Toronto min­is­ter re­duces bad pol­i­tics

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau de­fends de­ci­sion not to ap­point an At­lantic MP to ACOA

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERESA WRIGHT

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau says he ap­pointed an MP from Toronto to head the At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency to “re­duce the kind of pol­i­tics” that have plagued re­gional de­vel­op­ment agen­cies.

In a one-on-one in­ter­view with The Guardian last week, Trudeau said he wanted all re­gional de­vel­op­ment agen­cies un­der one roof, so he added them to In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Navdeep Bains’ port­fo­lio.

Bains lis­tens to the re­gional per­spec­tives and ad­vice of lo­cal em­ploy­ees, but can also over­see re­gional agen­cies as “a way of re­duc­ing the kind of pol­i­tics that we’ve al­ways seen from re­gional de­vel­op­ment agen­cies,” Trudeau said last week while in P.E.I.

“It’s some­thing that has ben­e­fit­ted the qual­ity of de­ci­sions be­ing made and it’s some­thing peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate of a new, more open, more re­spon­si­ble, more trans­par­ent way of do­ing pol­i­tics.”

ACOA (At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency) has long faced crit­i­cism for pa­tron­age ap­point­ments – crit­i­cism that led to sanc­tions af­ter the Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion found four top ACOA ex­ec­u­tives en­gaged in im­proper con­duct when they hired for­mer Con­ser­va­tive politi­cian Kevin MacA­dam as di­rec­tor gen­eral of op­er­a­tions for ACOA P.E.I. in 2011.

Sim­i­lar pa­tron­age con­cerns also led to the fir­ing of the CEO of En­ter­prise Cape Bre­ton in 2014, be­fore that agency was rolled into ACOA.

Last year, for­mer in­terim Con­ser­va­tive Leader Rona Am­brose said she be­lieves the ACOA port­fo­lio be­ing given to a Toronto MP is a snub to the re­gion that elected Lib­er­als in ev­ery sin­gle At­lantic Canadian rid­ing.

But Trudeau dis­missed any no­tion he is tak­ing the re­gion for granted.

“On the con­trary, we con­tinue to work ex­tremely hard, I’ve met with Wade (MacLauch­lan) many times, we have a tremen­dous level of agree­ment on the things we need to work for,” Trudeau said.

“I see an ex­tra­or­di­nary, bright fu­ture for At­lantic Canada, one that doesn’t min­i­mize the real chal­lenges, but looks at the op­por­tu­ni­ties that come with trans­form­ing the work­place and global econ­omy as a chance to step up.” Q&A

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau sat down with The Guardian’s Teresa Wright dur­ing his visit to P.E.I. for an ex­clu­sive, one-on-one in­ter­view. Here are high­lights of that con­ver­sa­tion.

Elec­toral re­form

Q: Why do you be­lieve it is OK to break your prom­ise of elec­toral re­form?

A: I think Cana­di­ans ex­pect me to do things that are in the in­ter­est of the coun­try and make the right de­ci­sions for our so­ci­ety, for our com­mu­ni­ties and for our democ­racy. And I will not keep a prom­ise or tick a box off on a list if it means it will be hurt­ing our coun­try.

I’ve al­ways be­lieved that I don’t think pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion suits Canada be­cause I think it leads to frag­men­ta­tion of our po­lit­i­cal par­ties into smaller groups in­stead of hav­ing larger po­lit­i­cal par­ties that rep­re­sent a range of diversity within them as we do right now. And I think the cre­ation of re­gional or niche par­ties is not nec­es­sar­ily in keep­ing with the best way to gov­ern a coun­try that has fig­ured out a way to make diversity a source of strength and not a source of weak­ness.

Q: Is­lan­ders did have an op­por­tu­nity to vote on elec­toral re­form and a ma­jor­ity voted in favour of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. You say you don’t think it’s in the best in­ter­est of Cana­di­ans to vote on this. Why not?

A: I think any­thing that sub­di­vides and frag­ments Cana­di­ans into smaller and smaller in­ter­est groups, doesn’t go in the keep­ing of bring­ing Cana­di­ans to­gether around the themes that we agree on.

We are a coun­try that has done very well in em­pha­siz­ing the things that we share in­stead of high­light­ing fault lines and where we’re dif­fer­ent. I’ve been open to it, but I have never been able to be con­vinced by any­one want­ing pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion that it would end up with a bet­ter path for Canada.

