The election is already further behind us than Christmas is ahead of us, so now would be a good time to publish part one of a two part series, as we interview Esterhazy’s own Cathay Wagantall, Member of Parliament (Conservative) for Yorkton-Melville.
Cathay won 21,630 of the 36,560 votes in the Yorkton-Melville constituency on October 19, giving her a decisive victory. This first interview was given a week after the election, as we asked Cathay to look back on the process that elected her, and to share her inner thoughts about it.
EOL – “What motivated you to take this journey to becoming an MP?”
CATHAY – “It’s always been in the back of my mind, and when our kids grew up and left home, I had the opportunity to go on the board (of the conservative party) in Edmonton. So we talked about it and I said, yes, I’m going to experience that. So I had an opportunity to participate and volunteer, and got really involved so that I’d have a clear understanding of how party politics worked, and got a real eye-opener to the number of people across our country that are involved in this whole process that you don’t realize.
How a nomination happens? All over the country four or five parties bring forward candidates to run to represent them in an election and that process alone requires a huge commitment on the part of everyday Canadians. You have to give of your time, you can raise funds to help you with your campaign but you cannot get a political receipt for that funding, so there’s a lot of things because you are not really representing anybody yet, you’re really doing this all on your own. So it’s important to have a strong board to find good people to do this, so I got to be a part of that whole process instead of getting someone else.”
EOL:- “So what motivated you, I mean 99 percent of the people would not do this. So what motivated you to actually get involved?”
CATHAY – “The first thing was getting involved as a volunteer locally and attending conventions as a delegate. And really the party’s stand that they have is based on what their delegates think and put forward as resolutions. I had an opportunity to put forward a resolution, and saw it go to the floor and be accepted and put into the resolutions and policy platform of the party, and I realized that everyday Canadians can make a difference.
If you really want to get involved you can. So at that time I had been part of that process, I had been part of being a campaign manager and helping other individuals become Members of Parliament, and you know what, they are just ordinary people. I mean you need people of all different gifts and varieties, there’s no question. And you realize that whoever is involved anywhere in an organization or government, they’re just people like me. And I’ve always had a passion for it, so when an opportunity came in Edmonton to run in a nomination, that’s when I threw my hat in the ring.
I love Canada, and I love that we get to be part of this democratic process to an extent. So I ran in that nomination, and there were three of us and a five vote spread between the three of us. So I lost that one, and that’s when you start to realize, wow every vote matters, it really does. And I’m a people person, I really enjoy facilitating people, even with this nomination. It’s a huge riding, and getting out there meeting people face to face, finding out what’s important to them, so it kind of fits a great deal with who I am as a person. I enjoy that side of it.”
EOL – “So the motivation was really within? Not so much meeting a need but saying, Here I am and I can serve. Am I reading that right?”
CATHAY – “To some degree I think so. You do need that passion within yourself to feel that you can make a difference. And we need people who have high integrity in Government. We need people who value the everyday people they are representing, that’s important. And then also I have a real passion for Canada.
We are a strong county in this world. I mean, what we have here (and having traveled), you realize that in spite of all the things that are challenges to us, there’s no better place. And that’s the angst of it too, for you represent people at home and that’s very very important, and you realize that chances are that the issues that are important to people in Yorkton-Melville are also issues across Canada. But there’s also issues that we as simply an entire country have a responsibility and a role for, and we have responsibilities on a global level on the world stage. That side of it too is really important to me, to have people in Government that can represent Canada well.”
EOL – “Looking at the last year and a half, what have been the high points for you? What comes to mind?”
CATHAY – “A number of things. The first is incredible appreciation for people who come around you to help you to succeed. The number of the volunteers involved in having a democratic election in Canada is phenomenal. The number of people involved in the campaign office and in representing you at the doors, everything, it takes so many people. And doesn’t come out of extra time that people have, they fit it in to everything else that’s going on in their life. So that to me is something that I value so much in this process.
And, I loved the travel. It’s a very big riding, it goes all the way up to Hudson Bay and back down to the valley, it’s a huge area. But getting out and just meeting people where they live, getting off the highway and getting into communities and seeing life in those communities, I really enjoyed that part of it. That was a highlight for me, visiting 24 different communities, having meet and greets, and door knocking, and main-streeting and just connecting with people, I really loved that.
Another thing I really appreciated was the chance to talk to the grade four to eights in Yorkdale School in Yorkton. Our school system did an amazing job of connecting with the kids and helping them to learn about this whole process, even to the nomination level, which to me was just so good to see, to see these kids learning about our county and how to vote, and hearing the different views of all the parties.”
EOL – “Was there ever a point at which you found yourself saying, Am I doing the right thing or is it worth it?”
