The Honourable Filomena Tassi is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Hamilton West–Ancaster–Dundas, and was appointed Minister of Seniors in July 2018. In this interview with Michelle Verbeek (Program Editor for Women in Security and current Munk MGA candidate) Minister Tassi speaks on the opportunities within her new appointment, her career path, and advice for other politically driven women.
First and foremost, congratulations are in order. Your appointment to the newly created federal cabinet comes at a crucial time. Our population is aging, placing unprecedented challenges on Canada’s health care, economic and political systems. Can you walk us through the journey that your career has taken from being elected as an MP in 2015 to now becoming the federal Minister of Seniors? What challenges and or opportunities have brought you to where you are now?
Thank you for the question and thank you for reaching out! I am both humbled and honoured to serve our seniors in this role. I have been involved in the civic life of my community for most of my life. My mother was a political staff member and I learned by watching and helping her how a life committed to politics can be a life of service to my community and country.
When I decided to run in 2015, I was inspired by my mentor and friend, Ted McMeekin, who was then in the Ontario Liberal Cabinet. Working on his campaign rekindled in me the fire of service. So I ran and was blessed to be chosen by the good people of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas to represent them. Since then, I have worked tirelessly to represent my constituents and promote Hamilton’s interests; I am so proud of our Ambitious City. I was also honoured to be asked to serve as Deputy Government Whip. I learned a great deal working as part of the House Leadership Team. Now, as Minister of Seniors, I am thrilled to be able to serve seniors, who have contributed so much to our communities. They have earned and deserve a future that provides security and one to which they can look forward. Really, my political life is about one thing – service. It always will be.
Politics is a challenging and invigorating life. During the times where I am challenged and perhaps taken out of my comfort zone, I reflect on the reason I stepped forward – service. I know that I can make a difference and this is what drives me to keep on doing what I do.
In October 2017, the Canadian Medical Association submitted its report, Advancing Inclusion and Quality of Life for Seniors to House of Commons appointed Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The report presents 15 comprehensive recommendations that would inform future government policy and service delivery decisions so that seniors could remain active, contributing citizens of their communities. Some of the issues brought forward involve income security, improving quality of life, and access to housing for seniors. What are the government’s key priorities for challenges surrounding the senior community? What will you be working towards achieving first?
The Prime Minister has asked me to travel around the country to listen to seniors and their issues, and hear what challenges they’re facing and what opportunities they have. What I have heard is in line with what you suggest in your question.
Financial security, elder abuse, senior isolation and access to housing are important issues that have been raised in my many conversations, across the country. As well, access to home care and palliative care have emerged as a focus of my conversations thus far.
I am proud to say that we have done a lot since the day we got elected for our seniors. We restored the age of eligibility to OAS and GIS from 67 to 65, have increased the GIS top up, have introduced the country’s first-ever National Housing Strategy, which has a special focus on seniors and invested in palliative and home care. There is a program that is near and dear to me, the New Horizons for Seniors program, that is designed specifically to fight senior isolation. I am proud to say that we have made this program more flexible, and that a wide range of activities for seniors, by seniors, are now eligible for funding.
Here at the NATO Association of Canada, we are dedicated to highlighting the careers and accomplishments of women within the fields of politics and global affairs. Our intention is to provide other aspiring, and politically driven young women with first-hand accounts of their mentors triumphs and setbacks. What are the lessons that you have learned throughout your career that you feel would be invaluable to other young women?
First and foremost you must believe in yourself. Women often feel that someone else can and should take on difficult and challenging leadership roles. The fact is we need women to take on these roles and we must give them the support and confidence they need and deserve.
