It’s amazing how time flies! After an extended break, this week Ottawa is in full swing with the start of a second session of this 41st Parliament, complete with a fresh Speech from the Throne. Along with a Speech from the Throne, outlining the Parliamentary agenda for the government are many new faces both in Cabinet and serving as Parliamentary Secretaries to those in cabinet. On that same subject it was deeply humbling to be officially sworn in earlier today as the Parliament Secretary to the President of Treasury Board, a challenging new role that I am very much looking forward to.
Over the past few months I have had a very enjoyable summer listening tour visiting all regions of Okanagan-Coquihalla and received many constructive and interesting ideas from a wide range of citizens. One area that I also heard a fair amount of feedback was regarding my social media presence. I have discovered that opinions on social media are not unlike discussion involving NHL teams – there is lots of passion and many seem to have very strong preferences on formats to use and not to use which is ultimately the reason for my post today.
When I started the “Dan in Ottawa” blog it was mostly to help document my activities as the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla to help keep citizens in the riding informed on many of my activities while in Ottawa. As the blog has evolved (for lack of a better term) it has also become a venue where I sometimes vent and offer other miscellaneous and random thoughts on events that occur in Ottawa and also back in the riding. Is there merit to this blog? That is largely my questions for today. I have been encouraged by some to abandon the blog and focus more on my MP website and other social media platforms (such as twitter) while others have suggested Facebook and a few have even encouraged the blog to continue now that the House of Commons is back in session.
Thus I am throwing the question out to those of you who still follow this blog– is it something you see as having value and should it be maintained (admittedly with more frequent posts) or should I abandon or integrate the blog into the www.danalbas.com or move on to other social media platforms both new and existing? As always, I greatly welcome your views on this and other subjects.
Currently there are two bottles of BC’s finest VQA wine in an undisclosed location (in order to protect the safety of the bottles) somewhere in Ontario at this very moment. Why you ask? This wine was a gift from Premier Christy Clark to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to encourage the Ontario Government to embrace the true spirit of Bill C-311 and support the Canadian wine industry by allowing the direct to consumer inter-provincial shipment of wine. You might be forgiven in asking why I have these bottles and why Premier Clark didn’t simply use FedEx Canada’s new wine shipping program instead. After all, the Premier of British Columbia directly shipping BC wine to the Premier of Ontario is perfectly legal now that Bill C-311 has been amended. In other words the nearly 85-year-old prohibition era Federal legislation that once made such shipping illegal is no more. It should also be pointed out that Premier Wynne could send a bottle of Ontario VQA wine directly to Premier Clark (or for that matter Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger) just not the opposite in return. At least according to Ontario Government restrictions. In spite of Bill C-311 passing one year ago the Ontario Government and LCBO liquor monopoly continue to cling with an archaic policy that only allows importation into Ontario “in person”.
This is where my having this wine comes in. In order for Premier Clark to satisfy Ontario Government restrictions, a bottle of BC wine cannot be directly sent Premier to Premier. First these two bottles of wine must be directly imported “ìn person” into the Province of Ontario. This entailed my physically transporting the wine into Ontario from British Columbia, a task now complete. Clearly in today’s day and age the inefficiency of this process can be summed up as little more than regulatory red tape that stands as an obstacle to the Canadian wine industry that remains largely dominated by foreign produced wines. I submit this is wrong on far too many levels to discuss in this particular thread. Back to the point, I would like to commend Premier Christy Clark for sending these premium bottles of BC VQA to Premier Wynne and I trust at some point in the near future Premier Wynne will find time to accept this generous offering. As we approach Canada Day and Bill C-311 has now reached the one year anniversary from receiving Royal Assent, I am reminded of the grassroots Free My Grapes movement who advocated that free trade in Canadian wine should not be a crime. Let us hope the Ontario Government will support the Canadian wine industry along with consumers by fully support the spirit of Bill C-311 with direct to consumer legislation as is currently supported by British Columbia, Manitoba, and in process at Nova Scotia.
Visit any Government liquor store this weekend and look at the amount of foreign wines compared to Canadian wines available for sale. Next think of the hundreds of small family wineries across Canada that simply cannot meet the scales of production for Government run liquor retailing. Direct to consumer sales and shipping of wine is how we can best grow our Canadian wine industry and support our regional economies. It’s the right thing to do. Over to you Premier Wynne.
