Federal Liberal candidate for Perth-Wellington Stephen McCotter took long-serving Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter for a tour of the campaign trail on Monday, May 25, including stops in St. Marys, Mitchell, Listowel and Wellington County. The big event of the day took place Monday evening, with the official opening of the McCotter campaign office at 75 Wellington Street in Stratford, but things kicked off in St. Marys with a breakfast at the Westover Inn.
After the meal, Easter, the former Solicitor General of Canada and Member of Parliament for the riding of Malpeque in P.E.I. since 1993, spoke to the Independent about the upcoming election as well as issues such as health care, agriculture and the controversial anti-terrorism Bill C-51.
Easter said his party’s mix of experienced candidates, such as himself and Ralph Goodale, and “new blood” – such as McCotter – has him looking forward to the upcoming Oct. 19 federal election. “I think we’ve got good depth within our caucus and a lot of youth to revitalize the party,” he said, adding that “attracting and motivating young voters is partly what Justin Trudeau is all about. Just by his very personality, he’s been able to draw a lot of young people into the party.”
According to Easter, Prime Minister Harper has had an opposite effect on the way other nations see Canada. “I think the key point is for Canadians to cut through the spin that we’re going to get from the Stephen Harper government in terms of how they operate, and look closely at what’s happened over the last eight years,” he said. “How Canada’s reputation around the world has gone down, and how our manufacturing base has declined under this government – and that really affects this area. It’s clearly time for a change.”
Trudeau, he said, “would make a great prime minister,” because he “believes in building a Canada that’s greater than the sum of its parts; working with the premiers and the provinces, regardless of their political stripe.”
According to Easter, the foundations of the Liberal platform will be to “assist the middle class, strengthen our manufacturing base as a country and to bring fairness and more equality to the Canadian population.”
With regards to healthcare, Easter criticized the way Harper chose not to negotiate with provincial leaders or health ministers, as Paul Martin had done in implementing a 10-year health accord, but rather “sent his finance minister to meet all the provincial health ministers and said, ‘this is the way it’s going to be: we’re no longer going to have an escalation of six percent. Now it’s three percent.’ That shows the essence of how the Harper government has operated,” he said. “They tell you what they’re going to do rather than working cooperatively with you.”
It’s a leadership style that ensures individual Members of Parliament wield very little power, he said. “Gary in this riding, I like him, he’s a wonderful guy,” he said. “But, what say does he have? Your MP in the Harper regime has virtually no say. We want a team of MPs across Canada who are willing to work in Canadians’ interests.”
Easter, who said he had visited Perth-Wellington previously during his 11-year term as President and CEO of the National Farmers Union, has also served as Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture. He said Liberals remain “very strong supporters of the supply management system,” and that it “needs to be maintained.” He would also see to the enhancement of the federal government’s investment in research into crops and technologies that grow agricultural productivity.
Finally, speaking from his expertise as Solicitor General and current critic for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Easter defended his party’s support of the controversial Bill C-51. He acknowledged that “there’s a lot of confusion and frustration” around the bill but insisted “the Liberal Party is the only party that’s taken a reasonable and responsible position” on it. While the Conservatives have focused on the security side of the bill, and the NDP have focused on the civil liberties concerns it raised, the Liberals are “the only party that’s had the reasonable position where we’ve tried to bring in amendments to balance both sides,” he said.
“I have been in charge of CSIS at one time, so there’s no question in my view that the terror threat is higher than it’s probably ever been,” he said, listing three areas where Grits agree that new security measures are needed: preventive arrest, domestic no-fly lists, and the sharing of information between departments.
But four amendments attached to the bill managed to dial back C-51′s civil liberties implications, he said. “One clearly states that CSIS does not have police powers under this act,” said Easter. “That was the fear of Canadians, that they were instituting a secret police.” Another amendment ensures that protesters and activists attending a demonstration who haven’t previously been arrested, “won’t be arrested now under this act,” he said.
However, according to Easter, “the government did not go far enough” and further amendments to C-51 would be introduced by a Liberal government. First, the Liberals believe Canadians “should have national oversight of all our national security agencies, the same as Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States do,” he said. “We need that. We don’t have proper oversight by parliamentarians over security bodies in this country.”
Next, the bill needs “sunset clauses” to ensure that “certain aspects of this bill that Canadians remain concerned about cease to exist in three years’ time,” he said. Finally, the bill should face “mandatory statutory review,” meaning a new parliament would review the bill in three years’ time and amend it accordingly, he said.
Thanking Easter for coming to the area, McCotter called him a “terrific example of the efforts a Member of Parliament should be making on behalf of one’s riding.”
“It is this type of representation Perth-Wellington needs and deserves,” McCotter said.