MP talks top 2013 issues, and what constituents can expect in new year
© File photo
Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor MP Scott Simms.
Between senate scandals, leadership conventions, by-elections and pipelines, there's no question that 2013 was a big year in the world of federal politics.
The Advertiser caught up with Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor Liberal MP Scott Simms to talk about what were the biggest issues on his radar in the last 12 months and what his constituents could expect from him in 2014.
Simms said the crux of what he considers his biggest hot-topic is not centered around what the federal government did in 2013, but rather what it didn't do.
"I think for me some of the biggest stories, the ongoing issues, were the senior's issues. I just think it was a lack of action," he said. "It's typical of the current government if they can just get away with it they'll let it slide. There's no attempt to even try and alleviate the problem especially when it comes to seniors poverty...there's just is no more generosity in this system anymore and it seems to me that this idea of looking after your neighbor, the government has lost the concept of it."
Simms said he's heard the stories of seniors unable to make ends meet with fixed incomes and rising cost of living for things like home heating. He said the present government is not only not trying to remedy the problem but adding insult to injury with things like increasing the age of eligibility for Old Age Security from 65 to 67.
"If (Harper) is going to raise the age from 65 to 67 because they're 'a strain on the system,' but the experts tell him it's not a strain on the system, I don't know where his head is on this one," Simms said. "In the next budget . . . I'd likC to see something innovative to help seniors, there's been nothing truly innovative that's come out of Ottawa or the federal government in quite some time, so it would be nice to see something."
Simms also cited Employment Insurance (EI) changes as a big issue for him in 2013.
"The problem is the Conservatives use that legislation as a punishment measure, they treat EI (recipients) like repeat offenders and they don't try and help them at all," Simms said. "They're trying to alleviate the demand for some of the jobs out there like retail, but they're not doing that right... I've got no problems with people on EI trying to find work, but, try and engage people to help them find the job they're looking for."
Simms said he believes the Harper government will continue to erode EI services.
"They've already moved Service Canada employees to St. John's or are in the process of doing that, so that's going to have an affect," he said. "I don't think they really know what they're doing with EI, they don't want it to be what it is but they're also too scared to destroy it."
Simms said he's also concerned by other government cuts in sectors like Defense, Service Canada and Canada Post.
"We have a really great (Search and Rescue) base in Gander; it's one of the best in the world. For the (defense) cuts that are coming I've always felt that search and rescue always got the short shift. They're always at the bottom of the priority list; the (government) calls it a Canada-first defense policy (but) if you're worried about Canadians first you'd think SAR would be at the top," he said.
Simms said with Service Canada offices moving out of rural areas, and now Canada Post cuts, he's worried not only about the job losses but with what this says about the federal government's attitude towards rural areas.
"The Conservatives (are trying) pull themselves out of rural Canada. I've always said if it wasn't for the post office, the Government of Canada would be nonexistent in some places, now that's pulled too," Simms said. "SAR (Search and Rescue) has been cut, Service Canada has been cut, through it all (Harper) smiles and says he's doing wonderful things for the province.
"Like what? The only job creation program he has for Newfoundland and Labrador is for people like Norm Doyle and Fabian Manning in the Senate."
The past year was also an eventful one for Simms' party. The Liberals kicked off 2013 with a leadership campaign and subsequent leadership convention. Simms threw his support behind Justin Trudeau early in his campaign, and Trudeau went on to win the leadership by a landslide.
"Justin has made a big impact; during the campaign he came to several communities, primarily Gander, Lewisporte and Grand Falls-Windsor and we had a great time. Justin came (into the House of Commons) behaving like he wanted to be a good MP first," Simms said. "In my nine years here we've been through a number of leaders and if people had to ask me who are the best leaders, I would say the ones who came here deciding they would be a direct local representative first."
With 2013 coming to a close, Simms said there are a few issues he believes are of utmost importance, locally and nationally.
"Number one: we have a ship sunk off of Change Islands and the oil needs to come out of that ship or we're looking at a potential disaster, especially in that area of Notre Dame Bay.
Simms said he thinks 2014 will be the year of the veteran. He said veterans are becoming more and more discontent, with issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment acting as the catalyst. He predicts the public can expect to hear more from that group.
"Especially for young soldiers coming back from places like Afghanistan, they're angry and they're going to get angrier and they're going to get the public angry, and it's going to be a problem for the government."