Government Relations Report

Spring 2010 CSANews Issue 74  |  Posted date : May 27, 2010.Back to list

The third edition of The Canadian Travellers' Report Card was officially released at the Snowbird Extravaganza in Lakeland, Florida this past January. Since then, a copy has been sent to every federal, provincial and territorial elected official in Canada. CSA officials have also been actively discussing the report with members of both the print and electronic media from coast to coast.

Although we are pleased that many provincial and territorial governments have responded with improvements to service coverage, it has become increasingly clear that there is much more which our governments can be doing to assist Canadian travellers. It is challenging to obtain clear and accurate descriptions of government policy as it affects travellers. Layers of legislation, regulations and policy statements make up the approach of each jurisdiction. These approaches change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and, in some cases, there are even discrepancies within a province or territory's own rules.

We have published key sections of the report in the following pages. I would strongly encourage you to read them and to also read the entire report, which is available online at www.snowbirds.org. More leadership from our federal, provincial and territorial governments and more consistent standards across the country will help make travelling a pleasant, safe and rewarding experience, regardless of what part of the country a person is from.

In March, then-CSA president Don Gardiner went to Ottawa to meet with the new United States ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson. Ambassador Jacobson served as the deputy finance chair for President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Prior to that, he spent 30 years as a partner at a prominent Chicago law firm. Most recently, he served as a special assistant at the White House in the office of presidential personnel helping President Obama fill dozens of key administration jobs. In short, he has the ear of the president, which is always a significant asset.

During the conversation, Don and Research and Communications Officer Michael MacKenzie introduced the ambassador to both the advocacy work and services provided by the Canadian Snowbird Association. One of the main focuses of the discussion revolved around the concept of the "retired person's visa," a topic covered in greater detail by CSA General Counsel Wallace Weylie in the last edition of CSANews.

Essentially, the proposal would allow the holder access to the United States over a defined time period for unlimited stays. This, of course, would have to be subject to some criteria. Examples might include a requirement to own property in both countries, be 50+ years of age, ability to demonstrate a certain net worth and proof of adequate health insurance; additionally, one would not be able to work in the United States. All of these caveats demonstrate to the U.S. authorities that the holders of this visa would be able to financially support themselves for an extended stay. Once that has been established, the benefits flowing to the United States are a lot easier to demonstrate, potentially tens of thousands of Canadians with money to spend who are not taking jobs away from U.S. citizens or burdening the health system.

The CSA informed Ambassador Jacobson that we were currently canvassing our members to gauge their level of interest and support. If that support is forthcoming, we will need to lobby members of both the United States Senate and House of Representatives in relatively short order. Comprehensive immigration reform is on the Obama administration's radar, so now may well be the ideal time to act. Ambassador Jacobson was genuinely intrigued by this proposal and we have promised to keep him up to speed going forward. This would potentially allow our members to spend even more time enjoying the snowbird lifestyle and could eliminate much of the angst around crossing the border for extended stays, so please contact the office and let us know how you feel.

Unfortunately, while the fight against the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) appears to be all but over in Ontario, the fight in British Columbia is still very much in play. Former British Columbia premier Bill Vander Zalm is spearheading an initiative to repeal the HST by attempting to collect the signatures of 1/10 of registered B.C. voters in every riding, with a deadline of July 5. If the petition meets the requirements, a proposed bill would be submitted to a legislative committee. The committee would have 90 days to decide whether the petition should bring a vote in the legislature in 2011, or a province-wide referendum in September 2011.

That referendum would need to be approved by 50 per cent of voters plus one overall, and 50 per cent plus one in two-thirds of the ridings. Presently, the provincial government has introduced legislation that would result in the HST taking effect on July 1, 2010. When you consider that there are still many procedural hurdles to overcome and that the tax is scheduled to come into effect four days before the petition deadline, you can see that this is an uphill battle. Even so, it is still a battle and the CSA is attempting to appear before the provincial legislative committee that will hopefully be studying the proposed legislation to kill the current provincial sales tax and replace it with the HST.

Opposition to the tax, which combines the five per cent GST with the seven per cent PST, centres on the fact that the 12 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax will be applied to everything the GST covered, including many items previously exempt from the provincial tax. Whatever its merits may or may not be for other sectors of the economy, the bottom line is that those on fixed incomes will be hit hard and that's one of the main reasons we are opposed to it. We will have more on this in the summer edition of CSANews.

Have a great summer!