Trent University’s launch for the International Institute for Environmental Studies brought together great speakers from around the world and locally including Trent Alumni Maryam Monsef and Jeff Leal, who are successful local politicians. Arthur got an exclusive interview with Monsef reflecting on the election, as well as Trent University being part of her success.
What was your degree in at Trent?
Monsef: Bachelor of Science and Psychology and I also focused on Biology.
You have built a strong body of leadership and community outreach, such as the Red Pashmina Campaign. Where did you begin your journey of activism?
Monsef: It was really here at Trent that I realized I have the means and the liberties here in Canada and in Peterborough to make a difference.
I was learning from some of the best professors in the country. They mentored me. They guided me. They pushed me when I didn’t believe in myself.
They believed in me.
Look at Active Minds, for example. Had it not been for Professor Deborah Kennett eagerly and enthusiastically, supporting it and carrying it to the next level, I don’t think that Active Minds would still exist.
I don’t know if we could have secured that two-dollar levy or that if today it would be the internationally renowned student organization that it is. Her support made a world of difference.
There aren’t a lot of Canadian students who have that privilege to be so closely linked with their profs.
Trent taught me about the important correlation between social justice and research.
It also taught me about the importance of acting locally and thinking globally. I had the good fortune of working with brilliant minds from all over the world.
The hundred plus different countries that come to Trent from, those international connections really opened my eyes and we got good things done together.
There’s something about these walls. The people at Trent and in Peterborough.
There’s something about the river flowing through our campus, there is something to be said for the interdisciplinary approach to learning.
I was encouraged to take courses in Philosophy and Women Studies, research in Psychology and English, and benefited from a well- rounded education. There is just something about this university!
The more I learned, the more restless I became. There are challenges and issues that need to be addressed right now.
I believed that I have had the capacity to do something about it right then. Had it not been for my mentors, I would not have known that I didn’t have to wait until convocation to make a difference.
They taught me that I didn’t have to wait until graduation to dream big and make good things happen.
How do you feel about the change in voter apathy and the political atmosphere we have experienced in the last elections?
Monsef: Well sometimes when you have a really good thing, it’s human nature to take it for granted.
It’s not until it’s taken away that you realize how fortunate you are and I think that’s what happened over the last 10 years. The privilege of being part of the democratic process, we took it for granted.
I think in some ways we reclaimed our Canada this past election. Justin Trudeau, one of my favourite moments in the past couple of weeks, and as a journalist you may appreciate this, is when he stood up for journalists who were asking those tough questions.
I saw a tweet from Terry Milewski, when Justin Trudeau was in the Press Gallery, saying something like: “That was quite special. There’s a prime minister taking questions in the National Press Theatre with a journalist chairing.”
That open and transparent government has begun. A new era in Canadian Politics.
And I know this community understands that democracy is a two way street.
It takes elected individuals to represent their constituents with integrity but it also takes the people and the citizens of the country to work with those elected officials, to hold them accountable, to achieve those ambitious goals. I hope that that’s going to be the hallmark of this era.
That collaborative approach has already begun. Elizabeth May was recently invited to the climate change summit in Paris along with the other Premiers.
We’re reclaiming Canada’s reputation on the international stage. It is so important; there are so many people all over the world that are happy that Canada is back.
Your message for Trent Students
Monsef: It’s going to be more than that piece of paper that’s going to get you a job after graduating.
It’s a great honour to be a graduate of an establishment like Trent University but you need to explore all the ways that you’re a capable leader, all the ways that you’re a creative thinker and all the ways that you’re a team player.
Those co- curricular activities are what will set you apart from other who are vying for the same opportunities you are. And dream big.
This is a great big country and one of the best in the world. Don’t let mistakes set you back. Learn from them, work hard and stay involved, socially and politically.
Also, thank you for coming out and voting! Thank you for helping us achieve one of the highest turnouts ever in our history.
Thank you for hosting debates and meet and greets and covering it whether it was Arthur Newspaper or Trent Radio. Thank you for volunteering.
And don’t stop. Don’t stop. Because it’s our generation that has to deal with the impact of climate change. It’s our generation that is going to look after our aging parents.
It’s our generation that’s entering a new economy where that “job for life” prospect is not there as much anymore.
How does it feel to represent a generational change? What it is to be a Canadian who embodies another culture?
Monsef: Don Tapscott says this all the time, and the first time I heard him say it when he was Chancellor at Trent, at Wenjack Theatre. He looked at us and said, “You are the most powerful generation to have ever lived.”
We’re more educated, we live in relative peace and security, we benefit from democracy, and at our fingertips is the most powerful tool our species has ever known; the World Wide Web. It connects us in a way we have never been connected before.
I am what I am and everyday I strive to be better than I was yesterday. For me, I’m here in a country that so many dream of being a part of, I’m here now with an incredible privilege I owe it to the 29,159 who voted for me to make them proud.
I owe it to Peterborough- Kawartha, to those who didn’t choose me, to prove to them that I’m going to be their representative too.
I owe it to the women who paved this path for me, the men that have helped me, and the young people who joined my team and invigorated our efforts.
To those who come after me I owe it to them to do my absolute best. And that’s what I’m going to do.
You are such an inspiration to people everywhere, how do you feel reaching this success at such a young age?
Monsef: Somewhere between Cloud 9 and hitting the ground running, that’s where you’ll find me. I’m really grateful in all the ways this community has supported me and the incredible confidence they have in me. I know this job is not going to be easy, I know there are a lot of expectations.
A lot of hopes and dreams have been invested in this election, and I am going to work hard to make this community proud. In the end, the measures for success will be- Have I worked collaboratively to make a positive difference in the lives of the people of Peterborough- Kawartha?
I go to Ottawa next week, which is the beginning of orienting myself. I know there will be 183 other Liberal MPs in that caucus.
We presented the country with a really ambitious plan and I am so looking forward to achieving it with one of the most diverse parliaments we’ve ever had. Under a leader that represents the generational change we so desperately needed.
Reflecting on your campaign, what will you take with you to carry you forward?
Monsef: Let me tell you what the most inspiring part of my campaign was.
As you know, there were people across cultures, across generations, across sectors, across party lines who gave and sacrificed so much on this 166- day campaign. I owe a great deal of gratitude to them.
The people who continue to surprise me the most, who continue to keep it real for me, are the young people that joined my team.
Some of them were there since I joined the Mayor’s race, some jumped on board with the nomination race, and others came as the Federal campaign began.
It’s those kids that knocked on doors with me, who showed up to events with me, who represented me at events where I couldn’t be present. They are the generation that has the most at stake, and the least voice at the table.
Listening to them talk about the issues that matter to them the most and the environment is number one- they instinctively know that it is their generation has the greatest challenge to face (in that regard) if we don’t act now. I hope that some of those young people will be voting for the years to come.
Actually, I have a feeling we will be seeing some of their names on ballots in the years ahead. It’s those faces that I will see and reflect on when I’m making tough decisions. I hope that I pave a good path for them to follow.
On your love life
Monsef: (laughs) I’m married to Peterborough now!