As a politician trying to reach out and better represent his fellows, Marc Miller is all for devoting great amounts of time to collecting opinions and forging solidarity – except while playing hockey in Sweden.
“I just wanted to play,” said Miller about his time in the rink while living with the Swedes, where Scandinavian consensus-politics dictated everybody’s roles be thoroughly agreed upon and worked out before any ice time. “It drove me nuts.”
Miller, is eager for collaboration everywhere but on the ice, and, if his ambitions as Liberal federal nominee in the newly made riding of Montreal’s Ville-Marie are successful, he may one day represent the interests of students at Concordia.
Miller is typical of the city’s cosmopolitan roots. From a Montreal anglophone mother and Nova Scotian father, he received a solidly francophone education until law school led him to corporate law in Montreal, down south, and across the sea.
His passionate Liberal leanings are firm, but not necessarily dogmatic. He is open to self-criticism and he is cognisant of the fact that there is a long way to go to making the Liberals relevant again.
“The Liberal party has reached the bottom of the barrel,” he said, mentioning the sponsorship scandal and other issues that have deeply scarred the Liberal’s ability to reconnect with Canadians. “You know there’s something wrong when 90% of the job is showing up and listening. Simply going into the riding, talking to people, getting a deep understanding of the issues is the first step — it isn’t the only one, but it is the key formal step to getting involved with people.”
In an effort to shift momentum and do his part in Montreal, Miller has set his sights on the Ville-Marie riding.
“Ville-Marie is the centre of town. It is truly the core of Montreal. If you’re truly interested in making a difference, this is a part of the city where you can. There are no sleeper communities [here]. There are communities in dire need of someone that’s really implicated at the local level. We have some of the richest people in the country; we have some of the poorer people of the country. There’s a real, real need for local politicians, not just federal, but municipal and provincial, to get involved in [the] challenges of income gaps, education, skilled employment, and concern for new Canadians.”
A business-lawyer-cum-politician may not be to everybody’s liking, doubly so for a party that’s been accused in the past for cozying up to the corporate vote. Miller highlights the advantages of his calling, and how working with large corporations can help the little guy: “Sitting where you are, at first glance, they might seem like they are [incompatible]. Being a corporate lawyer, you work a lot of hours and you talk to a lot of people and you pick up the phone and you negotiate and you make compromises. You work extremely hard. You pay attention to your client, and you hope to make the change that they desire. This translates quite easily, from a purely strategic perspective, to politics.”
Miller has drawn on his professional and personal experiences from living both here and abroad to shape his views. He lived for a few years in New York, a city he described as very competitive and affording him the satisfaction of working with some of the brightest people in the world. Yet the hyperactive New York environment, with its grand emphasis on wealth and deep economic fault lines, wasn’t the ideal place to raise his two children. So instead he went to his wife’s native Sweden, in many ways diametrically opposite to the Big Apple, with its socialism, free health care and education, and its low salary and high taxes. In the end there was no place like Quebec, and no home like Montreal.
Montreal’s cultural strengths and activist streak and strong cultural institutions are all things Miller believes can be harnessed to improve the condition of its citizens.
“I realized [after living abroad] I really, really enjoyed living in Montreal. I really, really love my city and I don’t think I could choose, if I had the choice, to live in any other city than Montreal. I see where it’s going, and I want to make sure it doesn’t go there.”
The plan to raise employment, lower debts, and improve education, he admits, is not something you can change in a just a few years. But there are ways to begin, and one of them is with voters.
Cognisant of the deep cynicism of disaffected youth, often alienated by an impersonal and distant political system, he holds firmly to the belief that students and young adults have the potential for great energy and hope, and doubly so for Quebec’s students, familiar as they are with political activism. He’s actively encouraging young people to take back their political rights of participation.
“My advice will be to find a local representative – municipal, provincial, federal – [and] approach them and ask them how you can help. It’s a real eye-opening experience to get in […] and run and organize a campaign. It gives you a skillset you can’t get here [in universities] nor should it be taught here, but it is a fantastic experience in organizing, meeting people, developing people skills, and developing human skills. I would encourage any student to get out there and get their hands in the soil. There’s a lot of clubs and political philosophy groups and they’re great as well but I think the mistake that’s made amongst the university corps is to stay too close to your comfort zone. And that’s too bad.”
“As Montrealers we have do dare to be able to take the risks whether we fail or not.”