Today Liberal MP and former interim leader Bob Rae announced he will be stepping down as a Member of Parliament to pursue a variety of other interests and no doubt also enjoy his upcoming 65th birthday in August. To be candid, I believe I am not alone when I say that Bob Rae will be missed by many on Parliament Hill and given the culture that prevails here, that is truly a compliment in recognition of Mr. Rae’s many years of service and his unique candor and approach to his work as a Member of Parliament.
Why I will miss Bob Rae has much to do with what will be one of our final exchanges that occurred during debate in the House of Commons back in late March of this year. During this debate on tariffs I questioned Mr. Rae on when he believes Canada should re-examine some of our long-standing international tariff agreements. Although Mr. Rae did not directly answer my question, he quite effectively responded to it by articulating his own views on this subject in a manner that was still mindful of the question. What I enjoy about questions during debate is that they are generally unscripted and while Mr. Rae and I have different views on this subject I admired his quick wit and well-spoken ability to put forward his position in a clear and coherent manner. This is, in my view, the epitome of a well-seasoned, veteran Member of Parliament and one whose presence will be missed in the House of Commons and Parliament Hill in general.
The actual exchange I have referred to above can be found at the following link:
I would like to wish Mr. Rae well in his future endeavors and again pass on my thanks for his many years of public service.
When it comes to haircuts there remains the option of using the services of a salon or the trusty hand of a barber. For many who depend upon the necessity of a schedule, the salon may be the preferred option while the take no appointments business approach of the barber is the answer for others. It’s important to always have choices and also to recognize that for some, “scheduling” is just not something that works for them. It occurred to me recently that the vast majority of my meetings are always “scheduled”. There are all kinds of reasons that necessitate the need for scheduling but what about those citizens who don’t work well with schedules?
As it happened, I did not accept any scheduled appointments this Friday, and also gave one of my staff a well-earned day off. Rather than work the back-end of my office by scheduled appointments I wanted to work the front counter so I could personally meet with my constituents who either called or dropped into the office unexpectedly for assistance. From my time spent as a city councilor and Member of Parliament I have found there is enormous value in meeting with people directly in a face to face meeting. I believe it is also important for citizens to be able to sit down with your elected official and asking them why the government has introduced a particular policy or explain the circumstances of a particular challenge they need help with in resolving.
My first walk in constituent was a very nice lady who after living in Canada for an extensive period of time, had decided to apply for Canadian citizenship. For many Canadians who were born here or have immigrated long ago, the requirements for immigrating to Canada have changed considerably over time as more emphasis is put on language and employment skills along with a renewed emphasis on citizenship. Knowing more about Canada, our history and our institutions is important information for all Canadians to be aware of. We should never forget that along with citizenship, comes both rights and responsibilities. This nice lady had a few questions regarding some of the questions in the citizenship guide, but certainly had an excellent grasp of our Federal, Provincial and municipal institutions.
My next drop in visitor turned out to be my friends Diego & Olive Alcaraz who happened to step in to see if I was in the riding so it was great to be able to have an on the spot meeting. Many in Penticton have heard Diego as he has devotes a tremendous amount of his time presenting at local schools (he is quite a gifted musician), arranging friendship tours in both Mexico and Canada or singing along with his ‘Amigos’ group as Diego works tirelessly to strengthen relations and understanding between Canada and Mexico. This turned out to be a great unscheduled opportunity for us to update each other on various aspects of policy and how to build stronger ties.
The reason why I think it is important to mention these meetings is that both of the above occurred with people who were “walk in’s”- meaning they were looking for a level of engagement, assistance and accountability from their Member of Parliament. For me it was great to interact with them, see their love for our country and to personally welcome them to my office without the delay of a scheduled meeting.
In my brief time as a Member of Parliament I have had many opportunities to raise local issues in Ottawa, to articulate and advance the opinions of my constituents, but I can say the part I relish the most is these face to face to face meetings. The old saying ‘no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care’ comes to mind. In the future I will be setting aside more time for those who lack the time to set a schedule.
Further to my prior post on this topic– the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs (in Ottawa) provides an opportunity for Members of Parliament to put forward a submission with respect to the Electoral Boundaries Commission recommendations. Each submission must be accompanied by the signatures of 10 other Members of Parliament in order to be accepted by the Clerk of the Committee. I can now confirm that I have put forward a submission that has been accepted by the Clerk of the PROC committee with respect to the electoral boundaries commission. Once the submissions are publicly posted I will provide a link for those who are interested in this subject.
