Feds agree to mill pensions meeting

I hope this column finds you and your family well.
This week, I would like to provide a brief update on the town hall meetings I recently held throughout the riding—and what I’m doing to address the issues and concerns raised in those meetings.
First off, I would like to thank those of you who attended the various meetings last week.
Since my election about a year ago, I’ve tried to introduce an element of direct democracy to our riding. I did so because many people told me they believed their concerns always fell on deaf ears and because I think all elected representatives have a responsibility to seek out the advice and opinions of the people they serve.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response and feedback I’ve received to the town halls and riding-wide surveys I’ve sent to your households to date, and I will continue to hold meetings and send out surveys from time to time as needed.
This most recent set of town halls originally was set to deal with the future of the local economy and to provide us with an opportunity to develop some positive and proactive ideas to help our region.
Despite our fine intentions, though, three other issues dominated the meetings: the need for federal help in securing AbitibiBowater pensions, the lack of H1N1 vaccines in Fort Frances, in particular, and the impending Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).
On the pension issue, I was aware that discussions were held between the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers and the company, and that a tentative agreement to protect workers’ pensions was reached.
?However, I did not know before these meeting that the agreement required some federal regulatory changes in order to be implemented, and that representatives from both the company and the union were having difficulties arranging a meeting with the finance minister.
I’m happy to report I was able to make a public request for that meeting during question period in the House of Commons on Friday, and that the government agreed to meet with representatives from both AbitibiBowater and the CEP on the issue of pension security.
One caveat at this point, though, is that the government did not agree to meet before Dec. 1 as I had requested, although they still might, and insisted the representatives meet with the provincial government first.
So with the federal government on the record as agreeing to a meeting, the wheels are turning and progress is being made on protecting your pensions, and I’ll keep working until we have something concrete.
On the H1N1 front, most people know the provincial government is responsible for the distribution of the vaccines in the province and has an obligation to ensure that everyone–even those of us way up here at the top of the map–get prompt and equal access to the vaccine.
I trust Howard Hampton and Bill Mauro to deal with the issue, but I will be making them well aware the issue of the shortage was raised at our meeting and is of great concern to our constituents.
Finally, the Harmonized Sales Tax also was a popular topic at the town hall meetings, and most wanted to know what I was doing to help stop its implementation.
While most people know both the provincial and federal New Democrats strongly opposed the HST, many did not know the Harper Conservatives agreed to pay McGuinty $4.3 billion of our federal taxes to increase the sales tax eight percent, nor that this payment could be halted by a simple vote in the House of Commons.
I let people know of my new motion (M-462), which would stop the payment and end the HST in Ontario—and people seemed to like that I wasn’t just talking the talk, but also walking the walk in my opposition to that tax.
I will be spending some of my time over the winter break to publicize my motion around the province and turn the heat up on Harper’s 49 Ontario MPs in a bid to force them to back away from this misguided and hurtful scheme.
It can be stopped if the public demands it.
So that is where things are at following the recent round of meetings. Attendance was down somewhat from previous gatherings, so I will be consulting with my staff and you about the frequency of these meetings moving forward.
We have to find a way to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, but also that our tax dollars are being spent wisely.
The meetings cost less than $100 each to put on, but a dollar wasted is a dollar wasted, right?
Have a great week. John.

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