We are less than a year away from Calgary’s upcoming municipal election and as someone who had ran for public office in the past and is seriously considering doing so once again in 2021, I would like to share with you the origin story that has led to my deep-seated interest in politics. In doing so, I hope to offer those who read it, a better understanding of why a person would devote so much time and energy to a field that is often seen as less than desirable. At the same time, I hope to inspire others to show more interest in their political institutions at the local, provincial and federal level.
When running for public office you are more likely to encounter certain questions over others: “What do you do for work?”, “What is your platform?”, “What is your vision?” but one question that is rarely asked by the voters is “Why do you want to be a politician?” This is an important inquiry because throughout history there have been individuals who enter the political sphere for less than ideal reasons.
For me, in order to best describe the core reasons for why I’ve pursued elected office, I would need to go back to my childhood growing up in Romania. Like many kids, I initially wanted to become a doctor so that I might be able to help as many people as possible. In part, this desire also stemmed from the positive reputation that doctors posses in Romanian culture, however, I soon learned that my stomach was not in accordance with my heart since at the first sight of blood I would become incredibly uncomfortable. Thankfully, I would soon experience a mundane event that would spark an interest and later, a passion that has been with me for over 20 years.
Around the age of 10, I remember sitting in my grandparents’ living room/bedroom, watching a very old man being interviewed on a public TV station. My grandfather, who was present at the time, felt the need to turn off the TV after seeing the individual’s face and hearing his voice for no longer than 10 seconds. In doing so, I could hear my grandfather saying loudly and with disgust “Look at this old man, he is older than me and yet he is still in politics!!” This reaction left an impression on me. Besides not knowing what “politics” were, a more important question was “Why is my grandfather so irritated by this particular individual, why would his simple appearance on TV result in such a strong but negative reaction?”
A few years later, as I dug deeper into my teens and had been exposed more to what a politician is and what they (ought to) do, I had reached the conclusion that in many ways, politicians are or have the potential to be “social doctors”. Through their position in society and the privilege that comes with their profession, they often play a key role in our civic health. Whereas a doctor can heal your biological maladies through their knowledge and practice, the same can be said about our politicians who have a true potential to address our social ailments. In a way, part of the reason why I have been so drawn to the occupation of an elected official is that, among other reasons, I would be able to fulfill a childhood dream of helping as many people as I can. This analogy is even more appropriate today, in our unfortunate times of a global pandemic, when our political spheres are even more intertwined with our social spheres.
It is equally as important to point out that as opposed to a doctor, who does the very important job of helping one patient at a time, an elected official has the potential to create, pass and implement legislation that will impact hundreds, thousands and even millions of people. This remarkable privilege/power sits in grave contrast with the reality that, where as a doctor needs to fulfill a stringent, multi-year criteria, both academically and hands-on, our elected officials do not. In fact, most politicians go through a shorter and a much more flawed selection process. This process not only rests on the character of the candidate/elected officials, the institutions that promote them but more importantly, it heavily relies on the level of knowledge and the capacity for reason of the average voter.
Due to this, it is incumbent upon not only the candidate but even more so, the voters, to exercise a healthy vision, sound logic and hard work in a pro-active manner especially as we get closer to this year’s municipal election. There is no doubt that the past 5 years have been very difficult for our city with the upcoming annual cycles looking to be equally as challenging. Only by engaging in deep dialogues that are complemented by self-reflection on what we want from our elected officials, our city and of ourselves can we ensure that each one of us can be a force for positive change. So regardless if you plan to run for public office or simply vote, please do take the time this year to learn about the candidates, their policies and their vision for your area and do so well in advance. Both your individual health and our social health depend on it.