Oliver off to Ottawa

Rookie MP to take over natural resources post in new Harper cabinet

A serene Joe Oliver is heading to Ottawa, and a hard-fought win against Eglinton–Lawrence Liberal incumbent Joe Volpe isn’t the only trophy in his case.

The rookie Conservative MP was appointed natural resources minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

With his background in law and investment banking, it might not be immediately clear to some why Oliver was picked for the job, which he recognizes.

“I’ve had a lot of experience raising capital for Canadian companies, including mining, oil, gas, forestry companies,” he said. “So I have a broad familiarity with the industry.

“But you know, the truth is I’ve got a lot to learn and I’m going to be getting at it forthwith.”

Oliver said he first plans to meet with the deputy minister and travel to Alberta to connect with representatives of the forestry, nuclear and oil and gas industries.

He acknowledged the added weight the position will place on him, but he isn’t fazed.

“Inevitably it will have an impact because a minister’s life is very hectic,” he said. “(But) I enjoy getting out there.”

He was similarly confident about his new role as an MP.

“I was elated and honoured to be elected,” he said over a bowl of soup and a latte from United Bakers, at the corner of Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue. “I’m really excited to get to Ottawa.”

He largely credits the strength of the federal campaign and public trust in Stephen Harper for his win against 23-year Liberal incumbent Volpe, but it’s clear Oliver wasn’t cooling his heels.

He said the campaign was a huge effort that paid off. Higher voter participation than in the two most recent elections bumped up his vote count, he said.

Oliver focused on going door-to-door, which he said Volpe only started doing during this election.

“Until the end of the campaign I’d never been to a house he’d been to,” Oliver said.

The Liberals also took the support of major communities for granted, he said, and added that the riding’s Italian, Filipino and Jewish residents found their values better reflected in the Conservative party.

Having a representative from Toronto in the Conservative government was a message he focused on at the doors — a message he feels was received.

Support from high-profile Conservatives like minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism Jason Kenney and minister of finance Jim Flaherty, who visited repeatedly throughout the campaign, also provided a tangible boost.

“It signalled that we care,” Oliver said, citing one man he met going door-to-door with Flaherty who said he was a Liberal, but was honoured by the visit.

Oliver says his priority is transportation.

“We can’t really be a world class city without an extensive subway or LRT system,” he said.

He approves of the planned underground LRT line along Eglinton Avenue and says more connector routes are needed.

Oliver doesn’t shy away from critiquing what he considers poor planning. He sees real problems with the controversial revitalization plan for Lawrence Heights and would like to see it reviewed.

“There wasn’t meaningful consultation,” he said. “(The plan) just went ahead because a few people wanted it to proceed.”

He’s worried about excess density and how it will affect transportation and safety in the area.

Lawrence Heights residents have concerns too, he said, especially about being displaced. Many don’t want to move.

“Then the question is, will they be able to get back, and if so at what cost?” he asked. “Will they be able to afford it?

“I hope there will be a fundamental rethink and that people’s voices will be heard,” he said.

Oliver is mum so far about specific plans but was clear about fulfilling his duties as an MP.

“I expect to be a voice for Toronto,” he said.

“I’m the MP for everybody so I’m going to make sure I’m at events that reflect what the riding’s about, not just for people who voted for me.”

He’s also optimistic about the impact the new Conservative majority can have.

“By removing the uncertainty, we can do some longer-term planning,” he said.

About this article:

By: Caitlin Orr
Posted: May 30 2011 1:19 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto