Less theatre, more action
By Kyle Reid | Vol. 7 No. 9 (May 9 2019)
Jim Lester allows there was an adjustment period during his first year-and-a-half in provincial politics, but the farmer, businessman and now politician is hoping to build on that experience as a member of the next governing party as he seeks re-election in Mount Pearl North.
Lester, the Progressive Conservative candidate, won the seat vacated by Steve Kent in the 2017 Mount Pearl North byelection. At that time, Lester campaigned on a platform of taking a new approach to seeing the value of Newfoundland and Labrador’s resources realized.
Refusing to become jaded by what he calls the “political theatre” of provincial politics; Lester is remaining idealistic as he continues campaigning on that same platform while seeking re-election.
“There’s opportunity here, but right now the opportunity is not available,” said Lester in a recent campaign interview. “People have to be able to realize that opportunity.”
For Lester, this means maximizing the value of the province’s natural resources. He pointed to the incumbent government’s recent decision to drastically increase oil production as potentially unsustainable.
“We’re not getting the true value of our resources,” said Lester. “It’s great to say we’re going to triple oil production and double mineral exploitation, but the reality is all of that is going to be dictated by world markets. When you look globally, there’s pressure to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we consume…we’re a very small player in the oil industry, I think that’s going to be a fruitless challenge.”
Instead, Lester would like to see the government push for a localized approach when it comes to creating opportunities for Newfoundlanders, with the hopes of creating more small and medium sized businesses.
“They’re much more sustainable,” said Lester. “We have to step away from a royalty-based revenue stream.”
While knocking on doors in his latest campaign effort, Lester said he has heard a variety of major issues from his constituents. Among them: concerns about the provincial economy, the need for more senior’s health care programs to address the realities of an aging population and, in the same vein, concerns from young people who are considering leaving the province due to a high cost of living.
Health care is an area Lester maintains could be run more efficiently.
“My grandfather always taught me an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Lester. “We have to provide access for people to enable to them to get the best treatment, access to the best drugs…without the financial barriers.”
Lester pointed to the removal of the senior’s dental program in 2016 as a prime example of inefficiency in the system.
“The first (and second) year, the government saved money,” said Lester. “But now we’re having seniors and people on fixed and low incomes showing up to the emergency centre with serious infections. Something that could have been solved for $200 or $300 now takes a week’s stay in the hospital at $1,000 a day.”
“It doesn’t make sense to remove programs that keep people healthy,” he added. “It increases the cost on the health care system. That’s not only my approach, but it’s our party’s approach.”
If given his best case scenario - re-election and a PC government - Lester would seem like a logical candidate for the Food and Land Resources portfolio. However, he pointed to an interest in other areas as well, if given the opportunity.
“I have interest in (Food and Land Resources), but I also have interest in (Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation),” said Lester when asked if he believes he would be a natural fit to helm the province’s agriculture portfolio.
Of course, the man often referred to as ‘Farmer Jim,’ has strong opinions about the state of agriculture in the province.
“(The Liberal) government has really put focus on agriculture as an opportunity to expand our economy,” said Lester. “And yes it is, but the potential of it has always been there. What has prevented it is the economic model of farms.”
Lester noted that while the Liberal party declared its support for the agriculture industry, proposing to double food self-sufficiency by 2022, the recent budget reduced the amount of funding available to farmers to purchase limestone — something he explained is essential for farmers to maintain a proper pH balance in the soil.
“The most basic element for the expansion of the agriculture industry is limestone,” said Lester. “If they’re proposing to double production, well you’re going to have to double the budget of limestone. It’s really getting on farmers nerves that they’re being used as part of the political theatre.”
Given the challenges facing the province in the next four years and beyond, Lester is looking to see the next governing party, whoever they may be, take that political theatre out of the decision-making process and buckle down to tackle issues with a practical lens.
“The political theatre has been the demon of our demise,” said Lester. “This idea of trying to discredit or thwart any decisions that make sense, I think that’s a shame.”