Hello, Newbies Democratic Party MLAs!
Welcome to the exciting world of provincial politics. No doubt many of you are still on a high (natural or otherwise) after your exciting and unexpected victories on Tuesday. I’m sure the Dippers who recruited you gave you assurances that you wouldn’t win, so you shouldn’t worry about what might happen next.
Well, welcome to what happens next.
You see, young ‘uns, I was once in your shoes. Back in 2004, I ran as a Liberal at the last minute, and won. I’ve always been quite proud of the fact that I spent less than $5,000 to win my seat, although I suspect that’s probably double or triple what many of you spent. I went into politics blind, and had to learn most everything on the fly. The class of 2004 had some excellent mentors (Laurie Blakeman, Hugh McDonald, Kevin Taft), and since there weren’t a lot of us, we got all the mentorship we needed. Not so much with you kids. You’re joining an existing caucus of four, and my guess is that Rachel Notley won’t have a lot of time to tell you where the washrooms are. (The best one is on the second floor of the Legislature; not very busy, with old school faucets and the like.)
So, let me help. Here now are a few pertinent facts about being an MLA.
1. Your life is no longer your own.
Seriously. No more hanging out on Whyte Avenue on a Saturday night looking for a little, shall we say, evening diversion. People know who you are now, and if you like to go to the bar, chances are everyone will be expecting you to pick up the tab because everyone knows you now make six figures! And they have these things called camera phones now. No, instead of karaoke, you’ll be attending awards ceremonies for your riding high school, or scarfing down a pyrogy supper at the local Ukrainian hall, or reading Dr. Seuss to schoolchildren. You will be invited to a lot of things, and you will not turn down any invitation in your riding. If you want to be re-elected, you will attend every event that is likely to attract more than a half-dozen people. Voters will want to meet you, buttonhole you about trivial matters, size you up, take pictures with you, get 100th birthday certificates for their grandmother from you, etc. etc. This is now your life. Oh, and cancel your Facebook account. It is guaranteed that at some point, one of your will not be able to resist the urge to post something ‘funny’, like: “Attending the Holocaust remembrance ceremony. Couldn’t I just have stayed home and watched Schindler’s List?” See how some people may not find that funny?
2. You may think the next election is four years away, but the campaign starts now. Most of you won by fluke, without really trying. That won’t be the case next time. In 2019, you will have to mount a REAL campaign. You’ll need a constituency organization, and money for the next campaign. And you will have to help raise it! So get started. Now.
3. You’ll need an office, and someone to run your office. I can’t emphasize enough how important it will be to have a solid office.I had a two excellent assistants in my time who always made me look good, and I never worried about anything in my office.People will come to you with problems, and expect you to clear them up. Well, not you, but your executive assistant, or whatever bloated title you want to give them. Resist the temptation to give this job to your sister because she can type fast, or your brother because he really seems lost right now and needs some direction, or anyone you’re friends with. This is no doubt your first hiring experience, so don’t blow it. All it takes is one messed up situation where you EA does a terrible job, and word gets around the community that you’re useless.
4. Your first thoughts upon winning may be about being in the Legislature. It’s a proud moment when you take your seat for the first time, but in reality, being in the Leg is the least of your worries. None of you are (is?) cabinet material (hey, just being honest here). Your job, while the legislature is in session, will be to sit in your cushy chair (very comfortable, by the way) and look attentive if the camera happens to catch you. You will not have to answer questions during Question Period; your role during ‘QP’ will be to thump your desk in support of whatever half-assed answer comes from a minister. You will be allowed to ask questions, but if you follow the PC template (and I hope to God you do not), your question will be a harmless ‘puffball’, as we used to call them, for which the minister will have the answer already prepared. You will be allowed to give a private member’s statement (known as a PMS… I’m serious about this) about a topic of your choice. And if you want to enter into the debate on, say Bill 22, The Pork Producers Organization Reorganization Act, feel free. Otherwise, your job will be to sit down and shut up. During evening sessions, your job will be to fill the seat to maintain a government majority, so feel free to work on your World of Warcraft skills. Just make sure no one is looking down from the gallery at your laptop.
5. You will have to attend committee meetings. And you will find these agonizing. There are umpteen committees that examine bills and government policy before they get to the legislature floor, and you will be assigned to many of them. They are so boring, you’ll be longing for the days when you used to sit stoned in your film studies class, watching Citizen Kane for the fifteenth time. It is during committee meetings when you will rue the day the NDP organizer asked you to run as a paper candidate with no chance of winning. Lying bastard.
6. Guys, you will have to buy some nice suits, and learn how to tie a tie. Judging from what I’ve seen as a suit salesman, this may be your biggest challenge. Come on by and see me.
7. You will put on weight. You’ve heard of the Freshman 15, or its modern equivalent, the Freshman 40? If refers to weight freshman college students put on in their first year. Well, same thing. You will be attending a LOT of dinners, sitting through a LOT of meetings, and being fed a LOT of food. You will find it hard to turn down free food (many of you were, or still are, students, so free food will be as irresistible as free beer). If you don’t believe me, just look at Brian Mason. Oh, by the way, there is an event called the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Christmas event. Do NOT miss this. Best feedbag in the province, guaranteed.
8. You will be coddled by the legislature. There is an organization called the Legislative Assembly Office, the LAO. It is made up of the most professional, patient, expert civil servants you will ever run across. They will set up everything for you, and if you have a problem, just call. They’re great.
9. Also great are the pages in the legislature chamber. They’ll bring you coffee or tea or Coke (but not coke). Always very polite and professional, the cream of the high school/college crop.
10. Always remember that no matter how hard you work, no matter what a great job you do as an MLA, you may be turfed in four years’ time, just the way some of you turfed very good, very hardworking MLAs. And there will be times when you hate, hate, HATE the job, and wonder why you ever got involved. During those times, remember these three little words …. six figure salary!
So, kids, enjoy. If you need any advice, I’m here to help.