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Monday, May 07, 2012

Farewell to the Legislature

Earlier today I drove out of the Alberta Legislature's east parkade for the last time, and as my car climbed the exit ramp toward the rising garage door, I felt a sudden absence of weight from my heart. Momentarily startled, I clutched my chest and realized that this was no metaphorical weight lifted from my shoulders; rather, my body had just acknowledged the disappearance of my lanyard and legislature ID cards.
For six and a half years, I'd carried those cards around my neck for eight to twelve hours a day, often forgetting to remove my lanyard in public, much to the amusement of my fellow employees.

Only when their negligible presence vanished did I really begin to believe that my tenure with the Alberta Liberal Caucus, until recently Alberta's Official Opposition, was truly over. As I drove past the Legislature Annex and the legislature itself, Al Stewart's "Time Passages" played over my iPhone. I couldn't help but smile to myself; how apropos. My departure unfolded as I'd somehow always imagined it: on a sunny day, without fanfare, quietly sliding over the horizon, the stony legislature dome receding in my rear view mirror. My arrival was similarly low-key...

I'd been interested in the career of Kevin Taft since reading his first book, Shredding the Public Interest. I'd been interested in politics since grade school and Taft's ascension to Official Opposition Leader prompted me to seriously consider joining his team. But at the time I was performing non-partisan public service, writing speeches for Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole. It wasn't until 2005, after Her Honour's death, that I felt free enough to apply for a job with the Alberta Liberal Caucus.
I originally applied for an outreach position in mid-2005, but that wasn't the right fit for me. Fortunately the Liberals held on to my application and gave me a call later that year, asking if I'd be interested in applying for their new communications coordinator position. I was and I did, and I started my new career in opposition politics in early January, 2006. I was pretty starstruck by Kevin and his caucus of 16 MLAs; here they were, the avatars of democracy, men and women from across Alberta (well, from Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge, anyway) chosen by the people to represent their interests in the legislature. I was just as impressed by my co-workers, young, well-educated, politically savvy up-and-comers who shared a passion for progressive politics and the desire to put an end to years of one-party rule in Alberta.

The day-to-day demands of the job left little room for idealism, however. I wet my feet with a few simple brochures, but soon enough I was writing speeches and private member's statements for all of the Liberal MLAs. I quickly learned to write in sixteen different voices - and even retained my sanity while doing so!

As the years went on my range of responsibilities grew. Soon I was writing press releases, managing the caucus website, producing advertisements and branding collateral, writing, producing, directing and editing videos, editing MLA newsletters, writing copy for handouts and learning graphic design on the fly. I tagged along with our outreach team at a number of town halls and forums, meeting with Albertans and learning about their dreams and concerns.

The job itself was enjoyable enough, and rewarding, too; I really felt as though I was helping hundreds of Albertans have their voices heard. But the true gift of the job has been the dozens of remarkable people I've been privileged to work with. Over the years I've seen dozens of incredible Albertans come and go through the caucus offices; in fact my one regret is that turnover remained very high through my tenure. Opposition politics is a bit of a meat grinder, I'm afraid; I outlasted all but two of my co-workers, and only two Liberal MLAs have been with the caucus longer than me.

It may have been tumultuous, but oh, what a time I had. While with the caucus I met two premiers (Klein and Stelmach), several cabinet ministers, ran for office (losing handily by 10,000 votes to Mr. Stelmach), married Sylvia (with none other than Kevin Taft acting as our officiant), met James Cameron and some of my favourite journalists, including Graham Thomson and Don Braid. I appeared as an accidental party spokesman on the eve of the 2008 election over several television and radio outlets, learned how to work with content management systems and thoroughly embarrassed myself with a truly awful video for the 2006 press gallery Christmas party. (If audience response is anything to go by, I redeemed myself with later videos, thank goodness.) At several points the departure of various media liaisons left me as the main contact for the media, and I'm grateful to Alberta's reporters, editors and news directors for their patience. No matter how many balls I was juggling, you were always classy and professional.

If a week is an eternity in politics, what is six and a half years? Well, probably a little too long, at least for me. Politics thrives on new blood, and I'm happy to step aside for fresh perspectives and new approaches. If my time in opposition has taught me anything, it's that the progressive left has to get its act together if it ever wants real change. The same old same old won't cut it anymore, and if that means saying goodbye to some cherished old brands and favourite colours, well, so be it. Politics isn't sports; it's not about which team "wins." It's about protecting civil rights, managing the economy for the betterment of all, protecting the environment, seeing to the needs of the vulnerable and less other words, building a culture and society that leaves no one behind as it moves forward to a better tomorrow.

As I prepare for the next chapter in my life, I'd like to thank all of my colleagues for their support, guidance, patience and friendship: the Alberta Liberal MLAs and their constituency staff, Alberta Liberal Party staff, volunteers and members, infrastructure, IT, custodial and HR staff of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, and most of all, my fellow staff members in communications, research, administration and the Leader's Office.

I will never forget you. In memory of the many fine people I served with, I'll close with some images of my favourite moments.
Earl's last day. Thanks to Avril McCalla for shooting the photo.
And that's all there is.


JodyM said...

Great post and photos, Earl. The Alberta Liberal Caucus was very lucky to have you. I'm very sad to hear you are leaving. Sigh.


daveberta said...

Holy smokes, blast from the past!

Great post & great photos, Earl.

Good luck in your new adventures.

- Dave

Weslyn Mather said...

Lots of great memories, Earl. I wish you the best and I know you will always give your due and more in whatever role you take on. I am sad that you are leaving.

Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

As interesting as those years have been, I am even more intrigued to see where you end up next! Whatever organization you end up with will be gifted with a hard-working, fair-minded,insightful and stalwart individual of the highest quality, and my greatest hope is simply that they deserve you. Godspeed sir!

Keltie said...

Wow! Thank you for the trip down memory lane. I totally forgot about that picture of a bunch of us wearing wigs.

Working for the Albers Liberal Caucus was truly a highlight. It was a pleasure working with you Earl. Enjoy your summer and all that the future has to bring.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, Earl. Those photos are awesome. It's easy to forget amidst all the stress and politicking that it was also an incredibly fun workplace with the right kind of coworkers. Thanks for that.


Earl J. Woods said...

Thank you very much, everyone. Working at the legislature (well, the Annex) was a privilege, and often joyous because of the wonderful people.

Maurice said...

Sorry to hear that a real quality person is leaving the fold. But hey, Earl, you did your time... and then some. Thanks for all your efforts. You're a good man, Earl Woods.