Proud to stand up for our region’s families

The House of Commons has risen, another session of Parliament is over, and the holiday season is ahead of us.
I would like to use this space to recap some of our political accomplishments and events from the past year—and what a year it was!
As a rookie New Democrat MP in Ottawa, I think it was a very productive year, but I am especially proud of our agreement with the government in September that avoided a fall election and secured $1-billion for some long-tenured workers who were forced to draw from the EI fund during this current economic crisis.
With the Liberals deciding last August that it finally was in their interest to force an election “as soon as possible,” we New Democrats found ourselves with an opportunity to get something done for you and your family.
We reached out to the Conservative government, saved $400 million by preventing an election no one wanted, and put more than $1 billion into the pockets of many hard-hit families.
We tried to negotiate an extension to the EI benefit period, increase the weekly allowance under that program, and make it easier for people to collect from the insurance plan that they’ve paid into their entire life, but in the end we had to take what was offered and made the decision to help 100,000 workers instead of forcing an costly election just 10 months removed from the last one.
I also was proud to be on the right side of the long gun registry debate–yours. Immediately after taking my seat in the House, I decided to seek out your opinion and guidance to give me strength for what would surely be a contentious and ugly debate.
I sent a survey to each household in our riding and urged each of you to make your voice heard. A full 96 percent of those who responded said you wanted to see the long gun registry abolished, so the decision to go public in May with our position was easy—and I was very happy to do so with Bruce Hyer, my New Democrat colleague from Thunder Bay-Superior North.
With a free vote in Parliament, several New Democrats who represent rural and northern communities helped C-391 pass second reading, and the bill is now in committee.
I have said so previously, but would like to restate again today that I again will vote to abolish the long gun registry when C-391 is returned to the House sometime in the spring.
Most recently, Parliament dealt with the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and I again was proud to stand on your side. All New Democrat MPs stood together and united as the only federal party against this eight percent sales tax increase.
We strongly oppose the HST today, just as we did the GST when it was introduced by the last Conservative government, because we know it will hurt families who simply cannot afford to pay eight percent more for everyday items like gas, hydro, hockey registration, and firewood during a deep recession.
We used every procedural tactic at our disposal in the House of Commons to slow the federal HST legislation, but the Conservatives and Liberals simply decided to change the rules of Parliament so the HST could not be debated and to ensure that witnesses would not be heard from at committee.
What I can’t understand is that if the HST is to come into effect next July, then what was their rush to get this tax through before Christmas? Why effectively suspend democracy to pass a tax increase, especially if you really believe it is a good idea?
The Conservative and Liberal MPs and MPPs in our region–Greg Rickford, Bill Mauro, and Mike Gravelle–owe you an explanation. And if they can’t provide you with a suitable one, then they should be removed from office in the next election.
In all, I am quite proud of my work and the accomplishments of the New Democrat caucus over the past year. I strongly believe improved EI benefits for long-tenured workers, voting to abolish the long gun registry, and providing strong opposition to the HST was in the best interests of the families in our region.
Next week, in my final column of 2009, I will promote some local and regional events I am participating in over the Christmas break, and explain what issues I plan to focus on in the year ahead.
Many thanks for now, and please remember to be safe—don’t drink and drive this festive season.
All the best, John.

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