It is hard to believe (at least for me!) that it has been three years since I first had the honour to rise in my seat when recognized by the Speaker as “the Honourable Member for Saanich-Gulf Islands.”
During the election campaign, back in 2011, I was often asked what I thought I would be able to accomplish as the only Green Member of Parliament. I only made promises I knew I could fulfil – conduct myself respectfully, work hard and ensure I set a standard for accountability.
Now that three years have passed, I have to admit that even I am surprised by how much has been possible. I never would have imagined that my colleagues, all the other MPs in Parliament, would have voted me Parliamentarian of the Year in 2012 and Hardest Working MP in 2013. In many ways the Macleans magazine vote for Parliamentarian of the Year is more a tribute to my colleagues than anything else. I have worked very hard to forge friendships across party lines. And I think MPs in other parties wish they were less controlled by their leaders’ offices. The secret ballot in the Macleans poll was a nice way for other MPs to support what I am trying to do.
It makes my life in Parliament a lot more pleasant to have friends on all sides of the House. I also believe the health of Canadian democracy is imperilled by the increasing hyper-partisanship of non-stop political warfare. Reducing partisanship is a core goal of Greens.
Improving MP performance: respect and accountability
My “zero tolerance for heckling” plan — to refuse to continue speaking whenever subjected to heckling — has generally been successful. Nearly every time that I have stopped speaking and taken my seat due to rude interruptions, the Speaker has stood, called for order, and given me back the floor. It has worked so well that other Members have tried it from time to time. Certainly, it has been easy to stick to my own commitment never to interrupt others or heckle. However, overall, I have not been able to improve the general conduct and level of respectful discourse in the House.
In influencing the conduct of others, I have had more success in pressing for greater transparency and accountability. It has also been easy (thanks to my great staff) to have all my receipts scanned and all my expense claims posted on my MP website. I have discovered that I was not the first MP to have done so. Former Liberal MP Michelle Simpson also put all her expenses on line. She faced dreadful attacks, from other parties and from her own caucus. She was ostracized.
It is likely a great benefit that I was not in any other caucus. My posting of receipts made it hard for other parties to claim it was impossible. I pressed for the Auditor General to be allowed to do an audit of the House of Commons. My motion was opposed by the Conservatives, but by the next day the Liberals brought forward a motion which received all party support to post only the entertainment and travel expenses of all MPs.
While this does not go as far as what I proposed, it is unquestionably the most dramatic change in decades to make MP spending more accountable and transparent.
Making life better for individual constituents
This is certainly the most rewarding part of the job of working as your Member of Parliament. Some days we feel we have just saved someone’s life.
When we first set up the constituency office, I knew I wanted to organize it on the principle of a street level law clinic. I recruited a very dedicated non-partisan staff. Together we created the job title “Constituent Advocate.” Generally we have 200 open files helping individuals. We have helped reunite dozens of families – children with parents, husbands with wives, parents with children. We have fought off deportation orders, gotten pensions sorted, restored disability payments, and resolved innumerable disputes with various federal government departments.
There is always more that we want to do. Not every case is resolved to our satisfaction and sometimes we have to accept that we cannot fix a bad situation. As soon as one case is solved, another two walk in the door. Overall, we are able to successfully resolve over 80% of the issues where constituents have asked for our help. We are very committed to the motto on the door “Caring, conscientious non-partisan service.”
For the second year in a row, I have been voted “Canada’s Hardest-Working MP” in the annual Hill Times Politically Savvy Survey. I also placed third in the “Best Constituency MP”, “Best MP to Work For”, and “Best Public Speaker” categories in this year’s survey.
To serve in the House of Commons as both the leader of the Green Party of Canada and as the voice of my constituents is an honour. I am grateful for this recognition for doing what I love.
In This Issue…
- Progress in the House
- Gearing up for the NEB Kinder Morgan pipeline hearings
- Protecting jobs in Saanich-Gulf Islands