Like a lot of the MPs elected for the first time last fall, Megan Leslie didn’t have quite as much time as she might have liked to prepare to take her seat in the House. It resumed sitting exactly one month after the Oct. 14 election, an unusually short time for rookies to get set up. “I was a sitting MP without an office,” the Halifax New Democrat says. “Without staff. Without pens.”
Not only was Leslie obliged to plunge into Parliament, Parliament itself was soon plunged into turmoil. Last fall’s crisis—when Prime Minister Stephen Harper narrowly averted being unseated by an Opposition coalition—was a frenetic introduction to life on the Hill.
But those unlikely first weeks didn’t seem to throw Leslie, 35, off balance. In less than six months in the House, she has attracted an unusual amount of notice—enough to win her the best rookie MP title in the Maclean’s poll of her peers. She speaks with a passion on subjects like energy efficiency, and she sees potential to make an impact where others bemoan the ordinary MP’s impotence. “It’s really remarkable to see how much influence you can have if you are prepared, understand the issues well, and are confident,” she says. “I’ve seen MPs walk into committees and say, ‘This is the way we should be going,’ and other MPs—it doesn’t matter which party—say, ‘Yeah, I agree with that.’ ”
Raised in a mining family in Kirkland Lake, Ont., Leslie studied at York University in Toronto, and then at Halifax’s Dalhousie University Law School. After graduating, she settled in Halifax to work at a community legal aid office, quickly gaining profile locally on energy issues, especially as an advocate for cheaper power rates on behalf of low-income earners. A self-described “low-level worker bee” in the NDP, she was approached by a party candidate search committee to run in the Halifax riding when former party leader Alexa McDonough retired last year.
Now, having made an early impression on the Hill, Leslie needs to figure out how to make a difference—as a member of the fourth-place party. One forum she hopes to use is the cross-party group, such as Senator Roméo Dallaire’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and other Crimes against Humanity, of which she’s a member. “I’m asking, ‘How do I organize communities to care about the issues that I care about,” she says. “But also, how do I organize across party lines with other MPs? I know that sounds very pie-in-the-sky, and maybe naive, but I believe it can be done.”
Thursday, May 14, 2009