Interview: Carla Qualtrough, Member of Parliament for Delta – By Ray Hudson

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Qualtrough points to the reunified Delta Riding. Photo: Ray Hudson
Qualtrough points to the reunified Delta Riding. Photo: Ray Hudson
Qualtrough points to the reunified Delta Riding.
Photo: Ray Hudson

Everybody feels like it’s their win!

By Ray Hudson

Carla Qualtrough, in her first foray into politics has hit the big time. The new Member of Parliament for Delta is a highly accomplished individual. She’s a human rights lawyer, with a focus on people with disabilities, because she’s had to cope with her own visual impairment since birth. This bilingual mother of four, is also a three time Paralympics medalist in swimming and so much more.

Ray Hudson of the Asian Journal interviewed her as she and her constituency team are racing to get organized, and she left no doubt that she embodies an amazing drive to make a difference in the many things she’ll encounter at the cabinet table and in her constituency in Delta.

Ray Hudson (RH): I’ve described you in the introduction of the article, but I’d like to know how you see yourself. How about introducing Carla Qualtrough to our readers?

Carla Qualtrough (CQ): I see myself as someone who has made somewhat risky and unconventional choices in her life and in her career professionally, and as a volunteer. For the most part those choices have served me very well. I consider the path I’ve taken from being an athlete, from swimming eleven times a week at age eleven, to where I am as a sports minister as being fortuitous in terms of it being a tremendous opportunity. I’m very lucky to have had the opportunities I did, but I’ve also worked really hard. When I’ve been given an opportunity or a chance I’ve taken it. I’m very competitive, but I’m more of a win-win person than in the past. My career has not been the typical go to law school, join a firm downtown and stay in that firm until you reach partner. Instead it was go to law school, have an opportunity to work in Ottawa, have an opportunity to work in sport, go back to law, be an adjudicator, be a mediator. It’s been to follow whatever path is presented to me, and it’s been this progression of skill development and transferable skills that culminated in the opportunity to become a Member of Parliament.
You know I worked on the Hill (parliament) for over six years for a couple of MP’s including a Minister of Sports from 1999 to 2006, but that was the second time. I went to the University of Ottawa the first time, to do my undergraduate degree, in Political Science, in French. As a result, my French is the best out of the seventeen MPs from BC so I’m called upon to do all the French regional media. So it’s like all these choices that I’ve made along the way have led me to this moment. And all along the way I didn’t see it. The one lesson I learned at a young age, through swimming, is that you just have to do the laps. It’s not exciting and you can’t cut corners, right? But you gotta do the laps! In the campaign, I told my workers, guys we just have to knock on doors – we just gotta do the laps. We’ve got to do to be the best politician in the campaign and for me the campaign was not my comfort zone. It was also dependent on so many other things beyond my control. Justin Trudeau had to do well as a leader, the Canadian people had to like our policy and our platform, other parties had to falter and we had to not falter. But no matter what else, we knew we had to do the best we could in Delta. I was always telling my staff it’s not sexy, you just have to do the laps.

RH: How did you become a candidate?

CQ: I was approached last January by a couple of people who had worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa with me, in the past, or had seen me develop as a leader through sport or whatever, and they said they’d really like me to run. My son had just turned two and it just seemed overwhelming. A year ago, I ran unsuccessfully for school board. It was very safe, and I got a taste for it which put me on the radar of the people who are involved in the federal Liberal Party here in Delta. They very softly said they weren’t sure I was going to win school board, but said they felt I was much better suited for federal politics.

Election 2015:

RH: You won in a landslide. Share with us how it felt at that point.

CQ: In July and August we were the long shot, but about a week or two before the vote, we could see that I had a strong chance of winning. It was going to be tight, a nail-biter. Then on election night it was humbling, the win was so significant. I got 49% of the vote. Every second person in Delta voted for me. We hadn’t had a Liberal MP in Delta for fifty years. I’m not one to get speechless but I was, and honoured at the same time. It was pretty exciting!

I was called to Ottawa, very confidentially, and the Prime Minister designate said he was thinking Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities. He said these are the two things that matter most to you in the world, so go out and make a difference.
Minister of Sport: I’ve been involved in sport all my life and whatever I do for sport, I can’t give back enough compared to what it’s done for me. But I recognize that I know the sport world in Canada very well and there are huge expectations on me because of that.
We’ve got the Olympics and Paralympics this year, and we’re doing a review of our targeted excellence approach. Six or seven years after Vancouver, we need to know if this is the same direction we should be going to get the results we want. Do Canadians still want us to focus on medal wins or do they want us to get back to the business of sport participation and grass roots development?
Minister of Persons with Disabilities: I’ve been tasked with creating legislation, ‘The Canadians with Disabilities Act,’ which will legislate access and inclusion standards. I don’t know if that’s what we’ll call it but as someone who practiced Human Rights and has been an advocate for persons with disabilities it’s often quite frustrating that in our system we have to wait until people are discriminated against before we can respond. I have to wait until you’re denied a job or you’re denied housing or a service because you have a disability. It will be nice to have some law in place that preempts that and tells employers what’s expected of them, tells business or service providers what’s expected of them on the issue of access and inclusion. They did it in the U.S. twenty-five years ago, and it’s a great model. They’ve done it in Ontario for the last ten years, and we can learn from them. Obviously, there are things we’ll do differently but it will be history-making.

RH: When you were campaigning, what did the Delta constituents say they wanted from you as their MP?

CQ: I have absolutely fallen in love with being the MP in Delta. Already as the MP, I enjoy having someone walk into our office with a problem, solve it and see them walk out happy, whether I write a letter or point them in the right direction.
One of the things I heard was that Delta didn’t feel that its MP was present in the last couple of cycles. My commitment, no matter how busy I am, is for people to feel as if I’m here. I’m putting Delta first. I also happen to have this other job that might take me away from that, but we’re going to figure out how to make sure you still feel that I’m serving you as your MP. Having me at the cabinet table gives Delta a ton of advantage. Mr. Trudeau expects us to weigh in on every issue regardless of our portfolios. ‘Carla given your background as a human rights lawyer, what do you think of our refugee plan?’ But foremost, I want people to feel that I’m putting Delta first because I sincerely am.

RH: Finally, what are you hearing concerning the economy?

CQ: Yesterday I had a pre-budget consultation round-table with some stakeholders from Delta. Mayor Jackson was there, her CAO was there, Delta Chamber of Commerce, Tsawwassen BIA, Ladner BIA, Tourism Delta, real estate people, and they expressed the concern of how we are going to deliver all the things promised. Are you still going to go into deficit, are you still going to balance the budget in four years? I said yes, that’s the plan. Finance is not my background but the Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, is really brilliant and he really has a handle on the minutia, the global and Canadian perspectives of finance and the economy. I have every confidence that within the four years we’ll be able to do what we say we’ll do. I have embraced this deficit to stimulate the economy philosophy and I’m getting our ducks in a row in Delta to take advantage of that. It’s an incredibly complicated riding federally. Another one of my personal missions is to get people to understand the value added that Delta has as a driver in our local and regional economy as well as for the Canadian economy. We have a port, we have a border, we have an airport, we have a river, we have highways, we have farmland, we have a bog, we have all this stuff, we have a huge immigrant population. A riding somewhere else might have one of those issues or attributes, but here, we have all of them.
What has impressed me is the support of the community in this transition. It’s been a huge learning curve, but what I’m humbled by is that everybody feels like it is their win, that Delta won. We all won, and it feels really good right now.