MP Alex Ruff shares his view from ‘the Hill’

MP Alex Ruff recently gave a group gathered in Flesherton a positive way to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s appearances at Question Period.

“I give him credit,” Ruff said, noting that Mr. Trudeau fielded more questions personally than some other PMs in the past.

On the other hand, he added: “they call it question period, they don’t call it answer period.”

The group wasn’t large at the gathering hosted by the Grey Highlands Landowners on the Thursday before the Good Friday holiday.

But those who attended the event at the Flesherton Kinplex learned about how ideas for change become bills, and how bills may or may not become laws.

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BILLS

Conservative MP Ruff is in Opposition. At one time, that would have spelled doom for any bill he brought forward. But rule changes mean some Private Member’s Bills brought by opposition are now passed.

Not however, his first bill of this term which was to remove “the tax from the tax” – to take the GST off carbon pricing.

For the bill to pass, it would take support beyond the party. Having done some exploration by talking with other MPs, Mr. Ruff said it was unlikely to get that support at its next reading.

He added, smiling, that the Conservatives are planning to win the next election and “axe the tax” anyway, so then it would be unneeded.

Instead, he has developed another bill which brings in a concern from his former military career – security.

The proposed bill would make an easier path for parliamentarians to apply for a “secret” security clearance, by deeming they have “need” to access the information. He mentioned that he has maintained his security clearance from his time of military service.

The lack of standardized access, however, has led to obstacles in his other parliamentarians and senators in addressing issues.

MPs have help to take their policy idea and form it into correct legal language so that it could be enacted by Parliament. His bill, C-377, is “very simple” he said – two sentences.

Mr. Ruff served on an all-party committee that has been looking into security risks. It just filed its report on foreign interference in Canada’s democracy the week before the meeting.

MP Ruff said the committee report gets redacted before release, but it “still is going to point to a lot of concerning issues.”

“The world’s getting more and more complicated and volatile,” he said.

Q&A ON PARLIAMENT

In answer to a question about coalition governments, he explained that the NDP and the Liberals have an agreement – it’s not a true coalition, in which there would be cabinet ministers from another party. The actual agreement details remain unknown beyond a small group of people, he said.

Actual coalition governments are becoming more common worldwide, he observed.

MP Ruff said that the polls that he takes on issues through his newsletter to his constituents in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound go a long way to determining his vote, giving the example of a recent poll on electoral reform.

He sees himself as a representative of his riding. However, he’s also a member of a party. He explained the role of “the whip” – or the usual discipline of voting with your party. MPs are always allowed to vote freely on matters of conscience, he said.

When the MPs meet in caucus for discussion, “it’s true democracy in action,” he said. “Once we’ve made up our mind as a group… the expectation is we’re all going to vote together.” There may be exceptions in practice, of course.

MPs have an allowance of about $400,000 to manage expenses of renting an office, covering overhead and paying staff. “It’s like running a small business”, he said.

His office responds to many appeals for help from people having difficulties, whether with government programs or other issues. He has hand-delivered letters to the appropriate minister in the past on behalf of residents, he said.

There was a question about the use of omnibus bills. He said there’s a tendency to “bury” something for which it may be hard to support in a larger bill.

If it’s a budget bill or other monetary bill, then that is a confidence vote, which can bring down the government if lost, he said.

The Grey Highlands Landowners Association, sponsor of the evening, is relatively new and organized the evening to raise its profile.

Its stated focus is landowners’ rights to own, use, manage, enjoy and benefit from” their land, and how government actions will affect that.

The theme for the evening was the process of government not specific policies.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Flesherton Advance