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Cabinet an honour for rookie MP

Kent says he’s thrilled to take on junior minister role in new federal government

ALL SMILES: Thornhill MP Peter Kent, seen here on election night, says he's still coming to terms with his new job. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

ALL SMILES: Thornhill MP Peter Kent, seen here on election night, says he's still coming to terms with his new job. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

Once a foreign affairs correspondent covering the Americas for NBC News, rookie Thornhill MP Peter Kent is on familiar turf in his new cabinet post.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed his new minister of state of foreign affairs for the Americas, along with the rest of his cabinet, last Thursday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Though the swearing-in ceremony made it official, Kent learned of the prime minister’s plan for him a week earlier.

“It came to me with a phone call, a request to meet, an interview, a session where (Harper) outlined what he wanted me to do,” Kent said Monday from Ottawa. “I enthusiastically accepted.

“It’s unusual for a rookie member of parliament to be honoured and I am terrifically honoured.”

As the junior minister responsible for the Americas, Kent’s job will be to strengthen Canada’s political and economic ties to Caribbean, Central and South American governments, including, he said, emerging democracies.

“It’s a huge potential market for us,” he said. “We already have existing trade but there are wonderful opportunities there for expansion of trade.

“What the government has been trying to do in its first term and which I’ve been asked to emphasize going forward is to get the people of Central and South America, of the Americas and the Caribbean basin, to look over the horizon a bit. Instead of looking simply to the United States as a potential ally and trade partner, look over that horizon to develop and strengthen relationships with Canada.”

Kent is no stranger to Parliament Hill, having covered it as a broadcast journalist, but this time the experience is quite different and challenging, he said. This time he’s on the inside.

“There were places, of course, that journalists don’t often frequent or are discouraged from frequenting and it’s been a wonderful new adventure to get into those places: to be sworn in, to receive some of the briefings, to be admitted to the Privy Council and cabinet,” he said.

Heady stuff for a first-time MP and minister. But no less significant than his introduction to the halls of power are some of the more mundane details, he said.

“I made a point of finding out where the washrooms were on the Hill and in the (Foreign Affairs) Department, where the coffee machines are,” Kent said. “So once those essentials are identified, the rest of it is just time and effort.”

Though his ministerial duties will command a significant chunk of his attention, Kent said he has not forgotten who sent him to Ottawa in the first place.

“In every available moment that I can afford from cabinet responsibilities, I will be looking, of course, to make sure that the people of Thornhill’s issues are represented in caucus and in cabinet,” he said.

“I’m still coming to terms with the wonderful decision that the voters of Thornhill made and I’m determined to serve not only the folks that voted for me but everybody in the constituency.”

Vaughan Today
In print: November 7, 2008, page 2
Online: November 8, 2008
Byline: Philip Alves