"Shrinking the distance" between John Weston's far-flung B.C. riding and Ottawa has been one of the major themes of the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country Member of Parliament's first full year in office.
First elected in October 2008, the Conservative MP said in a wide-ranging year-end interview last week that while he's had the honour of going on two major international trips in 2009 - including Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent sojourn to China, Hong Kong and South Korea - he has enjoyed the challenge of what he termed standing "the pyramid" on its head and allowing communities to take a leading role in setting his agenda.
That's been especially true of the federal government's efforts to provide economic stimulus in response to the economic downturn, Weston said.
"I think the pyramid was very much stood on its head, as it should have been, in that priorities were very much driven by the communities and by people. We found ourselves engaged with Squamish and Whistler council and others in communities around this massive riding of ours," Weston said.
The opposition Liberal Party recently said statistics showed that stimulus money was reaching B.C. more slowly than it was other provinces. Weston, though, countered that stimulus projects were chosen by the communities themselves and that the government is following accepted practices in distributing that money.
"Our government has been driven by local priorities," he said. "A large percentage off the over 5,000 infrastructure projects have already been initiated across Canada, and the money is not loaded off the backs of trucks. It's provided as soon as the communities provide us with invoices for the agree-upon stimulus investments."
He added, "The opposition has to criticize because that's their role, but we all know they would not have done a better job. There wouldn't have been structural, long-term debt and they would have spent a lot more than I would have wanted them to spend as an ordinary father of three in Canada."
Weston touted the federal government's support in the form of stimulus money for harbour infrastructure upgrades in the riding, a $45 million investment in green technology for Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, the Sunshine Coast's largest employer, and money from the Ministry of Natural Resources to support Plutonic Power's large-scale run-of-river power project near Powell River.
"It's created some 300 long-term jobs," he said of the Plutonic Power project.
A lawyer by trade, he also expressed pride in having introduced Bill C-475 into the House of Commons in early November. The bill, which has passed first reading, would give police the authority to arrest and charge those who procure the ingredients of what Weston called the "scourge" of the drugs Ecstasy and crystal meth with the intent of manufacturing them for sale.
A young Whistler man recently died after taking Ecstasy. Some local leaders - including the councils of both the Powell River city and regional district - have voted to endorse the bill. Powell River-area officials, though, also asked Parliament to support for education and rehabilitation programs to go along with the new enforcement initiative.
Weston said second reading of the bill has been initiated and that all parties have endorsed it in principle. After second reading it's expected to go to committee and to the Senate for discussion and possible refinement.
While specific education and rehab programs are beyond the scope of the legislation, Weston said he supports such initiatives, adding, "Part of the exercise of enacting a law is to do public education to go with that law.
Certainly the immediate exposure and public forums that we anticipate will be part of the process of battling crystal meth and Ecstasy."
Weston said another highlight of 2009 was when he stood up in the House and asked Prime Minister Harper what the government was planning to do in response to the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye fishery. The result was an 18-month judicial inquiry that will explore the reasons behind the collapse and possible remedies.
Last week, Weston and federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea were in Squamish to discuss issues surrounding the West Coast salmon fishery. He called the government's response "a very powerful statement that we are going to get to the bottom of this issue."
In response to the harsh criticism levelled at the government for its position at this month's international climate summit in Copenhagen, Weston maintained that Canada is "punching above our weight in working to harmonize our policies with those of the United States and trying to bring all the players to the table" to reach an agreement.
"Our government," he said, "is taking a balanced approach and reversed an iniatitive that a former government took that we could not achieve and in fact, it had no intention of ever achieving. It has eroded people's trust in government, but we're committed to a plan that will include achievable targets that Canadians can achieve and be proud of."
Weston said he's looking forward to being in Whistler for the Olympics. On Jan. 12 in the atrium of Park Royal Mall in West Vancouver, he and other North Shore MPs have scheduled a forum on post-Olympic and Paralympic Games legacies that will include Olympic gold medalist Nancy Greene-Raine, other athletes and "some surprise guests," he said.
Weston said he remains humbled by the trust that constituents have put in him as their representative. He added that while the work and travel schedules are often challenging, "The only reason that I can maintain the schedule that I do is that I've got an amazing wife ( Donna ) and three wonderful kids who believe in the mission."