Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover had some sharp words for the Selinger government in a year-end interview recently with the Free Press.
Glover, who succeeded the retired Vic Toews as senior federal minister for Manitoba in July, is unhappy about the province's unilateral announcement of infrastructure projects it expects Ottawa to partially fund.
And the St. Boniface MP is still bristling from the province's bitter reaction last year to a federal decision to take over management of immigration settlement services that Ottawa largely funds.
Glover spoke with reporter Larry Kusch before Christmas. The interview has been edited and condensed.
FP: You've been minister responsible for Canadian heritage and official languages and senior regional minister for five months. How are you adjusting to the new role?
Glover: I'll tell you, what a gift the prime minister provided for me and my community to be given the opportunity as the Canadian heritage minister to help ensure that arts and culture and our Canadian identity flourish. It is really, really a vote of confidence. As the heritage minister and official languages minister I take a personal interest in arts and culture. We know it is arts and culture that make us who we are and provide us a great quality of life and of course, makes us feel good... makes us emotional about certain issues. But it is also an economic driver. And the government of Canada has been very much invested in arts and culture and the support of that industry because 630,000 jobs here in Canada are because of the arts and culture industry.
FP: What about the CBC? Is it going to be cut again?
Glover: Remember that we went through a recession and we had what was called a deficit-reduction action plan that asked all of our departments and all of our organizations to cinch their belts for Canadians and find ways to be more efficient and find some savings so that we can continue to provide direct support to artists and programs going out into the field are maintained. So we cinched our belts and found savings within government. We reduced our spending. The CBC did the same. I've had many conversations with Mr. Hubert Lacroix (CBC president and CEO), who believes he can meet his obligations for his 2015 plan with the changes that he opted to make to also reduce (spending).
FP: What do you make of the Selinger government's contention it would be in a better position to slay its deficit if Statistics Canada wasn't under-counting the province's population by 18,000 (meaning lower federal transfer payments)?
Glover: I'm going to be very frank. The province of Manitoba has not done as we've done. They have not looked for savings internally. They have not looked for a way to reduce their spending. And that is what Canadians expect of their elected officials. I continue to want to collaborate with the province of Manitoba and Premier (Greg) Selinger on ways that we can serve Canadians better. While we are reducing taxes, the provincial government increases taxes, which is a wash then for Canadian families who are struggling. I'm disappointed to hear the province once again try to blame another level of government or another organization or the weather or whatever excuse they want to use at any given time for their problems in spending.
FP: The province has made several highways announcements, including major improvements to Highway 75. The premier has said he expects Ottawa will want to contribute to some of these projects yet the federal government isn't represented at the news conferences.
Glover: We're not going to do as the province has done and announce all sorts of things, including announcements that have already been made, without collaborating with our partners. That isn't how we do business. We want to collaborate and we want to do it in good faith. And frankly, the premier has made a lot of announcements of late that I don't know where he's getting that money from... This should not be a partisan issue. We've already announced that money with the province for Highway 75. They're re-announcing things that we've already announced and making changes to them without talking to us. That is... hugely problematic.
FP: Did they make changes to the Highway 75 project that you were unaware of?
Glover: We had no clue, absolutely no clue, that they were going to be running out and re-announcing the Highway 75 project, some of which has already been agreed to and there is a contract between the federal government and the provincial government on it. Every week, as they announce these things, we're shaking our heads more and more wondering what in the heck this premier and this government are doing? I want to work with them. I just hope the premier watches this or listens to this (the interview was videotaped) or reads this and comes to the table because that's what Manitobans would like to see us do. We provide huge dollars for Manitobans and we're happy to be involved in projects that they benefit from. So you got to talk to us.
FP: So you'd like to see a little more consultation and fewer unilateral announcements?
Glover: They have to collaborate because we don't make decisions in silos when we have joint jurisdiction. I'm looking forward to negotiating on some projects that are priorities for our communities. As you saw with the settlement services -- that was a terrible time for the province. We provide $36.5 million every year in settlement services here in Manitoba. We've quadrupled the funding we provide for settlement services. And we were paying the province to distribute the funding. Of course they were forgetting to give the feds credit for the money that was being distributed, which was problematic in and of itself. And I tried many times to get meetings with (former Manitoba immigration and multiculturalism minister) Christine Melnick. She refused. To date, I've never had a meeting with her and have had to follow her from place to place trying to correct the misinformation she is providing and the fear-mongering. I'm very disappointed.
FP: Of course she lost her job as minister, in part, over her handling of the issue...
Glover: But she has not apologized to the people that she scared. She went around and told immigrants who already fear for how they're going to integrate (into society) and how they're going to find jobs. And she told them that the provincial nominee program would be severely affected by the federal changes. For them to go out and tell immigrants who benefit from this money from the federal government that they likely could be impacted negatively. That was misleading, it was untrue and frankly, she needs to apologize to those immigrants. She needs to explain to them why on earth she would put them through that kind of hell.
FP: Looking ahead to 2015 you're going to face a challenge in Saint Boniface from city Coun. Dan Vandal, which should make for quite an election campaign. Were you surprised he's decided to run?
Glover: No I wasn't surprised. I had actually spoken to Dan during the last election because Jack Layton had asked him to run for the NDP. He was a card-carrying NDP member. So I was a little surprised to see him switch and run for the Liberals, but he's not, at this point, nominated. So I wish him tremendous luck, but I intend to continue to serve Saint Boniface to the best of my ability. I believe that they (residents) are encouraged by the Conservative philosophies of keeping our streets safe, keeping our communities secure, ensuring that victims have a voice.
FP: You'll have $2,267 less to spend in the next election campaign after exceeding the maximum spending limit in 2011 by that amount. Why did you decide not to challenge Elections Canada's ruling in the courts as your colleague (Selkirk-Interlake Conservative MP) James Bezan is doing?
Glover: I'm actually glad you asked me the question because nobody has asked me for much information since all this happened. I was very disappointed when Elections Canada proceeded the way they did. First and foremost, the rules of engagement changed. At the crux of it all is the cost of signs that you have in place in your riding. It used to be you just claimed (costs for) the 36-day writ period. It's been the long-standing practice for a long time. And then they changed it and said you had to claim the production costs every time. So I basically had to claim production costs I never incurred because they were used signs. I do not believe in wasting any of the taxpayers dollars. Twenty-two hundred dollars was not something I felt that I should go to court (and fight) over (so I) agreed it was a misunderstanding of the rules.
FP: Your department is playing a lead role in preparing for Canada's 150th birthday. How are you gearing up for this event?
Glover: The 150th anniversary of confederation in 2017 is going to be a huge opportunity for Canadians to celebrate who we are. As we approach 2017 you will see the government of Canada celebrating and commemorating events. We've done 1812. We are going to be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of (the First World War) and the 75th anniversary of the beginning of (the Second World War), the 50th anniversary of the flag, the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, the Charlottetown conference, the Quebec conference. You will see the government of Canada place more and more emphasis on history until the 150th anniversary. I am doing consultations right now across the country, asking Canadians to submit their ideas. How do you want to celebrate your country's anniversary? Send ideas to Canada.ca/150. That's the website where they can submit their ideas. And I really want youth to be engaged in all of this.
FP: Do you see the celebration as being comparable to what occurred in the 1967 centennial year?
Glover: No, it won't because, of course, we are still recovering from a recession. But I do anticipate that it's going to be a huge celebration. And I want people to think that if it's the country's birthday, what do you want to give to the country as a gift? What can you give to your country, the best country in the world? And I want them to submit ideas.
I want to be able to plan an event that's going to be memorable for many generations to come.