Gord Johns sees a growing inequity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in the Courtenay-Alberni federal constituency. The NDP MP-elect of the newly-created riding feels the number of children living in poverty is unacceptable. As such, he has vowed to work hard on initiatives to give children the best possible start to their lives.
The hard work began last week in Ottawa where he and other new members of parliament underwent ‘boot camp’ to learn the ropes of federal politics.
“It was really busy, very exciting,” said Johns, a father of three who lives in Tofino. “We had our first caucus meeting.”
Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau of the Liberals — whom Johns had previously met — addressed the new MPs.
“I think we (NDP and Liberals) have a lot more in common (than the Conservatives),” Johns said. “I think everyone in Canada feels more hopeful. The prime minister said he’s going to count on the opposition to push us to be better, and challenge the government. We’re going to make sure we live up to that ask.”
Johns has a second residence in Port Alberni, from where he can access any location in the riding within two hours. He hopes to set up a main office and two satellite offices by mid-February.
“I think people are excited about the fresh energy I bring to the hill, and into our party.”
Born and raised in Victoria, Johns moved to Tofino 21 years ago. His Island roots date back about a century. His great-grandparents met in Cumberland in the early-1920s. His great-grandfather lived in Royston before moving to Cumberland, and his grandmother was born in Union Bay. His great-grandmother lived up the central coast, where his mother grew up before attending school in Qualicum, Parksville and Port Alberni.
“Talk about having depth in the riding, it’s multi-generational. So the reconfiguration of the riding made it even more sentimental in terms of the depth of the roots in the riding.”
En route to his life in politics, Johns was influenced by a number of mentors, including Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser. Federal influences include Jean Crowder, Lynn Hunter, Nathan Cullen, Megan Leslie, Murray Rankin and NDP leader Tom Mulcair.
Before he unseated long-time Conservative MP John Duncan in last month’s federal election, Johns had served three years on Tofino council. He chose not to run for re-election because of his duties as executive director of the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. Its initiatives include the Tofino Ambassador Program, which focuses on business services and the history of the region.
“It’s an incredible model,” Johns said. “Again, it’s doing things differently, and in politics I want to do things differently. We’re at a pivotal moment in time in terms of how we manage our resources, how we manage our economy, and issues around the environment, and certainly issues related to aboriginal rights and title.”
Also concerning is a lack of federal infrastructure funding for municipalities.
“Municipalities only have the ability to collect about eight per cent of our overall tax, yet they’re responsible for 60 per cent of the funding for infrastructure,” Johns said. “Twenty-five years ago they were only responsible for 35 per cent.
“We have a huge infrastructure debt in Canada. Twenty- five years ago, the federal government was contributing much more. They’ve decreased funding for municipalities by 50 per cent over the last 25 years.”
Another issue is the question of affordable childcare. The answer, according to Mulcair’s plan, is to pay no more than $15 a day.
Johns said one in five children live in poverty in the Comox Valley. In Port Alberni, it’s one in three. On a national scale, the ratio is one in seven children.
“We’re way off the mark in our riding,” Johns said. “We need leadership and we need help from the federal government to take action. It (affordable childcare) is doable. They did it in Quebec.
“Seventy thousand people went back to work; 45,000 of them were on income assistance. It has to be done if we’re going to start to tackle child poverty.
“The number one way we can start to address poverty in our region is to invest in early childhood education. Inequality starts between the ages of three and five,” said Johns.
“If we’re going to move forward, we need to do it with an agenda of hope, love and optimism, in the words of (former NDP leader) Jack Layton.”