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MacAulay fails to sell Bains


It's remarkable that criticism about Navdeep Singh Bains, the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, failed to surface until almost a year after the appointment. Comment was muted during the lengthy honeymoon with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's gender-equality cabinet. Until now.

Federal Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains.

Mr. Bains, the MP for Mississauga-Malton, was appointed minister responsible for ACOA last November. Since 1987, when the agency was created, some 18 ACOA ministers have either been MPs or senators from Atlantic Canada.

The appointment was criticized earlier this fall when Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose said that the ACOA portfolio being given to a Toronto-area MP is a snub to the region that elected Liberals in all 32 ridings.

The issue was resurrected when Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay responded to questions in a Charlottetown Guardian interview on the first anniversary of the Liberals' election victory.

Mr. MacAulay suggested that having a minister from `central Canada' added more clout for ACOA. It seemed like he was grasping at straws. Mr. MacAulay made a spirited defence of Mr. Bains, as he should for a fellow cabinet minister. The Cardigan member said Atlantic MPs are keeping Mr. Bains fully informed and fully briefed on the needs of the region.

Mr. Bains is minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. It would make some sense that economic development would include a regional development agency like ACOA.

The severest attack against Mr. MacAulay came from Rob Moore, the former MP for the New Brunswick riding of Fundy-Royal, the ACOA minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper from 2013 until his defeat in the Liberals sweep last fall.

Ms. Ambrose subsequently appointed Mr. Moore the Conservative Atlantic and ACOA critic. Mr. Moore has no standing in Parliament. Why didn't Ms. Ambrose name a Conservative senator from Atlantic Canada as the critic? Tory senator Lowell Murray served as the ACOA minister during other lean years for the party in this region in 1987-88.

It is inappropriate for Mr. Bains to be ACOA minister. Ms. Ambrose and Mr. Moore are right - the government is taking this region for granted.

Would an Atlantic Canadian ever be named minister responsible for Western Canadian economic development? Absolutely not. Exactly how does a central Canadian give the regional development agency more clout at the cabinet table?

Mr. MacAulay remains unconcerned because what matters are results. There is no proof that Atlantic projects have suffered or have been delayed because the minister is from the Toronto area.

The Opposition warns that perhaps ACOA is being phased out. And there is an ominous element in the mandate letter to Mr. Bains from the PM. Apart from general references on economic development, Atlantic Canada or ACOA are never mentioned. Strange.

The agency doesn't seem to register on the prime minister's radar. Atlantic MPs had better remain alert.

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