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Fit to LeadFit to Lead

Fit to Lead

Former B.C. Conservative MP John Weston debunks the myth that Parliamentarians will be sitting on the dock at the lake now that Parliament has recessed for the summer. The hot weather workload makes it vital they, like all Canadians, tend to their physical and mental health, he warns.

John Weston
3 minute read

As MPs disperse to their 338 ridings around the country, media will describe their upcoming summer as “time off” and that they will “do the barbecue circuit”. Canadians may wrongly conjure up the vision of buff, rested politicians, replete in their social and culinary summertime pursuits.

In my experience as an MP from 2008 to 2015, summer meant time in the riding, an intense, tightly planned period when I could actually meet with multitudes of constituents whom I did not have time to see when Parliament was in session. For the job of an elected federal leader in Canada is really two jobs - one on Parliament Hill and another, in the riding, more focused directly on the “customers,” as we’d term constituents in a business sense. 

In my own case, my staff, in three separate offices around my riding, had identified 50 different groups, each of which demanded distinct consideration and service. Serving them, meeting with individuals, and attending community events created an intense, tightly scheduled experience far from the “barbecue circuit” image projected by our media.

Most MPs love the job and love the riding activity. However, their divided existence takes its toll in many ways. One of the notorious casualties of Parliamentary service is physical and mental health. This is a price political leaders pay that is directly analogous to the price paid by leaders in business, professional, faith, and other fields. 

When leaders sacrifice their physical and mental health in the name of work, they hurt not only themselves but also all those who look at them as role models. This key thought motivated me to launch various initiatives designed to leverage the role of leaders in promoting physical and mental health and fitness. 

First, there was the Parliamentary Fitness Initiative, which got MPs and Senators running, walking, and swimming together with volunteer coaches. The “PFI” began in the wake of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games and continues to this day. Second was National Health and Fitness Day, an occasion when First Nation, provincial, and local governments are invited to proclaim the first Saturday in June as a day to concentrate on increasing citizens’ devotion to healthy physical exercise. 

Over 400 cities have proclaimed the day, which Senator Nancy Greene Raine and I formalized through Bill S-211, enacted in 2014. A third wave of initiatives are annual marquee events designed once again to profile healthy physical activity: Ski Day on the Hill; National Life Jacket and Swim Day on the Hill; and Bike Day on the Hill. Finally, we now have a charitable entity, the National Health and Fitness Foundation, created in 2015 to transcend the political careers of leaders devoted to the cause of promoting health and fitness. 

All this activity is designed to combat notorious sedentary trends in Canadians’ behaviour, accompanied by overweightness and related plagues of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health maladies. Skyrocketing health care costs relate almost exclusively to treating sick and injured people; precious little taxpayers’ money is devoted to promoting healthy physical exercise. 

Surprisingly, the Prime Minister’s Mandate Letters to the Health and Sports Ministers completely neglect the promotion of physical activity for grassroots Canadians. Yet we all know implicitly that we as individuals need to take more responsibility for our own personal health. 

At the end of the day, if you consider your physical and mental capacity as assets miraculous in design and engineering, you will be driven to the conclusion that you must care for those assets. As I argue in an article to be published in the July edition of Faith Today, people of faith can draw a direct line between their faith and the duty to take care of ourselves. Furthermore, your community of reference will take note if you demonstrate an earnest commitment to care for your health. Below is a little video summarizes three steps you can take to improve your own health and broaden your influence as a role model. You are a leader, just like those Parliamentarians en route to their ridings this week. Lead well - take responsibility for your physical and mental health!

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