By Kathryn Willms
Mary Ng remembers a student she was mentoring at Ryerson once asking her if she would ever want to be “out there,” be a political figure. “My response at that time was that the spotlight wasn’t what interested me,” she says. “What really interested me was supporting others and making a difference.” For 20 years, she pursued her passion for helping others in various capacities – as chief of staff for MP Gerard Kennedy, as executive director to Ryerson University’s Sheldon Levy, and finally as director of appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office of the Trudeau government. When former immigration minister John McCallum resigned to become Canada’s ambassador to China, the Markham—Thornhill seat opened up, and Ng decided the time had come to step forward and take her commitment to public service to the next level. In April, she became the Member of Parliament for Markham—Thornhill.
A few months into her new job, Ng says her priority has been getting to know her riding better. To that end, she has been knocking on doors, attending community events, and meeting with business leaders. She recently held her first open house. “So far, it’s going great,” she says, calling the move to public office a “good transition.” “Whether it’s serving the people of Markham—Thornhill or working for the prime minister, it’s serving the people of Canada,” she says. “I feel very humbled to be elected by the people of Markham—Thornhill. They’ve given me a mandate to carry on the work that this government was elected to do in 2015. It is about improvements to the middle class, improvements to the economy, and making those infrastructure investments.”
When asked what issues are closest to her heart, Ng is quick to point out that her mandate comes from the people: “The things that are important to me are the things that are important to the people in my riding.” She says that people are concerned about affordability, especially families and seniors. Constituents are also focused on improvements to transit infrastructure. Ng notes that the federal government ran on these issues and has already started to make investments in these areas. She says that part of her job will be to make sure that the benefits of the infrastructure commitments the government has already made will be felt in Markham.
Another focus will be championing Markham’s business community. “Markham is a leader,” she says. “The high-tech sector that is here; the innovation in the startup and post-secondary sectors; it is an excellent ecosystem. I will work hard to represent their interests so they can grow that next generation of jobs right here in Markham and contribute to the national economy.” Ng helped set up the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson, and she says her government is invested in supporting innovation, citing Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains’ recent announcement about funding superclusters of innovation. She also says that unlike the Harper government, the Trudeau government will support science and research, citing the reinstatement of the long-form census, as well as funding in the 2017 budget for research infrastructure in post-secondary institutions and a pan-Canadian strategy on artificial intelligence. She also says that while a constructive trading relationship with the United States is essential for both countries, the Liberal government is also focused on “advancing free trade across the world,” including improving economic ties with Asia Pacific. When asked for her thoughts on smaller businesses that might be struggling, she says she believes that the Liberal government initiatives to help the middle class will have positive effects, and businesses in diverse and healthy ecosystems, such as Markham, are at an advantage.
One issue that is clearly important to Ng is diversity. “Diversity is Canada’s strength and Markham has it in spades.” Ng’s parents immigrated to Canada when she was seven, and she worked in their Chinese restaurant in North York growing up. Looking back, she realizes she had a “feminist father” (not unlike her former boss, the Prime Minister of Canada), who raised her and her siblings with the belief they could do anything they wanted. “He empowered me and believed in me,” she says. Ng has tried to bring those principles of openness and inclusiveness – as well as the hard-work ethic instilled by her parents – into her political life as well. “People should look forward to hearing from me and engaging with me and I certainly have an open office. I’m here to serve.” So far, she has been impressed by the level of political engagement by citizens in her riding and hopes that continues going forward. She welcomes all topics of conversation except one. When asked which one of Markham’s renowned Chinese food restaurants is her favourite, she balks. “Oh my goodness, you can’t ask me that question!” she says with a laugh, before quickly suggesting that there are many wonderful restaurants in Markham – Chinese and otherwise.