By Scott McLean
In honour of universal free speech and the beauty that is Canada, here are my uncensored thoughts on why I’m seeking the NDP nomination in Vancouver East.
It’s important that you know who is going to work for you. So this is my voice. This is my story.
When I was a kid, I didn’t think I could achieve my dreams. I didn’t think I could do anything, and even worse, I thought the world might be a better place without me in it.
This essay isn’t about where we started; it’s about where we are, and where we’re going. But it is important that you know my journey, and why I think it’s fundamental that we all have the opportunity to dream.
At eight years old, I was the fastest kid in my elementary school. Canada’s Ben Johnson was my hero. During the Seoul Olympics, my parents let me stay up way past my bedtime to watch Johnson beat Carl Lewis, and win Gold in my favourite sport.
A few days later Johnson was found to be a doper, testing positive for a banned performance enhancing substance. As a kid it hit me hard, I lost a little of my love for sports (if you can’t win without cheating, then what’s the point), a lot of my love for Johnson, and I needed to find a new hero.
I found that hero in 1991 when I was given Nirvana’s Nevermind as a present for my 11th birthday. When I put the tape in the cassette player, I met Kurt Cobain. He got me through puberty; Cobain’s lyrics connected with my awkward early teenage angst, and made me feel like it was okay to be sad. Sadness and emotions could be turned into art and expression, and there was a beauty to that. I picked up a bass guitar, joined a band, and it made it all okay.
But in 1994, when I was 14, Cobain killed himself. And I had this horrible thought that if this successful, brilliant musician, the man I aspired to be, couldn’t find happiness, then maybe happiness just wasn’t in the cards.
I was a chubby kid in high school and I heard about it. I didn’t get the girl, or any girl for that matter. I played video games with my friends (Goldeneye, MarioKart & Starcraft in some order), worked in the hardware section at Canadian Tire to save money for university (most of it went to pizza and more video games) and kept a 70-average to keep my parents off my back. I watched a lot of comedy on TV.
I was a sad, dumb kid, so I thought about how much easier life would be if I ended it. I thought about that every single day. I didn’t feel like I had anyone who believed in me. I was so sure I couldn’t succeed that I thought: “Why even try?”
I did have my moments.
In Grade 9, when an English teacher wasn’t paying attention while we were reading To Kill A Mockingbird out loud in class, I decided to invent a story myself. Taking on a southern accent, I started talking about how Scout and Boo Radley were getting it on, or something to that effect. It was Grade 9, and I knew my audience. Somehow, I was making other people happy. It felt great.
In my final year of high school, someone dropped off student government and they needed anyone to fill in to co-host the assemblies. Well I was anyone, so I volunteered, and while I was nervous as hell to get up in front of other people, for my own fear of being judged and made fun of, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
When a cool physics teacher I admired named Jennifer Dresch, who passed away sadly too soon in 2007, told me I should be a game show host, I was over the moon. That may not sound like a compliment to most, but to a kid who was afraid to dream, it meant the world.
I love contributing to the happiness of others. It gave me strength then. It gives me purpose now.
It also made me redefine my definition of a hero. It helped me find my mom.
My mom and dad split up around the same time that Ben Johnson’s eyes were glowing yellow with whatever garbage he was putting into his body. I watched my mom get sad, which is something as a kid you never want to see. I saw her life change in a way she didn’t want, but I also saw how she dealt with it. How she persevered. How she smiled.
My mom is a pediatric nurse. Technically at 68 she’s retired, except the doctor she works for can’t find anyone as good as her to run the office, so she goes to work one day a week. I bug her about it constantly because she is supposed to be enjoying her RETIREMENT. But she loves children more than anything.
When I was in high school, she raised two kids, kept her job as a nurse, and went back to the University of Ottawa to pursue her Post RN to advance her career so she could support her two boys and her dreams for them.
The dream of opportunity. The dream of education.
I learned intimately about how much work was going into her school, as my mom couldn’t type to save her life. She hand wrote all her essays, and hired me to transcribe them for her into a Word (possibly WordPerfect, it was the 90s) document so she could hand them in to her professors.
It was a painful experience for both of us, but it made me a better writer and editor, skills that have served me to this day. My mom’s work ethic during that time was unmatched, and the proudest moment of my life was when my brother and I were able to yell “WAY TO GO MOM!!!” when she walked across the stage at her University of Ottawa convocation.
My mom, who is one of the happiest people I know and showed me the value of hard work, had always encouraged me to pursue university education, and somehow, someway; I barely earned acceptance to Bishop’s University in the fall of 1999.
At Bishop’s I found another role model (and one of my best friends) in an unlikely place. I found it in Arash Madani.
