Wider Horizons

Blaine Calkins’ route to national politics started in the forests and mountains of Alberta, where Blaine Calkinshe has worked as a fisheries technician for Alberta Fish and Wildlife, Park Ranger for Alberta Parks Service and as a National Park Warden for Parks Canada.

“My decision to get involved in politics stemmed from working for Parks Canada,” says Calkins, who has represented the large rural riding of Wetaskiwin as a Member of Parliament since 2006. “It was a positive experience in many ways but also a wake-up call in terms of where our federal tax dollars go. I realized that the agendas and decisions of politicians really affected people’s lives.”

Calkins says he has been able to put some of the lessons he learned in Lethbridge College’s Conservation Enforcement program to work in his work in Ottawa, especially as a member of the Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources, and Environment and Sustainable Development committees and more recently the Justice and Human Rights committee. “My education and work background have absolutely been helpful to me,” he says. “I understand courtroom procedure and how the law works, and I can ask the right questions and know when I am getting an honest answer.”

There are plenty of difficult days mixed in with the good days as an MP – including last Oct. 22, when a gunman opened fire at the National War Memorial and on Parliament Hill. But Calkins says the best days outweigh the hard ones, especially when someone comes to him asking for help. “When you are the last person someone can go to and you can right a wrong, or when someone is able to get a fair resolution from the government because of your help – those are the best days for me,” he says.

Above all, Calkins is proud to represent the province of Alberta. “We are so lucky and blessed to live in this province,” he says. “I have travelled the world in the last nine years representing the province and country, and I have to say the best part of any trip overseas is coming home – not only to Canada, but to Alberta.”

To learn more about Calkins’ experience in Ottawa on the day of the Parliament Hill shootings, continue reading below.

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Lethbridge College Conservation Enforcement alumnus Blaine Calkins, the MP from Wetaskiwin, was in Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2014. That was the day that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier on ceremonial sentry duty at the Canadian National War Memorial, before opening fire in the Centre Block parliament building, where members of Parliament, including Calkins, were attending their caucuses. After wrestling with a security guard at the entrance, Zehaf-Bibeau ran inside and was cornered and killed by the Commons Sergeant at Arms, Kevin Vickers, after a shootout with parliament security personnel. Calkins shares some details about his experiences that day with Wider Horizons.

“After the last election, the Prime Minister asked me to chair the Alberta caucus. We met on Wednesdays and Oct. 22 was one of our regional caucus meetings. Ric McIver (the MLA for Calgary-Hays) and Doug Horner (the former Alberta finance minister and deputy premier) had come down from the province to meet with us in the regional caucus meeting. At the end of the meeting, all of my colleagues had made their way over from our building to Centre Block and I stayed a little later to talk to the staff. I was a bit late, so I hopped on a shuttle that we have to get us where we need to be on time and made my way over. As I was on that shuttle, Zehaf-Bibeau had just shot Nathan Cirillo.

“After arriving at Centre Block, I saw Ric McIver walking down to the caucus room. We were only a few moments ahead of Zehaf-Bibeau. We walked into the caucus room and I deposited my phone and everything in an anteroom outside of the meeting room. The Prime Minister was addressing caucus. I sometimes get a bit fidgety and don’t like sitting for long periods of time, so I walked over to the door that leads to the Hall of Honour because I needed to talk to Erin O’Toole (the MP from Durham and current Minister of Veterans Affairs). We stood there for a minute to have a quiet conversation by the door and that’s when we heard a loud bang. It just didn’t sound right. We were used to loud bangs – there is plenty of marble in the building and when something drops something it can be quite loud, and there had been construction work going on with controlled explosions as well, but it wasn’t that.

“Right away, within seconds, we heard the pop-pop-pop that I knew was handgun fire. I had been around enough firearms to know. Then we heard another loud bang, and more shooting, right outside the door where I was standing. There wasn’t panic in the room. We recognized it right away for what it was. The members piled chairs in front of the door and got out of the way of the door and tried to position ourselves to be better protected by the stone of the building. We heard a lot of gun fire, a lot of shots fired, and we just hunkered down and waited for news.

“The building was locked down, but once the immediate threat was gone we were able to get our phones and text our family and friends to let them know we were OK. It was a hard day, although there were certainly some heroic parts of it. [After the shooting], the Sergeant at Arms (Kevin Vickers) came in to the caucus room and talked to us. He was emotional, but so firm in his resolve. It was nice to know that someone’s got your back.”

Wider Horizons
Lisa Kozleski
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