Is she representing Islanders’ concerns or imposing cabinet views on province?
© Guardian photo by Teresa Wright
Egmont MP Gail Shea in her Charlottetown office
P.E.I.’s regional minister Gail Shea is obviously fully comfortable that services to Island veterans won’t be adversely affected by the closure of the district office of Veterans Affairs Canada. Why else would the federal fisheries minister and Egmont MP have voted with her colleagues against an NDP motion seeking to keep that office open, along with seven others across Canada?
The district offices, including one in Charlottetown, closed last Friday despite a spirited and often emotional year-long effort to save them. The issue received national headlines after a confrontational showdown in Ottawa between Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and a delegation of vets.
The federal Conservatives have tried to defuse the issue by suggesting the opposition to closure is more about union concerns on job losses or transfers and NDP critic Peter Stoffer playing politics, more than any real concerns about a reduction in services to veterans.
But veterans led the delegation to Ottawa and first called for Minister Fantino’s resignation. What does Ms. Shea say to the Royal Canadian Legion, Charlottetown’s mayor and council and many others without political affiliation who have opposed the closures?
Ms. Shea had her talking points prepared on the issue so she wasn’t caught off-guard and was eager to defend her vote. She argued there are many areas in the country which don’t have district offices but glossed over the obvious — P.E.I. is now the only province without one.
She suggested the closures affected the least busy offices, where full response teams didn’t have a very big caseload. That would support the government’s argument the closures were made to save costs and streamline services. The federal government has been so bold as to predict that services to vets will now improve. Mr. Stoffer asks how reducing the VAC budget, shutting offices, cutting staff and moving files out of province will accomplish that? Nor is Ms. Shea’s rebuttal supported by VAC caseworkers in the Saint John office, where the 2,200 files for P.E.I. veterans have ended up and two people each now have to look after 1,100 vets.
Ms. Shea concluded with a scripture reading from the Conservative credo that the federal government’s job is to “spend taxpayers’ money as efficiently as we can.”
Mr. Stoffer was blunt with his assessment of Ms. Shea’s performance, accusing her of not doing her job as the government representative responsible for Prince Edward Island. Island Liberal MPs who voted for the NDP motion said the government is obsessed with balancing the budget on the backs of veterans.
Ms. Shea’s constituents and other Islanders she represents as regional minister would be more inclined to give her at least grudging support if she raised some concerns around the cabinet table, and after receiving assurances, voted to support the office closures.
Instead she is giving the impression of being an automaton, always too ready to parrot the party line. She is the elected Member of Parliament for the federal riding of Egmont, entrusted with the responsibility of representing and fighting for the concerns and views of her constituents. As regional minister, those responsibilities cover the entire Island.
The minister is again rolling the dice with her vote this week. She had earlier supported controversial changes to the EI program, which have impacted significantly on her home riding. She exacerbated the situation with comments that Islanders are leaving the province in an out-migration exodus to make better lives for themselves, suggesting that was impossible to accomplish here.
Is she representing the concerns of Islanders around the cabinet table or is she taking cabinet views and imposing them on P.E.I.? Is this the way our Parliamentary system is supposed to work?