Q: Vot­ers are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing cyn­i­cal about pol­i­tics and politi­cians. What do you say to young Is­land vot­ers

who voted for you be­cause you promised elec­toral re­form?

A: A lot of peo­ple vote for peo­ple for dif­fer­ent rea­sons and our cen­tral prom­ise and what we cam­paigned on and what we’ve been fo­cused on ev­ery sin­gle day is grow­ing the econ­omy in ways that work for the mid­dle class.

Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge

Q: You made the bridge in your Mon­treal con­stituency free, why are Prince Ed­ward Is­lan­ders be­ing treated dif­fer­ently?

A: One of the things I won’t do and one of the things that was prob­lem­atic of the way the pre­vi­ous govern­ment chose to play pol­i­tics was – I’m not go­ing to pit re­gions against re­gions, I’m not go­ing to play up dif­fer­ences or wedges be­tween re­gions.

I have been lis­ten­ing to Is­lan­ders, we have four strong Is­land MPs who carry Is­lan­ders’ mes­sages to Ot­tawa and fight for the things that mat­ter, and we are con­tin­u­ing to fo­cus on the in­vest­ments that peo­ple are call­ing for and ask­ing for. The in­vest­ment in the Northum­ber­land Fer­ries, for ex­am­ple, was one that was a long time com­ing.

In re­gards to the de­ci­sions that the bridge op­er­a­tor makes around set­ting tolls, we re­spect their ca­pac­ity to do that, but we’re al­ways lis­ten­ing to Is­lan­ders and their con­cerns when they bring them up.

Q: I don’t hear a com­mit­ment on the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge tolls be­ing low­ered.

A: This is some­thing we’re lis­ten­ing to, we’re hear­ing. One of the nice things about an in­de­pen­dent se­nate is sen­a­tors can raise is­sues that they care about, and cer­tainly Percy (Downe) has been very vo­cal about this. And we’re al­ways go­ing to lis­ten to the con­cerns that peo­ple raise and make de­ci­sions based on what’s in the best in­ter­est of re­gions and the rest of the coun­try.

ACOA/ Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

Q: You have 32 At­lantic Canadian MPs. Why did you choose an MP from Toronto to head the At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency?

A: We chose to bring all the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment agen­cies un­der one roof in In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment. He is the Que­bec de­vel­op­ment agency min­is­ter, he is the western eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion min­is­ter. We rec­og­nize, in terms of be­ing a min­is­ter who has a view of all ar­eas while mak­ing sure there are strong peo­ple at ACOA who are rep­re­sent­ing and mak­ing their views known, is a way of re­duc­ing the kind of pol­i­tics that we’ve al­ways seen from re­gional de­vel­op­ment agen­cies. It’s some­thing that has ben­e­fit­ted the qual­ity of de­ci­sions be­ing made and it’s some­thing peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate of a new, more open, more re­spon­si­ble, more trans­par­ent way of do­ing pol­i­tics.

Q: This re­gion has long suf­fered when it comes to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, many ar­eas in­clud­ing P.E.I. still have dou­ble digit un­em­ploy­ment, heavy reliance on E.I. and sea­sonal economies. ACOA was sup­posed to ad­dress those re­al­i­ties. Is ACOA de­liv­er­ing the re­sults it was in­tended to bring to this re­gion?

A: One of the things that we’re very proud of that we’re do­ing in At­lantic Canada is the At­lantic Growth Strat­egy, where we’re tak­ing ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity that has four strong pre­miers and 32 MPs very well aligned in line to grow At­lantic Canada. Be­ing able to sit down and talk about how we’re go­ing to cre­ate that growth, yes us­ing agen­cies like ACOA, but also through other means – the ap­proach we have on im­mi­gra­tion that At­lantic Canada has de­vised, the lead­er­ship we’re show­ing in in­no­va­tion and in­vest­ment and en­trepreneur­ship, look­ing at things like the new fish farm, which is go­ing to help peo­ple to adapt to the op­por­tu­ni­ties that will come with the Canada-Europe trade deal.

We rec­og­nize both the chal­lenges and the op­por­tu­ni­ties here in At­lantic Canada to get the op­por­tu­ni­ties and the jobs, par­tic­u­larly for our young peo­ple who shouldn’t have to be mov­ing away to find work. Q: For­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper once called At­lantic Cana­di­ans “de­featist.” What would you call us?

