MP and party whip Gordon O'Connor comments on some of the big issues of 2012, including oil sands production, F-35s, omnibus bills, and more.

MP and party whip Gordon O'Connor comments on some of the big issues of 2012, including oil sands production, F-35s, omnibus bills, and more.

Area MP Gordon O’Connor commented on a number of the big issues that dominated 2012, but not before offering a few words on the story that has commanded attention from coast to coast to coast in Canada.

The Idle No More movement has seen aboriginals across the nation hold flash-mob drum-dances at shopping malls and picketing at international bridges for weeks. Many say the federal government isn’t respecting treaty agreements; others oppose changes to the Navigable Waters Act that effectively reduces the number of protected rivers and lakes from 2.5 million to 159.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike is often linked to the actions. Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn’t say the lengthy hunger strike forced him into a meeting with native leaders, the Carleton-Mississippi Mills MP nevertheless set a date.

“It’ll be with us for as long as I’m alive,” O’Connor said Jan. 7 of the tensions between aboriginals and other Canadians. “The prime minister is going to with the AFN (Assembly of First Nations) chiefs, and we’ll have to see where it goes from there.”

Oil sands

The Alberta oil sands provided fuel for many headlines in 2012. From Canada’s hand-wringing over whether to do business the state-capitalism China, to the overhaul of environmental legislation, to pipeline proposals through B.C. and U.S. states, black gold provided a polarizing file for the Conservatives.

Critics say the government should move slowly, that the price of oil will only increase the longer it is kept in the ground. But O’Connor points out that the U.S. claims a move to fracking for natural gas will give it energy independence in the mid-future. Selling to Asian markets is not only a necessity, he added, but will take many years to come to fruition.

“It takes years and years just to get all the environmental studies done,” he said. “It’s not like we are moving quickly even if we wanted to.”

Harper’s resistance to selling out for the “almighty dollar” is in the distant past as Canada continues to forge deals with China and other Asian nations with dubious human rights records. 

Trade deals

O’Connor lists international trade deals among the government’s “core activities.” He points to pre-recession 2008 numbers showing that 83 per cent of Canada’s exports went to the U.S. Today that number is down to 63. Part of that is a result of declining demand, but it also reveals the government’s desire to diversify. Where once it was a given that if the U.S. went into recession, Canada would automatically follow suit. The Conservatives want eggs in a variety of baskets, including those in Europe and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“I think we’ve done well,” O’Connor said upon reflecting on 2012 trade deals. “We are moving that file along.”

The government is keen to finishing negotiating the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union in 2013.

Trade deals are meant to bolster exports and Canada’s manufacturing sector.

Omnibus bills

From the omnibus crime bill, C-10, to the two omnibus budget bills, C-38 and C-45, the Conservatives pushed dozens of individual bills through Parliament in short order. Opposition members and other critics decry omnibus bills as undemocratic; the details couldn’t be debated or voted on in isolation.

The Conservatives say it is question of streamlining actions to support the rapidly changing national economy.

“We’re trying to get the economy as efficiently as possible,” he said. “Many businesses complain to us of too much red tape and other unnecessary activities.”

While he agrees some environmental issues are “sensitive,” there is no reason both the federal and provincial governments need to perform the same assessments, for example.

Leadership

While it was steady as it goes last year with the ruling party and its eight-year leader, the same can’t be said for the two major opposition parties. Leadership-wise, the third-place Liberals have been in turmoil for years; unable to survive the Conservative attack machine that has decimated its last three leaders. It now has seven members vying for the title, including Justin Trudeau and Carleton-Mississippi Mills’ own Karen McCrimmon, who lives in Constance Bay.

As an opposition party, the Liberals are incoherent and without direction, according to O’Connor. Many would say the Liberals are a centrist party, but it’s not a view O’Connor accepts.

“We don’t know what their core ideas are,” he said.

On the NDP, who elected Thomas Muclair leader in 2012, he praised the youthful caucus as at least having a ideology. Albeit on the opposite side of his party’s.

“The NDP have performed well as an opposition party,” O’Connor said. “They’ve done a decent job. Their philosophy is socialist and ours is capitalistic, but at least you know where they stand.”

Many observers say decorum has deteriorated to the point of dysfunctionalty, and that MPs offer little more than party speaking points rather than a variety of opinions that reflect their constituencies. But O’Connor said animosity is what makes the news. Work is getting down in the Conservative-majority government.

“Behind the scenes, in committees, the parties are working together,” he said. “Parliament is working well. A lot of legislation is getting through.”

Robocalls

Elections Canada and the RCMP continue to investigate apparent misleading phone calls during the 2011 federal election. A federal court case, now concluded, heard arguments on whether the calls – primary to non-Conservative voters – were intended to confuse and prevent citizens from exercising their fundamental democratic right. It could prompt six byelections in ridings held by Conservative MPs.

O’Connor is dismayed that a court would hear a case against his party alleging they misled or tried to mislead voters. The six ridings in question are based on one person’s allegations, he said.

“There’s no consistency there, no pattern,” he said. “I hope it gets resolved and tossed out. There’s only been one proven case, and it was the Liberals.”

Elections Canada traced robocalls that allegedly misled Guelph voters from a burner phone registered to a Pierre Poutine. The scandal has opposition parties claiming the Conservatives are guilty of misconduct.

F35s

Although many politicos say the Conservatives badly bumbled their handling of the F35s file, O’Connor doesn’t see it as significant issue. Yes, they have “hit the restart button” on the sole-sourced pre-purchase of F35 fighter jets (meant to replace the aging CF18s). And, yes, it is largely based on demands that the government reveal the full-lifespan costs of the program. But O’Connor’s question is how the government is expected to see 42 years into the future.

“How can you predict the future?” he said, adding that he admits it was a failure from a public relations point of view.

However, in the final analysis, the cost difference is about $1 billion versus $850 million; not that wide a gap, he suggested.