Day: June 30, 2019

Former prime minister Stephen Harper says he’s willing to help with Brexit deal, but will stay ‘neutral’ in Tory race

Former prime minister Stephen Harper says he’s willing to help the next British prime minister negotiate a divorce deal with the European Union — but he’s not taking sides in the race to decide who that is.

Harper tweeted his offer of assistance to the next British prime minister on trade matters, but, as the current chair of the International Democrat Union, says he must remain “neutral in all member party leadership races.”

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MPs Not Seeking Re-Election Open Up About What Job Means For Young Families

MPs Don Rusnak, Anne Minh-Thu Quach, and Kyle Peterson are not running again this fall because of their young families.

TORONTO — Kyle Peterson wanted to be more than a “FaceTime father.”

The Liberal MP for the Ontario’s Newmarket-Aurora riding used the popular video chat tool to reach his boys, Kolton, 9, and Kash, 7, on all those weekdays he was away from them.

He’d call before they got on their school bus. He’d try to touch base after they got home, chatting about the school recitals and hockey practices he missed. The connection wasn’t great.

When he announced in March he wouldn’t run again this fall, Peterson told his constituents he was finding it “increasingly difficult to find a balance” between his role as MP and being there for his boys. They’re growing up fast, “as kids tend to do,” he said in a public letter.

That’s why Peterson, first elected in 2015 after an unsuccessful bid four years earlier, is walking away after just one term. 

“Politics will always be there,” he told HuffPost Canada this spring. “The kids are only this age once.”

Liberal MP Kyle Peterson is shown with his sons in a photo from his Facebook page.

Retiring politicians often say they want to “spend more time with family,” sometimes seen as a shorthand for taking a break before inevitably jumping back into the arena. 

Yet other MPs headed for the exit ramp are also opening up about what the coveted job means for a young family.

Liberal MP Don Rusnak, who has represented Thunder Bay-Rainy River since 2015, also won’t be on the ballot this October. Both of his sons, three-year-old Carter and Theodore, 2, were born during his term.

For a short period last year, Rusnak tried to make things work by having his kids and wife, Amanda, living in an apartment in the capital and travelling with him back to his northern Ontario riding on the weekends.

“But the schedule here in Ottawa during the week is so hectic that I was hardly with them during the week anyway, and she was left without any infrastructure in terms of family supports,” he said. “So, it didn’t work that way, either.”

His family ended up heading home.

His first steps, saying his first words. There’s all kinds of stuff that I’ve missed because I’ve not been at home.Don Rusnak

“My young son… every week it seems that he’s changing. His first steps, saying his first words. There’s all kinds of stuff that I’ve missed because I’ve not been at home,” he said.

After four years, Rusnak said he is frustrated by the amount of time MPs must spend in Ottawa instead of back in their communities, where he believes most of the important work is done. 

Rusnak suggests MPs should use technology more to cut down on travel and the time spent in meetings, noting that witnesses from across the country and around the world are able to appear at committee via video conference.

“We’re still voting by standing up and having someone count us. It’s a slow process. It’s a waste of time in my opinion,” he said.

Those weeks where most of the 338 MPs are flying or diving home on Thursdays or Fridays, only to return Sunday nights or Monday mornings, is “bad for the environment, bad for relationships, and bad for people, generally,” he said.

Serving as an MP is an honour and a thrill, but parents need to really think about the time commitment it involves, he said. One veteran MP told him they have virtually no relationship with their adult kids because of years spent focused primarily on politics.

“I don’t want to become that,” he said.

Liberal MP Don Rusnak is shown with his sons in a photo from his Facebook page.

Alex Nuttall, the rookie Conservative MP for Ontario’s Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, also cited his kids as the reason he’s not running again. Nuttall’s office did not respond to interview requests.

“As I look back at all of my political accomplishments, they pale in comparison to the importance of being a father to my two incredible children, Caleb and Anabella,” he said in a March release announcing he wouldn’t re-offer. “No achievement is greater than one’s family.”

In his farewell speech to the House weeks ago, Nuttall thanked his wife and children for “allowing me to leave, and forgiving me for leaving, every single week to come to this place.”

‘The family became second’

NDP MP Anne Minh-Thu Quach, first elected in Quebec’s Salaberry-Suroit in the “Orange Wave” of 2011 that saw many young New Democrats swept into office, is also seeking a smoother parental path. 

In 2014, Minh-Thu Quach gave birth to her daughter, Mila. But because MPs lacked a formal parental leave policy, she returned to work just four weeks later. Her husband stayed home with the baby, travelling back and forth between the riding and Ottawa.

“The family became second,” she said. “My daughter second, and my husband third.”

Minh-Thu Quach is due to deliver a second child in September and knows it’s time for a “slower” lifestyle, even if the decision to leave was a “heartbreaking” one.

NDP MP Anne Minh-Thu Quach is seen with her daughter, Mila, in a photo from her Facebook page.

Her daughter would throw tantrums because she missed her mom, she said. There were nights she only had 20 free minutes to hold her, and other nights she missed bedtime altogether.

There’s a guilt that creeps in by not being there, Minh-Thu Quach said, such as when she was out of the country for Mila’s fourth birthday. There were points she felt like “half Mom and half MP.”

