By Nicole Trigg, Invermere Valley Echo
Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks has proven to be the unwitting catalyst to a nationwide “Day of Action” that took place on Saturday (June 2) at the offices of 54 Conservative MPs across the country in protest of the federal government’s proposed omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38.
“Wilks’ disclosure made us realize that it was important to both express people’s concerns about the budget bill, but that it was also important for us to encourage Conservative MPs to represent their constituents,” said Jamie Biggar, the executive director for Leadnow.ca, the advocacy group that organized the event. “They need to stop [Bill C-38], split it apart, and start over by inviting Canadians to help them make laws that will work better for everyone.”
The Kootenay-Columbia riding protest rally was co-ordinated by Meghan Anderson, the University of Alberta wildlife biology student based in Revelstoke who organized the now-famous constituent gathering that springboarded Wilks into the national spotlight for publicly stating on May 23 that if 13 other MPs joined him to the 30 people in attendance, he would vote against the bill.
When concerned members of the Revelstoke community met with Wilks to discuss Bill C-38 — the said meeting organized by Anderson — Wilks openly admitted that a number of backbenchers, himself included, also had concerns about the bill but that party politics dictated he had to vote for it.
“He said, ‘Look, if you want me to run as an independent I’ll run as an independent,’ and I’m not really sure if he meant that sincerely,” Anderson said. “It wasn’t clear.”
A video of the group discussion was posted online to YouTube, quickly making national headlines and leading Wilks to backtrack and issue a statement via his website the next day lending his full support to the bill, although he went on to say later at a meeting of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce that he still didn’t agree with the bill in its entirety, reported the Cranbrook Daily Townsman.
Bill C-38, the budget bill introduced by the Conservative government on April 26, is a 425-page document with 753 clauses amending federal policies in the areas of human resources, immigration, the environment, and more.
Unpopular changes include increasing the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67, limiting the political activity of charity groups, eliminating the government-funded National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, deregulating fisheries protection to promote development and limiting public input in the environmental review process.
The bill has drawn criticism across the political spectrum, including from former Conservative cabinet ministers and members of Prime MInister Harper’s own caucus, stated the Leadnow.ca press realease.
The Day of Action protest took place outside Wilks’ office in Cranbrook at 2 p.m. with 25 people in attendance. Anderson and former Revelstoke councillor Antoinette Halberstadt made the long drive to Cranbrook to attend the protest. Wilks saying that he and other backbenchers didn’t support Bill C-38 is giving people hope that something could change, Anderson said.
“That’s what we needed to hear,” she said. “There’s weakness within the party and there’s hope that something great can happen, that we can actually make change; otherwise, you’re often faced with this Conservative wall, it’s hard to break through that wall and get anything.”
On Monday (June 4), organizations representing milions of Canadians darkened their websites in protest against the proposed federal bill, redirecting web traffic instead to blackoutspeakout.ca and urging people to take action via petition, letters and social media.