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West Nova: MP Colin Fraser talks about the riding, the issues, and Justin Trudeau


MIDDLETON - When the Liberal Party of Canada swept to power on Oct. 19, 2015, a young Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took over the reins of government with a whole slate of rookie members of Parliament – including West Nova’s Colin Fraser.

The Yarmouth lawyer defeated Conservative Arnold LeBlanc to take the seat left vacant by retiring incumbent Greg Kerr. On that day, the federal Liberals were given a strong mandate of change, creating an infectious optimism of ‘sunny ways’ and a sense of public engagement across the country.

It’s been quite a ride ever since for Fraser, but an experience and a job he wouldn’t trade for anything. He was quickly made a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee and divides his time between Ottawa and his vast West Nova riding. He even managed to bring Trudeau to Bridgetown. And yes, selfies were taken.

TC Media sat down with Member of Parliament Fraser on Jan. 18 to find out what that first year and a bit has been like. Following are our questions and his answers.

 

It’s been just over a year since you were elected. What’s it been like and is it what you expected?

“It’s been wonderful actually. It really is two different jobs in one, in many ways, where you’re working in the riding meeting with people, going to various events in every community, and trying to meet with people at the two constituency offices we have – one in Yarmouth and one in Middleton. And then, when I’m in Ottawa, it’s a slightly different role, working on committees, working with other members of Parliament, trying to advance and advocate issues for our riding but also looking at the national picture and trying to contribute as best I can. In that regard it is what I was hoping it would be -- and then some. The people I have met along the way so far have been wonderful to work with.”

 

The Yarmouth lawyer defeated Conservative Arnold LeBlanc to take the seat left vacant by retiring incumbent Greg Kerr. On that day, the federal Liberals were given a strong mandate of change, creating an infectious optimism of ‘sunny ways’ and a sense of public engagement across the country.

It’s been quite a ride ever since for Fraser, but an experience and a job he wouldn’t trade for anything. He was quickly made a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee and divides his time between Ottawa and his vast West Nova riding. He even managed to bring Trudeau to Bridgetown. And yes, selfies were taken.

TC Media sat down with Member of Parliament Fraser on Jan. 18 to find out what that first year and a bit has been like. Following are our questions and his answers.

 

It’s been just over a year since you were elected. What’s it been like and is it what you expected?

“It’s been wonderful actually. It really is two different jobs in one, in many ways, where you’re working in the riding meeting with people, going to various events in every community, and trying to meet with people at the two constituency offices we have – one in Yarmouth and one in Middleton. And then, when I’m in Ottawa, it’s a slightly different role, working on committees, working with other members of Parliament, trying to advance and advocate issues for our riding but also looking at the national picture and trying to contribute as best I can. In that regard it is what I was hoping it would be -- and then some. The people I have met along the way so far have been wonderful to work with.”

 

What has it been like working with Justin Trudeau?

It’s been a great experience. The Prime Minister is a very charismatic individual and obviously has garnered a lot of media attention and focus – and, in many ways, engaged citizens that have either never been engaged in politics before or haven’t been in a long time. So just working with him and learning from how he approaches politics in the optimistic way he has done so far has been a great experience and I just look forward to the next few years continuing to work with him and make sure that West Nova is taken care of.

“He is very approachable and easy to speak with and listens to other points of view. He’s incredibly energetic and smart. It’s obvious he loves Canada and wants to make our country an even better place to live. So it has been a pleasure to work with him.

“Also, we were fortunate to have, on Aug. 16, the Prime Minister come and visit us in West Nova. He came to Bridgetown to announce the infrastructure Phase 1 for all of Nova Scotia but did in West Nova. And it was a wonderful day in Jubliee Park in Bridgetown. I think there were about 1,500 that came out and it was great to see so many young people that were enthusiastic to see the Prime Minister and be engaged in politics and celebrate the great announcement that resulted in $7.8 million for infrastructure projects right here in West Nova – and it’s just the beginning.”

West Nova MP Colin Fraser hosted a Town Hall on climate change in Bridgetown.

What have you discovered about West Nova that you didn’t know before?

So, obviously, being a pretty big riding geographically, with many different communities, I didn’t really know every community very well. So just getting to know all of the different communities in each part of the riding has been an amazing experience so far – and learning the ins and outs of each place, but also the people. Getting to know all of the leaders in each community and all of the residents. It’s just been a really great experience so far and I look forward to continuing to get to know people and visiting every place around the riding. We have such a beautiful riding in West Nova – there’s fishing and farming – but it’s mostly rural areas so the challenges are similar no matter where you come from in West Nova. But really the people are wonderful people with a really good strong work ethic – and generous people.”

