Welcome to “Cloverdale In Conversation,” a new monthly feature with a local newsmaker.
This month, John Aldag is our guest. The former MP for Cloverdale-Langley City sat down with Malin Jordan at the Rustic Rooster for a coffee and an informal chat about all things politics and personal.
John talks about his time in office, some key issues he’d like to see pushed forward by the current government, and his future.
Malin Jordan: What are some of your first thoughts on your time in office?
John Aldag: I will always remember that first day of sitting in my chair in the House of Commons and feeling really honoured to have been put there. I realized how few people get to sit there and the magnitude of the place—the important decisions that were made there—made me feel humble. And now I’m part of that. That really hit home for me.
Also the fact that I was now the voice for a hundred thousand people from this area.
MJ: What did you enjoy most about it?
JA: The thing I enjoyed the most about (being an MP) was the conversations at [constituent’s] homes. That’ll probably be the thing I miss the most—just going door-to-door. I tried to do that during my four years, just to remain grounded, while I was there. I tried not to advance my personal agenda, but I tried to go forward with the middle ground that I was hearing from people in Cloverdale-Langley City. I would often try to ask people what they worry about—what keeps them up at night. That’s how I sorted out what the real top priority issues were in the riding.
MJ: What will you miss the most?
JA: I’m going to miss some of the camaraderie. It’s a team sport. I made some close personal friendships, not just with the Liberals, but across the parties. It’s a really intense job and not being a part of that anymore, all of a sudden, it’s like, “now what?”
MJ: What are you not going to miss about the job?
JA: I really dislike the hyper-partisan nature of politics. There’s no place like the House of Commons where that really comes out more. It’s sort of the pinnacle of hyper-partisan politics (laughs). And especially question period. I hate question period. I may never watch question period again in my life. I dislike the cheap points [politicians make] for the 30-second soundbites. We’d always laugh, “somebody’s made their fundraising clip with that question.” It’s not about building up the country. So, I’m not going to miss that. I just find it really cheapens what the whole thing’s about.
Ottawa winters. I’m not going to miss those (laughs). And being away from my family for half the year. We’re seeing each other now more than we have in four years. I’m really valuing that right now.
MJ: So family’s important to you?
JA: Yes, family is very important to me. My kids are teenagers. My son graduated from high school [last year]. I have two daughters in grades 9 and 11. They’re already getting into their own thing. So, time is limited with teenagers. I’m glad I have this next period to be around them.
And my wife and I will be able to have date nights again. For the last four years, they have generally been galas and other political events. We haven’t had any real time for ourselves.
I would always hashtag “date night” and my wife would say, “Don’t hashtag date night because it’s not a date,” (laughs).
MJ: Let’s talk a little bit about your former campaign manager, Gunraj Gill. How did that relationship begin? And what do you think Gunraj’s legacy will be?
JA: This is something that hung over me the entire campaign (chokes back tears). Gunraj came to me in 2015 when he was 18 years old and said, “I want to help you win your campaign.” I said, “Okay, you can make some phone calls,” but he said, “No, I actually want to run your campaign.”
So, we sat down, and within about an hour of conversation—he just had this energy, this passion, this vision—I said, “You know what? I’m new to this too. Sure, let’s do it. And let’s do what we think is right for this riding.” And I let Gunraj run with it; and we were elected; and it was amazing.
He came with me to Ottawa for two years. He was my chief of staff and he looked after both the constituency office and the Ottawa office. Then he wanted to return to B.C. to set up his own political consultancy, but we made a deal that he would work on my re-election campaign.
We talked in the spring about what the campaign would look like and we said we’d talk again in the summer. Then we had a meeting near the end of June in Cloverdale.
I was going on a delegation to Luxembourg for the first week of July and Gunraj decided to take a trip to Greece at the same time. He said to me, “You better rest, because when we get back we’re not going to sleep for 12 weeks.”
Two days after I was in Luxembourg, I got a phone call telling me Gunraj had a brain bleed and had been placed in a medically-induced coma…. He died a few days later. It was tough.
