OTTAWA – POLITICS – This week’s column will be the 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 January 31 the Thunder Bay Veterans’ Affairs office fell victim to the Harper Conservative’s budget cuts. In spite of serving thousands of local and regional veterans and with yearly operating costs of just over $686,000 they decided to close the office. The Conservatives said that 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 not the case. More on that a bit further down.
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 which many had hoped to see re-opened.
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 was later 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 Horton’s 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 Tom Mulcair the Conservatives announced a moratorium on the TFWP and changed the way they collect data.
NDP Child Care Announcement
On October 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 1 million new affordable child care spaces across Canada over five years. Our plan will ensure that parents will not 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 approximately $1,162 per month which is a major barrier to parents wanting to re-enter the workforce. Our plan will finally 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 1 million new working Canadians.
On Wednesday October 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 Ontario 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 that 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.
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.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River