Mel Arnold appears to be going places his predecessors haven’t gone before.
On Friday, the fledgling MP took his pre-budget consultation tour to the Regional District of North Okanagan board, after making previous stops with municipal councils and First Nations. In my almost 26 years covering local politics, it’s the first time I can remember this happening.
And I wasn’t the only one caught off-guard.
“I don’t recall having that kind of session in the past,” said Juliette Cunningham, an RDNO director and long-time Vernon councillor.
Mike Macnabb, BX-Silver Star director, hasn’t seen previous MPs ask the board for advice.
“I don’t know if it’s a strategy he’s come up with to be more aware of what’s going on,” said Macnabb.
“I think it’s a positive. I was happy he came.”
Arnold, who has been in office since November, was up front about his intentions.
“The goal is to hear from you about what’s important to you in the budget so we can make a submission on behalf of the riding,” he told the RDNO board.
As expected, civic leaders made it abundantly clear that what they need from Ottawa is cash, and lots of it.
There’s infrastructure such as roads and sewer, but a pitch was also made for cultural amenities. Arnold was urged to push for social services and mental health resources, as well as tackling invasive mussels head-on. He was also told federal agencies must do what they can to ensure abandoned rail lines are available to communities.
All of the suggestions were documented.
“We can say this is a consensus from the communities around the riding. This is what people on the ground are looking for,” said Arnold.
Cunningham is pleased to see Arnold showing an interest in the grassroots.
“It can’t hurt us as we try to get other levels of government to contribute to the things we have to deal with,” she said.
However, there is a potential stumbling block and that’s the fact that Arnold is a Conservative and the government is Liberal.
Will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his finance team be willing to seriously consider recommendations from the opposition backbenches?
“I can’t speculate on that but we prefer a non-partisan approach,” said Cunningham.
“Constituents don’t care about that (politics).”
Macnabb also wants Arnold to keep an open mind.
“If there is a policy, don’t just say, ‘Because it’s Liberal, it’s wrong.’”
What ever happens in Ottawa will happen, but what’s important is that Arnold asked to meet with local officials and hear their thoughts. Traditionally, municipal and regional leaders have had to work the phones to set up meetings with MLAs or MPs and then go cap-in-hand. What happened Friday was a novel approach.
Time will tell whether Arnold continues the open communication lines, but for someone who is still fresh at the job, he’s taken a good first step.