|Mo Elsalhy is MLA for Edmonton McClung. Photo supplied by Mo Elsalhy. |
Mo Elsalhy was just minding his own business working as a pharmacist and talking to his customers about their health, the weather and politics. The next thing you know he was running and winning the seat for Edmonton McClung in the provincial legislature. He must be a pretty good talker.
Your background as a pharmacist is not that common in politics. Can you tell me what prompted your decision to run for the legislature?
I think it was a group of factors or reasons, the most important of which is the discussions I had with my patients. In my drugstore it is not too terribly busy so we tend to spend time talking about their medications and their health and then when that is done we talk about the weather and sport and when that is done we talk about politics.
We live in a constituency which is fairly upper middle class or educated most of the time and family oriented. And they tend to pay attention to what is going on both provincially and federally and they are very opinionated. I have done this for eleven years and I think I reached my boiling point (said laughing).
You beat out one of your current colleagues, Maurice Tougas for the nomination for the riding. Considering Mr. Tougas profile as a journalist that is quite an accomplishment. How long did you work on your nomination and how did you prepare?
I actually actively worked on my nomination for about three months before the date. And I had to do it because I had to travel overseas for part of that three months and I had to have the machine in place and the volunteers in place before I went overseas. So I think we started in early June and then I travelled and when I was overseas I found that I was contested; we didnt know we had a fight. So we said OK keep it going, sell more memberships, tell more people about Mo. And then when I came back I actively talked to people, we had the nomination meeting and Mr. Tougas and I each gave a speech and I won by a very narrow margin. Four votes out of about ninety people in the room that day. But it was an honest competition because not all the people I sold memberships to attended and not all the ones he sold to attended.
There are a lot of first time MLAs in the Liberal caucus. Has your leader, Mr. Taft, worked with all of you to show you the ropes or how have you acclimated yourselves to the job?
Thirteen of the sixteen are new and some had prior knowledge or involvement. Mr. Rick Miller, for example, who is the MLA for Edmonton Rutherford was on the board for the party for some years. Mr. Dan Backs, the MLA for Edmonton Manning, has been an activist for all of his life. So some of us have had prior involvement or exposure. I didnt. I was just, basically, a spectator or bystander. We had a rigorous training course that started in December that started just after we were sworn in and it lasted for about two and a half months. It was basically spearheaded by the three veterans, Hugh McDonald, Kevin Taft and Laurie Blakeman. Laurie Blakeman is the one who actually did the most work because she is the house leader. So she is the one who told us about the procedures, and the policies and the protocols - the standing orders and the books that we have to go through. One is Bauschen and one is called Marlow. It is like legal proceedings and what to do in the chamber and what not to do in points of privilege and all that stuff.
So it was basically baptism by fire. We had two and a half months of rigorous training and then spring session started.
A number of your colleagues have expressed surprise to me about how busy the job is. Has this also been your experience or were you expecting things to be pretty much the way they have turned out?
I expected it to be busy. But I think it is by choice that we are even busier than most people. My office is usually buzzing. We have people coming in and going out. We dont require appointments for most of the day. It is basically a walk in. Outside in the constituency we choose to be very visible. So I am at the Safeway and I am at the Sobeys. I visited every school during the campaign, of course, but I visited every school after the campaign at least twice. During reading week and then when I take pictures with the kids at the legislature I personally deliver those pictures and then I stand talking with them for half an hour or forty-five minutes about what they learned and so on. I meet with the parents and the teachers and the teacher aids. Every park that opens or every school that has an extension or renovation I am there. In doing so maybe I am busy more by choice but I think that is thoroughly enjoyable. I love it. So yes I expected it to be this way but I do not regret it.
What is your area of responsibility in the Liberal caucus?
I am the critic for government services and for Innovation of Science. And then because our leader Kevin Taft is busy I am also looking after Restructuring and Government Efficiency. Being the critic basically means that you are the Shadow Minister. So any decision, opinion or comment that the Minister utters or writes down you are responsible to critique it and go over it. Sometimes you agree with it. You dont have to disagree all the time. Sometimes you agree and you commend him and say Mr. Minister this is good, keep going. Or sometimes you say this needs clarification, Im not comfortable with this, can you please tell me what it involves. Or you can say this is unacceptable, this is something that I am not willing to endorse and you criticise it and depending on the seriousness of that decision you criticise it either mildly or severely.
One thing is for sure. Mo will be sure to say what is on his mind. And the minds of his constituents.