West Nova MP Colin Fraser with members of the Cornwallis Park Community Gardens.

Former West Nova MP Robert Thibault once described West Nova as a microcosm of Canada – a diverse culture and diverse industry. Do you agree and if so why?

I do agree. I think in many ways we have a very diverse mosaic here in western Nova Scotia that is similar to the mosaic we see across the country with regard to the Acadian culture, as well as British, African Nova Scotian, indigenous peoples. All of the founding peoples of the country being right here in western Nova Scotia makes it in many ways a microcosm of Canada. I do think we have learned many lessons from the past and from other places, and we all do well to work together. And I think we are seeing more of that each and every year. I think West Nova is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities we have as a very diverse place with a beautiful landscape.

“Part of the diversity in our area of the world is the industries we have. The fishing industry does very well and we have a strong attachment to the sea. We also have beautiful, some of the most fertile land in the country (or in the world for that matter) in the Annapolis Valley in our agriculture sector which does so well – and really ties together communities in a very strong way. We also have 14-Wing Greenwood and the military base and many veterans in our community that contribute so richly to our diversity. As well as many immigrant populations for a smaller place. The way we welcomed Syrian refugees into each small community across western Nova Scotia really showed our best selves and encourages that type of diversity to be celebrated.”

West Nova MP Colin Fraser with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Jubilee Park in Bridgetown.

Many are saying Canada started here. Annapolis Royal Mayor William MacDonald is describing the area as the “Cradle of Canada.” What are your thoughts?

Well, I think that’s right. We see that the four founding people, starting with the indigenous peoples here in our area, but then with Samuel de Champlain coming, and the first settlement in Annapolis Royal – just outside of Annapolis Royal at Port-Royal – and African Nova Scotians being here in western Nova Scotia, and then obviously the British taking over later. (It) really kind of made this the cradle, the birthplace of our nation in many ways. And it should be celebrated. 2017 of course is the 150th anniversary of Canada and I think it’s very important that we keep in mind the history of how the founding of our country developed. In that way I think we will have a very important part to play this year in 2017.”

West Nova MP Colin Fraser at Sinclair Inn Museum in Annapolis Royal.

Your riding contains three counties and part of a fourth. What are the needs of each and what are the challenges?

It’s an important question, and there are differences between each county. We have Yarmouth County, we have Digby County, Annapolis County and part of Kings County – so it is all rural Nova Scotia with small towns. In that way, we are seeing similar things and similar challenges in each part of the riding – including an aging population with seniors. So we need to make sure seniors are well taken care of and we’ve started off on some of that work with insuring that single seniors in particular get a little bit more money. So we’ve increased the amount in the GIS by 10 per cent to make sure they’re getting a little bit of help. We’ve made a deal regarding the Canada Pension Plan and reduced the retirement age from 67 to 65.

“All these things will hopefully help our aging population, but more than that, we need to make sure that our economy is working well here in Western Nova Scotia and that means we have a workforce that is growing, that is expanding. That we increase our opportunities across all of rural Nova Scotia. The way we’re going to do that is through the Atlantic Growth Strategy, which we will be rolling out this spring, and we’ll see the ability that will provide to increasing our workforce, increasing opportunities through innovation and through trade deals, and through all federal and provincial partners working together to ensure that we’re growing and expanding our economy in rural Nova Scotia. I think that will provide a lot of assistance to the various needs of every part of the riding.

“Obviously one of the main challenges that many rural areas in Canada, frankly, are facing is connectivity. And if we’re looking at expanding our economy and ensuring that we can attract the best and the brightest we have to be competitive in many areas but in particular with broadband internet access. So our government has put forward $500,000 as a start towards investing in rural broadband, and I’ve been working closely with many of the municipal units and provincial government to ensure that money is actually invested here on the ground to get rural Internet to all parts of West Nova.”

West Nova MP Colin Fraser, Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough, and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil at the Annapolis River Festival in Bridgetown.

What are the challenges nationally and how does West Nova fit into that?

Jobs and the economy is the overall theme of why we are making infrastructure investments, first of all. And in West Nova that would include things such as harbor infrastructure and wharves, ensuring that the fishermen have the ability to have the tools they need to continue to expand their operations.

