Nicholson settling into new role

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Rob Nicholson. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Rob Nicholson. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

After nearly 10 years of serving in several high-profile federal cabinet posts, Rob Nicholson had to adjust to life as an opposition MP in 2016.

The 21-year federal politician is an elder statesman in the Conservative party and was an integral part of the Tory government under former prime minister Stephen Harper between 2006 and 2015.

Nicholson was appointed Canada’s leader of the government in the House of Commons, minister responsible for government reform, justice minister and attorney general, defence minister and foreign affairs minister.

The Liberals won power in the October 2015 election, but Nicholson retained his seat as MP for the Niagara Falls riding.

In his first full year in opposition, the veteran politician introduced a private member’s bill calling on the government to take a leadership role in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

“As a (former) member of the government, any legislation I would have been directly related to, for the most part, would have been justice related,” said Nicholson.

“This is something different. I know I had the opportunity as a non-member of government to introduce that bill and I was very pleased with how well it was received and the progress it’s made through the legislative process.”

Nicholson said his bill will go before Parliament for a third and final reading in a few weeks.

“This will be the final debate on this in the House of Commons and then it will go off to the Senate.”

Nicholson’s bill calling for a national dementia strategy was hailed as a bipartisan achievement as it was seconded by Don Valley West Liberal MP Rob Oliphant.

If the bill passes, the government will co-ordinate international relations and convene a meeting with political representatives to explore ways to further research into the causes of Alzheimer’s, and to further research into what can be done to treat it.

More than 700,000 Canadians currently suffer from Alzheimer’s and related dementia. It’s expected to affect 1.4 million Canadians in 15 years and will cost $293 billion a year by 2040.

Nicholson said his father died from Alzheimer’s disease in 1997 and he regularly hears about cases in his community.

The bill has the support of a number of stakeholders, particularly the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

The society described the bill as a positive step towards curbing the social, economic and personal costs of a disease that still has no cure or effective treatment.

According to society research, 83 per cent of Canadians have said they want a national dementia strategy.

Nicholson said he looks forward to 2017, which will be a big year for Canada as the country celebrates its 150th anniversary.

“I hope that this will help play into our tourism marketing strategy for the area, that people will visit Niagara,” he said.

“As I’ve always told people, nobody has contributed more to this country and its greatness over the last 150 years than the people of Niagara, so I’m hoping that this will be a big year.”

Nicholson said he and his party will put pressure on the government to “make sure that they remember Canada’s history.”

“They don’t talk that much about the historical aspects of how this country was put together. I want to see them do that. I want to make sure that (celebratory) projects that are applied for (grant funding) from our area get approved. I’m encouraging different groups and organizations to make sure that they get their application in because we should strongly be a part of that.”

As for his own political future, Nicholson said he’s just focused on this year.

“One of the things I will be focusing on is getting a new leader for the Conservative party,” he said.

“I’ve been very fortunate certainly over the last year and a half I’ve had a lot of the new members and different people within the party … get my perspective. I’ve been involved with the party since I was a child and I appreciate anyone asking for my advice and I’ve been certainly pleased to give it.”

Nicholson said he’s also focused on some of the other issues “that are going to be presenting themselves here in Canada.”

One of those issues is the legalization of marijuana, which Nicholson described as a “very big step.”

“The prime minister is quoted as saying that he thinks by legalizing it, it will help keep this out of the hands of children. I doubt that, but I think that it will be a big change in Canada,” he said.

“My hope is just to continue to serve the people of Niagara. As I am at the beginning of every year, I’m very grateful to the people of Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake for giving me the opportunity to continue to represent them at the national level.”