Raitt, originally from Sydney, N.S., is now a Conservative member of parliament for the Ontario riding of Milton, and the finance critic under the Conservative leadership of Rona Ambrose.
She held several cabinet positions under prime minister Stephen Harper, including being named Minister of Transport nine days after the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster that killed 47 people on July 6, 2013.
“I was the minister that cleaned up the Lac-Mégantic disaster and my heart was broken,” said Raitt to the 20 people attending the 8 a.m. meet and greet. “Those trains could have been rolling through Amherst just as much as they could have been through Lac-Mégantic, and it was devastating to see.”
The spectre of Lac-Mégantic was raised when Roger Bacon, the former premier of Nova Scotia, asked Raitt, “If a prime minister from Quebec can’t get the pipeline through Quebec how are you going to get it through Lisa.”
“I’m going to use the notwithstanding clause. I know it’s a risk and I know I will never get elected again but you will have a pipeline,” answered Raitt. “I will be unelectable by our party and probably thrown out of office but I’m willing to take that risk and I’m willing to take it for the team because a pipeline out here is so fundamental.”
She said if a carrot doesn’t work with Quebec then she will bring out the stick. The notwithstanding clause would allow the government of Canada to build s pipeline regardless of Quebec’s opposition.
“I think we need to have our own secure energy and the only way to do that is through pipelines, and if Quebec won’t do it through carrot, negotiation, then the stick comes out, and, if we can find another path for the pipeline, that’s great.”
Raitt blames the Lac-Mégantic disaster on the transportation of oil in unsafe train containers in a quick, unsafe manner, and believes pipelines would provide a more failsafe way to transport oil.
“I would defend it (using the notwithstanding clause) and would probably take all the crap for it, sorry for the word crap, but I would be willing to do this as a leader,” said Raitt. “I would fall on my sword to get a pipeline built without question. I would not worry about political capital, I would not worry about my life after politics, I would do what is right and that is what is right.”
Decentralization of Public Services
Raitt also talked about life in Ottawa, and how growing up in Cape Breton informs her politics.
“Ottawa is a bubble. It is a beautiful town but boy they have no connection with what the reality is with people living day to day.”
Raitt was Minister of Natural Resources when PEI’s Gail Shea was Minister of Fisheries. They worked together try to assemble regulations for fishing boats but it became extremely difficult because many Ottawa bureaucrats had never set foot on a wharf.
Because of that experience, and many like it, she would like to see the Ottawa bubble burst once and for all.
“It made me realize that if you’re drafting those regulations in St. John or Saint John’s and in the morning you have to go to the Tim Hortons and meet the guys who you are telling there’s only certain things they can do on their boat and there’s all this stuff you have to carry you’ve never carried before, you have a different process of making regulations because you’re closer to the people that you’re affecting.”
The main message Raitt brought to Amherst is the decentralization of public services.
“I think it’s better when you actually have the people working on the issues important to our livelihoods actually get to the communities they effect,” said Raitt. “I think it’s a great way of ensuring the wealth of the civil servants of the federal government, 260,000 employees across the country with an average pay of $100,000 a year, that that is spread out around Canada, that everyone gets to have a little piece of your taxpayer dollar back.”
She admits it would be an uphill battle to implement decentralization.
“I keep hearing you can’t do this. You certainly can do this,” she said.
“We were told we couldn’t do deficit reduction, we were told we couldn’t balance the budget, we were told so many things we couldn’t do as a government and we did them all,” added Raitt. “I know there’s a path to find those savings and there’s a path to find that prosperity across the country.”
The Conservative Party of Canada leadership election is May 27.