But I made a commitment to his family that I would keep him on in name as my campaign manager.
Gunraj was an important part of my life for the last six years. He was 18 when he ran my first campaign and he was 23 when he passed away. His family wanted to honour his memory, so they set up a memorial fund at SFU. That scholarship fund was established in honour of Gunraj and it will support other youth pursuing their political passions at SFU.
(That memorial fund page can be found by visiting give.sfu.ca and searching: Gunraj Gill.)
I see that as Gunraj’s legacy—helping ignite that same passion for politics, at all three levels of government, that Gunraj had, in the next generation of students coming through.
MJ: What issues do you see facing the Cloverdale-Langley City riding that you hope Tamara Jansen supports, or that you hope the current government continues to push forward for this riding?
JA: The platform the Liberals put forward, I think, was the best of all the parties. The electorate in Canada generally agreed with that by electing a minority government. I think there’s many things within that platform that are important to Cloverdale-Langley City. I’m not going to let go of things completely at this point, because I did pour my heart and soul into some things.
One of them is Skytrain to Langley. I’m going to turn to the community for support and try to get a commitment to actually get the funding for SkyTrain all the way to Langley, not just to Fleetwood.
Pharmacare is a big one I heard a lot about. So, I hope the government moves forward with that.
Another issue that I heard from seniors, and one they really liked in the platform, was increasing the old age security by 10 per cent once seniors turn 75-years-old. So I’m going to be pushing to make sure that goes forward.
I was also involved in looking at expanding parental benefits. Right now, the program tends to ignore certain classes of parents for parental leaves and maternity leaves. For example, adoptive parents don’t get the full year off. That’s something we committed to when making those benefits tax free. I’ll be pushing through various channels to make sure that gets implemented through this minority government.
I think the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which was a main piece of federal legislation that deals with toxins in the environment, related to both environmental and human health issues, needs to be updated. The legislation is 20 years old. So, technology has changed. Things like genetically modified organisms are not part of that, but they need to be.
MJ: Sounds like you’re going to be very busy.
JA: Public service has been my life—it’s been an important part of my life for the last six years. I think I can still play a role in making sure things get delivered by this government that I was a part of.
MJ: Other than advocating for some of the issues you just mentioned, what else in store for you in terms of work or service?
JA: I was recently elected as the organization chair for our Liberal riding association, which I did leading up to my election in 2015. So, I’m already looking at organizing a town hall on medical assistance in dying in the spring. That’s going to be a key piece of legislation that the government has to work on. I was part of the original legislation and I think it’s an important conversation: “medical assistance in dying in Canada, what’s next?”
So I’m going to be involved in some town halls and things like that. Beyond that I’m not really sure. I’m going to keep my options open. My interest is to maintain some form of presence through volunteering and public service.
MJ: Are you planning on running in the next election?
JA: Absolutely! The nomination process has not been clarified by the party yet, but once it is, I’m going to put my name in for this riding.
MJ: Do you have anything you’d like to say to the people of this riding?
JA: Just “thank you” to the constituents. “Thank you for having placed your trust in me in 2015.”
One of the things I’m really proud of—and I can hold my head high—I did a lot of great work in the community. Nobody ever said to me, “John, we hate you and we can’t stand the work you’ve done.” Generally, people have been very supportive of, and aware of, the work I’ve done for the community.
I heard time and time again that people would have loved to have voted for me, but they were mad at my leader. And so, I wore that. But I’m very proud of how I represented the riding and the work that I did. And so to me, that’s been an affirmation of the work I’ve done. And I thank the community for that.
Other messages that I would leave people would be to encourage them to continue to be involved in politics.
UPDATE: Just before press time, John informed the Cloverdale Reporter he had just accepted a job with the Township of Langley as their new cultural services manager, which he’ll be starting as of Jan. 20.
“One of the conditions of the job is that I will still be allowed to pursue politics,” he said.