Main photo: Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison (front right) with Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith beside him, District Chair John Klinck behind him, and Bracebridge Deputy Mayor Rick Maloney. All three attended Aitchison’s swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa. (submitted)
It’s been just over a month since Scott Aitchison was elected under the Conservative banner to represent this riding on Parliament Hill.
Asked how he thinks a minority Liberal government will fare, Aitchison said he suspects Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will last a “reasonably long time.”
“If you grant me a little bit of partisan politics – they promised to spend billions in deficit spending, and the NDP wanted to spend even more billions in deficit spending, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Prime Minister is able to buy all kinds of support from the NDP, and put us deeper and deeper into debt while he does it,” said Aitchison on November 19, the day before Trudeau revealed his cabinet.
Aitchison was elected as Mayor of Huntsville for a second term on October 22, 2018. He officially resigned from office on October 28, 2019, to become Member of Parliament for Parry Sound-Muskoka. According to Aitchison. one of the issues that weighed heavily when he considered taking the plunge and running in the 2019 federal election was whether he’d have autonomy. “Party politics is new to me. I’m used to doing my own thing,” said the former Huntsville Mayor.
He said he talked to former Members of Parliament about the process, “and your ability to say your piece and to make sure you are representing your constituents,” and was told it was remarkably similar to a municipal council, except much bigger and in two different languages. Not unlike at council, his job will be to try to influence policy, particularly if it impacts his riding.
His first Conservative caucus meeting was held on November 6, 2019, and Aitchison was pleased with the way the meeting was conducted. “It was a long, long, long session, a marathon but people were free to speak exactly what they thought about the campaign, and how things went well, and what things didn’t go well, and that’s important… I’m glad that the Conservative party has open, frank discussions amongst its caucus members. So that’s where I intend to work really hard to make sure the direction of the party and the stance we take on things is best for the people of Parry Sound-Muskoka,” said Aitchison.
At his swearing-in ceremony, Aitchison had family, friends and former colleagues at the event. “Most important of course was having my family there particularly my nieces and my nephews, I thought that was pretty cool and of course we got a tour of the House of Commons as well,” said Aitchison.
He’s getting acclimatized to his new role with training and some fun activities like a mock question period where new MPs were given news stories to read and an opportunity to pose questions, while staff filled in for positions such as party leaders and house speaker.
“Not everybody gets to ask a question every day because of course it only lasts for so long, and I think they try to make sure those people who are particularly good at asking questions get a chance to do it, so we’ll see how that goes,” said Aitchison. “And then, of course, there’s lots of stuff that goes on in the House that doesn’t have the theatrics of question period.”
Aitchison said what excites him most about becoming Member of Parliament is the opportunity to advance issues he’s had an eye on for some time, particularly as former Mayor of Huntsville. He was asked to submit the top three committees he’d have an interest in sitting on and he chose a foreign affairs committee, one about environmental policies and one involving communities and infrastructure, which he’s hoping will include discussions around housing.
He maintains that capital subsidies that provide the private sector with an incentive to build more affordable rental housing in exchange for an agreement to keep the rents at affordable rates for 20 years, rates defined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, are the best way forward.
“What I like about that program is that it actually costs the taxpayer less money than just going out and building more housing. It gets done faster because it’s the private sector and they generally are much quicker at things, and then of course the other beauty of it is that they’re private-sector-owned units, so they actually pay property taxes to the municipalities that desperately need that tax revenue to support the various different programs and facilities that the people living in the units need,” he said.
With the Liberals promising to invest some 55 billion dollars as part of their housing strategy, Aitchison said he’s hopeful that he might be able to be part of the committee that looks at the issue. He said he’d like to see some of those funds go toward programs that incentivize the private sector, not just in Parry Sound-Muskoka but across the country.
Environmental policy, climate change, and Canada’s economy
“I maintain that a carbon tax might be the most efficient way of reducing our carbon footprint by the economists’ description, but I don’t know that it’s entirely the fairest way, and I don’t think it’s particularly fair in rural communities like ours,” he said, adding that it is particularly unfair for people who are struggling to get by.
Aitchison said he knows it’s a controversial issue and finding solutions will not be easy, “but I want to be part of the discussion. I think it’s going to be a healthy debate.”
Aitchison spoke of the Conservative plan to combat climate change as a good start but one that needed more work.
“The plan did focus on industry and big polluters and instead of just taxing them and government keeping the money, targets would be set and companies that weren’t able to meet that target would be required to make investments in technology that would actually help them reduce their footprint. So, again, I don’t know if taxes are the right answer but certainly regulation, certainly investment in those technologies is,” he said.
He said research and development and transitioning away from fossil fuels is important but it won’t happen overnight.
“At the end of the day, you know we still use carbon-based fuels. Carbon-based fuels literally run our economy and if we’re going to stop using those we have to have some alternatives in place before we stop, because if we just stop using carbon-based fuels it’ll bring the whole country to a screeching halt, and I don’t think anyone wants that either,” he said. “So we’ve got to make the transition, we’ve got to get on it and make it fast but we have to have some alternatives to those carbon-based fuels.”
He said the next few years will be key. “These next few years are crucially important when it comes to our climate change strategy, and I’d love to be part of that discussion as well.”
Foreign affairs and Canada’s place in the world
Aitchison said he’s always been interested in Canada’s place in the world and he’s also expressed interest in sitting on a foreign affairs committee as part of his top three choices.
“We live in turbulent times in this world and I think the discussions around that committee and how we deal with our allies and the international organizations that we are members in; how we deal with countries that we’re having some difficulties with like Russia and China – those are really important discussions and I’m fascinated by that and so if I can play a role there, I’d love to be on that committee as well.”
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