by Ray Hudson
John Aldag, the first Member of Parliament for the new riding of Cloverdale-Langley City, is just settling into his new role following a 32 year career with Parks Canada, which saw the boy from Saskatchewan working in some of the most beautiful places in Canada including, Whitehorse, Lake Louise, Yoho, and latterly as the administrator of the Fort Langley National Historic Site on the Fraser River.
He met with Ray Hudson to talk about his life as a newly minted Member of Parliament, his agenda, and how he plans to carry out his obligations to his constituents.
Ray Hudson: From the MPs I’ve known, one of the most challenging things they deal with is the constant travel between their riding and Ottawa. How do you view this mundane but necessary part of the job?
John Aldag: We’re adjusting to the schedule, although my wife, Elaine, says she doesn’t think she’s seeing me any less than she did before. With Parks Canada I traveled a fair bit. We have a busy family with three kids so it seems I’m not on the road any more now than before. About a decade ago my wife was doing her medical training in Ontario. She had the three kids in Ontario for two years, and I commuted almost every weekend. Then I had them for two years out here and she commuted to Langley. We’ve had this living out of a suitcase lifestyle for most of our marriage and we’re finding not that much has changed. We still try to have family dinner in the evenings, but there’s the constituency work when I’m in town. There are a lot more dinners and evening events, but I bring my wife and kids along whenever I can. Last night was the political date night and the kids, two girls aged 10 and 12, and the eldest, a boy aged 15, are able to come along and learn about the community in a lot of different ways. I’d say we’re having a great time with it and aren’t feeling the strains of it at all. They were quite involved in the campaign doing phone calls and knocking on doors, so we made it a real family affair, and it’s been really useful for them to see what hard work can lead to. They’ve been part of the experience all along and I’m trying to keep them plugged into it.
Ray Hudson: What had the transition been like for you personally becoming an MP?
John Aldag: As a Public Servant the direction was ‘stay out of the media.’ Now, I want to be in the media with the good news stories, talking about all the things we’re doing, and addressing the contentious issues. It’s been a bit challenging. The other challenge is that I haven’t done any debating before. I’ve worked with diverse organizations, largely from a wide spectrum of attitudes, so this adversarial environment has been a bit of a struggle for me. I’m enjoying it but it’s very different from what I’ve done.
Ray Hudson: Tell me about your experience in walking into the House of Commons for the first time, as a member of that chamber?
John Aldag: The first time there, I was hoping security wouldn’t wonder what I was doing there and usher me out. It’s all of those cliché words. It’s humbling when you realize the men and women who have sat there and taken the important decisions that have been made there. This is where it happens, and it was emotional for me to realize that I’m part of this now as a result of the trust my constituents have put in me. My feelings range from humility to maybe even a bit of terror, meeting the expectation that I do well for my constituents, and that the country gets to know about the great things that are happening in Cloverdale-Langley City. This is a place with enormous gravitas. I’ve spoken with members who have been there for twenty years, and they still have that sense of the sacred about this place.
I’d say that the first two months in Ottawa was simply trying to figure out where the office was, finding a place to live, finding where the washrooms are on the hill, when to stand up, when to sit down, and the procedural things, including the competitive aspects of booking a speaking opportunity in the House. Each day before Question Period, there are 15 one-minute speaking slots, when a member gets to stand up and talk about the amazing things and people in their community. When that moment arrives, the Speaker calls out “the member for Cloverdale-Langley City” my light comes on indicating my mike is live. The clock starts ticking, I stand up and start speaking and one minute later, the light and the mike go off, and they call the next person until all fifteen have spoken. I’ve done three of them already. They are fun and it’s a way of showing off what is happening in our community. Constituents can send notices and story ideas and I’ll do my best to report them but they must be short! It’s very competitive because everyone wants to talk about their communities. April is solidly booked, so I’ve requested a speaking spot on May second, or thereabouts, and one in June.
Ray Hudson: What Committees are you involved with?
John Aldag: I was put on the Committee on Physician Assisted Dying, the first joint House and Senate committee they’ve had since 1996. Sixty-one groups appeared and we came up with 21 recommendations for the minister and cabinet to consider. When the legislation comes forward, I’ll be looking for one of the 10 minute speaking spots to speak in favour of the legislation.
I’m also on the Environment Committee, which fits well with my background. Our job is to make sure the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is working. the way it’s supposed to be. It’s a large bill so the Commissioner of the Environment has been in to guide us as to where we’re going to focus that study. The second task concerns the Sustainable Development Act, which requires that the government table sustainable development strategies annually. We’re supposed to be moving toward a greener economy, a greener government operation, but if you walk outside the house in the winter, you’ll see the fleet of ministers’ cars sitting there idling, with the fleet of buses that shuttle the MPs, Senators and staff around the parliamentary precinct. We’re saying maybe we should be looking at some electric vehicles or other technologies to reduce our carbon footprint. I’m delighted about the next one, the Protected Area Strategy for both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. I have a real interest in seeing the National Park System completed, and the progress being made on the marine conservation areas. This will be the subject of a separate story at a later date.
Ray Hudson: Closer to home, what are your plans to serve your constituents more effectively?
John Aldag: Because we’ve been busy getting the office set up, we haven’t been out in the community as much as we would like to have been. But I’m working on three initiatives right now.
– MP house calls: During the campaign I knocked on 35,000 doors. So I’ve decided that I would like to get to every door in the riding between now and the next election. Ultimately, I’d like to get to every door once a year, and this time out I’ll be going as the MP not as a candidate seeking votes. Before they might say, “I’m a conservative” and shut the door. Now I’ll be saying ‘I’m your member of parliament, how can I help you?’
– Most accessible MP: Anyone can make an appointment and come in and see me but if people can’t get in for mobility reasons, I’ll come to them. Also, through my website, people can book a one-on-one phone call with me.
– Town Hall meetings: A series of theme-based programs that we can take into the community. We will be focusing on the budget, talk about families, another month it’ll be about seniors, and another could be on the green economy, national defense or climate change. I’ll be leading those conversations and we’ll move them around the riding. In fact we’re going to do one at the end April in Panorama, specifically on the issues around noise from trains.
– MP Block Parties: to help neighbours get to know each other and encourage Block Watch programs and other security related understandings. I have these under development at the moment.
Now that MPs and their staff are becoming settled in their offices and duties, if you have a problem, a question, and opinion or a concern, share it with your MP or their staff. Make a point of participating in government through your MP.