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New Heritage minister will oversee big challenges at NCC

July 18, 2018
Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen

The new minister of Canadian Heritage is a veteran MP born in Argentina who has held one political position after another, but never served in cabinet.

Pablo Rodriguez has represented the east-end Montreal riding of Honoré-Mercier in two stints, from 2004 to 2011, and again since 2015.

His new portfolio also includes responsibility for the National Capital Commission, which is a Crown corporation.

The NCC file brings immediate challenges. Among them: It’s looking for a new boss to replace current CEO Mark Kristmanson.

It is also facing questions about how best to (finally) develop LeBreton Flats.

And it has decaying infrastructure on several fronts. The walls of 24 Sussex Drive are crumbling, and the Office of the Auditor General found that the NCC has a “significant deficiency” in asset maintenance.

Twenty-seven per cent of the agency’s assets were in fair, poor or critical condition when they were assessed in 2016, according to the audit.

“This significant deficiency matters because if the corporation’s assets continue to deteriorate, it might not meet its mandate, and the assets could cause health and safety issues,” it said.

Rodriguez, 51, was born in Canada’s centennial year, only 10 days before what was then called Dominion Day (July 1). The family lived in Argentina until he was eight, and moved to Canada to escape violence there after their home was bombed.

Rodriguez graduated from the University of Sherbrooke in business administration, and worked for 12 years in public affairs and management of international projects. He was the vice-president of Oxfam-Québec from 2000 to 2004, and first ran for office, successfully, in 2004.

He served as chair of the Standing Committee of Official Languages and later as critic for several departments.

In 2005, as some MPs broke with the governing Liberal party and voted against a bill allowing same-sex marriage, Rodriguez voted for it — after a long period of uncertainty.

He took months to consult people in his riding.

“When I understood that there was no option except to use the notwithstanding clause, I supported the legislation,” he said afterwards.

Rodriguez was president of the federal Liberal Party under Prime Minister Paul Martin, and before that, president of its Quebec wing. He was a strong Martin supporter, and later a key organizer for Michael Ignatieff.

When Stéphane Dion defeated Ignatieff for the leadership in 2006, some Quebec MPs distanced themselves from him — Rodriguez included. After Hull-Aylmer MP Marcel Proulx quit as Quebec lieutenant, Dion offered the job to Rodriguez, who declined the offer.

Rodriguez holds the distinction of being among the few opposition members to introduce a private member’s bill that actually became law.

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