I remember the first time I ever really met a Member of Parliament. I was working the phones on the first campaign I ever volunteered for. The candidate was a long time MP, and was running for reelection in the May 2011 federal election. If you think I’m young and idealistic now, you should have seen me then. Eager to get as involved as I could, I would come in on weekends and after school to make calls, excited and nervous despite the fact that all I had to do was have a few phone conversations.
I had been helping with this campaign for a few weeks at this point, and was very eager to meet the candidate, who was often out in the neighbourhood. I was midway through a phone conversation when he walked into the office and I was stunned. As a history nerd and what my father refers to as a “political animal”, I reacted the same way I assume my classmates would if they saw Justin Bieber. My jaw dropped, I stared and I suddenly lost all ability to speak when he came over to the phone bank station to greet all the volunteers.
Sure, I wasn’t crying or screaming, but I had committed the cardinal mistake when dealing with politicians: forgetting that they are human. As an extension to that rule, never treat them as something other than that, for fear of idolizing them.
Politicians are interesting because there is so much pressure on them to be perfect, yet, because so much of their image depends on maintaining this illusion, many people automatically buy into it without questioning it.
What people often forget is that a politician is someone who essentially wants to work for you in some capacity; a politician wants the chance to represent you, your voice, your riding, etc. Therefore, if you automatically put anyone running for public office on a pedestal, how will you be able to ask the important questions, and get past what I like to call the “superficial politics”.
It can be easy to get distracted by the excitement of politics and get caught up in the show of political life and, in doing so, forget about the reason why our society values democracy: equality through choice. I love politics because it allows me to put my voice and my opinion into the ring, to learn more from others, and, above all, to contribute my small part to a greater wave of change. Backing a cause or a candidate is exciting, but it is even more meaningful when you are genuinely passionate about what you are working for. I know that every time I help to carry the Liberal banner forward, so to speak, I am proud to represent a party I believe fights for every Canadian, regardless of sex, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
To summarize, the most important thing to keep in mind when first meeting a politician is this: they are human. If you really understand what this means you’ll understand their cause better and you’ll be more of an asset to a campaign because you’ve moved past the superficial allure of politics. Get to know your MPs, MPPs and candidates – they’re a diverse group of people, and I promise you’ll learn something new.