Recapping the past year

This week’s column will be my last one for 2014, so it seems only fitting to provide a recap of the some of the main stories and issues of the year.
•Veterans’ office closure
On Friday, Jan. 31, the Veterans’ Affairs office in Thunder Bay fell victim to the Harper Conservative’s budget cuts. Despite serving thousands of local and regional veterans, and with annual operating costs of just over $686,000, they decided to close the office.
The Conservatives said the main reason for the closure was a lack of funds available at Veterans’ Affairs Canada, but my staff and I found out that this simply is not the case.
More on that a bit further down.
•Federal budget
The 2014-15 federal budget came and went—and offered little in the way of hope to families, workers, and seniors who are struggling in Northwestern Ontario.
In particular, the budget failed to address the struggling forestry sector, did not even mention the “Ring of Fire” mining project, and failed to reverse unpopular and misguided mistakes from budgets past, such as the closing of the Veterans Affairs’ offices that many had hoped to see re-opened.
•Kijiji economics
In an embarrassing incident, the Harper Conservatives were found to be basing a major employment strategy upon data from the ‘help wanted’ ads on Kijiji.ca.
Unfortunately, it later was found that each posting for skilled labour was being recycled up to eight times.
With the data showing a major labour shortage, the Conservatives loosened the restrictions on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to help fill the imaginary positions. Those changes enabled companies like Tim Hortons and the Royal Bank to import cheap labour to serve coffee and work in call centres across the country.
After a month of intense questioning from NDP leader Tom Mulcair, the Conservatives announced a moratorium on the TFWP and changed the way they collect data.
•NDP child care announcement
On Oct. 14, Tom Mulcair and the NDP made what was the first major campaign promise of the 2015 federal election when we announced a plan to create one million new affordable child-care spaces across Canada over five years.
Our plan will ensure that parents won’t have to pay more than $15 per day per child, with the cost to the federal budget being $5 billion over five years.
We introduced this plan because a child-care space in Ontario today costs about $1,162 per month, which is a major barrier to parents wanting to re-enter the workforce.
Our plan finally will give those parents a real choice—and could return $1.50-$2.50 to the federal treasury for each $1 spent thanks to lower social assistance payments and more income tax revenue from the one million new working Canadians.
•Ottawa shootings
On Wednesday, Oct., 22 a troubled young man approached the Honour Guard at the National War Memorial monument in Ottawa and opened fire.
A young guard, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo of Hamilton, Ont., died as a result of his wounds.
The gunman then entered the Centre Block of Parliament and was confronted by security just 50 feet from where NDP and Conservative MPs, including the prime minister, were meeting. Following a brief gun fight, the attacker was shot and killed by our Sergeant-At-Arms, Kevin Vickers.
Our heroes, Cpl. Cirillo and Sgt. Vickers, and dozens of other security personnel, kept us safe during the chaos and deserve our everlasting thanks and respect for the work they do each and every and the sacrifices they have made.
•Unspent money at Veterans Affairs
As 2014 drew to a close, some research from my office made national headlines.
Following the closure of our Thunder Bay Veterans’ Affairs office earlier in the year, my staff and I asked the government how much money it cost each year to fund the nine closed offices—and how much of the annual budget went unspent at Veterans’ Affairs.
It turned out the total combined cost of serving more than 20,000 veterans per year in these offices was just $5 million annually, and that more than $1.1 billion was approved by Parliament—but never spent—at Veterans’ Affairs over the past six years.
Since we revealed those numbers, many have called for the offices to re-open and for Julian Fantino to be fired from his position as minister.
So that was 2014 in a nutshell. In closing, I would like to thank you again for trusting me to serve as your voice in Ottawa. It is a great honour.
So Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours, and best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2015.

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