It’s been an unprecedented year in many respects, both in the context of life within and beyond the Kootenays.
For a newly elected Member of Parliament, it was a year of unexpected challenges, as the federal government grappled with formulating a coherent response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a fairly sharp learning curve, but when the health crisis hit, it was even sharper,” said Rob Morrison in a year-end interview with Black Press Media at his constituency office in Cranbrook.
As the pandemic began to transmit across the globe in the early months of the year, one of the first major challenges was repatriating Canadians who were travelling or living abroad.
Morrison, who caucuses with the Conservative Party of Canada as a member of the Official Opposition, said he was able to help everyone who contacted his office for help, looking to return to the region while abroad, citing the case of a couple who were stranded in South America.
“We had people stranded hours away from an airport that weren’t allowed to travel,” Morrison said. “So they couldn’t get to the airport, to get to an airplane to get home…they were trying to get back so we had to work with local officials, we had to work with our embassies abroad to try and figure out a way to allow them to get to the airport to get back home.
“So there was a lot of that.”
The federal response carried the dual challenge of implementing adequate health restrictions and policies to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, while also providing economic relief to those who suffered financial consequences due to some of those decisions.
Federally, the Liberals rolled out the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, the Canadian Emergency Business Account, a wage subsidy program and a myriad of other constantly evolving policy initiatives following opposition feedback in the House of Commons.
“It was the right thing to do and we needed to step back and spend money,” said Morrison. “And I think, initially, that’s what our goal was; we all worked non-partisan to make that happen and as time goes on, we’re now looking at getting businesses back going again and it’s been a struggle.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, the federal government has allocated $490 billion in direct measures to support people, in tax payment deferrals and in credit support, according to the fall economic statement.
“When these programs first came out there were a lot of challenges in them because they weren’t clear,” Morrison added. “So we’re trying to figure out how to clarify and get the dollars to the people that really needed it.”
Morrison said his office has fielded thousands of calls over the year to help constituents with COVID-19 related issues, whether it be accessing federal assistance programs or returning home from abroad, among many other issues.
“We’ve learned a lot,” he said.
Another issue that has been ongoing throughout the pandemic is opposition to a federal firearms ban that targets a number of different calibres, as Morrison attributed gun violence to illegal criminal activity and gangs.
Morrison said the ban unfairly targets lawful gun owners and called for stricter enforcement measures against organized crime and more resources for the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) prevent the flow of illegal weapons across the American border.
He added that preventing organized crime and gang activity starts at a young age.
“For organized crime and gangs, we need to start looking at our children and start educating them when they’re very young as to what the effects are if you get into a gang,” said Morrison.
“And getting them to make smart decisions as they get older rather than arresting them after they’ve committed a homicide or a bank robbery or whatever they’re doing…we need to get to them before that — that a life of crime is not glorious or glamorous as some people make it out to be.”
Moving forward into a new year, Morrison said he continues to push for rapid testing at places such as airports and border crossings in order to open up domestic and international travel.
As the federal Liberals govern with a minority parliament, opposition parties have the upper hand to influence government policy, as legislation needs a majority to pass through the House of Commons. Morrison noted one of his goals for 2021 is to hold the federal government accountable for decisions made and actions taken both in the present and the recent past.
Morrison specifically highlighted issues of transparency surrounding the release of documentation in regards to WE Charity amid allegations of political favouritism in awarding a third party contract to run a student employment program.
“There’s got to be some accountability and we’re having a struggle because we seem to be, at times, the only party asking for that accountability,” Morrison said.
Morrison added that his party will continue to press for a plan to address the financial impacts that will be felt on the balance books as a result of massive federal spending response to the coronavirus.
“When we go back [to Ottawa ] in January, there will still be those questions —what is your plan to be paying back the debt that we have?” Morrison said. “And the only way we can pay a debt is through taxes.”
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