For her first year in office, Rachel Blaney, MP for the North Island-Powell River, focused on engaging with her constituents so she could better understand and represent their interests in Parliament.
She has hosted 19 town hall meetings across her constituency on the Trans Pacific Partnership, electoral reform, the disability tax credit and the United Nations declaration of Indigenous Rights.
“I’m just really encouraged by how intelligent people are, how well-spoken they are, so that when I stand up in the House I can really say things that matter to the people I represent and reflect the needs that they have,” she said.
In some cases she had other members of the NDP come to the town halls to discuss their areas of expertise that were of interest to her riding. In other cases she did the presentations herself.
So far the most rewarding town hall meeting has been the ones on the disability tax credit. Blaney called the meetings “profound” because she actually got to help people get the supports they desperately needed.
“It was hard to see how many gaps there are for people who really need help, but it was also a wonderful thing to actually get results,” she said.
Blaney is pleased with the engagement she has received from her constituents. Her phone is always ringing and the responses to her mail-outs are significant.
“Even if I don’t agree, I think I had better understand their perspective as well and have that frank conversation,” she said.
Blaney is the critic for Multiculturalism and the deputy critic for Infrastructure and Communities. She sits on the Committee of National Defence and regularly attends the Oceans and Fisheries committee meetings as an observer.
At the moment, the Committee of National Defence is reviewing all levels of military; the first phase was aerial defence.
“It was amazing and informative to hear people from across Canada – people representing our riding, as well with the Comox base there – talking about the work that they do,” she said.
Blaney was impressed with how skilled the people are, acting as first responders and training for things that could come up within Canada as well as outside of the country.
She said that their discussion around climate change, how that will impact the work they do and the preparations they are taking to mitigate that, was also interesting.
The second part of the review is the navy, and Blaney said she is learning a lot.
When she was elected, Blaney was living in Campbell River and working as the executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre. She is married with 16-and-18-year-old sons.
“They deeply respect the work that I’m doing, and I’m glad they are at the age where they can really understand why I am away and participate so much in supporting me to do my work,” she said.
She is grateful for the support of her family and all of the other people who see her a lot less now that she spends more than half of the year in Ottawa.
Blaney plans on continuing to engage with the community and advocate for issues that are important to them.
“I have no problem crossing the floor and having conversations with ministers to push issues that really matter to the people in my riding,” she said.
Earlier this year, many small communities within her riding were cut off from their propane supply when the minister of transport took away a business licence from a company that delivered the propane.
Blaney and her staff were able to work with the minister to restore the service before there was a huge impact. Blaney says she has found working with the Liberal government constructive, disappointing and difficult.
She said the partisanship is strong during speeches and questions periods, but there is more openness when it comes to sitting down and talking to each other to find solutions.
However, she is disappointed that the Liberals are following in the Conservatives’ healthcare cuts footsteps.
“The reality is we know that we just need resources, we need to make sure that there is enough money for health care so that people can get the support they need,” she said.
This year Blaney said she will be focusing on climate change, seniors living and affordable housing – topics that are important to the riding according to feedback she has gathered so far.