Rafferty back in NDP’s graces

Heather Latter

Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP John Rafferty is back in the good graces of the federal NDP caucus after being appointed critic for the Northern Ontario Economic Development Initiative (FedNor) by party leader Thomas Mulcair.
“I’m pleased to have a Question Period today; first day back after the new assignments,” Rafferty said in an interview Monday afternoon.
“I think that’s a sign of the trust that Thomas puts in me and a belief that we can really move Northern Ontario forward,” he added.
Rafferty, along with Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer, had sanctions imposed on them by interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel after siding with the Conservative government on the long-gun registry vote back in February.
Both MPs lost speaking and party travel privileges, but that’s behind Rafferty now as he looks forward to the task at hand.
“Thomas really understands the issues in Northern Ontario and I’m just glad that he felt I was the Northern Ontario MP to take that on,” Rafferty said.
Hyer, on the other hand, quit the NDP caucus Monday morning to sit as an Independent.
“I do believe that he has made a tremendous mistake today with his announcement,” Rafferty said in a statement Monday.
“I will continue to work hard, day in and day out, with Tom Mulcair and my New Democrat colleagues so that we can undo much of the damage that has been done to our human rights, the environment, and the Northwestern Ontario economy by the Harper Conservative government and the Liberal governments before them,” he vowed.
“I believe that, under Tom’s leadership, Canada’s New Democrats are ready and can be trusted to govern in the public’s interest if and when we are given that responsibility by the people of Canada.”
Rafferty said his immediate priorities as critic will be to find out which local governments and businesses have been affected by the recent cuts to FedNor by the Harper Conservatives.
He rose in Question Period to press the Tories for answers about the elimination of FedNor’s Local Initiative Grants, which assist local businesses and municipalities with event hosting and development projects.
Rafferty directed the following statement and question to the industry minister, who oversees FedNor:
“Service groups, not-for-profits, and small businesses in Northern Ontario are taking stock as the Local Initiatives Program has pulled out from under them. This program was about putting small communities on the map and spurring economic development.
“Cuts to Atikokan tourism and the ‘Heart of the Continent Partnership’ are two examples of where these cuts will be felt in my riding,” he continued.
“Why is the government cutting back on local economic development initiatives at a time they are needed the most?”
George Emes, chairman of the Rainy River Future Development Corp., is disappointed to see the loss of the Local Initiatives Program, which he said provided Rainy River District with $75,000 to distribute each year.
“It has been a big benefit to the local communities,” he stressed, citing 51 individual community projects, such as the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Tournament, the Emo Walleye Classic, the Rainy River Valley Field Naturalists, and the local BIA, all had received funding at one time or another.
Hundreds of district businesses, many of the local municipalities, and even nine temporary jobs were assisted by the grant.
“It’s been a big boost to the communities throughout the district and now it’s gone,” Emes lamented.
Rafferty said his intention is to keep pressure on the government and fight against the cuts.
He also plans to find out how the $5 million cut in economic development grants, $1.5 million cut in day-to-day operations, and 15-20 job cuts will affect development in this region.
Rafferty was one of several appointments made by Mulcair at Friday’s unveiling of his first shadow cabinet as leader of the Official Opposition.
Other prominent appointments included fellow leadership candidate Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) as House leader, along with David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre) and Megan Leslie (Halifax) as deputy leaders.