Friday, December 11, 2009

One step removed from 'dream job'

MLA loves her role as agriculture critic, but thinks she'll love it more when she's the agriculture minister

During an all-night session of the legislature, Lana Popham slept on a cot in her small office.

During an all-night session of the legislature, Lana Popham slept on a cot in her small office.

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist, Times Colonist

Lana Popham likes to walk around the stuffy old legislature and open all the windows. The blast of fresh air reminds the NDP MLA from Saanich South about her pre-political life, when she spent all day outside working in her organic vineyard.

As her first session as a provincial politician comes to a close, her farming life is but a distant memory. It has been replaced by a daily routine of early-morning lobbying breakfasts, committee work, house duty, caucus meetings, question period, lobbying dinners and late-night arrivals back home where her 11-year-old son is asleep without a goodnight from his mother.

There's a cot in her office where she recently slept during an all-night session. She had to speak in opposition to a government bill that forced ambulance paramedics back to work.
Her speaking time was 2:30 a.m.

"The pace of the session is excruciating," she said. "We've prepared ourselves pretty well but I have been away a lot and that's probably the hardest part. You don't realize how much you miss. Your family sacrifices for your dream."

Popham, 41, is riding the rookie MLA rollercoaster, a journey that begins with the joy of election, morphs into panic at voter expectations and concludes with humility when you walk into the legislature for your first day.

"Coming into this building you get a really amazing sense that you better take this job seriously because there's a sense of responsibly that hits you very hard."

The NDP appointed Popham its agriculture critic, and she admits she's "very lucky" to get a topic so close to her heart. Still, there's been a steep learning curve for unfamiliar parts of the industry, such as meat regulation disputes that have required tours of slaughter houses.

"I'm the queen of the abattoir now," she joked. "But it's my dream. Well, actually minister of agriculture is my dream, but that's next time."

As critic, Popham keeps a watchful eye on Liberal agriculture minister Steve Thomson. She's responsible for questioning his budget in the house, line by line, in a nerve-wracking process called estimates.
In theory, she's also the one to verbally eviscerate him in question period -- the 30 minutes of the day when political theatre and rhetoric overtake constructive discourse.

It's not a part of the job Popham enjoys. "I'm finding that although there's an artificial hatred that starts to build up, it doesn't really mean anything outside of that chamber and you can get a lot of work done just by having a conversation."

With all its catcalls and heckling, question period "is just not my personality," she said. "And I really do think that it's out of control. I don't know of many people who appreciate how it works in there."

People might be surprised to know she has "a great rapport" with Thomson, who is also a rookie MLA.
"We may not agree on some of the issues, but we both have an agriculture background, so we're both generally on the same page for things, which helps."

She said she hopes to continue to raise environmental concerns in the house in other ministries, such as environment and the climate secretariat. But she admits to still battling her nerves on occasion.

"Before you do anything in this place you are a nervous wreck and that's the honest truth. Anyone who doesn't want to admit that is lying. But I absolutely love it. I've always been an activist and I guess I've always had a big mouth. So now I have a place to use it.

"Even though I'm exhausted and pretty worn out, I'm thinking about the next session and starting to get excited."

Original article is here: