Among the items in Thursday's speech was a promise by the Progressive Conservatives to end the “pay to pay” system, where customers who want to receive bills in the mail must pay a surcharge of $2.
Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault said Thursday his party has campaigned for such a provision since last year, even setting up a website where voters could electronically sign a petition in support.
“I was happy to see the adopted our pay-to-pay campaign – they even used our language,” Thibeault said from Ottawa. “But it's going to take a lot more than copying a few of my bills or NDP policies on consumer protection to make Canadians forget about the Senate scandal.”
Wednesday's speech was long on populist measures designed to appeal to the Tory base, Thibeault said, but short on vision for Canada's future. Instead, they seem to be hoping that giving consumers more choice in their cable TV packages will distract voters from spending scandals in the Senate.
“They want Canadians to go, 'oh, I'm going to look at my cable channels now and forget about the scandals that are building up,'” he said. “They're basically going to our website and taking our ideas and using them verbatim and saying that they're their own.”
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pledge to balance the federal budget by 2015, despite a deficit of more than $20 billion this year, the speech wasn't expected to include new spending measures. Delivered by Governor General David Johnston from the Senate chamber, the Tories highlighted inexpensive-but-popular items in the speech, including:
- Allowing Canadians more freedom to transport beer and wine across provincial borders.
- Steps to reduce roaming costs on networks within Canada;
- Expansion of no-cost basic banking services;
- A commitment to work with the provinces and territories to crack down on “predatory” payday lenders;
- Improve food and drug labelling so Canadians have a better idea of what they are eating; and,
- Measures that will make it a crime to share “intimate” photos online without someone's consent.
Thibeault said he expected an airline passenger bill of rights, something the Tories had talked about, and something particularly important in Northern Ontario.
“That's disappointing, especially for places like Sudbury, because we're the ones who get caught the most in this bumping program that many of the airlines have,” he said. “We go from Sudbury to Toronto, and when we get off in Toronto, wherever your connection is, they don't send us home. They tell us we can take the next flight home, and sorry about that. Oh, and here's a $200 credit for the next time you fly.”
Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle wondered why there was no mention of the Ring of Fire, the massive chromite discovery in Northwestern Ontario that has been beset by obstacles in the last year. While there's lots of talk about supporting the development, there has been little action, Gravelle said.
“The Ring of Fire is being compared to the Alberta Oil Sands,” he said. “We're talking about 100 years of minerals up there, and lots of revenue and jobs for the Province of Ontario and for Canada. But the federal government is just sitting back, waiting.”
Agreements with First Nations in the area are key, he said, yet little is being done to reach agreements, he said.
“Both the federal and provincial government are not showing leadership on this,” Gravelle said. “I've met with the First Nations in the area, and they have clearly, clearly told me they are not against the Ring of Fire, they just want to be part of the discussions.”
He's also disappointed there wasn't more money for infrastructure project. While $70 billion sounds like a lot, he said when spread out across Canada over 10 years, it's only a fraction of what's needed.