Chong sees party stick to plans; has two issues of his own

When parliament restarts, the government will be focused mainly on the economy and jobs.

That is according to MP Michael Chong, who visited the Advertiser last week to discuss issues and his personal plans for the coming year.

“We’re focusing on economic growth and jobs,” Chong said.  After that, he said the government’s priorities will include amending the criminal code. One part of that will permit mega trials to prosecute organized crime, as well as toughening the justice system. That could include mandatory sentences for violent crimes under the Safe Streets Act.

Health care is an issue. The current agreement between the federal and provincial governments lapses in 2014. It now has a 6% per year increase in funding, and everyone suspects that is impossible to last.

Chong said the Conservative government plan is to run to 2024. In the first five years, funding hikes will be 6%, but the second five will depend on the economy. The government will guarantee a minimum increase of 3%, but, if gross domestic product falls, it will be no more than that. If it rises, it could be higher

Chong said that guarantee will “allow the provinces to plan and bank on that funding.”

He cited Europe as an economic problem and said, “We’ve all seen what can happen if we don’t get our finances under control.”

Two years ago, Chong began warning people in the Wellington Halton Hills riding household finances need to be taken seriously. Canadians owe 150% of their annual personal household incomes and he predicted problems because of rising food and hydro costs.

While there are reports credit card debt is dropping, financial analysts say line of credit borrowing is going up.

The Conservatives dropped mortgages from 35 year terms to 30, and Chong wants to do more. “I’m pushing for 25 years. Households need to be prudent.”

He said, “Total household debt that continues to grow is not sustainable in the long run. At some point interest rates will rise.”

When asked if the same can be said of the federal government, Chong said there are big differences. At the end of World War II, Canadian debt was 100% of gross domestic product. Thirty years later, it was 30%. With huge spending for infrastructure over the past few years to fight the recession, it has risen to 40% – compared to household debt at 150%.

Chong said the government is convinced it can balance its budget in four years without raising taxes, by cutting expenditures. Plus, he recognizes some are making far more money than the average worker and “We’re going to have to take a look at that.”

The so called 1% high earners was highlighted by the Occupy movement last year. Chong said, “A number of us, myself included, felt the message was not clear.”

Still, “The economic system collapsed three years ago. The government had to bail out businesses. We still haven’t reformed our financial system to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

He understands anger behind the bailouts. “Public money did go to help our banking institutions through the crisis.”

He said it was the “largest complaint” of the Occupy movement of “privatize profit and socialize risk in the banking sector,” meaning when things are good, banks make money, and when the economy is bad, public funds help them.

“That’s not a fair system and one of the legitimate complaints of the Occupy movement.”

Chong, like many, wishes Europe would take firmer and faster steps on its debts, which are affecting finances around the world. But, he said, people are likely unaware Germany, which has a reasonably sound economy and is the growth engine of Europe, actually has government and private industry workers working less than people in Greece, yet they accomplish more.

Chong said Germans have figured out ways to work smarter in the new economy, and Canada has to find a way to do that too. He said trying to compete with India and China when it comes to manufacturing cheap goods is “a race to the bottom” and will not benefit Canadians.

Meanwhile cuts in spending “will involve the civil service.”

He concluded, “Canadians have said they don’t want tax increases,” so what the country needs is “more skilled and better trained workers.”

Personal goals

While an MP’s main focus is government priorities, Chong has a couple of his own he is pursuing over the coming year.

First is democratic reform. Canada is one of the few democracies derived from Great Britain where a party leader determines who runs in a riding. In others, the party members choose candidates.

“There is far too much power in the leaders’ hands.”

Chong would like to reform parliament for more free votes and the way candidates are chosen. He would like party caucuses to have a say in choosing the leader. “I think we need to force these changes. Particularly in Canada we have lost self government.”

He said there needs to be some way for people to discipline parties. “Time after time the parties have chosen to say one thing and do another when elected.”

He said there have to be laws enacted to make all parties and candidates accountable. “That’s the only way we’ll see true democratic reform. “We’ve really weakened the roles of the MPs.”

His other issue is the environment, and one target is the mega quarry proposed for Amaranth Township near the Grand and Nottawasaga Rivers.

Chong is calling for a federal environmental assessment of that application from a Boston hedge fund to haul hundreds of tonnes of gravel and deal with millions of litres of water while digging below the water table.

He said the amount of water under consideration is “15% of all the drinking water used by Ontario residents.”

All that would happen on some of the best potato growing land in the world.

Chong said, “The price of food has risen a lot in the late two to three years. The most important thing is our food supply. It’s in our national security interest.”

Who will win?

Chong was also asked who will win the leadership for the federal NDP and Liberals.

He smiled and said, “I have no idea. I’m not at all focused on what the opposition parties are doing.”

His party has “a huge mandate and will focus on its goals.

Asked if a distracted opposition gives his party a free hand, Chong said “the national media” are keeping a close on what is happening in Ottawa.