Gord Johns has at least one thing in common with Dr. Frasier Crane.
Crane, portrayed by Kelsey Grammer on the Cheers spinoff Frasier, would often say, “I’m listening” to callers on his open-line radio show.
In a welcome change from Conservative MPs allowed to truly listen only to their leader, rookie NDP MP Johns is on his third swing through the sprawling Courtenay-Alberni riding since the Oct. 19 federal election.
In a whirlwind series of gatherings with constituents in the Alberni Valley, Comox Valley, Parksville and elsewhere, Johns must feel like he’s still campaigning.
With one crucial difference.
Then, he wanted something from constituents – votes. Now, as an elected MP, Johns wants to know what they want from him.
“I’ve met with every mayor in the riding…I’ve met with almost every (First Nations) chief in the riding, I’ve met with the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, I’ve done meet-and-greets in all sections of the riding, and I’ve been to Ottawa three times,” Johns says in an interview.
Generally, he says, people are excited about change and an optimistic, hopeful message emanating from Ottawa.
Johns says his “ground-up approach…to community economic development, to community politics and to community building” is going over well.
“I’m taking that approach to Ottawa instead of Ottawa coming to communities telling communities how they’re going to deliver (programs).”
Again, a significant departure from the one-man government of the Harper years.
Johns did a risk assessment of each community to help him identify priorities.
His list of Alberni Valley positives includes “people power,” infrastructure, affordability, resilience and potential such as a trans-shipment hub and The Coulson Group’s aeronautics.
“The downside of Port Alberni is it’s kind of bottom of the barrel in socio-economic indicators in B.C.” The relatively new Port Alberni resident notes that one-third of children in the city live in poverty, far above B.C. and national averages.
Johns indicates his success (on Tofino council and the Tofino–Long Beach Chamber of Commerce as well as small enterprises ranging from a natural clothing company to a vacation rental business) was due to his ability to network, being a visionary and bringing people together.
He plans to continue this approach as an MP.
Although NDP leader Tom Mulcair recognized Johns’ background by naming him the party’s critic for small business and tourism, the new MP stresses that his top objective is representing his riding.
Another high priority since finally getting an office and staff in Ottawa in the first week of December is hiring staff and establishing a presence in the riding.
Due to its central location, Parksville will likely get the main constituency office, with satellite offices in the Alberni and Comox valleys.
Johns’ enterprising small-business background, his concern for the environment and his strong familiarity with much of the new riding make him an ideal candidate to represent the people of Courtenay-Alberni.
His willingness to listen is another invaluable asset.
Mark Allan has been a journalist for mor than 30 years, the past 14 on Vancouver Island. His column about B.C. and federal politics will run every two weeks in the Alberni Valley News.