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MP Colin Mayes stands by government’s record

Reflecting on the past year as North Okanagan-Shuswap’s member of Parliament is for Colin Mayes, a mostly satisfying endeavour.

An eight-year member of the Conservative government’s backbench, Mayes says he is proud of the federal focus on trying to help families and seniors survive in this economy.

“There have been various initiatives to help put money back in the pockets of young families,” he says, noting the programs help parents involve their children in activities such as hockey and gymnastics. “The child tax credit has been popular; it puts a few extra dollars in parents’ pockets to hire a babysitter or help to pay for activities, or put it in savings for future education.”

For seniors, it’s income splitting.

“Canada has one of the least number of seniors living below the poverty line,” he says, maintaining some 70 per cent of Canadian seniors have incomes of $50,000 or better. “I know there is still 30 per cent who, for sure need help. The tax-free savings account has helped seniors of the country be able to get through tougher times.”

Asked about child poverty in Canada, Mayes, who’s daughter works for Samaritan’s Purse in Africa, says people don’t know what poverty is in this country.

He says recently released Statistics Canada figures indicate the number of children living in poverty has been reduced by 70,000 over the past decade.

“It needs to be fixed, but I definitely believe we’re making headway with low-income housing helping single moms and children,” he says.

Mayes says his government is doing a study on Human Resources Development Canada – on how Ottawa can better provide First Nations with the skills they need for the jobs of today.

“I have to say, you’ve heard what Abraham Lincoln said: ‘The government should never do for citizens what citizens can do for themselves,’” he says. “In saying that, it’s not up to us to feed the children that might not be getting proper nourishment. Our job is to make sure parents, or those who are caring for the children, get the support they need to ensure they have the resources to provide the nourishment for their children.”

In relation to MP Mike Chong and several other backbenchers seeking more power, Mayes believes there has been some misunderstanding.

“We have power as backbenchers, the ability to speak to the prime minister in our caucus meetings and to speak, once a month, directly to the ministers on issues concerning our committees,” he says. “The effort that has been made by Michael Chong is to try to allow for decisions around caucus discipline; that it should be a caucus decision not a prime ministerial decision.”

He says Chong is trying to ensure that no prime minister is able to drop party candidates from out of a riding, or even out of the country, into ridings, thereby circumventing the grassroots within the constituency. This, he says, puts the process back in MPs’ hands.

“I have been there for eight years and I never felt once that my position has been compromised by any prime ministerial discipline,” he says. “I have disagreed with him on some issues and even voted against him on some.”

Mayes says Harper has respected his position and those of his colleagues who have shared his position, but was not willing to share examples.

Agreeing that the Senate scandal has indeed been embarrassing for the institution, Mayes says that with 308 MPs and 110 senators, there are bound to be “different thresholds of ethics.”

“Now we have really narrowed guidelines for expenses, we have the Governor General auditing and now Colin Mayes and all my colleagues are disclosing every month online all our expenses, so now the public is able to see what their MP or senator is spending. That’s a very positive thing.”

Mayes takes offence to the NDP Opposition’s criticism of his government, when, he says, former NDP party leader Jack Layton supported the Liberals during the 2007 sponsorship scandal.

“They can’t criticize our government as far as policies go, so they’re stooping to making accusations against the prime minister,” he says. “That’s typical of any party that does not have solutions for the issues facing Canadians.”

Mayes laughs when asked if there is substance to the rumour he might give up federal politics and make another run for Salmon Arm mayor.

“I have been asked to do that and it’s flattering, but I always caution people,” he says. “I had very successful terms in nine years but I had great staff and councils. Sometimes you can’t relive the past.”

He says he and wife Jacquie have to make a decision by the end  of the spring session.

“We’re talking about the future and what we should do. It’s definitely a decision I have to make… I am hoping I see the divine path ahead.”

When he returns to Ottawa in the new year, Mayes sees the looming issues to be challenges in the labour market in terms of skills training.

“The great news is we’re on track to balance the budget and I hope the economy stays strong so we can balance the budget, then hopefully we can put into effect income splitting in families that are struggling.”

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