In this episode, our guest is Dr. Mathieu Vick, who is the President of the federal New Democratic Party. He has a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Montreal and the University of Montpellier.
Chris Caputo 00:11
This is periodically political brought to you by Elect Stem, we bring you stories of where science intersects politics. My name is Chris Caputo, and I'll be your co host today along with Monika Stolar. Our guest today is Dr. Mathieu Vick, who is the president of Canada's New Democratic Party. He has a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Montreal and the University of Montpellier. Upon completion, he jumped on the orange wave and got a job with Canada's Official Opposition in 2011. After working various roles within the party for three years, he made the transition over to working in communications and research for the Canadian union of public employees. During this time, he always stayed close to the party, however, having worked or manage campaigns in Montreal, Toronto, and his home province of New Brunswick, welcome to the show, Mathieu.
Mathieu Vick 01:06
Hi. Thanks for having me.
Monika Stolar 01:08
Yeah, welcome to the show. Mathieu. One goal we have at alette stem is to engage more scientists and engineers in the political process. And we approach that by hearing stories from people like you. It seems that you went directly from PhD to joining the NDP. And our first question is What motivated you to make this big leap?
Mathieu Vick 01:27
That's a good question. I guess I had done some student politics when I was doing my bachelor's in physics back in Moncton. And that kind of, you know, got me curious. And I, you know, I saw that I had a liking to it. And I was good at it in a sense. But I really developed my political appetite. I would say, during my PhD, when I started in Montreal and not for profit, which was essentially our local response to climate change. I had a conversation at the coffee shop with a friend and we're like, what can we do to fight climate change. So we started an offer profit, which was called rue public or a rough translation would be public street. And it was about, you know, looking at how we design streets for people rather than cars. And it was about daily sustainable habits. And it was about, you know, participatory democracy, community development, and through that, and all the conversations and spend spending so much time in my local neighborhood coffee shop, which is the Parliament of the people, as you know, I think that's really where I developed my real appetite for politics.
Monika Stolar 02:34
Great, that's awesome. Um, one thing I do want to point out is that you are the president of the NDP, can you tell us how you decided to go into this role rather than running as a candidate?
Mathieu Vick 02:45
Yeah, well, um, so I was working at the time I was working for the Canadian union of public employees, which is the largest union in Canada, we have members, we have 700,000 members a little bit more in, like, public sector, so they work in hospitals, and they work in universities and schools and municipalities. So working with that is very political also. And it's very close to the values of the NDP, you know, we're working for everyday people and workers and trying to make sure that, you know, we build a society, which is more fair. And through that, of course, I, I wanted to stay close to the party and I had been staying close, had managed some campaigns. And then I got a couple phone calls before last convention, people asking me if I'd be interested, and trying to motivate me to run. And I thought it was a good idea. And so I put my name in the hat. And, you know, made a speech in front of 1000s of delegates, and luckily got elected with an awesome team. And, you know, have been doing it for three years and a few months now.
Chris Caputo 03:54
You just take that leap, and you just see how it goes.
Mathieu Vick 03:56
Yeah. And honestly, like at the NDP, and I can only speak for my for my own party, but it's a lot of people that are super nice, that are there to build a society which is better for their neighbors more than for themselves. So it's a lot of people with solidarity, and empathy, and compassion. So it feels very good. And when your party president, you have a lot of conversations with a lot of members. And you know, they're really fun because you're talking to nice people who want to make a difference and want to make society better for everybody, not just themselves. So it's you know, it's it's really fun and gratifying and it gives you energy, and it gives you hope for where the world is going. When you look at the news. And you know, you can think that we're not going in the right direction. But at least you know that, you know, there's this army of people, volunteers that are taking time out of their busy lives to try to make society better, you know?
Chris Caputo 04:55
Absolutely. No, it sounds really refreshing and energizing that way. Absolutely. On that note, so what what is the difference between, you know, a party president and the party leader.
