Kootenay-Columbia MP’s Year-end Review
By Rob Morrison
As I sit down to pen this summary of my first year serving as your Member of Parliament, I am just now processing how much need there has been and continues to be throughout Kootenay-Columbia.
Under normal circumstances we have time to create memories to draw on. However, this year has been anything but normal as the health crisis has impacted every one of us. What is contained within this report is by no means the full scope of work completed, but rather a snapshot of many of the major issues. As a governing approach I have instructed staff to prepare purpose-filled schedules so that every moment of the day is dedicated to serving the needs of the riding, both from Ottawa and here in the Constituency.
On October 22, the day following the conclusion of the 2019 election, I went straight to work in Ottawa. Within a short time, I secured my Ottawa and Constituency offices and hired a team of talented staff members. While we didn’t know about COVID-19 at that time I did know that providing accountability, a promise that I made to you during the election, would be measured in the form of service and action. As such, I chose to invest in staffing capacity over additional office space.
Indeed, where we were expecting to handle hundreds of files a year, we have processed thousands already and the need continues to grow. Faced with the arrival of COVID-19 in March I was thankful for the decision made in October to prioritize staffing levels over a third office lease. As a result of the staffing decision, my office was positioned well to serve the mountains of need, from all corners of our riding. I’d like to thank Krissy, Wes, Glory, Sarah, and Chris for their tremendous commitment to this office and the people of Kootenay-Columbia. I continue to be impressed by the level of service that they have been providing during this very challenging time.
From November through until March I began a schedule of weekly trips to Ottawa. Relationships are the cornerstone to getting things accomplished and this holds true in politics. In the constituency, I began by meeting with a variety of community leaders who represent our cities. I also met with provincial MLAs Tom Shypitka and Doug Clovechok with a view to discussing a variety of issues of importance to our shared areas of representation. I am grateful for all of these leaders who help to shape our region. Each of them continues to work hard for the areas they represent and it is a privilege to work with them to ensure that I am taking your voice with me to our Nation’s capital.
In January, I received the exciting news that I had been chosen for the role of Deputy Shadow Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. During my time in that role, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety covered a wide range of important topics, including systemic racism and the Liberal gun ban. Before serving as your Member of Parliament, I served as Chief Superintendent of the RCMP in British Columbia. Thanks to your support this past election, I was able to bring that experience with these and other issues, forward at committee meetings.
Based on your feedback, I know preserving democracy and feeling safe in your community continues to be a priority. A briefing note presented to the Prime Minister by his National Security advisor, just days before the OIC gun ban announcement, confirmed that illegally obtained weapons, and the gangs and organized crime who procure them, are indeed the problem. Criminals, not law-abiding Canadians, are largely responsible for the illegal weapons found in Canada.
The majority of national gun violence is perpetrated by those who have no regard for the rule of law and who do not acquire weapons legally. Taking guns away from lawful sportsmen and farmers in Kootenay-Columbia does not solve the problem and yet there is an urgent problem that remains to be solved. As such, I continue to call on the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Freeland and Public Safety Minister Blair, to dedicate more resources to support the CBSA and the RCMP in their effort to combat organized crime and the flow of illegal weapons across our shared border with the United States. I will continue to advocate for meaningful solutions that will serve to keep Kootenay-Columbians safe.
During my first year in office I had the opportunity to question Minister Blair and RCMP Commissioner Lucki at Public Safety Committee on the topic of racism. We are fortunate to live in a country that is welcoming, tolerant, and inclusive. While there are many things we can point to in our history with pride, Canada has it’s episodes of racism that cannot be ignored. In a peaceful and free country like Canada, there is absolutely no room for intolerance, racism, or extremism of any kind. I was grateful to participate in these committee meetings as it provided an opportunity to establish a productive working relationship with many individuals within the government.
The Standing Committee on Public Safety must continue to study the issue of racism in Canada and the government must put forward a plan to ensure that the rights of all Canadians to life, liberty, equality, and the security of the person are protected.
