In my time on Parliament Hill, I was blessed to get to see and experience many things. But along with the good and amazing came the rough, stressful, difficult and bad. I got to work for four amazing MPs in my time, but as the way thing is in life, we all have bad days, bad weeks and struggles that we face. The point I guess I’m trying to make here is that many people sometimes forget about the human side of elected officials. At least, that’s what came to mind for me when I saw a series of tweets come across my Twitter feed yesterday that just really rubbed me the wrong way, and frankly left me upset. Here is the series in question:
This all started with a tweet from journalist Emma Graney, quoting the soon-to-be Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney as he addressed his new caucus. His message was, in that tweet, was pretty clear. That brought a response from now former Alberta MLA Robyn Luff, who left the NDP caucus on unhappy terms. She makes a very good comment, one that I wish more people would; yes, you can be in elected politics and still have a life. You don’t have to put everything aside, you don’t have to ignore your family, you don’t have to put the job above all else. Yes, it’s more difficult and it takes a lot of extra planning and will to make it work, but not only can it be done, it’s a good thing to do. You can be an MLA, MPP, MHA or MP, and not miss every birthday, anniversary and watch your relationships go to crap.
That brought a response from Karri Flatla, who was defeated as a UCP candidate in Lethbridge-West by New Democrat Shannon Philips. She responds with what I would flat out call a cheap shot at the work ethic of people she doesn’t know, while putting a dangerous fallacy out there. Yes, it does take sacrifice and hard work to achieve great things; all elected people know that and all make major sacrifices, as to do their families. But there is a difference between making sacrifices and sacrificing your entire life and family; you don’t need to sacrifice to that level to be a great MLA and you don’t need to sacrifice to that level to achieve great things.
Further to that, she insinuates that somehow that only “free enterprisers” make sacrifices or work hard. I’m sure that would come as a shock to Ms. Flatla’s former teachers, who I’m sure spent hundreds of hours working after the bell rang each year to ensure that she could become a successful realtor. The same would go for the police, fire fighters and paramedics that serve her community, ensuring that she’s safe while they miss holidays and important dates with their families, all so she can thrive and be better. I would argue that many of those people wouldn’t qualify as those “free enterprisers” that she was referring to. I could go on, but I personally find it amazingly insulting to hear someone who wanted to serve her community make such a wide, judging comment about the people who live in her city and province, as is somehow “free enterprisers” are inherently better people. I could go on, but thankfully New Democrat MLA Heather Sweet did that already in the chain of tweets above.
The reason why this whole situation bothered me and got under my skin is because I know that some of those coming in from the outside, new to elected politics, take the same view as Ms. Flatla. They come into the political arena and think that in order to do so, all of those other things must go or if that they really want to succeed, you must put all of those things like family and loved ones on the altar as a sacrifice to the political gods. That is just crap, pure and simple.
But just because it doesn’t have to be that way, doesn’t mean it is easy for politicians or their staff. Working on the Hill for a decade, you see many marriages or relationships fail, families get hurt and the stress of the job and the family sacrifices creating extremely unhealthy situations. Over a decade ago, TVO’s Steve Paikin wrote a great book called “The Dark Side”, that dove right into this topic. When I’ve worked with candidates in the past, I’ve leant them my copy so they could read it and hopefully learn the importance of that work-life balance in politics.
There have been many conversations in the political arena over the past two years about stress, work-life balance and trying to find a better way of doing politics in that way. Comments like those from Ms. Flatla just ignore all of those issues and act as if it’s some kind of character flaw or a lack of will to “do what must be done”. That is just all kinds of BS, and I don’t think that can’t be said loudly enough. If that is the message that Jason Kenney’s caucus is receiving about how it must be, that’s not a good sign for his caucus, their staff or the province in my humble opinion.
And to finish on a clear point here, for me this is not a partisan issue; it just so happens that the players in this story have the partisan affiliations that they have. In my time on Parliament Hill, I’ve seen MPs like Jim Flaherty, Gord Brown, Jim Hillyer and Jack Layton all pass away in office. In all cases, I was saddened when it happened, as despite our partisan differences, we were all there trying to serve our communities to our best. While all of these gentlemen passed in different circumstances, they all went before their time and some have opined about the effect of the stress of this job on their health. So having lived it up close and personal for a decade, I’ll admit it pisses me off when I see comments like the ones above. I haven’t seen it but I’d hope that Ms. Flatla and by extension, others reading this story, will walk away with the message that you can go into politics, you can serve in the House of Commons, a Legislature or a City Hall, and you don’t have to sacrifice it all in order to do it. I have my fingers crossed because the sooner we dispel this notion that Ms. Flatla put out there, the better off our whole political system will be.