service Canada employees who the minister has said are working long hours and weekends to help Canadians as fast as they can. It's the fault of the government, which was so ill-prepared for what was a very predictable uptick in demand considering the few renewals that occurred over the last two years. A surge in passport renewals was to be expected.

The government is simply not moving swiftly enough to ensure Service Canada has the resources to truly serve our growing community here in Kelowna-Lake Country.

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

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



Questions arise from public inquiry into use of Emergencies Act

Public inquiry launched

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time is still spurring plenty of conversation and debate in Canada, with one question yet to be answered: did it meet the extraordinarily high thresholds to use emergency powers.

The Emergencies Act provides for an automatic public inquiry triggered within 60 days of its invocation. While the prime minister may have waited until the last day to establish it, we now have a Public Order Emergency Commission headed up by Justice Paul Rouleau. The inquiry is important, considering its precedent on the impact on Canadian Charter rights.

The announcement of the inquiry doesn't leave optimism Canadians will see much new information come forward based on what we've heard so far. In the government's news release, more time was spent discussing the importance of the inquiry in investigating the origins, impacts, and effects of the convoy than on government actions and whether thresholds were met. There are further comments by the government attempting to control the scope of the inquiry.

The Emergencies Act inquiry trigger was meant to provide perspective and analysis of the government's actions in using it and should be an inquiry of the government, not a trial of others.

Conservatives believe the commissioner should be given the power to compel the production of important documents and evidence, including those covered under cabinet confidence and in the opinion provided to the government by the Justice Department.

The government invoking cabinet confidentiality on court cases filed to bring forward facts and rationale behind the prime minister's Emergencies Act decision is another attempt to shield itself from public scrutiny. Similarly, the government wouldn't commit to making those documents available to the commission.

Transparency is required. If the government is confident that the Emergencies Act was needed, it should have no fear of presenting all the facts publicly.

•••

Locally, you may have received my 2022 Grocery Survey in your mailbox, and if not, it should appear soon. It's a two-sided card with a small survey you can mail back to my office, postage free, or email me with your answers. It covers grocery prices, food insecurity, and price inflation.

I sent out this card because increasingly, residents from all demographics are reaching out to let me know the actions they're being forced to take with grocery bills consuming a more significant amount of their incomes due to unprecedented inflation.

Retirees are returning to the workforce. Young adults are adding part-time work on top of full-time employment. Low-income earners are eating less to pay utilities or rent. The stories I hear are heartbreaking and are becoming far too common.

Though food inflation is reported at 7.7% for March in Canada, we have to recognize that all food products are not captured in the analysis and there are regional differences. I'm hearing the food cost increases in Kelowna-Lake Country may actually be much higher.

That's why I need your help in putting together your assessment on food prices and food insecurity and how it is affecting your pocketbook and family. Your input helps me advocate on your behalf in Ottawa.

While I receive your surveys and feedback, let's all remember the importance of doing our part to tackle food insecurity at home.

The Central Okanagan Food Bank reports a 28% increase in requests for food bank services. It's becoming more common that a person struggling with food insecurity is someone we know.

If you are able, you may wish to reach out to a local food bank near you to see how you can help.

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

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



191909


Important items missing from latest federal budget

Missing the mark

We know April showers bring May flowers, but what did this year's federal budget bring?

The government touted it as a “post-Covid” budget, but what Canadians received was an unfocused, heavy spending budget that does little to help Canadians with their everyday struggles.

While I was hoping we would see an outline for long-term economic growth and debt management, as well as immediate tax savings for families and small businesses to help with inflationary pressures, we received nothing of the sort.

Months into an inflation crisis, we still see no end to the federal government's continued money printing. More dollars chasing fewer goods will only result in higher gas, groceries, and housing prices.

Pouring more tax dollars into ineffective government programs like the National Housing Program is neither good value for money nor helping with housing affordability. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer said the government's housing initiatives have produced "limited results" when it comes to housing affordability. A scan of our local housing real estate listings confirms that.

We need a real plan to address the housing crisis rather than doubling down on failed government programs from previous budgets.

The government also directed large spending to initiatives without plans. An example of this is $3.8 billion in Budget 2022 to launch the Critical Minerals Strategy- which still does not exist. I've asked for this plan at the committee level from the government for months.

The effects of March's Liberal-NDP supply and confidence agreement are also clearly on display in this new budget, with $15 billion in new spending commitments related to their deal.

However, what has been dropped by the government is equally important. Gone are the guardrails the government committed to in 2020 to reduce stimulus spending relative to the speed Canadians returned to jobs lost because of the pandemic. Also gone is the commitment made in the prime minister's mandate letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to create no new, permanent spending.

Even promises the government ran on in the last recent election have been dropped.

Gone is the promise to provinces to help hire 7,500 new family doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners and to cut surgery backlogs. The establishment of mental health transfer payments has been left out, with discussion only at future interprovincial meetings.

And the commitment made to British Columbia communities still rebuilding from last year's floods and fires to upgrade infrastructure to mitigate future weather events is also gone.

One spending item Canadians won't see a benefit from is the $26.9 billion in debt interest servicing which could have been used to help staff our hospitals, reduce inflation, equip our armed forces, or help the less fortunate.

As the shadow minister for Small Business Recovery and Growth, I was disappointed to see the government's proposed support for small businesses fall out of line with what small businesses themselves have asked for. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents small businesses at the national level, called this budget "a missed opportunity to help small businesses."

The federal government is choosing to maintain its maze of red tape and tax increases with no focus on crippling supply chain issues. Payroll tax increases remain in place despite national labour shortages, leaving fewer payrolls to tax, carbon tax increases make the cost of everything rise and our local wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries will still have their products hit with excise escalator tax increases.

Lastly, the price tag of this budget, a $52.8 billion deficit, will not only increase inflation but will add to our more than $1 trillion national debt, which is rising by $6 million every hour.

Less than a week after seeing Budget 2022, the Bank of Canada hiked interest rates by 50 basis points (0.5%) and warned it would likely raise rates further to combat the out-of-control inflation and cost-of-living crisis.

A commitment to reduce our national debt, along with strategies for long-term economic recovery and to reduce inflationary pressures should have been at the heart of Budget 2022.

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

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 the official Opposition’s critic for Small Business Recovery and Growth.

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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