MP says it’s all about community
Speaking over a bowl of soup in an Oak Bay Village restaurant, Victoria MP Denise Savoie talks passionately about the importance of linking local communities to federal policy making.
It’s a political strategy some rivals have tried to use against her – the idea of trying to bring “city council-style” politics to the federal scene. But it is precisely this notion she feels is sorely lacking in the nation’s capital.
“If I could make one change in Ottawa, it would be (for government) to have a better ear and a better understanding of the needs of community and how to integrate that into public policy,” the former Victoria city councillor says.
It can be tough to get such points across when you’re a member of Canada’s third national party, one seen by political pundits and voters alike as having no chance to form government, yet said in some cases to hold the balance of power in a minority parliament.
No matter, people on the doorstep have been quite prepared to tell their MP what’s right or wrong with the federal government, what’s important to them and what they expect her to do.
Such things as the protection of public health care, the availability of affordable housing and crippling student debt are top of mind for many constituents.
“I hear stories every night that stick with me,” she says.
Like the 25-year-old man who can’t seem to find anything other than part-time work. Or a small business owner in Oak Bay who complained that everything is going up: health-care premiums, property tax, bus fare, hydro rates among other things.
“He was listing a whole bunch of things,” Savoie says, launching into her favourite Conservative-bashing strategy: criticizing corporate tax cuts.
She trots out figures from a Department of Finance report she had done to prove or disprove that such a tax strategy is beneficial to the economy.
“For every public dollar invested in infrastructure, there’s $1.50 created in GDP (gross domestic product). For every public dollar invested in corporate tax cuts, there is 20 cents of growth in GDP,” she says. “Where’s the investment in treatment plants, or water, or community centres? Those thing create jobs in the communities where we live.”
Mainstreeting after lunch along a busy Oak Bay Avenue in the Village, Savoie hears a man at a bus stop say he has generally voted NDP provincially, but Liberal federally, since those parties line up best with his personal beliefs. After a few minutes conversation, she leaves the man with a brochure and a sense that he may well switch his vote come May 2.
In five years as Victoria’s MP, Savoie, 67, has introduced various pieces of legislation – private member’s bills are seldom adopted, but can often have bits and pieces of them tucked into government policy. They include initiatives to ban oil tanker traffic on the B.C. coast, protect wild salmon, and redirect Canada Mortgage and Housing revenues toward affordable housing.
Her work in the chamber earned her a nomination and election last year to the position of deputy speaker of the House of Commons.
If there is anything she has learned from her time in Ottawa, she says it is that “there is such a need to stop developing policy in silos and to integrate our (provincial and municipal) policy base. That comprehensive approach needs to happen more.”
She helped spearhead such an approach for the so-called “mega-yacht marina” proposed for the Songhees portion of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Savoie arranged a meeting between officials from all three levels of government to take a closer look at the implications of the project.
An avid kayaker who loves to swim, cycle and hike when she gets the chance, the retired schoolteacher and mother of three children between age 30 and 40 plans to continue bringing federal politics into the local mix.
While that may ruffle the feathers of some political opponents, she says it’s the only way to keep people engaged with the political process thousands of kilometres away.
• Dignified and comfortable retirement for all: New Democrats have a plan to “make poverty history” for seniors, for a fraction of the cost of the Liberals’ and Conservatives’ annual corporate tax break.
• Housing, homelessness: Pressuring the government to include affordable housing in stimulus infrastructure funding and renewing the Homelessness Partnering Strategy.
• Environment: Promoting the local economic and environmental benefits of green business and technology.
• Economic policy – tax fair and spend smart: Making wealthy individuals pay their fair share of tax; and helping create good local jobs and supporting local businesses.
– Denise Savoie