At some point in their career, all parliamentarians are new parliamentarians. They come from diverse walks of life and assume their role with different levels of familiarity with parliament and expectations about their new roles. In this roundtable discussion, the Canadian Parliamentary Review spoke with seven recently elected MLAs from Alberta and Prince Edward Island to ask about their initial impressions of parliamentary life and how they were able to learn about the many facets of their work.
CPR: How did you first become interested in running for office and what road led you to becoming a parliamentarian?
AP: I grew up in a very politically-charged family--actually opinionated is the better term and the stage was always set to be very involved in government. I have always been involved in politics at some level, whether it was sign crews or stuffing envelopes, or being a board member. More recently I was a board member with the Wildrose Party for the past couple of years, and lastly the president of the local riding association. Winning a race to become an MLA is probably a political junkie's dream-come-true.
E-CV: I immigrated to Canada when I was about 7 years old and since then my parents have been active community members. Both of them brought me into community-building and policy from a young age and I loved it. I spent a lot of time setting up groups for at-risk youth in the Columbian community and advocating for student mental health. And that brought me towards wanting to do something to help society in a major way, so I decided to pursue social work. My first practicum was in (NDP MLA) Rachel Notley's office. It was there that I saw the integration of politics and policy and the integrity of the work that was being done for the community. Even outside of my practicum I was volunteering extra hours there, probably cutting into my sleep hours! So based on my childhood and what I was witnessing in her office, it was then that I knew that this is what I wanted to do--I just didn't expect to do it so soon. The likelihood of me winning this last election appeared fairly low and I thought it might take two or three runs before it happened, but there was a general mood for change.
GC: My journey into politics has really come full circle. I did a political science degree and graduated in 1993, which was the year of the Ralph Klein-Lawrence Decore election. I ended up working for Lawrence Decore as a part of the Official Opposition doing media and communications. I realized after three years that was no way to make a living, so I went into the private sector in IT, went back to get my MBA, and then started an information management company within oil and gas. I did that for decade and very much enjoyed growing a startup to a company that employed about 45 people and was living the Alberta entrepreneurial dream. But I kept getting pulled back into politics. I ran for the Alberta Party for first time in 2012 against Allison Redford, became leader in late 2013 because I saw some of the entrepreneurial spirit was missing from government and I wanted to bring it back. So here I am! I won the election in 2015 and have been an MLA for six months or so and it's been a really enjoyable experience.
SM: I had been involved with politics before having worked in the Opposition office, but was never really interested in making the transition to elected office. After much discussion with family, supporters convinced me to put my name forward. Having been heavily involved in the community anyway, it seemed natural to take on that type of a role full time.
JB: I've been involved in political organization for a number of years. That would extend back to my grandfather being an MLA before I was born. That sparked a real interest in me and I pursued elected politics as something I thought I would be well-suited to do and I way I could serve the people in my district while doing it.
PB-B: I got involved in politics over 25 years ago when I established a local organization of the federal Green Party in rural Ontario where I was living at the time. When nobody else came forward to run in the federal election in 1993, by default I became the Green Party candidate--the first of what would be 9 successive failed attempts (both provincial and federal) to be elected. Apparently, tenth time was a charm, and I was elected in May of this year as the MLA for Kellys Cross--Cumberland on PEL I remained steadfast in my commitment to politics because of my children. I want to be able to look them in the eyes some time in the future, when the problems that are maturing today grow worse, and be able to tell them that I did my utmost to secure a prosperous, healthy and safe future for them.
CPR: There was a large turnover among parliamentarians in Alberta this year and the outgoing speaker held a rather novel, informal mock parliament. Did any of the Alberta MLAs here attend, and if so, did you find it useful?
GC: I did attend and it was incredibly useful! Seventy of 87 MLAs were new, and as far as I can recall every one of the new MLAs attended. To Speaker Zwozdesky's great credit, he made it as real as he possibly could. We had the sergeant-at-arms come in with a mock mace and call everyone to order. He then ran us through the orders of the day and took us through Question Period. He would take us through a portion of each procedure, stop and explain. He had the New Democrats positioned as government and asked the Wildrose Official Opposition to ask questions--and the questions they asked were real questions. They asked pretty pointed questions, so at one point when the Minister rose to respond and was answering the question, the Wildrose started to heckle. And the Minister stopped and asked if the Wildrose...