At the Halfway Point
With a year and a half behind the Liberal Government of Justin Trudeau his MPs are settling in to the routines of government. As part of a regular update conversation with our MPs, Ray Hudson spoke with Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag on his experience to date.
Ray Hudson: Bring us up to date on the work you have been engaged in, accomplishments to date and what more do you want to do to this point in your mandate?
John Aldag: When I got elected, there were three things that I determined to be important in the riding. First: the cost of living: specifically housing, stagnant wage levels, daycare the cost of, and accessibility to it. Number Two was transit, and Third; crime, homelessness, addiction, and related items.
From the beginning, these were items I wanted to focus on. Interestingly, our government has kept our campaign platform focus on working for the middle class, at the very front of everything we’re doing, and we keep coming back to that.
That first priority and where the party is going has worked really well together. One of the first things we did was reduce the tax rate for the middle class by dropping the tax rate on earnings between $45,000 and $90,000. We introduced the non-taxable child benefit which will help out.
Last year the government made a huge commitment to transit, including a billion dollar commitment to the south of the Fraser and the “L” line in Surrey. Now we’re waiting for the TransLink Mayors’ Council and the company to get on board with which technology they’re going to go with and sort out the details.
The third item has been a bit more challenging. Ralph Goodale has been out with the RCMP looking at the crime and gang-related issues going on in Surrey and what we can do there. The opioid crisis has really flared up, which I think brings real attention to the drug issues and the illegal drug trade. Our Health Minister recently announced, as part of the Health Agreement with the province, additional funding to deal with the opioid crisis because BC is really the front line.
Minister Duclos is working on a national housing strategy and there’s been all kinds of consultations, so I really believe that we’ll see progress in the coming year on that. So well into year two, we’re making progress and that’s as much as you can ask for. I’ve been championing those things from the constituency perspective but seeing the government is moving on several of these fronts, has allowed me to get involved in some of the things I’m passionate about, Heritage.
One of the first meetings I had was about Anniedale School which goes back to the heritage roots that I have. I realize that in this riding there’s a ton of heritage and history with Cloverdale and Langley City and the early settlements that began here.
The dilemma for me is that Heritage didn’t come out as a high priority for constituents, and yet I know how important it is to the community, so I feel I have been able to do some things on that front that enhances my work on other issues for the community.
I’ve achieved support for the Cloverdale Museum expansion, and the Anniedale School project. Working with the City of Surrey on that has been very positive. We’ve worked on some other infrastructure projects, securing five-hundred thousand dollars for Penzer Park in Langley City, and we’re working right now to secure funds for the Cloverdale Athletic Park.
I’ve seen a number of issues around immigration: visas for family and friends visiting and family reunification. The office has had some great successes though. Under previous governments wait times were up to seven years. John McCallum as the minister committed to bringing the wait time down to one year, which has been very positively received by the constituents.
I was appointed to the Committee on Electoral Reform, an area I’m passionate about. But I realized that to try and meet the campaign commitment meant we’d be rushing things, and I was frankly really concerned about how that could impact the integrity of the system and affect the trust that people had put into the system. But it isn’t that we’re not going to do it. We are actually moving ahead on election reform, just not as drastically as we had been. We need to have a continued discussion with the people who ask what the problem was that we were trying to fix through that commitment.
To me, the issues include declining voting rates, low levels of participation by our youth, thirty years and under, and people who feel disengaged from the process. I think there are things we can do. The new Minister of Democratic Institutions has introduced a piece of legislation that’s going to restore Elections Canada’s mandate to educate the public, removed by the previous government. Voter registration cards will again be valid identification and we’re going to allow vouching again, removing the things that put up barriers.
Interestingly, we’ve committed to working on national youth voter registration systems which will be going out to schools to get youth, at sixteen and seventeen, to register so they can be brought into the system. I’ve heard that if we can get youth to vote that first time, it greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll remain engaged in the electoral process over their lives. I think this initiative will allow the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada to get into the schools and engage in an educational manner and start some of those discussions that have been missing for a number of years with youth about the whole electoral process and how they can plug in.
We need to get more women to run and I think there are some real barriers there as there are for visible minority groups or ethnic groups who may not be as plugged into the Canadian electoral systems. We need to look at how we can engage those communities.
One of the most meaningful pieces of testimony that stuck with me was when we were in Toronto, and there was a woman in her early fifties with a visual disability who said that, although she has always voted, never in her life has she had the benefit of a secret ballot. She had to tell her helper whom she wanted to vote for, but could not know for sure that’s how the vote was cast. She wants the government to look at online technology that would allow her to read and cast a ballot and send it in herself. I think there are some really innovative things we could do for populations outside of the electoral system as we know it, and I’d like to see us pushing on those fronts.
Other areas Aldag is involved with:
- I sit on the Environmental committee which is finishing a ‘protected area’ strategy, part of the concept we’re studying of urban national parks, including areas in this riding. It’s still too early to say whether or not that will happen but we’re looking at that sort of concept.
- Legalization of marijuana: It is very much about public health and we need to make sure that youth has less access to marijuana. We need better scientific studies to make evidence-based decisions to understand the implications of taking an illegal substance a bit more mainstream. It’s also about taking the millions of dollars out of the hands of organized crime. We’ll be working on this by April or May so I’ll be doing some work on that in the riding as well.
Ray Hudson: Finally, how well have you adapted to your role as an MP?
John Aldag: It’s a fascinating job where you can spend every minute of every day in public service. I also have a family and I’m trying to find the appropriate time to spend with them. The travel is tough and I’ve put on some weight as a result of the sitting and eating. This year I’m getting back into a running group here in Cloverdale to take some of the weight down and bring my physical fitness level back up.
There are so many interesting things going on in the community, so many worthwhile causes in which to get involved, but it’s a good problem to have.