After a year and a half in office, the Hon. Carla Qualtrough, MP for Delta, Minister for Sport and People With Disabilities, met with Ray Hudson to review the journey so far.
Her experiences in both her riding and at the cabinet table along with her ministerial duties, require more space than one story can supply, so in this first part, we talk about Carla Qualtrough, MP, and her constituency work. Next week we’ll present our conversation concerning her ministerial activities including coming “new access legislation” for people with disabilities.
Ray Hudson: Tell us about your transition into office without previous elected experience.
Carla Qualtrough: I do have political experience and knowledge as a political staffer because I worked for ministers, but the job of Member of Parliament was brand new to me, and I have absolutely fallen in love with it. I thoroughly enjoy my cabinet responsibilities, and the Prime Minister gave me my two life’s passions, sports and people with disabilities. I get to chair a cabinet committee and I’m doing wonderful important things in Ottawa, but I really love the MP side of the job as well.
Ray Hudson: What do you enjoy about the constituency work?
Carla Qualtrough: In this job you can help people today. Everyone who walks through our doors is in a moment of personal worry or crisis. As a lawyer, a lot of the personal gratification was delayed because you do a submission in court and you wait. So being able to help people immediately is very gratifying, whether it’s helping someone navigate a very complex government process or helping them fill out an immigration form to get emergency visas as a family member has died or some other family emergency has occurred. Some people come in and they’re very distressed.
We had a situation where a young woman gave birth prematurely, and the baby was in crisis and they wanted Grandma to come over from India, and they couldn’t access a visa for her to come and be with her daughter and new grand-daughter. Our team helped get Grandma over here quickly to support mom and the baby, both of whom had complications. As a result of our help, Grandma was able to be here for the other kids, and it turned out to be a wonderful story. Then three months later they walked into the office to say thank-you and introduced us to the baby who they had named Donna, after our Constituency Manager, Donna Burke, because we had been so helpful. That’s pretty gratifying. We get lovely stories like that all the time when people circle back to say thank you because government can be overwhelming, and our team helps it be less so. We may deal with fifty to sixty things a day among all the staff members, but for that family that’s the one big thing going on in their life.
Ray Hudson: What are the things that cause you frustration?
Carla Qualtrough: Everything takes more time. That particular incident it didn’t but there have been times when the transition between our government and the former government has resulted in some hiccups. Sometimes messages of policy direction changes don’t funnel down to the front line bureaucrats as quickly as you’d like. Our team would know that we’ve changed the policy in immigration, but when you call up the immigration department, veterans affairs or whatever, the frontline person doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo. It’s a big ship to turn from a policy direction point of view.
The other thing I’d call a challenge, rather than frustration, is who’s in charge. When someone walks in with an issue, it might feel like it should be a federal government thing, but it may be a provincial or municipal issue. Our role is to provide support and seamlessly shepherd them over to the MLA or the municipality, while not brushing them off. It’s not their fault that government is complex.
Ray Hudson: What role do you play representing other federal ministers on issues and announcements in Delta, such as the Highway 91/72nd Avenue overpass, and the interchanges on Highway 17?
Carla Qualtrough: There are some really big projects for Delta by virtue of having me at the cabinet table. In as much as we’re supposed to be, first and foremost, looking after the national interest, I also bring Delta along because Delta has the biggest port in the country. The farmers in my riding are impacted by the broader transportation decisions, as are most by the impacts of the Oceans Protection Plan, our climate change plan or Kinder Morgan decisions. I can tell the gang in Ottawa how this is impacting the people in my riding who live near or get their livelihood from the Fraser River. The people who have a certain history with the land, explaining that the real life balance of creating real jobs, preserving the farmland of Delta is a struggle for everybody involved. People in Ottawa tease me because I’m so unapologetic about my Delta examples. Delta has a very complex federal dynamic in a way unlike many other ridings. We have the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN), many of the new immigrants and we have all these federal issues including the Massey Tunnel replacement project. One of the things I think we did very successfully was to create close relationships between Delta, the province with its two MLAs, the TFN (Tsawwassen First Nation) and us. We don’t do anything if the four partners aren’t involved. We’ve created some very strong relationships both at the staffing and at the political levels.
Ray Hudson: How do you get along with the competing levels of government from around the region in the lower mainland?
Carla Qualtrough: It’s a challenge and an opportunity to spend time with my Liberal, Conservative and NDP colleagues, particularly when you have to be in a plane and airport lounges ten hours a week anyway. Relationships are built just over a coffee in the morning when you’re all on this journey away from your family, when you’re all tired and you’ve spent three days running around the constituency. Taking time to get to know people helps when you see them in the halls around Parliament. You greet each other and though tough decisions are being made, there is some sort of personal framework to it as well.
Next edition, the life of Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons With Disabilities.