The federal NDP sees an opportunity in the riding of Kootenay-Columbia when current Conservative MP Jim Abbott bows out ahead of the next election. Abbott, who announced his planned retirement in early 2010, won the riding with a whopping 59.6 per cent of the vote in the 2008 election, well ahead of NDP candidate Leon Pendleton’s 22.6 per cent.
Federal NDP leader Jack Layton was in Cranbrook on Jan. 24 to support NDP candidate and former Invermere mayor Mark Shmigelsky, who won the right to represent the NDP in Kootenay-Columbia just over a week ago.
“I certainly thank Jim (Abbott) for his service and wish him well in his retirement,” Layton told the Times Review in a telephone interview from Cranbrook. “I think his leaving opens a huge door. It makes the playing field level for the next election, and I think a lot of people are looking for change,” he said.
Layton described a dysfunctional and broken Ottawa. “The conservatives that went down back when Jim was elected, it was the Reform Party, and they wanted more grassroots democracy, more openness in government, and more fiscal accountability. And what do they see? The biggest deficit in history,” Layton said.
“Worst of all, (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) seems to think we are out of the recession, just because the banks are making money and he’s giving them a tax cut.”
Layton described a different reality, one where citizens and seniors were struggling and worried about their economic future.
“He’s worked in the mills, in the forestry sector for over 20 years,” Layton said of Shmigelsky, adding he knows the realities of mill shutdowns and diminished severance packages, “because of the machinations of the big company. And meanwhile, the executives of the big company get millions in bonuses.
“I think that that means that there’s a chance for an excellent candidate like Mark with deep roots here in the community, and having shown his leadership, plus the desire for change, I think that opens the door, when and if we have an election,” Layton said.
“We’d rather get some results out of this Parliament first,” he added. Layton also criticized recent TV attack ads from the Conservatives. He said he didn’t want to get into predictions about a possible election, adding the NDP would be ready.
Layton outlined several NDP proposals, such as removing federal tax on home heating. “Let’s do that in the budget,” Layton said.
“There are far too many seniors going to the food bank, we heard this morning,” he said, saying a heating tax cut would help.
In a statement, Layton also said the NDP had pushed for improvements to the Canada Pension Plan, and also panned recent changes to the pension system.
Layton said the HST was supported by the federal Conservatives and Liberals, so federal policies should be adjusted accordingly.
“How come our raw materials, like cattle (are) being sent out of the country for processing, like wood being shipped out in raw logs for somebody else to get the jobs, even bitumen being shipped out in pipelines and the jobs with them? What’s the matter with this government? Why won’t they stand up and say we’ve got to have some jobs here? You need a strategy for that.”
When asked to speak on specifics, such as the example of raw logs, Layton said: “We’ve proposed that the federal government limit the export of raw logs, and insist that the companies, many of whom are getting various kinds of government benefits — I mean they are the ones that benefited from the HST, for instance. They got a big reduction in taxes, millions of dollars in reduction of taxes.”
Layton said government should work to ensure more processing is done in Canada.
“Instead of creating jobs, they’re involved with shipping the raw logs to their plants elsewhere in North America. It’s time for a government that stands up for Canadians and jobs here. At least a portion of those logs should be transformed into products here in Canada.”