Banff-Airdrie MP Blake Richards believes there were more lowlights than highlights in 2022 but is optimistic that could change if we see a federal election in 2023.
"It was a pretty tough year for a lot of people with inflation," says Richards. "The cost of all the necessities has gone up and a lot of people are struggling to afford the basics of life right now."
He says the direction laid out by the federal government has been a major contributor to these challenges, and it's something the Conservatives continue to fight in the House of Commons. His party brought forward several motions to stop the government from tripling the carbon tax, proposed suspending GST on gasoline and diesel, and asked for a commitment to add any new taxes.
"Just watching the NDP-Liberal coalition defeat all those things is a pretty difficult thing to see; two political parties putting their own political self-interest ahead of the needs of Canadians when they're struggling. It's been a frustrating year from that perspective."
He says the government's spending and debt are out of control, and that's also fuelling inflation.
Richards believes a high point was the election of Pierre Poilievre as the new Conservatives leader, whom he believes will be the next prime minister.
"They look at him as someone who can come in and clean up the mess that's left by the Liberals, hopefully, get things back on track, help Canadians be able to afford the basics again, give us back some of our freedom and just really provide people hope for the future. I go into 2023 with a lot of optimism because I'm hopeful we'll see an election so we can finally make the change this country so desperately needs."
He believes the NDP may soon tire of its coalition with the Liberals. For one, he believes the NDP is frustrated with how the prime minister is arguing with provincial leaders on health care.
"There's a real possibility that maybe the NDP will finally put Canadians ahead of their own political interests, and maybe we'll see an election, and get a change in government."
If elected, he says the Conservatives would begin to help Canadians by first rescinding the carbon tax
"It's not doing anything for the environment and, clearly, there's been no improvement there. There are a lot of ways we can deal with that without preventing people from getting the basics in life."
He says the Conservatives are favouring a "pay as you go" approach to the budget and says it reflects what Canadians have to do with their own household budgets.
"Why should governments not have to do the same thing? If you have to spend money on new things, you need to find a way to save on others. I think that would be a huge step forward in terms of holding the government more accountable for the decisions they make."
In October, Richards was named the Conservative shadow minister for Veterans Affairs.
Richards says it's an honour to serve in the position and that he deeply admires the men and women that serve this country.
"To be given the responsibility, and it is a tremendous responsibility, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to honour that service and to show our respect and to make sure our veterans get the services they deserve."
He says there are several issues facing veterans.
"We're very typically seeing veterans waiting up to two years to get decisions on their applications for benefits, which is absolutely unacceptable, and never should be the case. And we're seeing homelessness increasing among veterans."
Veteran Affairs is deep into an investigation launched after a combat veteran reported being offered unprompted medical assistance in dying (MAID) by a caseworker. Since then, other similar cases have been reported.
Richards says the story from Veterans Affairs is a moving target. At one time, he says Veteran Affairs indicated it involved one caseworker and four veterans, then quickly reversed their position and said it never happened at all.
"On that same day, they fired the one employee involved in these four cases. We've heard from a lot of veterans and a couple of them have gone public in the media saying that it's happened to them, too. The government refuses to admit that that's the case. so it doesn't really sound like they've done much of an investigation at all. It's in the media, and they don't even seem to know about it."
Richards serves on a standing committee for Veterans Affairs and hopes they can do a better job of getting to the bottom of the issue than the department itself.
"We can't have veterans feeling the way they are right now where they feel they can't trust Veterans Affairs to help them, and they're afraid to even reach out for that help as a result of this. "
During a July 3 wrap-up for a month-long bikeathon and the Participaction's Community Better Challenge, Richards hinted funding may be coming to assist with the development of a new trail from Cochrane to Calgary.
He admires the work being put into the project by many under the chairmanship of Alex Baum.
"I'm very hopeful in 2023 we'll see some very major news on moving forward on that trail."
Richards weighed in on the enactment of the Alberta Sovereignty within a Unity Canada Act, saying it's sad that a province even needs to introduce the measure.
"It shouldn't have to be the case. As an Albertan myself, this is something we all feel, that the federal government hasn't been there for us, and we should never be feeling that way. I really believe that lies at the feet of Justin Trudeau. He's done everything he can to make us feel as though we're not really a part of the rest of the country, and he's done a lot to isolate us."
"With Pierre Poilievre as prime minister, I don't think we'd have a premier that would feel the need to put something like this in place because he would show respect to our province and all provinces and make sure concerns are being addressed."
A decision is expected early in the New Year on proposed changes to federal electoral boundaries that will have a major impact on the existing Banff-Airdrie constituency. Public hearings that wrapped up in the fall.
Richards was among those proposing other boundaries to keep Cochrane and Airdrie and Banff and Canmore together.
He says once approved, the new boundaries wouldn't come into effect until a year later and we may yet have another election as Banff-Airdrie.
"We're certainly hopeful that the commission has heard the concerns that the people in Airdrie and Cochrane want to be in the same constituency. People in Banff and Canmore were also saying the same, they want to be in the same constituency as they always have. I feel like it was heard, and I'm pretty hopeful they'll respond to that and make the changes that are needed to address those concerns."
Richards makes a point of spending as much time as possible in the constituency and he rarely misses a special event in Cochrane, or elsewhere.
Numbers compiled by his team reflect that.
In 2022, he attended thousands of meetings in the constituency, attended over 200 community events, and assisted over 1,600 individual people in addressing federal-government-related issues.
"You've got to try and make sure you're keeping in contact with everyone that you represent and hear what's on people's minds because my job is to go forward and express those concerns on behalf of all my fellow citizens. If I'm not there and I'm not spending every moment I can out at events meeting with people, I'll never know what those concerns are. It's a valuable part of my job, and one I take seriously."