At the beginning of the health crisis, in my role as Deputy Shadow Minister for Public Safety, I rose on behalf of all Canadians in the House of Commons to ask the Prime Minister if he was aware of Canada’s first COVID-19 infections, which arrived by air from China, and if he knew where the infected passengers were. I believe this to be one of the more important questions of this year as it showed just how unprepared our government was. I have included the transcript below:
Rob Morrison (Member of Parliament, Kootenay—Columbia): Mr. Speaker, we know the first two cases of the Coronavirus detected in Canada were on flight CZ311, which had more than 100 passengers. The question is, and all Canadians deserve an answer, does the Prime Minister and the government know the location of and have they notified every passenger who was on that flight?
Hon. Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister): Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question, because indeed it is something we are following up on. We recognize that Canada, unlike many countries that Canadians visit, does not ask where someone’s final destination is when that person boards a plane. We are using data that we have collected, like the passenger manifest, to follow up, and I can assure members that we are in the process of ensuring a follow-up on everyone who was on that flight.
Months later I would learn, along with all Canadians, that just seven months before COVID-19 arrived in Canada the Trudeau government shut down our pandemic early warning system. Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network was praised around the world for its effectiveness. Its job was to gather intelligence and spot pandemics early, allowing the government to act early and prevent harm to Canadians. It helped stop H1N1 and Ebola and just two years ago, the World Health Organization praised the operation as “the foundation” of a global pandemic early warning system.
My commitment to Kootenay-Columbians is that I will continue to call on the government to re-establish this critical early warning system. We cannot change the mistakes made during this health crisis, but we can be working to ensure that they are not repeated.
At the outset of the health crisis, we were presented with the challenge of repatriating hundreds of Kootenay-Columbians who were trapped abroad and looking for a safe way home. Travelling constituents were facing more challenges than solutions at that time, however, my office was able to repatriate all of those who called on us for assistance.
I’m reminded of the vacationing couple in Guatemala who were located too far away from the main airport and under strict instructions from local authorities to not travel over land. When my office received the request for help there was no path for them to return home. However, with persistence and collaboration with Global Affairs, we were able to return this couple safely to their home in the riding. I’d like to acknowledge the assistance of Krissy Cote, a dedicated senior staff member in my Ottawa office, for working with me to repatriate these and so many other Kootenay-Columbians.
Many, particularly in Nelson, have read the heart-warming story of Sébastien De Marre and Marie-Paule Brisson who were raising two foster children in Haiti.
When the health crisis began, Sébastien was with the girls in Haiti and Marie-Paule had returned to Nelson, where travel restrictions kept her from returning to Haiti. Sébastien could have repatriated to Canada but would not leave Haiti without the girls as that decision would have left them homeless. Amongst the tragedy that COVID-19 has created, we can find heroes and that is the case here.
I applaud Sébastien and Marie-Paule for their diligence in fighting for these girls. It was a very special day in the Constituency and Hill offices when these two girls, along with Sébastien, landed safely in Canada. I wish to recognize the persistence of these outstanding Kootenay-Columbians as that, in concert with my office refusing to take no for an answer, broke the red tape and moved the federal government to allow the girls to come to Canada.
Early in the data reporting process, the Provincial Health authority in British Columbia restricted information on new COVID-19 cases to only numbers associated with one of the five health regions. The Interior Health region is a significant geographical area and at that time officials were unwilling to provide city-level information to inform folks, living in Kootenay-Columbia, about infection levels and where COVID-19 was known to be present. My office made multiple requests of the provincial government’s top health officials’ office to make this information available. I was pleased to see that they ultimately agreed with that assessment and made the city level information available via the BC CDC website.
I commend all Kootenay-Columbians for their diligence in practicing social distancing and following recommendations from health officials. Your hard work is the reason why our area, to date, continues to be one of the least affected areas in the province.
I do believe, under the leadership of Erin O’Toole, that the Conservative Party will take meaningful steps towards addressing policy on the environment and my office is positioned to provide a voice to those discussions. Our riding holds diverse opinions on this topic and many from across our region have called on my office with urgency. The role of Member of Parliament is to be a voice for all Kootenay-Columbians. As such, I have tasked a senior member of my staff to work together with Citizens Climate Lobby to create a working group that would bring together climate conversations from across the riding into a central group, whose purpose will be to coordinate message and approach. I look forward to meeting with this passionate group of Kootenay-Columbians every other month for regular updates and to hear more about how we can bring this voice to the government.