From my perspective, electoral boundaries submissions are a potentially delicate topic. By design this process is intended to be an independent one that is free from political influence. “Gerrymandering” is a legitimate concern and there is a fine line between suggesting boundaries that are in the best interests of the people whom we are elected to represent and the partisan political interests of a party given that the location of a boundary can have some bearing on the electoral prospects within a region. It also must be noted that what may be a well-intended suggestion by one can in turn be viewed as politically motived by another. It is for these reasons that I have refrained from engaging in the debate as to where specific boundaries should be located– in my view this remains the responsibility of the independent and nonpartisan electoral boundaries commission. However as I have also stated in my previous comments– I believe that representation and the importance of accessibility between citizens and their member of Parliament MUST be taken into greater consideration than the currently suggested electoral boundary recommendations propose. Conversely– common sense must also be taken into consideration– an expectation that a small rural community should be expected to drive several hundred kilometres over at times treacherous roads to reach an MP when there is one located much closer is simply not a realistic one nor is it fair for rural residents.
Ultimately my submission reflected these points and asked that when there is a population imbalance between ridings (as is the case in our region of British Columbia) every effort should be made to ensure that the greater density of urban ridings is maximized from a population perspective to help reduce the size of rural ridings in terms of both population and area. As I have stated previously the current electoral boundary proposals do the opposite and I believe that creates an unacceptable situation for rural residents. At this point it is unclear what actions will next occur however I also believe that my NDP MP colleague Alex Atamanenko will also be putting forward a submission in this matter. I will provide further updates on this subject as they are available.
By and large technology greatly assists the work that I do as a Member of Parliament and I can only imagine how differently our offices would have run some three decades ago- such as they did when well known Kaleden veteran Fred King was the local Member. However at times technology can also create challenges – such was the case last Friday when I heard from a local constituent who encountered difficulty contacting my office via the toll free phone number.
Thanks to this constituent for making me aware of this issue as we have since discovered that a change of provider regarding the House of Commons phone system has created some difficulty for callers using the toll free phone number. While my capable staff have created a temporary solution until this is rectified with the provider, if you encounter any difficulties or for any reason are unable to reach my office via the toll free number, please call us at (250) 770-4480 or alternatively please send me an email at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca with your contact number and a best time when you can be reached and I will be happy to call you directly.
Today I have new found empathy for Globe and Mail reporter Kenneth Harvey. Back in the summer of 2011 Mr. Harvey found himself “bumped” from an Air Canada flight by none other than current MP and interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae. Mr. Rae had claimed his “Super Elite” first class status in order to board the Air Canada flight leaving Mr. Harvey behind to ponder what just had happened. Ultimately this led to an entertaining column by Kenneth Harvey that can be found online here …
Last night on my way back to Okanagan-Coquihalla I arrived at the Lester B. Pearson International airport (YYZ) in Toronto where I had a confirmed ticket for a connecting flight to Vancouver. Subscribers to my weekly MP reports and regular followers of my blog will know that I make every effort to avoid flying first class. I made a commitment when I was elected that wherever possible I would run my constituency affairs not unlike how I ran my business.
To my surprise an individual who was NOT confirmed for my flight (but like me was desperate to get back to BC), appears to have executed the same Bob Rae maneuver and claimed the same kind of “Super Elite” status to get on the Air Canada flight thus bumping off another passenger. You can guess which passenger was bumped! All I can say is that I sympathize with Mr. Harvey and ended up arriving at my destination around 3 AM.
The upside, is that the added time waiting for another flight allowed me to catch up on the day’s events including hearing about a small family business who after 14 years of paying into EI benefits, was ultimately denied them. Apparently this can be quite a common occurrence. I placed a call to the CFIB’s (Canadian Federation of Independent Business) new director of Provincial Affairs Mike Klassen to find out just how often this situation impacts small family run businesses. This may well be a subject worth further investigation. I also had a chance to catch up with my staff (who also like to work crazy hours) and a few constituents back in Okanagan-Coquihalla. All in all it ended up being a fairly productive wait for the next flight and thanks to technology I was able to stay connected and enjoyed hearing from citizens back in BC.
I not only now have a better understanding of Kenneth Harvey’s experience, I also appreciate why many MP’s look to get “Super Elite” Status– if you have important commitments it is clearly one way to better ensure that you get to your destination. Unfortunately this in effect also means that your arrival may come at the expense of another passenger. I am sticking to flying the same way that I always have and how most of the citizens who live in Okanagan-Coquihalla fly. My apologies to those citizens that I have had to reschedule with today on account of my delay.