Between 2008 and 2011, the Samara Centre for Democracy conducted exit interviews with 65 former MPs and found little consistency in how they defined the core purpose of their job.
As Samara reported, the answers varied, with one MP saying, “The first purpose is to serve one’s constituents” and another replying, ““People elect you to be in Parliament. They don’t elect you to schmooze in the constituency.”
With voters going to the polls on Oct. 21, KTW sat down with Cathy McLeod, the Conservative MP who will seek her fourth term as Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo’s representative in Ottawa, and asked her that very question: What does an MP do?
Her answer was succinct and to the point: “My team and myself try to provide excellence to constituents.”
In this age of online posts that are increasingly critical and decreasingly substantive, McLeod is aware of those who post insults, partisans calling for an MP who will “do something” for the riding. To that, she pointed to a box on her desk, overflowing with thank-you cards from constituents, and to a spreadsheet detailing federal funding that has come to the riding.
Since she was re-elected in 2015, McLeod said she and her constituency office staff on Seymour Street staff have dealt with more than 3,000 cases, working with residents on files such as immigration, Canada Revenue and passport issues.
Of those, she said, about 85 per cent have been solved.
A SATISFIED CONSTITUENT
One of those files involved Steve Lidguard.
Lidguard, from England, was looking to renew his work visa in February 2015.
“Immigration Canada is just a nightmare when you call the numbers,” he said. “You can call three different times and get three different answers to the same questions.”
Lidguard, whose wife is Canadian, said he hit a dead-end in his frustrating attempt to renew the work visa and was considering the expensive option of hiring an immigration lawyer.
Instead, he contacted his MP’s office and dealt with McLeod staffer Ellen Mason.
“And she was fantastic,” he said. “She pointed us in the right direction and did a lot of following up on our behalf. They met with us, emailed us all the time, talked on the phone.”
About six months into the no-working ordeal, in the fall of 2015, Lidguard found himself in limbo, with his wife working three jobs to keep the family of five afloat and with him considering the very real possibility of returning to England to earn money.
He told Mason of his predicament and, 10 days later, with the help of McLeod and her office, Lidguard received his work visa.
“I don’t know if it was coincidence and that was the timing or if my visit that day did something, but it was done shortly after. For me, I’m impartial, I’m not allowed to vote because I’m not a citizen. I’ve heard the good and the bad about her — and her office, Ellen, did exactly what she said she was going to do.”
The MP’s team —Ellen Mason, Jennifer Heselton, Virika Miller and Tracy Gilchrist — gets credit from McLeod, who steps in when needed.
“Not every team is as successful with supporting constituency issues as I like to say my team is,” McLeod said. “It’s a great team. Occasionally, we have to escalate when they need me to step in, when they need me to go to a minister, write a letter, start to probe deeper. That becomes part of my job, too.”
Another big part of an MP’s job — and one often focused on by the general public — is bringing money to the riding in various forms.
Since the October 2015 election, McLeod can point to at least $79 million in federal dollars coming into the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding, for TRU, Kamloops Airport, seniors’ groups and more.
“In terms of funding, you don’t get to do those nice cheques anymore, which is really unfortunate,” she quipped. “But I do make sure, when I’m meeting with organizations, they say, ‘We want to do X’ and what we do is, we watch for the opportunities for X.”
A PERSONAL CONNECTION IN THE CARIBOO
Mitch Campsall, mayor of 100 Mile House, said he has never seen an MP in his small Cariboo community as often as he sees McLeod visit the town two hours northwest of Kamloops.
“We don’t have any political party in these council chambers,” he said.
“We have to deal with whatever government is in power.”
“I’m not NDP. I’m not Liberal. I’m not Conservative,” Campsall said.
“I’m looking at what Cathy is doing and she is always in our community, always bringing grants. She’s doing stuff for people non-stop.”
Campsall also has a personal connection to McLeod’s work as MP.
His nephew was critically injured in a fall at a resort in the Dominican Republic. Campsall said there were problems with the insurance company as his nephew, who later died, was in hospital with a brain injury.
He called McLeod’s office and received a call within 30 minutes.
“They got things going,” Campsall said. “They made sure he wasn’t kicked out of the hospital. Cathy McLeod was very huge in the fact that everything that could be done was being done because of her and her team.”
McLeod recounted how she and her team stepped in to help sort out the insurance issues and ensure the injured man’s mother received an emergency passport so she could bring her boy home.
“I laid down hard on the insurance company and said, ‘Solve this,’” McLeod explained. “Because they were going to kick him out of the hospital.”
ON THE FIRE LINES
McLeod referenced the devastating wildfires of 2017 as an example of a fluid situation in which an MP needs to get involved, and one from which various issues will arise in the months and years after the last flame flickers.
In the summer of 2017, McLeod reached out to Thompson-Nicola Regional District CAO Sukh Gill to ask what was needed. Gill told the MP intake support at emergency social services was required.
So, McLeod said, she was trained and joined the volunteers at ESS.
“And it was through talking to the people who were coming in, hearing what their stories were, you got to really understand what some of the problems were,” McLeod said.
Her experience during that fire season locally, and her exposure to similar wildfire issues when visiting Manitoba, led to From The Ashes, a report on fire safety and emergency management in Indigenous communities.
The report from the all-party Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, on which McLeod sits as vice-chair, produced a number of recommendations to improve funding, communication, training and policy.
The federal Liberal government agreed to all recommendations in the report.
“That’s where the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives go together and said, ‘This is important,’” McLeod said.
She noted she has also been pressing the federal government on the need to exempt homeowners from capital gains tax when they need to remove wood from their properties during a declared state of emergency.
She has also spoken on the need to create a tax credit for property owners who are required to remove trees from within 100 metres of their property line for insurance purposes.
AN ANSWER FOR THE CRITICS
To the question as to whether she has been an effective MP, McLeod is resolute in her response.
“Yes,” she said,
“I’m happy to talk to any of them about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. Maybe what I need to do is talk more loudly about some of these things that I’m really proud about doing because people don’t know about it.
“Most people aren’t aware of how what happens in the riding connects through to the work I do in Ottawa.”