- by Anne Finlay-Stewart

Throughout the hectic 78 day election campaign, there were days that Larry Miller had to stop into his quiet downtown office to catch up with constituency business. That's where I found him the Wednesday morning after he was returned as MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, a pile of papers to be signed on his desk but prepared to have the first of what I hope will be regular conversations with the Hub.

Larry has been clear that he sees himself first and foremost as a constituency MP, providing service to anyone who comes to his office with a federal issue. He says he tells his staff there are five words he never wants to hear them speak - "Sorry, I can't help you." Sometimes it takes months to resolve a problem, and he is not always successful, but he considers it his responsibilityto work on behalf of every Bruce-Grey constituent to get them their due from the federal side of their government.

This time Larry will be returning to the House of Commons as a member of the opposition – a position he was in when he was first elected in 2004. This is not a worry to him; he feels that he gets along well with members on both sides of the House. He cites the example of the 2005 allegations that barrels of toxic chemicals had been buried on the Meaford Tank Range. A respectful discussion with then Minister of Defence Bill Graham and his staff brought a thorough investigation which convinced Larry and the community there was no risk. Some of the new MPs, and there are two hundred of them in this 42nd parliament, may come in "with guns a blazin'" but that goes with the territory Larry says, and he expects he will build a rapport with them over time.

For Owen Sound, there is one issue in particular that Larry sees as squarely on his plate. He has committed to seeing the harbour dredged, and the money for the project was set aside in the last Conservative budget, but there are a number of complications. The Treasury Board, the body responsible for accounting practices within the federal government, has changed the rules so that the allocated funds cannot be used for dredging. Larry sees his task as getting the harbour money back in the budget and the rules changed, but only after he has had thorough discussions with Mayor Ian Boddy and Owen Sound city council.

Recent builds of the Health Unit and Family Health Team facilities on either side of the harbour give Transport Canada mixed messages about the city's commitment to a working harbour, Larry says. The possibilities for another access across the harbour have been limited, and it is natural that people would have issues with industrial facilities as neighbours. If Owen Sound wants Transport Canada to dredge the harbour, it will have to demonstrate that it is prepared for the infrastructure to ship aggregate, a huge natural resource in Grey County, as well as the grain from the surrounding farms.

Larry is adamant that Transport Canada must retain the environmental liability for anything at the bottom of the Owen Sound harbour, and that the city's water supply must be protected above all. The outstanding issue in any evaluation of dredging remains – where can the material taken out in dredging go? The nature of the material and existing regulations and technologies will determine that, and it is the final piece of environmental assessment that has yet to be completed. In the interim, Larry feels there is time for public meetings to discuss the advantages and trade-offs of a working harbour in Owen Sound.