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chuck strahl

Mark and Chuck Strahl

Dear son,

Congratulations! You made a decision to run for public office, charted a course, worked hard and got yourself elected. Our whole family is immensely proud of you, because it's no small feat to be one of only 308 people in the entire country to serve in Parliament. You're in for quite a ride, and things may be a little like they were when I was elected in 1993 - lots of new MPs, shifting political landscape, uncertain economic times.

One big difference? You're sitting on the government side of the House. Nice.

Soon it will be off to Ottawa and the grind begins. Before you go, let me leave you some fatherly advice.

First, remember the words you spoke during your acceptance speech. You spoke of "the common sense of the common people," and listening hard and often to your voters is essential if you want this job for long. People want to know that they've been heard, and while it's impossible to please 100 per cent of voters 100 per cent of the time, their common sense and your willingness to listen will pave the way to a good relationship. The media will try to convince you that there is other, better advice (theirs, generally), but they're wrong.

At the same time, don't forget the rest of your caucus colleagues, who are also doing their best to represent their diverse voters. All of you ran on a party platform, so initially you'll all start out on the same page. As time goes on, however, there will be complex and extraordinary issues that defy easy or pat answers, so unanimity is more difficult.

Almost always, charting the path forward during those moments means convincing others - or being convinced - that the team needs to "speak with one voice." Hard work to be sure, but remember that the caucus and the cabinet are in the political fray with you, and they need to know you have their back - and they, yours. The team isn't the be-all and end-all, but it's important. And you will hang together or you will hang separately.

Finally, remember that while your constituents are critically important, and the party deserves your respect and loyalty, no one will look after your family but you. It's not that others want bad things to happen to you and yours, it's just that they are not designed or inclined to put your family first. Political parties develop policy, strategies, ideas, leaders and platforms. Our Conservative Party is exceptionally good at all of that. But the demands from party and voters have to be balanced with the needs at home. Only you can do that, and having watched you for many years, I know you won't forget it.

Mom says that giving advice to a new MP is like attending prenatal classes: It all sounds good on paper but when the moment actually arrives, you find out that reality quickly takes over the theoretical. That's probably true. I take comfort in knowing that you've spent your life developing a strong character and principled positions on the issues that matter most. When the going gets tough, you'll be one of the guys that get going.

Like most dads, I'll be close by, encouraging you to work hard, treat others with respect and enjoy this time of public service. It's a great honour to be elected, and I look forward to watching your contribution to our country's business in the years to come. I'm proud of you already.

Love, Dad

Chuck Strahl is a former federal cabinet minister. His son, Mark Strahl, is MP for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon.

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