Like Dave, I was invited to a roundtable discussion with Edmonton’s MPs earlier this week. Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont MP Mike Lake has been holding constituent roundtables for a while now, and as the new chair of the Edmonton CPC Caucus Mike wanted to try the approach with his colleagues and a wider group of constituents. Here’s how Mike describes the roundtable approach:
Generally attended by ten to fifteen constituents, each meeting is designed to facilitate discussion about issues specifically raised by those at the table. In contrast to a typical town hall meeting, the roundtable, with its smaller group format, allows for greater interaction among the participants.
Mike made sure to invite a broad group for this first roundtable – there were lots of different viewpoints represented at the table! The MPs introduced themselves first (Tim Uppal, Peter Goldring, Brent Rathgeber and Mike were present for the whole meeting, Laurie Hawn had to step out shortly after we began), and then we went around the table. Each constituent provided a brief introduction and was asked to raise up to three issues that they wanted to discuss. I decided to mention two issues, one of local importance and one more applicable to Canada as a whole:
- LRT. As I have said many times before, LRT is perhaps the most important thing we need here in Edmonton to become the city we want to be. A strong, effective, and healthy public transit system is at the heart of becoming a more vibrant, sustainable city. So far, I don’t think Edmonton has received the support we require from the federal government.
- Internet. The usage based billing debate will rage on, though the federal government has said it will overturn any decision by the CRTC to move ahead with the plan. I think we need to shift the discussion, however. Canada’s competitiveness when it comes to telecommunications is abysmal at best. The cost of Internet and mobile service in Canada is far higher than most of the rest of the world, and that is negatively impacting our ability to compete globally.
It turns out that Mayor Mandel and City Council met with the MPs right before we did, and they talked a lot about LRT. We didn’t discuss it much in our roundtable, so I hope Council got the message across.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, Mike has had a lot of exposure to the usage based billing issue (he’s also on the Industry, Science and Technology committee). Dave and I shared our thoughts (he raised the same issue I did) and Mike did a nice job of explaining the issues to some of the other people in attendance. We did get into a brief side discussion on the CRTC that was rather interesting. I made some notes to do some additional research.
Some of the other topics that our group of nine constituents talked about included:
- Our lack of a national homelessness strategy.
- The size of government, and government debt.
- The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (Laurie Hawn aggressively took on the issue, stating that the information in the media is wrong).
- The federal impact on health care.
- Immigration, foreign trained professionals, and temporary foreign workers.
- The justice system and the continual problem of criminals getting back onto the streets.
- Western alienation.
- Student finance and the cost of tuition.
I thought Mike did an excellent job of keeping us on track and on topic. We went just five minutes over our scheduled time, after everyone agreed to extend the discussion slightly. Initially I felt that Mike was being somewhat defensive, talking about what the government is doing as he went down the list of issues, but that feeling soon passed as it became clear he was providing some context to the discussions. As much as it was an opportunity for us to talk about our issues, it was also an opportunity for the MPs to tell us about the work they are doing, and I appreciated hearing it from them directly. I just wish the other MPs spoke up a little more often (Mike did a lot of the talking).
I enjoyed the discussion, and the two hours flew by as a result. I hope Mike and his fellow Edmonton MPs found the session useful and that they do it again in the future! Thanks to Mike for the invite!