Dan Albas still gets the shivers when he walks into the House of Commons, and it’s not from a cold Ottawa draft.
The neophyte MP says every once in a while the magnitude of his newfound responsibility sinks in, prompting a feeling of awe.
“Walking up to Parliament Hill, hearing the Peace Tower ring and seeing the Canadian flag at the top, pretty much every day I go in, I have to pinch myself,” he says. “It’s a very humbling thing to walk into the corridors where so much of our history, so many things happened that changed the course of our country. To be a part of that is very humbling.
“I take my responsibility very seriously, but there’s a small part of me that smiles and grins at the opportunity.”
This past year has been a landmark year for Albas, who traded his chair at the Penticton city council table for a federal seat representing the riding of Okanagan Coquihalla.
Replacing a veteran MP and strong political figure like Stockwell Day could spark feelings of intimidation, but Albas attributes the success of his first six months in office to members of Parliament past and present.
“I have been very fortunate that I’ve had some very good examples not only in my predecessor, but also some people who have been working very hard in Ottawa to get results,” he said. “It’s how he conducted himself. It makes you think that when you are representing the riding that you want to leave the office in as high a state as you arrived at.”
He has also been absorbing as much advice as possible: including one tidbit about understanding what the community is about.
“I’ve been told there’s no votes in Ottawa and to spend as much time in your riding. I don’t think he meant that in political terms. But there’s a lot to be said for knowing your riding inside and out,” he said.
That, in part, is what prompted his summer tour of communities and caused his fall calendar to become jam-packed with meeting organizations and touring facilities throughout communities like Penticton, West Kelowna and Merritt.
“I try to attend as many different events as I can in the riding. Being new to the job, you want to make sure you understand the unique needs of your riding. We have forestry, we have mining, we have ranching, we have tourism, we have agriculture,” he said.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have his fair share of federal work. Albas is sitting on the scrutiny of regulations joint standing committee, which is looking to update laws that have been on the books for several years but could be hampering present-day industry.
He cites the example of his private member’s bill to allow inter-provincial importation of liquor, which received all-party support in Parliament, as one stumbling block. Allowing increased trade across the U.S. border, he added, will be another big hurdle to tackle in 2012.
“Let’s be realistic: we are talking about tightening our belts and at the same time, making common sense changes to regulations so we do not end up with a border that does not work for us. We want to have safety and prosperity,” he said. “These things haven’t been looked at and they are holding us back.”
Elected at 34 years old, Albas is among the next generation serving in Parliament, and that, he feels, is fostering a new approach to federal affairs.
“We have some very very talented people, and not just on our side. We have the youngest Parliament,” he said.
Albas is beginning to see more collaboration in the riding, using the example of a Peachland visitor centre project request for $250,000 in funding. A renovation to an old school was stalled after bats — which are a protected species — were discovered in the attic. Rather than lament the situation, local leaders invited Albas in to make lemonade by seeking to move the visitor centre to a central location that would incorporate the chamber of commerce and Boys and Girls Club, allowing them to then turn the existing building into a centre for bats — creating a tourist draw rooted in environmental protection, science and education.
Joint ventures crafted from a collaborative mindset will be critical to emerging successfully from tough economic conditions, and he hopes the attitude spreads throughout the riding.
“It’s very rare that you sit down with 13 different groups and they’re all asking for the same thing,” Albas said. “Those kinds of things help me go to Ottawa to make the case.
“It’s about having a strong local vision. We all serve the same people.”