Southern Alberta Newspapers
With Lethbridge residents, and Canadians in general, looking to put 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror, Lethbridge Member of Parliament Rachael Harder says there is hope and optimism for the New Year.
“This 2020 has been one heck of a year,” shesays. “It has been challenging. It has been character-building. It has been testing on many levels. Going into 2021, I look forward to watching as this community comes back from this in full-force. As we watch our local economy once again soar.”
Harder says she has been greatly encouraged, particularly, to see the resilience of the local business community during these trying times.
“Business owners were put in a really jeopardized spot,” she says. “They were hit hard, and yet they decided to be resilient. They decided to work hard. They decided to be positive, to be creative, to be innovative, to put their best foot forward, and to ensure to the best of their ability jobs were protected for their workers, that the community was well-served, and their doors were ultimately kept open. That was incredibly trying for local businesses; it has been and continues to be incredibly trying, but I have had so many conversations that are filled with hope and optimism for the future. So that leaves me feeling encouraged and optimistic.”
Harder also commends the generosity of the community, as it stood tall and strong for those in greatest need.
“One of the things I am really proud of is how our community came together for the year 2020,” she states. “We are known for our generosity in thiscommunity. Philanthropy is alive and well, and I saw that same generous spirit come forward during the pandemic.”
That being said, Harder says there are certain sectors of our economy — which could have used far more support from the federal government to help deal with the fallout from COVID-19, namely agriculture.
“If there was a sector that was worth supporting, that was worth investment, that was worth turning an eye toward, or seeking an understanding, it was and is agriculture,” she states. “Instead, in the midst of this pandemic, I watched as farmers cried out for support. They certainly wanted to know the prime minister of this country had their backs. Unfortunately, they came out empty. The federal government was very tardy in their response to farmers, and gave them a miniscule amount of (COVID support) compared to what they needed.
“And even when it came to being able to give a statement of support, a statement of endorsement, the prime minister was unable to offer that. It just kind of left these folks feeling abandoned, ignored and unappreciated in the midst of a time where they were needed more than ever.”
“We watched as hundreds of billions of dollars rolled out the door,” Harder concludes, “and a pittance of that went toward those folks who are in the agricultural sector.”
And speaking of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars flowing out of Ottawa, Harder says the federal government’s spending priorities have been concerning.
“We really don’t have anything to show for the money that has rolled out the door,” she says. “Our economy is still tanking. It is in one of the worst shapes it has ever been in. There was an opportunity here for the government to steward the money they were spending, and put it toward things that would last for the long-term. I think one of the big things Canadians should have been looking for, and I was certainly looking for, was investment in critical infrastructure. That will always result in payoffs, because you have money being invested in job creation and in a final product that will continue to benefit our economy.”
And while her party has supported income support for Canadians who lost their jobs due to COVID-19, Harder says the federal government rolled out the Canada Emergency Response Benefit without proper accountability.
“One of the things the (federal government) did was they just wrote cheques without checking credentials, without checking whether or not those applying should actually be receiving the benefit,” she explains. “As a result then, (and) in December, at the end of the year, the government is sending out letters to these individuals who received money and demanding the money be repaid by the end of the month. For those who applied innocently, that is devastating to them. And for those who potentially took advantage of the system, they are also put in place of jeopardy. But it never should have been that way.”
“The government should have been more transparent in terms of how that money rolled out the door,” she states, “and how those decisions were made. And now, what is going to be done to go back and recapture some of that money that went to places it shouldn’t have?” One rare bit of good news in an otherwise difficult year, says Harder, is the Conservative Party of Canada has a new leader, Erin O’Toole, and now is in a much stronger position to hold the government to account and to present Canadians with a strong government-in-waiting.
“It was an interesting year, and an exciting year, for the Conservative Party because we got a new leader,” sheaffirms. “With Erin O’Toole at the helm, I think he has been very focused on Canadians, making sure our ear is to the ground, and we are listening to their concerns. As 2021 approaches, and we enter into a New Year, that will continue to be our focus. As the Official Opposition, we need to focus on the needs of Canadians. And we need to engage with them in a meaningful capacity in order to best approach the issues that matter to them.
“Some of things that are top-of-mind for Canadians is the economy, and seeing it come back to make sure they have jobs and are able to provide for their families. Another big issue is mental health. Canadians are suffering like never before, and they deserve a response from the government that is going to look after their mental well-being.”
And it is only a matter of time now until the federal government will falter and fail the test of parliament, Harder says. Given the continuing personal lapses of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who now faces an ethics probe for the third time in five years over the WE scandal after being found in breach on two other occasions, Harder feels Canadians are ready to support a better alternative in her party.
“He is certainly not functioning with integrity, and Canadians deserve better,” Harder states. “I think Prime Minister Trudeau came to the job from a background of immense privilege. Out of that, I have watched as he has functioned with ignorance, he has functioned with entitlement, and I think, in some regards, even places himself above the law. It’s incredibly unethical, and very concerning. And it is unbecoming of the position he holds. Canadians expect their prime minister to function with integrity, to provide strong leadership, and to conduct himself with the highest ethical standards possible.
“Unfortunately, Trudeau has neglected to respect the role he holds, and those who have elected him to hold it,” she says.