As the end of the final calendar year of the Conservative Party’s first majority government approaches, Kootenay-Columbia Member of Parliament David Wilks spoke with The Valley Echo to hash out the decisions he and the Tories are making in Ottawa.
Earlier in 2014, the Conservative Party followed through with a promise made during the 2011 election campaign. Once the federal spreadsheets have been balanced – as they’re on track to achieve over the next fiscal year – some married couples with children under 18 will be eligible for “the family tax cut.”
“The Family Tax Cut would allow a spouse to, in effect, transfer up to $50,000 of taxable income to a spouse in a lower income tax bracket, providing tax relief up to a maximum of $2,000,” reads the budget.gc.ca website.
When it was suggested that income splitting benefits Conservative party donors more than average Canadian families, Wilks said that opposing political parties and national media outlets have placed too much attention on that one aspect of the tax break.
“Income splitting is targeted to Canadians who can utilize income splitting to their benefit,” Wilks said. “What they’re not talking about is that (the family tax cut) also comes with the child tax credit; universal childcare benefit, as well as the tax benefit with regards to placing your children in sports and activities.”
He then criticized the media for drawing attention to the number of Canadians the tax cut won’t benefit.
“Most of the media has represented that only 15 per cent of Canadians will benefit, but 4,000,000 Canadians will benefit from the whole package.”
(This equates to roughly 11.3 per cent of the population. Ed)
Under Conservative federal leadership, there is no chance of a reversal on the income splitting element of the family tax cut, he said.
Also coming into effect under the Harper Government over the past year was the First Nations Transparency Act, which required First Nation governments to make their earnings public. This federal legislation exposed some members of the Shuswap Indian Band who were receiving above-average salaries.
“What happened at the Shuswap First Nation band was one of those unfortunate ways of recognizing that there were some councillors and chief that were, in my opinion, well over-paid,” he said. “They should be accountable to the people who elect them. They should be accountable to all Canadians.”
He said the new transparency methods are standard at every other level of government in Canada.
“I, as an MP, or whether you’re the mayor of Invermere, an MLA, you must publicly provide your expenses and what you get paid every year. Mine are available on my website. I hold myself accountable for what I spend and what I earn.”
To expand upon the accountability of public spending, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau introduced the Transparency Act to eliminate fees for information as well as order disclosed info through an independent office, and “modernize our Access to Information system, which is stuck in the 1980s,” according to the Liberal Party.
Because it was proposed by an opposition party, it will require Conservative support in order to pass. Unlikely, according to Wilks, who believes it’s a political ruse.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, the Liberals were extremely apprehensive when we were the first party to bring in transparency.”
Another “transparency act” bill to come up in 2014 is the Price Transparency Act, which was introduced by the Conservative Party. Similar to Wilks’ argument against the Liberal’s Transparency Act, a Globe and Mail column made the argument that the Conservative’s Price Transparency Act is also nothing more than theatre, a “grandly titled bill (that) will do nothing of the sort.”
Wilks responded by saying the Conservative Party and the Globe and Mail publication have never been friends.
“We’ve heard from Canadians from coast to coast; they want to know why there’s a disparity in pricing from Canadian and US goods, especially when you’re looking at a company that runs business in both countries that purchases from the same wholesaler,” he said.
He said that some disparity between the Canada-US border can be justified, but not to the degree that has been observed.
Since forming a majority government in 2011, and especially over the past year, the Conservative Party’s dealings with Veteran Affairs haven’t been very well-received. Wilks said that when changes were made to the program, which compensates disabled veterans, information was selectively relayed.
Wilks said that eligible soldiers can receive a one-time, lump sum payment, but that’s falsely been portrayed as the lone and final benefit for disabled veterans. He says that depending on the individual, disabled veterans are eligible for many compensation programs. Though the lump sum payment can be chosen, it is just one option among a versatile payment plan.
“Since 2006, our government has put in $5 billion in new money for veterans,” he said. “But let’s face it, for some veterans — I’ll be very blunt — enough will never be enough. You could give them the world, and they’ll wonder why they didn’t get the world plus the moon.”
In addition to Canadian troops, the Russian military also earned the attention of the Canadian government after invading and annexing the Crimea peninsula in March.
