South Okanagan-West Kootenay New Democrat MP Richard Cannings announced this week he will not seek re-election. Cannings has held the riding since 2015 and the next election is not expected until 2025, so he will have been in office for a decade by that time. We spoke with him today.
What went into your decision?
I’m 69. My wife has been retired for five years or so and she’s wondering when she will be able to see more of me. I have a new granddaughter in Penticton that I would like to see more of and she grows up. That’s really it. It’s just time to step back and let someone else takes this on.
This has been the most wonderful job I’ve ever had. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s an honor and a privilege. Were it not for those other factors I would certainly really look forward to the next election and going back to Ottawa for longer. But it’s just time.
What are you most proud of as MP?
I got into politics to be a voice of science. During the Harper years I was working as a scientist and some of my colleagues were federal government scientists. I saw them being muzzled, and their work and the work of other scientists being discounted by the government. I was quite angered by that. I thought we need more of a voice of science in parliament. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. People I worked with in Ottawa quickly found out what my background was and strengths were. People came to me for advice. I had ministers coming across the aisle on occasion and asking me for advice on certain things. In that background sense, I think that was a big success.
I’ve had private member’s bill passed, which is not easy in the House of Commons. My bill on the use of wood in government infrastructure makes sure the federal government looks at building materials, their sustainability, their carbon footprint, before building federal infrastructure. That bill passed in 2019 but it died in the senate. We’ve got got it going again. It will almost certainly pass and become law before the end of October. That’s something I’m proud of. Even when that original bill died the government was already taking stock and changing the way it procured materials.
I managed to fix policies around the Species at Risk Act which the Harper government was running roughshod over, completely ignoring that bill. I managed to fix that through policy and regulation. I have a private member’s bill on the Canadian environmental bill of rights which will be facing its first vote this fall. I’m looking forward to see that pass through the House of Commons. We’ll see how that goes.
I’ve tried to champion scientists. We have young scientists in Canada, the masters students and PhD students who do all the real heavy lifting in science. The federal government funds them through scholarships and fellowships. Those scholarships haven’t gone up for over 20 years. These are the scientists of the future, the people creating the innovation that will drive our economy, and we’re forcing them to live in poverty. That’s a fight I’ve been very much engaged with and I’m starting to see some positive views on that as well.
You won’t be a candidate in the next election, but what do you think of the state of politics right now, especially with the Conservatives seemingly on the rise?
Right now and for the next two years, the NDP is in a very strong position. We are forcing the Liberal government to do good things for Canadians. That’s been our focus all along. I think Canadians will see more of that in the next couple of years.
We’ve got dental care rolling out across Canada for everyone who doesn’t have access now. The Liberals have agreed to bring in a national pharmacare act before the end of the year. These are things that will really change the lives of Canadians. So many can’t afford their prescription medicines or to go to the dentist, something our medical system should have taken care of from the start back in the ’60s.
I think Canadians will look at that and look at the Conservatives and see what they’re offering. Frankly, in the last eight years of being in opposition, the Conservatives have accomplished nothing, whereas the NDP continues to bring wins in for Canadians. That’s why I’d be itching to take on that next election if it wasn’t time for me to step back. I think we’ll see reason prevail and people will say “Who’s really on our side?”