Ex Cadet, husband, father, veteran, lawyer, volunteer & Member of Parliament.
The Bright Side of Politics
Article by: 19894 Erin O’Toole
Summer is upon us. The kids are on summer holidays. Farmers are busy in the fields. Members of Parliament are now back in the “real world” of their ridings to listen to the concerns of constituents, meet with organizations on the ground and hopefully get some much-needed time with family. I wanted my first summer column to be a positive one. In the last few years politics has seemed to get more divisive and controversial. Challenging global events, the continued polarization of views in the United States and the impact of social media has raised cynicism to record levels. Social media allows people to self-select the commentary they listen to and reduces complex policy issues down to a tagline. People are losing faith in our democratic system and the politicians within it.
This column is intended to be a small step towards regaining your faith in our parliamentary democracy. There are exceptional women and men involved in politics on all sides and at all levels of government and many of them are quietly going about the business of helping people and bringing positive change without any fanfare or media coverage. Here are two stories of the work done by friends of mine amid the many others out there.
The parliamentary session ended with the passage of a bill (C-211) that will help first responders and our uniformed services across the country. It was introduced by MP Todd Doherty shortly after his election in 2015 to ensure that a national strategy was established to improve understanding and supports for first responders dealing with operational stress injuries like PTSD. Before being elected, Todd had volunteered his time on mental health issues, including suicide prevention, and he wanted to get to work on these issues within days of being elected. This is what a passionate MP can do if they use the privilege that public office provides and bring passion, knowledge and determination to make a difference. It is rare for a private members bill to pass, let alone a bill from an opposition MP, but Todd’s incredible work on C-211 led to all party support. In the final hours of the session a few weeks ago, the bill received royal assent and became law. The establishment of a national framework will continue to break down the stigma surrounding mental health injuries and will save lives.
The second example I want to share with you comes from what I thought was one of the most moving speeches of the session. Blake Richards, an MP from Alberta, brought forward Motion 110 (M-110) to bring more compassion to the application of the Employment Insurance program on families who lose an infant in childbirth or through conditions like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Blake became aware of the issue from a family – the Cormiers – in his riding. Most Canadians would not realize that families who suffer the loss of an infant are immediately cut off from receiving parental and other benefits. In fact, some grieving families are hounded for re-payment of benefits days after the life-shattering death of their child. Blake wanted the unfairness of this situation to be exposed and the pain of the families to be heard, so that we can change the situation.
Government programs like EI are positive elements of our society, but often government can become so big and far removed from the people it serves that people can be treated like numbers. Understanding and compassion can be forgotten in the name of process and procedure. Nobody within a department is to blame for this situation as it is a by-product of a large bureaucracy. It is up to senior civil servants and politicians to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the people at the heart of government services. An MP cannot commit the government to spending money in a private members bill, so Blake decided to bring a motion to commit the government to a specific study of the issue to try and highlight the problem and inject compassion into situations of the loss of an infant. I cannot think of a single Canadian who would not agree that we need to show compassion to these families.
I felt privileged that Todd Doherty asked me to second his bill and so proud that his tireless efforts led to its passage. And when I sat near Blake as he introduced M-110 with a passionate speech in the chamber, I could not help but think of my two children and how, but for the grace of God and an amazing physician, we could have faced the incredible grief and hardship that the Cormiers and other families have faced. Two Canadian politicians tackling important issues not because they garner headlines or win elections, but because they will bring positive change for Canadians. Rest easy this summer Canada, there is a bright side to politics.