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Lisa Raitt: Liberals Treating Atlantic Canada Like 'Backwater Place'

Lisa Raitt isn't happy with the government's plan to replace a Supreme Court justice.

A possible contender for the Conservative leadership says Liberals are treating Atlantic Canada like a "backwater place" by not guaranteeing that the next Supreme Court justice will be from the region.

And Tory MP Lisa Raitt — who was raised in Sydney, Nova Scotia but represents the Ontario riding of Milton — says she is surprised more people aren't upset.

Lisa Raitt talks with media in Ottawa on June 1, 2015. (Photo: Matthew Usherwood/The Canadian Press)

Raitt spoke with CBC Radio's Mainstreet Thursday about the federal government's new advisory board that will help Prime Minister Justin Trudeau name top court justices. The seven-member group will recommend up to five names to fill the seat of retiring Justice Thomas Cromwell of Nova Scotia, the only Atlantic Canadian on the Supreme Court.

By convention, the court has always included one member from the Maritimes. Despite acknowledging a "regional custom" exists, Liberals are accepting applications from across Canada to fill Cromwell's spot, leading some to conclude Atlantic Canadians are about to lose their traditional spot on the bench.

Raitt said she was "very shocked" by the revelation, calling it a "minimization of the regional aspect" of Canada and a worrying sign for Atlantic Canadians.

"It's completely overlooking the unique perspective that you have across the country," Raitt said, adding that regional concerns are precisely why there are 338 members of Parliament.

"I'm really surprised that there's not a greater outcry, especially since I'm very proud of coming from a part of the world that doesn't take a lot lying down."

— Lisa Raitt

The former lawyer, who serves as her party's finance critic, said it was clear those running the "prime minister's shop" don't think highly of the Maritimes. She also expressed concern the country's highest court could reflect only the realities of Ontario, Quebec, and big cities.

"I'm really surprised that there's not a greater outcry, especially since I'm very proud of coming from a part of the world that doesn't take a lot lying down, that we stand up for what we believe is right," Raitt said.

Atlantic Canadians are "getting the short end of the stick" again, she said.

"It just drives me around the bend when people assume that we're not good enough, that we can't be bilingual, that we don't have visible minorities here, whatever that mix is that they're looking for," Raitt said.

"It can't possibly be in Atlantic Canada because 'they're a backwater place.' And I'm tired of that whole label that we get down here."

'It friggin' well matters a lot'

Raitt also took to Twitter this week to ask where that "Atlantic fighting spirit" was on the issue. She also cautioned Cape Bretoners to steer clear of apathy.

"It friggin' well matters a lot," she said.

Raitt's passion on the issue could also reflect the reality that there are no Conservative MPs in Atlantic Canada to push the government on the matter.

All 32 MPs from Atlantic Canada are Liberal, as are the premiers of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

Tory justice critic Rob Nicholson said in a statement this week that those Liberal MPs and premiers collectively failed to "guarantee their region's representation on the top court in the country."

It's a safe bet that Raitt will lean on her Atlantic Canadian roots if she jumps into the race to replace Stephen Harper as Tory leader.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper waves as he steps away from the podium after addressing delegates during the 2016 Conservative Party Convention in Vancouver, B.C. on May 26, 2016. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Unlike other one-member, one-vote leadership contests, each riding will have equal weight. This means that Tories in Atlantic Canada ridings have just as much power as those in the Conservative heartland out West.

Former Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay, who once warned he would leave the party if it moved to a one-member, one-vote system, is also mulling a bid.

'I'm home for the conversation again'

Raitt suggested she will make up her mind about the leadership contest as she visits her home province this week.

"When I decided to run in 2008 for member of Parliament, my gut check was done here in Sydney, sitting at the kitchen table with my family and having the conversations that I needed to have," she said. "I'm home for the conversation again. So this is it."


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