Enjoying the party’s first majority government, Conservative Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette MP Robert Sopuck was happy with the progress his government made in 2012.
“We immediately got down to work and focused on the economy,” Sopuck said. “In relation to the rest of the world, Canada’s economy is a shining light and I think that’s because of the application of fairly sound fiscal and economic policies.”
While the election centred around the Conservative’s track record stabilizing the economy in an uncertain global climate, the majority win allowed the party to spread it’s wings and attack some issues deemed party planks for several years, according to Sopuck.
One of the first orders of business was scrapping the Canadian Wheat Board, ending the board’s monopoly over wheat and barley sales and allowing farmers to sell crops to whoever and whenever they chose.
While it’s still early — and buoyed by a drought in the United States — Sopuck is pleased with the reaction he’s received from farmers in his riding.
“The grain companies have become even more aggressive in terms of wanting the farmer’s business,” Sopuck said. “I’ve also heard nothing but praise about the rail service that farmers are getting. I’ve yet to really hear a negative review in regards to the price structure, how the grain companies are operating and the rail service. So, this is only the first year, but so far so good.”
Next up was the controversial long-gun registry. After six years and several failed attempts to end the registry, the Conservative government passed a bill to end the registry in April. Critics argue scrapping the registry makes Canadians less safe and paralyzes police forces, who used the registry, but Sopuck said the numbers just don’t add up and that the registry was an attack on the hunting and fishing way of life that is part of the fabric of the country.
“I viewed it as an attack on a way of life,” Sopuck said. “The abolishing of the long-gun registry was a victory for the little person, getting oppressive government off people’s backs.”
While scrapping the Canadian Wheat Board and long-gun registry were viewed by many Conservative supporters as a “win,” the party faced it’s toughest criticism while implementing it’s first budget bill as a majority. The budget, which slashed government spending by $5.2 billion, eliminated almost 20,000 jobs from the public sector and increased the age of CPP, drew particular ire from environmental groups, who questioned changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act to the experimental lakes project.
Sopuck, a fisheries biologist prior to entering politics, was a member of both the Environmental and Sustainable Development Committee and the Fisheries and Oceans Committee and is proud of the work of the government in both areas.
“I had a ring-side seat and helped craft some of the policies that we now have,” Sopuck said. “I strongly support all the measures our government has taken, both as a member of Parliament and as a person with a scientific background in ecology.”
Sopuck said the Navigable Waters Protection Act was too cumbersome, citing instances where municipalities were being forced to look at building bridges over small creeks after flood waters last spring washed culverts away.
He believes the new regulations take a more practical approach to the rivers, streams and creeks in the country and stands behind the government’s track record on the economy.
“We introduced some very common-sense reforms into environmental policy that I’m very proud of,” Sopuck said. “The environmental activists that are always criticizing us never talk about the environment itself and that’s because under our watch almost all of Canada’s environmental indicators have gotten better — from air quality to water qualitys or bio-diversity — so focusing on the actual environment itself will show that what we have done is very environmentally sound.”
The bill also created one of the great scenes on parliament hill as MPs went through a marathon of voting over several days on ammendments to the bill.
“It was quite the event to take part in and I believe in the saying ‘What ever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger,’” Sopuck said. “The opposition might have felt like they were pulling a fast one on the government, but I tell you the camaraderie and team building that was generated by the marathon votes has us in good standing now and we’ve become a closer group because of it.”
Closer to home, Sopuck is proud of the work the government has been able to accomplish through the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund. Projects such as the Glenella Community Hall, Winnipegosis Museum, Salt Lake Carton Beach washrooms and Dauphin Curling Rink all received funding from the program.
“It’s a program I’m very proud of,” Sopuck said. “And the communities have to come up with half of the fund themselves, so it’s not likes it’s a free ride by any means. It’s the federal government enabling communities to improve their own community.”
An avid cross-country skier, who lives near Riding Mountain National Park, Sopuck might have taken the most criticism personally when the government cut services to national parks. As a result, RMNP staff no longer maintain cross-country ski trails at the park, but Sopuck said a recent agreement between the Friends of RMNP and the park should ensure the trails continue to be groomed.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that the agreement that has been struck that has created a new organization to maintain and groom the trails will work out,” Sopuck said. “There is good will on all sides and the parks staff has done a good job working with the volunteers and from what I’ve gathered a number of trails have already been groomed and the skating rink is operational. It looks like the people stepped up to the plate to make it happen.”