Arash isn’t an entrepreneur by trade, he’s a sports reporter on a major Canadian network, but he’s one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial people I’ve ever met.
At Bishop’s, he was the media. He wrote and edited the student newspaper, ran the sports page, wrote for the local English daily, launched the radio network for the Bishop’s Gaiters football and basketball teams, fundraised to support travelling to broadcast road games and was generally the coolest guy I’d ever met. I remember going to home games, watching Arash in action, and thinking: “that’s the real show.”
Arash gave me an opportunity as a sideline reporter on a road broadcast, and later, the chance to co-host a radio show with him on CJMQ 88.9 FM in Lennoxville. It was someone gifting me the opportunity to believe in myself.
For Arash, the opportunity may have just been for him to yell at me about how Drew Bledsoe was a better option at quarterback for the New England Patriots than Tom Brady (a fact I will never let him forget until his very last day), but Arash showed me the value of taking pride in doing a good job, trust, and why it’s important that people like, respect, and want to work with you.
In my final year at Bishop’s, based on Arash’s model, I wrote for the student paper, the local English daily, I was the Sports Director for the radio station, had my own radio show, broadcast games, and even served as the Director of Finance and Operations for the student government.
I can’t lie; hockey ain’t my favourite sport (sorry Canada). I like basketball and football. I’m the guy who ran a March Madness pool out of the student council office at Bishop’s and kept the excel spreadsheets for his fantasy football keeper league circa 2004.
So after graduation and working a year as the Sports Information Director at Bishop’s, while continuing to write for the Sherbrooke Record, I packed my bags for Buffalo, New York, to pursue a dream of working in the NCAA.
I had a great time at school and with my co-workers in Buffalo, earning my first Master’s degree while working for Canisius College, even serving as the inaugural President of our program’s society. But I didn’t like the city. While the people were great and the United States has accomplished some amazing things, Buffalo showcased, to me at least, the flaws in the American system.
During my time there I saw dramatic differences between the rich and poor school districts, I saw the racial divide, I saw how their public services were suffering and infrastructure was eroding. I heard gunshots, I saw how their health care system fails their people, I saw how the lack of regulation in their economy was creating greater income inequality, and I saw how they were using fear to push public policy.
I missed Canada, and my love for my home country grew even more.
After a little over a year, an opportunity presented itself at Simon Fraser University, where I was offered a similar position to move to Vancouver. It didn’t take long to find my next role models while at SFU, as every day I got to see some incredible student-athletes in action.
I look back on the teams I worked with like family, so I don’t want to pick favourites. But I will say this: I was fortunate enough to travel alongside the women’s basketball program as they won three Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships. That isn’t what impressed me though. That program’s combined GPA consistently hovered around 4.0 during my entire time in athletics, and when the team wasn’t studying or practicing, they were finding ways to help their community.
They were and are amazing women, and watching them succeed at such a high level in all aspects of their life gave me the courage to pursue another dream. And so, in 2009, I enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the Beedie School of Business.
Around the same time I met another role model in the athletic department, in the form of an Austrian who had traveled to Canada to pursue his dream of playing North American football.
I met Bernd Dittrich.
Bernie was the quarterback who ended SFU’s streak of football futility. The program hadn’t won a game in three seasons, but in Bernie’s first start in 2008, he lifted the Clan over their archrivals from UBC, and broke down and cried on camera when he was asked about it afterwards. He had achieved his dream.
When I hosted the athletic banquet for SFU, I made a joke about that moment, but only because it was so beautiful and Bernd was in on it.
That moment was everything I love about sports.
One of the worst days of my life was when I received a phone call the morning of November 11, 2009, to tell me that Bernd was about to be taken off life support. He had been training in the SFU pool, recuperating from a shoulder injury incurred during the season (Bernie was always working), and a previously undetected heart condition dragged him to the bottom that day. His giant, larger than life heart gave out, and because he was in the water, the oxygen supply was cut off to his brain.
Bernd’s passing reminded me that life can end at any point, and that we should always follow our dreams. Because if not, then what is life? Bernie wouldn’t have lived his life any other way, and he was one of the happiest people I have ever met.
Bernd is the reason I started performing comedy. It was something the kid in me always wanted to do: make people laugh. BD7 gave me the courage to pursue my childhood dream.
It took me two years after his death to work up the nerve to perform, but on the same day I interviewed for the job as Director of Public Relations for SFU in Vancouver, I found my way to an open mic.
It was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, but the few laughs I got that night in the basement of the Kingston encouraged me, and I’ve been performing either stand-up or improv in my free time in the Vancouver comedy scene for the past four years. I once even got heckled in Dublin, Ireland. It was awesome.
