Sneaky snowbirds could have financial wings clipped by new program

By Jim Bronskill

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA – Snowbirds beware: The federal government will use its planned border exit-tracking system to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in social benefits now going to people who shouldn’t receive them due to absences from Canada.

Newly obtained memos say the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada expect to save between about $194 million and $319 million over five years once the long-anticipated system is fully in place.

Federal officials have been working quietly to satisfy privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien’s office that personal information will be properly collected, used and disclosed under the program.

Under the 2011 perimeter security pact, Canada and the United States agreed to set up co-ordinated systems to track entry and exit information from travellers.

For the moment, the tracking system involves exchanging entry information collected from people at the land border — so that data on entry to one country serves as a record of exit from the other.

The first two phases of the program have been limited to foreign nationals and permanent residents of Canada and the United States, but not citizens of either country.

The initiative was to be expanded by June 30 of last year to include information-sharing on all travellers crossing the land border.

In addition, Canada planned to begin collecting information on people leaving by plane — something the United States already does — by requiring airlines to submit passenger manifest data for outbound international flights.

Federal officials have said work continues on the final phases, though no revised dates have been disclosed. The U.S. has legislative authority to proceed, but Canada would need to pass a bill.

A summer 2014 memo, recently released under the Access to Information Act, says savings can be expected through “preventing abuse and eligibility fraud” with respect to the employment insurance, old age security and child tax benefit programs by ensuring Canadian residency requirements are fulfilled.

It estimates savings over five years of:

— $48 million by Employment and Social Development Canada for the old age security program;

— $21 million by Employment and Social Development Canada for the employment insurance program;

— $125 million to $250 million by the Canada Revenue Agency for the child tax benefit program.

For instance, if a Canadian citizen or permanent resident was out of Canada for more than 183 days, entry-exit information would be shared with the revenue agency to administer the child tax benefit, says an explanatory memo.

However, this information alone would “never form the basis” for action against someone, as it is merely intended as a tipsheet. Verification would be needed before a federal agency could crack down on the traveller.

It has long been known that information from the entry-exit initiative would also be used to track the movement of suspected fugitives, child sex offenders, smugglers and terrorists, as well as identify people who remain in Canada past visa-expiration dates and help determine when those slated for deportation have voluntarily left.

The initiative’s scope prompted the federal privacy commissioner’s office to express concern it had expanded “beyond its initial parameters,” says one memo. But Canada Border Services Agency officials felt the objectives were “entirely consistent” with the perimeter security pact’s commitment, the memo adds.

Therrien’s office is waiting to receive detailed assessments from federal agencies as to how they would use entry-exit information, said Valerie Lawton, a spokeswoman for the privacy watchdog.

“We’ve emphasized that each institution will need to demonstrate that the proposed collection and sharing is necessary and effective, undertaken in the least privacy-invasive manner possible and designed so that any loss of privacy is proportionate to societal benefits.”

The border services agency had no immediate comment.

However, the internal notes describe several measures to protect privacy including signs at the border to notify travellers their information may be used for program integrity. People flying into Canada have been warned for many years that information on their customs declaration card may be shared.

Legislation to implement the final phases of the entry-exit initiative will spell out exactly how the information may be used and disclosed, and there will be redress procedures under which people can request access to their personal information, ask for corrections if needed and file complaints.

canada-press

Harper’s legacy: smaller government, unified party, targeted benefits

On election night 2006, Stephen Harper walked out in front of a room full of supporters and smiled at the country that had just voted for change.

The incoming prime minister told the crowd that the party would clean up Ottawa with the Accountability Act. They would cut the GST to five per cent. And the Conservatives would scrap the Liberal child care program and give money directly to parents.

He spoke of the big picture, saying the Canadian identity was not forged by government policy, nor did it flow from any one party or leader.

“The result tonight signals a change of government, not a change of country,” Harper said in his victory speech.

Yet after nine years in office, much has changed.

The federal government, in particular, has shrunk.

Taxes, such as the GST, have gone down and the tax code is sprinkled with tax credits.

The federal government has become less active in the daily lives of Canadians, with direct benefits replacing big government programs, for instance.

On the benefit front, the Conservative approach has become convention. Today’s Liberals promised a new child benefit of their own to replace the existing universal program. And the other parties have started to understand how to target pocketbook issues during elections that Harper used so effectively _ and that voters are now acutely aware of.

“You can take it as a recognition of clarity of leadership and purpose when the other parties call for similar policies or small incremental change,” said Tim Hudak, the former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

There is also one clear change that Harper has left on the political map:a unified Conservative party with a track record that spans a decade.

Observers say his efforts have inched federal politics to the right – although not as radically as some think, said Richard Nimijean, who teaches Canadian studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. Harper, he said, continued a path of slashing federal spending and tax cuts that started in the 1990s under the Liberal government of Jean Chretien.

The provinces have become bigger spenders, with provinces like Ontario still running deficits as the tax burden has shifted.

Moving the federal government back into a more activist role won’t be easy because the money to pay for new programs has to come from somewhere, said David McGrane, an associate professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

Cutting the GST by two points eliminated about $14 billion in annual government revenues. No government will want to increase the GST to pad the bottom line, McGrane said.

