Clarrie MacKinnon recounts the kinds of things he would end up doing when government services fell short of his constituents needs.
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How an MLA gets involved in “those kinds of things”
Clarrie MacKinnon: Your day-to-day role as an MLA . . . my children could not believe the type of things . . . I wouldn’t discuss people’s names with them, but they’d say, “How does an MLA get involved in doing those kinds of things?”
Sandra Hannebohm: You’re listening to On the Record, Off Script – a podcast documentary project based on conversations we’ve had with former Nova Scotia MLAs. My name’s Sandra Hannebohm, and I’m one of the hosts of the podcast.
Right now, it’s the first week of November of 2016. Next week the first full episode of Off Script will be released. Until then, here is our third ‘prepisode’.
‘Prepisodes’ are mini-podcasts of stories that captivated or entertained us while we were doing the interviews, so we hope that they will keep you entertained until the first full podcast is released next week.
If you haven’t already listened to the first two episodes, make sure to go back and check out Eleanor Norrie and Francene Cosman’s stories. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast while you’re at it.
This week’s story comes from Clarrie MacKinnon.
Clarrie MacKinnon: I have a deep voice.
Sandra Hannebohm: Clarrie served as the MLA for Pictou East from 2006-2013.
Clarrie MacKinnon: I actually sought public at all three levels of government. I did that nine times at the various levels at government. I had six wins and three losses. So I know what it’s like to lose as well.
Sandra Hannebohm: As a backbencher, Clarrie spent his time helping constituents access and navigate government services.
When there was someone who needed help and government services weren’t going to cut it, he often just did what he could to provide the service himself.
Clarrie MacKinnon: We had a lot of people going through hard times. They would get notices that their power bills were behind and then they would get a notice saying their power was going to be disconnected on such and such a date, and often it was. So you would be on the phone trying to get someone’s power hooked up. Somebody has two or three children and the power is turned off in their house. I mean, that is major to them.
As an MLA you end up with a situation like a woman coming to me on a friday–late friday afternoon, 5 o’clock afternoon–crying that her children [couldn’t eat because] there was no food in the house. You say, “Okay now, we understand that in your situation it’s too late to get a hold of somebody in community services to try to get you helped out. The food bank isn’t opening until whatever, Tuesday or so on.
Here’s what we’re going to do.” So you take your wallet out and you say, “Here’s a 20 dollar bill that will get you some pork chops or something for supper. Tea if you need tea or something, but 20 bucks should get you some supper. I’ll be at your house tomorrow morning with some groceries.” Down in our freezer there were three packages of bacon and two of them went into the Sobeys bag. My son is a hunter and has enjoyed hunting for many years. There were lots of sausages and so on in the freezer–deer and pork. I remember filling up two bags. My constituency assistant, who didn’t have very much money –still doesn’t [because] he lost his job when I lost mine–he went to Foodland and bought the food. So we arrived with four bags of groceries to this woman on Saturday morning. There are things you do as an MLA that nobody thinks that an MLA would be involved in. There is gratification in helping people. The more people you help the better you feel yourself because you feel your role is more important.
Sandra Hannebohm: Constituency work was central to how Clarrie viewed his job. It sounds like this is one of many stories about the people he helped while he was MLA.
Clarrie MacKinnon: The ideal role of an MLA I believe is to lobby for your constituents, and that can be lobbying whether you are in opposition or government.
Sandra Hannebohm: With few exceptions, the MLAs we interviewed told us that their main job was to serve people in the constituency.
Clarrie MacKinnon: An MLA can do a lot of marvelous things. We had a contact that we used to call repeatedly in Nova Scotia Power and say, “These people are in desperate straights. Let’s work something out over the next three or four months for them to bring this power bill down. Hook up their power [or] don’t disconnect it.” All of those kinds of things; taking an electric heater out of your own house and giving it to somebody that had run out of oil. To use an example, people coming back and saying, “Look we are so thankful because we have a budgie, and we put that heater that you loaned us under the budgie cage.” They didn’t put it in their bedrooms, they put it under the budgie cage to keep the budgie alive in the cold. In the cold night without oil. They still had electricity so they could plug in a heater. Those are the types of things that an MLA does.
Sandra Hannebohm: And that’s your story for the week.
Some of the full-length episodes we’re working on in the near future will explore the role of an MLA, and where the kind of constituency work Clarrie MacKinnon does fits into a day’s work as a lawmaker.
Come back next Wednesday for our first episode.
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Okay, see you next week!