New MP Feature: Peggy Nash
The first of a three part series getting to know Toronto's new MPs
What does a Member of Parliament do before they've set up their constituency office? If you're the new NDP MP for Parkdale-High Park, you turn your entire riding into your office and do your constituency work where the people are, rather than making them come to you.
Peggy Nash is just such a person, and while she would doubtlessly like to set up a bricks and mortar office in the near future, for now she's finding that being a nomadic MP is offering up as many benefits as drawbacks: it ensures that she is always traveling about the riding, getting to know it better; it means that she can't hide behind a desk; and it allows her to see more about the people she's dealing with - when she visits a community centre or an office, she can meet the whole staff, and get a real feel for the place.
With this in mind, we arranged to meet at the 'Coffee and all that Jazz' coffeeshop in Roncesvalles to discuss her experiences and goals as the MP for Parkdale-High Park.
Questions and answers edited for space
St Dan: As an MP, you are expected to speak to at least four levels - National, Provincial, Muncipal and Riding. At which level do you believe it is most important to speak?
Peggy Nash: I was elected by the people of Parkdale-High Park, so it's to them that I owe my main focus. Speaking up at the national level is still important, and as the NDP critic for Toronto, city wide issues are important to me. I intend to work closely with Gerrard Kennedy (the Liberal MPP for Parkdale-High Park) and the local city councillors to improve life for our constituents. People expect us to be able to get things done, not to bicker over who's responsible.
SD: As you mentioned, you are the NDP critic for Toronto. What steps do you feel the federal government must take in order to ensure the prosperity of the city?
PN: We need to solve the fiscal imbalance between the Toronto and the other levels of government. We pay lots in taxes but not enough of thosen taxes are invested back into services and infrastructure; we're underfunding transit, youth services, and seniors' programmes. Toronto, and other major cities, should have a seat at the table when important issues - immigration, housing, healthcare, and others are discussed. The gas tax must flow - all five cents - immidiately. Those monies should be used for transit rather than highways. We also need to increase of cultural investment - culture creates jobs, lets us understand who we are as a people, and protects our intellectual sovereignty.
SD: What do you feel is a major challenge facing your riding, and how do you think it could be solved?
PN: Housing, and the lack of affordable housing is a major issue for Parkdale-High Park. Those on fixed incomes or minimum wage jobs have difficulty finding places to live. At minimum we need to create more assisted housing spaces for the ill and elderly.
Immigration is another major issue; Toronto is the biggest destination and immigration issues affect the entire city. The backlog of refugee and settles issues is enormous, as are the issues regarding accreditation for skilled immigrants who are already here. These problems are currently being dealt with at an individual constituency level; it makes but the majority of our work. It would be a much better use of resources if we could shift this workload centrally and avoid duplication. The current five year backlog is far too long.
SD: Looking to the future for a moment; if you could accomplich any one thing in your time as MP, what would it be?
PN: I want to make sure that Toronto is recognized for its importance to the county. We need to get money flowing to the city so that we can afford services on the ground. In order to be great, and to make the country great, Toronto needs attention from Ottawa. Once the money starts flowing though, MPs need to trust Torontonians and leave it up to city officials to spend the money to benefit the city.
SD: What has been the biggest surprise about being an MP that you've discovered?
PN: I know it sounds corny, but I was really surprised at how emotional it was when I first walked into Parliament: 308 people being there to represent 33 million; all the pioneers who had come before me; it felt like being part of a tradition. It was amazing how much of a privilege it felt to be able to represent my constituents.
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