When South Peace MLA Mike Bernier is not in this riding, you can often find him behind the wheel of a 1985 Fiero in Victoria. True story.
The Parliament Buildings in Victoria. Legislature.
You can catch MLAs of all party brands working late into the night, then back the next morning before 7 am if need be. The typical day indeed was a rough 7 to 7 when in Government, says Bernier.
He notes the mechanics are different when with a portfolio as a cabinet minister. Now he finds himself sitting on Opposition.
Regardless of where an MLA sits or what colour their party is - none are to leave the building when a session sits. While slightly pomp and circumstantial, MLAs are to be given always an unfettered path to the hallowed hall of the inner chambers. If you are in the House, don’t leave.
“If you are in the bathroom and the bell is rung for a vote, you have minutes before they lock the doors.”
“One time I was just out front saying bye to some people and one of the Legislative Assistants ran out and said ‘no you got to come into the building.’ I was outside for a grand total of a minute,” says North Peace MLA Dan Davies.
Davies was in a government MLA office for just a little bit longer - a week or so. His Opposition office is smaller in stature, with a slightly lesser scenic view of the inner harbor (read, none) and is hidden deep in the Legislature.
If Davies’ office is buried, one could say Bernier’s seems lost in the bowels of the building. He admits it is certainly a different frame going from Government cabinet position to sitting in Opposition.
“As a minister you have half a dozen staff working - research, other matters. Now as the health critic, I’m given a binder. ‘Here’s the background’,” Bernier says. He had three offices as education minister and a fourth as MLA in DC. A Ministry office in the Legislature, one downtown with Ministry staff in the Education building and another in Vancouver.
This comes along with the day-to-day work of holding a constituency office more than 1,000 km away.
“There are always have local calls and concerns coming from the constituency as an active MLA,” he says adding the work can be well out of scope as an MLA in Victoria, but completely within the frame and theme of South Peace.
“Sometimes it is not a government discussion (and solution), but it certainly a community one.”
Bernier talks about the difference being on the other side of the floor.
“It’s about relative and relevant questions that don’t flounder - and have a direction,” he notes.
“Sometimes there are questions with no flow, no theme. Floundering.”
Davies says as a proverbial new man on Legislative campus, he is all about looking forward. Bernier concurs.
“We’ve all heard about, ‘if they were in, this is what they would do.’ Now, they are in. Where is the plan. They’ve had the time. Being in Opposition, it is about all of a sudden there is an announcement on portables in Vancouver. Okay, what does that mean for a school project in the Peace?
MLAs are to be in Victoria Sunday prior to the Monday action starting each week. Sometimes the question of leaving on a Friday only to fly back to the capital Sunday makes little to no sense.
“Sometimes if you have to make it, it looks like a drive to Grande Prairie, then a flight to Calgary, then to Vancouver to make a matter called on short notice, or if a flight is cancelled.”
If there are no flights and the drive time to Vancouver/Ferry/Victoria will still get you there. The open road awaits. Road trip.
“At the end of the day, we have a job to do here,” says Davies.
When it comes to living accommodations in Victoria for MLAs, it is about having a place to hang your hat - or live out of a suitcase. You can buy, rent, or left to your own devices.
“For example this fall, we’ll be essentially spending the next nine weeks in Victoria, what do you do?”
The first week is about setting tone, and direction,” says Bernier. Stories and themes, if you will.
“We’re all writing a first chapter of this session,” adds Davies.