The London Free Press

Grit MP slams Conservatives over Paralympic ‘priorities’

Elizabeth Thompson

Stephen Harper says MPs must be in Ottawa for March break week, which falls during the Paralympics

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is sending a message that the Paralympics aren’t important by forcing MPs to be in Ottawa during the Games, says Liberal MP Michelle Simson.

While Harper prorogued Parliament, saying it was done in part to allow MPs to attend the Olympics, he has cancelled the March break week which falls in the middle of the Paralympics, said Simson, MP for Scarborough Southwest.

“They’ve sent a message that this isn’t as significant to this government as the Olympics were.”

The Paralympics run from March 12-21. Parliament was originally supposed to break from March 15-19 but in the wake of the backlash over prorogation, the government cancelled it.

Simson said the government recently gave a grant for snowmobile trails but turned down an infrastructure grant application for Variety Village, a centre in her riding that helps young people with disabilities.

“It sends a signal as to where their priorities lay and I just don’t see snowmobile trails on par with helping young people with disabilities and helping them overcome them successfully.”

Minority parliament means parties keep their MPs close to Ottawa when the House is sitting. But Simson said she would like parties to find ways to allow MPs to attend the Paralympics such as pairing government and opposition MPs.

Sara MacIntyre, spokesperson for Harper, said she isn’t sure whether the government will agree to pairing and couldn’t say whether Harper will attend the Paralympics. She said Canada has spent $20 million to support Paralymic athletes and the government will be “fully represented” at the games. “We are supportive and hopeful our Paralympic athletes will excel at the 2010 Games.”

MacIntyre said the government has taken several initiatives to help Canadians with disabilities such as creating the Registered Disability Savings Plan to help parents save for the long-term financial security of children with disabilities and the Enabling Accessibility Fund to make buildings and vehicles more accessible.

Senator Jim Munson, Liberal Senate whip and a strong Special Olympics supporter, said he and some other senators are planning to attend the Paralympics and will make an effort to ensure other senators will be able to attend.

“We have found so much inspiration in Alexandre Bilodeau’s victory on a mountain and his brother Frederic’s victory in life (over cerebral palsy). I hope that as Canadians that we stop for 10 days in March and find that same inspiration with our paralympians.”