A: Op­ti­mists. I see an ex­tra­or­di­nary, bright fu­ture for At­lantic Canada, one that doesn’t min­i­mize the real chal­lenges, but looks at the op­por­tu­ni­ties that come with trans­form­ing work­place and global econ­omy as a chance to step up. When we’re look­ing at broad­band across the Is­land, as an ex­am­ple, we rec­og­nize that lo­ca­tion can be in­ci­den­tal in terms of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the global econ­omy.

Fort Amherst

Q: There was an an­nounce­ment about Langevin Block be­ing re­named. In P.E.I. there is a na­tional his­toric site called Fort Amherst and lo­cal Indige­nous lead­ers have been call­ing for this name to be re­moved. Jef­frey Amherst ad­vo­cated for the erad­i­ca­tion of First Na­tions us­ing small­pox. So far, their calls to Parks Canada have fallen on deaf ears. Will you do the same thing here that you’ve done in Ot­tawa?

A: We are open to hear­ing these con­cerns and lis­ten­ing and work­ing hand-in-hand on rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Part of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is rec­og­niz­ing the ter­ri­ble mis­takes of the past and fig­ur­ing out how to move for­ward. While we re­mem­ber them, we shouldn’t be cel­e­brat­ing those mis­takes. I’m open to hav­ing dis­cus­sions in how we can move for­ward in a way that is re­spect­ful.

Q: Will we see that name re­moved?

A: That’s not my de­ci­sion to make this morn­ing. We have pro­cesses, we have con­sul­ta­tions, we have a path that I’m se­ri­ous about tak­ing on rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. But it can’t be top­down from Ot­tawa, it has to be some­thing we en­gage with as com­mu­ni­ties and as part­ners.

Ba­sic in­come guar­an­tee

Q: Why won’t your govern­ment fund a ba­sic in­come guar­an­tee pi­lot pro­gram for P.E.I.?

A: One of the is­sues we had when we were sit­ting down to de­velop the plat­form, when we talked about the chal­lenges around poverty and in par­tic­u­lar fam­i­lies liv­ing in poverty and what was go­ing to be the best thing we could do to help fam­i­lies, and the anti-poverty ac­tivists we spoke with and we worked with re­ally set­tled on the Canada Child Ben­e­fit as be­ing a mean­ing­ful and sig­nif­i­cant way of lift­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of kids out of poverty.

So that was the thing that we looked at right away, not as a pi­lot pro­ject, but to im­ple­ment right away across the coun­try. That has been a sig­nif­i­cant ini­tia­tive in fight­ing poverty.

Q: You promised real change for mid­dle class Cana­di­ans, but many peo­ple in this re­gion are not even mid­dle class. They can’t meet their ba­sic needs. Ex­perts have said a ba­sic in­come guar­an­tee could be the so­lu­tion and the P.E.I. is a great place to do a pi­lot be­cause of its size. Will you com­mit to fund­ing this pro­gram for P.E.I.?

A: I’m al­ways look­ing to help not just the mid­dle class but those work­ing hard to join it, and we rec­og­nize that with our changes to E.I. with other changes we’ve made – the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges fac­ing Is­lan­ders and in­deed At­lantic Cana­di­ans, we will con­tinue to work with peo­ple to de­liver on the kinds of op­por­tu­ni­ties and the real and fair chance to suc­ceed that we know peo­ple need. And I look for­ward to con­tinue re­flec­tion on the best ways to help. We’ve done a lot of things al­ready, we know there’s more to do, and these are con­ver­sa­tions that we will be hav­ing as a govern­ment.

NATHAN ROCHFORD/THE GUARDIAN

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau sits down for a one-on-one in­ter­view with Guardian re­porter Teresa Wright at the Char­lot­te­town Air­port on Thurs­day.

NATHAN ROCHFORD/THE GUARDIAN

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau sits down for a one-on-one in­ter­view with Guardian re­porter Teresa Wright at the Char­lot­te­town Air­port on Thurs­day. The prime min­is­ter de­fended his de­ci­sion not to ap­point an At­lantic MP to ACOA dur­ing his in­ter­view.

NATHAN ROCHFORD/THE GUARDIAN

Eg­mont MP Bobby Mor­ris­sey, left, and Cardi­gan MP Lawrence Ma­cAulay, lis­ten as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau speaks to re­porters dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Port of Char­lot­te­town last week.

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