In March, the economic floor fell out from underneath Canadians, including all those who have invested their life savings in small businesses. In our riding, one of the hardest-hit sectors was tourism.
Many small businesses looking to bridge a difficult time with the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy & Canada Emergency Business Account were left behind and my office continues to work to find solutions. At the outset, the Liberal government was set to announce a 10% wage subsidy, which would have done little to help Kootenay-Columbian businesses retain their workers. On behalf of business owners in the riding, and in concert with my colleagues, I went to work and we were successful in pressuring the government to raise the wage subsidy to 75%.
Since that time, I have made it a priority to stay connected with small business owners in the riding to ensure that their needs are being met and that Government supports are working. To accomplish this, I remain in contact with Chambers throughout the riding and conduct in-person visits and Zoom meetings with restaurants, hotels, retail outlets, guides, and more. Each and everyone one of them is important to our local culture and economy.
Since the onset of the health crisis far too many Kootenay-Columbians lost their jobs, which resulted in a difficult time for many families. The good news is that we have migrated back to pre-pandemic employment numbers. There are some sectors, however, that continue to struggle to find workers. From fruit farmers in Creston to fast-food restaurants in the Columbia Valley, there are many businesses in our riding that depend on the temporary foreign worker program. COVID-19 brought with it some obvious challenges to this program. To address this issue, I formed a working group, including service sector owners and agriculture representatives, to assist in tackling the labour shortage in these specific sectors.
I am pleased to report that Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Erin O’Toole, has appointed me to the Conservative Shadow Cabinet where I will be responsible for the National Security portfolio. Within that role, I will also serve as a member of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. I am honoured to have been asked to serve Canada, on behalf of Kootenay-Columbians, in the area of National Security.
Before being elected to serve our riding as Member of Parliament I had the opportunity to serve in various leadership roles, including as Director-General with the Treasury Board Secretariat where I was responsible for an information-sharing environment. I also served as a diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs. It was there where I represented the voice of Canadians by engaging firsthand with senior foreign Government officials. I look forward to bringing that experience to this new role. During the last election, I promised to work diligently to keep Kootenay-Columbians safe. This role is an opportunity to serve you at the highest level of our Government.
Keeping Canadians safe is a top priority and I look forward to engaging with other senior officials in the Canadian security community as I follow through on my promise to you.
The use of fentanyl in street drugs is on the rise while public health measures, designed to prevent overdoses, are on the decline.
Public health simulation models suggest that this government oversight will contribute to the greatest increase in deaths since the highest peak of the opioid crisis. This is unacceptable and preventable. According to a recent report, British Columbia’s paramedics, in July alone, responded to 2706 overdose calls – a record high number. We must address the opioid crisis, and addictions in general, with a mind toward understanding the long-term challenges of addiction. According to Dr. Tam’s report, this is of particular concern for First Nation communities, where they continue to be disproportionately affected.
This issue is top of mind and has been made more difficult by the health crisis. As we begin to return to normal in the months ahead, I will be calling on the government to act. This is a complex issue; however, we need to start working towards solutions and I am committed to playing a role in that process on behalf of all Kootenay-Columbians.
For those of you who are discouraged and whose light has been dimmed by this crisis, I encourage you to talk to someone. As we continue to battle COVID-19, increased isolation, physical distancing, health, and financial concerns have led to heightened anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and a suicide crisis. Canada’s Suicide Prevention Hotline has experienced a call increase of 200% during this health crisis. Recently, my colleague Todd Doherty, M.P., tabled a motion in Parliament to consolidate existing suicide prevention services into one national, three-digit phone number that is accessible to all Canadians: 9-8-8. A true Team Canada approach means working together, across party lines for the benefit of all Canadians. As leaders, Canadians are counting on us and we need to be there for them.
Canada and the United States have begun negotiations to renew the Columbia River Treaty.
The Government of Canada, through Global Affairs, is working closely with the Province of British Columbia, Columbia Basin First Nations, and local communities during the negotiations. As the treaty is primarily in the Federal riding of Kootenay-Columbia, on December 3 I presented a formal request to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs to be provided with observer status. While the Member of Parliament for this riding has not traditionally been an observer during the negotiations, I believe it would be advantageous for Kootenay-Columbians to have their voice included through their federally elected representative, as the outcome of these negotiations will impact everyone in our area. The purpose of this request is to bring your voice to the negotiations in the form of being a resource for the Global Affairs Canada representative during the negotiations.
