Robert Sopuck, Conservative — Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa
'It's important to protect and defend the rural life, rural culture and the rural economy'
Why do you want this job?
I feel very strongly that it's important to protect and defend the rural life, rural culture and the rural economy. There are many misconceptions about what goes on in rural areas, whether it's in term of forestry, mining, oil and gas, agriculture and hunting, fishing and trapping.
In my entire career, I've been an advocate for natural resources industries in rural areas. I've gone very public in terms of my advocacy for the environmental practices in rural communities, which are by and large excellent. Advocating for our way of life, in a nutshell, is why I wanted to become a member of Parliament.
What's the biggest issue for the country and in your riding?
Number one issue in the country is the economy for sure. Canada has one of the strongest economies in the G20 and the entire world, as evidenced by our debt-to-GDP ratio, which is 35 per cent, compared to the United States, which is about 110 per cent.
Our finances are being well-managed by the federal government, but given that we are a trading economy, we are dependent on the rest of the world in terms of purchasing our goods and services.
In my riding, and Western Canada in general, we export 80 per cent of what we produce. A fragile global economy is something that could really affect all of us in Canada here, so it's important to have good, strong policies in Canada to ensure that we can withstand any perturbations outside of Canada.
What would you do with the Senate?
Contrary to what other candidates may say, unless the provinces agree, the doors are effectively shut on Senate reform.
The Supreme Court was very clear that the provinces had to play a federal role in any reforming of the Senate. Shortly after that ruling, a number of provinces came out and said they're not interested in Senate reform. I don't think there's much that can be done on that file in the short-term.
Winnipeg was described as the most racist city in Canada. What would you do to combat racism?
I think that Maclean's story was effectively refuted afterwards, so I don't buy the initial premise. But combating racism requires that everyone be treated equally.
What role should the federal government play in dealing with climate change?
The federal government is playing a leadership role in climate change. During the course of our term, CO2 emissions have gone down.
Keep in mind that Canada is 1.6 per cent of global CO2 emissions. In fact, when we formed government back in 2006, I think we were slightly over two per cent.
Canada, for example, has the largest carbon capture storage project in the world in Saskatchewan, and the federal government was there with some significant funding for it. Our actions speak for themselves in terms of our due diligence to combat climate change.
If there was one government policy you think is done better in another country, what is it?
This reflects my bias coming from an agricultural community and someone with a conservation background: I think the United States has some very good programs that deal with conservation on the agricultural landscape.
They work in concert with agriculture producers that have created some incredible conservation success stories on the agricultural landscape. I've been down there and I've seen it, I've studied it. I think agricultural conservation is something we can learn from other countries.
Under what circumstances is deficit spending a good choice?
Almost never. But back in 2008 when the financial crisis hit, keep in mind we were a minority government at the time. We did some significant spending in terms of infrastructure and we also had programs like the home renovation tax credit, which put a lot of carpenters and home renovators back to work.
So the best spending, in that regard, is the kind that provides incentives for the private sector to create jobs and income.
What do you believe is the single most effective way to fight crime?
I'm a law and order person.
My wife and I live in a very gentle part of the world and relatively crime free. When I hear of crime – especially in my own constituency, where people do not expect crime to occur because we do live in a peaceful kingdom, if you will — I'm absolutely outraged.
I have little sympathy for the perpetrators of crime, so I'm an advocate of very strong and tough sentencing for these people. It's the innocent that, for too long, have been forgotten in these crimes.
What should be done about homegrown terrorism?
Obviously, we passed Bill C-51.
I think it's an excellent bill. It strikes the right balance between ensuring our rights as citizens are protected, our rights and freedoms are protected, while at the same time giving the authorities the tools required to not only apprehend those who have committed terrorist acts, but preventing terrorist acts in the first place.
What the opponents of Bill C-51 always forget is that terrorist incidents reduce our freedoms. [A] good strong security policy environment enhances our freedoms. Bill C-51 strikes the right balance between protecting personal liberties while at the same time allowing terrorists to be captured prior to any of these things taking place.
If there was a gay pride parade in your riding, would you go? Why or why not?
No. There's never been one. Parliament passed gay marriage, I have a number of gay friends, but the answer is still no.
Have either you or your family had a frustrating experience with the health-care system, and what would you do to fix the problem?
Health care is clearly a provincial responsibility and the Manitoba government receives billions of dollars a year from the federal government for health care.
It's primarily things like wait times and, in terms of my own constituency, what's happening is some communities are losing their doctors. I hear that a lot on the campaign trail. People are very concerned.
What we have done as a federal government is provided some [student] loan relief to doctors who practice in rural areas. We can only work on the periphery there, so providing some financial incentives for doctors to locate in rural areas is something we can do and that's something we are doing.
What would you do to get more people to vote?
There are people for whom this simply does not cross their mind, government policy, programs or the direction of the country. They've chosen not to be engaged and I don't think there's much we can do about that. I'm very much a strong believer in personal liberty.
There are people who have chosen to not be engaged in public policy or the public policy debate, and I actually respect that decision. Those people choose to live their own lives how they wish, so I, for one, don't see myself tampering with their wishes.
What's a better use of federal dollars: fixing roads or building rapid transit infrastructure?
There is no public transit anywhere in my constituency, so for us, roads are a very important issue. The economic lifeblood of our communities are the roads, in terms of transporting goods like agricultural products to market.
I'm answering that question through the lens of being a rural MP who's very concerned about the state of our roads, so I'd like the most spent on roads in my constituency as possible.
Would you support legalizing a small amount of marijuana? And have you ever tried it?
No and no. I haven't tried it. I've had bronchitis, so I can't smoke anything.
In terms of marijuana, I've done the research.
Evidently, the marijuana that's produced today is about 30 times as strong as it was in the '60s and '70s.
This idea that marijuana is just like alcohol is simply hogwash. It is a strong and powerful narcotic, and I am strongly opposed to legalizing it.
People draw the comparison between cigarettes — we tax cigarettes, we can tax marijuana. That particular argument doesn't hold any water, because there's a thriving illicit trade in illegal cigarettes. The Colorado experiment showed that the thriving illicit trade of marijuana, even though it's legalized there, is alive and well.