Mathieu Vick 05:08
So the so it's a world of difference, if you will. And first, the the first difference is the party president is in the NDP is elected by the delegates at our convention. So there's a few 1000 delegates to come to convention and vote for the President. And the President is a little bit like the chair of the board, if you will, you know, we kind of make sure that you have the right boat, and the boat is crossing the right ocean. But you know, it's not the person that makes the daily decisions. And then the party leader is like the spokesperson is the mouthpiece of the party also is the person who decides on the chief of staff and kind of oversees all the parliamentarian staff, and all the parliamentarian work, which is separate from the partisan work, which is more to do with, well, election preparedness, but also fundraising, and membership and membership engagement. So you know, on the party side, which is what I oversee, there is a small staff, and we look over, as I said, membership, party engagement, we have database and things like that, but on the parliament side, there's a whole other, you know, there's a lot of staff that are assigned to things like communications, and also research and policy development, and, you know, even scheduling and leaders tour and all these things, which are very different. And the leader as in politics these days, and I think this is a turn that's it's been years in the making, but parties, party brands are very focused on leaders now. And there's a little bit of a cult of personality, which is, you know, sometimes could be maybe problematic a little bit because we get away, maybe from the core values of parties, when we're, you know, putting an X in the ballot box, and we're voting are for the type of person. But you know, also that's just kind of where we're at now, with, with TV with social media, and how how parties communicate, communicate their policies, if you will, and communicate and brand their leaders. So there's the world of a difference. The President is in the background, it's not really the day to day as much. But, you know, we it's still a very important role. And you still try to, you know, you have to make sure that you're steering the ship in the right direction.
Chris Caputo 07:41
So, while they're they're definitely two separate entities, as party president, or if you're involved on that side of the party, do you still have the opportunity to influence, you know, legislation that the party is proposing? Like, are you actually involved at the ground level in Ottawa? And in any sense?
Mathieu Vick 08:01
Yeah, well, so the officially, the party president is chair of an NDP, it's called Federal Council. So this is like about 100 elected members of the party that represent their own constituencies, whether it's regional constituencies or groups of people constituencies. And there, we make decisions, mostly on fundraising and engagement and things like that. But also policy because we have conventions, which are, you know, big meetings, where we decide on policy, and we try to orient where we want our party to go, we want our party to be more progressive, on, you know, on some social issue, we want the party to go further on what they're promising for climate change, you know, things of that nature. But I'm not really in the day to day policy office, though, as party president, people pick up the phone when you call. And also that, you know, you can be you can get into meetings and things if you will, if you want, that's not necessarily something that I do, but you know, people would take my calls. And also you in the NDP, anyway, I'm invited to caucus if I you know, if I want to participate in caucus, which is where all the MPs and the senior staff meet, usually on a weekly basis, and kind of determine where we're going week to week, and where a lot of the decisions are made about, you know, what the next big policy kind of planks are going to be and where we're going on different issues, and especially how we're going to react to what the government is proposing when we're in opposition.
Chris Caputo 09:45
It's good to know that even if you are involved on more of the party side and not actually, you know, an elected official, you can still have some say or at least be involved in that process. I do want to pivot a little bit And talk about the nomination process for candidates. So, as Monika mentioned, we want to encourage more people with a stem background to get involved at this stage to like, take the leap and you know, try to be nominated to be elected. So how does the nomination process work with the Canadian NDP party.
Mathieu Vick 10:21
So the NDP is really a grassroots party, as as you folks probably know. And we have local riding associations, if you will, and all 338 ridings across Canada. And these riding associations are volunteers that at every election cycle, go out there and find candidates. And in the NDP, we have we have special like our Constitution, and our rules are built that like we have special committees to make sure that we seek out candidates from communities which are underrepresented. That can be women that can be people of different, you know, origins, this can be LGBT community, this can be people living with a handicap, disabled people, you know, so there's the NDP is very progressive in terms of these things. And also, these riding associations. As I said, Our volunteers are very democratic. And essentially, you if if you have the party's values, and you fill out like most parties, you fill out a candidate document, which can be Honestly, it can take quite a bit of time to fill out the document. And especially now, for the vetting, there's a lot of things to look through on social media and Facebook posts, and Instagram posts and all these things and Twitter. But you if you fill in your nomination package, and then we see that your values are the same as the values of the party, you can run in a local election or riding election, and the members of the party in that riding are going to elect the candidate. And it's done democratically. And some of these ridings, you know, some ridings have 1000s of members or like 10s of 1000s of members, but some have very few. So sometimes if you're very well organized, and you have friends and neighbors that you can, you know, encourage to become a member of the party, you can you can win a local riding election, if you will, to become candidate with you know, some work, obviously, but not that much work. The step isn't, you know, that huge in some ridings.
Chris Caputo 12:45
Right, right. So let's say this person has been nominated, and they're entering the federal election. What support does, you know, the Federal NDP party provide these candidates for help with a campaign? Like, is there any staff provided or financial help, or messaging things like this?
Mathieu Vick 13:03
Yeah. So as you know, I mean, the NDP are we represent everyday people, and we don't represent the richest few. And we don't represent the most powerful. And, in fact, we're, we're often in opposition to these types of forces. So we're not one of the rich parties. But we we are the third party in terms of financing. So we do have some financial resources to sometimes help out directly. Some candidates in different parts of the country, we had a victory fun, which was meant to help, especially candidates from First Nations populations, and things of that nature. But mostly the Help is training, we do tons of training, and also sometimes in very important elections, especially by-elections where there's 1,2,3 at a time, we can put very experienced campaign managers, there's also central communications, so a lot of the time, candidates can have leaflets can have websites, and all these types of things prepared for by the Central Party. We also have a central database, which is very important for NDP campaigns, especially because NDP campaigns usually are built by knocking on doors and talking to as many people as possible. And you have to make sure that you try to keep that data and you try to keep track of the conversations you've had how these conversations have been, what have people talked about what are the issues that you can talk about that really resonate? So all these things are very important to put into the campaign. And also the leaders tour the leader like leader can go everywhere during a campaign but the places that the leader goes there's usually a boost in profile, you know, the media, the local media will go sometimes the provincial sometimes the national the during the election, the national media is there. So You can really help out some campaigns to by, you know, sending the leader in one place or another.
Chris Caputo 15:07
That's great to know that to the training angle, I think it's really important. We've spoken to a lot of folks who are curious about it, but like, I have no experience in this, how am I going to know what to do? How do I knock on the door, things like this,
Mathieu Vick 15:21
but honestly, for the NDP, like, it's very easy to get involved, you send an email to your local riding Association, and you know, within a day, you can be like, the same day, if there is a meeting, you can attend the meeting, ever gonna, everybody's gonna be very happier, they're gonna listen to your opinions. And then you can, you know, you can get to work. And, you know, sometimes the work isn't like everybody, sometimes people have this idea that getting involved in politics is just like policy development. And I mean, that's something that I would say here is not the right way of looking at it. Politics is a, it's a lot more than just policy development. And it's mostly, you know, having conversations. And I think that a lot of people in the NDP, anyway, they get involved, and you work a campaign, you know, there's an election coming up, it's going to be very different than usual because of the pandemic. And ndp campaigns, again, which I said, our bread and butter is really knocking on doors and having those conversations that will likely be different. I mean, it's not very clear yet, it depends on the timing as well. But usually, you know, you just get there you knock on doors, there's, there's always people with experience there that can train you tell you how to do it, it's much more scary than ever, when you actually do it. Most people are happy to have these conversations, talk about what types of things could change to make their life a little bit better. And you know, you can really fast you can you can get involved get to know the candidates. If you were lucky to live in a riding where there's an MP, you get to know the MP really fast. And you can really, you know, get the you you can get into the core of politics quite quite fast. In the NDP anyway.
Monika Stolar 17:15
It sounds like the NDP almost gives you a fast Crash Course and how to be a politician there right away. It's great that you offer all these resources to candidates, something that I want to ask you kind of shifting gears Do you think your stem training has influenced your success within the role that you have within the political party?
Mathieu Vick 17:33
Yeah, I've thought about that a lot. And people often ask me the question, because I have a little bit of a funny transition from astrophysics to politics. But I think and I think you folks would likely agree with me, if you spend a lot of time in universities, I think you, you spend time with a lot of people from different backgrounds, with different strengths and weaknesses. And I think that builds up a lot of tolerance for difference. I think that creates a lot of openness for learning. I think that creates a lot of curiosity to dig into the root causes of problems. I think those are things that that I have that a lot of people that I you know, spend time with in university for 10 years also had, I think, for myself, I evidence based policymaking is really one of my core values. And I also think like, you know, we've, we've, we're in this weird time, and I think it's worse in the States, obviously, but there's this kind of war on expertise a little bit. And populism is on the rise. And I think it's important and I maybe I'm skipping ahead a little bit, but it's it's important to have, you know, experts and people who respect expertise and understand the limits of their knowledge and know where we need to listen to people with more knowledge to try to advance policy that way. And one thing that I know helped me specifically during my PhD, I traveled a lot and I gave conferences. And you know, when you give conferences on your subject, which you're the expert, but in front of a lot of experts, and a lot of them are older and have more expertise. You know, you have to really prepare and you have to work on how you communicate your results and you have to communicate really clearly and you have to, you know, work on those nerves a little bit and giving, giving those presentations in front of different people. Sometimes big crowds kind of helped me help loosen the nerves, if you will, a little bit for politics where in my role, at least, you know, I often give speeches in front of you know, rooms of can be five, six people but it can be rooms of hundreds or 1000s of people too you know And so I know that having practice or hone my communication skills through when I was in astrophysics helped me in my, you know, in what I do now.
Monika Stolar 20:14
Great, I'm actually glad you brought that up think communication is really important, especially for the scientific audience to communicate to the non scientific audience. Beyond sort of the communication skills, what other suggestions would you have for STEM background people to get more involved in politics?
Mathieu Vick 20:33
Well, again, like for the NDP, I'll come it's kind of repeating myself in a sense, but it's really it's not that it's not difficult to get involved in your local riding Association, you can, most of them kind of have a Facebook page. Some of them have small websites and stuff. So it's easy to find a link or they can get in touch with me. So it's easy to find a link to kind of get involved locally. And, and I think that's the best way to start, you know, because you can see what a political campaign looks like, you can see how the grassroots can influence policy decisions, which are made at the top of the party, if you will, and in the party, and again, in the NDP, it is very grassroots, and at our convention, we do talk about policy. And, you know, there are ways to, you know, be influential there, and you meet a bunch of people that are like minded, that have similar values, and want to give a little bit of their free time. So it's really, you know, it's, it builds the energy, and it builds the motivation and the momentum, and you meet tons of great people. And, you know, I really, it's, that's really the best place to start, you know?
Chris Caputo 21:46
So are there ways that, you know, people with a stem background, let's say they don't necessarily want to run, like they can help with a volunteering campaign and whatnot. But, you know, are there ways that these folks can ensure that the scientific issues are top of mind for the party's platform? So when the convention comes around, they they can help bring their ideas to the table?
Mathieu Vick 22:10
Yeah, well, actually, our policy conventions, like every da, every riding Association, is allowed to put forward policy resolutions. So I mean, any person who wants to get involved locally, you can go to riding, it's a little bit late for our convention, which is happening in a few months, but for the next cycle, can go to their riding Association, and can say, Hey, this is my awesome idea for policy. Let's talk about it here. Let's look at what the NDP policy book already says on this subject, whether it's climate change, or whether it's health care or anything of that nature. And, and then you try to convince people there that it's important, and if you can convince the people that are at the meeting, and then you submit this policy resolution to convention, and you know, very likely it hits the floor, or it could hit the sometimes there's hundreds and hundreds of policy resolutions, and we only have time to do you know, a few dozen at the convention, but if it hits the floor, it can become party policy. And that's a way for people to get involved. And also, you know, at convention, you anybody is allowed to go to the mic and give their opinion on, you know, you have a few minutes to make. Most people they get prepared, and they have notes. And, you know, they all have statistics. And I think that's something that a lot of STEM, people with STEM backgrounds are rigorous. And statistics speak a lot, and logic. And these are really good arguments. And this is how you get policy moving forward. And you're like you can participate pretty easily when it comes to all the NDP kind of instances or different platforms to you know, speak up.
Chris Caputo 24:06
It's great to hear how accessible It really is. And I think that will help encourage some of our listeners to participate more, turning that whole topic around kind of three, I guess 180 degrees, not 360 degrees. As someone who has been involved in like the political party structure like yourself, what do you think that parties can do to better engage scientists and engineers, so working to recruit them rather than having them come to the party?
Mathieu Vick 24:37
Well, I think you hit the nail on the head there with the recruiting. I think that it's important for parties to go recruit and make phone calls and try to encourage scientists to become candidates. And again, I think scientists are you know, they're rigorous. I think it's their family. Based Thinking, logical thinking, these are things that sometimes we can get away from in politics. And I think it's important, but you know, it's, it's a hard thing to because there's some issues, people vote emotionally, people sometimes let emotion cloud their thinking. And you know, we need some, we need people who are good at developing fact based and evidence based policy, but also good at communicating these things. And I often give one example, I remember when I was working for the NDP, back in 2012, or 2013. And there was a bill that was called C 10, at the time, and it was a conservative bill, which was essentially trying to attack criminality, if you will, and they're kind of what they were saying is like, well, if we want to bring down criminality, we have to put people in jail for longer. You know, that's what they're saying. And, you know, for most people, yeah, that kind of makes sense. Let's put people in jail for longer that put more people in jail for longer, and that's going to reduce criminality. Whereas the evidence kind of says, No, you know, what do you have to do is invest in the prison system for, you know, education, and, you know, so to reintegrate society, to have more skills, when they reintegrate society and you build training, so they can have a job when they get out of jail. And these things like, they're, they're more difficult to explain. It's, it takes longer, you have to show statistics. And it's just like most people, it doesn't resonate with people as easily as telling the really short answer of you know, putting more people in jail for longer. So, you know, there's a lot of work there to be done. For people who want to, you know, try to make sure that evidence based policy, and is communicated in a way which resonates with the everyday, everyday Canadians, if you will,
Monika Stolar 27:05
I definitely think a lot of your answers have inspired some of our scientific listeners to try and come knocking at your door. So maybe keep an eye out for those. But I want to shift gears a little bit from our politic questions and ask you if there's something that you're really excited about right now that's going on?
Mathieu Vick 27:24
Well, I know for me one thing that's kind of fun with the NDP, this is the first time it's happening at our convention, we've built the first version of an online platform where as I was speaking earlier, every riding Association can submit policy resolutions. And before those policy resolutions were submitted to a committee, a committee would prioritize them, and then we would kind of they would hit the floor, or we would vote on them and discuss them at convention with an order which was determined by this committee, which some people felt was a little bit too centralized and to detach from membership. And this time, we're having an online platform where delegates can kind of just go and vote directly on prioritization of these different policy resolutions. And they're going to decide the order in which we're going to speak about them on convention and which ones are more or less important. And I think this new kind of platform, and unfortunately, COVID, and just the fact that the NDP, financially, things times, like we've turned the corner and things are going very well. But for a little bit at the beginning of my term, things were a little bit difficult. So we maybe didn't have all the resources, we needed to do what we wanted. But this type of platform is something that's super exciting for me, and I think the next phases, I think we can go into a place where we have an online platform to develop policy, and people can actually collaboratively participate online and development and riding and commenting and improving and modifying policy together from you know, from Vancouver to you know, Moncton, New Brunswick to say, my hometown. And I think this is super exciting. And I hope this is where politics is going. And if there's one, you know, good thing about. If there's one silver lining to the pandemic, it's maybe that like, it's forced us to go online and be innovative and find ways to connect people and have people work together. And I think maybe that's one direction where which, in which we're going in the NDP, which I find very exciting.
Chris Caputo 29:41
That's super exciting. And it's awesome to hear how like technological innovations can make policymaking and politics more accessible to everyone across the country. It's fantastic. But with that, Mathieu I just want to thank you again for spending time with us today. It was a pleasure. We really appreciate your insights that you've given to our politics. Curious listeners.
Mathieu Vick 30:05
Hey, thank you so much for having me. I think it's great that you're doing this too. And I hope that you know, we get to motivate more and more people with STEM backgrounds to get involved in politics. It can its own, it can only be a good thing.
Chris Caputo 30:19
Oh, for sure. And if you liked this episode, we encourage you to rate and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps new listeners. Discover the show.