By Trevor Busch
Reflecting back on 2016 on the federal political front in Ottawa, Bow River MP Martin Shields saw some growing pains in Parliament as a gaggle of rookie MPs took their seats in the House.
“Well, 2016 was new back for the government. I was one of 30-plus rookie MPs in the Conservative Party, but there was over 200 new MPs in the House, so there was a lot of us new, which makes it, I think, an interesting dynamic,” said Shields. “I was on the Environmental Committee, and all of the Liberals were new on that committee, and I was new on the Conservatives. It made — from my point of view — some opportunities to meet people who are new, and see what things we could do within our own caucus, but government-wide as well.”
Through his work on the Environmental Committee, Shields was able to help formulate a private member’s bill that should be brought before Parliament in 2017.
“One of the things with the Environmental Committee that we were able to do is work on some environmental projects and reports, and I think another one is going to come out this year, there was a lot of work done last year, which sort of reflected on it — I had the opportunity to start building a private member’s bill and motion, and it comes out of the Environmental Committee, and it will be in regards to recognizing farmers and ranchers as stewards and environmentalists. I think there’s been a lot of accepting and understanding that the ag sector may not have always been viewed like that by many on the committee, but I think it is, and from a personal point of view in our riding recognizing what the ag sector is as far as what it does for our environment, I think is important. So that’s work that was done by the end of the year. I had my motion researched, worked through caucus, and now its on the order papers for some time in the spring.”
Formulating an effective legislative agenda in 2016 was probably a difficult task for the government, admits Shields.
“There’s no doubt that there was only 30 of them there in the previous Parliament, and now with about 150 of them brand new, they had a challenge to try to sort it out what it was that they needed to do, and I think that’s one of the challenges they’ve had is trying to organize a legislative agenda and try to move it along. I think the record would suggest that they’ve been the least productive as far as a new government in a year’s time, and I think that reflects because they had a tremendous number of new people they had a tough time getting organized.”
Reviewing the performance of the Trudeau Liberals over the year, Shields expects more from the ruling government in 2017.
“I think we’re looking forward to more of their legislation coming forward, and more things that we can work with them, and react to. I think that’s one of the challenges they did have, and we look forward to — hopefully from the knowledge they’ve gained they can maybe move a legislative framework ahead.”
While the opposition’s role is to often take an adversarial approach to government decisions and actions, Shields noted that his own Conservative Party is willing to support legislation that it concludes is in the best interests of Canadians, regardless of partisan political views.
“It’s called the official opposition for a reason. You’re to challenge, you’re to question, you’re to debate the things that they bring forward, and try to show there’s maybe some things here that you could fix or change, and I think we saw a little bit of that in the past year with the election referendum topic. I think we brought to light that people, it’s not really high on their priorities — their priority is jobs and work, that’s a lot more important to them than maybe election reform. I think that’s part of what you need to do is bring the voice of those people, too, so that they hear a different voice. I think that’s what it needs to do in an opposition. Am I of the belief that you’re a wall, in opposition to everything that’s put forward? Absolutely not. I think there was two private member’s bills from Liberal backbenchers that the Conservative caucus in large voted for. So there are those things that are a good idea, we’ll support that.”
Shields is still working hard to see action on the Bovine TB crisis that is affecting cattle producers in eastern areas of the riding.
“One of the toughest issues that we’re dealing with in this constituency is the TB bovine that’s out there. I think it covers three constituencies in southern Alberta and in mine. So working with those specific constituents and the concerns they have, and trying to bring that forward, is something that I’ve been working with. One of the last pieces that I’ve been working on, is they will get, at some point, a large sum payment if their animals have been destroyed. There’s only a one year deferral on a large lump sum payment like that, which is pretty drastic. So in the House, I met with the three ministers involved in that, trying to get them to understand that the ranchers need three year — three is minimum — to five year deferrals on a large lump sum payment, because they can’t go out and buy cattle to replace them. What I’m saying is I’m working with the concerns of constituents, and trying to support them, and resolving things as best I can.”
With oil prices appearing to stabilize around $50 per barrel, Shields is hopeful this could mean tentative good news on the horizon for Alberta in 2017.
“I think there’s more stability in the oil and gas sector. I’ve talked to some guys in the industry in the last couple of weeks, and they would suggest some positives and a sense of stability with a $50-plus (per barrel) price,” said Shields.
“It’s been there for a little while now, and if that holds, it looks like there could be some more work in the resource sector. That is a very positive piece for it.”
Putting Albertans in his riding back to work in 2017 is a priority for the former Brooks mayor.
“I just appreciate all the people in the constituency and what they do. It’s some tough times in Alberta. We hope pipelines do get built, and we hope that things grow and people have jobs. That’s important, people work, and people want to work, and I think anything that can help the economy is what we need.”
On a lighter note, Shields admitted he’s never been an individual that put much stock in New Year’s resolutions.
“You know, I’ve never been one to do that. I wake up every day and do the best I can every day.”