As an ardent anti-Conservative, my goal when I got to Edmonton was to get involved in an election campaign that could get rid of one of the eight Conservative MPs. My first choice was to get involved in a campaign with the Liberals, for a few reasons. First, it was what I knew. I had been working from the Liberal policy book for a while already and was comfortable with what it contained. I also knew the Liberal criticism of the other parties, particularly the Conservatives. And second, as unpopular as it was, I was a big fan of Stephane Dion's "Green Shift" policy of taxing polluters and compensating taxpayers with income tax cuts.
Lastly, I had met Stephane Dion a couple of times, been in a couple meetings with him, and attended a number of townhall meetings where he spoke. I appreciated his willingness to speak to large crowds of people without a teleprompter and to take unscreened questions from these large crowds. Most people don't question his sincerity or kindheartedness. In fact, some say it was due to how "nice" he was that he was unelectable.
The only reasons I could come up with for preferring the Liberals to the NDP were that Jack Layton read his speeches from a teleprompter and that the New Democrats wouldn't support what I thought was a reasonable plan to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. However, I wasn't put off enough to speak out against the NDP. My goal, again, was to remove Conservatives.
Moving on, I looked at the 2006 federal election results, and it seemed the Edmontonian Liberal who had the best chance of beating a Conservative MP was Jim Wachowich in Edmonton Centre, who was running against one of the most pro-war Conservatives, Laurie Hawn. I e-mailed the campaign indicating my interest in volunteering and detailing my past involvement with the Liberal Party. The 2008 election campaign started a while later though, and I didn't hear back from the Wachowich campaign. I wasn't sure what to do. What should have been the strongest Liberal campaign in the province would not answer my request to help them.
No other Liberal candidate in the area came anywhere close to beating a Conservative MP in 2006. I looked at the past election results again and saw that an NDP candidate named Linda Duncan had come fairly close to beating a Conservative incumbent in the previous election and was running again. I decided to find her campaign office, and when I did, I offered to put in some volunteer time. They signed me up for a shift of phone canvassing right away, and I came back the next week to help out. I only ended up putting in two hours of canvassing time between my busy university schedule and managing Greg Nyholt's campaign in Battlefords-Lloydminster, but that wasn't the last I heard from the New Democrats.
Jim Wachowich's campaign called me about two weeks before election day to ask me about helping them out. I told them I had already committed to Linda Duncan's campaign and that they were too late. On election night, I sat at home hitting the "refresh" button every 15 seconds or so on my internet browser until the full results were in for Edmonton-Strathcona. I was extremely excited when Linda won her seat, despite the overall disappointment of the Conservatives winning another term.
Not only did Linda Duncan win, but her team was efficient. They got back in touch with me again after the election and informed me they were continuing to organize for whenever the next election may be. I went out every time they had any kind of event. It was great to be in a place where progressives could win. I also got to know her campaign manager, Erica, who lived right down the street from me.
I knew Linda had an organization in place that could win (albeit by a small margin). I hadn't done much to help, but I felt I could do a lot more whenever the next election came around. I therefore looked back at the 2008 election results to see who else could beat out a Conservative MP in Edmonton. The next-strongest riding for a non-Conservative was in Edmonton East. The candidate was Ray Martin. I didn't know who Ray was at the time, but I e-mailed the Edmonton East riding association President listed on the federal NDP's website to indicate my interest in meeting with him.
My primary interest in federal politics was justice for the Palestinian people. It was one of the first federal issues I learned about and has remained my primary interest in politics since. So when Ray Martin called me to plan a time to meet for coffee, I told him my main interest was his position on Israel and Palestine. Ray and I met up shortly after that and had coffee for a while. I was impressed that he spoke so candidly about the issue I cared about without fear of the controversial nature of the subject in our political climate. He was not an expert on the issue, but he knew enough to have very clear and strong positions in favour of peace and justice for the Palestinian people. It seemed a rarity in Canadian politics (and still does). At the end of the conversation, I told Ray, despite the fact that I was still a card-carrying Liberal, that I wanted to help him get elected.
Ray put me in touch with his campaign manager, John. John wanted to know what experience I had, so I told him what I had done on the Kucinich campaign and also what I did during the 2008 election. I also told him I was still the sitting Vice President of the Battlefords-Lloydminster Liberal riding association. He told me he would love to have me help plan Ray's election campaign but that I would need to have an NDP membership (and therefore revoke my Liberal membership) before that happened. I understood and told him I would think about it. I wasn't sure yet if I wanted to formally jump ships.
It was the summer of 2009 when I got an e-mail from Erica, Linda Duncan's campaign manager. She said they were looking for a youth delegate to send to the NDP's federal convention in Halifax in August, and she was wondering if I wanted to go. I got very excited, particularly after I found out they would provide me with much support to get there. That night, sitting on my laptop in the U of A Students' Union Building, I e-mailed the Liberal Party, indicating that I was ceasing my monthly donation to the party and canceling my membership. I e-mailed the President of the Battlefords-Lloydminster Liberal riding association, telling him I was stepping down. I signed up for an NDP membership on the party's website. I signed up as a delegate on the party's federal convention website. And I booked myself a round-trip flight to Halifax for the convention. Finally, I e-mailed John and told him I wanted to start getting involved in Ray's election campaign, now that I had my membership.
In Halifax was where I met many very active New Democrats from Edmonton, including the former Leader of Alberta's NDP, Raj Pannu, and the current Leader, Brian Mason. I also learned a lot about how policy is made and changed in the party. I was surprised about how clear, transparent, and democratic the process was. The policy resolutions were debated on the floor where any of the 1400 or so delegates could express their thoughts to every else in the room before everyone voted on them. It excited me that I could see all of this happen in person, especially being brand new to the party. I also met some New Democrats who went to school at the U of A, and I really pushed the idea that we should make the campus a priority for the party. It didn't seem like any of the political clubs there were very active.
On my flight home, I had a layover in the airport in Montreal. As I got off the plane, I ran into Brian Mason again. He and I had the same layover and were waiting for the same plane. We had a bit of time, so he offered to buy me supper at one of the pubs in the airport. I was so impressed by how he was willing to sit down with me one on one after only meeting me once. We both talked about our past and I talked to him about my foreign policy interests. To my surprise, we were very much on the same page on those matters.
When I got back to Edmonton, I re-started the U of A Campus NDP, becoming its President and recruiting some active members and many interested students in the first week. I also attended the Alberta NDP convention in Edmonton about a month later, despite my lack of interest to that point in provincial politics. It was at that convention I started to get interested in provincial issues, including health care and the environment. Because I saw the environment as the most important provincial issue at the time, I attended the AGM of the Alberta NDP's Environment Caucus. There weren't many people at the meeting, and one of the co-chairs of the group was moving away. After expressing my personal concerns about the environment to the group assembled, they encouraged me to take on the position of co-chair, which would also put me on the provincial executive of the party. I was a little unsure about it, but I agreed to do it.
Since that rollercoaster of a start in the NDP, it has become much more clear to me why I belong in this party and not any other. Even though it was due to a number of circumstances that could very well have gone another way, I feel that I would have ended up in this party eventually anyway. There is no other party that holds my values like the New Democrats, and most of the active individuals involved in the party dedicate themselves to it for the greater good of people around them. This is pretty much the end of my "political history", but I'll detail further in my next post what things have solidified my sense of belonging in the NDP, as opposed to any other political party.