"It’s been very humbling coming to Ottawa, and serving in the highest office in the land,” says Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu (Liberal), on the phone from the nation’s capital. “I’ve worked in the community all my life, but this is even bigger.”
It is a cold late afternoon in Ottawa, but Sidhu—who spent much of his life in the rural setting of the Fraser Valley before being elected to parliament in October 2015—says that the chilly weather did not prevent him making the 12-minute walk from his apartment in the nation’s capital to his office at the Parliament Buildings. “As long as it’s warmer than -20 C., I like to walk. It’s a wake-up call.”
A businessman with more than 27 years of experience, Sidhu served as president of Greenvale Enterprises Inc., a Fraser Valley agricultural company, before being elected. His race was the last undecided one in the country during the last election, with the final result not being announced until six hours after polls had closed.
“I’ve always had it in me to serve,” says Sidhu. “And it’s the best time in my life to serve. I’m an empty-nester with three kids out of university and married.”
He says that the first couple of months after being elected were a challenge in terms of getting his staff and office sorted out. A year on, however, he is comfortable in his new role, even if it can be difficult trying to keep a balance between his five months in the riding and seven months in the capital.
“The venue [Ottawa] is bigger, but I’ve served on several boards, including the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary. Now I’m trying to make a difference in Canadians’ lives.”
He points to the past year, in which he is proud to have channelled some $75 million into the riding. “I’m looking forward to doing more.” He also points to the Liberal government’s tax cuts, and the reversal of the Harper government’s decision to increase retirement age, for federal benefits, to 67 years from 65.
Of serving in such a large and spread-out riding, Sidhu says that it’s “a challenge to meet people regularly, a little harder. But my doors are always open, and people are welcome to come and see me.” In October Sidhu travelled to Ashcroft and Cache Creek to meet with the mayors and councils there. “I put my hand out, said ‘What can I do?’”
MP Jati Sidhu (l) with Ashcroft mayor Jack Jeyes in October. Photo by Barbara Roden.
Earlier this month he was proud to support Private Member’s Bill C-228. It seeks to amend the Fisheries Act dealing with closed containment aquaculture in coastal waters, and to protect wild salmon through transitioning away from potentially harmful open net pens.
Sidhu says he consulted with First Nations leaders in his area, and after careful consideration of the bill was convinced it reflected First Nations concerns. “It will create opportunities and jobs, and is good for First Nations. I feel I can make a difference and that it will benefit my area, and I will stand up for it.”
Talk turns to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries. U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has said that one of the first things he will do when he assumes office in January 2017 is withdraw his country from the agreement, which will effectively kill it unless that decision is reversed by 2018.
“I hope Mr. Trump will surprise people: say one thing and do another,” says Sidhu. “I’m optimistic that we have a good relationship. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is creating thousands of jobs. Alberta is suffering, and the partnership will benefit Canada and the U.S., as well as B.C. and Alberta.”
When asked about the twinning of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries crude oil and refined products to the coast from Alberta, Sidhu says that the project—recently given approval by the federal government—will create 16,000 direct jobs and a turnaround of $6.5 billion. “We as a government are looking after $1.5 billion for environmental and ocean measures.”
The Softwood Lumber Agreement between Canada and the U.S. was also discussed. The most recent agreement, signed in 2006, expired in 2015, and a one-year moratorium on trade action ended in October 2015. Negotiations on a new agreement are apt to be difficult, given president-elect Trump’s having been advised to include the matter in any renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and get more favourable terms for the United States.
“I have faith in [international trade minister] Christia Freyland talking about softwood lumber,” says Sidhu. “We don’t just want to sign any agreement; we want to sign a good agreement for the country. I’m very optimistic that we will come out with some kind of plan.
“America needs lumber, but on what terms, and at what price, needs to be negotiated. We will come out with something concrete.”
Sidhu says that another major issue facing the federal government in 2017 is public consultation about the legalization of marijuana. “I’ve been in touch with the RCMP in my area for input,” he says, noting that there is a large grow-op issue in Mission. “We want to deal with this. Hopefully people show us how they want to go about this.
“Decriminalizing it will divert money from criminals. And we don’t want children to be criminalized for life because they’re caught with one joint.”