THUNDER BAY – Politics – This week I was happy to accept two new responsibilities in Ottawa. Following the New Democrat caucus retreat last week I was asked by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to serve as our Critic for Forestry and to sit as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
It has been sometime since I last served as the New Democrat Critic for Forestry and a lot has changed in the meantime. During my last tenure the most pressing issues facing the industry were a collapse in demand for most wood products (from building materials to pulp and paper), the closure of more than two dozen mills across the country, and an average loss of 10,000 jobs per year in the forestry sector across Canada since the Harper Conservatives came to power. Those economic hurdles have gradually receded with the resurgence of housing demand in the United States and the expiry of some extremely damaging and unfair subsidies in the United States which allowed American producers to undercut Canadian producers on the open market for pulp by as much as 40% for years.
Today, as Canada’s forestry industry recovers and move forward, the job is a little different. The Harper Government’s hands-off approach to Canada’s forestry industry has hurt Canadian firms and unfairly tilted the playing field towards foreign competitors. Harper’s inaction on the forestry file has forced Canadian companies, many of which entered restructuring or bankruptcy under his watch, to essentially rebuild the sector alone. I believe that our federal government could have implemented a strategy to assist companies in their search for new products to bring to market (ie: biofuels, biopharmaceuticals) and could have helped forestry dependent communities – of which there are more than 200 across Canada – stabilize their local economies during the decade long downturn, and position them to diversify as demand rebounds. It’s still early days yet, but I will be working to hold the Harper Government to account for their mistakes on the forestry file and to help Tom and all New Democrats put forward a responsible and sustainable plan to help our forestry industry, communities, and families moving forward.
My other new assignment, sitting as one of three New Democrat MPs on the Veterans’ Affairs committee, is also exciting. Canada’s veterans deserve our thanks and recognition for their service, but also our respect and support once that service ends. Most Canadians and all New Democrats would agree with that statement, so I see my role on this committee as being one of an advocate for veterans across Canada and in our riding. Ensuring that Veterans have adequate access to health and pension benefits while receiving other forms of support that they deserve will be our primary task as the committee examines legislation and undertakes various studies moving forward. Improving the lives of Canadian veterans is something that many of us care about, even a majority of Conservative and Liberal MPs, so I am hopeful that the tone of our committee work will prove to be cooperative, constructive, and in the interests of those we all serve.
As for my other files, I will remain on as the New Democrat Critic for FedNor, which I feel is a very important economic file for our region, but I will be replaced on the Public Safety and National Security committee by another New Democrat. It is also worth noting that all of my Private Members’ Bills and motions presently before parliament will continue to remain following prorogation.
So as you can see I am quite excited to have been asked to take on these new roles by Tom in Ottawa. There is no shortage of work waiting for me when the House resumes sitting on October16th and as always I will do my best to keep you up to date on how that work is going on a weekly basis.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River