By Trevor Busch
Another session of Parliament has come and gone in Ottawa, and newly-minted Bow River MP Martin Shields has been cutting his teeth in the role following a lengthy stint in municipal politics in Brooks.
“There’s 200 new MPs, so it’s a large rookie group in there when you look at all the parties,” said Shields. “Even the Bloc (Quebecois) — nine out of 10 of those guys are new, for example. So it’s a large group of people for the first time, and I think that’s part of the challenge they had from a bureaucracy point of view, was getting us organized. The procedural part of it was interesting. There’s a lot of former municipal types and MLAs in the House — people that understand how government works — which is a real advantage.”
No longer part of the previous Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner federal riding, in 2015 Taberites elected a new MP in a new riding, Bow River, which includes the population centres of Brooks, Bassano, Vauxhall, Strathmore and Chestermere, and lies in a north-south geographic orientation across a central area of the province. Grappling with the geographical extent of the vast new riding has been challenging, admits Shields.
“It’s bigger than New Brunswick. You look at guys in Calgary, they’ve got 40 blocks, does anybody ever know if they’re there or not there? It’s very different than city ridings. The advantage I’ve got is the sense of my role, there wasn’t any area in the constituency — whether I was in health, education, municipal — that I haven’t been in. But it’s just huge. I brought my staff out here in March, and every day we took a different direction — and we were 12 hours on the road — so they could appreciate and get an understanding for the riding. Which was phenomenal, because if you get a call from someone in Barnwell, or somebody in Linden (View care facility), or an email comes in, they wouldn’t have a clue. But now they do, which has been very helpful in the sense of understanding the geography of the riding, how big it is, and diverse.”
Shields currently has his main office located in Brooks, and has plans for the creation of at least one satellite office in future, but wasn’t dropping any hints as to a location.
“At the moment, they’re in Brooks, but there will be changes.”
Shields, who represents the Conservative Party, indicated himself and his colleagues took the Trudeau government to task over Bill C-7, the Public Service Labour Relations Amendment Act, which governs voting procedures for the RCMP in forming a union.
“That’s one where there’s been a lot of debate, and it still hasn’t totally been done yet. It was the right to form a union. Our party didn’t have a problem with the right to form a union, what was debated a long time with this one is the voting procedure. Our position was they should have a secret ballot. Their position on the legislation was they should have a card vote, everybody putting up their hand for or against, to form a union. We didn’t have any problem with them forming a union, we just thought in that piece of legislation they should be able to have a secret ballot vote.”
A private member’s bill put forward by Conservative MP Ziad Aboultaif for the creation of a national registry for organ donation (Bill C-223, Canadian Organ Donor Registry Act), was ultimately defeated by the Trudeau Liberals.
“Some private member’s bills make it, and a lot don’t, and I understand that,” said Shields. “But that one, we didn’t understand why there was an objection to that, from the Liberal Party basically, although there were three or four who voted for it. We felt that was too bad, it was a good one, and it wouldn’t cost a lot of money to create a national registry for organ donor transplant. The person who had that private members bill from Edmonton had donated part of his liver to one of his children. That one made you sort of wonder.”
During the session, Shields spoke in the House attacking Bill C-10, which would allow Air Canada to perform aircraft maintenance outside of three specifically designated provinces, which could have job loss and other labour implications for those jurisdictions.
“It’s still stuck in the Senate. There’s a clause in it that says their aircraft maintenance has to be done in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. They want the right to be able to service their planes wherever they want.”
Debate over Canada’s new ‘right to die’ legislation was lengthy and heated, according to Shields, and saw widely varying opinions from MPs from all parties.
“The ‘right to die’ legislation is one of those big ones out there, which went on for weeks, and was very emotional. There wasn’t anyone that didn’t want a chance to get on the list to speak, and as any government does, they put closure on it. At some point, you have to quit. You hate that, but you know that’s going to happen whatever party is in power, there’s going to be a closure motion at some point, it can’t go on forever. On that, you had people in all parties for and against, changes they could make.”
Shields is also a supporter of ‘free the beer’, a slogan applied by those in favour of loosening inter-provincial trade barriers in Canada.
“It was like the interprovincial trade issue, ‘free the beer’, which I love. Our party’s position on that was send it directly over to the Supreme Court — which they can do — let’s get interprovincial trade opened up. We have more barriers in this country than every other country in the world we trade with, within our own country. It needs to be changed.”
Canadians should have the right to choose for themselves what kind of electoral system they wish to see in Canada in the future, argued Shields, who advocated for a referendum on the subject.
“We’ve got democratic reform coming up. I absolutely believe this is a fundamental change in our voting. Sure, they can say the Conservatives monkeyed with it before. We can say Parliament gave the right to vote to women, which was a huge change to the voter base back in the 1920’s, which doubled it, and they did without a referendum. I’m sort of a guy that I’ve suggested I’d like to have a vote. I trust people, and if that’s what they want to do — there’s a lot of smart, intelligent people out there, why don’t we give them the right to say on this one? I really think we should. That’s a right that everybody has, and this effects every person in our country, because they have the right to vote. So let’s give them the choice of how they want to do it.”