A prominent Conservative politician stopped in Cranbrook to meet with local and regional elected officials and members of the Royal Canadian Legion as part of a tour designed to help the party formulate policy for the 2019 federal election.
John Brassard, the Member of Parliament for Barrie and Innisfil who also serves as the deputy whip for the Tories, sat down for an interview with the Cranbrook Townsman last week to speak on the federal budget, the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and federal leadership on the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
Brassard had separate meetings with Kimberley mayor Don McCormick and RDEK Area F director Wendy Booth to hear what issues were in the forefront of rural municipalities.
Infrastructure was a common theme.
“When you look at the infrastructure deficits within these municipalities, some of them are pretty significant and so they need partners in Ottawa to deal with infrastructure,” Brassard said. “There seems to be a consensus that there is a lot of focus on large, urban centres, so we need to, as a matter of priority and policy going forward, really consider the needs of rural municipalities.”
Brassard also adds he’s been hearing consistent concerns over the bellicose behaviour from American President Donald Trump and his tough talk on NAFTA.
Given that so much of Canada/US trade is framed within the agreement and that 37 states have Canada as their largest trading partner, it’s imperative that the two sides understand the mutual benefits of the agreement, Brassard said.
“We [Conservatives] are trying to work with the government to support their efforts on NAFTA, but we also have to be aware of the fact that this is an economic trade deal,” said Brassard, “so we are working hard to ensure these NAFTA negotiations are successful, we’re working hard to ensure that we look after what’s needed here in this country as well as the United States understanding that there’s a reciprocal benefit to NAFTA’s success.”
When the federal budget dropped last week, Brassard noted that there was no contingency plan if the United States cancels the free trade agreement.
“In every corner of this country, people are affected by what happens with free trade in the United States,” Brassard said, “whether it’s a small business in the BC interior or a large business in an urban centre, there’s a lot of understandable anxiousness to the NAFTA situation because everybody is connected in some way, shape or form in this country to good and free trade with the United States.”
Brassard took aim at much of the Liberal budget, castigating Finance Minister Bill Morneau for an $18 billion deficit and ramping up spending on programs rather than investments in infrastructure. Brassard also criticized government dollars leaving the country, specifically mentioning $500 million that is earmarked for an infrastructure bank based in China and accused Trudeau of trying to spend his way to a seat at the UN Security Council.
“Where is the net value for Canadians by sending half a billion of tax dollars for a Chinese infrastructure bank?” said Brassard. “Those are the types of things that don’t make sense, but if you understand why he’s doing this, that’s to curry favour or votes for when that UN vote comes up, he thinks this is going to benefit him as the leader of Canada and in the meantime when we export billions of dollars in Canadian tax dollars outside of this country, that means Canadians don’t get that money.”
As BC and Alberta wrangle back and forth over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, Brassard says the federal Liberals aren’t not doing enough to support the project, which already has federal approval.
The two sides had a brief standoff after BC Premier John Horgan proposed a ban on expanded bitumen shipments in the province, which resulted in a BC wine boycott by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in retaliation.
After an initial backlash, Horgan forwarded the issue to the courts for a constitutional reference to determine whether the province has the legal right to institute an expanded bitumen ban.
Brassard said Trudeau is dragging his feet on the issue and needs to convene a meeting between the two premiers to settle the dispute over a project that carries national implications.
“What people need to understand is that it’s not just important for Canada’s national security to be able to move this product to market and to be able to utilize our own oil, but it’s the revenues that are lost as a result of it,” Brassard said.
“Every time these projects get cancelled, every time investment flees Canada to other areas that are more acceptable to this type of investment, it means hospitals aren’t built, schools aren’t built, we’re not able to look after the more vulnerable within our society with the dollars that are generated by these types of projects.”
During his stay in Cranbrook, Brassard also had a listening session with the local Royal Canadian Legion to hear feedback on veterans issues, some of which included struggles accessing medical treatment and prescription drugs and navigating the labyrinth of Veterans Affairs benefit programs. Other concerns focused on government support for reintegration into civilian life following military service as well as addressing a long-promised disability pension structure that dates back to the 2015 federal election.