by Jarrah Hodge
Here in BC we’re getting ready for a provincial election in a couple of months and as I see building excitement around me I can’t help but think about how the various new candidates are doing.
See when I was 19 I ran in the 2005 provincial election for the BC NDP against then Finance Minister Colin Hansen. And even though I never had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, it was a truly unforgettable experience, at times fun, enlightening, exhausting, and surreal.
I should go back just a bit, to my Grade 10 Social Studies class in Courtenay, taught by none other than Don McRae, who would go on to become the BC Liberal government’s Education Minister under Christy Clark.
Even though our politics don’t align and I didn’t give him enough credit at the time, McRae was a one-of-a-kind, inspiring teacher. He used totally unique, fun, and creative lessons to teach Canadian history and politics. And the highlight of every class – at least for budding political nerds like me – was current events.
I feel like pretty much every day I’d bring in a news story to share with the class and more and more around that time (2000-2001), the stories were about the cuts and changes the new BC Liberal government was making.
I may have been a bit annoying.
But I just couldn’t get over this feeling I had that what they were doing was unjust. I was incensed when they refused to recognize the 2-member NDP caucus as the Official Opposition and when they declared BC teachers an “essential service”. I felt emotionally crushed when they cut funding to women’s centres and lowered BC’s child labour standards to allow younger kids to work tougher jobs.
I was an angsty teen but my angst came out in my politics as I lay awake in bed, wondering how Gordon Campbell and his Cabinet Ministers could sleep at night with the way they were hurting ordinary British Columbians.
So anyway, after one particular day of me bringing in a new list of cuts (much of this info came from my Dad’s copies of CCPA and Council of Canadians newsletters, as well as mainstream media), Mr. McRae suggested that I should look at joining the NDP.
He was teasing but it was the perfect thing to say. But I wasn’t ready to pick a party just based on them not being the BC Liberals. I went online and mailed away for copies of 2000 federal election platforms for the NDP, federal Liberals, and Greens.
I took them downstairs to my basement room and read through each one carefully. The Liberal party’s platform looked okay but I felt it lacked a strong connection to progressive values. I thought I would probably end up joining the Green Party because I’d been involved with my parents protesting logging on Denman Island during elementary school, but the platform felt so limited to me. Again, the policies didn’t seem to come from any particular set of values except value for the environment.
Reading the NDP platform, it was like things fell into place. The next day I tracked down a membership form and sent it in. Then I waited.
Over a month passed, checking the mailbox every day for my card to arrive: my ticket to a new world where my passion for politics could be put to good use, where there might be other socially-awkward kids like me just trying to change the world and maybe make a friend or two.
But the card didn’t come so one day I got up the courage to call the NDP provincial office in Burnaby.
“Um, hi. My name’s Jarrah Hodge. I’m calling because I wanted to join the party…?” I said hesitantly. There was a pause.
“Sorry, what?” the person on the other end said.
It turned out that the reason my form hadn’t been processed was the office thought it was a mistake. The party was still in the dark, dark days following the 2001 election and they assumed the form had arrived before the campaign but had just been missed.
Once the problem was sorted out there was still a chance I could’ve stayed on the periphery of the party, if it hadn’t been for Karen and Pete Sanford. As the great local Membership Secretary he was, Pete gave me a call to introduce himself and see if I wanted to get involved with the constituency association. He let me know about a yard sale coming up on the weekend about a block from my mom’s house. I had no idea it would be this easy to meet these other progressive activists.
My mom and I walked down to the sale that Sunday, where Karen, a former MLA, introduced herself. She told me there was a youth spot on the constituency executive and they didn’t have a young member filling it. She introduced me to Pete in person and their adult son Glen. As if I wasn’t excited enough by this point, right then I spotted a whole box of paperback Star Trek novels and Pete said I could buy them for $3.00. I might as well have won the lottery.
This is getting long so I’ll skip through the next couple of years, suffice it to say that I got involved first with the Young New Democrats and then the NDP Women’s Rights Committee, which influenced my decision to take Women’s Studies at university.
When 2004 rolled around I was encouraged to run for a federal nomination in the lower-priority riding of Vancouver-Quadra. I was terrified but assured no one else would want to run there so it would be a good training ground.
Unfortunately someone else did and just before the filing deadline I found myself running against David Askew, a middle-aged environmental and peace activist with way more experience than I had. I had some good nominators and materials but at the end of the day Askew eked out a win of 65 votes to 60 for me. He would be the federal candidate.
I went back to pounding the pavement looking for a job, trying a week of working at a toy store and a grand total of three shifts at a gift shop before I was again brought back into political work by a Sanford.
(if you’re still with me, here’s part 2)