Cuts highlight new session of Parliament

Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanekno worries about what lies ahead with Harper’s majority government

You couldn’t call the MP for B.C. Southern Interior a technophobe.

Alex Atamanenko is able to perform his duties as the region’s federal government representative from nearly the width of a continent away using various forms of technology to do so.

But with the continuous stream of cuts coming out of Ottawa these days, Atamanenko was fearful of one thing during the first week of the new session of parliament.

“It seems like the last couple of weeks every time I check my Blackberry (cell phone) there are more cuts announced,” he said. “The Conservatives are chipping away at everything we’ve taken for granted and worked so hard for.”

From cuts to the CBC, federal prisons to Katimavik, it’s discouraging to see what is coming from the government these days, Atamanenko said.

“It just seems to be, one by one, everything we have put into place over the last few decades is slowly being dismantled according to this new vision that (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper has,” he said.

He pointed to a lack of accountability over such issues as robo-calls as one of the more frustrating aspects of the Conservative majority in the House of Commons.

But increasingly he was worried over negotiations on the Canada and European trade agreement, concerned that the behind-closed-doors deal will be sprung upon parliament without adequate questioning and debate.

“I am of the same mind on this as the mayor of Trail … what sort of impact will this have on our municipal contracts? Although there is a threshold, what effect will there be on local procurement?” he asked.

In this session of the House Atamanenko will be speaking out on genetically modified organisms (GMO), hoping to advance the agenda of food sovereignty leading up to the next election.

He will be looking to move legislation forward on GMO labeling, as well as either his private members’ bills on the Department of Peace or stopping horse slaughter.

Although new NDP leader Thomas Mulcair did not forget his recent leadership rivals to form his new shadow cabinet, he left the MP for B.C. Southern Interior off the list for the second straight year.

Atamanenko was not named as the agriculture critic despite having served in that regard for four years since he was first elected MP in 2006. He asked Mulcair to retain Malcolm Allen in the position as critic.

“I didn’t think it was right to ask for that back,” Atamanenko said.

Instead, Mulcair named B.C. New Democrat Nathan Cullen as the new opposition House Leader, replacing Joe Comartin, who takes on democratic reform.

Toronto MP Peggy Nash returns to her role as finance critic and former interim leader Nycole Turmel retains her position as party whip.

Mulcair will handle intergovernmental affairs and deputy leader Libby Davies will take on the health portfolio.

Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, another former leadership contender, will take on the portfolio for women’s issues and Paul Dewar will handle foreign affairs.

Quebec MP Francoise Boivin was promoted as justice critic.

Two other New Democrats who withdrew from the leadership race were also named to the shadow cabinet.

Robert Chisholm will deal with fisheries and be Mulcair’s deputy to watch over intergovernmental affairs and Romeo Saganash will deal with international development.

Mulcair also named three deputy chiefs – Davies, David Christopherson and Megan Leslie.

Olivia Chow will be the party’s critic for transport, infrastructure and communities and Jack Harris will oversee the defence file.

With files from The Canadian Press