After a collegial but spirited campaign, Langford councillor Lillian Szpak has landed the federal Liberal nomination for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca.
Szpak will be seeking the seat of outgoing six-term Liberal MP Keith Martin in the next federal election. The minority Conservative government is expected to table a budget in the next few months, which could send voters to the polls.
“I feel honoured and delighted to know that eventually I’ll be MP and will get to serve our riding,” Szpak said Tuesday. “At this point its early in the day. I have good experience running an election campaign, but this is another level to learn.”
The 17-year Langford resident and daughter of a Cape Breton coal miner edged out Esquimalt resident and retired fire chief David Hodgins.
Szpak said she plans to sit down with Martin and her team on how to hash out a federal campaign plan and develop policy, while digging down deeper into issues that touch on the federal arena.
“Jobs and the economy are key, and firming the ground under families,” she said.
She expects transportation on the West Shore to remain a key issue. A military wife of a soldier who served in Afghanistan, Szpak said she plans to follow in Martin’s footsteps and advocate for the Canadian Forces, military families and veterans.
Current policies, such as lump-sum payments to veterans with certain injuries, might be causing more harm than good, she pointed out.
“This is something that can be very difficult for veterans to manage,” she said. “I’m well aware of the challenges of our military families and the need for long-term support of our veterans.”
The three-term municipal politician said she’ll keep serving on Langford council until she is sent to Ottawa as MP. If a federal election is called, she would take a leave of absence from council, but otherwise it’s business as usual. Szpak has previously said she plans to run for re-election in Langford this November if she’s not an MP.
The nomination campaign took Szpak across the sprawling Esquimalt-JDF riding encompasses part of Saanich, the West Shore, Sooke and the JDF electoral area. Much of the campaign work was signing up new federal Liberal members and talking to people in coffee shops and shopping centres.
“You have to be a person connected to the community, and someone who cares and is knowledgeable on the issues,” Szpak said. “The job is about delivering our voice from here to Ottawa, not the other way around.”
Martin said Szpak is a long-time friend and colleague who would make “an excellent MP.” If he had any advice to offer, he said it would be to remember that constituents come first.
“As MP, stick to your guns,” Martin said. “Know what issues you want to focus on for the community.”
He also noted that the system in the House of Commons rewards “rabid partisanship and mudslinging” that helped drive Martin’s decision not to seek a seventh term. “You might feel like the lonely voice in Ottawa if you offer constructive dialogue,” he said. “Don’t succumb to the allure of mudslinging that’s a dominant feature in Parliament.”
In terms of running a campaign, Martin said he will advise Szpak if she wants, but doubts she’ll need much help.
“Lillian knows what to do for our community,” he said. “She knows the system and the local problems. If she’s elected she’ll be able to take that local knowledge and advance the needs of our community in Ottawa.”
Conservative Troy DeSouza, New Democrat Randall Garrison and Green Shaunna Salsman are also nominated to run in Esquimalt-JDF.