Jamie Schmale, the Conservative member of parliament for Haliburton – Kawartha Lakes – Brock, spent 90 minutes with the Advocate, via telephone, to share what he has been doing, his views on the Conservative leadership race, the COVID-19 pandemic, funding for the CBC, and his role in the Conservative shadow cabinet.
Jamie Schmale has been back in his local riding since March 13. While parliament has re-opened in a limited way – one in-person sitting per week, augmented by two Zoom sittings – there is only a skeleton crew of parliamentarians needed who are selected by their individual parties.
That’s why Schmale is keeping himself busy at the local level with multiple virtual town hall meetings, two podcasts a week and a good number of conference calls and virtual meetings. The MP says the strangest thing about the new normal is that when he’s home in the riding there are no evening or weekend commitments because of the social distancing regulations, so he is is enjoying the time at home with his young family.
Federal Conservative leadership race
Schmale says the initial goal of the Conservative leadership process was, “to choose a new leader as soon as possible, but COVID has gotten in the way of that being achieved.”
When asked about the current field of only four candidates he said, “In 2017 we had too many candidates. The current field for 2020 is not as big as I might like it to be. Some people have expressed concerns that the barriers of time, money and membership support were too high.”
Two of the four candidates have labelled themselves as social conservatives, holding views on issues like abortion and LGTQB rights that many have said are out of step with the Canadian mainstream.
Schmale says Canada “is a free country where the freedom exists to share your views on important issues.”
“The Conservative Party is a big tent where social conservatives are welcome.”
When asked to comment on two-time candidate Erin O’Toole’s shift to the political right after running unsuccessfully for the party leadership in 2017 the MP said he things O’Toole’s new views “reflect the changes that are going on in the world.”
“Erin is a level-headed guy doing the best that he can. He has a real disadvantage battling against Peter MacKay because Peter has been around for so long. Peter’s connections within the party are deep.”
Schmale was asked about the bulk of the Ontario caucus lining up behind the Nova Scotian MacKay rather than O’Toole who is a native Ontarian.
“Erin has only been around for a couple of election cycles. I understand that Erin is upset at decisions being made within the Ontario caucus, but both Erin and Peter are great guys.”
Schmale expects a relatively short one or two ballot convention with MacKay the candidate to beat. When asked about MacKay’s struggles with French the MP was diplomatic.
“Having French certainly doesn’t hurt you. It is a clear benefit. All four of the current candidates will have to overcome this if elected. I expect there will be some pretty intensive French lessons going on for whoever wins.”
Schmale has yet to endorse a candidate for the party leadership but says he’ll be choosing someone soon.
“There is a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes. As the host of the party podcast and a member of the shadow cabinet I have tried to stay as neutral as I can for as long as I can.”
Funding the CBC
Schmale was asked to address two issues that have been hotly debated by the candidates up to this point: funding for the CBC and the continuation of the $500 million subsidy program for big media outlets in Canada.
As a former reporter and radio announcer, the MP began with his views on continuing to fund the CBC which most of the current leadership candidates oppose.
“The CBC does many things well. Their international coverage is first rate, as is their radio service and French-language services. We need to take a look at the current business model and figure out if it is working well. After COVID will we even have the kind of money to fund something like the CBC? In the 500-channel universe we are living in CBC is losing.”
On the press subsidies Schmale stated, “I don’t support the bail-outs, and most individual reporters I know oppose it.”
Schmale says that generally the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been positive, but he wants to make sure that, “it stays focused on the health of Canadians, aid for the health care system and supporting front-line workers.”
He pointed out that the $200 billion aid package only gets Canada through the summer.
“The Bank of Canada is just printing more money to fund these supports and eventually Canada will need to be re-opened for business.”
The member is concerned that as the weather improves, “it will be tougher to keep people indoors.”
He says even with all the new programs in place people are falling through the cracks.
“The deficit is exploding and eventually that money has to be paid back.”
Schmale is very pleased that Canadian politicians on all levels are working together.
“This crisis goes beyond politics. We have to do the right thing for the people of Canada.”
When asked about the performance of Premier Doug Ford of Ontario, Schmale says people have always been too quick to portray Ford negatively.
“He genuinely cares about people. Right now this is all about compassion.”
The MP argued that, “the provinces have really led the charge on this pandemic, and the role of the federal government should be to backstop the provinces and help out where they can.”
When asked about a controversial statement made by British Columbia based Conservative MP Marc Dalton who seemed to be downplaying the crisis because the bulk of the deaths were clustered in long-term care residences, Schmale noted that “his wording could have been much better.”
“It would have been better if it had not been said at all. He apologized completely for his statement but I believe his real point in its entirety was asking the question how do we re-open the economy?”
Natural Resources and indigenous relations
The final issue discussed in the interview was Schmale’s role within the Conservative shadow cabinet. In the last parliament he was the shadow minister responsible for natural resources. In this parliament the local member has the contentious portfolio of shadow minister responsible for crown and indigenous affairs.
Schmale says before the COVID-19 pandemic his key priorities were the indigenous transportation blockades and the building of the Trans Canada pipeline.
The MP says he is awaiting the Liberal government’s release of the deal they struck with Wet’suwet’en chiefs that ended the rail and road blockades, and may have paved the way for the pipeline construction to begin.
Schmale, “believes this (Liberal) deal will affect future projects,” and thinks that Trans-Canada Energy behaved properly by “engaging in over 10,000 acts of individual consultation to get approval of all the elected band leaders and their councils along the pipeline route.”
The shadow critic believes there is support for the pipeline amongst indigenous people because, “in recent band elections two hereditary chiefs ran on anti-pipeline platforms and were defeated.”
Schmale believes “that a lack of certainty in the process” and the interference of anti-energy activists is creating a situation “where no one has permission to start anything.”
He postulated that this uncertainty is causing projects, jobs and wealth that could benefit the indigenous people to go somewhere else where there is certainty for developers.
Schmale proposed a new way of consulting with indigenous people that starts with admitting that all governments have failed them over the last 150 years.
“The status quo is not working. We need to give indigenous people more decision-making authority. We need a grassroots up approach rather than Ottawa imposing solutions.”
When asked about the lack of clean drinking water on numerous reserves the MP called it “a tragedy and a shame.”
“We have set up pumping plants in communities, but because of a lack of on-the-ground expertise and missing parts the plants have not done their job. We need to have trained local work forces who can solve problems when they become an issue.”