Wayne Stetski, the MP for Kootenay-Columbia was in Revelstoke on Thursday to meet with local officials and constituents and get an idea of their priorities and concerns.
Stetski was elected as an NDP MP in October and was named the party’s Critic for National Parks. We spoke to him about life in Ottawa, the national parks and his hopes for the upcoming federal budget, which is expected to come out next month.
This is an extended version of the interview that appears in the Feb. 17, 2016, issue of the Revelstoke Review.
Revelstoke Review: What’s your impression of Ottawa?
Wayne Stetski: It’s a great city as a place to visit and live. Lots of green space and lots of old buildings, which I love. The Parliament itself takes some getting used to in terms of understanding how it works. I gave my inaugural speech back in December. On Friday, before I left to come home, I presented the petition for proportional representation that came out of the Kootenays.
I’ve been able to raise a couple of questions around infrastructure and future funding. I have some meetings set up with the minister responsible for infrastructure or his staff.
Do you feel the Liberals are listening?
It comes down to individual relationships a lot. Last week there was a concern the Ktunaxa have on their land and during a break I was able to walk across the floor and talk to the minister, and talk to her about the issues. I handed her a letter. It’s sort of that one-on-one relationship you try to develop.
David Wilks would say if TV stopped broadcasting question period and showed committee work or the day-to-day, people would have a better impression of Parliament. What do you think?
I have to give the new speaker a lot of credit. He is really trying to bring a sense of decorum to the House. Last week he said to one of the members, ‘Would the honourable member of wherever remind his colleague sitting below him this is not the Muppet Show.’ He’s been pretty specific, pretty direct and I think it’s having an impact.
What do you think of the Liberals performance so far?
During the campaign and debates I said there were a lot of similarities between the three progressive parties in terms of our platform. We differed in terms of how far we might want to go with a particular issue or objective, or how we might get there, but there were a lot of similarities. The Liberal platform has a lot of elements that are important to the NDP, so we’re hopeful. We’re watching to make sure they deliver on what they say they’re going to deliver on.
All of Canada will get a better idea once the budget comes out because governments are often very good at words, but I was in government long enough to know it counts when they put money behind the words.
What do you want to see in the budget?
As the critic for national parks I want to make sure they meet what they said they would. The Conservative government cut $32 million from the parks budget and that resulted in layoffs, including in some of the parks in the riding. The Liberals said they would restore $25 million of that $32 million. They said they would add $25 million to assist with ecosystem improvements.
In 2017, they’ve said it will be free access to national parks. Currently parks – I don’t have a final figure – but it gets maybe $30–50 million in revenue from entrance fees. We want to make sure that doesn’t end up as a shortfall in Parks Canada’s budget.
On infrastructure, of course, there’s lots of promises. There’s dire needs for infrastructure improvements in municipalities across Canada. We need a different formula in terms of how money is allocated because many of the grants in the past required municipalities to come up with the first one-third of any project. So if you’re looking at a sewer plant or water plant, it’s not hard to need $9 million. For a small community to come up with $3 million out of their local taxation is really hard.
What’s wrong with municipalities paying their share?
It depends on the size of the municipalities. Large cities should be able to come up with their share of the money. For smaller communities, we have communities that before you can get your project into the process, you need to have completed an engineering study. We have a number of smaller communities that have no engineers on staff. They’d have a really hard time even hiring the engineers to create the proposal and put the project in play. It depends on how large you are and what your tax base is in terms of what you actually afford.
Have you talked about this with anyone?
I brought it up as a question in the House. I’ve got a meeting with the department itself, so I’ll bring it up at that point.
What about the Trans-Canada file. Have you moved on David Wilks’ $5 billion package to twin the highway through the national parks?
The objective of twinning is still there. When I meet with senior Parks Canada staff I’ll bring that forward as one of the priorities. There are concens brought forward – the hotel’s stills closed and shuttered at the pass. That’s been brought forward by a constituent as a concern.
What are the priorities for the riding?
Lots of priorities around infrastructure dollars — that’s pretty standard. Golden and Revelstoke share concerns about Highway 1.
For me, I’ve believed for a long time we should be championing the incredible fossil opportunities we have throughout the Rocky Mountains. A lot of the fossils from Yoho for example have gone to the Royal Ontario Museum because there was no place to display them or to look after them properly locally. I really think that should change in the long run because we have incredible fossil resources. A major visitor centre featuring fossils in Field would be very favourable to the community.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I’m really happy to see the government announcing they’re going to undertake the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women review. They also said they’ll implement the recommendations of the reconciliation report for Aboriginal people. That’s an important initiative the Conservative government was not interested in. It was very important to us. It was in our platform to make a priority.
The way we describe our relationship right now with the Liberals is we’re hopeful, we’re optimistic in many aspects. All of us will know better what their priorities really are when the budget comes out.