By John Rafferty
As we entered Week 1 in the House of Commons, several important tasks that will shape the next session of Parliament were on the agenda.
The hiring of staff, assigning of critic responsibilities, and hearing and responding to the throne speech made for a hectic but productive week away from the riding.
One of the early tasks I had to look after this week was the hiring of staff for my legislative office in Ottawa and for our constituency offices throughout the riding. I hired two young but experienced staffers, Jordan and Jayson, to look after legislative affairs in Ottawa, who will keep things humming on the policy and administrative fronts.
With a riding the size of Thunder Bay-Rainy River, I decided to open or share a total of three offices to serve you better. The main office will be in Thunder Bay and will be staffed by Margaret Rea.
It’s still under construction, but when it is up and running (probably the first week of December), Margaret will be able to help with all your federal casework—from EI and disability matters to tax issues and public pensions among many, many others.
She can be reached immediately at 1-807-623-6000.
I also will be opening local offices in Atikokan and Fort Frances. These local offices are not operational yet, but when we get them up and running, a notice will be sent to each household with their locations and business hours.
On Monday, I was extremely happy to have received the assignment of my critic responsibilities from New Democrat leader Jack Layton. My official critic responsibilities are for international co-operation, deputy critic for heritage and culture (CBC), and deputy critic for industry (forestry).
I am extremely happy that Jack chose to give me responsibilities that I am experienced with and that are so important in the riding.
For our riding in particular, I will be working to protect funding for the CBC and CBC Radio in the upcoming budget, and to ensure our forestry industry gets the help it needs from our federal government during this period of financial crisis and recession.
Last Wednesday was the reading of the throne speech by the Governor-General, which broadly set out the agenda for the House of Commons for the upcoming session of Parliament. Jack Layton and the entire New Democrat team spent the week or so leading up to the speech trying to convince the Harper government to shelve the $60-billion corporate tax cut since it would drain the government’s resources and could result in a large budget deficit.
Another problem with the proposed tax cuts is that the money only was going to help companies that made profits, so it won’t help many Ontario-based manufacturers, North American car-makers, and many of our forestry companies.
We thought that the $60 billion Harper was spending on the tax cuts could have been used to help these companies survive the current recession and reposition themselves for the new economy once things picked up again.
Following the throne speech, MPs were given speaking spots that allowed them to give a detailed response based on the needs of their particular riding. This was my first chance to speak at length in the House, so I took the opportunity to thank many of the people in the riding and organizations I’ve been a part of throughout my life.
I always will be extremely grateful to those who helped me get elected, but it would be letting them down if I didn’t offer my take on the government’s priorities as detailed in the throne speech.
I expressed my disappointment with the fact the non-partisan Parliamentary Budget Officer said we could be headed for $13.8-billion deficit next year, but also stressed my commitment to work with this government to get things done.
I also drew attention to the fact the Conservatives don’t have a real plan to help the forestry industry or help more workers qualify for Employment Insurance once they are laid off or lose their jobs.
It seems there is a lot of work to be done on this front, but I’m up for it.
I also took the opportunity in my first speech to reaffirm my support for getting rid of the long-gun registry should the government table legislation to that effect. I believe the registry unfairly penalizes farmers, hunters, and gun collectors, and I strongly support getting rid of it.
I do worry, though, that the Conservatives will play games with the issue and tack it onto on another bill that I would not be able to support.
I will keep you informed as to how this plays out, but at least you know where I stand.
By John Rafferty