Conservative caucus to meet, with budget cuts on agenda
The Conservative caucus will meet for the first time Monday since Parliament packed up for the summer, but the catching-up chatter won't all be about cottages and barbecues.
Many MPs have had to cope all season with the fallout from last spring's budget cuts, some of which hit local services in areas such as train travel, the coast guard and interior waterways.
The lobbying has been going on hard in some cases to try and mitigate the impact of the decisions on constituents.
Barry Devolin and several of his Ontario colleagues have been dealing with the announced cuts to the operating season for the Trent-Severn Waterway and the Rideau Canal.
The MPs managed to persuade Environment Minister Peter Kent to hold off on cutting short the season this year and start a consultation on how best to deal with the budget limitations on the waterways. They delivered a proposal in late August.
Devolin is working on a private member's bill that would transfer the management of the Trent-Severn Waterway to an independent agency. He said the economic development potential of the waterway has yet to be fully realized.
"I grew up along this system, and it's important to me and it's important to a lot of people in my riding," Devolin said.
"Very often the conversation would turn to: if we're going to fix this, why don't we really fix it? Is Parks Canada the right home for the Trent-Severn, does it fit in?"
Mitigating impact on constituents
On Vancouver Island, MP James Lunney opposed the cuts to the closure of several maritime communications and traffic service centres (MCTS) along the B.C. coastline, as well as the shuttering of a search and rescue station in Vancouver.
"We have the best-trained MCTS personnel in the world; our SAR techs are second to none. They've done it all to provide safe and effective service," Lunney wrote in a public statement in June.
"In recent weeks, I have met with responsible authorities in Ottawa and written suggesting more workable solutions. I trust the public uproar has helped underscore my concerns and I remain hopeful that a more promising solution can be embraced for coastal B.C."
Across Canada, other MPs have been dealing with staffing and service reductions at Via Rail stations. Some stations now go unstaffed, raising complaints from disabled passengers who say they can't get on the train without assistance. The budget announced $41.2 million in cuts to Via over three years.
Sarnia-Lambton MP Patricia Davidson took the issue up with Steven Fletcher, the minister of state for transport, two weeks ago.
"We're trying to see if we cannot get this changed around," Davidson told the Sarnia Observer. "All the VIA changes are pretty upsetting to the community and to all of us."
In New Brunswick, MP John Williamson has had to defend the government's decision to reduce the budget at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Three jobs were lost at the St. Andrew's Biological Station.
Williamson says the cuts weren't as bad as the local media and opposition suggested -- three lost staff rather than 16 -- and people understand.
"I have had federal job layoffs in my riding and I hear about it, nobody wants to see good jobs disappear," Williamson said.
"But when the option is higher taxes, cuts to social transfers to health and education or to transfers to individuals, or finding savings in the government, most of my constituents think there's room for efficiencies in federal spending."
Devolin said he agrees, saying constituents have been working creatively with him to find a solution that keeps the Trent-Severn Waterway open -- even if it means user fees.
"I think the public mood is different than it was five or six years ago," he said.
"The public understands that the world economy is not very stable. So people I find are remarkably realistic in terms of (the fact) we need to balance the budget, we need to make cuts."