CGAs in the House
Three CGAs, Jim Jones, John Williams and Alfonso Gagliano mix numbers with politics in their positions as members of Parliament.
Although politics may not seem like a natural extension of the accounting game, having financial expertise in Canada's main legislative body makes a lot of sense. As part of the
Parliament, three CGAs,
Jim Jones,John Williams and
Alfonso Gagliano, were elected to the House of Commons. Even though they share the CGA designation, they don't share the same political ties — Jones is a member of the Progressive Conservative party, Williams is of the Reform party and Gagliano is a Liberal party member.
While it's only the first time around for Jones, Williams is a member of Parliament for a second time and Gagliano, a cabinet minister, has been a mainstay of the House since 1984. Although their reasons for entering politics differ, they share the goal of enacting change by advancing issues that matter most to them.
Jim Jones, CGA
NEW TO THE HILL
Even though Jim Jones, the Progressive Conservative member of Parliament for the Markham, Ontario riding, has been in Ottawa for less than a year, he's no stranger to the political scene. Jones served on the local front for nine years as Unionville's councillor for the Town of Markham. "Most people that get into local politics are going in with a beef," he says.
What was Jones' beef? "Back in 1986, I was lobbying for a
50-metre pool in Markham. And, based on my interactions with the bureaucrats and town-hall politicians, I didn't like the way I was treated. And so I decided to run."
Jones was involved with the pool campaign because his son, Gannon, was in the swim club, and a bigger pool would enable more kids to join. "I liked the swimming program because the psychology behind it is not to win, win, win, but to do your best. And I said to myself that these are the kinds of programs we need in this country — programs that teach our youth character and lifelong skills." Also, Jones thought that the pool could put Markham on the map as a venue for the 1996 Toronto Olympic bid, which was lost to Atlanta.
However, Jones realized that teaching our children skills and commitment is not enough; they need an environment where they can find employment when they grow up. And he says that once he believes in a cause, he becomes a crusader. So he decided that if he wanted to make a difference in his son's future, and that of other youths, he should consider running federally. However, this was not a very easy decision for him to make. Not only would he have to leave his
27-year career at IBM — where he started out in finance, moved to financial systems analysis and ended up in sales — but, at the time, he was also facing stomach cancer. "It was a scary time. I was up north, soul searching, and I promised myself that if I got well, I'd try to run federally and fight for the things I believe in."
Once he got better, Jones followed through on his decision and won his seat — the only Progressive Conservative member to be elected in all of Ontario. He partly credits his victory to the fact that as a long-standing employee of IBM — and Markham being the home of IBM in Canada — he is fairly well known in the community.
Since the June election, Jones, who received his CGA designation in 1971, has applied his financial expertise in his role as Finance critic and, more recently, as Industry critic, where reducing the debt is of utmost concern. However, to Jones, the most important issue that the country faces is unemployment. "When I got out of school, I'd put in
10 resumes, and I'd get eight calls back," says Jones, who graduated from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson Polytechnic University) in business and finance in 1967. "Today, people can put in 200 resumes and get only three or four calls. So our challenge is to get this country energized and create the right environment for finding jobs so everyone can achieve their dreams if they work hard and apply themselves."
Although his now adult son is no longer pursuing swimming, the impact Jones' pool crusade has had on his political career is undeniable. But he admits that he is quite glad to be out of the swim club; now he and his wife of
30 years, Janet, no longer have to get up at
4:30 a.m. to carpool swimmers to the pool for training. But Jones is still fighting to get that
50-metre pool in Markham. "I haven't given up yet," says Jones, who is also getting involved in the Toronto Olympic bid for 2008.
SECOND TIME AROUND
John Williams, the Reform member of Parliament for the
St. Albert constituency in Alberta, says he's always been a student of politics. "When I was a very young fellow, my dad was on what I call the periphery of politics. He sat on various government boards and, therefore, I met local members of Parliament on numerous occasions," says Williams, who grew up in Scotland. Entering politics himself has always been in the back of his mind. "I guess I always told myself that if the time was right, I would make a run at it."
It was actually the accountant in him that finally inspired him to run for office. Williams, who received his CGA designation in 1989, says dissatisfaction with the finances of the country led him to that decision. "It had to change, it just had to change."
John Williams, CGA
With his accounting background, Williams has focused his political agenda on establishing a methodology for accountability in government. "Having worked as an accountant in the private sector, the maximization of profits through growth and efficiency was always very important to my clients. In government, though, there is of course no profitability and the focus on growth is not the issue. Therefore, it becomes very, very difficult to determine accountability efficiently," says Williams, who gave up his
St. Albert public accounting business, Williams and Company, when elected. "So I have taken it upon myself to become immersed in this complex and difficult subject."