There are many facets to this treaty that include recreational protection, irrigation access for agriculture, and flood protection. For decades now salmon have been unable to access their traditional Columbia River spawning grounds. How amazing it would be if we can be a voice today for their future return!
In November of last year, my office began work to look into the prices of fuel in the riding. We needed more than a superficial look into the issue and so I began a long process of investigation to find the root cause. In making that decision, I knew that it would take more time, would be more complicated, and may even yield an answer we wouldn’t like.
Throughout the investigation, I met with Government Affairs representatives from Husky, Shell Canada, Chevron, Suncor (Petro Canada), and Parkland Fuel Company. These companies, in my view, are well positioned to move the market towards fair-priced fuel. During each meeting, I requested that the Government Affairs liaison encourage their respective companies to revisit their pricing in our area with a mind towards being more competitive. Further, several actions are in process on this file and include:
- The filing of a formal petition calling on the government to address fuel prices in Kootenay-Columbia. A copy will be provided to Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Premier Horgan and the three MLA’s within Kootenay-Columbia.
- The presentation of a letter to Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, requesting a review of fuel prices in Kootenay-Columbia through the lens of the Competition Act.
- Presentation of findings to provincial representatives delivered with a message encouraging the pursuit of the issue at a provincial level.
- Publicly calling on all fuel companies to do the right thing for their customers in Kootenay-Columbia.
During my call with the Government Affairs liaison for one of the fuel companies I was informed of a class-action lawsuit involving fuel prices in British Columbia. I encourage Constituents to familiarize themselves with this filing and have included below a link to a website where additional details, and the class action document, can be found: www.bcgasclassaction.ca
There are 338 federal constituencies in Canada. You may be interested to know that Kootenay-Columbia is the 21st largest riding in the country at 64,336 km2. It is important for me to travel throughout the riding to visit local communities and I have been diligent to do so throughout the year.
You may consult my website for a calendar of communities and groups visited since my election. I have conducted meetings in my Cranbrook office and throughout the riding in “pop-up” offices. Every day, while in the constituency, meetings are held in person, via zoom or conference calls. While in Ottawa, meetings have been held with numerous groups with varied concerns and I also regularly attend Standing Committees, House of Commons, and more.
The Conservative Party of Canada has had a strong, successful 2020 as the Official Opposition.
Under the leadership of Erin O’Toole, our team is united and focused on helping Canadians through the pandemic. Our team has worked hard to fix the gaps in the Liberal’s emergency programs that have left millions of Canadians behind. We will continue to be bold in our approach to ensure that workers have good jobs to return to and that Canadians can come out of this pandemic stronger than before. Canadians are counting on us to hold the Trudeau government to account. They are also counting on us to help lead our nation out of this crisis, rebuild Canada, and help workers get ahead. When Parliament returns in January, our Conservative Caucus will continue to do just that. Through respect, professionalism, and the pursuit of excellence, we will show Canadians that we are a government in waiting. Together, we will form an engaged, ethical, and compassionate Conservative government.
Like all Members of Parliament who have come before, there are those in the political sphere who will read this summary looking to find a nugget of fault. It comes with the office and I accept it, however, now more than ever my challenge to these folks is to be mindful of the difference between creating accountability and causing political division. One of those causes for us to be stronger as a nation while the other serves only partisan purpose, which serves to weaken our democracy.
The generations that preceded us, those who built our country, were each called to something larger than themselves and they rose to the challenge of the day. This is a difficult time, but it is our time to shine, to be a light for the many who see no hope, to be a beacon of joy for those whose smile has been lost, and to be an example of what it is to be Canadian.
This health crisis will end and there will be a time again soon, where movie theatres will be full, places of worship will gather and children will once again convene in large numbers for a game of neighbourhood hockey. We are all Canadians, we will see the end of this health crisis together and my office is available to all Kootenay-Columbians, in particular those who need help. Below are three ways that you can be in touch with my office and I look forward to hearing from you:
E-mail: [email protected]
Thank you, once again, for placing your confidence in me to represent you.
Rob Morrison is Member of Parliament for Kootenay-Columbia