After nine years sitting in the government’s ranks in the House of Commons, it has taken Abbotsford MP Ed Fast some time to get used to life in opposition.
The big changes are obvious. Making the shift from flying around the world as Minister of International Trade to Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change has seen Fast turn his focus to a new, and very complex, topic. And he’s no longer leading a federal ministry or involved in the final steps of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that he helped negotiate.
But there have also been smaller changes that have nevertheless produced hurdles, Fast said in a wide-ranging conversation last week with The News
Take the layout of Parliament. Not only are the Conservatives now sitting on the opposite side of the House of Commons, a situation Fast described as “somewhat surreal,” but they are also now holding their confidential caucus meetings in a room reserved for the Opposition. Their old room is now used by the governing Liberal party. That quick reversal led to an embarrassing situation for Fast once MPs returned to Ottawa after the election.
“On one occasion … I almost entered the Liberal caucus room before I realized where I was,” he said, laughing. “I was able to avert an interesting confrontation.”
Fast has also moved to a different office in Parliament, and can now walk to work while in Ottawa.
While Fast expects his new role to give him more time at home, he has already headed overseas once in his critic’s role as part of Canada’s large delegation to the COP21 climate conference in Paris.
His job is to hold the Liberals’ feet to the fire over environment issues, but Fast said he’s aiming to do so in a “constructive manner.”
He said spending so much time has given him “a greater appreciation for the challenges that ministers face in being held accountable.”
Acquainting himself with the nuances and politics of the environment file was “a mind-stretching exercise,” Fast said. “The environment is a very challenging file because it is a file that has global consequences to it. It is also a file that requires very careful and broad consultations and a lot of wisdom when it comes to crafting policy.”
Fast said he’ll be pushing for the Liberals to strike an “appropriate balance” between protecting both the environment and the interests of the Canadian economy.
“Those are not mutually exclusive goals, but they require a lot of care to get that balance right,” he said.
Fast said the landmark agreement struck at the end of COP21 was a positive move in the right direction to address climate change. The agreement will see 196 countries adopt emission targets, as well as the requirement that they publicly report their progress.
Fast noted that the Canadian targets had originally been set by the Conservatives. But he also took the opportunity to criticize Canada’s large delegation at COP21.
Asked what he hopes the next four years will hold for him in opposition, Fast said, “I think at the end of the four years, I hope I would have been a constructive voice as Canada moves forward in promoting and protecting our environmental interests.”
Personally, he said he’s looking forward to family time with his children and grandchildren that just wasn’t available when he was a governmental minister.