Since joining the House of Commons last December, Victoria MP Murray Rankin has become one of the NDP’s go-to critics, drawing on decades of legal expertise in areas ranging from aboriginal treaty negotiations and environment protection to national security. The News sat down with Rankin to find out what he’s learned in his first six months representing the people of Victoria, Oak Bay and a little of Saanich.
Q. Your current portfolio (national revenue critic) isn’t exactly in your areas of expertise. What have you been able to accomplish in that role?
“I’m on the most senior committee in Ottawa, the finance committee. Most people think it’s just boring tax stuff, but then we’ve had this tax haven issue. And the harassment of environmental organizations by this government to see if they’re abusing their charitable status, I never thought that would come about. Thirdly, the service cuts that the (Canada Revenue Agency) is making are affecting seniors in this community. I’m advocating for them. And lastly, I’m trying to figure out how to harness the Income Tax Act to provide incentives to go to a lower carbon economy.”
Q. What have you learned about the business of Ottawa since becoming an MP?
“There was a time when I was very critical of the parliamentary system. I was a believer in the U.S. checks and balances system. I don’t believe that at all anymore. Look at the (U.S.) Senate that can hold up the President with filibusters … it’s just gridlock. And I never anticipated that, frankly, in my respect for the American system. You kind of take Parliament for granted. I’m just really excited about the potential of Parliament.”
Q. Do you have any disappointments about your experiences so far?
“I wish it wasn’t such a hyper-partisan environment. Even at the committee level, there’s still a friendliness and an ability to work together, but others tell me it’s much less of a co-operative place because the Conservatives have put their parliamentary secretaries for each of their departments at the relevant committees. Well, that makes it very hard for us to come up with independent recommendations. And when we do, they invariably vote them down, even when they tell you in candour it’s a good idea but the Prime Minister’s Office won’t let them support it. I’m disappointed in that. I wish we could flex the muscles of committees more.”
Q. Why haven’t you followed Saanich-Gulf Island MP Elizabeth May’s lead and disclosed your expenses?
“Well first of all, my expenses as a new MP, having only been sworn in on Dec. 8, haven’t yet been approved by the House of Commons. I wrote the Freedom of Information law here in B.C. and I’ve done work for the federal privacy commissioner. I want to do this, but we also want structural change. Then people can compare apples to apples and see who’s spending what. Hopefully we can do that this fall.”
Rock Bay cleanup proceeding under MP's watchful eye
One of Murray Rankin’s first tasks as Victoria MP was to make sure Transport Canada was still planning to clean up the contaminated soil in Rock Bay. Coal and gas production took place on the shoreline from the 1860s to the 1950s, leaving highly toxic sediment in the soil and seabed below.
Two phases of cleanup have already taken place, but the final phase was delayed due to higher than expected contamination levels, said Sau Sau Liu, Transport Canada spokeswoman.
“We are taking more time to study and plan the remaining cleanup,” she said.
Rankin said he’s been assured by Transport Minister Denis Lebel that funding for the project is in place. “Rock Bay could be a real gem. Contaminated sites can be very tricky and time-consuming, but thank goodness the money is there to do it,” Rankin said.
Phase 3 of the cleanup should be complete by the end of 2016, Liu said.
– Daniel Palmer