Performing comedy is a dream. Every time I get on stage I think about Bernie, and about making him laugh.
When I moved to Vancouver in 2005 I got involved in a number of extra curricular activities. I was also overweight, at one point I topped out at 263 pounds, and my joints hurt from lifting all that excess mass.
I took up yoga, learned that I can’t keep peanut butter in the house, and lost 75 pounds. While I used to be ashamed that I was obese, I’m proud that I’ve been able to maintain a healthy body weight for the past seven years. Diet and exercise, which used to be the bane of my existence, now make me healthy and happy.
I learned how to snowboard when I was 28, and how to use a camera at 32. I’ve been coaching multiple Special Olympics programs for the past six years, served on their Executive, and I’m currently on the boards of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden and Performing Arts Lodges Vancouver. At one time I even covered the Canucks on the side.
But I didn’t get political until I met David Eby at a yoga-snowboard retreat my friend Chris Duggan organized four or five years ago.
Dave is 6’7; so watching him do yoga is kind of like watching a baby giraffe learn how to walk. It’s equally awkward and endearing. But I got talking to Dave that weekend, and I met someone with a kind soul. A brilliant, witty man who genuinely cares for everyone, and is willing to speak truth to power, even at great personal risk and sacrifice.
Dave loves, and loves what he does, and he made me rethink what it means to be a politician.
When Dave asked for my help in 2011 and again in 2013, I was more than happy to support him in any way I could. I would run through a wall for that man, and I’m so proud to have been a part of history when he defeated Christy Clark in 2013.
During those elections and after, I learned about the issues at play in British Columbia, and why we are in desperate need of a new political party to run our provincial government.
I now watch closely what’s happening in Ottawa and Victoria. As a Canadian, it’s pretty disappointing. When Libby Davies, another role model and my MP, announced that she was not going to seek reelection in 2015, well, it was another opportunity for me to dream.
I have dreams for my home. I want Canada to be known as the best country in the world, and I’m incredibly competitive. All political parties seemingly want Canada to be the best, or so they’ll tell you. The issue, as always, is how do we define what's best. And how we go about our business in pursuing that dream.
I don’t judge a country by the exception. The crazy successful, ridiculously rich people in life, those are the outliers. They’re the lucky ones, and can come from any place on earth. You have to be good, you have to practice and you have to work hard to be lucky. But luck always plays a part in any story of affluence and success. Timing is everything, I know that as much as anybody.
The best country in the world has the best public education. The best country understands that access to education statistically provides the most people the greatest opportunity at success. Successful people fuel our economy, but success isn’t measured at the top. Success is everyone getting the opportunity to do a good job, and live a happy life.
The best country in the world has a diversified economy, and doesn’t focus on any one industry. The best country understands that markets always fluctuate, and that the future is unpredictable, so it builds the best infrastructure possible to set itself up for success. The best country regulates its economy so that it’s fair and offers its people the opportunity of a living wage.
The best country provides free health care to all its citizens, and has a broad enough definition to include pharmacare and mental illness.
The best country cares for its First Peoples, takes the time to learn its own history and from its mistakes. The best country values its land and environment, and wants to protect it from the changing forces of the world.
The best country allows its scientists and researchers to speak openly and freely, so that we don’t miss out on the next great idea. The best country provides access to information and allows people to think. The best country doesn’t ignore the facts and doesn’t cover up the truth.
The best country has a government that doesn’t break its own laws. It fixes unjust ones, and uses education, dialogue and restorative justice to reduce the incidents of crime. It uses the law as a last resort, because it knows that if it winds up in the courts, it means a relationship has been severed, that we have a lack of trust, and that something has gone wrong.
The best country cares for its mentally ill and understands that mental illness can appear in all colours, shapes and sizes. The best country knows that harm reduction is a viable form of treatment.
The best country is multicultural, believes in equality, open media and protects free speech. The best country listens and learns, and if the best country makes a mistake, it owns it, and fixes it. The best country is always working to make it better. The best country makes sure that everyone has a home.
The best country is an aspirational role model for everyone in the world, and the best country makes sure that nobody, nobody is ever afraid to dream.
I had to think long and hard about what political party I would join. I just want to do a good job, and I don’t really care the colour of jersey I have to wear to do it.
When I look at how I rate the best country in the world, and stack it up against the policies and histories of each political party, and where we need to go, well, my choice in 2015 is the NDP.
My name is Scott McLean. I want nothing more than to go to work everyday and make Canada the best country in the world. It’s why I’m seeking the NDP nomination in Vancouver East.
If you live in the riding, I’ll stand for you. I only have one question:
Will you dream with me?