CORNWALL – It wasn’t the first year of office he could have expected, but Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MP Eric Duncan said there were a lot of positives still in the region in 2020.
In his year end interview with The Leader, Duncan said the COVID-19 pandemic up-ended what the priorities were regarding local issues in the riding, and national issues he wanted to raise.
“It has changed that up drastically,” he said. “I don’t think anyone anticipated this year happening the way that it did.”
Duncan explained that the pandemic meant he and his office put in more hours dealing with issues in the riding, including assisting businesses with accessing COVID-19 related supports.
“Instead of going to community events like I would normally do, it was business visits helping businesses get the business account loans and wage subsidies,” he said. “It totally up-ended the traditional role of our jobs.”
In the beginning days of the pandemic, Duncan said the priorities of the riding changed and once Parliament resumed its sitting, he was busy advocating for the riding.
One of the first issues he raised in the House of Commons as a rookie MP was moving back the federal tax filing deadlines because of the impact of the pandemic. Added into that issue was bridging supports like the Canada Child Tax Benefit and Old Age Security which rely on tax returns to calculate benefit amounts for the following year.
“We were successful in getting those filing dates moved back and helping Canadians,” he said.
Another issue Duncan was vocal about in the House of Commons was infrastructure funding.
“As we begin the recovery, we need to have these shovel ready projects going,” he said. “If they take three-to-five years to get going, it is not going to help get people back to work and provide jobs.”
He spoke to the nearly one year delay in federal funding approval for the Morrisburg roundabout and street-scape project.
That project was approved by the province in August 2019 but didn’t receive federal approval until this past June, 10 months later and missing the 2020 construction year.
“Those kinds of delays are unacceptable,” Duncan said.
A file that he wished had gotten more attention was the water level issue along the St. Lawrence River shoreline.
“It amazes me that there are so many levels of government, so many departments involved, and there is so little communication between them,” Duncan said.
One national issue that Duncan has been advocating for has been the end of the ban on blood donations by homosexual men.
He said that the decades-old ban should be removed and has been raising the issue both in the House of Commons and in the national press.
Duncan said that the discriminatory practice, which began in 1992, needs to end because there are many gay men who would donate, especially with the strain on the blood bank services with the pandemic.
So far the government has acknowledged there is a need for reform, but it has not lifted the ban.
Duncan said that he’s looking forward to 2021 with a sense of optimism, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’m looking forward to people being able to get out, that events can restart, service groups can go back to fundraising, that things can return to normal,” he said. “Out of the pandemic, for all the negative that’s been out there, it’s heartening to see how the businesses and community have been supporting each other. We will get through this.”
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader