Sven Spengemann is the Member of Parliament from the Mississauga-Lakeshore riding and a UTM Alumnus. He graduated from UTM with a B.Sc. in Psychology in 1990. The Medium sat down with him to ask him about his time spent at UTM and where he headed after graduation.
The Medium: What extra-curriculars were you involved in during your time at UTM?
Sven Spengemann: I was a club director and cultural director for Erindale College Students Union for the first term, so I had to look after all the university’s clubs. [In] the second term, I was the university liaison director, which was a seat that was liaising with [the] Student Administration Council downtown. The idea of running for office was triggered by the idea of being part of the student government.
TM: Did you always want to go to law school?
SS: Yes. Throughout my undergrad, I thought about getting a professional designation, which I think is very important.
TM: Where did you head after doing your undergrad?
SS: I did a bunch of things—this is what drove me towards politics and gave me insights that were quite useful in the future.
Immediately after graduating, I went to work in the financial services, [specifically] in the securities industry, for [a] bank downtown and became a stockbroker. I did a college degree, but in parallel with that, I did some licensing examinations in the securities industry. I did that for almost five years [until 1995], and learnt a lot about the capital market.
Osgoode Hall Law School was the next academic thing I did. After Osgoode, [in 1998] I interrupted the articles and went to the College of Europe to do my Masters in law, where I studied European integration with the European legal system. Then I went back to complete my articles and got called to the bar. I went on to do my Masters and S.J.D at Harvard Law School [in 2000]. [There I found the] project that led me to thinking about government […] I looked at […] national constitutional orders in conflict with the super-national legal systems—like that of the European Union legal system.
After I came back from Harvard, I ended up working in Ottawa for two years at the Privy Council Office [from 2003 to 2005]. That position had to do with regulatory reforms, so we were structuring and harmonizing the Canada-U.S. relationships.
TM: How and when did you join the Liberal Party?
SS: When I finished undergrad, I started working for some local MPs. So [I] helped them with election, but I also got on the Board of Riding Associations to see how grassroots local-level political system works. I continued that until I got into law school and things got busy for me.
Then for quite some time, I wasn’t involved in party politics. But then [in 2005], I went to the UN and worked in Baghdad, Iraq, for seven years, [which] led me to think about what [would happen next]. My plan B was to continue working as an established UN diplomat, but my plan A was to come back home and connect with the Liberal party and run for office.
I think it was the work that I did in the Middle East that led me to think about running for office. I spent seven years in Baghdad. I used to come home every six or seven weeks and realize how fortunate we are to live in this country, and [that] we need to make sure it stays what it is. So it was that thinking that led me to decide that after I come home, I will run for office.
TM: What are your goals are as an MP? What progress have you achieved in the last year?
SS: There were two fundamental reasons I ran for office. One was to make sure that the Liberal party was for everybody. When I campaigned, I opened the doors widely to the Mississauga-Lakeshore community. We had a very diverse team, including gender, economic, ethnic, and religious diversity.
The second reason [is that it was] always about public service. If it ever becomes something else, like running for the sake of the Liberal party […], then it’s not the right reason. It’s always about making the country better—but we have to start by making every community better. So inclusiveness and public service were the two principles why I ran; that is how we build the team and that’s how we continue to operate in the office in Mississauga-Lakeshore and Ottawa today.
One thing [that] I’m really proud of [is that recently], I introduced […] a bill to create Gender Equality Week across Canada. It’s got very strong support so far and I’m very optimistic that it will pass in the House of Commons. It designates the first week of October each year [to gender equality]. It will [provide] the opportunity to give the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, as well as academia, to [take a] look at gender equality issues. Again, that’s something about inclusiveness; we don’t just do it as campaign teams, but also nationally.
When I talk about inclusiveness, I’m talking about the seniors who have their own political views and also about the next generation of government [officials] who have very different political views. It is very important to get them engaged, and this project about gender equality is one way in which we can get the younger leaders across the country to rally around this project. It’s time to create gender parity, not just with respect to the gender wage gap, but also in regards to violence against women, poverty, the issues faced by the indigenous women, and underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. There are clauses in the bill that highlights these [issues].
TM: Why should a young student be politically involved?
SS: Politics is everywhere. It’s with you in student life, when it comes to allocating resources and making sure that we’re inclusive and tolerant. The minute you step outside the campus, you see the traffic congestion, the lack of jobs, and the questions around the legalization of marijuana. One of the groups I was involved with was Amnesty International, and we did a letter-writing campaign for the prisoners of conscience.
So the campus connects you to people [on] the campus, the local community, and the global community as well. So you’re really at a pivot point, where no matter where you turn, you see politics. If we look at scientists, and you look at funding decisions, you [can see] how political it is. The day-to-day politics of a student is affected by politics, not just your tuition.
TM: When did you last visit UTM?
SS: I was there a couple of weeks ago for the Liberal Club on campus—[for] a barbeque and orientation. I said to them what the Prime Minister [has] said to us on many different occasions: that he would rather have people join the Conservative Party, or the NDP, than to stay on the couch and not get engaged. I was also [a part of] the UTM Alumni Association [from 2013 to 2015].
TM: What advice would you give to students who are interested in politics at the local, national, or global level and want to get involved?
SS: Recognize that there are so many channels and it can be overwhelming. My advice would be to focus on a couple of things and learn them. Learn how to get along with people, how to be a leader in those contexts and don’t stress too much.
If you join 20 clubs and attend each of their events, you can’t get to the depth of each of them. So be passionate about one or two issues and get engaged. Find out ways to make a difference socially on those issues; it will be very rewarding if you learn those skills, because you can work on another issue because you know how to do it. Learning the process of advocacy, championship, and community activism is very important.