Conservative member of Parliament Cathay Wagantall is nearing the end of her first year representing the Yorkton-Melville riding.
As there is little or no formal training or orientation for a new member of Parliament (MP), her description of her first few months — “It was daunting, like drinking from a fire hose” — seems apt. She attributes her quick acclimatization to the workings of “the machine,” her team, of whom she says, “They have been great, supportive, and we have a good atmosphere.” This was a blessing as, due to a quirk of fate resulting in a baptism by fire, she was drawn from 338 MPs to speak in the House not once but twice in her first weeks on the job. This could be a death knell for the MP who gets it wrong, or a leap into the limelight for the MP who gets it right. It seems Wagantall got it right.The team in fact was the same who worked with MP Garry Breitkreuz during his time in office, where Wagantall also served four terms as a member of his electoral district association. In April 2014 her decision to run for the nomination was made upon hearing that Breitkreuz was to step down. Wagantall won on the first ballot.
Her interest in and exposure to the world of politics go back to her childhood days in Regina and later Esterhazy, where her father’s passion for Canada and politics in general influenced Wagantall to later pursue a career in politics. Her grassroots political career really started in 2004 in Edmonton, serving on the board of directors for the first Conservative Party of Canada for Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont as election readiness chair, president and financial agent. She also ran for the Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona and lost by four votes on the initial ballot. Undeterred, she went to work for MP Tim Uppal’s Edmonton-Sherwood Park constituency office until March 2011. A move to Esterhazy to help Wagantall’s ailing father run his sign-store business landed her in the Yorkton-Melville riding, where eventually her political career continued with Breitkreuz’s office.
Wagantall’s policies, ideals and aims are clear. Cassie and Molly’s Law, introduced by Wagantall to the House of Commons, stated that, “The Criminal Code requires crucial reforms to ensure violent criminals are held accountable for their actions” (See the article in Wadena News, Feb. 29, 2016). The proposed reform came about after the murder of the pregnant Cassandra Kaake. Under Canadian law, charges cannot be laid for the death of the unborn child.
There is passion in Wagantall’s work, as can be seen in her recent tour of the riding that took her through Grayson, Langenburg, Foam Lake, Sheho, Theodore, Springside, McNutt, Archerwill, Ponass Lake, Rose Valley, St. Brieux and Wadena, to name some. This was not just a “Hello” but an “I want to know what’s happening in my riding” tour. What Wagantall came away with should please most constituents. Her awareness of issues facing rural residents became apparent when asked her views about the Colten Boushie shooting and subsequent drama surrounding the details. Wagantall was aware of the issue of rural residents’ access to law enforcement, and accurately rattled off the response times of emergency services to towns and villages in the riding. Another aspect of rural life that came to the fore was the high cost of maintaining infrastructure, and the red tape and paperwork that towns and councils must navigate to obtain funding.
Her determination to push through government-made promises to the rural community is apparent. She has seen the way smaller communities make the money they have go farther than the larger towns do. She has seen one mayor dressed in overalls, spraying weeds, simply because there was no one else to do it. She is aware of the need to promote community cohesion in rural Saskatchewan. Her advice for now?
“Expertise in application- and grant-writing is a must; writing a really good application will lead to being noticed for finances,” and “Beautify your town to attract money and business.”
Back in Ottawa, Wagantall admits, fatigue is her biggest challenge, hardly surprising when you learn how grueling her day is. Up at 6:30 to have meetings over breakfast, then straight into committee preparations and meetings for the morning, followed by preparations for the House or more meetings; these are only part of the daily routine for Wagantall. Each day is slightly different, with one full day every week allocated to the House of Commons, where she is expected to be till 8 p.m. or later.
To ensure she stays fit, Wagantall took advice from Breitkreuz: “There are shuttles you can take to each building. Don’t take them. Walk!”
Wagantall walks everywhere, as keeping fit is a priority, and being based only 20 minutes away from her office cuts down commuter time. The way Wagantall and her husband Marty have organized their lives enables her make the best of her opportunities to work at the three passions that drive her: Cassie and Molly’s Law, the Veterans Committee, and the well-being of her constituents in the Yorkton-Melville riding.
There is a sense of calm order when Wagantall speaks of her daily routine and accomplishments. She says she and her husband have been able to manage well partly due to the “fantastic staff” they employ to run their business in Esterhazy; Marty’s laptop is his mobile office, so to speak.
Splitting her time between Ottawa and her riding is important, says Wagantall.
“If there is an event in the community that you feel I should be at, I would like to attend,” she adds, and means it.
Ask for Wagantall’s advice to anyone entering politics and she says, “Concentrate on one or two things that are close to your heart and you’re passionate about, because that is all you will have time for due to the workload, constraints on your time, and the time people and politics take from you.”
The most frustrating thing about working as an MP?
“Everything seems to move so slowly, it can really be frustrating,” she says with a wry grin.
Wagantall may be a new MP but she is not afraid to come forward and challenge. As Official Opposition Deputy Critic for Veterans Affairs, she has cautioned the new Liberal government about reckless spending and running massive deficits that could put Veterans programs at risk.
“I fully support increased funding for our Veterans. These brave Canadians deserve the best support we can offer,” said Wagantall. “However, I don’t want the federal government to take back any of that extra funding because it was paid for with unsustainable deficits.”
Cathay Wagantall is the third MP since 1968 to serve the riding of Yorkton-Melville, following in the footsteps of Lorne Nystrom and Garry Breitkreuz. Will we see her serve as long as her predecessors? If her first year as an MP is anything to go by, the answer is yes. Year one has been successful; Wagantall has defined her role and made herself accessible to the riding she represents. What more could we ask for in such a short span of time?
By Andy Labdon