When the Straight contacted Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry by phone earlier this week, she had a lot on her mind.
The long-time Liberal parliamentarian had recently returned from Ukraine, where she led a Canadian delegation observing the first stage of that country's presidential election.
She'll return later this month for the run-off between incumbent Petro Poroshenko and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.
Fry is also gearing up for a reelection campaign after eight straight victories in her downtown Vancouver riding.
But this was the week in which two high-profile former cabinet ministers, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, had been kicked out of the Liberal caucus.
Naturally, we wanted to know Fry's thoughts on this issue.
"In the beginning, it was a he said–she said, right?" Fry said, referring to the differing interpretations of the SNC-Lavalin issue from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister and attorney general.
Fry pointed out that the Ontario caucus met with Philpott and the B.C. caucus met with Wilson-Raybould to try to resolve the impasse after both had resigned from cabinet.
But according to Fry, Philpott went to the media and divulged what was said inside the caucus room.
"Caucus is supposed to be confidential," Fry said. "It's where people stand and talk and they fight each other—and they argue with each other.
"And they tell ministers they're out to lunch and they tell the prime minister he's out to lunch," Fry continued. "And we disagree and we do all that. There has to be some measure of trust and confidentiality. And when Jane walked out of the Ontario caucus, I think the Ontario caucus said 'Sorry, we don't want her again because it's obvious that nobody can speak without this woman going off and running after the newspaper about everything.' "
To reinforce this point, Fry said: "Nobody knew Ontario caucus was talking to her... She went out and sought interviews."
Regarding Wilson-Raybould, Fry said there was great concern among Liberal MPs after it was learned that the former justice minister had "secretly taped" a conversation with the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick.
"I would say the vast majority complained to the prime minister that we do not feel comfortable in caucus anymore," Fry related. "We don't feel comfortable speaking in caucus. That is what I think resulted in them being removed from caucus."
Fry says she gets more calls about telcom prices than SNC
The Straight then asked Fry what impact this will have on her own reelection campaign in Vancouver Centre.
She responded by saying that her office has received 35 to 40 communiqués over the past five weeks, in the form of phone calls or emails, about the standoff between the prime minister and the two former cabinet ministers.
These messages were evenly divided, she added.
Then Fry contrasted that with her office receiving 140 messages in a single day this week about the cost of telcom services.
"In other words, they can't afford the cost of the Internet and also cable and all of that," she said. "That was the complaints we got."
It tells her that Canadians are more concerned about issues that affect them personally—the "bread and butter issues"—and particularly those that were highlighted in the recent federal budget.
As an example, Fry cited a heavy volume of calls about a section that ensures the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will provide equity to first-time homebuyers below a certain income threshold.
In addition, she said new federal funds for affordable rental housing are a "big deal in the West End". And TransLink and Mayor Kennedy Stewart have expressed appreciation for more infrastructure spending and a greater share of the federal gas tax.
"So, we're hearing from people about a list of things that I think are affecting them," Fry said. "For them, this [SNC-Lavalin] is a distraction. You know, there are, of course, one or two people—for them it's a big issue...but I'm not getting that from my constituents at all."
In fact, she declared, seniors in her riding want to know how many hours they can work—as a result of a government policy change—while still being allowed to collect the guaranteed income supplement and old age security payments.
Plus, she said, unions are "thrilled" that workers can qualify for a Canadian Training Benefit that enables them to upgrade their skills while still working.
"I'm not just being political here," Fry emphasized. "That's what people are calling me about."
Moreover, she said that her government has put more money into reconciliation with Indigenous people than any other government in Canadian history.
She pointed out that every department must look at the impact of their programs on the economic and social conditions of Indigenous people.
"I think it's just a great budget," Fry said.
That's not to say there aren't issues of concern in Vancouver Centre as a result of the federal government's actions.
"Of course, no government will do things that everybody likes," she acknowledged without specifically mentioning the government's purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline system. "I think as you well know there are issues that are controversial in British Columbia and our riding. I think for me, those are things that we need to deal with along the way—and carry on and listen and talk—and continue to find ways to sort of square circles."
At the same time, her recent visit to Ukraine reminded her of the importance of democracy, which is sometimes taken for granted in Canada and other western countries.
Fry recalled seeing seniors hobbling to get to polling stations in Ukraine without the benefit of wheelchair ramps. And for the most part, she observed well-intentioned polling-station officials ensuring that the election was fair and free of interference.
All of this occurred while part of the country—Crimea—is under Russian occupation.
"For these people who struggle to get out and vote, for them it was a major statement in taking back their country and becoming a sovereign nation," Fry said. "It was really quite moving."