Richard Cannings, MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay made his first visit to his new Castlegar constituency office on Tuesday. Rossland News caught up with him to find out how things are going on the Hill so far, and what constituents can expect from the first-time MP.
Rossland News: What’s it been like sitting in parliament so far?
Richard Cannings: Well of course, in many ways for a new MP it’s a big adventure. You’re sitting in the House of Commons and pinching yourself that this is where you work. So on some level it’s a lot of fun, and on other levels it can be a bit stressful, but usually it’s very interesting, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.
RN: Do you have any plans to introduce any bills?
RC: Each MP has the opportunity to put forward private members bills or motions, and right at the start of the session, back in December, there was a draw. They have a lottery to see who gets to put in each bill, when, because there’s only time in a four-year parliament for, say, about 180 private members bills to go through and there’s almost 300 MPs that can do that. So my number, I think, was 82 or something. So in about a year and half, I’ll have that opportunity to bring a private members bill into parliament, so I’m working on some ideas around that.
And of course, you know, I can bring in any number of motions or bills more for political effect than for the real thing. So I can put forward motions and they’ll never be acted on perhaps, but it’s out there and gives the government perhaps some ideas that they should be working on.
There’s also opposition days. Even as a third party, the NDP gets an opposition day say maybe once a month and on opposition days we bring forward motions that we think are important and those motions are ideas that are brought forward by people like me, so … if I think there’s some important issues that I think we should be presenting as opposition, there’s that opportunity as well. In many ways it’s a more powerful voice than a private members bill because you get a whole day to debate that one issue and we just had a very successful one last week. We had an opposition day where we brought forward a motion on pay equity, and that had some pretty powerful parts to it … and it passed, because you know it would be hard pressed for the Liberals to vote against pay equity.
So there’s a number of ways I can do that.
RN: What are the challenges in representing this particular riding in Ottawa?
RC: There’s just the physical challenge of being on both sides of the riding often enough. You know, I live in Penticton, so there’s that challenge of getting over here, but we do have these break weeks — so called break weeks. They’re breaks from Ottawa, where I have the opportunity to come over here for a number of days and meet with quite a few constituents or groups to hear the issues out here.
There’s the other challenge that the issues out here are often quite different than they are in the Okanagan, where you have an economy that’s based largely on agriculture and tourism and seniors/retirees. Out here there’s a lot more industry and things like that. So the issues are quite different. It adds a lot of diversity to my work, so that’s a bit of a challenge too, but it’s all interesting and I’m trying to figure out how best I can meet those challenges.
RN: Are there any concerns that you’ve heard about since you took office — from Castlegar in particular — that are really pressing?
RC: Just before you arrived I was meeting with postal workers who are concerned about not just cutbacks in terms of door-to-door delivery, but also cutbacks in the post office here in Castlegar and throughout the Kootenays. It’s something I hear about as well in Penticton.
When I meet with local municipal politicians and regional district people, they have issues around infrastructure grants that are particular to the area. A lot of the communities here applied for Canada 150 grants for instance, and some got their grants and some didn’t, and it’s a bit of a mystery to them and myself as to why they were refused those grants. So those are the issues we’re looking into.
I’ve been hearing about the Lemon Creek spill issue, about the federal government finally taking some responsibility and looking into doing an investigation into that event. So that’s certainly a local issue that’s very much a concern in the Slocan Valley.