Nominated Candidate, Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba
It is early Sunday morning as I sit and work on a final draft of this essay. The writing of this piece has taken me longer and given me more pause for thought than I had ever envisioned it might. The beautiful irony of writing about my political journey is that this morning it happens to be April first. I am working on my final draft for today as the essay is due this evening. To be wise I will not be submitting this essay until after the tradition April Fools noon deadline has passed.
In light of the reality that there are minds far more understanding of Politics as a science than mine I will share with the reader some simple thoughts. I hope to convey how I am evolving as a person who moves from a life of quiet involvement in family and community to the rough and tumble world of placing one's name on an electoral ballot. There are many in my life expressing surprise at this recent turn of events. The expressions are evenly split between those who wonder why I am choosing this course and those who are surprised that it has taken me this long.
As a child I remember, very clearly, an argument with one of my classmates concerning Howard Pawley and Sterling Lyon. It was an argument that two children might have on either side of the traditional hockey battlefield, that of the Leafs and Canadiens.
Like the hockey arguments of children, whose skates are still tied by their parents, this political discussion was a confrontation that neither I nor my opponent had any tangible knowledge of. In spite of the impracticalities of our knowledge of the issues we were both willing to defend what we thought were our sides to the point of anger.
I have thought of that argument many times over the past several years as I first toyed with the idea of running for office. As I moved through serious contemplation, at first I quickly set the idea aside as something that I might do in the future. Our children were very young at that time and the work I was beginning with an international organization was in its formative stages. Both of these priorities gave me reason to delay something that had always intrigued me.
Two years ago, over a period of several months, the serious contemplation returned and the idea was first floated past my wife of 16 years. Her initial concerns and questions eventually gave way to an approval that has carried with it a few conditions. One of the conditions has to do with making promises and keeping those promises.
A promise was made to the community where her parents still live. The promise was to pave a provincial road that remains a washboard mess of gravel more than thirty years later. Like my theoretical arguments with school friends, her childhood experiences affected her views of the political process. The unpaved road, though symbolic, is supported by many other experiences from the community that she called home. For my wife Naomi her political experience is the same as that of a large percentage of the electorate. It is a reality borne out of an experience that causes one to believe that the political structure and process has very little bearing on one's day to day life.
In one household we have two very different backgrounds politically. The interesting thing is that while our political experiences are very different our values are very similar.
As a child I grew up in a family that had moments of political alignment that covered a very broad spectrum. There were points of connection or at the very least conversation with politicians of all stripes. Part of this was necessitated by my Father's work for the Department of Agriculture of the Manitoba Government. His time serving as an agricultural representative bridged Ed Schreyer's government and that of Sterling Lyon's.
My mother might well disown me today for disclosing this but somewhere in her University days she was photographed carrying a sign in support of one Pierre Elliot Trudeau. In spite of that brief interlude much of the time the party of choice for my parents during my childhood was the Progressive Conservative party both federally and provincially.
In my late teens I remember wondering and watching as a chasm opened up between the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives on the federal scene. The upheaval in the political scene was a mirror of our own family struggles as we had to leave our farm due to the weight of the high interest rates of the eighties. Relocating closer to a larger town meant new challenges and new opportunities. We worked together as a family to broaden the scope of an Auction business and to establish a weekly newspaper.
These were opportunities that were framed in a changing political climate both federally and provincially. From the discussions at the supper table, to the constant background provided by CBC Radio there were very few days when politics were not a part of the dialogue. Previous to this upheaval, while I was very young, my parents acquired a full set of World Book Encyclopedia. The World Books were in constant use as the rule was "Look it up" if you needed an answer.
The most used portion of the World Book was the set of Year Books that ran from the early nineteen sixties to the current time as a new edition arrived every calendar year. For an inquisitive mind growing up on the farm a significant drive away from any urban centre these books planted a perspective deep in my psyche. That seed was watered by the political involvement of my parents, and honed by my own desire to learn.
All of this information concerning politics was coming into our home at the same time as an immersion in the very real world of agriculture was taking place.
In short, although on paper our household was considered conservative I did not know that Left and Right were supposed to believe and behave in radically different ways.
I find it ironic today, knowing what I know now, that so much of what I grew up with is now mistakenly considered by some to be the sole possession of the left.
The tangible concern for the environment was a constant theme in our home. Some of my earliest memories are of gathering Maple Keys(the seeds of the Box Elder tree) and Caragana seeds for use in growing seedlings. Growing up three miles from the Whitemud River and with my Father's work with the government we were immersed in the early days of the Whitemud Watershed Conservation District. This was the first Conservation District in Manitoba. To this day the shelterbelts we planted as seedlings criss-cross the farm we established.
