“This place is the moon. Back home in your riding, that’s earth.”
This was how I was introduced to Parliament Hill by an experienced House of Commons staffer last year. And, it was with this quote that I began my first column for BMN. I used the quote to set forth my conviction that we need ‘the moon’ to be closer to the communities we live in.
But with the recent passage of Bill C-38 (the Budget Implementation Act) through the House, the moon slipped still further away from us.
Already less than one quarter of Toronto’s unemployed can look to the federal government for support in the form of Employment Insurance. With tightening restrictions and no recognition of Toronto’s changing job market, that pitiful number will slip even further. Soon enough, with the eligibility for Old Age Security moving from 65 to 67 years of age, the relevance of our federal government to income security in our senior years will diminish as well – in favour of a job market with insufficient jobs and provincial and municipal governments with insufficient resources.
With the attack on the charitable status of environmental groups, the removal of the federal environmental assessment process and the assumption of extensive authority by the cabinet over resource projects, the Conservatives have relinquished the relevance of our federal government to our environment as well.
There’s nothing new in this, of course. This has been the project of successive federal governments for about forty years – making our government increasingly less relevant to Canadians. Sometimes it’s accelerated – in the form, for example, of drastic cuts in funding and federal responsibility that came with the Liberal’s Canada Health and Social Transfer in the 1990s. It’s also come in the form of deliberate reductions in the fiscal capacity of the federal government as, for example, the corporate tax cut schedule initiated by the Liberals and pursued so gleefully by the Conservatives. But it’s always in the same direction.
This trend has reshaped communities across the city, dramatically. The economic, social and health trends in our city over these forty years have been mapped. The localization of wealth and poverty, with corresponding food and transit deserts, is evident.
This is why I, a federal politician, convened a summit on urban economies here in Toronto in April. It was attended by over 100 academics, economists, environmentalists, community service agencies and politicians – including 10 MPs. We need to build robust economies and create sustainable and resilient urban communities – where eighty per cent of Canadians live. And we can’t do that without the help and leadership of our federal government.
The centrifugal forces of Canadian federal politics are difficult to overcome, perhaps because this is the history of two generations of Canadians. For people my age, who came to voting age as John Turner gave way to Brian Mulroney, the outward trajectory of the moon was already well underway. But, whatever the cause, my concern is that the strict constitutionalism that has been used to justify the irrelevance of federal politics to our community life seems to have been internalized.
But I won’t rest. When I speak in the House – except when I’m talking about F-35s – I talk about our city and our neighbourhoods. When I hold forums in our riding, it is to talk about what our federal government should be doing to help build the kind of urban communities we want to live, and raise our families in.
And, when I bobbed up and down in the House on Bill C-38 160 times through the night and day last week and one final and sad time this week, I did so not in the hope of winning the vote but to demonstrate to you my conviction that the moon should be closer to Beaches- East York and my determination to make it so one day.
Rest in peace, Glenn Cochrane.