I grew up in Chatham-Kent, it was all I ever knew until I moved to Waterloo to start my undergraduate degree at Wilfrid Laurier University as a Political Science major. At the time, Waterloo felt like a big city, and I remember how shocked I would be when students coming from places within the GTA would refer to Waterloo as being “rural”; this was always an odd statement to me because I knew what “rural” really looked like, as I lived out in the country for a large chunk of my life. I noticed how people from cities acted differently too, and how the wider culture was a lot different from what I was expecting. It took a lot of adjusting to get into the flow of living in a new place, but being in Waterloo for almost four years now, I can confidently say that the size is a lot less overwhelming and I consider it as my second home.
Depending on where you go for your post-secondary education (or if you plan on doing something else entirely), you may or may not feel how I did when I first moved to Waterloo. My intention for this post is to resonate with many like-minded rural students who may want to strive for something larger, who may be moving to bigger cities and competing in a much more fast-paced and competitive environment than you’re used to. Making something of yourself when competing with students who have come from big cities is somewhat of a disadvantage, they inherently have access to more opportunities, but this is not an excuse to throw your arms up in the air and give up; there is actually no better time to have access to great opportunities as a rural student than now. I want to share a few things I have learned as a rural student interested in politics, and hopefully it may help you.
1. Before anything else, contact your local MP or MPP.
The beauty of political opportunities is that it is everywhere, whether you’re right in the heart of federal politics at Parliament Hill, meeting with the Premier at Queen’s Park, or you’re in a small town that’s barely legible on a map – every area has to have a representative, either on the federal or provincial level. My advice is to pick a level of government that you’re most interested in, contact your local representative, and simply ask if they need any help. For me, I contacted my local MPP when I was in my 11th grade, and from there I experienced my start in politics. This MPP was kind enough to let me help out in the office for an hour or two after school, and this was my first real experience in an office-setting, something I valued a lot.
2. You’re never too important to do a certain type of work.
Volunteering in politics is an exciting experience if you are passionate about it, but it’s not always going to be thrilling, and that’s okay. Politics has its highs and its lows, and everyone has to start somewhere. Something I hear over and over again in politics is this: “you’re never too important to do anything”, and it couldn’t be truer. Politics is boots-on-the-ground, it often requires a lot of grunt work, but if it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s very rewarding. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of, but don’t think you’re too important to go grab your fellow volunteers some coffees – you’re all in this together. I am confident that this advice is not a surprise to many rural students, I believe that we have a work ethic that is very humble, and many of us are willing to put in the work that needs to get done.
For some extra advice, the busiest time for volunteers is almost always during an election; that’s when campaign teams need volunteers the most, and it’s when volunteers can truly get the most out of their experience. This is the time where you’ll be door-knocking, putting up lawn signs for constituents, and doing everything and anything else that needs to be done; I did all of these things when I helped out on a campaign in high school, and if you’re a people-person, you’ll probably like it. Interacting with the public during elections lets you gain a whole new perspective on things, you can hear what’s important to different people. I still remember sitting in my local coffee shop with my MPP and listening to all sorts of people gather around a table to discuss their perspectives on some issues. Sometimes being able to just listen is a lot more valuable than being the speaker. Lastly, you are going to come across some rude people who dislike your candidate, or politics in general, but that’s alright; don’t take it personally, and remember, you’re here to serve the people.
3. Don’t just limit yourself to politics.
Many of you may be inclined to skip over this point if you’re just interested in politics, but remember that politics is about representing your community, nobody likes someone who’s into politics just for themselves; obviously, it’s okay to want to build yourself up through politics, but never forget what’s important. When I was in high school, I also got involved with my community’s local Kiwanis club (a volunteering/philanthropic-based organization) and I was the president of my high school’s Key Club (Kiwanis for the youth). Politics and community service are inherently intertwined, and if you really want to understand the constituents you claim to represent, sometimes non-partisan volunteering is the extra mile that makes all the difference.
No matter how small your community, there is always some sort of community service to be done. I volunteered at my local Salvation Army during Christmas, helped pick up trash on the sides of roads with Kiwanis, led a community-wide garage sale and barbecue at the local Scout Hut, organized a canned-food drive, and collected donations for UNICEF during Halloween. There is lots to be done in any community, no matter how big nor small. Trust me when I tell you that even the smallest bit of volunteering you can do for your community goes a long way, people appreciate it, and it’ll make you feel good; there’s really not much more to it than that.
4. University/college is only the beginning.
Moving to a larger area may be intimidating at first, that once small community which was easier to get to know people in is now behind you, and you’re facing totally new people, with similar interests to you, in a much more competitive environment. Yet, there is plenty of room to continue in politics and community service as a whole. Firstly, I’d recommend seeing if your campus has a political club that you would be interested in, most campuses do, and if they don’t, start one yourself; people will always be interested in politics. Getting involved in a political campus club will naturally lead to political networking if you put in the work, you will be exposed to many future colleagues or even bosses – be as active as you can, go to the events, run for executive positions, and don’t be shy; if you really have a passion for politics, a lot of the networking will come naturally.
From there you can meet many different types of people, some like-minded, but many people who disagree with you. One thing I feel that people need to understand is that it’s okay to have different opinions than others, interacting with people with different views and perspectives is actually an incredibly valuable experience. Differing perspectives can challenge your views from angles in which you may have never considered before, which will greatly help in strengthening your views/beliefs. If you want to make it in politics, you better be able to defend your views well; hanging out with people who agree with you constantly is easy, your views will never be challenged, and you will never grow as a person. Remember, it is okay to change your mind on things, you don’t have to be right all of the time – nobody likes a know-it-all anyways. My political views changed quite a bit throughout university as I was exposed to more learning opportunities: I am thankful for that. You don’t know everything, and learning is a lifelong endeavour.
These are only a few tips I have learned while pursuing politics, and there is much more that goes into it; these were the most prominent tips that almost seem like common sense, but which are so important at the same time. So get out there, get involved in your community (no matter how big or small), get to know some people (like-minded or not), and make a difference; the networking comes quite naturally after that. I have no doubt that if you have a passion for politics and your community, you will have no trouble finding your future in it.
By Riley Vanderlip.
Fourth-year political science, philosophy, and legal studies student at Wilfrid Laurier University, and intern at the Conservative Party of Canada.