As you may have already heard, one of the larger media stories out of Ottawa this week focused on the subject of Monday’s cabinet shuffle. For political pundits and journalists alike, cabinet shuffles are somewhat like open season as speculation, opinion and judgment are cast within mere hours of the announcement.... long before any of the newly announced Ministers have had the opportunity to spend time in a new or pre-existing portfolio.
Over the past two years while I have served on Parliament Hill, I have worked with many of those named to cabinet on Monday. I have gained an insight and a much better appreciation of and respect for the demanding job of being in cabinet and the great importance of the role. My comments might be at odds with what you may have heard from recent media reports. From reviewing many of the pundits’ comments over the past 24 hours one re-occurring theme from some in the Ottawa-based media gallery seems to be that cabinet “doesn’t matter”. It was not my intention to cover the topic of the cabinet shuffle in this week’s report, however after reading many media stories I feel compelled to comment from another perspective. It is my experience as a Member of Parliament that who serves in cabinet does matter, and in my view, it matters to all of us.
I would like to share one of my first challenges as an MP that will forever be in my memory. Not long after being elected, a situation occurred where a Priest, who was legally in Canada and working on starting a new life here at a local Temple, was, in error, issued a deportation order and given five days to leave our country. In this instance the community in question, including the local Mayor and MLA, rallied strongly in support of the priest. As the newly elected MP, my only option was to pursue this matter directly with the Minister responsible. I was very much aware that the Minister could have simply said “MP Albas, there is nothing I can do in this case” however that was not the response I received. Instead the Minister in question took the time to hear the concerns, looked at the information I presented and offered to try and help. In the end, we found a solution; however it was not lost on me that were it not for a Minister who was willing to take the time to get involved in this case, it certainly would have had a very different outcome.
In another instance when I first arrived in Ottawa, one of my primary tasks was to take on the archaic prohibition-era liquor importation rules that prevented Okanagan based wineries from sending wine to other regions in Canada. This was an issue that was raised in an all-candidates debate and throughout my initial summer listening tour I heard that it was a problem which had frustrated many in Okanagan-Coquihalla for years. It was an out-of-date law that made no sense. Although this issue would eventually be addressed by a relatively short amendment through my private member's bill, I also received incredibly strong support from the Minister in question, and from other Ministers with related portfolios. Little did I know how important this support would turn out to be. Although this issue was a relatively small one on the national scale many of the bureaucrats I spoke with said it could or should not be done as a Private Members Bill. In fact, the number of reasons why this could not be done seemed to grow almost by the day. Without the support of the Minister it is highly unlikely that the Bill ultimately would have received royal assent, or if it had, certainly not within the first 12 months of this 41st Parliament.
To the pundits in Ottawa these small events seldom make the media radar screens but to the people involved, they are important. Having Ministers who take the time to listen and are willing to help make things happen goes a long way toward making a difference in our communities. In this shuffle the Ministers referenced in this report have been moved into other Ministries where I believe they will continue to make a difference for Canadians.
There are also a number of Parliamentary Secretaries who have now moved into Cabinet that I have worked with extensively on various Parliamentary committees and without exception these are very capable and committed people who I also believe will do good work on behalf of Canadians. There are a number of different and important issues to be addressed in the communities within Okanagan-Coquihalla and I look forward to working with our new cabinet to ensure continued success for our region. As my summer listening tour is soon to begin I welcome the opportunity to meet with you or your organization. Please do not hesitate to contact me at 1-800-665-8711 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.