By Ian Pattison

Rookie MPs don’t usually get much notice. Once elected, they put their heads down and get to know the ropes around Ottawa. Some, however, jump right in. Here in Thunder Bay and the Northwest we have two of these eager beavers. Among their initiatives, and their differences, is the controversial issue of gun control.

Eric Melillo was barely out of his teens when he was elected as Kenora’s Conservative MP last year. Already he’s sponsored petitions in the Commons for regional tourism aid and better broadband service. His latest petition, on behalf of a little blind girl, is for braille or tactile symbols on consumer product warning labels.

His stand on gun control is questionable. In response to the Liberal government’s ban on assault rifles, Melillo sent out a survey to his constituents. I don’t have the wording but according to one report it asked if the MP was “on the right track in standing up for law-abiding Canadian firearm owners.”

Not surprisingly in a largely rural northern riding, 93 per cent of the more than 500 people who responded to a mail-out survey supported him. It would be interesting to know whether a scientific survey upheld that number, especially after this spring’s horrible mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

“Criminalizing law-abiding hunters and sport shooters is not the answer to stopping crime,” Melillo said in a prepared statement. “Many of my constituents are responsible firearm owners who use guns for hunting, sport shooting, and self-defence against dangerous wild animals. Firearms are simply part of our way of life in Northern Ontario.”

Except that the ban is on 1,500 makes and models of military-grade "assault-style" weapons. Hunters don’t need them and should support banning them, given their design is for the fast and efficient shooting of humans.

Rookie Thunder Bay-Rainy River Liberal MP Marcus Powlowski wrote a letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in January as the government was preparing the legislation. In it, Powlowski shared the objections of constituents who had contacted him -- more than on any other issue, he said.

Gun control critics pounced on an apparent rift within caucus but Powlowski, an emergency room doctor, quickly clarified his position as fully supporting the government while doing his MP’s duty to pass on views from his riding.

We are faced with the fact that, in general, those who oppose measures are more likely to express their views than those who support them. While the numbers may differ somewhat in ridings where hunting is popular, an Angus Reid poll in May found an overwhelming majority of Canadians – nearly four-in-five – support a complete prohibition on civilian possession of the types of weapons used in the rampage of an assault weapon-carrying murderer who killed 22 people in Nova Scotia.

Critics say gun control merely punishes lawful owners since most guns used in crime are smuggled into the country. But that seems to be changing. While statistics are elusive, police say that a growing number of guns are bought legally in Canada and resold on the black market, or made here illegally.

Handguns pose a growing problem. Four loaded handguns have been seized in recent Thunder Bay drug raids. “We are seeing them more and more every day," Deputy Chief of Police Ryan Hughes said Thursday.

On other issues, MP Powlowski has shown a willingness to challenge his own government. In January, as the coronavirus was spreading fast, he told Dr. Theresa Tam, head of the Public Health Agency of Canada at a health committee meeting that it would seem feasible to require anyone entering Canada from China to self-isolate for two weeks. At that point, Canada was merely suggesting self-isolation and did not enact mandatory quarantine rules for another two months.

Powlowski has been pushing hard for adequate medical equipment and virus testing. In March, he worried aloud to his crosstown colleague, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, about a shortfall in ventilators to treat serious cases of COVID-19. Ultimately, he helped put together a deal to have the local Bombardier rail plant retool to produce 18,000 ventilators.

Beyond that, with Bombardier short on work, Powlowski said in his summer report that he’d been “pushing my government to invest in specific Canadian transit projects. I am also personally making the case to mayors, like John Tory of Toronto, to have their cities procure rolling stock from Thunder Bay.”

This is one rookie MP who’s not acting like a beginner, or a blind loyalist.

* * *

As the Donald Trump meltdown continues and Joe Biden continues to impress, there is another American political development worth noting.

If you’re old enough to remember the golden age of the Kennedy political dynasty in Massachusetts, you may be surprised to learn that a Kennedy has lost in that state for the first time, ever.

What’s more, Joe Kennedy Jr., 39, the grandson of former Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and grand-nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and former Sen. Ted Kennedy, had the backing of the Democratic party establishment, including House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

His opponent in the Massachusetts Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Ed Markey, is 74 but as a co-author of the Green New Deal enjoyed the support of young progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

In the view of Lawrence Martin in The Globe and Mail, the message from Tuesday’s outcome is that AOC now calls the shots. “ . . . it’s now more clear than ever that it is no longer a Kennedy party. Nor is it really the Biden party. Old Joe, 77, is a placeholder. It is the party of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, stacked with followers of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and with warriors against climate change, economic inequality and social injustice.”

When he announced in 2012 his intention to seek a seat in the House of Representatives, Kennedy had this to say (imagine these words, in that familiar Boston accent, coming from John or Bobby): “I believe this country was founded on a simple idea: that every person deserves to be treated fairly, by each other and by their government." Vintage Kennedy. He took 60 per cent of the vote.

The New York Times called Tuesday’s race “the marquee Democratic Senate primary of the year.” The Boston Globe explained that Markey, the elder statesman, resonated with the city’s growing young population who care about climate change and health care and don’t have the same connection to the Kennedy dynasty as their parents.

It’s the end of an era in U.S. politics. America’s Camelot captivated millions of people who watched wealth, power and dedication to service encounter unimaginable tragedies, one after another, and marvelled at the glue that held a dynasty together in spite of it all.

 * * *

In last week’s column I wrote about U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican convention speech before an audience of “1,500 packed together and mostly with masks . . .” Of course that should have read “without masks.” Apologies for the error.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs. 

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