Open letter to the new MLAs

As the outgoing MLA for Chilliwack-Hope, I’d like to share some words of wisdom

Dear Laurie and John:

Now that the dust has settled, the campaign offices have been vacated and the election signs taken down, you should be feeling the weight of responsibility about now. You have both been given an honour that very few people get the opportunity to experience, the mandate to sit in the BC Legislature and speak on behalf of your constituents.  As the outgoing MLA for Chilliwack-Hope, I’d like to share some words of wisdom to assist you both in becoming the best possible representatives for the communities that make up both the Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope ridings.

You’ll know if you’re on the right track if you’re so busy it will take two assistants to help manage your schedule.  If you find yourself asking “Wow, is this normal?” let me tell you now, the answer is “Yes”, especially within your first year and especially if you truly want to do a good job.  There are many key relationships that need to be established and maintained.  This takes time and a willingness to engage and quite frankly, it is now an expectation.  Know that your encouragement and your presence can make all the difference in the lives of community members.  A healthy community has environmentalists, non-profits, union members, non-union members, faith groups, secular groups, health care associations, corporate leaders….you get the picture.  A lazy politician builds relationships with the thought of fundraising and getting re-elected as his main drive.  Don’t go down that path.

Know that the people who visit your office may respond to you and your staff with anger and animosity.  Help them anyway.  It’s your job.  Much of what you do will go unnoticed and unrewarded.  That’s what you signed on for.

Take the time to really get to know the municipal, aboriginal and regional representatives.  They have a lot of wisdom and experience that you can glean from them.  After all, they are the most accessible elected leaders.  They don’t have the luxury of debating important issues in Victoria or Ottawa, they conduct such business right in their communities and they will let you know if you’re on the right or wrong path.

Find a good mentor.  Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be given a lot of fancy binders to read and pages of notes, but there is no substitute for experience.  Find the right colleague to offer advice along the way.  This is key.  Choose a person with integrity, not the most powerful.

Everyone makes mistakes, including politicians.  However, your mistakes will make the 6 o’clock news.  Don’t drive drunk, run red lights, or lose your sky train ticket.  The first two may be forgivable but the last could cost you an election.  You get the picture.  Your life is no longer your own.  This is the great trade off that comes with the job.

Now comes the most important piece of advice.  You will have your share of successes and outright disasters and when you do, don’t puff yourself up with arrogance but don’t berate yourself either.  Recognize there is quite a lot you can accomplish, especially when you are in government, but that also means taking responsibility for poor judgements and being up front when it comes to difficult decisions.  You may be members of the BC Liberal Party, but you are first and foremost MLAs.  That means that you are the representatives for everyone, including those pesky “socialists” whose “butts you kicked” on May 14th.   Listen closely to the words spoken at your swearing-in ceremony.  If they cause you to tear up that’s perfectly natural.

You’ve both been awarded, in my opinion, the best jobs in the province which are established on a sacred trust.  Don’t screw it up.  Wisdom, compassion, patience and sincerity – may you hold tightly to these virtues as you lend your voices to the important decisions that will be made, not only for the communities in our two ridings, but throughout the province.

Gwen O’Mahony