A Week in the Life of an MLA
Posted on July 26, 2015 by Greg Clark
It’s been another busy week of very rewarding constituency work and I thought I’d give you a summary of a week in the summertime life of an MLA. Most meetings are a team effort where one or both of the two remarkable Calgary-Elbow constituency staff Jodi and Simone will join me. A lot of the work that goes on in the office involves advocating for our constituents on a wide range of local issues, so having great people on the team who understand the constituency is critical to our success.
The week kicked off meeting with representatives of the SAIT and ACAD Students Associations (I met with U of C and MRU reps last week). We talked about the challenges of student debt, how to improve access to post-secondary education and spent a lot of time talking about mental health on campus. There is a three-year program called the Alberta Colleges Mental Health Initiative that has been very effective at allowing Students Associations across the province to start addressing mental wellness. The program runs out this year and I promised to advocate for the renewal and possible expansion of the program beyond this year.
Later on Monday I visited the Mustard Seed to discuss their work in providing housing and social supports to people in crisis. We talked about the progress being made on the 10 year plan to end homelessness and in particular the role the Inter-Agency Council going forward. I committed to help them in any way I could and offered the assistance of the Calgary-Elbow constituency staff if there were any issues Mustard Seed clients needed help with.
In addition to a few internal meetings and what seemed like a couple of hundred emails I finished off the day talking with the Chinook Rotary Club to prep for my presentation to their meeting next week.
Tuesday and Wednesday were taken up mostly with team status meetings and doing some of the work that came out of our meetings on Monday and the weeks previous. The Calgary-Elbow constituency staff and I spent time on case work (a WCB file and some work advocating for constituents still waiting for their DRP files to be closed more than two years post-flood). I had a meeting to discuss how Alberta can better leverage the broadband SuperNet to support startups and economic development around the province, and I sat down with a constituent who is a small business owner to talk about minimum wage and the overall economic picture in Alberta.
On Thursday I toured one of several L’Arche group homes in Calgary-Elbow. L’Arche provides housing and community supports for people with developmental disabilities and follows a remarkably successful model practiced around the world. We talked about the impact of the changes to building standards and the costs to retrofit all of their buildings compared to the benefits of doing so (which seemed minimal to me…it appears like a ‘one size fits all’ approach has been taken where some discretion is required). I will continue to work with them to advocate on their behalf.
We spent Thursday afternoon meeting with WaterSmart, who, among other things, run the Water Portal (www.albertawater.com). We talked about watershed management, Alberta’s challenges and opportunities to better manage drought and of course the need for flood mitigation. Although this is an issue I’ve been close to for some time, I certainly learned a lot in the two hours-plus we spent together. To cap off the day I joined several of my MLA colleagues and a cross-section of people from Alberta’s arts and business communities at the kickoff of the Calgary Folk Music Festival. So in case you were starting to worry, being an MLA isn’t all work all the time!
On Friday we had a long conversation about a new affordable housing development proposed on a parcel of land at the intersection of 45th Street SW at Glenmore Trail. The project is led by Horizon Housing in partnership with Silvera Seniors and would create several hundred new affordable housing spaces in a mixed-use development. This project is a great opportunity to help address Calgary’s affordable housing crisis, and also creates vibrancy in what is currently under-used land in an accessible location. I look forward to learning more as the project proceeds and will do what I can to support it.
The second meeting of the day was at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Sheldon Kennedy since I became an MLA and Friday Jodi and I were given a tour of the remarkable facility that bears his name. The Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (SKCAC) is responsible for all child abuse investigations in Calgary and Southern Alberta. Their model breaks down bureaucratic barriers to focus services on abused children and their families (six agencies including police, health, education, First Nations and family services work together in the same office). This one-stop approach means victims only have to tell their stories once, and are provided with the support they need to start their healing journey.
The tour gave us an opportunity to hear first-hand from many of the staff who work at the Centre. I also got an appreciation of the scale of the issue of child abuse in our community, and the important work the SKCAC does helping break the cycle of abuse. It is truly an innovative organization and is a world-leader in the delivery of integrated services.
Beyond the remarkable work they do I strongly believe the SKCAC should serve as a model for government service delivery. Other areas of government can learn a lot from SKCAC about how to break down barriers and provide more efficient and client-focused services.
After a quick run (okay, it wasn’t that quick) I met with the team at Momentum, a very successful community economic development agency providing job training, support for people who want to start a new business and money management skills for new Canadians, First Nations and Albertans living in poverty. We talked about the success of their model and the work still to be done. In particular we talked about the need for a comprehensive Alberta poverty reduction strategy that goes beyond just minimum wage.
Friday evening and Saturday was family time and we got to take in the Saturday program of Folk Fest like we always do. A real highlight was hearing one of my heroes John Mann, the lead singer of Spirit of the West. His bravery, perseverance and dignity in the face of early-onset Alzheimer’s dementia is something we should all aspire to. I’m not shy in telling you it was an emotional set and more than a few tears were shed.
That evening we had some good-natured cross partisan discussion in the beer garden (where else?), with ND MLAs Robyn Luff and Minister Kathleen Ganley, prospective ND candidate in Calgary-Foothills Bob Hawksworth, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and PC MLA Richard Gottfried. And of course Kikkiplanet herself Kathleen Smith!
This is an aspect of the life of an MLA few people get to see. Although we represent different parties nearly every single MLA I’ve dealt with genuinely wants the best for Alberta. We have a different view on how to get there but we share a common purpose to make this province the very best it can be. In my experience so far I can tell you that the vast majority of MLAs respect one another inside and outside of the Legislative Assembly. Let's hope it continues.
On Sunday it was back to work, doing some Alberta Party prep work for the upcoming byelection in Calgary-Foothills and participating in a forum in Tompkins Park organized by Gabor Zinner and Dr. Eliah Bailey on behalf of Speakers Corner Calgary. I shared the stage with ND MLA Karen McPherson, Green Party Leader Janet Keeping and student debate champion Keenan MacNeal to discuss the topic Alberta’s Economic Crisis: What is the way forward?
If you’re interested the event was recorded and will be posted on the Speakers Corner Calgary YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/SpeakersCornerYYC
I hope this has been a worthwhile summary of the work of an MLA. I’ll post regular summaries of my work going forward and I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to contact me any time at Calgary.Elbow@assembly.ab.ca.