Q&A: An Institute for Future Legislators

If Donald Trump can become president, anyone can. But that doesn’t mean they should – at least not without being trained first.

The Institute for Future Legislators at UBC teaches aspiring politicians how to prepare for the job, and helps them understand what a career in politics really involves.

Maxwell Cameron, director of the Institute for Future Legislators, explains the importance of learning the basics first before entering the political realm.

Why is it important to understand what the job entails first before running for office?

It is very important that our institutions are open to anyone who wants to serve, but we also need politicians who have the knowledge, skill, character and judgment to ensure our democratic institutions perform well. This is a bit of catch-22. How can you get the skills and knowledge except through practice? There is a very high cost to our democratic institutions when they are run by amateurs who lack the character or judgment to do the job well – and I would suggest Trump illustrates this.

That is why our program is so important: it is one place where people can get on-the-job training and learn by trial-and-error where the costs of failure are low, so the opportunities to learn are enormous. The Institute for Future Legislators provides experiential learning, through role‑playing, including a simulation of a parliamentary session in the legislative assembly in Victoria. Our practitioners teach participants to organize a caucus or committee meeting, speak with the media, or pass a law through first and second readings.

Most participants leave the program excited about the possibility of a life in politics. And with municipal elections coming up this fall, and lots of mayors and councillors stepping down, there is a great opportunity for people thinking of starting a political career.

If you could give aspiring politicians one piece of advice, what would it be?

Know why you wish to serve. It is vital to have a compelling answer to this question. If you want to serve only to satisfy personal ambition you may turn out to the kind of self-dealing and opportunistic politician we all so often criticize.

Politics is a noble calling. If you believe you are especially well-suited to represent your constituency, and that is what people in your community are telling you, you may be able to serve with distinction.

But learn the basics first, because political careers can be derailed pretty quickly when novices make mistakes. Politics is an activity like any other – it improves with many long and hard hours of practice.

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