Leon Benoit, MP Vegreville – Wainwright, appeared in Killam on November 13, 2013 to speak publicly to his constituents. Only two citizens appeared that were not directly involved in any level of politics. The environment was casual and informal – everyone was able to sit around a table and converse with Benoit. Benoit answered many questions on a wide variety of issues both local and national.
Budget, deficit and recession
Benoit spoke briefly about the upcoming budget, as well as the worldwide recession.
“Our [Alberta’s] growth rate isn’t what it used to be, but at least we are still moving ahead,” Benoit said, regarding about how Alberta fared through the recession.
“The Federal Government has been running a large deficit. And we can’t do that forever,” Benoit said. “Fortunately about eighty-five percent of our deficit is owed to Canadians and not foreign entities, and we predict to have thirty-eight million in surplus by 2015 if things continue as planned. I know that in comparison to our spending budget of two trillion that doesn’t seem like much, but it is better than owing money.”
With the scandals currently going on in the Senate this issue was raised almost immediately.
“We know at least four senators have illegitimate expenses. While I admit that Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin have done great work for our party in the past, I in no way defend them,” said Benoit. “What they have done is wrong, and they will be punished. We are currently just waiting on the Supreme Court’s decision. I feel that this reform could be done before the election.”
Benoit was further questioned if the five hundred and twenty eight thousand dollars of taxpayers money already spent on auditing the Senate was an acceptable and necessary cost. He responded to the affirmative.
“You’d be surprised at how much it can cost,” he said.
Doing some research into how the expense of the audit came to be that high reveals that three hundred and ninety thousand dollars of the cost of auditing came from the audit on Pamela Wallin alone, which is over twice the ineligible expenses she has claimed. This is due to the length of time the audit took and with Deolitte charging more for each quarter as the audit went on.
When asked whether or not he was for reforming or abolishing the senate, Benoit replied that he believed reform was the desired option.
“I believe the Senate is a necessary part of our government, and it should be reformed and not destroyed,” he said. “I think that senators should be elected and held accountable like Members of Parliment, and more clear and concise rules should be made for them. That way if something like this happens again, we will be able to quickly and efficently deal with it.”
Border crossings in Alberta
Bud James, the mayor of Killam and Chair of BRAED (Battle River Alliance for Economic Development) brought up an issue of concern for Alberta’s economy.
“With only two ports of entry, with hours are often irregular throughout the year, we face huge economic risk,” said James. “I think it is very important that we have two twenty four hour ports of entry into Canada year-round.”
He noted that members of BRAED had voiced this concern previously, and queried who was responsible for points of entry issues.
Benoit responded that he understood the importance of entry points into Alberta, both for imports and exports.
“I have been to midland Texas, and most rigs in that area were made in Nisku. There is demand for more ports of entry, but as long as people keep bypassing the ports due to their unreliability, it will be interpreted that there is no need for more ports because they measure the traffic that each port receives to determine if a new one is necessary,” Benoit said. “The decision to make new ports primarily rests with the Minister of Security, and I encourage you to keep asking for more ports. ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease.’”
Industry and pipelines
Benoit spoke also about the Conservative party’s efforts to make things easier for business around Canada, and specifically industry in the west.
“Alberta and the west has become the centre of our country’s economy. We have reduced taxes to busniesses by thirty-five percent and set up a ‘Red Tape Reduction Committee’ to reduce red tape,” he said. “We have reduced it by twenty-five percent by now, and are currently setting up a second ‘Red Tape Reduction Committee’ to speed things along.”
Benoit noted a need for a regulatory process that was faster and more stable in nature.
“Currently a company could wait seven to eight years before receiving mining approval. We plan on shortening this to a maximum of one and a half years before a project is approved or rejected in any industry,” he said. “We already have six hundred and fifty billion dollars in projects that the industry plans to build in Alberta over the next ten years.”
He mentioned the major pipeline projects, starting with the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline and working his way down the list to Northern Gateway.
“Energy East Pipeline, that will carry oil from Hardisty to eastern Canada, is definately going to start construction by 2014,” he said. “Keystone XL will go through. The only question is if it goes ahead while Obama is still president. He does not base his decisions on science and is purely political in a very negative way.”
Benoit also made mention of major pipeline Northern Gateway.
“Trans-Pacific trade is our future, especially with the USA expected to be self-sufficient in ten years,” he said. We need to get our natural resources to the west coast. However we are facing lots of opposition on this one. Some genuine environmentalists, but many a”re just radicals looking to make money.”
One participant at the meeting queried why it was important to transport oil to Texas if estimates indicated that the USA would be self-sufficient in 10 years. Benoit outlined three reasons for the importance of the project.
“The Americans are already applying to export crude oil, as they can’t under their current laws,” he said. “Second, many who say that America will be self-sufficient include Canada’s oil into the calculations, making it more so of a North American self-sufficiency. And thirdly, America has refineries that can process heavy crude, and with the situation in Venezuela right now they need a new supplier of crude to meet the demands of the refineries.”
Benoit was asked in closing about what he thought his party’s chances in the upcoming election were.
“We’ll see, I never want to pre-judge voters. But we have done an awful lot of good for our country and it is my hope and belief to do much more,” he said.