OTTAWA – Leaders Ledger – Two events will dominate political life in Canada this week. As I write this column New Democrats are in the process of electing a new Leader of our party and of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition who will take their seat on the front bench in Ottawa this Monday, and the first federal budget of the Harper majority government will be tabled just four days later. When combined with a damning report from the Ethics Commissioner that was made public last week it is safe to say that an entirely unpredictable but immensely important week in our political history is upon us.
New Democrats now have a new Leader and a united caucus and I can safely say at this point, without knowing whom they are, that they are both competent and worthy of such an important position. Our leadership campaign lasted for six long months and was quite the test of one’s stamina and character.
Nine debates, dozens of fundraisers and events, and countless media interviews put each candidate under the microscope and I was happy and proud that all showed themselves to be true leaders in every sense of the word, at least in my humble and completely unbiased opinion. When our new Leader rises in Question Period this week they will have the full and complete backing of our party, of our membership, and of our caucus.
While many New Democrats were focused on our hotly contested leadership campaign, many were also trying to shift their attention to what is sure to be a landmark federal budget presentation this week. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who can’t or won’t tell us how much his mega-jails or F-35’s will cost exactly, has said very little to date about his first majority budget. Whenever he has made reference to it though, he has said that it contain spending cuts, service cuts, changes to some or all of our public retirement and pension plans (CPP, OAS, CPP Disability), and some “transformational” changes to the way the federal government operates. New Democrats will be keenly watching the budget presentation, and while we are most likely to oppose it, we will also try to keep an open mind and offer a positive but decidedly different approach that will be sure to put hard working Canadian families first.
While the leadership race and budget preparations have been dominating headlines we have also seen several developments on a number of major political stories related to the Conservative government that are sure to add a little spice to the mix next week, but one story in particular. Last Thursday the Ethics Commissioner released a report which found that Industry Minister Christian Paradis violated the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of Parliament. The Ethics Commissioner found that Mr. Paradis wrongfully instructed federal bureaucrats in his department to give special treatment to disgraced former Conservative Member of Parliament Rahim Jaffer over other private citizens who were bidding for federal money. Giving special access to your friends is a definite no-no in, unless of course you are a Stephen Harper Conservative. When asked about the finding of wrongdoing by the Ethics Commissioner, Mr. Harper shrugged and said since there was no evidence of “substantial harm” that Mr. Paradis will continue to hold key position in Cabinet. Oh well, maybe next time he will do some real damage. And here I thought New Democrats were the only party in Ottawa without a leader last week!
Well there it is. The stage is set for a historically important week in Ottawa, and I for one can’t wait to get back down to work.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River