One of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon Conservative MP Brad Vis’s campaign promises, prior to the October 2019 election which saw him elected to parliament for the first time, was to create a mobile constituency office to serve the residents of his large and sprawling riding.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen that plan put on hold for the time being, something that Vis regrets. “The mobile office was just starting to get into a nice routine,” he says. “We moved fairly quickly on that.”
The plan was for staff to use space in MLA Jackie Tegart’s office in Ashcroft and make regular visits — the next one was scheduled for April 15 — to help constituents with federal issues, answer questions, and listen to concerns. However, the visits have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, as Vis and his staff deal with the need for physical distancing.
“My heart’s with the people in Ashcroft and Cache Creek right now, and I’m sorry we can’t be there in person, but we need to observe protocols. I’m looking forward to getting back to normal and being in the community as soon as I can. I’ve cancelled two trips already, and I look forward to seeing people there as soon as I possibly can.”
Vis says that while his constituency office in Mission is also closed, staff are working as diligently as possible to help people with EI claims, emergency benefits, and more.
“People can reach us at (604) 814-5710, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, which is being monitored constantly.”
He says that right now the office’s primary job and focus is ensuring that people receive the information they need regarding emergency benefits and business support.
“I encourage everyone to sign up for a MyCRA account so that they can access emergency benefits. We’re pushing for clarity [for the applications]. It needs to be simple.”
He says that he has had a personal guarantee from MP Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, that the federal government is working to make the process as simple as possible. However, he’s worried about the number of seniors trying to access benefits who are not online.
“If people don’t have access to a computer then they can contact the office. We’re monitoring the phone all the time. This is what we’re here for.
“Our singular focus right now is to help people. If people need someone to talk to we’re here to do that, and provide the correct information as far as we know it.”
Vis feels that the federal government should have enacted the Quarantine Act earlier, in order to ensure that returning Canadians self-isolated after getting back to the country.
“It’s only recently that the number of cases [of COVID-19] transferred locally exceeded the number of cases coming from abroad. I’m glad the [federal] Minister of Health took the necessary measures, as that’s what’s needed to protect us, but I wish she had done it sooner. She had real information, and now she’s taken the important decision to enforce the quarantine measures that are in place right now.”
Vis says he’s noticed a change in the attitude to physical distancing.
“People are taking the advice from Dr. Bonnie Henry much more seriously. We need to do our part to keep health care workers safe, and we can do that by staying home as much as possible and maintaining physical distancing protocols.”
He adds that provincial health officers like Henry are doing their best to keep people safe.
“Right now we are facing the biggest health crisis in modern Canadian history. We have a responsibility to maintain physical distancing to protect elderly and vulnerable citizens so they don’t get sick or get impacted by this very real threat.”
The MP says that while there are still a lot of unknowns at the moment, the focus needs to be on the future.
“What we believe that the government of Canada and the opposition parties need to be focusing on, after the roll-out of these initial benefits, is what sort of changes we need at the federal level to make sure this doesn’t happen again, how to be better prepared, and how to help people recover. All of us in parliament have to look at how the government responded during the emergency, where the money was spent, and on what.”
Vis says it’s important that people not lose hope.
“We’re taking these precautions because they’re necessary. The threat is real, but we’re taking precautions so we can get back to normal as fast as possible. Focus on your family, reach out to those who are alone, and stay positive. We’re going to get through this and come out stronger as a country, as communities, and as a province.”