Member of Parliament Richard Cannings now has all his offices staffed and up and running.
The MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, elected in October, has opened constituency offices in Penticton and Castlegar.
He’s also opened a Parliamentary office in Ottawa’s Confederation Building, a 1931-era stone building that houses offices of many backbench MPs a short distance from Centre Block.
Cannings described the process of setting up his constituency offices as taking longer than he expected, as leases were signed, furniture acquired, phones and Internet installed and staff hired.
“Originally I was naïve enough to think it would all be done before Christmas,” he said. “But it’s more or less complete now.”
The Penticton office is at #202-301 Main Street and the Castlegar office is at 1695A Columbia Avenue.
Cannings plans an open house in his Penticton office on Saturday, Feb. 13 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Staffing his Penticton office are Andrina Iliffe and Joy Newton.
Illife has experience working as an assistant to Bob Rae when he was the NDP Premier of Ontario.
Newton was an assistant to Dennis Bevington, the former NDP MP for Northwest Territories, who was defeated in the 2015 election.
“She had moved to Osoyoos before the election and applied for this job,” Cannings said.
In the Castlegar office, Gina Petrakos, who previously worked for former MP Alex Atamanenko, has returned to work for Cannings.
Jennifer Ratz, member’s assistant in Ottawa, is another former Atamanenko employee who has many years of experience working on Parliament Hill.
Cannings said last week he was in the process of hiring a legislative assistant for his Ottawa office. That person will assist with committee work, private member’s business and other Parliamentary functions.
MPs’ constituency offices typically handle “casework,” assisting constituents in their dealings with the federal government. Immigration, Employment Insurance, pensions and passports are among the matters they help with.
“We’ve been doing casework ever since the election,” said Cannings. “I was handling it myself for a while and then Jenn in Ottawa – I hired her as quickly as I could – has been doing lots until we hired local staff.”
Cannings said that in addition to individual casework, he’s also been assisting with refugees coming to the South Okanagan, as well as working on homelessness issues in the region.
Another issue raised by some of the smaller wineries in the region is new health and safety regulations from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that affect wine sales to other provinces.
“These new regulations will require a prohibitive amount of work for small wineries to comply with if they want to ship across (provincial) boundaries,” said Cannings, noting that interprovincial wine markets were opened up with a private member’s bill brought in by Dan Albas, now the MP for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola.
“It’s like they open one door and slam the next one in their face,” Cannings said.
The House of Commons resumed sitting last week, having only sat briefly in December before the Christmas break. Cannings gave his speech in the House in December.
Last week debate wrapped up on the Speech from the Throne. On Thursday, Cannings posed questions in the House during an opposition day debate on a Conservative motion about pipelines.
“The NDP view is that we consider ourselves the progressive opposition in this Parliament,” said Cannings. “The Liberals made promises around climate change, Bill C-51, pensions and things like that we will be holding them to.”
Despite calls from some MPs after the election to make the House of Commons more civil, Cannings said there is still a lot of heckling.
“It’s not an entirely civil place yet,” he said. “I would say there’s still quite a bit of disruptive heckling, largely from one party, and the Speaker has been trying to deal with it as much as he can… I’m still hopeful, perhaps naively, that we’re on the right track for a more civil House. It’s nice to think that when you have school groups they will see MPs vigorously debating, but in a more civilized fashion.”
Cannings’ Penticton office can be reached at 250-770-4480.
By Richard McGuire