Column: A tale about our democracy

My volunteering to organize public current affairs discussions in the Maple Ridge library thus led to running as a 26-year-old candidate...

After undergrad and backpacking around the world, I happened upon a book by an Edmonton bookseller turned Canadian Encyclopedia publisher turned fiercely patriotic author.

He and a Winnipeg area millionaire were founding a federal “National Party of Canada” and invited concerned citizens to help build a grassroots movement.

My volunteering to organize public current affairs discussions in the Maple Ridge library thus led to running as a 26-year-old candidate in the 1993 federal election.

That campaign had Canada’s first female Prime Minister advise elections were not the time to discuss issues, the Reform Party promise to end backroom Conservative corruption, and the Liberals win on a platform including ditching the GST.

My ambition was that promising to turn down the gold-plated MP pension (vetted after a mere six years service) would enable a “local boy makes good” to win a widely split vote.

Yet all that $25,000 from friends and family, another $50,000 in non-corporate donations, plus the local newspaper editorializing, I was “impress[ive] … articulate and intelligent and passionate in his beliefs and in his feelings about the country,” was a smidge below five per cent of the vote.

The lonely task of collecting campaign signs preceded an effort to bolster electability through a master’s degree from arguably the world’s leading university for economics and political science.

Interestingly, my fellow student and girlfriend at the time was a refugee from Sarajevo who has since become the senior advisor to Britain’s foreign secretary, a baroness in the House of Lords, plus a close personal friend of Angelina Jolie in spearheading a United Nations initiative to prevent abuse of women in war-torn regions.

I contrastingly pursued a career in finance, which was never quite available to a lower middle class West Coaster, as well as yielded negative repercussions for future political aspirations.

Nonetheless, a newspaper article advising the local Liberal Party couldn’t find a candidate for 2004’s imminent Federal election (plus my self-evaluation of being politically middle of the road) prompted discussions with that local riding association.

I was eagerly accepted as its candidate and planning on this basis continued for the next four months – until out of the blue I received a call from a “senior Liberal Party executive from Abbotsford”. He advised that his Harrison Lake resident protégé had lost a nomination battle in that riding, “so now she is going to be the Liberal Party candidate for your area”.

Unappreciative of being dictated to, my reply was that it would be up to local voters and set about both mailing my background and phoning to discuss positions with every Liberal Party member from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Nomination proceedings at Thomas Haney secondary began with 15-minute speeches, during which my competitor said nothing except, ‘Let’s just get this over with.’

There was no way I would not win, so it seemed. Until about an hour later, when multi-seat vans began arriving, after which the tally turned out 75 per cent to 25, not in my favor,.

The riding president was later quoted as saying I didn’t do the necessary work to sign up new party members.

I had zero other involvement with any party until this spring, when I reached out to all four major party headquarters, as well as their local riding associations.  To all of them I expressed an interest in volunteering on whatever teams they have working on policy platforms.

I received: no reply whatsoever from the Liberal Party; a suggestion from the local Conservatives that I could instead start door knocking for Randy Kamp right away; an invitation from the regional Green Party to a seminar about raising $25,000 for them within three months; and, as of Wednesday morning, 238 e-mails (in just 204 days) from various NDP entities all requesting a donation today of “just $5 or more.”

Such is democracy.



Mike Shields grew up locally and hosts SFU’s Philosopher’s Café Sessions at The ACT, 7 p.m. every fourth Thursday of every month.