Scott Reid, MP for the riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston

Mar 13th, 2018 | By | Category: On The Cover

Scott Reid has been a Federal Member of Parliament for almost two decades. Recently, he was awarded the “Best Civic Outreach Effort” at the 2017 Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year awards. All parties vote on the recipient, so it is never a party decision as to who is singled out. Mary Cook recently talked with Reid about the award, and his long tenure as a Federal Member of Parliament.

Y@H: Was this award a surprise?

SR: Yes! The Maclean’s/L’Actualite awards are awarded by counting ballots that have been distributed to MPs of all parties, and then returned to the editors of the two magazines. Votes are then weighted using a system that gives more credence to votes cast by an MP from one party in favour of an MP for another party (since we all have the bad habit of noticing the good features of our partisan colleagues, and the bad features of our partisan opponents). So I must have been chosen based primarily on the votes of Liberal and NDP MPs, rather than of other Conservatives.

 

Y@H: Exactly why were you chosen?

SR: Over the past seventeen years, I’ve conducted carefully-designed surveys, which I call ‘constituency referenda,’ on key issues where I believe that the best way for me to vote is to simply reflect the views of my constituents. It’s an exercise as close to an actual referendum as it is possible for an MP to manufacture. If Canada were as democratic as some other states are (most notably, Switzerland, but increasingly, other mature democracies like New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK), we would have submitted questions about same-sex marriage, assisted dying, electoral reform and marijuana legalization, to a national referendum, rather than having Parliament make our decisions for us.

In each of these cases, I turned the question over to the voters of the riding, and then voted as they instructed me. I maintain that citizens, voting as guided by their consciences and by their common sense, are far more likely to make mature and reasonable decisions than are MPs who,  regardless of party, are having their arms twisted by the party whips.

I think that after seventeen years of doing this, my colleagues have finally noticed. Some of them have spoken to me about using the same system in their own ridings.

Y@H: How do you differ from the other members of all parties?

SR: I’m not very partisan. This doesn’t make me unique, but it makes me relatively unusual. There is far too much partisan spirit in the House of Commons. But there are some kindred spirits in all the parties who would like to tone things down, and sometimes we are able to carve out a small, relatively non-partisan space. One such space is the Commons sub-committee on International Human Rights, which I chaired for seven years. We agreed that Canada’s weight in human rights matters would be greatly enhanced if we spoke with a single voice, and so we chose only to study matters where we could work together, and to issue only consensus reports.

Y@H: You serve a huge riding. How do you manage to cover all bases?

SR: It’s easier than it used to be, thanks to email and the fact that we have a toll-free phone line for constituents to contact my office. But the riding is big enough that when I have an evening event in Kingston, which is (based on the location of my house) the far end of the riding, I just stay over at a B&B. Happily, Kingston is a great place for a romantic overnight, so I try to take my wife with me on these occasions, as a kind of mini-escape.

 

Y@H: When did you first become interested in politics?

SR: When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be a novelist. But at age 16, when I tried to spend the summer writing a novel, it became evident to me that my talent was pretty limited. Around this age –  maybe a week after my sixteenth birthday –  I picked up a book on the subject of constitutional reform and as improbable as this sounds, I was hooked. I still have the book, which is full of my scribbled marginal notes.

 

Y@H:  Do you remember your first election?

SR: Nobody forgets their first election! When I first ran in 2000, I was 36 years old, and had never run for any elected position in the past. I had published two books on Canadian politics, and had worked as a magazine editor and a teacher in the United States and Australia. So I was very inexperienced. But the membership of the Canadian Alliance –  the party for which I ran in that election –  was willing to nominate unconventional candidates. On election day, I was one of only two Canadian Alliance members elected east of the Manitoba border, and one of only three non-Liberals in the entire province of Ontario. So that led to a somewhat frenzied introduction to parliamentary life.

 

Y@H: What are some of the local issues you face as a member of parliament.

SR: All issues relate to the fact that everyone in this riding is either rural (ie their well-being is closely tied to the land they own, as a farmer, campground owner, etc.) or is a small-town dweller. So issues relating to over-regulation of land use are critically important –  a decade ago, we were ‘Ground Zero’ for the landowner movement. Increasingly, some towns within the riding are becoming places in which young families are settling, and others are becoming places to which recent retirees are moving. Both of these groups have concerns that are typical for middle-class people in their particular stage of life.

Y@H: Do you see how the running of government can be more efficient?

SR: Of course! I have a business background, and it is clear that the federal government could benefit from some of the practices employed in the private sector. Of course, government is not a profit-making business, so you don’t want to overdo the comparison, but I also see non-profits, and charitable enterprises that are far less bureaucratic and far more efficient than the government.

Y@H: Tell us about a normal day in the life of a member of parliament.

SR: There are two kinds of ‘normal’ days: When the House of Commons is in session (26 weeks each year) and when it is not (the other 26). When the Commons is sitting, I stay in Ottawa. Happily, we have grown kids in Ottawa, so I sleep at their place. Days are rigidly scheduled with committee meetings, debates in the Commons, pre-scheduled votes, etc. I normally arrive at work at around 9 am, move from committee-room to committee-room all during normal work hours, and after votes in the Commons (which are usually finished around 7 pm), I go back to my office and catch up on reading or paperwork, and head home around 9 pm.

In the summer, I ride my bike to and from the house. In the winter, I take the bus in one direction and walk in the other. The hour of walking is my antidote to the fact that our job involves a lot of sitting.

The weeks in the riding are more varied. Depending on the day, I have meetings in the constituency office, attend events ranging from plowing matches to Santa Claus parades, and attend to personal projects.

Y@H: Your family started the Giant Tiger chain of stores. Were you ever involved in that venture?

SR: I am very much involved with Giant Tiger. My father started the company in 1961 and is still Chairman of the Board, working five days a week at the head office in Ottawa. In January this year, I became Vice-Chairman. I have an office at headquarters, and work there most Fridays.

 Y@H: Like everyone in a high profile position, I’m sure you need some down time. How does Scott Reid relax?

SR: In winter I ski. I  keep my skis in the back of the car when I’m in Ottawa, as there’s night-time skiing until 10 pm at some of the hills. In the summer I have my bike. And my wife Robyn and I love to go camping and we do four or five camping trips every summer.

Y@H: Will you seek election in the next federal race?

SR: I’m already the nominated candidate for my party.

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