After spending the past 20 years in Tofino, Gord Johns is off to Ottawa to take his place as the new Courtenay-Alberni riding’s first MP.
The NDP’s Johns spent election night in Parksville where he heard he had bested Conservative incumbent John Duncan to the tune of 26,595 votes to 19,631.
The NDP took six of Vancouver Island’s seven ridings—Green Party leader Elizabeth May won Saanich-Gulf Island—but the party fell to third nationally meaning the West Coast has an MP outside the governing party for the first time since 2006 but Johns does not believe he’ll carry less clout than his predecessors.
“We saw what it looked like with a majority member in government and I think people were actually really disappointed about the lack of voice we had in Ottawa,” he told the Westerly News last week.
“The Liberal government has made a very serious commitment, which we’ll be holding them to, that they’re going to represent all Canadians and they’re not going to be playing partisan politics when it comes to giving our share to our riding and we’ll keep an eye on that and monitor that as we see the need for supports in our communities come forward.”
The first session of Canada’s new parliament is set for Dec. 3 and Johns said his first priority will be to push for the reopening of Coast Guard stations closed by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
“That will be our first opportunity to ask the government what their plans are around marine traffic control centres,” he said. “We need to reopen those centres, we know that we need more local knowledge in the Coast Guard.”
One of the centres Harper closed was Ucluelet’s Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre, which was taken offline in August this year.
Johns noted the new Liberal government made a solid move earlier this month when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered the reopening of Vancouver’s Kitsilano station.
“We’re really happy to see the Liberals take that first step,” Johns said.
“We hope they’ll follow through with their promises, and stop the closure of Comox [Marine Communications and Traffic Services centre] and reopen the Tofino station, which is in Ucluelet, so that we can make sure we have the services we need in place for a very robust and advancing marine economy as we increase trade with Asia.”
While Johns is heading into his rookie year in federal politics, he said he will benefit from his experiences on Tofino’s municipal council and the Tofino Long Beach chamber of commerce.
“It’s at a much bigger scale being a member of parliament and certainly the responsibilities are very high but having that local government experience has been invaluable,” he said.
“Having run a chamber of commerce, the diversity of our region and on the West Coast helps me understand diversity in our country and making sure our voice is heard won’t be a problem for me as a Member of Parliament.”
Both Tofino mayor Josie Osborne and Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques have expressed excitement about having a West Coaster in Ottawa and Johns said his local knowledge will help him push local issues to the federal forefront.
“You have someone there who’s going to represent you, someone who’s going to speak on your behalf, someone that understands your issues and can connect with you, someone you can reach out to and know they’re going to listen to your issues, understand what you’re talking about and relate,” he said.
“I am in touch with our communities and I know our needs very well.”
He hopes to strengthen local commerce in his riding’s rural communities.
“We know that wealth starts in rural communities but it often leaves rural communities and we need to change that,” he said.
“My job as a Member of Parliament is for people to clearly understand what our needs are and why it benefits all Canadians to start to work on the solutions that help support rural communities. Rural communities are the lifeblood in our nation.”
Johns plans to set up constituency offices in Parksville, Port Alberni and Courtenay but said budget constraints would not allow for a West Coast office.
“We have to be very respectful of taxpayers dollars,” he said.
He added he will keep in constant contact with West Coast leaders and assured he will remain a West Coaster despite spending a lot of time in Ottawa.
“Of course I’ll miss home, it was a big sacrifice to give up living in the community that I love and adore and where my heart is to take on this career change,” he said.
“I think about the West Coast everyday. My deep connection to our communities is what motivates and inspires me.”