Thursday, January 19, 2012

JoeyO on... Engaging With The Public

(as posted at

I've wanted to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly since I was 17 years old. The problem was always that, even as a 17 year-old, I self-identified as a small-c conservative (or, what I understood that to mean). I believed then, as I do now, that we deserved the best government we could afford, and not a penny or a secretary more than that. I believed in mandatory minimum sentencing for violent offenders, and freedom of speech, and the ability of the free market to ensure competition and quality in most cases. I believed that an MLA’s job was to represent their constituents, and when they weren’t sure how the constituents felt, to ASK them rather than assume the once-every-4-years endorsement by the voters was carte blanche to just go with the member’s own opinions, beliefs and values. I believed in those things then, and I believe in them today.

I was a lonely 17 year-old, and my Progressive Conservative MLA welcomed me with open arms.

Fast forward 10 years (to 2005), and I still held those same beliefs - but, in many ways, I was still viewed as "too young to have anything intelligent or useful to add to the conversation". While the fringe parties in this province routinely threw 20-somethings to the wolves as candidates simply because they couldn't find anyone else, I would show up at campaign offices, federal and provincial, and be told by volunteers with important titles that my skill-set was best suited for dropping off flyers and pounding signs into lawns. Important tasks, to be sure. The kind of things that have to happen to win an election, absolutely. But this wasn’t what I wanted to learn how to do – I wanted to learn how to go from door to door with a candidate, and talk to people, engage with them, and change their minds – or my own – on a given issue. I wanted to apprentice, with the idea of someday using what I had learned, combined with my own knack for analysis, political thought and speech, to run for my “dream job”.

In late 2006, I noticed a conspicuous lack of coverage in the media on the PC leadership race. Members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta were going to be choosing a new leader and, by default, a new Premier for the province – and no one seemed to be talking about it. I couldn’t find any coverage on the television, or in the newspapers, and the internet had a smattering of information, but not a whole lot. So I researched. I surfed all over the internet, trying to dig up information about these people who wanted to be the leader of the province that was the beating heart of Canada’s economic engine. And when I was done... it occurred to me that, while I was satisfied that I had found the information I needed to help me make an informed choice, a lot of the voting members of the party wouldn’t know HOW to find the information I had found.

“This should all be collected in one place”, I thought to myself. And the idea of starting a blog was born.

I took the name “The Enlightened Savage”, because as a provincial employee, I wanted the freedom to write what I actually thought about the leadership contenders without worrying that someone I spoke against would win, find my name on a list of provincial staff, and promptly fire me. The inspiration for my use of a “pen name” was actually Samuel Clemens, who on February 3rd, 1863, at the age of 27 years, signed his name for the first time as “Mark Twain”.

I thought the name really encapsulated what I was trying to prove to the outside world, and to the smaller world within my own political circles... that a self-identified conservative wasn’t automatically a mindless, brown-shirted barbarian incapable of rational thought and discussion... and that a young person without “all the right connections” or a Political Science degree could analyze policy and strategy and political trends, and stimulate meaningful discussion rather than the mindless, partisan back-and-forth you hear from so many of the party faithful. I didn’t need to be “special”, or have the “right connections”, to have a voice that mattered to people.

The blog changed everything for me. I was writing, and people of influence were agreeing. They were engaged. They wanted to talk about ideas, and strategies, and they thought I had something to say that they should be listening to. They wanted to talk to ME, and to hear MY ideas and opinions, about matters of importance. It was ironic, since some of these people were the same ones who thought Joey O had nothing to contribute until I stepped up on the soap-box and started writing under an assumed name. Some of the more intrepid among the Mainstream Media actually found me... I even got invited to do some in-studio analysis on CBC Radio on municipal election night 2007, and some more for the 2008 federal campaign. A friend of mine, for whom many of you probably voted last October, helped me get booked to do a spot of analysis on CityTV for election night during the 2008 provincial election.

This blog has helped me hone the skills I needed to achieve my goal. I intend to run to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Province of Alberta. I have 5 years of writings (over 640 columns posted) that I stand by, as if they were a voting record. I believe that, when I ask the voters for their trust, they have a right to know what I've said, and hold me accountable for it.

The first post to the blog was on Wednesday, November 15th, 2006. In that post, I mentioned that “I hope to provide as balanced an approach as I can to the issues of the day, while at the same time making it clear where I stand”. I’d like to think in the past 5 years, I’ve managed to do that.

I also committed to the idea of “holding my own to a higher standard”, and standing up for people and groups who are often marginalized in the political discussion, particularly if that discussion is happening to the right of centre. I have done my best to deliver on that commitment as well.

I’ve tried to use the blog to talk not just about how politics IS, but about how politics SHOULD be – how it MUST be if it hopes to keep up with and stay relevant to the changing face of our society. If the voters won’t engage with those who seek their consent to rule, then WE, as politicians and those who wish to serve and lead, have to do a better job of giving them something with which they will WANT to engage.

If politicians want more people to engage with them, and to vote, then the politicians have to do a better job engaging with those people. It’s not enough to shake your finger at them and tell them they should be voting.

The people who want to lead us should talk to us like we’re all adults, and all equals. Don’t sell exclusive access to those elite few who can afford to make huge donations. Stop insulting our intelligence by saying things that clearly aren’t true. And stop treating youth like they have nothing to contribute but delivering flyers and installing lawn signs.

My name’s Joey O, and I want to be your MLA – and if you’ve got an opinion about how we’re governed, or an idea about how to make things better, I want to hear it, whether you think I’ll agree with you or not. It’s not just about what *I* think, it’s about what YOU think. I remember what it felt like to be marginalized and ignored. To be taken for granted, and dismissed as a “kid who doesn’t know anything”. You don’t have to start a blog for your voice to matter to me. You just need to speak, and I’ll listen.

Isn’t that supposed to be how this “Democracy” thing works?

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