VICTORIA – It took a while to set up lunch with David Anderson. I broke the first date because I came down with nasty case of streptococcus, commonly known as strep throat. Then Anderson couldn’t make it because he was delayed in Calgary.
It turns out that his enthusiasm for Paul Martin’s recent budget hadn’t waned one bit when we finally connected.
The way Anderson, Transport Minister and Member of Parliament for Victoria, sees it, the budget will herald a renewed appetite among Liberal supporters for policies and programs that have been considered too costly during the years of fiscal restraint.
He expects a steadily growing demand for tax cuts, but agrees with the finance minister that it is still too early for such initiatives. And he believes that most Canadians agree with that stand.
Canadians, he says, can see light at the end of tunnel, but they want to make sure they don’t have to go through another period of belt-tightening and expenditure cuts, which, he says, might happen if the federal government embarks too soon on extravagant expenditures.
The scene of federal cabinet ministers and backbenchers sitting down with media types is being played out all across the nation. Prime Minister Jean Chretien is gearing up for an election, possibly as early as June, and he wants to get the public relations bang for his budget buck, as he heads into the pre-election campaign.
But Anderson admits that excessive talk about the federal budget tends to put people to sleep. I agree and steer the conversation to topics less suited to public relations. For openers, I tell him that he goofed when during his tenure as Revenue Minister, he froze my bank account because I was a little lax in paying my taxes.
"You didn’t get a penny, because my account was overdrawn," I tell him. But he just laughs and says, "bad timing."
What about the light houses, the automation of which comes under his jurisdiction? Does the widespread criticism in the west of the changeover to automated lighthouses worry him? Not in the least. It’s necessary, he says, and everybody is doing it.
"Look, the United States has 475 lighthouses, of which 474 are automated. The one that’s staffed is in Boston Harbor, and that’s for historic and tourism purposes. New Zealand has automated all its lighthouses, and so has Australia."
With few exceptions, staffing lighthouses in this day and age, he says, is no different than firemen riding on diesel trains in the 50s and 60s.
So far, eight of the 36 lighthouses on the west coast have been automated, and the rest will be looked at carefully, according to Anderson. And if a case can be made for keeping live bodies in certain lighthouses.
I turn the conversation to the CBC, the systematic disemboweling of which is one of my pet peeves, but it’s difficult to rattle the guy.
"I consider myself a supporter and admirer of the CBC, but hell, it’s no secret that there was a huge amount of fat to be cut," he says.
Coverage of the Olympics, he goes on, is a good case in point. It was excellent, but CTV probably would have come to within 96 per cent of the CBC’s coverage quality for half the money.
He says Victorians are probably among the most loyal CBC supporters and he gets an earful every time he comes to British Columbia’s capital city. "It’s amazing, but Peter Gzowsky is probably the best friend a lot of elderly Victorians have."
I give up trying to put him on the defensive. The guy has been in politics too long to be fazed by a newspaperman.
We finish our lunch, he pays, with the understanding that next time, I will pick up the bill. And just as I leave the restaurant parking lot and see Anderson driving off in the other direction, I remember a question I had forgotten to ask:
"When the Liberals going to abolish the GST?" I had planned on asking. Oh well, maybe next time.