2006 February 7
By BARB RAYNER
ST. STEPHEN New Brunswick Southwest MP Greg Thompson's days as a backbencher are over after he was sworn in as Minister of Veteran Affairs in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new Conservative government at Rideau Hall Monday afternoon.
The 58-year-old veteran MP was first elected in 1988, and is now starting his fifth term in the House of Commons. He was successful in subsequent elections in 1997, 2000, 2004 and in January, but lost in the 1993 election to the late Harold Culbert when there was a Liberal landslide.
Many were expecting Thompson to be appointed as Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) as he has been the Conservative party's critic for ACOA since 2000 but that went to Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay who was also appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Due to his seniority in the Conservative ranks, Thompson was the fourth MP to be sworn into Cabinet after Harper was sworn in as Canada's 22nd prime minister. After reading the oath of office Thompson was congratulated by Governor General MichaŽlle Jean - and ended up sitting next to her for the group photo taken after the swearing in ceremonies.
Harper has named 27 members to his Cabinet - ten less than that of former prime minister Paul Martin and this will be the first Conservative government since 1993.
Thompson was the Progressive Conservative health critic and member of the Standing Committee on Health from 1997 to 2000 and from 2002 to the present.
He was also the party's critic for Human Resources Development Canada and a member of the Standing Committee on HRDC and the sub-committee of Persons with Disabilities and Children at Risk from 2000 to 2002.
Also from 2000 to 2002 he was the party's critic for Public Works and Government Services and a member of the standing Committee on Public Accounts. Since 2004 Thompson has been co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group.
A 1966 graduate of St. Stephen High he has a BA and a BEd from St. Thomas University. Before entering politics he worked as a businessman, financial planner, salesman and teacher. Prior to that he worked for five years in the pulp and paper industry before going to university.
Thompson has served on the board of directors of Theatre New Brunswick, the NB Drug and Alcohol Dependency Commission, the Charlotte County Hospital Board and was president of the School District 21 Teachers' Association. He and his wife Linda, who live in Bayside, have two sons, Greg and Christian.
In a telephone interview from Ottawa Tuesday, Thompson said he feels very honoured to have been chosen to be in cabinet and particularly to be Minister of Veterans Affairs to deal with some of the outstanding issues like Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown which he has spent a lot of time on in the last year as well as to be around the Cabinet table on some of the major issues.
He said he received a call from Harper one or two days after the election asking him to come to Ottawa that Friday and he was told of the Cabinet appointment that day.
"I was told that day it would be Veterans Affairs and I told Stephen - I guess I've got to call him Prime Minister now - that I knew what I was going to have before I left the house because my wife told me. "Linda said you're going to be Minister of Veterans Affairs because of the work on Agent Orange. We were committed to getting that issue resolved. She just felt that was what it was going to be because of some of the language the prime minister had been using when talking to others."
Thompson said it was not a disappointment not to be appointed the minister responsible for ACOA, which was the Cabinet post many had thought he would be given.
"It's a question of whether you are going to be in or out of Cabinet and it's only 28 members so you are in a pretty select group. Those issues on ACOA are all dealt with at cabinet level and Peter's (MacKay) very well equipped to deal with that and I am very pleased to have Veterans Affairs."
He said the whole family - his wife Linda, sons Christian and Greg Jr., with his wife, Jennifer - were at Rideau Hall for the swearing in ceremony. Christian flew in specially from Vancouver and Greg and Jennifer travelled up from Fredericton.
"It felt good. I don't think I was too nervous. I felt good about it. It was just really nice to know you were selected to be in the government of Canada. It's a real honour and I'll work my hardest. "I'll work as hard as I possibly can not only for the people of Canada but obviously the people of New Brunswick Southwest. It's only possible because of the support I got from the people of New Brunswick Southwest - the men and women who came out and voted for me - otherwise I wouldn't be here.
"I'm always aware of that. It all starts right at home. They put you in and they're going to take you out. If they don't get you to the starting gate it's over before it begins. I've always appreciated the support they have given me and hopefully I can continue to earn their trust."
