Weyburn Rotary Club members gained an insight into some of the life experiences and political views of Souris-Moose Mountain MP Dr. Robert Kitchen on Thursday, as he shared with them in a Zoom presentation.
He spoke of some of his growing up years, as well as about the current situation in Ottawa as Parliament has been prorogued by the prime minister until Sept. 23.
He thanked the organization for its longtime support of a program to eradicate polio, and noted that in his growing up years, he spent some time in Islamabad, Pakistan as his father worked for Canada’s embassy.
He was able to see first-hand some of the effects of polio, and expressed gratitude that the disease has now been eradicated from most of the countries of the world. Pakistan and Afghanistan are among the last places in the world where it still needs to be eradicated.
Kitchen lived in Pakistan from 1972 to 1975, and about two years ago, he had the opportunity to return to that part of the world when he met with some of the doctors who work with Rotary International there.
Islamabad is located in the foothills of the Himalayas with a population of about three million, which is a 10-fold increase from when he lived there.
The group from Canada had seven RCMP officers along as security detail, and they travelled in armor-plated vehicles.
Showing photos of his recent trip back to Pakistan, he showed the president’s palace and Parliament buildings, and the International Center of Health where the polio eradication program is housed. He noted they had to go through two layers of security just to get into this centre, where they were shown some of the work being done to combat polio in Pakistan.
Kitchen noted one of the big challenges there is to get the polio vaccine out to rural areas in the Himalayan mountains, and also to get people to trust the immunization shots.
“There’s a great fear that immunization shots is a Western way to try and control them. That thought process is quite wide-spread and is promoted by the mullahs,” he said.
When he was a teenager living in Islamabad, he recalled going through a market and seeing a girl who had been placed into a large flower pot because she had polio.
He also learned in his recent trip there that personal hygiene is an important part of fighting polio, and commented that if there is anything positive to come out of this COVID pandemic right now, it’s the realization by people in general that hygiene is vitally important, particularly washing of hands.
“I noticed in my final 10 years of practice I was continually talking to patients about hygiene. Personal hygiene has become very lax here in Canada. If there’s a good thing out of COVID, it’s that people are paying attention to good hygiene, such as washing of hands and cleaning our homes on a regular basis,” he said.
As a member of the Commons health committee, he has been involved in discussions about how COVID is being handled, and noted there is a lot of research ongoing to find a vaccine for COVID, including at the University of Saskatchewan.
The MP noted the government has announced they have agreements with a number of companies for a vaccine, and pointed out the government has put in an order for 190 million doses when a vaccine does come available. With a population of 38 million in Canada, Kitchen wondered what the reasons are for ordering such a large number, and suggested maybe Canada was going to help provide some of those vaccine doses to Third World countries that may not be able to afford it.
Addressing the issue of Parliament being prorogued, Kitchen noted that the prime minister has said it was to give his government the chance to come up with a new budget and a Throne Speech. The vote on this will be a confidence vote, and if the Liberals lose it, Canada might be facing a snap federal election as a result.
If this was the real reason, said the MP, Parliament could have been prorogued a week before rather than a month before.
“The reality is the prime minister was going through a ton of issues with the WE scandal. Ultimately the House of Commons had four committees that were investigating the scandal, and by proroguing Parliament that shuts every one of those committees down,” said Kitchen, adding that when the House of Commons resumes sitting, it could take weeks for those committees to be up and running again.
The MP also commented on the recent election of Erin O’Toole as the new leader of the Conservative party.
“I believe he will be a great leader of the official opposition, and a great prime minister if we’re elected. It was a long haul and was all due to COVID,” he said, noting that now the party can move forward.
Asked about the possibility of an election, Kitchen said with the proroguing of Parliament and the Throne Speech to come, he said there is a 70-per-cent chance of a federal election happening when that speech and budget are voted on.
“We don’t want an election, and we’re not looking for one. We want to get Canadians back to work,” said Kitchen, noting that a federal election right now would cost in the order of $500-700 million.
“To me, millions are still significant numbers,” he said, pointing out the debt is now said to be $1.2 trillion, with the .2 referring to $200 billion. “That’s a significant chunk of change, in my opinion.”
With the CERB benefit extended, this will add another $8 billion to the growing deficit.
“We need to see those numbers. We’re already going down in our rating from AAA to AA+. Those interest rates are going to go up and someone somewhere has to pay for those costs,” said Kitchen.
In relation to the WE scandal, Kitchen pointed out that when he became a Member of Parliament, he is expected to be open an above-board in his dealings, and this includes signing an agreement that he would adhere to the Commons rules of conduct. This includes provisions that he can’t hire his wife or his daughter, who is a lawyer, to work in his Parliamentary office.
“All 338 of us have to do that, every year, so somebody who says they were not aware of this, I just can’t buy that,” he said, referring to comments made by former Finance Minister Bill Morneau.