The stable managers of the political horserace
Behind every candidate there is a support team, and behind every support team there is a story.
At least that’s what The Jasper Local was hoping when we concocted the idea of speaking to the campaign teams of Yellowhead’s main political parties, rather than the candidates themselves.
When it comes to speaking to the media, political candidates, perhaps understandably, are always guarded, often boring. To ameliorate the drudgery, and with apologies to the Green Party and the Libertarian candidates, whose supporters we didn’t speak to, we decided to profile the stable managers, rather than the thoroughbreds, in our local horserace. It was our hope that by learning about the official agents, social media managers and significant others behind the scenes, we’d get a sense of the campaign behind the campaigner.
Lessons in real life
Dressed in a black shirt, striped tie and sporting a red Liberal button, Michael Saretzky stands to the right of his friend and fellow teacher in Hinton, Liberal candidate Ryan Maguhn. On his left is a sharply-dressed young woman, also wearing a red button. What all three have in common, besides who they’ll vote for come October 19, is that they have all discussed politics at length at Hinton’s Gerard Redmond Community Catholic School—Saretzky and Maguhn as teachers, Laura Thomasson as a student.
“It was the social studies curriculum that really started to pique my interest,” Saretzky said.
To make the class more interesting, Saretzky created simulations which had the students take up different political positions. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was research for another important job he’d become involved with: Maguhn’s official agent.
“I’ve always been one for research,” he said. “I liked looking at the different platforms and figuring out which ones I believed in.”
Once he realized he identified as a Grit, it was a no-brainer when Maguhn asked Saretzky to manage the the finances for his November 2014 by-election campaign.
“It was a quick decision,” Saretzky said.
At that time, the federal party had more resources for the Yellowhead Liberals. After all, there were only two campaigns being run in the country. However, even though the support is more spread out during this current election, “there’s a ton of training available,” Saretzky said.
Perhaps where he’s learned the most is on the doorsteps of voters while campaigning with Maguhn. While at first he found it intimidating, Saretzky said his confidence in Maguhn helped him battle his nerves.
“Whenever Ryan has the opportunity to talk to people we always get positive feedback,” he said.
Eglinski’s secret weapon
Long before she met her husband Jim, Nancy Eglinski had politics in her blood.
“My dad would drive us to the polling stations to watch him vote when we were five or six years old,” she said. “By the time we were old enough, we were just aching to vote.”
Even before she could legally cast a ballot, however, Eglinski (nee Chuilli) worked for her local MLA in B.C.’s Peace River Region. Eglinski learned a lot under So-Cred Dean Smith, who would eventually become speaker of the B.C. Assembly from 1975-1978. After Smith’s retirement Eglinski took a short break from politics, but got back into the game when federal minister of forestry, Frank Oberle, sitting under Brian Mulroney’s PC government, asked her to join his team.
“It was a natural progression, since my dad was so involved in politics,” she said.
The progression continued after she met her husband Jim while working at North Cariboo Airlines. Jim Eglinksi was a career RCMP officer whose work with local Lions and Rotary Clubs primed him for a shot at municipal office in Fort St. John. Nancy helped him get there, managing his campaigns for council and eventually mayor, where he sat for one term before moving to his home province of Alberta.
“When we moved to Edson we more or less thought we would retire, but neither one of us was ready to settle,” Nancy said.
Instead, while working for the forestry centre, Eglinski began volunteering for then Yellowhead MP Rob Merrifield. Her husband, who had worked for the Conservatives in B.C., became riding president. When Merrifield resigned, Jim was asked to step forward. Despite criticism that he was parachuted in, Nancy maintains the Eglinskis earned every vote.
“He didn’t inherit that job, we busted our ass,” Nancy said about earning the Conservative nomination. “We went from one end of the riding to the other.”
And now the team is doing it again. Between campaigning and driving to Edmonton to catch the flight to Ottawa, they’ve put close to 60,000 km on their truck in the past year.
“That’s the hardest part of the job, the travel,” Nancy said.
Despite the long hours, and despite being longer in the tooth than the other candidates, Nancy says she still loves politics.
“I’m a people person,” she said. “I enjoy meeting people, making connections and making friends.”
Putting a Facebook to the name
If Ken Kuzminksi, NDP has been popping up in your Facebook newsfeed lately, you can thank Courtenay Davidson for that.
Davidson, 30, is Kuzminski’s social media manager. She’s been posting and tweeting and otherwise using a variety of social media tools to get the word out that the NDP’s Yellowhead candidate wants to go to work for Canadians.
Having met Kuzminski at the Jasper Legion, and having had something of a political awakening after working PR jobs for the energy industry in Calgary, Davidson said she was ready to support the local carpenter’s campaign.
“I asked him if I could help,” she said.
She has been. Kuzminski’s online presence was kicked into high gear October 1 once Davidson came on board.
“It feels good,” she said. “I hadn’t been super involved in politics up until this point.”
A graphic designer by trade, Davidson knows about the power of media and the importance of effective imagery.
“It’s really important for a candidate to be online,” she said. “It’s the quickest, cheapest way to get your message across.”
But the internet is also a way to spread half-truths. Part of Davidson’s duties include fact-checking what the other candidates put online.
“You’ve got a responsibility to pull apart that information,” she said. “And so you’ve really got to know the party platforms and stay on your toes.”
In the meantime, it’s not so much the toes that Davidson is worrying about.
“The goal is to put a face to the NDP in this region,” she said. “That’s Ken.”