Given how often the House is compared to an unruly schoolyard, it’s not inappropriate that this year’s rookie MP of the year began her political life by signing up for a playground committee. Conservative Kelly Block says that modest first step, taken back when she was a stay-at-home mom with four young children, led to her serving on a rural Saskatchewan district health board, then as mayor of Waldheim, Sask., and finally as MP for Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar after winning the seat in the 2008 election.
Block, 48, impressed enough of her fellow MPs to win our rising-star category, not by splashy speech-making, but by applying herself doggedly to a backbench apprenticeship. “The depth and the breadth of the federal government can be overwhelming,” she says. “It helps to be focused through your committee work.” In her case, that work has amounted to a textbook immersion in the two halves of federal politics. She serves on the House access to information, privacy and ethics committee, which looks inward at the intricacies of life on Parliament Hill, and on its more outward-looking finance committee, which regularly travels beyond Ottawa to gather views on the economy. “It was a tremendous experience last fall,” she says, “to be involved in the pre-budget consultations all across the country.”
Many of the nation’s economic and social problems are reflected in her own riding. It encompasses some of Saskatoon’s poorest neighbourhoods, where the challenges facing a large urban First Nations population are pressing, but also stretches out into rural areas beyond the city. Unemployment in the riding is double the provincial average, and Block’s response is homespun Conservative: “I’ve often said the best social policy is a strong economy.”
The former Reformer’s Prairie populist streak, though, isn’t married to the cynicism about federal institutions that sometimes goes with that territory. “You drive up to the Hill,” she says, “and it almost takes your breath away.”