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ACOA minister tours Avalon, gets to know CBS council

By Mark Squibb/April 6, 2023

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals tabled the federal budget on March 28, and Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor of New Brunswick was touring the Avalon Peninsula on Monday with local MP Ken McDonald to assure Canadians the government did all it could to address the ever-rising cost of living.

Petitpas Taylor was among a bevy of federal ministers fanning out across the country to promote the budget in the face of relentless criticism of all things Trudeau by Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre.

“We tabled our federal budget last week in Ottawa and we are meeting with folks to make sure people are aware of what’s in the budget, and answering some questions that they may have,” said Petitpas Taylor. “Minister (Christa) Freeland has tabled what I would call a prudent budget. First of all, we don’t want to contribute to the inflationary trends happening right now. We also recognise that a lot of Canadians are still having a hard time making ends meet, so we’ve made sure in this budget that there are targeted measures to help those in need.”

Those measures, said Petitpas, include a one-time grocery rebate of up to $460 for families and less for singles and seniors; student loan interest reliefs; and a multi-billion plan to provide dental care to uninsured families earning less than $90,000 annually.

She also remarked on the recent implementation of $10-a-day childcare, a policy which Trudeau himself was promoting during a visit to Clarenville last month.

Trudeau’s March visit certainly wasn’t the only recent visit by a federal leader in recent months. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was in St. John’s the same day as Petitpas Taylor, while Poilievre toured the island in February. Even Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was in Mount Pearl Tuesday to talk up her budget.

If you’ve begun to suspect the leaders are touring to drum up support for an early election ahead of the one scheduled for 2025, both McDonald and Petitipas Taylor say they don’t expect Canadians will have to go to the polls this year.

“One visit doesn’t dictate an election,” said McDonald. “I think you’re going to see this regularly leading up to the next election, whenever it is, whether it be 2024 or if we go to full term in 2025.”

Petitpas Taylor said that she doesn’t “sense” that it is an election year.

“I really don’t think that Canadians are in the mood for an election either, if I’m going to be frank,” said the minister, who spent 25 years as a social worker before entering politics.

Neither McDonald nor Petitpas Taylor would admit to being concerned about the Conservative Party pulling slightly ahead of the Liberals nationally in recent polling.

“If you look back at the 2015 election, leading up to election night, everybody had Stephen Harper winning again,” said McDonald. “I don’t put a lot of faith in polling because polling hasn’t been that accurate in a number of elections lately. It’s what you hear on the ground that you have to go by, not necessarily a polling number. And in this riding, every community I go to, I receive a great, warm, reception. There’s nobody throwing rocks at me as I walk back to my vehicle.”

McDonald allowed the Conservatives did gain a seat in Newfoundland during the last election, and only time will tell whether they gain others.

“We’ll see what the appetite is when the next election is actually called, whether that is (because of) a no-confidence vote, or the prime minister decides it’s the right time to go to the polls – he can dissolve Parliament at any time,” said McDonald. “But I look forward to campaigning down the road, whether that’s sooner or later.”

Petitpas Taylor added that when Canadians head to the polls, whenever that may be, they would do well to remember how the Liberals supported them during the pandemic.

“During the COVID pandemic, when the economy shut down completely, the federal government took on that debt,” said Petitpas Taylor. “We had the balance sheet to take on that debt and that’s exactly what we did.”

As the minister responsible for ACOA, Petitpas Taylor is perhaps the most petitioned cabinet member from Atlantic Canada. Besides touting the budget, she met with members of Conception Bay South council Monday afternoon for a closed door session.

“It was really important to get a sense of the community, and the growth that is happening within this community,” said Petitpas Taylor. “We talked today about infrastructure investments that they want to see move forward, and also the growth and opportunities for the area.”

When asked if anything definite would come out of the meeting, Petitpas said it was a “wink-wink” kind of situation.

“The municipality has spoken to us about their priorities, and with respect to ACOA, we continue to have relationships with the municipality here to make sure we continue to work together,” she said. “ACOA has been in operation over 35 years and they have a strong working relationship with CBS.”

McDonald said it was a good opportunity for the Minister to see firsthand some of the work that ACOA has funded.

“It allows the Minister to put faces to the applications, and that makes a huge difference,” said McDonald. “When the next project comes up, the Minister, in the back of her mind, will recall meeting with them and seeing the great work being done, before signing off.”

CBS Mayor Darrin Bent was of the same mind.

“One of the great things about being able to sit down with the ACOA minister, and the Town of Conception Bay South has partnered with ACOA on a number of projects, and the big one of course is our T’railway, is to be able to put faces to names, to be personable to them, so they know who we are and what we’re all about,” said the mayor. “We get a chance to explain ourselves and our ideals and what we’re aiming to do. And that way, hopefully, when something comes across her desk, she’ll recognize us, and it’ll mean more when they look to make decisions on funding.”

When asked if anything definite came out of the meeting, Bent said the meeting was more of a ‘meet-and-greet.’

Besides money, Bent said ACOA provides assistance and information to communities.

Last year, ACOA sent $316 million in Atlantic Canada on some 1,500 projects.

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