The day that Jack Layton’s office called me at home asking if I would be interested in taking the portfolio of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities as Olivia Chow’s shadow, I suddenly felt like the past decade and a half had lead up to this moment. I accepted without hesitation, excited to take on this new role.
My foray into public leadership began in 1995 when I spoke before Victoria City council to modify the official community plan in order to embrace urban agriculture, rooftop gardening and greater funding for youth and the arts. It was on the base of this experience that the Government of British Columbia asked me to lead a team, as visual communications consultant, to create a “youth survival kit” for homeless and at risk youth.
The Government of Canada's 1995 budget had really tightened the purse strings and the provinces were having to roll back social programs such as social assistance and disability benefits. Meanwhile, youth were coming to British Columbia and not being able to find employment. Some kind of fix was needed.
Welcome to the real world introduction to policy. No more theory classes on politics. This was real policy in action from conception to execution. I worked in teams to find solutions.
When I went to Ottawa 15 years later I had worked with many teams over the years but I joined one of the the greatest and most challenging in the 41st parliament. The 308 members who were elected came from different walks of life and each had their own perspective and outlook.
Nearly my entire adult life had been dedicated to improving my community. Making things better for people of all ages.
By then I had acquired a very diverse and powerful skillset that attracted the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and lead him to choose me to take on the Transport, Infrastructure and Communities portfolio focusing on Quebec’s specific needs.
It wasn’t random. Jack hadn’t just pulled my name out of a hat. It was on the basis of my experience.
Jack Layton had been a municipal politician before he turned to the federal scene. He had been the president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities and did very good work with them. This was one of the most important portfolios for Jack. He was excited to have someone well versed in urban planning. A landscape architect that had studied and worked with the best and most innovative in the field both in British Columbia and Montreal. He knew I understood the portfolio and would add value.
I had been working for nearly a decade in shaping policy at the municipal, regional, provincial levels. I had worked on a range of issues from Watershed management with the team at COBAVER-VS to improving social outcomes for families in British Columbia with the large team of experts in the Human Early Learning Partnership of BC. At the 2005 World Urban Forum our team, under the leadership of Patrick Condon, helped develop a sustainable plan to accommodate growth in the Greater Vancouver Regional district (Our equivalent to the Montreal Urban Community; The CMM).
So it was no coincidence that I was comfortable advocating for our municipalities. Jack also knew that I had grown up in one of the best towns in Canada. The same town that had nurtured him as a young man. We shared a story about our youth in Hudson. It was our last conversation. Jack was hopeful and optimistic for the future. I am too. I know what we can do together.
I served three different portfolios over the course of the 41st parliament. Energy & Natural Resources due to my knowledge of water, forest and alternative energy issues. Official Languages, due to my unique experience as an Anglophone Quebecois that lived in Hudson, an official Language Minority Community. In each one, I worked with government to improve policy and social outcomes.
Finding what unites us is a skill I gained in my work as a parliamentarian - working with diverse stakeholders to develop a vision for the place we all live together. I worked to ensure that the values of ecological, social and economic sustainability were part of the collective vision for our country. I gained the ability to scrutinize the budgeting of billions of taxpayer dollars.
There was a learning curve in taking on this challenge. But I’ve always been a quick learner and I’ve always persevered even in the face of adversity. By the end of my four years in parliament I was knowledgeable about policy implementation. I’m ready for my next challenge as Mayor of Hudson. I'm proven in the public realm and dedicated to the town that I’ve long called home. Being mayor requires a diverse skillset and set of experiences that match up well with mine.
I’m excited to take on the mantle of leadership to lead our team toward building a vibrant, sustainable village and I have the experience to do it.