By Mike Baker
While he doesn’t want to see another federal election any time soon, sitting Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale has once again ensured he will be the Conservative candidate on the ballot the next time one rolls around.
Schmale was formally acclaimed as the Conservative nominee on Dec. 12, 2020. Following the announcement, he caught up with the Echo to discuss the possibility of an early election being called, reflect on a year decimated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and consider some of the issues that are likely to take centre stage in 2021.
Although most things pre-COVID-19 seem like a lifetime ago now, the 2019 federal election wrapped up only 14 months ago. The next one is slated to take place on, or before, Oct. 16, 2023. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau having to settle for a minority government, Schmale believes an election “could come at any time.”
“I don’t think Canadians really want an election right now. Certainly, nobody I’ve spoken to is in a rush to get back to the polls, so I don’t think we’re in a hurry for it. But with that said, we are in the position of having a minority parliament, and an election could come at any time” Schmale said. “We want to make sure we’re ready for all possibilities.”
The focus for right now though, Schmale says, should be securing and bolstering the Canadian economy, and ensuring the COVID-19 vaccines the federal government has secured get out to the people that need it. With that in mind, Schmale believes “the required amount of parties can find enough common ground” to spare voters from another early election.
With a new leader at the helm in Erin O’Toole, who serves as MP in neighbouring Durham, Schmale believes the local riding is in an advantageous position of having a potential prime minister privy to all the issues and intricacies that exist in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock.
“Erin knows our riding, and I think that can only be a benefit for us. He borders our riding and knows all about the rural aspect and urban aspect of communities like ours. He is a capable leader who ticks a lot of boxes and brings a lot of common sense to the table,” Schmale said. “He’s come up with the slogan that he wants us to be ‘aggressively reasonable’ as a Conservative caucus. He wants to make sure we’re doing our jobs properly and appropriately, and that we’re not simply opposing things for the sake of it. If we’re going to oppose something, he wants us to say why we oppose it, and then put forward a plan as to what we would do differently, which I think is responsible for any opposition member.”
A prime example for that, Schmale notes, would be the rollout of the federal government’s many COVID-19 relief programs in the early stages of the pandemic. While he was impressed by some aspects, notably the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Schmale was dismayed by the way the emergency rent and wage subsidies were handled.
When the first iteration of the rent program was released, only around 10 per cent of Canadian businesses qualified, Schmale says. Similarly, when the wage subsidy was announced, it was to cover only 10 per cent of an employee’s wage. Many Canadians, including Schmale, lobbied the federal government to make widespread changes to ensure the subsidies were more accessible and wide-reaching.
“The problem was, while this was all going on, parliament wasn’t in session. It was difficult advocating for my constituents because there was no avenue [to do so],” Schmale said. “Essentially, the government was making all these announcements, and there was no way to debate or discuss them, so we were forced to use back channels to do all of that, which wasn’t as effective as it could have been.”
Schmale is also concerned that the Liberals have yet to table a 2020 Budget.
“We’ve been getting these fiscal updates, which generally put us a few hundred billion in the hole, but we still do not have a budget. This is the longest period in Canadian history that we haven’t had a budget – even during the wars, the great wars, we were able to table a budget,” Schmale said. “We’re over a trillion dollars in debt nationally, with that number growing every day.”
Looking locally, Schmale was pleased to see some movement on potential high-speed internet investments across Haliburton County – a particularly pressing matter now that more and more people are working from home.
While he admitted internet service, generally speaking, “isn’t very good” in many rural areas right now, he was hopeful that additional funding announced by the Ontario government in November would ensure some problem areas are taken care of sooner rather than later.
“People are frustrated, and I understand that. Having access to a reliable internet service is a necessity in today’s age. While I can’t give exact timelines, it is refreshing to hear that we’re going to see new towers going up and some cable being laid [in our area],” Schmale said. “Hopefully that will provide some relief to what is a major issue across our riding.”
While all Ontario residents, and businesses, are currently observing a second provincially-mandated lockdown in the wake of escalating COVID-19 cases, Schmale believes the gradual rollout of the coronavirus vaccine will lead to the eventual full-scale reopening of the economy. Although he acknowledges it may take some time.
“Some experts have said you need upwards of 70 per cent immunity in order to let things go back to the way they were, so it’ll take a while to hit that number,” Schmale said. “But we need to continue to manage this as best we can and allow for parts of the economy to reopen. Yes, we want people to stay safe, but there also has to be a conversation around how do we live with the virus safely, because the government can’t continue to provide bail outs indefinitely. It’s just not possible, because somebody, eventually, has to pay all of this back.”
He added, “We only have a couple more years of spending, if that, at this level. Then we’re back to where we were in the 1990s, where our debt to GDP ratio was upwards of 66 per cent and the government struggled to find anyone willing to purchase our debt. That was when you started to see prices and taxes being increased…”
“We really don’t want to get to the point where we start to see our currency start to devalue itself, and the cost of living skyrocket, so the next year or two are going to be pivotal as we try to get back on our feet,” Schmale concluded.