“Across the country, we look at the way that families are able to support themselves. The Canada Child Benefit, which was introduced in the last budget, will lift over 300,000 children out of poverty. I’m very concerned about the rates of child poverty here in Western Nova Scotia. The Canada Child Benefit is a major policy piece that is going to help nine out of 10 Canadian families – and many right here in Western Nova Scotia -- to make ends meet and be able to provide healthy and safe environments to raise their children.

“And, of course, with seniors, we need to make sure that seniors are taken care of including ensuring that proper amounts are being invested in health care. We just saw the deal signed between the province and the federal government to include $290 million additional over the next 10 years targeted towards home care and mental health. That money will be well served here in Western Nova Scotia.”

West Nova MP Colin Fraser speaks at Market Square in Annapolis Royal.

What are the top four issues you would like to work on in West Nova?

I’ve already touched on some of them, but jobs and the economy has to be No. 1 to ensure that we’ve got a workforce that has opportunities right here in Western Nova Scotia and attracting new people into our area so we have a growing population and a growing economy. That’s got to be No. 1 and I think our government is off to a good start, and certainly with the cooperation with all of Atlantic partners, with the Atlantic Growth Strategy, we’ll see much headway on that in 2017.

“Seniors are extremely important to me because there are many seniors in Western Nova Scotia and some of them are having trouble making ends meet. Some of the policy pieces that we’ve instituted in our first budget will be followed up on and I’ll be following it very closely and ensuring that we’re taking care of our seniors – including health care.

“Regarding veterans, I’m on the Veterans Affairs Committee in Parliament, as well as the Justice Committee. Veterans Affairs has a very important place in my heart and we’ve already undertaken a study on service delivery to veterans and made some important recommendations that the minister has taken into account. And we’ve seen much progress on that file and I think Minister (Kent) Hehr is doing a good job, but we’re not there yet. We have lots more to do. The current study that we’re undertaking … is mental health and suicide prevention. It’s extremely important that we do the work in a timely fashion so those recommendations can be brought forward to the minister for quick action. We know all too well in Nova Scotia … the difficulties with mental health especially for our veterans that needs to be worked on. I touched on earlier the mental health investment that will be made in the upcoming health transfers that will be important to address some of those issues generally speaking, but we really do need to focus on PTSD within our military community.

“Finally I would say the other important issue, and I touched on it earlier, is broadband internet. It’s what I hear in every part of the riding as a key issue – to make sure that people have the essential service that the CRTC has deemed being an essential service and that is access to high-speed internet. So I look forward to continuing to work with the relevant ministers and my fellow members of Parliament to get that done for Western Nova Scotia.”

West Nova MP Colin Fraser with former Annapolis County Warden Reg Ritchie, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Treasury Board President Scott Brison.

How many Town Halls have you held and on what topics? And what was the response to the Town Halls and what have you learned?

We’ve done seven Town Hall meetings. We did them over the summer and into the fall. The seven topics were: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, electoral reform, environment and climate change, Canada Post, veterans’ issues, innovation agenda, and employment insurance review. The way we did them was we did one in each community across the riding to try to spread it out or make it easier for people to access each one.

“The attendance was very good at some of them and not so great at other ones, so we can look at ways to tweak that and maybe create different topics that may get more people out.

“I look forward to doing more of those in the future obviously, either on specific topics or maybe just going to various different communities and having an open general Town Hall meeting.

“The information that was gathered at each one was submitted to the relevant minister in a letter-type format or in a form that was given to each member of Parliament to ask them for feedback from their constituents. All of the information was passed along to the minister and I can’t wait to do more of them. I really enjoyed doing them.”

 

What is the importance of the Town Halls?

I meet with a lot of constituents in my offices, and I see people out at different events, but it’s difficult in those types of environments to get full feedback and have a full and frank discussion with constituents on various topics. The meaningful part in that forum is for the public to share their thoughts with me and for me to listen. But also for them to learn from each other and maybe form different opinions and learn new things from each other -- and then express their opinions to me.

“In addition to town hall meetings I’ve also attended a number of chamber of commerce /board of trade events to give updates and take questions from the audience. I look forward to continuing to meet with as many residents as possible across West Nova, at town halls, at events, or in one of our constituency offices, to listen to their concerns and answer their questions. And when I am in Ottawa, it is a top priority to return phone calls to constituents as soon as I can. I make phone calls every day from the lobby of the House of Commons -- it is very important that I’m easily accessible to the people I represent.

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