A politician’s job doesn’t begin (or end) in legislature


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Island MLA Sidney MacEwen talks to journalism students at Holland College about what the life of a MLA is really like. Haley-Lynn Bohan photo.

By Haley-Lynn Bohan

Feb. 28, 2017

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey starts every day in Ottawa bright and early.

At 8 a.m., he and 31 other Liberal MPs from Atlantic Canada sit down and talk about regional issues.

Like the other MPs, Casey brings up issues from his province he has gathered while home.

“You can’t speak for people unless you speak to people.”

At 10 a.m., it’s the national caucus. There he can bring up issues from his home riding, Casey said.

“Land it on the lap of someone who can do something about it.”

Meanwhile, Opposition MPs have to get their name on the question list. If their question gets picked, they get an email and prepare for the afternoon’s question period.

After the national caucus comes lunch, then straight back to work where the parties plan for question period. They try to figure out what the Opposition might ask and practice possible answers.

The Opposition MPs do the same, possibly even shortening their questions if they’re over 35 seconds long.

It’s the Opposition’s 35 seconds to give the Prime Minister hell, said Casey.

Contrary to popular belief, nothing gets done during question period, he said.

“Question period is theatre. Question period is for the cameras.”

And that’s only Monday to Friday, Casey said.

“I lead a double life.”

Almost every weekend Casey comes home to the Island, and his work doesn’t stay in Ottawa.

“There’s this common misconception that MPs only work in Ottawa.”

It’s not only what the MPs do that people question, but also their MLAs, something Sidney MacEwen knows all too well.

MacEwen sits in the P.E.I. legislature for 10 weeks a year in both spring and fall representing the district of Morell-Mermaid. For him each day is broken up into two parts, a meeting from 2-5, a supper break, then back to the grind from 7-9.

“It’s kind of an intense day.”

But he’s luckier than most. MacEwen lives in St. Peter’s Harbour, which is only about 45 minutes from Charlottetown.

“I can race home, coach hockey and race back.”

This is new in some ways to MacEwen. He was first elected in 2015, but he has worked before in the Opposition office.

“I like the behind the scenes.”

Every day while they sit in legislature, all nine MLAs try to hold the government to account. That includes the Green MLA, leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

MacEwen spends every morning with his Opposition caucus planning an agenda. They decide which MLA will talk about which problem and when, but sometimes bigger issues get shared among the MLAs, he said.

“There’s always two sides.”

MacEwen is the critic of workforce and advanced learning.

But sitting in legislature and criticizing the government isn’t his only job. He also works with his district. He helps people get through the system to get what they want, whether that be bringing it up in sessions, or putting them in contact with the right people in government.`

Outside of government, he also gets to go to community events.

“People expect you to be at a lot of functions.”

Some people may be too shy to call, but if they see him outside shovelling or at an event, they’ll come right up and talk to him, he said.

“It’s great to see what’s going on outside of the political bubble.”

But he doesn’t mind. The smaller the constituency, the more you connect with the people, MacEwen said.

“Being closer to your constituency helps.”

Even if he were in Ottawa, MacEwen said social media would help to stay in touch with everyone.

“It’s really easy for us to reach out to people.”

One piece of advice MacEwen left Holland College journalism students with Monday, Feb. 27, was to always go with your gut, and to keep digging deep.