“Sometimes [Mila] said, ‘You’re the boss so why do you have to go to work?’” Minh-Thu Quach said with a laugh. “That’s difficult.”

All of the MPs say that the job is truly 24/7, a grind that can put an incredible strain on families and often leads to divorce or separations. 

On weekends and evenings back in their ridings, MPs are expected to show up at any number of community events that cut into precious time at home. It’s all part of the gig and central to getting re-elected.

“I’m an MP for 30 municipalities and there’s more than 400 charity groups. So, there’s a lot of activities every weekend,” Minh-Thu Quach said. “Every Saturday. Every Sunday.”

“Unless you’ve kind of lived it or been around it, it’s hard to appreciate,” Peterson said. “But even when you’re at home, your time isn’t yours.”

Watch: Liberal MP brings his baby into House of Commons for climate debate


On Parliament Hill, steps have been taken in recent years to make things easier for parents, including a family lounge and a ruling in 2012 that allowed MPs to bring their babies into the House of Commons.

Minh-Thu Quach said that while several MPs weren’t thrilled little ones would be allowed in the chamber, “when MPs are yelling, they are more disturbing than a baby crying.”

As he says goodbye to Ottawa, Rusnak thinks it will be “pretty special” to look back at photos of his sons on Parliament Hill. The older one still thinks his dad works in a castle.

In the final days of this Parliament, the House unanimously adopted a parental leave policy that will allow MPs  who have welcomed a child into their family to step away from the Commons for up to a year, without facing financial penalty.

Before the tweak, MPs who missed more than 21 days of sitting time in a session, for a reason other than official business or illness, were docked $120 a day.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, who last year became the first federal minister to give birth in office, told HuffPost the “long overdue” change tells young women they shouldn’t have to choose between a family and an ambitious career.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould speaks with reporters in Ottawa as she carries her baby Oliver following a cabinet meeting on May 22, 2018.

“I think what’s really important about this is it gives women and new parents… the permission, so to speak, and legitimacy in taking time off to spend with their new child,” Gould said.

But other ideas, such as a proposal floated by Liberals to eliminate Friday sittings so that MPs could get home to constituents and their families sooner, ultimately went nowhere.

“People talk about not having Friday sittings and things like that but even if I wasn’t in Ottawa Friday, I would still be working all day Friday in the riding,” Peterson said.

Minh-Thu Quach thinks that having fewer votes in the evening would go a long way helping MPs with young families, noting that it’s not uncommon for the House to sit until midnight at the end of the session.

Despite the challenges, the MPs say they are honoured to have served in such a special place.

“Sitting in that seat, you think… there’s only 338 of us in this country and it’s an honour to be there to represent the people that elected us and even the people who didn’t elect us, making sure their voices are heard here,” Rusnak said. “I think I’ve done my best.”

And each say they will have no regrets about letting go of a job that so many others fight tooth and nail to keep.

“People say the decision must have been tough and in certain respects it was, but when I’m at home with my boys and my wife, I absolutely made the right decision,” Rusnak said.

Peterson told HuffPost he loves serving as an MP and hopes to do so again.

“But as much as I love the job, I’m never going to love the job as much as I love my kids, right?” Peterson said.

When Minh-Thu Quach gave her farewell speech to the House this month, she ended by saying, simply: “Mila, I will be home soon.”

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43-year-old El Salvador migrant dies in US border custody

WASHINGTON — A 43-year-old El Salvadoran man who crossed into the U.S. with his daughter collapsed at a border station and later died at a hospital, officials said Saturday.

The man had been held about a week at the Rio Grande Valley central processing centre in McAllen, Texas, according to a law enforcement official. The official said the man, who had health issues, had been medically checked.

The daughter was still in U.S. Border Patrol custody, but officials had requested an expedited transfer to a shelter run by the agency that manages children who cross the border alone, the official said. The official did not know the daughter’s age.

The child will be in a shelter until she is released to a sponsor, but that process could take weeks. The official was not authorized to divulge details of an ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

According to a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the man’s cause of death is not yet known.

The facility, like most other Border Patrol stations along the U.S.-Mexico border, is overcrowded. A review of the death was underway, and Congress and the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, the watchdog that oversees the border agencies, has been notified, according to the statement. So was the El Salvadoran government.

Border stations are generally at capacity with about 4,000 people, and more than 15,000 are in custody. Advocates and attorneys have decried fetid, filthy conditions inside the stations that were not meant as more than a temporary holding station.

Even with expedited processing, it’s not clear how long the daughter would remain at the McAllen facility. Teens and children are only supposed to be held for 72 hours, but because of massive delays in the system, they are held for several days or weeks.

At least two other adults and five children have died in custody since December, including a teenage boy who died from the flu and had been at the central processing centre in McAllen last month. More than two dozen others were sick with flu in an outbreak there in May, and the facility was briefly shut down and sanitized.

To help with the care of migrants in custody, Congress has sent President Donald Trump a $4.6 billion aid package. Administration officials say they are expecting a 25% drop in crossings in the month of June.

Colleen Long, The Associated Press

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