Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns wants to see the country “build back better” after the difficult year that was 2020.
The NDP MP says that 2020 was the most difficult year of his career so far. The novel coronavirus pandemic was declared back in mid-March 2020, as cases of community transmission were confirmed across the country. Now, almost a year later, the pandemic is still in effect and Johns is still advocating for his riding in parliament.
During the fall session in 2020 (Sept. 1 to Dec. 31), Johns made more parliamentary interventions than any other B.C. Member of Parliament, speaking more than 300 times according to Open Parliament data.
“That’s something that I’m particularly proud of, because it means that we’re able to get our message from Courtenay-Alberni on record and pressure the government on issues that are not just affecting us here in our riding, but across Canada,” said Johns.
As the NDP critic for Small Business and Economic Development, many of these interventions were to speak on behalf of small business owners looking for relief in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic—pushing the federal government to increase the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) from $1,000 to $2,000, and pushing the government’s emergency wage subsidy from a 10 percent subsidy to 75 percent.
“We’ve been able to leverage ourselves in a minority position to get the government to work with us to deliver help for people,” said Johns. “I’m particularly proud of being able to pressure the government to fix some of that rollout, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. There’s still a lot of people that have been left behind. Our focus [at the federal level] is and always has been on getting more help to more people and quickly. That’s where I put my energy.”
In 2021, Johns says homelessness, mental health and addictions issues are some of his top priorities. He is currently working with Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne and the City of Port Alberni on an application for a rapid housing initiative that will create permanent affordable housing for vulnerable people in the region.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the launch of this rapid housing initiative in 2020, which will invest $1 billion to create 3,000 new housing units across the country.
“It’s a drop in the bucket,” said Johns. “We want to make sure that we get a piece of that action and that the federal government starts to invest in homelessness, especially in Port Alberni where we’re seeing lives lost weekly. We’re going to pressure the government to roll out a federal strategy where they’re looking at creating a safe supply, decriminalization, changing the stigma of those suffering with addiction and come up with a treatment and recovery plan for those individuals that have fallen victim to opioid disorder.”
Johns also hopes to get more support for a potential floating dry-dock project in Port Alberni, which has been in the works for three years. The Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA) has been trying to secure government funding to build the project, which is anticipated to create “hundreds” of primary and secondary shipbuilding and metal fabrication jobs.
Other issues on Johns’ plate include climate action and tackling systemic racism.
“We’re seeing incremental changes,” said Johns. “Our riding’s having a huge influence on policy in Ottawa.”
Most of all, Johns wants to ensure that the federal government comes out with a strong recovery plan for COVID-19.
“A strong recovery plan that includes a better health-care system,” said Johns. “That includes better long-term care, affordable childcare. Better care of seniors. It’s been a challenging year, to say the least, and I’m so lucky that we’ve got some great individuals and leaders throughout our riding that have been able to give me ideas or share with me the gaps, from small business owners to individuals. This year’s going to be a really important year as we recover.”
Johns uses the phrase “building back better” to describe the changes that have to take place in order for Canadians to recover from the biggest economic and health crisis seen in generations.
“We want to make sure that we don’t go back to the old normal because it doesn’t work for most Canadians, especially people in our riding,” said Johns. “We want to come back with a new normal where people have a better life and we’re looking after each other.
“The challenges have been extremely difficult and I applaud everybody for doing their part to flatten the curve, to help each other, to lift each other up to support local businesses through this time and to share their challenges with me, so that I can go to bat for them in Ottawa.”