Rachel Blaney, the NDP MP for North Island-Powell River, spoke to reporters on Tuesday about affordable housing, cannabis law and other hot-button issues. Here’s a brief run-down of her update from Ottawa.
Blaney said the Liberal government isn’t acting fast enough on affordable housing, which she described as a major issue throughout the riding.
Last year, the government announced that it would spend billions on a national housing strategy to address the needs of the most vulnerable. But the plan has drawn fire from the NDP, which has accused the government of stalling on the investments until after next year’s election.
“At this point, only 10 per cent of that funding will be released prior to the next election,” she said. “People simply can’t wait.”
With recreational marijuana now legal across Canada, Blaney said the federal NDP is pushing for the Liberal government to “expunge” the records of people convicted for possession of small amounts of cannabis.
According to the Parole Board of Canada, expungement is for cases considered historical injustices. Unlike pardons, it involves the destruction or removal of federal records of an offence.
Blaney said the Liberal government has indicated that it will pardon past offenders and remove the fee for pardons.
“We see that as a somewhat positive step, but it is really a half-measure promise,” she said, adding that people with criminal records may have trouble finding employment, travelling or finding a place to live.
“The majority of people who have records are largely younger people and racialized people,” she said.
The MP slammed the Trudeau government for what she described as inaction on climate change.
Her comments followed the release of UN report that says dramatic emissions cuts are needed within 12 years to avoid catastrophic effects of global warming, including more droughts and extreme weather events.
That report, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this month, prompted rallies outside Blaney’s offices in Campbell River and Powell River and the offices of MPs across the country.
“[We] definitely have been seeing an increase of concern from the riding,” she said. “People are wanting to see some action taken.”
Blaney said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government hasn’t changed emissions targets set by the previous Conservative government or taken steps to seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Blaney said that dairy farmers in the riding are feeling the pinch following changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, newly dubbed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Negotiations for the USMCA were completed in late September.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada have said they expect to lose a significant portion of the market due to loosened protections under the USMCA and other trade agreements, Blaney said.
“What the dairy farmers are hearing is they’ll be compensated,” she said. “But of course they don’t want compensation. They want to do their jobs and they want to work.”
Blaney indicated that she’s concerned about the quality of dairy products being imported and jobs lost on small farms.
Women in the House
The New Democrat MP also invited young women to get involved in a program called Daughters of the Vote. In each federal riding, one woman between 18 and 23 years old is given the opportunity to visit Ottawa and participate in a special sitting of the House of Commons in April 2019.
She stressed the importance of a better gender balance in the House of Commons.
“I am still working in a place where we’re at the highest-ever women participation in the House of Commons and we’re at 26 per cent,” she said.
Applications are being accepted until Nov. 22. More information about the program is available at daughtersofthevote.ca.
In the wake of a massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Blaney said she’s concerned about the spread of violence and extremism.
“The NDP has been up numerous times in the House of Commons talking about how concerning it is that that right-wing, fear-mongering voice is getting louder and louder across the world,” she said
Her comments come as NDP leaders call the cancellation of a debate scheduled for later this week in Toronto involving Steve Bannon – the former chief strategist for President Donald Trump and former editor at the far-right website Breitbart.