Pointing to the Looming Clouds
With my local news articles and essay blogs I try to always share with the community my views on a range of issues. I appreciate that some of our great local papers have run these articles over the years and I also try and distribute them through an online blog and through social media. The primary purpose for these reflections is to keep my promise to be accountable and accessible to my constituents, but I have also found them to be very cathartic for me as a politician. I get to reflect on this amazing experience and its impact on me as your public servant. I get great feedback from constituents and from others across Canada on some of my essays. The vast majority is very positive, but the odd time people will disagree with a position or point I made and they raise a counter-point with me. I think that is great because it shows me people actually read these articles which take some time to prepare every few weeks, but more importantly because our parliamentary democracy requires this type of informed and respectful dialogue and it should not just be reserved for the 338 Members in the House of Commons, but should spread to common areas like the coffee shops and homes across Durham. Looking back at my essays they also represent an online journal of my political experience chronicling the highs and lows of politics alongside the privilege I have to meet people, hear untold stories and learn more about the people and places that make up our Durham community.
This brings me to the title of this article: “Pointing to the Looming Clouds”. This title is meant to describe the role I need to play as a Member of Parliament that is part of the Official Opposition. For my first three years in politics I was an MP in the government side and that was all I knew. I would announce new programs or defend decisions made by our government on a range of policies premised upon building a strong, free and secure country. Like all governments, we believed we were tackling the right priorities and tried to make decisions with the long term interest of Canadians in mind. Whether it related to the finances of the country, tax rates or savings plans, trade deals or national security issues, we tackled each issue and strove to find the right policy. I was fortunate to also see this from the vantage-point as a government MP, as Parliamentary Secretary and eventually as a Cabinet Minister. In the last two roles, I was also responsible for defending the government in the House of Commons and beyond from the slings and arrows of the opposition parties and groups. Now, the tables have turned and one of those opposition parties is now the government trying to make those decisions. I have moved from defence to offence and now I have the responsibility to toss the slings and arrows to try and ensure the decisions are being made for the right reasons and with the long-term interests of Canadians at heart.
This move from defence to offence has been a difficult one for me on several levels. Everyone knows I was passionate about advancing issues as part of the government whether it was local seniors funding, conservation grants for recreational fisheries, investments in our University and, of course, modernizing Veterans Affairs. My role is somewhat different now in all of these areas and I advance them in new ways. The move has also been difficult because moving to opposition also means a change of approach and style in some of my speeches, columns and social media messages. This shift has not been lost on some people. A friend of my wife asked her a while ago why I was so “angry” on Twitter now. We laughed about this observation, but we also realized that she was partially right. Moving from defence to offence comes with the requirement to be critical and to express concern and when you have a few lines on social media it is hard to always distinguish whether I am “angry” or doing my job holding the government to account. I try to do this without seeming angry, but I can tell you that it is certainly quite different to oppose an initiative than to extolling its virtues. It will also mean that sometimes my local role will seem to be the cartoon angel over the one shoulder, while my Ottawa role may seem like the cartoon devil on the other shoulder. The challenge for me is striking the right balance between being the passionate local champion for Durham and our country that everyone knows me to be alongside my responsibility to hold the new government to account on big issues facing Canada. A lot of my tweets and Facebook posts will continue to be dedicated to highlighting the amazing people, places and events I attend or encounter in Durham. Whether I am judging a grilled cheese sandwich contest in Port Perry, congratulating new business owners on the main street of Bowmanville or joining a Brownie Troupe to hand out Valentines to Veterans and Seniors in Oshawa, I am privileged to be our local champion and will remain a vibrant one. I also hope people understand that I also have to uphold my responsibilities as an opposition MP by posing the tough questions of the government and being critical if I believe their moves are bad for Durham or our country.
The new Prime Minister likes to use the Wilfred Laurier phrase “sunny ways” when he describes the mandate of the government, but we all know that issues facing the Canada are not all sunshine and easy decisions. Leadership requires priorities to be set and difficult decisions to be made for the long-term good of the country. We have seen looming clouds already in the early days of this government and our system requires this to be pointed out. An economic storm has already hit families in Western Canada where tens of thousands of people are out of work because of depressed resource prices. They are desperate for opportunity whether in short-term assistance or long-term solutions like the Energy East pipeline. I am also deeply concerned about our finances as a nation, as we have moved from a balanced budget environment federally to a looming deficit in the $20 to $30Billion range in the next year alone. As we have seen in Ontario, allowing a large structural deficit to accumulate each year makes it almost impossible to spend more in key areas and to lower taxes. Ballooning deficits in Ontario has almost doubled the provincial debt and has led to Ontario spending more money each year on debt servicing charges than we do on all colleges and universities in the province. In the coming months and years, I hope you understand why I will point out the clouds on the horizon more than in the past. This is not just to rain on the sunny parade of the new government, but to ensure Canadians pack an umbrella just in case.