In the Canadian political arena, labeled by many as being crammed with way too much personal drama and showboating, Ed Holder would seem to be the exception to rule.
Western alumnus and former Board of Governors member Ed Holder (BA ’76) has had an eventful few months on the job as the new MP for London West.
Having won the riding of London West in the October federal election, it’s been a riotous first few months on the job for the Western graduate (BA ’76) and former Board of Governors member.
“It was right into the deep end,” says Holder. “It wasn’t the planned way to do it, but ultimately I think it’s learning by doing. That’s what this job is about.”
In fact, Holder’s London constituency office has already experienced its first sit-in protest.
Four local residents, including University of Western Ontario professor David Heap, staged a sit-in last week, demanding the Canadian government denounce the continuing conflict in Gaza. After what has been characterized as a respectful discussion, the four were arrested by city police for refusing to leave and escorted from the office. They were released less than 15 minutes later.
A much more sizeable problem greeted Holder and fellow Conservatives just six weeks into the new job.
Anger over the finance minister’s economic statement provoked threats of a motion of non-confidence from the opposition parties. Then followed a period of national debate when the opposition parties formed a coalition with the purpose of unseating the Conservatives. Almost as quickly, the Liberals named Michael Ignatieff as their new leader. And, following a request from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General Michaëlle Jean prorogued parliament until January 26, when a new budget is expected to be presented.
Holder says the spiteful back-and-forth between the parties is “unnecessary high drama.”
“I think Canadians have been exceptionally disappointed in the conduct of members of parliament and how things were handled from the standpoint of the coalition and from the perceived plotting of the opposition by the government,” he says, noting the Conservatives plan to budget for a large, but hopefully short-lived, budget deficit to rescue a struggling economy.
“What you’ll see on January 27 will be a very pointed budget,” adds Holder.
“And you’re going to see probably spending upwards of $30 billion, which is unprecedented in Canada.
“And that’s not because, in my view, we’ve been provoked, as much as it’s been a function of the reality of what is going on in the world.
“Now is the greatest need and with the greatest need comes the greatest opportunity to set the conditions to help. I think it comes down to the philosophical question and that is government’s role vs. individual’s roles and there is a delicate balance there.
“Canada is being engaged more in the business of business than I think you would traditionally imagine if the economy were stronger. Fundamentally you want to get back to the business of governing. Create the conditions for business and let government govern.”
Holder is no stranger to making a difference in his community.
Throughout his career Holder has volunteered an average of 30 hours a week with various charities and groups. At this point he has served on 56 different committees, roles, and functions – everything from the Rotary Club and United Way to the Grand Theatre and Western’s Board of Governors.
While he has pared back that time because of his new job, he is holding three tasks close to his heart: Celebrate London – New Year’s Eve, the Business Cares Food Drive and the Y Fore Kids golf tournament.
“Community service is the price you pay to live somewhere,” says Holder, who has already agreed to be part of two federal committees – International Trade and Library of Parliament.
“It keeps you close to your community, which I think is really important. There is a grave misconception that when Ottawa is not sitting you are not working. At times you find yourself working harder within your own constituency.”
Holder has also learned his new job comes with some unwanted perks.
“One of the big surprises to me is that people put you up to a different level,” he says.
“I don’t mind the different level of accountability, but I’ve never been overly comfortable with being presumed to be more than who I am. People elevate you because you have an elevated position, I understand it, but I’m not comfortable with it.”
What also makes Holder uncomfortable, despite having only just over two weeks in parliament under his belt, is the soured relationship that cuts along political lines and that spills out in the House of Commons.
“I’ve been surprised by the level of rancor among members between parties,” admits holder. “What I’m trying to determine is, is it political gamesmanship or is it posturing? Is it visceral and real? I’m surprised and saddened by that kind of conduct. We have an obligation when we were elected to try and find ways to work together.”
On this point, Holder and London-North-Centre MP Glen Pearson (Liberal) are bucking the animosity trend. They have joined forces for local initiatives such as the London Food Bank and bringing Canada’s first HIV vaccine manufacturing facility to Western.
Holder plans to share his mantra of cooperation with fellow MPs when giving his maiden speech in the house, expected to be sometime in the first quarter.
“I’m going to take the theme of parliamentary decorum and this whole theme of working together for the greater good of Canada,” he says. “Anyone who would disagree with my position has been in politics too long. Politics should be a passion, not a career.”
Holder hopes to take advantage of learning his way around parliament by writing a how-to book for new MPs – 70 of the 308 seats are first-time MPs. The early working title of this book is SWAT (So Where Are the Toilets?).
Beyond that, Holder says keeping London and Western front and centre during decision making is a key part of his job.
“The role is all about making efforts to influence government policy for the greater good of Canada, in another respect it’s to represent your constituency and your city, being at the table of the federal government, to do good things for your community and your constituency,” he says.
“If there’s one thing I learned already, it’s there’s no votes in Ottawa – and it means you have to stay close to your constituency.”