All Politics is Local
In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously said that Members of Parliament were “nobodies” once they got 50 yards away from Parliament Hill. I have always been offended by this flippant comment for two reasons. First, it showed profound contempt for our parliamentary democracy and the role of an MP representing their community in Ottawa. Second, it showed that as a leader Trudeau did not view his MPs as his eyes and ears across the country, but found their individual advocacy on issues or on behalf of their constituency to be a nuisance.
Prime Minister Harper has the opposite view and actually promotes active and engaged MPs in his caucus. He also understands that our government is stronger because of this type of advocacy and active promotion of perspective from our ridings. Last week, I described the excellent work done by my colleague Terence Young, the Oakville MP, who advocated improved safety regulation for drug products in the name of his late daughter. In the last few years another Ontario MP passed a private member’s bill banning bulk water exports, while another passed a bill making it a criminal offense to deface a war memorial. Our government has passed laws making it a crime to recruit others to join a criminal gang and a bill requiring courts to consider tougher penalties when a public transit operator is assaulted on the job. These are just a few of the many important contributions brought forward from our caucus often at the urging of local groups.
This has led to the passage of more private members bills than any other parliament in Canadian history. Our party also has more free votes on issues in the House of Commons than the other opposition parties combined. Even opposition bills have passed the House because of the support of Conservative MPs. The most recent example of this came last year when we passed Elizabeth May’s bill advocating for a national framework to counter the spread of Lyme disease.
Last week, I held a town hall with residents of Greenbank in Scugog Township. Many residents have been concerned by the expansion of their small airport in recent years, as this has involved the trucking in of tonnes of commercial fill. Some residents are concerned by the major change to the landscape, while others are concerned with the origin of the soil or the increased truck traffic on rural roads. The airport expansion began before I was elected MP in 2012, but I heard from residents shortly after becoming MP and pledged to try and address some of their concerns. The issue of commercial fill is a serious issue facing smaller and rural communities at the edges of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Development in the GTA often requires the soil removed from urban projects to be deposited somewhere in the rural portions of the region. Municipalities have been trying to set appropriate rules and by-laws surrounding commercial fill, but the federal regulation of airports and aerodromes appeared to complicate this process. At the Greenbank Town Hall, I brought officials from Transport Canada to discuss issues related to aerodromes with the community. I also updated the community on changes to federal regulation that will require more public consultation on expansions of aerodromes in the future. I worked with other southern Ontario MPs to modernize federal regulation related to expanding aerodromes by requiring more consultation. While the changes do not apply retroactively and frustrations remain for many in Greenbank, I found the town hall to be productive and a good example of how residents can work productively with elected officials on issues that concern them.
I began this column with a political quote that I really dislike, so I will end it with a political quip that I take to heart. The Irish-American politician Tip O’Neill once said that “All Politics is Local”. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly and appreciate the fact that the Prime Minister supports it as well. Ottawa should listen to local concerns and MPs are a critical part of bringing local issues to Ottawa. I relish my role bringing “local” issues to Ottawa and working on issues that are important to our community.