“Some would argue whether the referendum was fair,” said Wilks. “I would strongly suggest that the referendum that was completed in Crimea was somewhat tainted.”
While sanctions have been imposed, Russian president Vladimir Putin continues to talk a big game, said Wilks, but his actions are having “an extremely tremendous effect on the Russian economy.”
The consequences are reversing much of the progress accomplished since the fall of the USSR, he said.
“In the world market, trust is everything.
Back in Canada, employers trying to access the world market for low-skilled labour are now having a tough time. Tweaks to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program over the summer substantially limited the value of its use.
“There were those employers that have built a business case around TFWs and I believe that Minister (of Employment Jason) Kenney made the right changes.”
Asked why an exception to the program was made for Microsoft earlier in December, Wilks said he doesn’t have an answer, but is inquiring.
Amid all of the domestic and international affairs, twinning the Trans Canada Highway is at the top of Wilks’ list. Widening the highway from the Alberta border to Kamloops is “probably my number one priority,” he said.
“It’s the last part that needs to be done. I’ve submitted a proposal to Finance Minister Joe Oliver and Prime Minister Steven Harper.”
Wilks said that if funding for the TransCanada isn’t allocated in next year’s budget, he’ll submit another proposal for the following year if he’s re-elected. He expects the entire project to span 30 to 40 years.
“This is a challenging piece of highway; it’s through very mountainous areas. This is not going to be easy,” he said. “(But) it’s vitally important to the Canadian economy.”
By this time next year, the Kootenay-Columbia federal riding will have grown to include the communities of Nelson, Kaslo, and Salmo.
“The biggest challenge for a MP for Kootenay Columbia is getting around,” said Wilks. “It’s an extremely large riding, extremely diverse, and it’s very time-consuming to get around, but you have to ensure that you are available in all of the communities.”
One of the most dominating news stories of the year was the result of the October 22nd shooting on Parliament Hill, in which Wilks, who retired from the RCMP in 2000, was forced to fall back on his police training.
“Certainly, my police instincts kicked in right away,” he said. “I hit the ground to make myself small for a few seconds; looked around and noticed that the east door to the Commonwealth room needed to be secure, so I went over and secured the east door — that’s where the gunfire was coming from.”
Wilks improvised, using furniture to seal the entrance.
“It’s always fun to throw chairs around and not get hell for it,” he said. “”We ensured that we were locked down as best we could until we heard from the House of Commons security team, as well as Senate security team, and then the RCMP and Ottawa city police.”
Wilks said he then worked to calm the room down, along with other former police officers in the room.
The shooting will result in heightened security around Parliament Hill, he said, but “the House of Commons has always been known as the people’s house, and has been open and accessed by the public for a long time. I don’t see that part of it changing.”
That attack was committed by a lone gunman, but it links to the bigger picture of Canada’s war against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIL), which was declared earlier that same month.
“It does go to show that this type of radicalization is happening in Canada,” said Wilks, “and there are those who felt that, prior to October 22nd, what happens over in the Middle East will just stay over there, and will never affect us as Canadians.”
Initially, the Canadian military had committed to providing assistance to the American military against ISIS for six months. Wilks has not been told whether that commitment will be renewed or not.
He said that while ISIS’s lack of political motives and merciless killing practices doesn’t bode well for any nation, the group’s strength should not be underestimated.
“They seem to have a lot of wherewithal behind them, and they can probably go quite a long time,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that it’s occurring in our country; we have to deal with it very strongly and very quickly.”
The gunman in that incident was equipped with a long barrelled rifle, which would have required registration before the gun registry program was scrapped in 2012.
Asked if the October 22nd shooting changed his views on the laws involving long guns, Wilks said, “absolutely not; none whatsoever.”
He’s never been in support of the gun registry, he said.
“I am shocked that in recent weeks the leader of the NDP has come out and indicated that they would revive something similar to the gun registry in 2015.”
He said that if a person feels the need to cause harm, they won’t be deterred by a registration program.
Wilks suspects that when NDP leader Thomas Mulcair proposed a gun registry program earlier in December, it was a strategy to solidify his party’s support in Quebec.
“Quebec, of all the provinces, is the one that’s most near and dear to the gun registry,” he said, citing the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique, considered one of the driving forces behind the now-abolished program.
The House of Commons resumes from its holiday break on Monday, January 27th.