Most people are finishing up their vacations, children will soon be returning to school and most of us will be taking up our normal routines for the rest of the year. The end of summer also marks a change for politicians who will be returning to Ottawa to take up their responsibilities in governing this great country. It seems fitting somehow that the end of one season and the beginning of another should be reflected in the political careers of two members of Parliament from this province who have had newsworthy years for both political and personal reasons.
Last week, Judy Foote announced that she was retiring from her role as minister of Public Works immediately and would be stepping down as a member of Parliament in September. This brings an end to a long and eventful career in which she has taken on a number of important portfolios — both provincially and on the federal level — and through her years of service, she has gained the respect of many at both levels of government.
She shared during her announcement some details of the health problems she has dealt with over her career, the impact it had on her and her family and the impact it can potentially have on her children moving forward. Her decision to leave now in order to put her efforts into her family — at a time when she had reached a pinnacle in her career — must have been extremely difficult, and her genuine love for her family came through very clearly in her news conference. I wish her and her family much happiness and good health moving into the next phase of their lives.
Earlier this week, her replacement was announced as part of a cabinet shuffle and this province’s newest representative in the cabinet is Seamus O’Regan, who will be taking on the role of minister of Veterans Affairs and associate minister of National Defence. While Foote was ending a long political career, O'Regan is just at the beginning of his, having been first elected in 2015, and it is quite a feather in his cap to be offered this important position so early in his career. He has been in the news over the past year for his own health issues as he spoke publicly about his struggles with alcohol and mental health and he sought treatment to help him cope with these issues. That he has been given this trust is a positive sign that people who live with mental health and addictions issues can overcome them and have continued success in their lives and careers; indeed, one of the first questions he was asked by a reporter after he was sworn in was whether he was worried about a relapse. Rather than focus on the negative, his response revolved around the challenges he will face in his new role being a stimulus in continuing to be happy and healthy.
While we tend to be very critical of politicians — something I have been guilty of — when people such as Foote and O’Regan choose to open up to us about the real health issues that are affecting them and their families, we are reminded that they are people just like us who have real lives that they live outside of their careers.
While we tend to notice the salaries, prestige and benefits that come with election to political office, we rarely see the sacrifices made in time away from family, long hours and nights away from home, and sometimes intense scrutiny of one’s personal life. This takes a toll on a person’s physical and mental health, and I applaud both Foote and O’Regan for being as transparent as they have been about what they are facing and their commitment to service despite the challenges faced.
It is a message that transcends politics and can provide a sense of hope to everyday Canadians who may be facing the same challenges.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org