As part of our new series we will be interviewing a number of politicians, economists and people with a profound interest in national and global affairs. First up is our interview with Pam Damoff, the Liberal MP for the riding of Oakville North - Burlington in Canada. Leaving a career in the world of finance to pursue her goals in politics, Pam has been an MP since the 2015 Canadian Federal Elections, in addition to her role as vice-chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
Leaving one of the most profitable sectors of the Canadian economy (Investment Banking and Finance) to pursue a career in politics is certainly interesting. What inspired you to take up a career serving the Canadian people and did you face any obstacles in your path towards becoming an MP?
As you know, I successfully ran for council in 2010, after involvement in a number of community initiatives over the years, I was on council for five years and then the opportunity to run federally, which was something I’d thought of doing but didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to do, came up. Regardless of the political party, politics is about helping people and the community, it doesn’t really matter where you are in government. Hedy Fry, the longest running female Member of Parliament, told me that you can affect more change in 10 min in government than you can in 10 years outside government. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid any serious obstacles in my path. I’ve faced some small challenges but working in government has been a tremendous opportunity.
In an international context, many young people looking to enter the world of politics are frozen out due to a lack of connections or influential backers in the political scene, an issue predominantly witnessed in the United States of America. Do you feel that it is easier for newcomers without influential backing to enter and rise up the political scene in Canada than it is in the United States?
It’s definitely easier in Canada than in the United States, predominantly because of the election financing laws. Canada has very different election financing laws than the United States, in Canada only individuals can donate to political parties, private companies are unable to do so. Here in Canada we have a contribution limit of $1,500 per year to political parties, so whereas parties in the US are able to raise millions of dollars for local elections, Canadian parties raise a much lower amount. It is still difficult to raise that sum of money but it's definitely not impossible for newcomers to make a real difference
Earlier this year, Justin Trudeau received a lot of criticism for essentially backtracking on his promise to initiate electoral reform in Canada. Do you believe that the current 'first past the post' system is the best system for Canada or do you prefer an alternative system?
In terms of electoral reform, I held a town hall meeting over it and even at that meeting there was no general consensus about the best way to move forward. People have very passionate opinions about it but the Prime Minister has made a decision on this topic and we’re looking to move on from it. Many people are passionate about the topic but want to focus on more important issues, while people in my riding that I’ve talked to during canvassing recognize that their voices have been heard. It is something that is still on the radar, however there are more pressing issues to focus on.
Many Canadians are uneasy about the Temporary Foreign Worker program, with the view that foreign workers are taking up jobs that Canadian citizens are able to fill. With many of these TFW's not having a clear path to obtain residency in Canada, do you feel that the government should look to reform the program, and if so how can it do so?
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has strict guidelines about who can come into the country. These are clearly advertised and I don’t think the Temporary Foreign Workers are taking jobs from Canadians, particularly as it is ensured that Canadians fill these jobs first, and so I’m not really sure about how many Canadians are actually uneasy about it. Temporary Foreign Workers are necessary and needed and the government is always looking at how to improve programs like this.
Canada's auditor general reported in 2006 that the government-First Nations accountability relationship was "unworkable because little legitimacy is attached to it." Within the government-First Nations accountability relationship, would you say that the emphasis of the AANDC is more on controlling the use of funds than on treating First Nations leaderships as governments who receive authority to raise their own revenues?
It’s a very technical issue and a recent cabinet shuffle determined two departments to deal with the Northern and Southern affairs within Canada. It’s definitely important that we take a step forward in ensuring nation to nation development between the federal government and indigenous communities moving forward.
Given your position as vice chair of the Standing Committee of the Status of Women, do you feel as if Canada still experiences a gender pay gap in both the public and private sector? If so, what is the Liberal government doing to correct this?
Yes I believe there is still a gender pay gap within the workforce and there is data that supports this. There was a pay equity commission formed when we came into government and the government is looking to bring in legislation to correct this in 2018. However this legislation will only affect federally regulated organization, not all businesses in Canada. Women entering the workforce tend to start with lower pay and therefore continue to remain behind and our committee is definitely looking at programs to make sure this important issue is addressed
It is estimated that lost productivity caused by workers' depression and anxiety costs the Canadian economy almost $50 billion a year. Do you feel that mental health is something that should be covered in the Canadian health care system?
I definitely agree that the lack of coverage for mental health has been an issue but the government is looking to correct this, and the Minister of Health has announced that as part of a new health accord the federal government plans to provide funding of $5 billion over 10 years to provinces and territories provision of easily accessible mental health services, which is the first instance of federal mental health funding in Canada.
With housing prices in Canada skyrocketing, many young people are struggling to get on the housing ladder and it seems as if this is something that will continue in the near future. Despite the introduction of foreign buyer taxes and mortgage rule changes, do you believe that the Federal Government should look to develop initiatives for young people attempting to purchase homes?
So there have been changes introduced across the country to deal with the rising house prices that have definitely calmed the market, but there is still a large issue for young people trying to buy property. I am definitely not opposed to programs introduced by the federal government that aim to help young people in establishing themselves on the property ladder.