This past year, my staff and I had the privilege of assisting constituents faced with federal bureaucratic problems – unfair treatment, misinterpretations or just plain despair at not seeing any hope in their particular plight.
For the most part, I find the federal public service is exceptionally professional, knowledgeable and helpful, and should not be held responsible for the federal government cutbacks that have stretched their resources, time and services.
We have helped resolve personal and business taxation crises by negotiating fairer payment plans or rebates, and assisted constituents to bring new information to the file, or pointed out missing information that then resolved situations favourably with Canada Revenue Agency. Many immigrant and 2nd generation Canadians suffer deep frustrations around relatives not being allowed a visa to visit them in Canada. We assisted families by explaining what is required and help them to present the information to CIC. We have helped constituents obtain citizenship when they have been living here since they immigrated as a child but never obtained official status, and have resolved people’s lost EI claims, their problems at the border, their student loan problems and their lost Citizenship Card crises, plus much more.
And whether visiting schools or attending a Citizenship Court to talk about civic responsibilities, attending volunteer appreciation ceremonies, graduations, or annual general meetings of groups throughout the Riding, or participating in local parades or festivals, I was repeatedly impressed with how so many people contribute to better the life of their community.
I consider it a responsibility to bring to light federal issues which affect our quality of life, so the public is more informed. As a member of the Opposition, I have been able to speak out on issues both in the House of Commons and in letters to Ministers and the press, on such topics as the proposed Canada-European Trade Agreement (CETA), climate change, Afghanistan and oil tanker traffic off BC’s north coast.
In many ways the last year was a sad one, as we have watched the democratic process slowly erode in Ottawa. Although there are many examples, like the Conservative prorogation of Parliament, the one which disturbed me the most was the G20 meeting in Toronto.
I listened to the personal testimonies of three young people who were in Toronto to peacefully protest and raise issues they felt were important to Canada. They were rounded up, physically abused and humiliated. I thought I was witnessing a tragic scene from war-time Germany or Soviet Russia. It made me understand how we, as citizens of this great nation, can never take our hard-won democratic rights for granted, and must continue to speak out.
I have also personally seen how the federal government continues to ignore the will of Parliament, whether it is disregarding the motion to leave Afghanistan by 2011, or seeing the Senate kill Bill C-311, the Climate Change bill, which was passed by the majority of Parliament.
As the federal NDP Agriculture Critic, my bill C-474, which looks at the potential economic harm to farmers of the further release of genetically modified organisms, is still alive, in spite of Conservative desires to stifle debate. People across the country are mobilizing to support this initiative, the first time ever that a bill dealing with GMOs has gotten this far in Parliament.
My other Bill, C-544, to end the slaughter of horses in Canada for human consumption, although not being debated in Parliament, is gaining traction with many petitions being presented by a cross-section of MPs.
Whether in the constituency or in Ottawa, it is personally a very rewarding life, and a pleasure to work with not only my colleagues in Ottawa, but also all four MLAs, local government officials, community groups and businesses in the Riding. I look forward to continuing this collaboration in 2011.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.