You know, the bus driver: a political career

Brian Mason reflects on his political life and the private life to come

Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason will soon end a 20-year political career in central Edmonton.

As he puts it, “When the election happens, I’ll be done.”

Mason started his political engagement early, and remembers political discussions around the dinner table during his childhood. He even visited a relative in Ottawa who had been appointed to the Senate.

Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason, pictured here with AOTA executive director Christy Morin, will soon be retiring from politics. | Supplied

He participated in student politics at the University of Alberta. When he graduated during the recession of the early 1980s, he had student loans to pay, so he took a job as a bus driver for the City of Edmonton. Meanwhile, he became involved in the labour movement and eventually decided to run for city council. But there was a problem.

“Lo and behold,” he recalls, “there was a law that if you worked for the city, you couldn’t run.”

Mason challenged this law in court, but lost and had to leave his job to run in 1989. On the doorsteps of his ward, he soon realized that although people didn’t know his name or face, they knew his story. Everyone had heard about the bus driver who fought the law, so Mason and his team quickly reframed their campaign, printing stickers to paste over all their signs with the slogan, “You know, the bus driver.”

It was a winning strategy and he stayed on council for about 11 years before becoming an NDP MLA in 2000. Since then, he’s held a number of positions (including Opposition leader) and is currently the minister of transportation, but always as the MLA for the Highlands-Norwood riding.

Mason says that one big change he’s seen in politics over the years is the rise of social media. He sees it as a double-edged sword, offering a direct way to connect with people, but also creating a world where everything a candidate has ever done or said becomes permanent.

“Where there’s younger people [running], their whole adult life is documented. Careers can be destroyed before they even get started.”

When asked what advice he has for his successor in Highlands-Norwood and for anyone thinking of entering politics, Mason doesn’t hesitate:

“Never lose your connection with community.”

It’s easy, he says, to get swept away by special interests who want to wine and dine you, or to spend too much time in the legislature building or city hall. But it’s important to resist that, to visit community leagues, and to live life in the community. Some of his best conversations with constituents happened while he was grocery shopping.

From bus driver to leader of the Opposition, MLA Brian Mason has had a long career. | Supplied

There’s a lot he will miss about being in politics. Although he knows the legislature can be a strange place, with arcane rules, he reflects that, “I really do kind of love the place. I will miss it.”

He will also miss community activities, such as participating in Read In Week at local schools, and talking to elementary students about local government.

Nevertheless, Mason has no doubt that this is the right time for him to leave.

“Eventually, you just have to say, ‘enough’s enough.’”

And what will he do next?

“Put my feet up for a year or so, figure out what I want to do next.”

After a long career of campaigning and governing and criticizing and leading, it’s time for Mason to start a new chapter. A slower one, perhaps, and more laid back, but also well earned.


Featured Image: MLA Brian Mason meets Indigenous chiefs at Ben Calf Robe Society. | Supplied

Nadine Riopel

Nadine is a professional facilitator and connector. She is also an enthusiastic member of the Spruce Avenue community, where she lives with her husband and young son.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *