Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong's 'noble pursuit'
Conservative MP Michael Chong holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, February 8, 2017 4:31PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 8, 2017 4:40PM EST
OTTAWA -- For a man who's spent more than a decade in federal politics, Michael Chong remains a devoted optimist.
"I believe in politics and I believe in our parliamentary system of government," he told CTVNews.ca, sitting in his Parliament Hill office, unstaffed for the duration of the interview.
"I believe it's one way you can make a difference in your community, in your country. I'm not one of these people who is cynical about the political process. I'm not one of these people that thinks that politics is a waste of time. I believe it's a noble pursuit and I believe it is one of the most powerful ways to effect change in your society."
"Noble" isn't always the adjective that comes to mind when one is watching the House of Commons' daily question period, but Chong has spent enough time in Ottawa that he's qualified to judge political life.
The MP for Ontario's Wellington-Halton Hills riding was first elected in 2004, when the Conservatives were the Official Opposition facing a Liberal minority government. Eighteen months later, when Stephen Harper became the prime minister, he named Chong the minister of intergovernmental affairs.
Michael Chong at a glance
- Age: 45
- Birthplace: Windsor
- Relationship status: Married with three children
- Previous career: IT executive
- Education: BA in philosophy, University of Toronto
- Book on his nightstand: The Phantom Tollbooth (by Norton Juster), a children's book read to his youngest son
Chong, who until that election had been the chief information officer at the NHL Players' Association, had a seat at the decision-making table. But it didn't last long.
By the end of 2006, Harper introduced a motion in the House to recognize the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada. Chong was ostensibly the minister in charge of federal-provincial-territorial relations, and disagreed with the motion, which he was reportedly not consulted on. He resigned his seat at the big table, never to return to a Harper cabinet.
"For me it was a fundamental question," he said. "In the long run, what is going to work is creating a society where we all share together that common bond of citizenship."
Recognizing any group within the country and, according to them, a special set of rights, he says, isn't the path forward, especially in an increasingly diverse society.
Chong insists he didn't second-guess his decision to leave cabinet, a privilege most politicians spend years fighting to earn.
"That's never been the driving concern of mine. The whole reason why I'm in politics is because I believe in certain things, and you have to be willing to fight for those things, and you have to be willing to grit your teeth and tough it out," he said.
"Some 100,000 constituents give you [their] trust and you always, always have to work your hardest to uphold that trust. And that means making decisions for the right reasons."
For Chong's leadership campaign, that has meant taking a strikingly different position on carbon pricing than the other 13 leadership contestants: he is in favour of a carbon tax.
Compared to the Trudeau government's plan, which would see each province introduce a carbon tax or cap and trade plan by 2018 and ramp it up through 2022, Chong's carbon tax wouldn't be fully implemented until 2030.
Rather than having the provinces and territories run the program and keep the revenue, as the federal government intends, Chong would immediately introduce an $18-billion income tax cut and eliminate two tax brackets, lowering the income tax rate to 15 per cent on income up to $142,000 (the current tax rate ranges from 20.5 to 29 per cent up to that level).
He would also lower corporate rates, though he hasn't specified whether it would affect small business or large corporations, and says the combination would be one of the biggest tax cuts in Canadian history.
"It's a conservative, market-based policy. It is the cheapest way to reduce emissions and it starts with a huge income tax cut," Chong said.
Despite the open hostility to a carbon tax displayed in the leadership race -- all the other contestants promise to reverse the Liberals' carbon plan if the Conservatives win in 2019 -- Chong is banking on Conservative Party members agreeing that emissions need to be cut.
"I think it plays well with a lot of Conservatives. That's why I'm putting it forward -- we want to win this leadership race," he said, pointing to polling for advocacy group Canadians for Clean Prosperity that suggests Conservative voters believe climate change is a threat.
"Our own internal campaign data.... shows that more Conservatives support a revenue-neutral carbon tax than are opposed," Chong said.
From the start of his campaign, Chong has focused on his roots as the child of Chinese and Dutch immigrants. He still lives near the farm where he grew up, though his biological parents are no longer alive. In a stranger-than-fiction twist, they were killed in car accidents at the same intersection, 21 years apart. Chong was six-years-old when his mother was killed and his youngest sibling was eight months old. (His stepmother is still alive).
The immigrant experience left its mark on him.
"My generation's had it pretty easy. When I look at the sacrifices that our parents and grandparents' generation went through... they went through the Great Depression, and then a World War, and after the World War they come back and they start building the world we enjoy today," including Canada's social safety net and public health care system, he said.
"If we're going to honour their memory, we've got to give it our best go as well... that's what's always driven me."
Candidate at a glance
- MP since 2004 and minister of intergovernmental affairs from February to November, 2006
- Slogan is 'Opportunity. For a better Canada'
- Known for 2014 Reform Act, intended to give more power to MPs
- Devotes part of his platform to democratic reform, including reducing the power of the Prime Minister's Office
- Would implement a carbon tax
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