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article imageMP Adam Vaughan talks Canada's new direction and more Special

By Michael Thomas     Jul 28, 2016 in Politics
Amid the United States' polarizing presidential race and the uncertainty around Brexit, Digital Journal spoke with Adam Vaughan, the member of parliament for Toronto's Spadina—Fort York riding, about Canada's place in all of this and much more.
Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary of intergovernmental affairs for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had a long road to federal politics. He was in journalism from the 1980s to the mid-2000s, before entering politics as a Toronto city councillor. He took the plunge into federal politics in 2014 when he joined the Liberal Party and won the vacant seat left by Olivia Chow. He would face Chow for the Spadina—Fort York riding in the 2015 federal election, where he won as part of Canada's unprecedented “red wave.”
Adam Vaughan chats with a young constituent in Toronto
Adam Vaughan chats with a young constituent in Toronto
Digital Journal Staff
As Vaughan puts it, his transition into federal politics was a move from tangibility to a broader scope. In local politics, “You know, the garbage didn't get picked up or the park needs to be re-built, there's a building application.” As a member of the Opposition to Stephen Harper's Conservative government, his job was to form critiques of official policy, but now he's working on developing national programs. Now he's dealing with housing programs, not a housing development.
That said, his roots as a municipal politician play a large part in his role as parliamentary secretary of intergovernmental affairs. Historically, that job has been acting as a liaison between the federal government and the provinces. However, Vaughan said the aim is to establish a “four-cornered table”; the government wants to add municipal and Aboriginal voices to the mix.
Among a number of policy initiatives, the Liberal government is now forming a committee to look at Canada's housing situation. The idea is to create a plan that addresses affordability in general; finding houses for the homeless, keeping house prices affordable and more are just some of the aims of this group.
Adam Vaughan listens to a citizen of his Spadina—Fort York riding
Adam Vaughan listens to a citizen of his Spadina—Fort York riding
Digital Journal Staff
“The issue is homelessness, there's a crisis in virtually every major city across [Canada]. Housing affordability, if it's not an issue of scarcity, it's an issue of cost,” Vaughan says. “What we're trying to do is create a series of housing programs that address the full spectrum of housing needs. Homeless, shelters, renting, affordable home ownership.”
The action on housing is a big change from the previous government under Stephen Harper's, as Vaughan illustrates: “I was talking to the UN rapporteur on housing this week and the person was there for 10 years and hadn't had anyone in Canada to talk to. There was no one in the government of Canada that wanted to talk.”
Talking is important too, in whatever form possible. The new government has been much more active on social media than the Conservative government. But Vaughan says that he still prefers more old-school methods of communication, like the town hall or the letter to constituents.
“I write a lot of letters to constituents, that give them politics not just in a full paragraph but politics in grounded policy,” he says. “That's still the way the majority of people who are engaged want it; they want the details. Alert them to the fact that there's a letter available through social media but at the end of the day, write the full paragraph and collect your thoughts in an articulate way in long form.”
It's certainly been a new era for Canadian relations with the outside world, and even within the country. Vaughan used a metaphor to describe the gradual decline of government communication:
“The room was getting darker and we didn't really have the ability to focus on how dark it was becoming because we were all experiencing it at the same time. The shadows seemed to deepen and lengthen and it covered up our ability to see what was happening to Canada globally and also locally.”
Adam Vaughan poses for a picture with a constituent in Toronto
Adam Vaughan poses for a picture with a constituent in Toronto
Digital Journal Staff
While the government hasn't been unilaterally praised — such as its decision to continue an arms deal with Saudi Arabia — it's nonetheless been a renaissance: the long-form census returned to much enthusiasm, scientists are unmuzzled and an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women has been announced.
“There's a renewed faith in intellectual leadership as opposed to ideological leadership,” Vaughan says. “There is a trust that complexity is something that Canadians can handle and embrace, as opposed to the simplicity that ideology often delivers to them. You can see it in the way you talk to bureaucrats, and suddenly they can give advice. And that advice is followed, and if it's not followed you're not vilified for disagreeing with the government.”
Of course, the government can't just coast on good will. There's still a number of issues it's working on and questions it will face in the near future. In the recent Three Amigos summit, Canada agreed to drop Mexican visa requirements and talked more about clean-energy targets with the U.S. — Canada hopes to have 50 percent of its energy consumption coming from renewable energy by 2025. Brexit, however, is something that is causing uncertainty around the world.
That uncertainty will play a role as Canada goes through the ratification process of its trade deal with the EU. Clearly the membership could change, and Vaughan thinks Canada will need to look to carve out a separate deal with the UK. However, he sees a wider global problem with the Brexit aside from economics.
“The real issues that are being pushed to the front, it's really kind of a xenophobia and a fear of the other.” Vaughan says. “Simultaneous to trade opening up is the suppression of national populations. Capital and finance are free to cross the border; people, not so free. “ The result of nations emphasizing trade deals over all else can lead to less stable jobs, and greater fears that those jobs could disappear at any moment.
Adam Vaughan mingles with constituents of the Spadina—Fort York riding
Adam Vaughan mingles with constituents of the Spadina—Fort York riding
Digital Journal Staff
“When you build stronger countries, you have stronger trade capacity,” he continues. “When you simply try to sell everything at the lowest dollar the quickest you end up with a fast and quick solution that leaves people on the side of the road of the conversation. When they get enough people on the side of the road, they'll block the road.”
Next year, Canada will celebrate 150 years as a country. While there will no doubt be some big celebrations, the government is thinking about the next 150 years, and hoping to bring the aforementioned “four-cornered table” together to figure out where Canada is heading.
“Our constitution was written at a time when people settled disputes by standing 100 yards apart in different-coloured jerseys and shooting at each other,” Vaughan says. “It's difficult to be governed by a document that's 150 years old, that didn't anticipate the invention of electricity, let alone computers and identities in a shifting and complex world. I think the big project is to take a look at where we are in the world and where we want to go.”
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