Political Virgins

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I sat on my first constituency executive when I was 14. I went to my first big political convention when I was seventeen. I worked in every campaign I could and voted every time I got the opportunity. I was a political animal from the very start.

In 1979, I was finishing my Master’s degree and contemplating whether and where to go for my Ph. D. (in political science of course). I had a full four year graduate scholarship, transportable to any university in Canada so the choice was broad.

However, my first marriage had just broken up; my father had died only a few months before – so my life was in a state of flux. Still, I had had some interviews and there was no doubt I could go pretty much anywhere I wanted. But I didn’t really want to go anywhere. My mother and brothers needed me at home – at least for a little while.

Then in the spring of the year something happened to change my life forever. An election had been called and the campaign was underway, when a knock came at the door. It was the local NDP president. He was there to ask me if I would be the party’s candidate in the election. I was 24 – what else could I say but ‘yes.’

It was exhilarating – even though there was no chance of winning. The riding, Cumberland Colchester North, was a conservative stronghold. The sitting member, Robert Coates, had been in office since 1957; he seldom got less than half the vote and he never came close to losing. But, still, we had a history. My father had walked away from the Conservative party over allegations (never proven in court but…) of corrupt practices, vote buying and intimidation. He had gone to the NDP and brought me with him. Coates was a bit of dick – a bigot and a petty little man – so I was eager to run.

I remember going to the first meeting. All the old timers were bemoaning our chances so I gave my first speech. I told them that we were going to run to win, no matter what our chances. We had a good message and no one would listen to us at all if we approached it like losers. Johnny Burbine, who had been one of the most negative of the campaigners, later told me that the speech had rejuvenated him, given him a new reason to be a democratic socialist. I’m still proud of that moment.

We ran a good campaign. In those days, you could get some of your expenses back if you got 15 % of the vote. The party had never got more than 9% in that riding. On election day I got 13.8% — a disappointment but not such a big one that I didn’t do it again 9 months later. That time I got nearly 18% and I never went back to University.

But that’s ten minutes.

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