Stetski on year one as MP
Cranbrook’s Wayne Stetski, MP for Kootenay-Columbia, talked with us about his first year in federal office
As the member of Parliament for the Kootenay-Columbia riding in southeastern B.C., Wayne Stetsksi (NDP) is in a position to have a great deal of influence on the region. Stetski spoke with us in mid-October about his first year as an MP.
Has this job been full of surprises?
“I consider being a member of Parliament to be an extension of my career in public service, so in that sense it’s pretty familiar. The intensity that comes from having to work in two places—in Ottawa and throughout the riding—and to consider three time zones, has been the biggest surprise.”
Parliament sits for six months of the year. If Stetski goes home on weekends while the House is in session, his Friday morning flight from Ottawa to Cranbrook, followed by an afternoon of seeing constituents, followed by an event in the evening, add up to a day that’s lasted about 22 hours, and Saturday is another working day. On Sunday he flies out of Cranbrook at 2 p.m., arriving at his Ottawa apartment at 2 a.m. on Monday. If he’s lucky, he’s been able to catch a little sleep on the flight.
On a typical day in Ottawa, Stetski gets up for work by 6 a.m. and arrives home between 8 and 9 p.m. after the evening’s commitments. He tries to limit himself to two or three events each evening, focusing on those that are most relevant to his riding. He said he likes being busy and he’s blessed with being able to survive on relatively little sleep, but the pace does take a toll.
What are some of your impressions from your first year in Ottawa?
"It’s an honour to be there. I walk to work, and every morning when I round the corner and see Centre Block, with the Peace Tower, the House of Commons and the Senate—it still has its wow value. The first time I took my seat in the House of Commons, I was so aware that this is where a lot of the history of Canada was made.
“The role of the Opposition is to make government better, so that’s what we try to do. To make legislation better and to some degree to make the House run better. The party system does not encourage collaboration, but outside of the House I enjoy friendships with MPs from all parties.
“The heckling and behaviour of some members during Question Period makes it my least favourite part of some days—it does not set a good example for Canadians. Outside of Question Period there’s a lot of good debate when new legislation is presented, but the one hour that most people see is Question Period, which is often more about theatre and drama than it is about real accomplishment. I’d like to see Question Period become serious questions with serious answers, and I have spoken with the Speaker of the House about my concerns.”
Can you tell us about your work in the riding?
“For me, partisanship ended on election night. Anyone who needs help is welcome in my office. There’s no distinction between the NDPers, the Greens, the Conservatives or the Liberals—you’re one of my constituents and you’re welcome.
“I have met with every mayor of every community in the riding to find out what their concerns and interests are. I set up constituency meetings so people could drop in and see me in their communities. I’ve spoken to school classes in Crawford Bay, Kimberley, Cranbrook and Fernie, and I’ve spoken with First Nations groups at a number of the AGMs around the riding. I have also participated in special events and coffee meetings and issue-focused events, with many more to come.”
Stetski has offices with great staff in both Cranbrook and Nelson. His riding covers 64,336 square kilometres, with 107,589 constituents from Elkford to Revelstoke and from Field to Salmo.
What are your main areas of focus?
“I’m the critic/advocate for national parks, working on increasing our protected areas to 17 per cent of Canada’s land and 10 per cent of our marine waters by 2020, as per the Aichi Biodiversity Agreement and Targets signed in 2012 by Canada and many other countries.
“One of the things I’d like to do is to add a number of rivers and lakes from this riding back under the protection of the Navigable Waters Act – they were removed under the Conservatives. One of the hopes is that we can pressure the Liberal government—which can introduce as many bills as they want, at any time—to introduce our bill. That makes it a Liberal bill, but that’s fine—at least the waters get protected, and I don’t care who gets the credit.
“Another focus is around agriculture and local food. I introduced a bill in Parliament last spring to declare the last Friday before Thanksgiving as National Local Food Day to shine a light on how important it is from a food security perspective, a health perspective and an economic perspective, to be growing our food locally across Canada and avoiding the wasting of food."
Stetski said three important pieces of legislation are underway that will fundamentally change Canada.
First is physician-assisted dying. The legislation came from a Supreme Court of Canada decision about two years ago, that said that under two sets of circumstances Canadians should have the right to choose to die. One, you are already dying—there is no cure; and two, you are experiencing intolerable and irremediable pain with no end in sight—even if it isn’t going to kill you. “What the Liberals did last June was pass a bill that is only half-way there—they left out legalizing the part about the pain.”
The second is legislation for democratic reform. The voting system in Canada is currently “first-past-the-post.” The candidate who gets the most votes, even if it’s a margin of just one vote, is our member of Parliament. “But what that has led to is that with only 39 per cent of the vote, the Liberals form the government and have 100 per cent control of the legislation in Parliament if their members line up with the party. Under the Harper government, they had just 37 per cent of the vote. This means that the majority of the votes of Canadians did not count in the composition of the House of Commons.”
Stetski conducted a Democratic Reform Summer Tour in 2016, holding a “coffee with your MP” in 14 communities to talk about democratic reform. He hopes the voting system in Canada will be changed to the proportional representation system by 2019.
The third piece of legislation is about legalizing marijuana. In preparing this legislation there are many issues that still have to be examined and all kinds of questions that still need to be answered. The Liberals have put together a small group that will go across Canada to ask what people want in this regard. They have said that by next March they hope to have a first draft of legislation to legalize marijuana in Canada. MP Stetski plans to hold a riding-wide telephone town hall meeting next March to hear your views on this important issue.
“Those three issues—physician-assisted dying, democratic reform and legalization of marijuana— are big issues that fundamentally change Canada. It’s interesting to be part of the debate and discussion and to be your voice in Ottawa during this time of significant change.”