Recently, in preparation for a talk, I re-read a number of the MP Exit Interviews that I conducted four years ago along with colleagues at Samara, the think tank where I work. One story stuck out. A former MP, who worked in a kitchen before rising up through the union ranks, told us her story of running in a hotly-contested riding and receiving a call from a national newspaper. The reporter asked her: "What is a cook going to bring to Ottawa? And how do you think you're qualified for this position?"
This is how that MP answered: "Parliament is for Canadians of all walks of life, having a say and their views represented. I don't think only lawyers and accountants have the ability to do that."
We don't often think of these stories when thinking of Members of Parliament. The not-unfounded cynicism that surrounds Canadian politics has led many to view the political realm as an industry unto itself, filled with career politicians and ulterior motives.
Just last week a Private Members' Bill was put forward that may actually punish public service job-seekers who have taken part in Canadian politics, and new MP Chrystia Freeland wrote of her entry into politics and of friends who warned her that she'd never be taken at her word again once elected. With pre-conceived notions like these it's no wonder that so few Canadians take part in formal politics -- voting, joining political parties, or even reaching out to their government representatives.
We rightfully take time (though still probably not enough) to celebrate volunteers in Canada, the person who volunteers at a local hospital, for example. Yet, we take relatively little time to celebrate those who volunteer their time and work through the political system to create change. People like Rosanne Orcutt of Sarnia, Ontario who organized meetings between the Health Minister and members of her community to advocate for better hospital services.
Whether we like it or not, most major decisions about our communities are still made at the political level. Yet there is little celebration of, and often outright disdain for, those who engage with the political process to try and have a say in those decisions.
This week Samara announced the shortlist for our Everyday Political Citizen contest, and the smiling faces of our nominees belie our usual image of political actors. Since starting the contest we've had many requests from media and academic sources, including a civics textbook publisher to profile individuals from the hundreds of amazing people nominated. It's clear that Canadians are starved for good political news and are searching for better political role models.
That search is much-needed. After all, if we don't celebrate people who show that more positive politics is possible, we'll stop believing that it is reasonable to expect better.
The people on the Everyday Political Citizen shortlist are reminders that honest, optimistic, well-intentioned, hardworking everyday people are engaged in the political system. It's an important reminder if Canadians hope to see the state of our democracy start to improve.