Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is Dean Listening?

Dean Allison, MP for Niagara West-Glanbrook is in Ottawa now, confident that he has a good understanding of the concerns of constituents in the riding. In a recent MP Report from Dean, he indicates during the summer months, he consulted with constituents and the three re-occurring themes were Afghanistan, justice and taxes.

During the same summer period, The Strategic Council* conducted a national survey. Canadians were asked “What is the most important issue facing Canada today – that is the one that you are most concerned about?” The results are interesting and, with the exception of the Afghanistan issue, highlight a different list of priorities. The biggest concern - at 23% of the respondents – was the environment, followed by healthcare at 16%, and terrorism (which includes all mentions of Afghanistan,) at 10%. The issue of taxes was way down the list – at 3% and crime/violence at 2%.

Like Dean, during September I manned a booth at the Smithville, Lincoln and Binbrook Fairs. We conducted a poll of attendees, asking them the question “What is the most important issue facing Canadians?” Our list was extensive with a total of 12 items; respondents were given one vote only and the opportunity for to write down other issues that did not appear on the list. The three priorities across all the Fairs were consistent. The number one issue was very clear: healthcare. The second priority was the environment, followed by education as the third issue. At the Smithville Fair, priorities number two and three switched places, with voters rating education slightly higher than the environment. It should be noted that the provincial issue of faith-based education funding was on people’s minds at the time and many individuals checked off “education” because they were either for or against funding of faith-based education. However, many individuals indicated that it was the cost of post-secondary education that was of concern when they chose the education issue as the most important issue.

If we are to take out the education choice because of the confusion over the faith-based funding issue, a provincial matter, we then look at the fourth issues down the list. At the Smithville Fair, the issue of taxes was a distant four at 5%. At Lincoln and Binbrook, crime came in fourth at only 8%. (In comparison, healthcare represented 45% and the environment 23% of the top five priorities.)

So what are we to make of the findings? First of all, there is a great amount of consistency between the national survey and the very informal survey done at our booths for the two top priorities. Healthcare and the environment share number one and two positions. Canadians and residents of Niagara West-Glanbrook are concerned about the state of our health care system and climate changes that are affecting our environment.

The results beg the question: Why didn’t Dean Allison identify the same top two issues during his consultation with constituents this summer? Did the issues not come up? When a constituent raised the issue of the healthcare crisis that we are facing, did he merely pass the buck to the province? What about the environment? Surely, Dean is receiving feedback that it is time for the government to act on the impending crisis and the climate changes we are witnessing.

The overriding characteristic of this government is its bulldozing ahead with its own agenda. And we have seen that Harper will stop at nothing to ensure that his minority government’s own priorities are given importance with little or no consultation with the other parties. During the last 18 months, MPs have been muzzled, parliamentary committees have been shut down by the Conservative Committee Chairs, and a Playbook manual has been distributed to all Conservatives outlining the ways to disrupt committee proceedings. Important priorities like the health of our citizens and the commitment to our environment are being ignored. I hope that you join me in urging Dean Allison, our representative of priorities in Niagara West-Glanbrook, to not fall prey to a narrow agenda that does not reflect the concerns of our residents. Although 36% of Canadians voted for the Conservatives during the last election, 100% of the people living in the communities across the riding expect that, in the democracy that we enjoy in Canada, Dean will listen to every voter’s concerns.

*The Strategic Counsel survey that tracks the concerns of Canadians from May 2005 to July 2007 can be found at

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