As we approach the six-month anniversary of the Oct. 19 federal election I want to provide you with a brief summary of life in Ottawa as your member of parliament. Let’s start with legislation.
Three of the more significant bills have been the legislation to cut income taxes for the middle class, which for the Liberals means anyone who earns between $45,000 and $190,000 (we believe it should have started at $20,000 and have a much lower top end), bringing home our jets from bombing Daesh/ISIS/ISIL in Syria and instead increasing our armed forces’ boots on the ground for training and intelligence gathering (all 338 MPs believe Daesh must be defeated but the parties disagree on the best way to do it), and the 2016/17 federal budget where the Liberals went from a campaign promise of three years of annual deficits of $10 billion and a balanced budget the fourth year to a whopping $29.4 billion deficit for next year followed by significant deficits for the following three years with no balanced budgets in sight.
Adding it all up, the Liberals will add $69.5 billion to our deficit over their four year term if they meet their revenue targets. This will bring our national debt to $718.2 billion by 2019/20! How will future generations pay it down? Will your day-to-day circumstances improve as our debt grows?
There are three pieces of legislation coming up that will change our way of life.
By June, as mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada, parliament needs to pass a bill that guarantees Canadians the right to physician-assisted suicide for adults suffering with intolerable pain from an incurable disease. I believe it needs to be accompanied by enhanced palliative care.
The second piece of legislation will fundamentally change how we vote in federal elections, moving from the current first-past-the-post system to a form of proportional representation. I recently attended a breakfast meeting on this topic for MPs and senators and asked the presenter, who has studied proportional representation around the world, which system he thought worked best. He suggested we check out Finland. You will be asked for your input as part of this significant change.
The third bill look to fulfill the Liberals’ campaign promise to legalize marijuana (our position was to decriminalize it which could have already been put in place). There are many questions that need to be answered. What should the legal age be? Will it be sold only through government stores or will mom and pop businesses be licensed? Who will be allowed to grow it and under what circumstances? Governments really don’t like to miss out on taxes so will enforcement against non-licensed growers be increased as a result of its legalization? The minister has reaffirmed in parliament that all existing laws should be enforced until the new legislation comes in, as police agencies were wondering what to do in the interim.
Another role for MPs in Ottawa is to meet with individuals and groups important to our ridings. In the first six months I met with over 50 organizations including CP Rail, BC Fruit Growers, a state representative from Montana, BC Building Trades, BC Dairy Association, Canadian Cattleman Association, Canadian Health Coalition, Canadian Police Association, Canadian Association of Firefighters, the National Allied Golf Association, Teachers Institute, Canadian Federation of University Students, Teck Resources, the Green Budget Coalition and several unions and ambassadors, to name just a few.
I have also held meetings with, and written letters to, senior government ministers and staff to talk about infrastructure and other needs for the riding, and to discuss concerns related to my critic portfolio — national parks. I generally leave my apartment around 7 a.m. and return around 9 p.m. daily. While it is extremely busy I like the fact that every day is different and every day brings new challenges and learning.
Every MP works long hours both in their riding and in Ottawa and is dedicated to their job and their constituents. When I’m in my office in the evenings I will often see lights on in other offices long after the staff have gone home. We recently lost one of our Conservative MPs, Jim Hillyer, who exemplified that commitment.
The morning of March 23 I arrived at the Valour building for an 8 a.m. BC caucus meeting. There is always tight security at every location frequented by MPs and senators but that morning there was more security than usual with questions being asked about what floor people were heading to.
We found out later that Jim died in his office overnight. Even though he wasn’t feeling very well he wanted to be in Ottawa for the presentation of the budget on March 22. After parliament finished for the day he went to his office to catch up on work. When he didn’t call home later that night, his wife called security and asked them to look for him. They found him in his office.
I felt a deep sense of sadness for his wife Livi and his four children back home in Medicine Hat, along with an intense feeling of loneliness — Ottawa can feel a long way from home sometimes. But I was pleased and proud of what happened later on that Wednesday.
Parliament convened for question period at 2 p.m. but instead of the usual, and unfortunate (my words) acrimony, the prime minister and the leaders of the other four parties took the time to praise and thank Jim for who he was and for his dedication to the people of his riding of Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner and to Canada. After the last tribute was paid, the House of Commons shut down for the rest of the day to honour Jim.
While we as members of parliament come from differing perspectives, in the end we are a family of 338 people who can and do pull together in time of tragedy. It doesn’t get much more Canadian than that.
Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski writes here once a month.