I grew up eating, almost exclusively, foods that we produced ourselves. We grew a large garden from which we canned, froze and dehydrated all manner of produce. We gathered eggs and of course ate the chickens, turkeys and ducks that ranged on our yard.
Our family regularly billeted people in need from traveling music groups to hitchhikers to members of Katimivik. More than a few occasions there were boxes of produce from our farm quietly delivered to those in need. This was the norm in the small farming community that I knew as home in my younger years. No one needed to start a food bank because once word got out that any household was facing challenges there was always families willing to pitch in and to share.
Farming equipment was traded back and forth. Recycling was a way of life. Many of the homes in our area were heated by wood, the first and most realistic renewable fuel.
My experiences growing up are very similar to those of my wife. She too grew up on a small farm where sustainability and the ability to share one's provision with others was the norm.
Out of these shared values of hard work and determination Naomi and I have found much of our common ground that has borne us through the challenges of poverty, the gift and responsibility of children, the loss of a child and of a sister.
These experiences, coupled with many others, have been part of our married lives since July of 1990. As we grew together we planned for the direction we hoped that our lives would take. We wrestled through where to live and what vocation to move towards. As part of that journey we chose to experience life in a large urban centre in the lower mainland of British Columbia. While there we continued to plan for life after going to school. After much consideration we chose Brandon.
Brandon has always been the centre of major commerce for me growing up in the Westman area. It exists as a marvelous land and cultural bridge between the worlds of agriculture and urban life. We were able to find employment with an agency that afforded us the opportunity to combine multiple interests and passions all the while impacting community in a quiet way.
Now, many years later, these experiences have combined to provide me with the motivation to seek public office and the hope that I might be found to be the preferred representative to serve the people of Brandon East.
I chose to run for office because I believe that decisions made today have an effect on the future. I believe that for democracy to work to its fullest, in spite of its flaws and challenges, there needs to be those who are considered "good people" running. There needs to be people who have a range of life experiences that are connected to those they are to serve. I am a firm believer that those who are elected are there to serve. Serving is marked first and foremost by listening. I believe there is a large amount of political disconnect that exists today. This could be addressed if every person who hopes to be elected would remember there is wisdom in using their ears twice as often as their mouth.
My personal experience is that I have always had to work for the provision of my family. Not just as an adult, but also as a child who was expected to take an active role in the affairs of our family. Whether it was working in the barn or the garden, or helping set up auction sales, there was always an understanding that everyone pitches in.
I will never forget my first solo sleepover at my grandparent's farm. First thing in the morning, before breakfast, my Grandpa Lobel roused me from bed and helped me into my work clothes. Across the yard we went to the granary adjoining the feedlot. In grandpa's hand was a tobacco tin. He handed it to me and said, fill it up and take it the end of the feed bunk. Grandpa knew that as a three year old I could not handle the five gallon pails he carried but he also knew that I needed to learn how to work.
Grandpa met me where I was at that point in my life. By meeting me where I was he also instilled an understanding that there would be a time where there would be higher expectations.
Maybe, just maybe, more people would connect with politicians if we talked less about politics, platforms and policies and listened to people's real life experiences.
Meeting people where they are. What a concept. I think of the names that people throw out when discussing "great politicians". I think of Winston Churchill, Tommy Douglas, Theodore Roosevelt, Nellie McClung and others who were driven by deep convictions rooted in the common experiences of most of their electorate. These were servants of the public who experienced working, hoping and believing in community and family as the foundation of a society. These were leaders who in spite of great odds and varied political ideology pressed on and made their impact on history.
Closer to home I find my motivation in an individual who is closing in on retirement and whose move into the Manitoba Legislative Assembly took place as I was in my teens. In 1986 Glen Cummings, a farmer and family friend, was elected as the MLA for the constituency of Ste. Rose. The story was shared this year, in response to Glen having announced his retirement, of how deeply connected to serving this man was and is.
A newspaper reporter encountered Mr. Cummings organizing the contents of the trunk of his car as he was preparing to return home after a session of the legislature. When asked what he was doing, Mr. Cummings replied that he was making extra room for some implement parts for one of his constituents. It seems that the parts were needed sooner than a courier could get them to the farm gate. Mr. Cummings was willing to make the delivery happen in a timely fashion. This is an individual who has held Cabinet posts, critic posts, who is widely respected in legislative circles. For many people this kind of deep and trusted connection with their political representative would be at best a rarity.
As I have been chosen to have my name on a ballot it is my sincere hope and plan that should I be entrusted with the opportunity to serve the people of Brandon East, it will be in a similar fashion.
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