Newly-appointed minister John Duncan celebrates victory by closing his North Island office

June 2, the House of Commons began a new session – the first time since the May 2 election of Stephen Harper’s conservatives.

We have a majority government – another first for Canada after many years of minority governments.

New MPs and ministers were sworn in and the MP for Vancouver Island North, John Duncan, began his role as the minister for the newly-named Aboriginal and Northern Development ministry.

So how does Mr. Duncan begin his four-year term as minister?

For starters, he has closed his northern-most office in the riding.

Yes, reliable resources tell us that Mr. Duncan decided to close his office in Port McNeill and instead direct more resources to his office in Courtenay.

As the federal riding that is arguably farther away from Ottawa than most, why would our MP decide to downgrade his services in our smaller communities?

In those communities north of Courtenay and Campbell River, the federal governement has continually whittled away at government services to a point that our citizens now have to endure long hours of travel to larger communities to access help with their CPP issues, passport concerns and citizenship questions.

Yes, of course, these services can be accessed by phone and computer, but the people I have spoken to – many of them seniors – resent the erosion of the face-to-face people services they are familiar with.

This riding also includes a large population of First Nations. What about their access?

I am sure our First Nations are less than pleased that the minister directly responsible for their issues will be absent from at least half of the riding.

As we heard last week in the former Auditor General’s report, the issues that First Nations peoples face are worse after 10 years– not better – and now access to a local riding office means at least a seven-hour return trip.

During the election, Mr. Duncan held the dubious record for most missed all candidates’ meetings – meetings that he had confirmed his attendance and then opted out at the last minute.

Perhaps closing his office in Port McNeill is another way Minister Duncan is letting us know that he truly does not care about representing all of the people or issues in his riding.

Sigh…it will be a long four-year sentence for North Islanders.

Shirley Ackland,

32-year resident of the North Island

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