LambtonShield.com Editor J.D. Booth recently sat with Sarnia-Lambton Member of Parliament Pat Davidson . Here are excerpts from that conversation.
LambtonShield.com: How have things been going in the last year or so?
Pat Davidson, MP: We've passed a tremendous amount of government legislation. We've been quite successful in moving our crime agenda forward. And we've had some considerable success given that we're a minority government.
LambtonShield.com: I'm sure you'd agree that there are some people who would not have predicted that a minority government would survive this long.
Davidson: This country has had a minority government for some time now, first with the Liberals and now with us in minority positions. And actually a minority government to last two years is rather remarkable. Our first session [from January 23, 2006 to October 14, 2008] was a considerable length of time. We've Just passed the two-year mark this time. I think there are several reasons for it. Of course, given the political end of it, and the partisan end of it, I'd say it's because we're doing a good job. Of course not everyone is going to buy that as the reason we're still there.
I think the economic climate has had something to do with it. There's absolutely no taste for an election in the public. And I think that's right. I don't think we should be having an election. It costs millions of dollars to have an election. I think we can use that money better and I think we're continuing to use that money better. And I think the fact that the opposition parties are not that strong is another reason we're still there.
I think we're putting forward good legislation. I think we're experiencing a fair amount of confidence from the public. And the economic disarray in the global market is certainly playing a part too.
LambtonShield.com: What stands out as far as you're concerned as far as the legislative record stands?
Davidson: I think the crime agenda is one of the things that really stands out and is different. We're looking at legislation now that is aimed at being comparable punishment for the crime that's committed.
We're looking at very violent offenders, we're looking at repeat offenders and we're looking at legislation that hopefully is going to make our streets safer and keep those people away from harming society as a whole.
The days of a repeat violent offender being able to serve their time on weekends is over. It's these kind of things that we've taken action on and have received support for.
They do make a difference. We're not looking at locking up everyone that has a misdemeanor and those sorts of things. It's, repeat, violent offenders that have really been the focus. Minimum sentencing in some instances; really good legislation on minimum sentencing in human smuggling and trafficking. Those are good pieces of legislation that are long overdue.
[Another area is] protection for our children. We live in a far different world than we did even 10 years ago, with our technology and our wireless capabilities and so on. There's a lot of legislation aimed at protecting people taking advantage of children online.
LambtonShield.com: You've mentioned Veterans' Affairs before, specifically regarding lump sum payments.
Davidson: Yes, but there's a lot more to that issue than lump sum payments. Benefits to veterans have been increased greatly and there are ongoing discussions—that's an area that the government is moving forward on.
LambtonShield.com: Other issues?
Davidson: Health is another one. We've moved on protection to consumers for products, so there's a recall process in place. We all know the case of the baby cribs, where there was no process in place to recall the products. That safety bill has now gone through the House of Commons and is at the Senate. I'm quite sure that will be happening shortly and we'll see some additional protection for consumers there.
LambtonShield.com: This area is quite different than some places in Canada given the economic mix we have with Chemical Valley but also a strong agricultural emphasis as well. How is that affecting the government's agenda?
Davidson: We're seeing huge changes in the agricultural area. Those changes are coming because of trade agreements and free trade agreements in general. We went for a long time in this country without developing any new trade agreements. I've recently spoken with some people who are very excited about agreements we've made with countries in Europe and Asia. Of course, it's opened up the farming market tremendously for trade.
In the Western hemisphere, there have been agreements made with Brazil and Peru, to name just two that have certainly helped farmers here. And there are other areas of the world, including Korea and China where things are opening up.
And we are continuing talks with the European Community as well.
LambtonShield.com: When we talk about agriculture, the area of biofuels comes to mind. What's happening there?
Davidson: Certainly there are big investments being made when it comes to knowledge infrastructure, including quite a few investments being made around Lambton College and the UWO Research Park. Those initiatives are very important here. We've announced funding for programs through Lambton College that will help people move their product from the development stage to commercialization.
And there's the Lambton Fire School, a world-class facility that's being built right now.
LambtonShield.com: With all that good news, surely there must be some disappointments.
Davidson: There's always things you wish could move faster on. But government is always slow. You just keep working on them, eventually they happen. There are a lot of things that are "works in progress."
LambtonShield.com: Is some of that related to your party's minority status in Parliament?
Davidson: Yes, definitely. The long gun registration would be an example of that. We said we would move on that back in 2006 but haven't been able to even now. Being a minority government does makes a difference.
LambtonShield.com: As a local politician, you've always seemed to be sensitive to local concerns. But when you're in a minority position, your vote is essential. How has that impeded your ability to act on behalf of local constituents?
Davidson: I don't think it has. I still believe I have to represent the people here. And I have to do what's right regardless. I can tell you, I've never had to vote against something I thought I shouldn't, so in that respect, I have been fortunate.
When I do have a difference of opinion, I've been able to express it. It happens on a lot of things. As much as people say we're muzzled and can't express individual opinions, that's totally wrong. We can and we do. And we move forward.
I think minority government makes for team playing.
LambtonShield.com: What is your sense of the longevity of this government? And what circumstances do you see prompting an election?
Davidson: I think the budget, in the spring. We had a confidence vote recently and we'll have another one coming up in December. But I think it would be unusual to see a minority government seeing another budget being passed. But it's totally up to the opposition to see if they allow it to go through.
LambtonShield.com: We talked a little about Veterans Affairs earlier. Now the government is talking about having troops remain in Afghanistan, at least on a training basis, through 2014. A good idea or not?
Davidson: We've been very clear that as far as the military role, our troops would be pulled out July 2011. There's always been the option that someone would stay on in a training role, not front line. That option has always been there. Up until today, had received nothing but support for that, training role. Men and women have died there, if we pull out, Afghan people would suffer and it could be for naught.
After Minister McKay's comments, I'm getting e-mails saying: "you said you were going to get out of there, you better get out." It's a hugely emotional issue and I don't think you're going to see a huge consensus one way or the other. I think those who are saying we need to be there longer in a training role are those who have had family that were there and they know the benefits in what they're doing.