NEWS
10/20/2015 16:26 EDT | Updated 10/20/2016 01:12 EDT

Atlantic Liberals to have cabinet clout, but may tussle over spending: expert

HALIFAX — A historic Liberal victory in Atlantic Canada will boost the region's influence in cabinet but may lead to infighting over promised infrastructure spending, says a political scientist.

Michelle Coffin, who teaches politics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said Tuesday that Justin Trudeau must listen to politicians from the region after the role they played in his victory.

"When a region gets a sweep like that, a leader has to pay attention," she said in a telephone interview.

Coffin said she expects the 32 MPs from Atlantic Canada will pull together in areas where they share concerns, such as worries over transfer payments for health care and persistent unemployment.

They will press Trudeau to come through on promises to repeal of some of the Harper government's 2012 reforms to Employment Insurance that required recipients to travel for a job and reduced eligibility for seasonal workers, she predicts. 

Scott Brison, the Liberals' finance critic, says the party will fulfill its promises to reform EI.

He said he's already talked to the three Liberal Maritime premiers about immigration and the possibility of setting up a region-wide model based on Manitoba's system.

The Nova Scotia MP said Trudeau's promises to spend $125 billion over the next decade in new infrastructure spending is a national program that will help the region and help rebuild damaged relations with the provinces.

"Right across the country we have crumbling infrastructure and now is the time to fix it," he said.

However, Coffin warns that the infrastructure plan could also set off rivalries among MPs who will lobby fiercely for projects in their own constituencies.

"This is where individual MPs will be ruthless of those infrastructure dollars that Trudeau promised. I see them competing," she said.

Liberal members of Parliament from different parts of the Maritimes offer different priorities when they're asked what they'll advocate for from the fund.

Rodger Cuzner, who was re-elected Cape Breton-Canso, said in an interview he will push for a railway container terminal and other rail facilities in Cape Breton, if the province and the private sector back the project.

In Prince Edward Island, Wayne Easter sees the need to support industries, such as bio-engineering companies.

However, Cuzner said the varying demands won't divide the caucus, as the MPs and federal ministers will work with Liberal provincial governments before proceeding.

"There's not that much scratch and bite among Atlantic Canadian MPs. We want to see each other succeed," he said.

As Trudeau begins planning his cabinet, both Cuzner and Easter said they're expecting at least one minister from each Atlantic province, while Brison declined to comment on how many he expects.

Cuzner said Dominic LeBlanc, the MP for the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour and a friend of Trudeau's, may become one of the most influential representatives for the region.

"He's got as good political instincts as anybody I've met. ... He's trusted and he has a special relationship with Justin, obviously," he said.

 

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press