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Cost of living, housing, hot topics in 2023, says Perth-Wellington MP

John Nater discussed the challenges and concerns of local residents
MP John Nater
Perth-Wellington MP John Nater.

As is often the case, challenges facing much of the country mirror those facing the local riding, says Perth-Wellington MP John Nater.

In a year-end interview with Village Media, Nater reflected on a host of concerns facing Canadians, chief among them the economy and people trying to get by in an increasingly tough-to-afford environment. 

"Cost of living is the number one issue that I hear time and time again," Nater said. "The squeeze is coming from all sides."

That includes Canadians simply not able to find an affordable place to live in Perth and Wellington counties. Homes cost more, apartments are hard to come by and expensive, if available, he said. Residents are finding "unique" ways to live, such as renting out basements or living with a family member.

Soaring interest rates have also affected home owners, who were otherwise getting by. 

"At the end of the month, there is more month than money left ... in a country that is as wealthy as ours, this shouldn't happen." 

Perth and Wellington residents have also noted the increase in everyday items. Grocery prices have soared in the past few years, outpacing overall inflation, and forcing consumers to try and find more money to feed their families, Nater said. 

Nater connected the challenges faced locally to a message from United Way Perth-Huron, an organization that funds social services, and recently announced it is 16 per cent behind in fundraising compared to this time last year. It also has a bigger financial goal in the current campaign, because the need is greater and has increased in Huron and Perth counties. 

Nater said as a supporter of the United Way, he was troubled to hear the news but the message it issending is one he is hearing from his constituents. 

Food banks, as another example, are seeing record numbers of people seeking assistance locally, and they are having trouble keeping up with the demand, he said. 

From a local business standpoint, Nater is deeply concerned about Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans coming due early in the new year, and how that could impact local businesses that needed loans to get them through the pandemic. 

"They weathered the storm through COVID. Now they are faced with a perfect storm of a sluggish economy, rising interest rates and the challenges of CEBA loans. If you can't pay it back in full you lose the forgivable portion of that loan. It's a no-win."

Nater said he is advocating to offer flexible payback options. 

"Everyone is committed to paying, they just need some flexibility. Or businesses will be forced to close or sell." 

Committee work continues to be impactful 

Nater shifted gears this year in his committee work, moving from procedure and house affairs to the standing committee on public accounts. 

There was a heavy focus on foreign election interference at the procedure and house affairs committee, which continues its inquiry and has since asked to postpone releasing its first report to allow time allow time for a public process and hearings on the issues.

"That is still ongoing...trying to get to the bottom of the facts - why my colleague MP Michael Chong was never notified until well after the fact. Why was this allowed to go unchecked and not dealt with?" 

Chong said he was the subject of disinformation campaigns and forms of interference conducted by, or on behalf of China.

"It is awakening to a lot of people that we are not immune to the threats from the communist regime in China and other places, as well."

Nater shifted to his new committee in September. 

Public accounts deals with the entirety of government expenditure, and they are the committee that dealt with the sponsorship scandal back in the early 2000s, the MP noted. 

"Unfortunately finding huge expenditures and wastes of taxpayer dollars, shouldn't be happening." 

Auditor general reports are released on committee findings on a regular basis. The follow-up that comes after, Nater said, is where "the rubber meets the road and you can dig into some of these issues."

One of the auditor general reports that has significant local interest is a review on broadband connectivity issues. Nater said the Liberal government has yet to provide proper information on where some of the holes and gaps are in broadband availability. 

"I can tell you which concession roads and which side roads don't have connectivity in the area. But there is so little information, so little follow-up at the government level. It is a real issue."

The MP has talked to local first responders, including volunteer firefighters, who need connectivity and cell coverage to properly respond in emergency situations. 

"It is one of those issues where there is a lot to dig into. We have that opportunity with public accounts."

Committees generally meet twice-per-week for a minimum of two hours, though they can last as long as six hours, Nater said. The non-partisan committee includes five Liberals, four Conservatives, one Bloc Québécois and one NDP member. 

"A lot of non-partisan work can happen ... things will come up that clear the political divide. We are able to study a topic and get things resolved."

"Until the committee reaches a point where there is consensus agree, or agree to disagree. That does happen and there is a majority report or a dissenting report. 

Most committee reports tend to be close to unanimous, he said. What happens in committee tends to be productive and meaningful, Nater added. 

While vice-chair of the standing committee on Canadian heritage, Nater said the group's partisan approach ensured they worked together on files that included hearings on Hockey Canada. Ultimately, there were resignations from the Hockey Canada board and changes implemented, with more upcoming, after criticism of the organization's handling of sexual assault allegations, handling of player registration money and other concerns. 

Nater, first elected in 2015, said 2023 was a "busy" and "fascinating" year. 

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Paul Cluff

About the Author: Paul Cluff

Paul has worked at media outlets in St. Thomas, Goderich, Woodstock and Stratford, where he has lived since 2002. The Editor of enjoys coaching Special Olympics basketball and soccer in his spare time, and playing golf.
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