“That’s the largest thing that Stephen Harper has changed in Canada: just shrinking the size of government and doing so by reducing the tax base,” McGrane said.

(The Liberals instead have vowed to run deficits and raise taxes on the wealthiest Canadians; they still plan to lower taxes on small businesses as the Conservatives planned, and cut employment insurance rates, but not as much as Harper proposed.)

His crime agenda, embedded in legislation, won’t be easily undone, even as the courts acted as a check on government power. Calls for Senate reform, which Harper once championed, grew louder as the upper chamber was engulfed in a spending scandal sparked by Harper appointees.

He recognized Quebec as a distinct society _looking to eliminate separatist sentiment in the province _ and apologized to the survivors of residential schools, even though his government’s relationship with First Nations was problematic.

The residential school apology and the Truth and Reconciliation commission, combined with general prudence on spending and heavily investing to stabilize the economy during the recession six years ago will “all stand the recollection of this government well,” said Hugh Segal, a former Conservative senator.

There were also mistakes during Harper’s time in office, Segal said, pointing to anti-labour legislation and the cancellation of the long-form census.

“But governing for 10 years is a rare privilege, and Conservatives have no reason to be bitter,” Segal said. “Conservatives need to be thankful, respectful of the voters’ choice and reflect on how to regain the broad moderate centre clearly deserted in this campaign.”

 

IBC congratulates the Liberal Party of Canada – Looks forward to collaborating to build resilient communities

On October 20, 2015, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) welcomed Canada’s Prime Minister-elect, Justin Trudeau, and his colleagues at the Liberal Party of Canada as they form a  new majority government.

“On behalf of IBC and its members, I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to Mr. Trudeau and to all Members of Parliament who prevailed in yesterday’s election,” said Don Forgeron, President and CEO, IBC. “We look forward to working with the government on its election pledge to strengthen communities facing increasingly severe weather events stemming from climate change.”

Prior to 2009, insured damages from natural catastrophes were not notable. Today, however, they sit around $1 billion a year and in 2013 hit a historic high of $3.2 billion. The insurance industry has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects severe weather has had on Canadians, governments and businesses.

IBC has prioritized climate change adaptation and earthquake preparedness. A 2013 report commissioned by IBC from AIR Worldwide showed that Canada is not prepared financially for a severe earthquake that could negatively impact Canada’s economy.

New whistleblower policy released for Prince Edward Island’s public service

The government of Prince Edward Island has released a new whistleblower protection policy it says will strengthen the province’s public service.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan says the policy supports employees and recognizes “the vital role they have in speaking truth to power.”

The policy provides a procedure for reporting wrongdoing as well as protection from reprisal for public sector employees who make good faith attempts to report wrongdoing.

Wrongdoing includes violation provincial or federal law, the gross mismanagement of public funds or government assets, an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons or the environment, or directing others to engage in those activities.

Under the policy employees may make a disclosure to a supervisor, deputy minister, or the Ethics and Integrity Commissioner on a confidential basis.

The Commissioner will be responsible for resolving the matter by either referring it for investigation or by conducting an investigation.

 

CBC announces plans to sell off all buildings in midst of election campaign

CBC announced September 22, 2015 at a town hall for staff that it is selling all its property across the country, including major production facilities in Montreal and Toronto. These buildings were paid for by Canadians to allow the public broadcaster to produce quality original Canadian programming purely in the public interest. The announcement confirms a trend to strip CBC of that ability.

“The decision to close down production centres is of great concern for our members as it should be for all Canadians, and seriously jeopardizes the CBC’s ability to do meaningful production in the future,” said Marc-Philippe Laurin, CBC Branch President for the Canadian Media Guild (CMG). ‘Our members believe the public broadcaster can’t only be a distributor, it has to also be a producer. This plan threatens the ongoing legacy of award- winning documentaries, drama and other quality production at CBC and Radio Canada.”

These decisions most likely stem from the continuing and tremendous financial difficulties facing our national public broadcaster, a fact CBC President Lacroix acknowledged earlier this month.

“It makes no sense to plan this now, when three of the four national parties are promising to restore or increase funding to CBC,” says CMG National President Carmel Smyth. “Just today the Liberal party committed to increasing CBC funding by $150 million. In recent months the Green Party committed to an increase of $285-million, while the NDP says it will reverse the $115-million budget cut.  Why rush into such an irreversible decision now?”

In the words of former CBC President and Canadian cultural icon, Pierre Juneau:

“Public television cannot merely be a programmer. The particular ethics of public broadcasting demand that programs be designed with particular care. This requirement implies that the public broadcaster should also become involved in audiovisual production. While public broadcasters may buy or commission some programs, in-house production not only guarantees that programs will adequately meet the purpose of the broadcaster, but also ensures the perenniality of expertise—some would say a “culture” of creativity—particular to the public broadcaster.”

And as the Parliamentary Budget Officer pointed out earlier this year, asset sales are only a temporary fix. “Proceeds from one-time asset sales give the CBC a temporary cash infusion, which allows it to defer part of the Government’s operating subsidy until later in the fiscal year.”

The CBC has also cut more than 2,800 jobs since 2008 and has plans to cut another 1,600 by 2020.

Security expert calls move ‘reckless’ and ‘absolutely irresponsible’

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