Decades ago as an 18-year old high school student, I made a life-altering decision which took me out of the classroom and on to the road of adventure.
It was the spring of 1995 and while students in my Grade 13 History, Geography, and English classes were digging into the US Civil War, population migration, and King Lear, I wasn’t. I was on the campaign trail.
I am more of an introvert, rather than an extrovert, yet somehow I got the bright idea that I could seek adventure, skip class, and aspire to be the next member of provincial parliament at Queen’s Park.
I was going to make history as being one of the youngest ever elected, and I was going to do so without any party affiliation. – an independent. To top it all off, I was going to unseat a 14-year incumbent MPP with strong party and community ties.
Needless to say, Bob Runciman continued his political career long after my upstart campaign.
My provincial political career was run over that spring by my youthful inexperience, $600 in campaign contributions, and the Common Sense Revolution. I did finish fifth out of five candidates with 438 votes, and I am glad I didn’t place sixth.
The two-and-a-half month campaign period was a learning experience and gave me a new-found appreciation and respect for anyone willing to put their name on a ballot. It is extremely daunting to put yourself out there that far and run for public office.
That election gave me the opportunity to learn from not one, but two political heavyweights. Runciman is the more well known of the two given his career in government and as a senator. From him I learned to connect with people in a room. No matter where we all were on the election trail, he knew what the issues of that area were. Runciman was approachable to a fault and while I was standing in the corner of the room talking to one or two people who considered me a political oddity, Runciman’s ear was being bent by every person in the large crowd around him.
He knew that in a large riding, not everyone has the same local concerns. Instead of providing big-picture comparisons to other regions of the province, he took the time to listen and advocate for the different concerns in his riding. That was abundantly clear at every all-candidates meeting. Runciman knew and advocated for his riding.
The other heavyweight not known then, certainly is now. Perennial Green Party candidate and dentist Peter Bevan-Baker was on the same campaign hustings that year. The lessons I learned were to believe in what you are talking about, and to talk, not preach. Twenty-five years ago, the Green Party was on the fringe of a fringe politically speaking. But here was a well spoken person who presented very clear ideas to the public, and knew how to connect with people.
Some with activist causes preach rather than talk to people. Not Bevan-Baker. In fact, he was able to make complex ideas relatable. I followed his career as he left Ontario and moved to Prince Edward Island, continuing in provincial politics.
Years later, he continues to make great strides as PEI Green Party leader and Leader of the Opposition in that province. He took the party from having zero MLAs elected, to narrowly losing the last provincial election.
The important lessons, in my opinion, of connecting and being able to relate with your community and those you represent, and being able to present complex issues in a relatable way, are what my brief time in provincial politics taught me.
I could have learned these lessons in many other ways, but where was the adventure in that?