Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks says the new session of Parliament promises to be a productive one.
Wilks spoke to the Advance from his parliamentary office immediately after the 2013-14 session’s predictably raucus first question period yesterday. MPs, he said, had concluded the morning with a tribute to the citizens of Lac-Mégantic, Que., where work to restore the town continues.
It wasn’t the destruction of Lac-Mégantic’s downtown core by a runaway freight train that had Opposition MPs up in arms, though. Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t in the House, having jetted off to Europe to sign a trade agreement.
“It’s hard to believe,” he said about the Opposition’s criticism. “It’s the second-most comprehensive trade deal that we have, creating 80,000 jobs.”
Turning to the throne speech, which was delivered in the Senate on Wednesday, Wilks said budget forecasts continue to be optimistic.
“Nationally, I think for me, the most important one for me is that our government is still on target to balance the budget by 2015,” he said. “As a result of that we’ll put a freeze on the overall operating budget which will continue to restrain hiring. “
In anticipation of a balanced budget in the foreseeable future, Wilks said the government is preparing legislation to require governments to balance budgets.
“As well, the government will continue to review federal assets, and where it’s in the best interests of Canadians they will be sold. A good example of that in the Kootenays is the divesting of the Dominion Coal Blocks, which are just in between Fernie and Sparwood. There is no need to hold on to them.”
Focusing on employment for youth is important, Wilks said.
“Although the youth unemployment rate is much lower than in other countries there’s far more we can do. We will provide opportunities for work experience in the high demand fields such as trades—we need to get youth more involved in the trades. As most people know we’ve had to resort to temporary foreign workers.
“We really need kids in Grades 10, 11 and 12 to start focusing in on trades, if that’s their desire in life. We certainly need electricians, plumbers, welders — you name it, we need them.
“There’s been a lot of misguided thinking in the past about trades, and kids hear, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a plumber?’ But the reality is that Mr. Plumber makes $40-$60 an hour. The trades will always be in demand.”
Another trade-related issue is the challenge workers face in moving from province to province, where there is no consistency in their certification.
“We’re going to improve credential recognition all across the country to enable the free movement of skilled workers because as you know right now sometimes there’s barriers inter-provincially,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to remove those barriers so that those skilled workers can move from province to province to province without being inhibited in any way.”
Acknowledging that it can be all too easy for governments to simply pile on legislation, Wilks said the Conservative government will, ironically, “introduce legislation to enshrine the one-for-one rule, so if we create a new legislation, we have to remove one.”
The government’s stated intent to get involved with consumer issues like cable bundling and cellphones was national news immediately after the throne speech was delivered.
“I think a lot of people raised their eyebrows yesterday about reducing roaming charges and about the bundling of cable channels,” he admitted. “It is a small thing, but I think it’s something that Canadians have talked about for a long time. Whether one agrees that it’s of national importance or not, the fact of the matter is that we, as a federal government, regulate the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) and as a result we can direct how we want that to happen.”
Another communications issue piqued Wilks’s interest.
“The federal government has done a good job of providing broadband to rural areas but we could do better. We could do way better. So we’re going to focus on that — getting high-speed to rural Canadians. I’ve got a couple of thoughts on that but I want to run them by the minister first — I think they’re pretty radical. We need to really lower the price and make things really competitive.“
As a retired RCMP officer, law and order and justice issues are always near the top of Wilks’s priority list.
“I’m quite happy to see we will be reintroducing legislation to ensure that public safety comes first,” he said. “That sounds pretty broad, but one of the things we want to do is end sentencing discounts for child sex offenders. Right now they can get one-third or two-thirds off. We want to stop that. We want to stop automatic release of serious repeat offenders because they are still eligible for release at one-third or two-thirds of sentence. That’s ridiculous to me — I think that if you are sentenced to seven years for an armed robbery, that means seven years. It doesn’t mean you’ve been a good person in jail so you get out in four or sometimes three years.
“The most significant thing to me is one that I’ve advocated since I’ve came here and I’m glad to see the government is going to something about it. We’ll change the law so that a life sentence means a sentence for life. So if you’re sentenced to life for first-degree murder, enjoy your life, because you’re going to park it in a cell. Some will see that is really harsh — well, go ask the family who won’t see their loved one again.”
Environmental issues didn’t take up much space in the throne speech, but Wilks said they haven’t been ignored, and that the government plans action to improve air quality nationwide.
“We want Canadians to know that we are doing our best to provide good air quality. How we are going to do that, I don’t know yet,” he said.
He wrapped up the conversation with comments on the Senate, where controversy has swirled for the past couple of years.
“I think people probably expected more about the Senate, but the reality is that we’re waiting for the ruling from the Supreme Court about what we can and can’t do. Hopefully, the Supreme Court is going to give us some guidance that there is the potential for the federal government to make amendments to the Senate without opening the Constitution. If that happens, I think you’ll see our government move forward very quickly. I think that most Canadians and most parliamentarians know there is a need for a change.“