Week of Scandal and Collapse in Ottawa
OTTAWA – It was quite the eventful week in Ottawa. From another major scandal emerging in the Veterans Affairs department to the virtual collapse of the Ring of Fire mining project, it was one for the books.
The major scandal surrounding spending, actually lack of spending, at Veterans Affairs Canada is yet another example of disgraceful behaviour by this Conservative government towards veterans, and it was one that you (yes you) helped expose. It seems that the facts and figures contained in my column last week were discussed widely by those of you who read it, so much so that the story broke nationally this week. You may recall from last week that my staff and I had conducted some research following the closure of the Thunder Bay Veterans’ Affairs office earlier in the year. We asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs for figures on the cost of operating the nine closed offices, as well as how much money allocated to the department of Veterans’ Affairs went unspent each year since Mr. Harper came to power. Word of our findings, originally printed in last week’s column, spread fast and soon the national media was on it.
You must have talked to a lot of people or shared it widely on Facebook because MPs and the media were asking my staff and I for the official figures throughout the week. As of Friday more than 100 media outlets across the country were covering the story and shaming the government for closing nine offices to save $5 million while leaving $172 million unspent that year, and for leaving more than $1.1 billion unspent since 2006. Moving forward I’ll keep the pressure on this government until they re-open these offices, but in the meantime thank you for talking to your friends and neighbours about this issue. It’s helping our cause immensely.
Late in the week some other disappointing news came across my desk concerning the Ring of Fire mining project. It seems that the CEO of Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. essentially declared the project dead and publicly blamed both the Wynne Liberal government in Toronto, and the Harper Conservative government in Ottawa for its collapse. In a widely read story in the Globe and Mail, Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves is quoted as saying; “The acquisition was made based on the belief that a connection, a railroad would be built between the Ring of Fire and the south. That railroad never materialized. And at this point in time there is no hope that it will materialize… So without infrastructure there is nothing we can do.” Mr. Goncalves went on to say that he had “zero hope” that the project will be completed in his lifetime, and that it was “beyond the point of no return.”
Mr. Goncalves’ remarks sparked a public blame game between federal Conservative Natural Resource Minister Greg Rickford and provincial Liberal Natural Resource Minister Michael Gravelle. Mr. Rickford rose in the House of Commons to point out that; “Ontario has not committed a red cent and has set up a development corporation that is not supported by First Nation communities, the private sector, and it is not a policy option for this government in its current form.” As if to not be outdone Mr. Gravelle then rose in the Queens Park legislature and shot back; “I was startled if not somewhat irritated by the stunningly inaccurate statements or comments that were made by Minister Rickford in the House of Commons yesterday. That is nothing but an excuse for their complete lack of commitment.”
What’s my opinion on the Ring of Fire debacle? Ministers Rickford and Gravelle are both right. Both of their governments have failed the people of Northwestern Ontario. In particular Mr. Rickford, whose riding in which the $50 billion mineral deposit is located, has proven to be a completely ineffective Member of Parliament for his constituents and an extremely weak Minister for his Conservative government. Thankfully New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair has hired Howard Hampton to be his Special Advisor on this important project. Howard brings more than 30 years’ experience in politics and working with the mining sector and First Nations. He, and we, can finally get this job done once and for all.
The two big news stories this week, more disgraceful conduct by the Conservatives towards veterans and the collapse of the Ring of Fire project, show that more than ever a new approach and fresh leadership is needed and Tom Mulcair and Canada’s New Democrats are ready to provide it.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River