Recently elected to a new constituency in late 2015, Bow River MP Martin Shields pledged to take Trudeau’s new Liberal government to task as the nation transitions into 2016.
Although not a member of his party’s former Harper majority government, Shields admits transitioning into the role of an opposition party will be a challenge.
“It’s a changed role, from being in government to opposition, and how we’ll work it? As effectively as possible. When you’re in a situation, the voters made a choice. In this particular riding it was strongly Conservative, and the things that the party had stood for. I believe that the vast majority of the people that had voted in this constituency supported the economics and the strength of going forward, but that has changed in the sense that the government that is now in place will be attempting to implement the mandate that they had for an election campaign.”
There is often a gap between what a new government promises, and what it can realistically achieve, according to Shields.
“We know that they’ve taken some actions, for example the Syrian refugees, they’ve attempted to implement that policy, and I think they’ve found it’s not as easy to have an election campaign promise, and then to fulfill it is a different matter. So that’s the challenge of having election campaign promises, and being elected, is trying to do them as they’ve said. That’s not necessarily an easy process, and they’re learning that.”
Shields is a strong proponent of the personal touch in dealing with constituency issues and the concerns of individual constituents.
“There’s a belief that I have, and you find out quickly if there’s people that have concerns, to deal with them individually. That’s what you attempt to do, is work with situations that involve the constituents that live within your constituency, and see what you can do to individually help them with the concerns they have. That’s the automatic first priority, is to work with the people that live within your constituency.”
Opposition members have a duty to try to help government improve legislation rather than simply opposing everything they propose without offering alternative solutions.
“The party, as official opposition, you attempt to bring to the process those questions to keep the government reminded of the challenges that are out there with the things that they’re suggesting in 2016,” said Shields. “You have a role in Parliament to play, to question and to bring other ideas forward, and suggest different methods of implementing their plan.”
Highlighting agriculture as an area of focus for Bow River, Shields promised to work to alleviate trade issues and improve prospects for irrigation producers.
“From the point of view of this constituency, I was asked to make a speech within a few days in response to the throne speech. So I was able to give a 10 minute speech. In a sense, I spoke about the things that are important to this constituency that weren’t mentioned in the throne speech, or were very little touched on — agriculture is huge in this area, the niche industries we have with irrigation in particular and how important trade is. For this constituency’s economics, trade is important. Irrigation brings a lot of products to market, and we need to be able move those to market. The Trans-Pacific trade agreement I think is important for this area, and supporting it. Inside the constituency again, the issue of water — water is a critical thing, and we have four irrigation districts within this constituency. When we’re talking environment, environment is very important, and water is a resource that we have in an economic sense in our constituency, and that’s an important part for me, and something that I’ve been involved with.”
While plummeting commodity prices continue to have a drastic impact on the provincial and national economy, that doesn’t mean Alberta should be abandoning attempts to create large-scale pipeline projects to allow access to international markets, added Shields.
“The oil and gas sector, as we know with the prices as they are, but we finally now have a premier that’s said ‘We need to be able get our product out of this province to tidewater’. Well, surprise — but that’s the oil and gas industry, even though those prices are where they are, you still need to be able to get those products out, and oil and gas are a huge part of this constituency. Those are the kinds of things, from a broader perspective nationally, that impact the economics of this particular region.”
Shields is concerned that Liberal plans to implement electoral reform for Canadians, in whatever capacity, needs to have extensive consultation as well as the consideration of putting the question back to the people through a national referendum.
“That’s something that’s being developed in the sense of party strategy, is that the government is bringing in their mandate, and part of it is dealing with what they’re going to bring forward. The elections thing is one of the biggest challenges out there in the sense of its hugeness — within 18 months we will have a new format for elections. That is a huge issue for people out there, and I think that is something that we have said really needs more research, a referendum — asking the people — and not just making a change on that one.”
Working to divert federal infrastructure dollars that are often largely earmarked for urban municipalities to smaller centres in the province will be a major challenge in 2016, according to Shields.
“I think they have a long list of election promises, and infrastructure is something that for municipalities is going to be a challenge in the sense of how it comes out. The Minister of Infrastructure (Amarjeet Sohi, Edmonton-Mill Woods) is a person that I do know, we sat on the AUMA (Alberta Urban Municipalities Association) board together for three years, he was an Edmonton city councillor.”
“I’ve already chatted with him once and I’m going to follow that up and say how it can’t just be all about the big cities, for example in Alberta, Edmonton and Calgary. For stuff to get to those cities, roads, bridges, transportation networks, infrastructure, the municipalities that survive outside those major centres — how do we make the money for infrastructure get to other levels, other than just rapid transit in the major centres?” Coming into the role with a wealth of municipal government experience, Shields has been challenged in integrating himself into the more adversarial style of party politics that reigns supreme in Ottawa.
“Municipal councils deal with issues one at a time, and they try to find solutions — it’s not party based. Moving to this level, it’s very much more party driven. One side makes a decision, the other side doesn’t. It’s such a challenge in the sense of what municipal is compared to a party system.”
“So that’s learning to work within that structure, but I think it’s finding the doors. It didn’t take me long to get across the floor to talk to the people I need to talk to on the other side. You’ve just got to do that — they make the decisions, and you’ve got to find ways to get input into them to help your constituency.”
As a New Year’s resolution for 2016, Bow River’s MP hopes to reach all corners of his new riding.
“I have trouble remembering yesterday, let alone tomorrow,” laughed Shields.
“It’s a new constituency, and the ‘resolution’ for us is to get out there and be in all parts and pieces so that people know where we’re at, and who we are. It’s a great constituency, and that’s our goal.”