From issue: Voices from the New Generation (Winter 2010)
“We need elected officials introducing good legislation, raising the level of debate and speaking the truth.”
I never planned on being a Member of Parliament (MP). If you told me two years ago that I would be sitting in Canada’s House of Commons, I would have laughed myself silly. I have always been interested in working toward social, economic and environmental justice. I was doing this work in a community legal clinic in Halifax on Canada’s Atlantic coast, when people started asking me if I would run for electoral politics.
When I celebrated my 36th birthday last fall, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on my first anniversary as an MP in the House of Commons and how it relates to the work I used to do as a community legal worker.
This past year I’ve experienced inspiring legislative victories and demoralizing defeats. These struggles have occurred within the stone walls of the Canadian Parliament, embedded within the pomp and circumstance of our national democratic institutions, on live TV, and in our national newspapers for the entire country to see. While these struggles are similar to the ones I’ve faced in my community and within the legal system, it has been an adjustment to understand how very public my work is now.
This work is surely valuable and meaningful. But is it any more valuable than the work I was doing, before my election, as a community legal worker? I don’t think so.
My earlier work involved advocating for low-income Canadians before different boards and tribunals. I went to law school, although I had no intention of being a lawyer: I thought a law degree would help me become a different kind of activist, one who understood legislation and legal systems, and one who could use the law as a tool for social change. We changed unjust laws through our expertise and efforts to apply the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other legal tools, and because of the pressure that came from community mobilization.
Now, as an MP, I help create laws. Last year we debated, among other issues, the future of our economy, the need for real action on climate change and whether or not free trade with Colombia will aggravate human rights abuses in that country. But I can stand up in the House of Commons and speak until I am blue in the face, and my proposals won’t go forward unless my fellow citizens demand change. I have no power inside the walls of our House of Commons unless the power of community is present outside those walls...