When people think about getting involved in politics, our minds tend to move to the big action in capitals and the halls of power. We have a very “West Wing” view of what it’s like to works in politics, with people walking and talking about the big issues of the day, taking the in big drama around decisions and all that fun stuff. And that can be part of the experience, minus the numerous amounts of footsteps and raised voices.
But like anything else in life, that’s far from being the whole experience and there are many other moments that are much more of a daily grind and mundane. These are jobs that take place from far outside the eye of the Parliamentary Press Gallery but are no less important. And this weekend, the Globe and Mail decided to shine a light on these important jobs and the people who make them go:
Constituency Assistants are invaluable members of any political team. They do a lot of the hardest work, face most of the grief from the public when there is grief to be had and do it all mostly with a smile on their faces. Where Parliamentary staff in Ottawa or in legislative buildings across the country work behind doors with security and such, these constituency assistants work in store fronts, office buildings and strip malls across the country, directly accessible to the people who elected their bosses. They see people at their best and at their worst, depending on the situation and day. They also are among the first to hear about it when their bosses have displeased people, sometimes in unique ways:
Imagine finding out someone dropped manure or corn in front of your office because of choices your boss made. It doesn’t matter if they deserved said delivery or not, it usually falls to the constituency assistant to deal with it, even if it’s not easy to deal with. It takes a special kind of person to deal with the situations one gets into in this job and do it with grace and with respect. For every constituency assistant who overreacts, calling the police on harmless book-loving seniors, there are hundreds of others who face the public every day in a professional manner and help them the best that they can.
They help people with their government applications, passports, problems accessing certain services or taking in peoples concerns about government policy. They need to not only be aware of policy and issues, but also need to know the processes and all the ins and outs of various government programs to help people navigate them. The results are not guaranteed, as the Globe and Mail story showed, but their work and care is important to help serve the constituents of the ridings they serve.
I was blessed over my decade on the Hill to work with some amazing constituency staff who faced more than their fair share of hard situations. I openly admitted to them that as difficult as a parliamentary staff job could be at times, I could never do what they did on a daily basis. I could never deal with the upset people showing up at their door everyday, the verbal abuse they can take and the hard situations. In Ottawa, I was more protected from that but that was their normal day.
The work that they do is seriously overlooked and underappreciated, yet it is the linchpin of many elected officials’ staff. Simply put, great constituency staff are hard to find and even harder to replace. In their work, it only gets noticed when there are amazing mess-ups, like the senior book lovers’ story I mentioned above. If it goes well, the public doesn’t see it and there is no public adulation.
It’s the quiet work behind the scenes that goes unnoticed and gets none of the shine. So I’m glad to see them get some of that shine that their hard work deserves, work for their communities and ridings in their communities and ridings. I tip my hat to these hard-working and important members of any elected officials’ team and thanks to all of you for the work that you do everyday.