Changing of the guard

Carla Qualtrough made history this year after becoming the first Liberal MP in nearly half a century elected to represent South Delta

The past few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride for new Delta MP Carla Qualtrough.
Not only did the human-rights lawyer, Paralympic swimmer and mom of four bounce back from an unsuccessful run for school board last year to beat Conservative cabinet minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay in October’s federal election, she became the first Liberal elected in these parts in almost 50 years. 
It’s a feat that’s not lost on the new MP, but the win did not come easily.
“There’s no substitute for hard work. My team probably got sick of it, but it’s just like in swimming, you’ve got to do the laps. My team, they worked their butts off,” Qualtrough said in a recent interview with the Optimist.
Gaining momentum in traditionally Conservative South Delta took some time, she said, noting the longer campaign ­— at 11 weeks it was twice as long as recent ones — likely worked in her favour.
“It just gained this momentum, you know, and it started out people would whisper to me, ‘I’m voting for you, but you know this is a primarily Conservative town and it’s not good for business to admit you’re Liberal.’ And then people would say it a little more openly and then they’d start convincing their neighbours… all of a sudden people just started owning it and it was just really neat momentum for us.”
In the end, Qualtrough garnered 49.3 per cent of the popular vote, besting Findlay by more than 9,000 votes.
“I’m not going to lie, it feels pretty darn good,” she said. “But it’s a huge honour, it’s a huge responsibility, there’s huge expectations, as there should be, and I’m well aware that I’m going to be held accountable for the promises I made and I’m prepared to be held accountable.”
Qualtrough said she thinks the positive style of her campaign, and the Liberal’s national campaign, helped as well.
“We ran a pretty positive campaign. We didn’t spend a lot of time dissing the other people and so I think that was akin to what was going on nationally for the Liberals but I think it served me well,” she said, adding that while she tried to keep things positive, she wasn’t shy to point out where she would do things differently.
“I really thought people in Delta didn’t feel that the previous MP was present, they didn’t feel like they were listened to, they didn’t feel like they connected. And so that was one of the things that I pointed out quite regularly and the commitment I made that you’re not going to not hear from me if you send me an email. You might not like what you hear because I can’t do everything, but you’re going to hear from me.”
Appointed to a dual cabinet role of minister of sport and persons with disabilities, the rookie MP has already been back and forth between Delta and Ottawa several times. However, Qualtrough said she has made establishing her presence in Delta a priority.
“One of the things that I am very hyper sensitive to is remaining rooted here in Delta and remaining available to people here in Delta regardless of where the cabinet posting takes me or where the different committees I’m on take me I need people to feel like I’m here and I’m accessible and I’m available.”
Qualtrough and her staff are currently working on setting up constituency offices in both North Delta and South Delta.
In addition to the dual cabinet postings, Qualtrough has also been appointed to two cabinet committees — the diversity and inclusion committee and she is vice-chair of the open and transparent government committee, which is looking into democratic reform.
“It’s a huge deal. I’m a bit geeky when it comes to this kind of thing so I’m ridiculously enthusiastic about it,” said Qualtrough, who did her undergraduate degree in constitutional history.
Democratic and electoral reform were a major pillar in the Liberal party’s election campaign. 
“I think one of the challenges we’re facing as a group is priorities…” she said. 
“We all have mandate letters, they’re all very public, and we have to figure out how we can all achieve those goals and in what order. We said we’d do some things quick and we’re going to have to prepare to wait on some other things.”
One of the longer-term projects for Qualtrough and the Ministry of Persons with Disabilities is the creation of the Canadians with Disabilities Act.
“There’s a significant legislative gap in disability issues in Canada around accessibility and inclusion and while we have very strong anti-discrimination laws, you have to wait until somebody’s discriminated against in order to help them,” she said.
“What we need to do is create a legislative tool that helps us avoid discrimination and exclusion from the beginning… It’s pretty exciting and that will be cutting edge if we do it right, which I intend to do my best to achieve.”
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