Politicians tell students ‘Get involved’

A panel of political figures, including representatives and advisors for various parties, spoke to Dalhousie students Wednesday evening in a discussion titled Where Do I Go From Here? – Transitioning campus activism into a political career.

by Ethan Calof

(From l to r) Kevin Lacey, Jamie Crane, Zach Churchill and Michael Dewar discuss their political journeys (Ethan Calof photo)

A panel of political figures, including representatives and advisors for various parties, spoke to Dalhousie students Wednesday evening in a discussion titled Where Do I Go From Here? – Transitioning campus activism into a political career.

The event, hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Action Committee (CJPAC), featured the guests telling stories about their forays into student politics and activism, while dispensing advice on how to get involved in politics.

The speakers were Liberal MLA Zach Churchill from Yarmouth; Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic Director for the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation; Jamie Crane, an outreach officer with the Nova Scotia NDP caucus; Michael Dewar, a co-chair of the Young Greens Council and candidate for the Federal Green Party; and Rachael Segal, the outreach coordinator for CJPAC.

Paige MacPherson, Dalhousie student and CJPAC fellow, had been working on the event since December and was ecstatic that it came to fruition.

“I’m graduating this year, and I have a lot of friends who are politically involved on campus who were given very little guidance in the way of what to do after we graduate,” said MacPherson.

“This is an event to give them the career guidance that we don’t get in school.”

All of the speakers were politically active when they were students. Jamie Crane served as the student union president at Cape Breton University for the 2004/2005 school year. Crane said that getting involved with student politics has many benefits.

“It just brings you so much experience, and the connections you make are phenomenal,” said Crane.

Crane first became involved in student activism with the Women’s Centre. She would went on to establish a sexual diversity office at Cape Breton University.

“Our first office was literally a closet. Every day we would go in and peek out, and literally come out of the closet every single day,” said Crane.

Kevin Lacey was inspired to run for student office by his distaste of the leadership’s concerns at the time.

“The student leaders were always talking about tuition fees, and it drove me crazy. There are all these other issues, and we spent all our time talking about the crazy tuition fees, which nobody could do anything about! What a waste of time.”

Early in his academic career at the University of Western Ontario, Michael Dewar, candidate for the Federal Green Party, set out to volunteer everywhere he could. This  included his campus newspaper, The Gazette. Dewar credits his involvement with the newspaper in helping him grow politically.

“I acted on the impulse I had to get more knowledge and the best way anyone can do that is to throw yourself into the system,” said Dewar.

After graduation, the speakers all found a different path to the political world and where they are now.

Dewar first became involved with the Young Greens after they sent him an e-mail, desperate for candidates to fill all their positions.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for candidates to run our national youth wing. Do you want to run a national youth wing? Anybody? Anybody?’” said Dewar.

Kevin Lacey detailed his vast wanderings across the Canadian political landscape, which included time working with former Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“In the summer of 2005, (Harper) was so low in the polls that nobody wanted to work for him. Nobody knew who he was, and if they did, they hated him,” said Lacey.

“So he fired half his staff in a day and I got a desperate call, needing somebody to fill space in the office. Then we won the 2006 election.”

In the end, they have all found their place in the current political landscape, and were ready and willing to dispense advice to the 15 attending the discussion.

“The first thing to do is understand what you want out of it, what you want to accomplish, and what your goals are,” said Liberal MLA Zach Churchill.