As with many of you, summer is a welcome respite from a very busy spring. The federal election, my campaign to be Speaker of the House of Commons, and an intense parliamentary session with a Throne Speech, federal budget and historic debate on workers’ rights and pensions made for an intense few months. I am very grateful that my constituents have put their trust in me for a third time to represent our community’s interests in Parliament.
When the dust settled, I was unanimously chosen by my fellow MPs as Deputy Speaker, which will allow me to pursue my objective of more thoughtful, intelligent and constructive debate in the House of Commons, while continuing to work aggressively on the issues and concerns of our community.
Among the many reasons I love summer in Victoria is the opportunity I have to touch base with individuals and groups in my riding, to hear about the numerous remarkable initiatives and goings-on in our community, and to gather information on the issues and concerns we face before returning to Ottawa for the next session of Parliament in September.
Last week I met with Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond, British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth. I am so glad that this independent position exists here in BC as an advocate for action to bring Canada into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is an area, particularly with respect to mental health services for children and youth, that will be a major focus for me in my next term as your MP.
I also recently met with the staff and volunteers at theMustard Seed Food Bank, where I learned that the number of people using the food bank has grown dramatically in Victoria, to 7,000 per month. 1,600 of them are children, and an increasing number are seniors. Some are people who have employment, but they cannot make ends meet when they are earning $10-$12 per hour.
These alarming numbers – in our wealthy city – do not include people with mobility issues who are unable to access the food bank, or those who are embarrassed to ask for help. There is much work to do, starting right here in Victoria, to reduce the widening equality gap. This situation underscores why we cannot allow senior levels of government to sell us on reducing corporate taxes when the resulting cuts to services are widening the social deficit in our communities.
Last week I also met with representatives of the proposedVictoria International Marina. This project for luxury yachts in our Inner Harbour is now awaiting federal approval, and although it has been reduced in size, I remain opposed to the development. It is providing enrichment to a small group of investors at the expense of a diminishing public good – the small amount of the harbour shoreline that has still not be developed.
We must also work hard to preserve our heritage buildings, and in a recent meeting with provincial and municipal officials we discussed how to protect cities from being penalized for protecting architectural heritage, as occurred with theRogers Chocolates building.
When a group of people demonstrated in front of my office aboutGaza Flotilla, we discussed the need for Canada to take a more balanced leadership position on the international stage where human rights are involved. In a meeting with theVictoria Real Estate Board it was once again stressed that Canada needs a national housing strategy, a message I also heard from Debbie Thompson of theGreater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, and a message I will bring to Ottawa loud and clear this fall.
In other meetings I learned about the creative projects being spearheaded by Victorians, such as a proposal for aCanadian Arctic Museum and theCreative Peace Murals promoting international understanding through the creation of large textile murals in communities around the world.
Before returning to Victoria for the summer Parliamentary recess, I met in Ottawa with theUniversity of Victoria’s Executive Director of Government Relations, Nikki Macdonald. We spoke about the extensive research being conducted at UVic on the state of our oceans and how important this expertise is when less than one per cent of Canada’s ocean environment has any formal protection.
At present, I am planning to meet with experts onclimate change andpost traumatic stress disorder and am working with my fellow Vancouver Island New Democrat MPs to support theregional LRT plan, theE & N Railway and local bids forfederal shipbuilding contracts. We have all heard from groups working with at-risk youth, people with disabilities and people living with addictions about delays in federal funding that have forced them to lay off staff and cancel important programs.
As always, Victoria has provided us all with many opportunities to celebrate, from theSelkirk Waterfront Festival and theTour de Victoria, to thePride Parade, Canada Dayand theBuskers FestivalandMoss Street Paint-In this past weekend. I’m looking forward to theVictoria Symphony Splash later this month and to helping to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of theGreater Victoria Cycling Coalition in August.
It’s summer in Victoria, and there is much work to do – and celebrating too! I wish you all a safe and happy summer.