I walked into then MP Gerard Kennedy’s Constituency Office in the summer of 2009. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I had to sit at the table or at least step into the office if I wanted to have a role in shaping the country. At that time Gerard, his small staff and a team of youth volunteers were working on a research project. They were trying to determine if the federal government’s Infrastructure Stimulus Fund program was being rolled out in a timely manner and having the desired job creation impact in communities across the country. This program was put in place amidst the 2008 economic recession to help Canada’s aging infrastructure while trying to boost employment numbers.
I was invited to join the project as a volunteer and made cold calls to municipalities to determine the status of those infrastructure projects and the number of jobs created. The result of the research garnered dozens of news articles and helped shed light on a government program that we felt was not being effective. This was the work of an MP and Shadow Minister putting to great use the limited resources that are granted to opposition members in the House of Commons. A Shadow Ministers’ role is to scrutinize government decisions and programs to determine their effectiveness. Seeing democracy being implemented right before my eyes was fascinating and I was immediately hooked on politics. This was my first political moment.
In our democratic society, voting is the most powerful instrument that we have at our disposal to help shape the kind of society that we want to live in. Governments make important decisions about the quality of our health care, the education system, the protection of the environment and even the business climate. However, since the opportunity to use this tool may only come every four years, getting politically involved between elections is a great way to impact the political dialogue.
To anyone who has ever wanted to get involved but felt unsure how to take the first step, I’d say go ahead and start small - follow your local politicians’ activities on social media and sign up for their newsletters. By doing so, you can stay abreast, in real time, of what happens in your community and how your political representatives are staying involved. You can also contact your local riding association. That said, while it is relatively easy to access a politician’s contact information on the House of Commons or provincial legislature’s website; it’s a different case with riding associations. Samara’s own research shows that riding associations are lagging when it comes to publicizing ways for constituents to get involved. So, if you can’t get in touch with, or don’t feel that your riding association is very engaging, don’t worry. Now is a great time to get involved, because with a number of upcoming elections (especially in Ontario), there are going to be a lot of people who need help on their campaigns.
With a possible provincial election in Ontario, an election in Toronto —Canada’s 6th largest government — and a federal election sometime in 2015, politicians at all levels are preparing, and should be eager to accept volunteers. Tweet at them or send them an email and you might be surprised how likely you are to receive a welcoming response. If your current politician does not appeal to you, find which candidate or party you sympathize with and contact them. From my own experience and as documented by many others, campaigns are an excellent opportunity to get your first political moment and hone in on some great life and professional skills. If you are up to the challenge, maybe your first political moment will get your political career started, like mine did.