MP for St. John’s East settling in to new job
In being elected as member of parliament for St. John’s East, Nick Whalen has achieved his lifelong ambition.
© Louis Power/The Telegram
Nick Whalen, MP for St. John’s East, says he finds it exhilarating to walk into the House of Commons.
“At this point now, I’m just focusing on being the best MP that I can be, and squaring away the things that’ll keep me from doing that,” he told The Telegram last week at his Freshwater Road office.
Whalen, who was sworn in Nov. 2, said it’s still exhilarating for him to walk into the House of Commons.
“I have an odd seat because my name is near the end of the alphabet, so after parliamentary secretaries, ministers and people who have won more than one election, I’m second last. And I sit directly behind Stephen Harper — well, four seats behind him,” he told The Telegram Tuesday. “I get a good view of Prime Minister Trudeau and the rest of the ministers and what they do. So I know when to stand up and sit down.”
The day the writ was dropped for the October federal election, polls suggested most people didn’t even know who Whalen was. He said a lot of stars had to align for him to beat Jack Harris (he won by less than 1,000 votes).
“Clearly, the party had to be popular and looking like they would form the government. Justin Trudeau needed to be personally popular so that people were comfortable in selecting a Liberal government. The election needed to be tight enough going into the final week that people feared that Harper might still eke out a victory, and then my campaign had to be in a position where we could poll enough extra votes to overcome the gap.
“And all those things had to come into line. The only one of those things that we were in control of was identifying vote, and we did it for 11 weeks. We worked very hard at it,” he said.
Whalen has found a suitable apartment for his time in Ottawa. Last week, he was working on finding better office space at home. He originally took over his predecessor’s office, but heard some concerns from residents that made him look elsewhere.
“We had the Coalition for Persons with Disabilities come in and do an assessment of the space, ’cause I heard some complaints about the space, from different groups during the election, not being accessible enough,” he said.
Tuesday, he was finalizing the lease for office space in the Prince Charles Building on Torbay Road. He said he hoped to be done by the time this story is published.
1 What is your full name?
Nicholas Julian Whalen.
2 Where and when were you born?
I was born June 6, 1973 at St. Clare’s Hospital in St. John’s. Mom tells me it was pretty late in the day.
3 What are you reading at the moment?
My wife surprised me with Ian Rankin’s “Even Dogs in the Wild” (the newest in the John Rebus mystery series). ... I read them all compulsively during my first years of practice in Toronto and then every now and then a new one will pop up and my wife will surprise me with it.
4 Who’s your favourite author?
I don’t know. I think currently it’s probably George R. R. Martin. I know when I was a kid I really liked John Irving. Ian Rankin I guess if I need something fluffy, something for a holiday. I love to pick up a Rebus novel.
5 What’s your favourite sport to play?
Soccer. I played a lot as a kid. I was away from it for a few years there in university but I always manage to pick up a rec game somewhere. And I play with the Duke of Duckworth Masters soccer team here in town and coach my kids.
6 What’s your favourite sport to watch?
I like to watch hockey.
7 What do you listen to when you’re driving?
When I’m driving I’m either listening to CBC or VOCM, talk radio or the Morning Show, just to see what’s going on. Before I became a politician I would listen to whatever the kids wanted to listen to.
8 What’s your favourite sitcom?
Currently it’s “Modern Family.” A close second would be “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
9 What’s something you’d like to see in the news more?
I think more local political coverage, a little more in depth. Things happen and oftentimes politicians get to dictate what things are announced on a Friday or a Thursday or near a holiday that the public doesn’t pick up on. Local media, if they had more resources, could really tap into that. Strange things can happen on a Friday, and especially in Newfoundland politics.
10 You speak three languages. What is it that draws you to learning languages?
I just love meeting people, and you can learn more about people and get along better if you just make that basic effort to learn their mother tongue. You don’t need to be fluent in it, but if you can just demonstrate some interest in their culture, then people are just much more open and receptive.
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11 What are three places that you’d love to visit?
I want to go to Moscow, I want to go to Beijing and I would like to go to Delhi. But maybe I have to throw in a fourth one. The place that I’d most want to visit right now is actually Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. It’s a rhino conservancy. They also protect some species of zebras there and other wildlife, and it’s a charity that I’ve been involved with now for about six years.
12 What’s the one issue that’s taking up the most of your time at work?
The one thing that’s taking up the most of my time right now is getting the offices straightened away. Winding up my law practice (McInnes Cooper) and making sure everything’s closed off. I’ll probably be doing that right up until noon on Thursday before I finally file my papers, putting myself into non-practising status as an engineer and a lawyer.
13 If you had a million dollars to give to charity, which charity or charities would you donate to?
Well I would give some money to Lewa ... as well as the Parkinson Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, ’cause I was a director until recently resigning.
There’s so many worthwhile charities. I know that Thrive and their street reach program does a lot of good work. Our firm, we’ve traditionally been heavily involved with the Cochrane Street United Church and some of their outreach efforts.
I guess I would give some to the Liberal Party of Canada (laughs), but that’s a political party, so not a charity. Registered Canadian charities: the Multiple Sclerosis Society, diabetes. I used to do a lot of Movember so I might give some to the Movember Foundation, or perhaps directly to mental health charities and prostate charities. There’s so many.
14 What do you like to do to relax?
Have a beer after the soccer game with the guys. It’s nice to get the soccer game in. but sometimes the best part of the weekly kick is to have a Coors Light after the game, listen to the band.
15 You have degrees in law and electrical engineering. If you were to go back to school for another degree, what would you do?
(Laughs). I’d like to maybe get a PhD in electrical engineering.
16 You’re involved with some charitable organizations. Why is it important for you to volunteer in the community — and in the global community?
Everyone should try their best to be involved in something, and I set my own personal goal to be involved in something local, something provincial, something national and something international.
17 Do you believe you can make a difference?
It’s important ... because people need to get involved to help make change. If you’re not prepared to put yourself forward to make change, you can’t really either expect other people to do it or to have them take your opinion seriously when you ask them to. So I just figured that I’d try to lead by example, and also improve my ability to make change by helping others make change.
18 Who is one person living or deceased you’d like to have lunch with?
I’d say Winston Churchill. He’d probably be annoyed as hell to have to have lunch with me, but it’d be amazingly interesting. I mean the guy saved western civilization so it would be cool to hear him. And he’s probably witty as hell
19 What’s the best part of your job?
I’m not sure yet what the best part of my job is going to be. It’s all so new. I love sitting in the House of Commons. I feel very grateful for the opportunity to do that. And we’ve had an opportunity to help some people.
20 What is your favourite place in Newfoundland and Labrador?
Feildian grounds is my spot. My friend Steve and I used to hop the fence there as kids to kick balls around and practise, and we won a city soccer championship there 26 years ago. Just so many good memories playing soccer down on the natural grass at Feildian Grounds.
Note: Some answers have been edited for length.