Amalia Ferreira-Espinoza, shutterstock.com
I read the papers and find politics interesting, but have never been involved in either advocacy or the actual political process. I am, perhaps, a bit cynical about the claims and counterclaims, the posturing and simplification that seem necessary to win elections (understanding that elections are only a part of the process). It was interesting to see Harper thumped in the last federal election, if only because the cynical ploys he tried so clearly backfired. Today, we have the spectacle of Donald Trump gaining a lock hold on the Republican nomination in a campaign that recalls, on a much larger canvas, Rob Ford’s era in Toronto. They both flouted normal conventions and were rewarded rather than punished.
So, from a career perspective, it was a pleasure to chat with Steve from my social media course about his background and how he has made his way into the political system.
Steve is a legislative assistant to an NDP MPP. His blog, North of Bloor, shows a keen interest in the building blocks of a vibrant and healthy neighbourhood.
Career Advice: how did you become interested in politics?
Steve: As a teenager I developed an interest in social justice and other progressive causes. It was a natural outgrowth of witnessing some of the issues we faced in Algoma, where I’m from. So my interest in politics was directly connected to working for social change.
Career Advice: How did you choose where to go to school?
Steve: We’re lucky to have Algoma University College of Laurentian University in town. I visited during the campus recruiting days. I was already interested in politics, but I found the political science profs really engaging and interesting. I did a double major, Political Science and Legal Studies, because it offered a number of career options.
Career Advice: What next?
Steve: Wow, it was tough when I finished my degree. A real existential crisis. Undergrad teaches you to think rather than offers specific career training. I’d done well in undergrad, so decided to do an MA at Carleton in Political Economy. I sharpened my focus on food policy and volunteered at Just Food and was a research assistant for Nourishing Communities.
Career Advice: So how did you land your first full-time job?
Steve: I volunteered for an NDP MP in Ottawa. I stuck around until I got paid – that was how I got my first job – persistence and hard work. I then moved to Toronto to be with my partner, and took a job working in the Ontario Legislature for an NDP MPP and volunteered on the provincial election campaign.
Career Advice: Would you consider a career as a politician?
Steve: No, I prefer behind the scenes.
Career Advice: What do you enjoy, not enjoy about your job as a legislative assistant at Queen’s Park?
Steve: I do stakeholder relations, PR and policy research among other tasks. It’s busy, varied and meaningful work. Dislikes? Ghost writing, but even that can be rewarding. It forces you to articulate clearly and concisely.
Career Advice: You’re three years out of school and seem to have a foot in the door in a world you clearly love. Any advice for others?
Steve: You have to be smart and passionate about what you do. People notice and there’s a lot of competition for these opportunities. You have to work to stand out. Choose a good school and get a degree that supports your goals. Talk to people to clarify your goals. And volunteer. It’s a great way to get practical experience and to showcase your skills and abilities.