Thompson said he hopes to be in the constituency as much as ever even though he is a Cabinet minister and will be home every weekend as usual unless he is required to go somewhere on behalf of the government.
He said he will continue to have constituency offices in St. Stephen, Apohaqui and Grand Bay/Westfield and at some point they will probably be getting a regional office. His deputy minister is Jack Stagg, who has been appointed by the prime minister and Thompson said he is a very capable person who has been helping him step through the department.
Thompson said, he had just come from some meetings that morning for a little bit of orientation. Thompson said some of the issues he is aware of and some he is not so it is a learning process. He attended his first Cabinet meeting following the swearing in Monday and Thompson said they got down to business very quickly.
At Monday night's St. Andrews town council meeting Mayor John Craig, who has been a strong supporter of Thompson, offered his congratulations to the MP on being made a Cabinet minister and reiterated comments he made following the Conservative victory last month.
He said the election results marked the beginning of the end for all liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals being proposed for Passamaquoddy Bay. With Harper as the new prime minster and Thompson now a Cabinet minister Mayor Craig said the bay will be protected by disallowing and banning any and all LNG supertankers from entering through Head Harbour Passage.
St. Andrews has been built around the beauty of Passamaquoddy Bay, tourism and the fishing industry, he said, and there is no room for any industry that will threaten their way of life and endanger their children's future.
"As I have said in the past, it does not matter what results come from votes in Robbinston, Calais or any other community on the American side. What matters is what our prime minister says.
"We have a new prime minister who has promised to protect the Passamaquoddy Bay from the LNG threat and our town awaits that good news. It is my hope that I will have the pleasure of standing next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and our MP Greg Thompson when he makes that announcement."
Premier Bernard Lord issued a statement Monday congratulating Harper and Thompson.
"For several years, Minister Thompson has capably represented his constituents and all New Brunswickers as both an MP and as a vigilant critic of the government.
"I am certain that he will do credit to the office that he now holds, and that he will continue to give the people of New Brunswick a strong and effective voice in Ottawa.
"On behalf of all New Brunswickers, I want to congratulate Prime Minister Harper and Minister Thompson on their assumption of office and to extend best wishes for success in their respective roles," Premier Lord said.
Eric Allaby, MLA for Fundy Isles, also issued a message of congratulation to Thompson on his appointment as the new federal Cabinet minister for Veterans Affairs.
"Having Greg at the federal Cabinet table will be good for New Brunswick, and good for our southwest region of the province in particular" said Allaby.
"Greg has been elected as our Member of Parliament for many years, so he will be familiar with the issues that face us and the priorities that our region needs addressed."
Atlantic Canada has three Cabinet ministers in the new Harper government: Thompson as Minister of Veteran Affairs, Peter MacKay (Nova Scotia) as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister responsible for ACOA, and Loyola Hearn (Newfoundland) as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
"Although we represent different political parties, I have worked closely with Greg on issues in the past, and I look forward to being able to continue to work with him in his new role in the federal Cabinet" said Allaby.
"I am optimistic that there are many issues that have been a challenge for us that will be able to be brought forward to a successful resolution with the help of our new Cabinet minister"
Western Charlotte MLA, Tony Huntjens said Monday that New Brunswickers will be well positioned with Thompson as Minister for Veterans Affairs.
"I am very, very pleased with today's announcement .The residents of Charlotte County and New Brunswick have a great friend in Greg Thompson."
Huntjens said Thompson's very vocal stance against the proposed Passamaquoddy Bay LNG Terminal is a good example of his conviction and love for New Brunswick.
"Greg does not just speak out for the sake of getting in the news. He researches an issue long and hard and takes everything into account before expressing his opinion and when he does come to a position on an issue, look out," said Huntjens who added that he looks forward to continue to work with the new minister.
Charlotte MLA Rick Doucet said he too was very pleased to see Thompson's appointment to Cabinet and was looking forward to working with him as they have done on issues such as aquaculture and LNG in the past.
St. George mayor Stan Smith who ran against Thompson under the Liberal flag during the recent federal election said he too was pleased to see the ministerial appointment and felt Thompson will do a good job.
© 2006 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.
The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB