It’s been a long year in Canadian federal politics, but even though the goings-on in Ottawa may seem far away, Kootenay-Columbia Member of Parliament Wayne Stetski has right in the thick of it.
The federal representative hailing from southeastern part of the province may be in opposition, which prevents him from driving the legislative agenda, however, he has had a busy year advocating for constituents in the region.
“When I ran and got elected, I said I wanted to be a strong voice for the people of Kootenay-Columbia in Ottawa and it does take a little while to figure out how to make that work,” Stetski said. “But we had a lot of success this last year.”
When a constituent has a problem that they need resolved, they can contact their local MP’s office, who has access to phone numbers that the public does not have in order to connect directly with government bureaucrats or ministers.
Stetski had a few different issues that he was able to resolve quietly behind the scenes, while others he raised with his NDP colleagues in the House of Commons.
Stetski described a situation where a single mother was not receiving a child benefit monthly payment because she needed to have her ex sign off that she had custody of the child.
“You can imagine the stress that was putting on single mothers and that was wrong,” Stetski said.
Another situation involved a senior couple who were receiving a combined Guaranteed Income Supplement that put them over a financial threshold that denied the husband a subsidy to get into a care facility.
“So the husband and wife were actually thinking about whether they would have to legally separate or get divorced after 40 years in order to then have single GIS income and therefore meet the threshold in order to get into subsidized care,” said Stetski. “Again, that’s unbelievably wrong.”
Other local issues included advocating for credit unions who were facing changes in how they could market and describe their services — in essence, they wouldn’t be able to call themselves ‘banks’ or provide ‘banking’ services.
“Government has now backed away on that and credit unions can still invite you to come and bank at a credit union,” Stetski said.
Within Kootenay-Columbia, there are three provincial ridings, and Stetski held meetings in all three of them to bring municipal, provincial and federal levels of government together in one room to meet with small business representatives.
Marijuana legalization has been a hot topic as the federal Liberals are hoping to introduce a bill to legalize recreational use by next spring.
Stetski said he held a telephone town hall that generated a lot of good feedback from constituents in the region. A report was generated from the questions asked by more than 3,000 people who listened into the town hall, and a report is available on Stetski’s website.
With the federal Liberal majority, it’s all but certain there will be a bill by July, said Stetski.
“My job, then recognizing that this is going to come, is to try and make sure that we are economically benefiting within our riding from legalization,” said Stetski.
“It’s going to happen, the best thing we can do is try and make sure the multiple growers that we have the riding, in essence, become legal growers and are able to benefit the region economically.
Other issues coming up in the new year include pension reform.
Stetski says he will be holding another telephone town hall to talk about pensions on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.
The conversation will focus on defined benefit pension and target benefit pensions, he said.
Stetski will also have the chance to submit a private member’s bill in the House of Commons in February, and is currently in the process of determining what the topic should be.
He floated issues around the Navigable Waters Act, the creation of a National Local Food Day on the Friday before Thanksgiving, and a motion to help municipalities move their communities away from ammonia-based coolant systems, in response to the recent tragedy in Fernie.
Stetski also touted the Canada Summer Jobs program, which has brought $1.237 million over the last two years into the riding for small business owners and non-profits to apply for a wage subsidy for summer students.
This summer’s application process is already open and business or non-profits have until Feb. 2 to apply.