Sheenagh Morrison is a self advocate from Victoria. Recently she sat in on the BC Legislative Assembly Question Period – a time during the daily legislative proceedings when the opposition parties hold the Government responsible for its actions. She then sat down with Carole James, NDP MLA of Victoria-Beacon Hill. She writes about her experience below:
I just had the privilege to witness Question Period today for the first time. It was fun and interesting. I first met Carole at my diversabilty event back in December and then again at my WOW award event. We became Facebook friends and friends as well. Here’s what Carole James said when she introduced myself and Jessica Humphrey at Question Period. I then had the honour to interview her. She is a great person.
C. James: I have two visitors at the Legislature today. The first is Sheenagh Morrison. She’s a provincial leader in the self-advocacy movement and also a leader of the diverse ability campaign here in Victoria. Her accomplishments and her workload put all of us in this House to shame. This year she won the Community Living B.C. Wow award. She’s a recently published author. She swims with Special Olympics. She works at Thrifty Foods and the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, and in her spare time, the little bit that she has, she loves spending time with her family and friends.
With Sheenagh is her friend Jessica Humphrey. Jessica lives in Victoria with her husband and two children, ages ten and 12. Her eldest child has a developmental disability, and Jessica works as a self-advocate advisor for Community Living B.C.
Sheenagh: Can you please explain question period in plain language for those people who don’t know what it is?
Carole: Question Period is part of what takes place at the Legislature, where members of the opposition get a chance to ask the government questions about anything they want. It is 30 minutes long. You ask a lot of questions but unfortunately you don’t often get answers. As the Opposition we are asking questions on behalf of the public; what do they want to know from their government. It is part of making government accountable. It can get very rowdy as you saw when you observed during Question Period and the behavior can be improved.
Sheenagh: How do choose what you talk about during question period?
Carole: We meet every day in a committee called House Management and our MLAs talk about what is in the news and what MLAs are hearing about from constituents in their community. MLAs make a pitch to the Committee about why the issue should be raised in Question Period and then members of the committee talk about which of those issues are most important. Sometimes we have lots of questions and sometimes it is thinner. We try to raise question about very serious issues. For example, the day you were there during Question Period we talked about child maintenance and families living in poverty. We try to highlight the most important issues of the day.
Sheenagh: From your back ground what are the most important services for people with diversabilities?
Carole: I think it is important for people to understand that everyone needs services at some point in their lives – health care, employment service, help from our families and friends. Needing services is not specific to people with diversabilities. We all need good quality health care, arts and cultural programs that enrich our communities, help finding jobs, etc. It is the same for people with diversabilities. We need to remember that and build strong community services that are there for everyone who needs them.
Sheenagh: Because employment is so important how would you encourage businesses to hire people with a diversability?
Carole: I have seen a shift in attitudes in the last few years. Businesses used to be unsure about hiring people with diversabilities. Now, as more people with diversabilities have entered the workforce, businesses are more open and recognize how important it is to hire a diverse workforce. We need to encourage businesses to hire people with diversabilities. I recommend that when people see a business with a diverse workforce, they ask to talk to the business owner and tell that business owner how much they appreciate that they are hiring a diverse groups of employees. Giving feedback to business owners — telling them you appreciate their hiring decisions and will purchase from their business because of it.
Sheenagh: What advice do you have for people with diversabilities who want to get into politics?
Carole: It’s a good idea to start by getting involved at a local level, and I often tell people to get involved in local election campaigns. Election campaigns are always fun and you meet so many people on campaigns. There are municipal elections coming up soon so there will be opportunities for volunteering. Getting involved in local campaigns is also a good way to learn about the issues and test out politics, to see whether you really like it or not.
Sheenagh: What advice do you have for people with a diversability who want to get a job in a MLAs office?
Carole: Unfortunately each MLA only gets one and a half staff in total so there aren’t a lot of jobs in MLA offices. There are other jobs connected with the political parties and at the legislature though. A lot of people volunteer with an MLA’s office to learn and get experience and sometimes those volunteer positions turn into jobs at the legislature and other places. If people are interested in getting a job connected to politics, I would recommend calling their local MLA’s office and seeing what volunteer opportunities might be available.
Sheenagh: Can you tell me a brief story about a friend who has a diversabilty or someone who has made a difference in your life?
Carole: I am so grateful I grew up in a family where diversability was part of our lives and our family. My family was a foster home for children, most with diversabilities, while I was growing up. When I got married, I became a foster parent with my family for over 20 years, caring for children and adults with diversabilities.
Norman Davy came to live with us in 1978 and quickly became a life long member of our family! Norman shared so much with all of us. No matter how challenging life would be, Norm reminded us that there was always joy and laughter to be found. He shared his family with us, and we gained life long extended family connections. He could brighten even the toughest day. He reminded us of what was really important in life. He made connections across our community, and widened our network of friends and neighbours through his outgoing personality.
Norman passed away a number of years ago, but continues to have an impact on our extended family, as we remember his smile, his love of life, and his ability to give so much to all of us.