He is currently serving as the chairman of the standing commmittee on public accounts, which investigates problems raised by the auditor general. It is the only Commons' standing committee that is chaired by a member of the official Opposition. "It requires good background skills in management and a grasp of the figures and the environment within which the departments of the government operate," he says. He was a vocal member of the committee after he was elected in 1993 and was unanimously voted chair after the 1997 election. "It's important to have a real appreciation of accounting procedures and financial statements because that's all that public accounts are — volumes of numbers," says Williams, who is also Treasury Board critic.
But Williams admits that members of Parliament need to know a lot more than figures; they are in the business of communication. "If anybody wants an initiative to move forward, the first thing you have to do is gather support and get MPs on both sides of the House to buy in."
So things are always hectic for Williams who is continually trying to raise the profile of the need for accountability in government. "It's like tax time all year round. The speed at which things move is quite phenomenal." But he makes a point of traveling back every weekend to his home in Rivière Qui Barre, a small country hamlet of about
30 households,25 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, which he calls his little oasis. "I have a little hobby farm with a big red barn. When I go back home after a hectic week in Ottawa, I can refresh myself and be with my family," he says. Williams has two sons, Munro and Allan, with his wife Carol.
But even on the weekends, he's on the go. "Since I represent the people of
St. Albert in Ottawa, it's important to me that I maintain my roots here. Our communities would be a lot better off if more people took the time to put something back into them."
That same philosophy of contributing also seems to guide Williams in Ottawa. "If, after my term in Ottawa, I can look back and see things improved, I'll feel I've made a contribution."
A SEASONED POLITICIAN
Re-elected for a fourth mandate in June 1997 under the Liberal party banner, the current Minister of Public Works and Government Services
Alfonso Gagliano, is a seasoned politician. "I had already been politically active on the school-board scene when people in my community encouraged me to enter the federal scene for the
September 1984 election," explains Gagliano. At the time, he was president of the
Jérôme-LeRoyer School Commission and, although he always considered entering federal politics, he didn't think the opportunity to represent his riding — Saint-Léonard/Anjou (now Saint-Léonard/Saint-Michel), near Montreal — would come that soon.
Alfonso Gagliano, FCGA
"I had always thought that I would make the jump into the federal arena, but only when my children were grown, when I was financially secure, or perhaps when I was nearing retirement. But my wife encouraged me to go for it. She told me, 'When you're finally ready, there might not be any place for you anymore.'" It was not the first time
Ersilia Gidaro influenced her husband.
She was the one who convinced him to pursue accounting since she was working in the field herself. Gagliano became an APA (Accredited Public Auditor) after studying at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in Montreal. This designation changed into the CGA designation in 1982.
His studies and public practice experience have proven to be good preparation for his political career. "The accounting discipline, which requires analysis before making a decision and justifying any action taken, has certainly helped me to make fewer mistakes and to make issues evolve in a more positive way." And he has been involved with many different issues in Parliament.
Newly elected in 1984, his business experience earned Gagliano the position of official Opposition critic for small business and Revenue Canada. After his
re-election in 1988, he joined the House of Commons' standing committee on finance and was appointed chief Opposition whip in
February 1991. During Gagliano's third mandate, the prime minister appointed him chief government whip and, in
September 1994, he was promoted to the cabinet as secretary of state (Parliamentary Affairs). In January 1996, he was appointed minister of labour and deputy government house leader. He also directed the Liberal Party of Canada's Quebec electoral campaign during the 1997 general election.
In addition to his current ministerial workload, Gagliano is also receiver general for Canada, whose tasks include preparing public accounts — a dream job for an accountant. "I feel like a lawyer who became justice minister," he says.
And he is also responsible for some Crown corporations — Canada Post Corporation, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Lands Company Ltd.
"I get to the office around seven in the morning and leave around seven or eight at night, often to attend a dinner meeting. I never get home before nine," he says. Gagliano spends four and a half days in Ottawa and two and a half days in his riding each week. "I face great challenges but, every day, I look for ways to bring the machinery of government closer to the public. Accessibility and equity are very important to me."
Italian-born, Gagliano immigrated to Canada
at 16 and has truly found his path in politics. "I can't imagine myself doing anything else. Politics is as addictive as drugs. I enjoy what I am doing so I intend to pursue it as long as my health allows me."
And after politics? Not surprisingly, the always active Gagliano already has some plans for his eventual retirement. "First I'll play golf if I have time and, perhaps, reflect back on my life and write my memoirs." Most likely, though, this won't happen in the near future.