CATHAY – “It was never a question of is it worth it, it was more a question of can I do this? because I’ve had enough of an exposure to it to realize how important this is and what I’ve committed myself to, and especially when you do get tired. After I did finish all the travel, we had a forum in Yorkton, and the dynamics of life were such that fortunately we did not have any challenges with the business at that time, and by then I was exhausted. And then we did have a challenge with the business and I was over-exhausted going in to that forum. And I said to myself ‘I think I feel a little bit today of probably how our Prime Minister has been feeling all along.’
So it puts your mind in a realization that wow, this is tough, this requires a great deal of endurance, not just to survive but to do the job really well and maintain that attentiveness with people and the issues. So, that was a difficult moment. You realize how important it is to balance life as best you can, and being a small business we understand that to some degree as well. It is a challenge for everyone but very important to be able to serve well.”
EOL – “So what’s the next step in the journey?”
CATHAY – “When you are elected, you wait for Elections Canada to absolutely confirm, some are very tight races so they maybe do a re-count, so we are all in a limbo right now waiting for that affirmation. In the meantime we’re invited to Ottawa and they have people there designated especially to do orientation. I have the advantage that my staff is already in place, a lot of them still have to look for staff.
And then finding an office, we’re now ready to look for one in Yorkton, but in Ottawa they have to wait until the dust settles, and then I believe it’s the party whips get together and all look at all the office spaces and decide who gets which space. So it could be another two months before we actually get an office in Ottawa to function out of. And so there’s a learning curve just on office management, and the finances and that type of thing.
In Saskatchewan we’re also fortunate that there’s ten of us. Saskatchewan is three percent of the population of Canada and we have ten percent of the seats in the opposition. So we’re a force, that’s good, because we’re representing Conservative values, that’s what we were elected on, so we have a responsibility to challenge the Government in ways that need to be helpful. That’s my goal, it’s to be helpful in the whole process on behalf of my constituents.
Also, with all the traveling I’ve done, I’m getting a good idea of what some of the concerns are locally in the riding, and I want to do round table discussions. When there’s an actual issue involved the best way to deal with it in those circumstances is to have round table discussions with stakeholders involved in them, and then you sit down and look at what are the issues, what are the priorities, what would be some helpful suggestions we could make to Government, and then you have something concrete to take back with you to Ottawa. The best people to know the answers are the ones who are in the situation.”
EOL – “How about use of time? Half in Ottawa and half here?”
CATHAY – “I think it works out to about that. Whenever the house is sitting we have to be there obviously, and we can come home at the weekends, but it is a ten hour trip one way, so 20 hours depending on when you can leave, to be back Monday morning. A lot of them from out west here take a red-eye and get back and go to work. There are breaks, but the whole dynamic of being an MP from out here compared with someone who is coming to Ottawa from Toronto, it’s very different dynamics.“
EOL – When you look back, what do you think this journey has made of Cathay? And what do you think the rest of the journey could potentially make of you?”
CATHAY – “I love that I am at this point in my life doing this. Raising my kids was extremely important to me, and we always ran a small business, and we were in (Church) Ministry and always on the go, but regardless I was always there for my kids. As a woman I wish I could explain it to younger generations of women that you have lots of time. You have lots of time to do a lot of things with your life, and to focus on family when your children are young, because it’s a privilege raising them. And so I am thankful that at this point in my life I have the energy, the time, the support, and I can do it to one hundred percent of my ability and I am still learning.
Picking up the business five years ago and taking it to where it is today, people call it a learning curve, I call it a learning spike. And that keeps you young, right? It keeps you going as you realize ‘O my goodness, I can do this!’, and I am still in that phase.
The big thing is to have people round you who are better at things than you are, and I have no problem with that. I value that, and the staff that I have, it is just amazing to be able to walk into this role having that much experience around me already. I was really pleased to meet Garry Breitkreuz’s staff and get to know them, and ask if they’d be willing to stay on, which of course they were thrilled to do.”
EOL – “I’m sure there will be a lot more learning and growing to come for you, times when the voice inside asks can I do this, and then you grow to another level and prove to yourself that you can.”
CATHAY – “Yes, and you see that all though life. I used to work with special needs in Kindergarten. The first half of the year those little ones were so nervous and scared and everything was traumatic, then they’d go home for Christmas break and come back and it was like “I know exactly what I am doing!” Same with college. The new students that first year, everything is so new when you are 18 and you’ve just left home, and then they come back the second year and they are all adults. So every stage of life we find ourselves working through those types of dynamics.
We’ve had our first conference call as a Saskatchewan caucus, and it requires amazing people there to just make you feel totally accepted, appreciated and working together to figure out how you all fit together, and they are there to answer any questions. We have an amazing group of people and that is key, there isn’t a sense of competitiveness or anything like that, it is a very positive environment, a totally new environment for me.”
EsterhazyOnline appreciated the time Cathay gave in this interview last month, and we look forward to the next meeting when we’ll find out what it was like when she first experienced Ottawa as our MP.