Conservative MP Dick Harris says Bill C-38 is a continuation of Canada’s economic plan, introduced by the Conservatives in 2009, and it’s a plan that has worked.
“We’ve created over 750,000 new jobs since the beginning of the plan and we’ve gone into phase two which contributed about $53 billion in infrastructure work across the country, including Williams Lake which did really well by that.”
Harris cites two large local projects as examples — the Mackenzie Avenue rehabilitation project and the $3.4 million improvement to the Stampede grounds.
Responding to criticisms of the bill, particularly the discontinuation of government funding for Katimavik, reduction in funding for Student Works Program, changes to Employment Insurance, and shortening the environmental assessment process, Harris defends the bill.
He describes Katimavik as one of the most expensive individually government funded programs.
“We have become disappointed, since we’ve been in government, that the corporations in Canada did not deem Katimavik to be a worthy recipient of the many charities that they give too.”
Since 2006, every government funded organization has been asked to look for funding from other sources, Harris says, adding if Katimavik had found partnership funding the outcome might have been different.
Independent MLA Cariboo North Bob Simpson attended a Katimavik windup in Quesnel last week and says for want of a few dollars, the government is cutting what has been a long-standing national unity program as well as something that’s had a major impact on our communities in terms of volunteer and community projects.
He also points out that throughout the Cariboo region little funding for the Summer Works Program has been granted.
He says people have gone through the application process, including organizations that have long had summer students, and been denied.
“The program is underfunded,” Simpson says.
He recently met with the Quesnel Chamber of Commerce and most of the businesses represented told him their applications for Summer Works had been turned own.
Harris, however, says the amount of dollars being spent on the program has not been dramatically reduced; instead, people have to look harder at the criteria when they are making their application so they can achieve a higher score.
“I want to stress to all the businesses and organizations in my riding, especially the Cariboo-Chilcotin, to take the time and do it right the first time and you won’t have the disappointment.”
Simpson continues to raise concerns that Bill C-38 will expedite development of significant amounts of natural resource extraction.
“It erodes environmental protections and erodes the fisheries act,” he says. “If we are going to fast track the environmental assessment process it needs to be done against the backdrop of the highest standards of environmental protection, fisheries protection and best practices. What they’re doing is eroding those.”
Over the long haul there will be more direct protest and more court challenges, Simpson warns.
“They’re not going to get what they want as a result of doing this; they’re going to create more uncertainty and more instability.”
Disagreeing, Harris argues that harmonizing the environmental review process is not a bad thing.
“People on both sides will see the value of streamlining the process. The important thing is just because it will turn into a one-window program handled by the provinces, all the criteria is based on pre-agreements that led up to that one-window program. There isn’t a hoop in there that they wouldn’t have had to jump through had there been two.”
Harris says the government’s intent is to make the uncertainty not as large as it has been.
“Nothing sacrificed, it will just be far more efficient and transparent.”
Allegations the streamlining is an attempt by the federal government to push projects like Taseko Mines Ltd’s New Prosperity mine through are absolute nonsense, Harris says.
The New Prosperity mine is being assessed under the old system, not a streamlined environmental review process.
“So many times when people don’t understand or take the time to understand how things work, they will rely on the rhetoric that comes from the activists to whom scientific fact, logic and substantiated evidence, and proven criteria really doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that any project has to be stopped no matter what.”
Since the forest industry has gone through such hard times, it’s natural that mining, oil and gas will be the next drivers of the economy in the Cariboo Chilcotin and central interior regions, he says.
He also advocates the changes to EI are to discourage use of EI in lieu of finding a job and working.
“We tend to believe that Canadians that are on EI, for the very most majority, would rather be working than collecting EI. We’re going to ensure that where there are suitable jobs, and I stress the word suitable, in their locale and within a reasonable travelling time, that they’re going to be encouraged to go out and get those jobs.”
Government, he says, will support people in their attempts to find employment.
“I find it amazing that there have been complaints from the NDP and Liberals in the house that we’re saying people may have to travel an hour or an hour and half or two hours to go to work each day. Hello, in the urban centres people do that on a daily basis. They do that because they want to work.”
Simpson says the changes to EI will negatively impact B.C.’s seasonal workers.
“The bill is full of all of these cuts to different kinds of programs and is an erosion of services to the general population, particularly to our youth.”
Harris will be in Williams Lake on June 30 for the opening of the stampede.