One year after election, MP Gord Johns says he is working across party lines

Gord Johns in the news

Source: PQB News, by John Harding

His House of Commons office is in the top five on the Ottawa MPs' list of 'how far I have to travel to get home.'

It can mean days and weeks away from family, friends and the beauty and serenity of Vancouver Island.

Gord Johns' excited tone of voice when he speaks of what he's accomplished in his first year of office seems to shrug off all that geography stuff.

"I love my job," the Courtenay-Alberni MP said last week on the first anniversary of his election. "The hardest thing is the travel. It's hard on the family; it's hard to to be away from home and it's a lot of time away from home."

When he is in his riding, which stretches from Tofino to Port Alberni to Courtenay to Qualicum Beach to Parksville, Johns said he has enjoyed engaging with residents and helping them, through his staff, with all things federal government.

"Communicating with residents has been one of my highlights of my first year," said the rookie NDP MP. "I've been accountable and proactive."

He has been on numerous business walks with local government officials and chamber of commerce directors. He has hosted town hall meetings and a number of more informal coffee chats. He set up offices in Courtenay, Port Alberni and Parksville and he said his staff has provided assistance for about 500 people through those offices.

"That's first and foremost," Johns said of that constituency office work. "We work on really important issues."

That is not to say Johns hasn't been busy trying to make a mark in Ottawa, never an easy feat for a first-term MP with a party that has third-place status in the House.

Johns has risen in the House more than 80 times. He has been trying to keep the Liberal government's feet to the fire on issues he believes are important for the people of his riding.

He said he is proud of his role in getting $57,000 more in federal funding for youth employment this past summer, which turned into 27 jobs, mostly in Port Alberni where he said one in three children live in poverty.

He also spoke about his role in keeping the file of the four missing Azer children of Comox front and centre. Alison Azer has not seen her children for almost a year now after they were taken to Iran by her ex-husband.

That issue may be a microcosm of what a backbench, first-term, third-party MP can do in Ottawa.

"If we don't keep it (the Azer file) in (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's) mind, he won't make it a priority," said Johns.

The MP, whose job before this was CEO of the Tofino Chamber of Commerce, also said he has been fighting for small businesses in this past year, trying to get the federal Liberals to honour their promise to cut taxes for small businesses.

"We have been standing up for small business, calling on them (the Liberals) to reduce taxes."

Among other things, Johns has also worked on files involving derelict vessels, log exports, a new drywall tax and seniors' health issues. He said he is willing to go to bat in Ottawa for federal funding if a plan is presented to him to help the homeless of the Parksville Qualicum Beach region.

"Our priority has been calling on the government for more funding for homeless shelters," said Johns. "When they (in Parksville) are looking to build something they can rest assured I will do everything I can to find funding for that project."

Johns also said he believes he is doing well to be heard in the halls of power as a member of a non-governing party.

"One thing that's a strength of mine is I can work across party line," he said.

Next up for Johns locally will be a meeting on seniors' health issues. Watch The NEWS for details.