I look back at my law school experience and remember walking up and down the corridor on the second floor where all the graduating class pictures where displayed. I remember the year 1962. It was special to me because it was the year I was born. It was significant at University of Western Law School because it was the first graduating class with a woman. I thought to myself, this woman paved the way for me. When I graduated there were many more women. The woman in the picture in 1962 helped create change. Was it easy for her? Absolutely not! It was not easy for me when I began practising law either. However, we must recognize that all professions need the gifts, talents and contributions of women. Communities and counties are better when woman participate.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t leave these roles to others. My message is simple – Women, We Need You! Women have a strong desire to serve. Further, I would say that women will feel fulfilled when they are given the opportunity to make positive change. This makes it so worth the challenges and obstacles.
The Cabinet shuffle on July 18, 2018 brought in five new ministries, which now brings our current ministry to 35 members. The Prime Minister has stood firm on his gender parity stance within government, with 17 roles currently being filled by female ministers. How do you expect an almost equal representation of women within the federal ministries to shape your experience?
I am happy to be serving with so many amazing, talented women around the cabinet table. Each has gifts and talents to share. There are clearly diverse experiences which contribute to the strength and insight of our voices at the Cabinet table. All cabinet members, of all genders, have accomplished great things in their lives, both before and in politics, and I know we can all learn a great deal from each other.
Having an equal number of women ensures that the voice of women is heard. It also ensures that different approaches are considered as we work to fulfil our campaign promises and represent our constituents. As elected officials we represent a population which is made up of approximately 50% women. Their voices matter.
Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knows that it is necessary to have the lived experiences of 50% of the population properly represented at the Cabinet table, so that our Canadian democracy is based on a government that makes choices that have taken into consideration impact on the lives of men and women.
Last but not least, lets talk about Hamilton. You are the first cabinet Minister from Hamilton since Tony Valeri was house leader in 2004. What does it mean to you to be representing Hamilton on a national level?
Anyone in Hamilton who knows me will tell you, I love the Ambitious City. I was born and raised in Hamilton and have been a lifelong resident of Hamilton. It is an amazing community because of what it offers, but mostly because of the people.
I have always been a strong and proud advocate for Hamilton. This includes my time as a lawyer, a School Trustee, as a Chaplain and now as an MP. I have witnessed the generosity, the compassion, the kindness and the hospitality of Hamiltonians. I have also witnessed the talent and the dedicated work ethic.
I have fought to help those who were struggling as well as those who have been treated unfairly. Most recently I have advocated against the illegal steel tariffs imposed by the American administration, and was next to Minister Morneau when he launched the consultation on safeguards. I have formed a pension caucus and have been working hard to find the right solution to the decades old problem of pension insecurity in private corporations. I am proud to defend our steelworkers, here and across Canada. I have secured funding that has promoted various parts of Hamilton’s amazing cultural renaissance that has been given it nickname “Canada’s Brooklyn” in some circles. We just secured a contribution of $1.5 million toward building the new Ancaster Arts Centre. I have also tirelessly advocated for the strong academic institutions in Hamilton – McMaster University, Mohawk College and Redeemer University. I recognize the positive social and economic impact that they bring to Hamilton. As well, I have focused on environmental sustainability, advanced manufacturing, research and innovation – which have led to significant investments in Hamilton. In fact, to date the federal government has invested more than $200 million in Hamilton. These investments will result in the creation of the high-paying middle class jobs of today and the future.
I realize that Hamilton has had strong representation at the Cabinet table. I assure you I will work very hard to be a strong voice for Hamilton, always keeping the interest of all those I represent and all Canadians at the top of my mind.
Let me conclude by saying that I am both honoured and humbled to have been given the opportunity to serve seniors in this portfolio. Our seniors are the backbone of our communities. Their contributions must be valued and respected. They have earned and deserve to look forward to their future and feel secure. I am honoured to dedicate myself to this mission with the help of my colleagues, provincial and territorial partners as well as seniors, their families and organizations which work so hard for our seniors. Collaboration is extremely important on this file. I am confident we can continue to build on what our government has delivered to date.
Photo: The Canadian House of Commons (2008), Flikr, Public Domain.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.