When Terry Sheehan takes his seat in Parliament as MP for the riding of Sault Ste. Marie, he may come down with a case of deja vu.
That’s because not much has changed.
The Liberals won the most seats at 160, short of the coveted 170 seats needed for a majority.
The Conservatives will have 119 seats, 2 fewer than their result in 2019, The Bloc are still at 32 The NDP are at 25 seats, a net increase of one and The Greens maintained two seats.
Campaigns are hard work and this one was especially tough. Local results were not finalized on election night.
Looking back, what did the election accomplish?
“People were asking why are we having an election now,” said Sheehan in a recent interview. “I hope that the lesson we learned and that I want to send to all parties is that we have to make sure our committees work better.”
For example, he said money in the fall 2020 economic statement - millions targeted for Northern Ontario - was delayed because of opposition foot-dragging.
“It became toxic at the end,” said Sheehan. “I think this election result sends a message to all of us that Canadians expect us in this Parliament to work better and get things out the door faster.”
Though he hasn’t been sworn in yet, Sheehan says he’s hit the ground running. Recently, he announced funds for a buy local campaign.
However, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for his leader who had his fill of humble pie after being chastised for skipping National Truth and Reconciliation Day ceremonies to take some vacation time at the beach.
Sheehan, who attended a number of Truth and Reconciliation Day events in Sault Ste. Marie, defends Trudeau’s record.
“This prime minister has done a tremendous amount for Truth and Reconciliation,” said Sheehan.
Sheehan said the prime minister demonstrated this commitment in person when he was in Sault Ste. Marie for the $420-million announcement at Algoma Steel. At that time, he also visited the Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig and met with survivors and their children.
Sheehan said 80 per cent of the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations are completed or under way, but that there’s still more work ahead of us.
Locally, he touts his efforts at fixing the water issue in Garden River and said a “big announcement” is forthcoming regarding Batchewana’s water infrastructure.
Sheehan says his main focus in the next session will continue to be jobs and the economy.
“In particular because we have to finish the fight on COVID 19,” he said. “We are going to continue to support businesses of all sizes, organizations, the health care system and education system.”
He said the federal government went into non-traditional areas, normally the domain of the provinces during the crisis.
He emphasized the Liberal promise of $10-a-day daycare as a game changer along with the election commitment to make housing more affordable for young families.
And he’ll continue to focus on the steel industry.
“Since being elected in 2015 Algoma Steel has been a top priority of mine because it’s a top priority of the community,” he said.
Sheehan recalls that two weeks after he was first elected he was informed that the local steel mill was going bankrupt and one of the main reasons was steel dumping from outside Canada. The plant and community made it through the crisis, but Sheehan said he was determined he did not want a repeat of the situation.
“I don’t want to see this movie again. The people who live here have seen it too many times,” said Sheehan.
“So we went forward with the $420-million plan (for Algoma Steel's electric arc furnace steelmaking technology) which is going to anchor Algoma Steel in for generations and fight climate change.”
It was the largest public funding announcement in the city’s history, said Mayor Christian Provenzano at the time.
“I’m super proud of that,” said Sheehan. He said his job is now to ensure accountability.
“I will be the watchdog on this to make sure workers are looked after,” he said.
Another project Sheehan will work on when he gets back to Ottawa is lobbying for Sault Ste. Marie to be home for the Canada Water Agency.
“I’m as tenacious as a terrier on that one,” said Sheehan. “I expect more decisions next year in 2022.”
He said Sault Ste Marie is a natural site for the agency and applauds local advocates like Corey Gardi for spearheading the initiative.
Whether the agency is eventually structured as one headquarter or a series of sites, “I think we have a compelling story to tell,” said Sheehan.
To be successful Sheehan said must be plugged into the community and know what it wants and needs. That could include issues like the opioid crisis, border-crossing issues or infrastructure.
“Because I was a city councillor I believe in a bottom-up, not top-down approach. So, my job is to make sure I know the priorities of the mayor in Sault Ste. Marie and city council, the mayor of Prince, the chiefs of both Garden and Batch and the unorganized area in the north,” he said.
He then plays a matchmaker role linking federal programs with the needs of the community.
It’s why Sheehan was adamant about having FedNor become a standalone agency.
“It creates decisions for northerners by northerners. We are more nimble and quick,” he said.
As we pull out of the COVID crisis some of the support programs will start winding down, but there are lessons that will remain.
“When we all pull together we can accomplish anything,” said Sheehan, when reflecting on what Canadians can take from the COVID experience.
He expressed particular pride in the comparatively good vaccination and infection numbers of Sault Ste. Marie through the crisis.
“We don’t want to go back to the old ways of not working together.”
With that in mind Sheehan plans a campaign of community engagement through his next term in office.
“I know the next great idea is out there.”