Latest posts by Chris Marchand (see all)
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By Chris Marchand
After months of waiting in the wings, former Kenora MP Bob Nault has been given the nod from his party to stage his return to politics.
With former provincial NDP leader Howard Hampton announcing his intentions to run federally in the riding late last week, the stage is set for a most interesting clash of veteran political personalities aiming to unseat the Conservative incumbent and federal cabinet minister Greg Rickford in October.
Nault says the Harper government has distinguished itself, like no other government before them, by their lack of regard for those who do not agree with their policies.
“I’m having a real tough time with Members of Parliament who talk about their ‘base’ as somehow the only thing that’s important,” he said. “I like to believe that I run to represent everybody in the North and not spend too much time thinking about who voted for or against me in elections. The approach of this government is either you’re with us, or you’re against us. It’s going to be interesting on the part of the local MP who’s going to have to defend that.”
Nault says he believes the economy, or the poor state thereof, will be the defining issue of the 2015 campaign.
“It will be the economy, or how badly we’re faring in the North and how far we’re falling behind,” he said. “Certainly when you look at 12.6 per cent unemployment in the north and probably 15 to 17 per cent for youth, I think the economy and what our vision for where we want to go will be very important to Northerners.
Health care and its mounting struggles in the region is sure to become an issue of note, Nault says.
“It’s always been a struggle and it’s getting worse simply because the cutbacks from the federal government are trickling down and the province is having its own difficulties with its budget,” he said. “These cutbacks affect all of us and our health care has always been sensitive to manage because of our small communities, travel costs, and not always having the doctors.”
Intrinsically tied to the region’s economy is another part of what Nault believes will be a front and centre issue — the relationship with First Nations.
“The present government has not done a very good job of building this relationship, in fact has frozen capital expenditures,” he said. “That has a huge impact on the non-native communities. They are falling behind as far as the Far North is concerned as well.”
As a former Minister of Indian Affairs (1999-2003), Nault says he emerged both proud and very opinionated about his work on the challenging federal file.
“There’s a lot of people who understand my strong position of the need to move beyond the Indian Act,” he said. “We can not build an economy for First Nations with the present system as it stands. I may have gotten a lot of pushback when I was bringing forward legislation to improve governance structures, but I’m probably the minister on record who’s negotiated more self-government agreements than anybody. When I first got elected in 1988, no First Nation in Treaty 9 had any sewer or water, now they all do. There were a lot of good things happening in the communities under my watch and I’ll be able to point to that.”