Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski was in Invermere last Wednesday, April 25th for a town hall meeting, where he spent about two hours talking to the handful of residents about federal matters.
“I’m a public servant,” Mr. Stetski began. “I always have been. I don’t consider myself a politician. I’m in this because I believe in public service.”
When Mr. Stetski was elected, he had three priorities: environment, small business, and agriculture. On the environmental front, he is proud of the 20 horsepower restriction finalized on the Columbia River.
“This section, from here to Golden, is truly world class,” he commented.
For small business, he held meetings in three communities that match with the three different provincial ridings that sit inside the federal Kootenay-Columbia boundary. He invited the MLA and mayor in each community to sit in the meetings so community members had the opportunity to sit with all three levels of government at once. What he heard from those meetings, as well as door knocking in Invermere last Wednesday, April 25th, surprised him.
“I thought what I would hear was ‘taxes are terrible, they’re killing us’,‘regulations are killing us’ – and we heard some of that. But what we heard in all three communities, including Invermere, the number one concern was the lack of affordable housing. They would love to expand their businesses but they can’t because they can’t find places for their staff to live at an affordable price,” he said, adding that the second major concern was the lack of affordable daycare.
Mr. Stetski is keen to see change in many areas including affordable housing and daycare, as well as a universal public pharmacare program and a reduction in student debt. He would like to see free university tuition, and proposed the idea of having the first and fourth years of university free to provide incentives and a financial boost to students. He would also like to see a national senior strategy.
“Those are things, fundamentally, that will change our country,” said the MP, who describes himself as “a liberal-minded, environmentally green, fiscally conservative NDPer.”
Other local issues Mr. Stetski discussed in the meeting included the lack of bus transportation, Air Canada cutting service to Cranbrook’s airport, and concerns about the medical system and inter-provincial issues. On that front, Mr. Stetski would like to see a national health records program established.
“There shouldn’t be inter-provincial trade barriers to health,” Mr. Stetski said.
Mr. Stetski has learned a lot over his first term, especially about how things work in Parliament. He told the town hall attendees that when he was elected as the MP for this riding, he participated in an orientation with new MPs from every party. At the orientation, he felt like a “walking cliche” because they were all saying the same thing as he was: “I’m here to work together collaboratively with all parties to make a better Canada. That’s why I went to Ottawa. And so did everybody else I talked to from every party. And then party politics starts to grab in. There’s an expectation that people (MPs) will vote the way the party wants you to vote.”
He says over the course of this term, he has voted against his party wishes a few times, noting it is a lonely place to be.
In Parliament, Mr. Stetski proposed a private member’s bill, Bill C281, designating the Friday before Thanksgiving of each year as National Food Day.
“The bill is easy to love, and because I have friends from every party,” Mr. Stetski cited as reasons why his bill passed in the House. Mr. Stetski introduced the bill in June 2016. However, multiple bills, including C281, are stacked up in the Senate and will need to be passed before the end of this session of Parliament or it will be a dead bill proposal.
One attendee asked what Mr. Stetski thought of Jagmeet Singh, the new leader of the NDP. Mr. Stetski said once you get to know Mr. Singh, he is very likeable. Mr. Stetski brought Mr. Singh to the riding for two days in November 2018. They did not visit the Columbia Valley, traveling from Cranbrook to Nelson.
“Everywhere he went, people actually loved him,” Mr. Stetski said. “When you meet him and spend a little bit of time with him, you really like him.”