Liberal MP Rob Oliphant was part of the shadow cabinet shuffle earlier this month, changing from Veterans Affairs to Multiculturalism. I caught up with Oliphant after Question Period today.
Q: How was your summer?
A: Great summer. Next year I’ll take more holidays, but I got away lots, but it was all for work. It was a fantastic summer – mostly spent in the riding, but there were lots of little trips.
Q: I know you went of to the Yukon on the Liberal Express.
A: For the Liberal Express, I was in Yukon, I was in BC, I was in Calgary, and I was in Winnipeg, and southwestern Ontario.
Q: You also went to Armenia.
A: Not on the Liberal Express [laughs]. Armenia was an amazing experience. It was an exposure trip for a few days to meet mostly with politicians – the Canada-Armenia Parliamentary Association in Armenia. I met with the president, the Prime Minister, the foreign minister, the mayor of Yerevan, and I had a fantastic time.
Q: You had your critic portfolio shuffled. Looking back from your experience with veterans, what are you taking away from that?
A: A lot of stories, and the knowledge that the government’s announcement yesterday was completely inadequate and completely misses the mark. Of course that was one element – catastrophic injury. But a bigger element has to do with psychological injury, it has to do with people who are going to have an intermittent relationship with now with the workforce when they get out, and the whole concept of the value of veterans. They’ve underestimated the political force of veterans as well, I think.
Q: Back in the spring you talked about potential repercussions against Pat Stogran, and lo and behold, he didn’t get reappointed. Can you look back and say you saw it coming?
A: He was fired, and I saw it coming. I asked back in April if he expected to be reappointed, because I wanted it on record that he was expecting to be reappointed, and he said yes. All the while I’d been expecting it, because this government doesn’t tolerate any criticism. The shocking part for me though was that he is thoroughly respected by Canadian Forces members and veterans, and it’s a real slap in the face to both those communities.
Q: One of the things we’d talked about previously in that portfolio was the issue of gay veterans who had been discharged with ignominy for their sexuality. Did you make any progress on that?
A: I didn’t – it is an issue, and I’ve had correspondence with it with a couple of veterans and a couple of people concerned about it, but I’d not had opportunity to follow up. It’s not been the top issue – obviously the top issue has to be compensation and injury. The other is that this is a historical wrong that needs to be righted, and I wrote the minister a letter about it – I got a very non-committal response back from him. It’s something I can take up though, even though I’m not the critic.
Q: You’re now multiculturalism critic. What are you looking forward to about that?
A: I’ve already been doing some of the work, because I had been doing the political engagement part. Now I get to look at some of the policy issues. I get to do the hard politics of meeting communities and obviously persuading them that the Liberal party is the best party for them to support and for them to have their voices heard. The second part now as the critic is I get to enter into that discussion about what is multiculturalism in the twenty-first century? Does the system need tweaking, does it need overhauling, should it stay the same? What I mean by that is our basic attitude toward multiculturalism in Canada – what do we need to do? Is the Trudeau model the best model, or is this something we need to revisit?
Q: I know Jason Kenney has been slowly but surely changing the world multiculturalism with pluralism in Canadian documents. Is this something you’ve noticed, or will be tracking?
A: I haven’t noticed it, but I will follow-up on it. I use those words, but differently. I talk about diversity, I talk about multiculturalism, I talk about pluralism – they all have different nuance, though, but all of them are necessary. Pluralism has to do with a variety of voices being heard, and multiculturalism has to do with a variety of backgrounds being respected. I think there’s a slight difference to the way I would use them, but they’re not mutually exclusive terms, but I don’t think any one of those terms stands alone. We need all of them.
Q: Considering Jason Kenney had spent the past several years attending every single cultural event with a buffet in order to win those communities over, are you going to be embarking on a similar strategy?
A: I’ve already been eating my way through the multicultural world. This weekend I did nine events – I would even consider the Leaside corn roast multicultural because it is the strong Anglo-Saxon community of Leaside. But I was at a Tamil event where I ate, I was at a Pakistani event where I ate, I was at a Jewish event where I ate, I was at a South Asian and Muslim event where I ate. Twelve pounds has been added to my frame since taking on the multiculturalism political work, so I’m fully expecting to have to be at the gym more often. I expect to see Jason Kenney there as well.