When I visit the Grade 5 classrooms in St Paul’s during their unit on Canadian Government, I ask them why they think someone who loved their job as a family doctor, delivering babies, making house calls, and teaching at the university would give all that up to become a politician. The answers always amuse me; especially the students who think it was for the money or prestige. But there is always one earnest student (sometimes a familiar face in that we’d first met at their birth!) who answers “because you thought you could make a difference”.
I agree and then we get to talk about my job. It’s very different given that, unlike most jobs, one has to reapply every 4 years but very similar to my old job in terms of asking what’s wrong and listening. What’s also similar is how much one learns every day and that tough decisions have to be made. And like any professional, you have to know what you know, know what you don’t know and know when and who to ask for help.
It’s been the ‘patient as partner’ approach that has informed the value that I’ve placed on my relationships with citizens in my work as a parliamentarian. It is only by harvesting solutions from the trenches that we can achieve public policy that is relevant and responsive to the needs of civil society. Putting people together with different points of view and experience almost always spawns a clearer understanding of the complexity of the problems we face and leads to more creative and innovative solutions.
My work with parliamentary committees in listening to passionate Canadians and then making strong recommendations to government has been some of the most satisfying work for over 20 years. I also love reading the thank you notes of grateful constituents who have been helped with their tax, pension or immigration problems by my fabulous staff.
I am hugely proud of the recognition we have received for our ‘Toronto-St. Paul’s Model’ of citizen engagement and ‘democracy between elections.’ From the hundreds of neighbourhood checkups, town hall meetings, on-line interaction, and special events like our annual International Women's Day conference for high school students, Canada Day Picnic and skating party, I am grateful to the commitment and civic literacy of the very special citizens of Toronto-St. Paul’s. They are ‘big picture’ people who care about the whole of Canada. They are not afraid to ask the tough questions from the gap in health status of our aboriginal people, to the need for real action on racism, to finding more therapeutic ways of dealing with young offenders, to the specific environmental concerns of our North. They understand the importance of Toronto as the economic engine of Canada, but also recognize that my riding has 5 subway stops while my colleague in Nunavut represents a riding with one-fifth of the people and 25 airports. My job has taken me to every part of this country. I adore my role in putting a human face on those of us who live in Toronto while reflecting to my constituents the positive role the Government of Canada plays in this immense country.
Whether receiving delegations from around the world who come to Canada to learn about democracy, health care, social justice, or e-government, Bono is right: the world does really need more Canada.
In the words of the wonderful Barbara Rogers, “physical and mental energy come from feeling in control of your life, having real choices and being involved with others to find ways of organizing for a change for the better.” My job has made me an even prouder Canadian and has well allowed me to feel that I have been able to truly make a difference.