When Niki Ashton was first elected MP in 2008, her northern Manitoba riding was performing fairly well economically despite a global downturn.
Eight years later, the global economy is again weak – and unlike last time, there are very real concerns over job losses in her riding.
The Reminder conducted an email interview with Ashton, NDP MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, to discuss Flin Flon, the northern Manitoba economy and a range of other issues.
REMINDER: From your perspective, what are the main concerns facing
Flin Flon? What role should the federal government play in addressing these concerns?
ASHTON: Main concerns that have been raised with me are health care, jobs and seniors’ housing. It’s clear that recent announcements affecting jobs in our North are a concern for all of us. The potential job losses in mining are also a major concern.
The federal government has a key role to play by coming to the table and working with industry, local leaders and northerners to keep good jobs in our communities. There is tremendous wealth in our region, and northern people must benefit from this wealth.
Health care involves a clear federal role. We need the Liberal government to reverse the cuts made by the Harper government to health care transfer payments.
Housing is also an area where the federal government must once again play a role. While commitments have been made, we have yet to see action. These are issues I will continue to fight for in Parliament.
REMINDER: Northern Manitoba has been hit hard this year, from the Port of Churchill closure and the near-closure of Tolko in The Pas, to reminders of the pending mill and smelter shut-down in Thompson. What impact, if any, might these decisions have on Flin Flon?
ASHTON: These last few months have been very difficult for communities across our North. Our region is faced with significant instability and the potential long-term loss of good jobs.
Job losses create a domino effect – including forcing families to leave our communities and the North. The fact is that we have incredible wealth, wealth that will continue to be extracted and processed – what matters is for northern people to benefit from the wealth in our region.
I’ve also been disappointed about the way in which the provincial government is not contributing to solutions, but rather choosing to abandon northern people and communities who are struggling.
I’m pleased to work with Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsey and The Pas MLA Amanda Lathlin in fighting to have both levels of government work with our North to find solutions.
REMINDER: Much has been said about reductions in northern Manitoba’s mining workforce over the past generation, in Flin Flon and across the region. Do you worry that globalization has made our region less competitive in terms of the mining sector? If so, what can be done to improve the situation?
ASHTON: We need governments to stand up and ensure that mining benefits the people that live in communities across our North.
REMINDER: The incoming US president wants to renegotiate NAFTA. What terms of NAFTA and other trade agreements, if any, would you change for the betterment of northern Manitoba’s economy?
ASHTON: Successive trade agreements have led to the hollowing out of entire sectors in our economy, and job losses. We need our federal and provincial governments to protect good jobs and work to ensure that trade relationships, including with the US, protect and create good jobs in Canada.
REMINDER: What involvement, if any, do you have in advocating for Flin Flon’s proposed North Central Canada Centre of Arts and the Environment? What are your thoughts on this project?
ASHTON: I’ve been proud to support the proposed North Central Canada Centre of Arts and the Environment. Flin Flon is one-of-a-kind in terms of its support of the arts, something that is recognized across the country. I look forward to continuing to support the work with local visionaries and government to make this dynamic vision a reality.
REMINDER: You have called on the federal government to save the Port of Churchill. How should that be accomplished?
ASHTON: I’ve been proud to stand alongside leaders, port workers and the people of Churchill and across the North in calling for the federal government to nationalize the port and move to a port authority model where northern communities, First Nations and agricultural producers share ownership of the port.
The privatization of the port was a mistake. The Liberal government first privatized the port in the 1990s and created the problem. It’s time they be part of the solution. We need the federal government to stand up to the American billionaire who owns OmniTrax and take the port back.
REMINDER: You have been critical of Ottawa’s Temporary Foreign Worker program, which sees employers hire foreign workers instead of Canadians in cases where Canadians are said to be unavailable or uninterested. Do you worry, as some do, that this program has become a government-sanctioned way for businesses to keep wages low?
ASHTON: The Temporary Foreign Worker program has led to significant exploitation of workers in many ways. It has also been linked to creating downward pressure on wages, affecting many Canadians.
Despite its commitments to improving the program, the Liberal government has not moved on fundamental recommendations, including the importance of allowing people who come as migrant workers to access citizenship status.
(The second part of this interview will be published Friday).