By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — His name may not have been familiar to voters when he originally announced his intention to run in the next federal election this past July, but Calgarians are beginning to catch onto the fact that country gentleman Matt Burgener and country-western musician Matt Masters are one and the same. A lifelong communicator and devoted cultural archivist, Burgener has decided to bring his manifold talents to the threshold of a new career path with the New Democratic Party as their candidate for the riding of Calgary Heritage.
“It’s hard to believe that this past July I was performing with Barney Bentall and Buddy Guy in front of a crowd of 10,000 at the Vancouver Island Folk Music Festival in Courtney, B.C., and now my stage is a doorstep with an audience of one to three people asking me ‘How are you going to help my Grandma?’ Or, ‘How are you going to elevate Canada’s global standing?’ It’s a totally different dance, but it requires the same fundamental skill-set of being open to people and working together with them to achieve a collective goal,” says Burgener.
Along with Liberal candidate Brendan Miles, Green candidate Kelly J. Christie, Libertarian candidate Steven Paolasini and three independent competitors, Burgener is attempting to unseat Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who currently represents the almost 110,000 citizens who inhabit the electoral district known as Calgary Heritage. Inspired by the NDP’s recent victory in the provincial election and by the births of his young children, Burgener decided it was time to begin serving his community in a greater capacity.
“It’s amazing how much my background in music has given me a foundation for this work,” he says. “As a musician your job is to listen to your bandmates and the audience, so that you’re not out of step. In other words, don’t give the folks a waltz when what the really need from you is a polka. As a politician you need to listen to constituents and team members in order to be able to identify the points, require action and offer them a policy or solution to move forward with.”
A born-and-raised Calgarian, Burgener has more than his experience as an award-winning singer/songwriter and small business owner to thank for his interest in political affairs. In addition to the support of his wife, Amanda, he continues to receive ample encouragement from his parents and in-laws. Raised in a politically-active household with his mom, Jocelyn Burgener, who was the MLA for Calgary Currie for eight years, Burgener couldn’t be more at home when it comes to representing the interests of his neighbours in Calgary Heritage.
“Giving a voice to Calgary Southwest is the number one priority for me, because Calgary Southwest and all of Calgary don’t have a voice right now. The other thing at top of my list is accountability. Whether you’re a lawyer who says they’re not happy with Harper’s failure in taking on Supreme Court, an Indigenous person who’s tired of being not heard, or one of the vets and seniors pushed aside.
“The thing I hear most when I’m at people’s doors is that they’re tired of being taken for granted in Calgary Heritage and having no MP there to help you if you need one. They’re feeling left out in the cold on a riding level. I’ve heard a myriad of stories resulting from nine years of having no representative to return your phone calls, come out to your events or take an interest in your situation. That’s fundamentally a problem. If you can’t talk to the person who’s representing you they can’t represent you.”
The battle of words has taken on graphic proportions as the Send Harper a Message initiative, launched on Sept. 13, has seen open messages to the current PM posted in the form of signage that can be planted in correlation to Conservative party campaign materials for a donation to the NDP’s campaign. Bylaw friction has seen many of the signs removed, but an undeterred Burgener is still thrilled with overwhelmingly positive response to SendHarperaMessage.ca.
“People want to see what we have to say because we’re saying something that’s resonating with the community. As Canadians we often vote against things and I understand that. People recognize when something needs changing and they see a real alternative in the NDP.”
“I’m in an interesting position, in that I’m not running for Prime Minister, I’m running against the Prime Minister,” he points out. “People want to put national issues into the storyline. Harper’s campaign brochure lists protecting Calgary Heritage from jihadi terrorists as a top priority. He should know that isn’t a pressing concern for his local constituents, but he isn’t here. Meanwhile, we’re talking about jobs, call it the economy. It’s one of those big topics that is also a household by household topic. “
Recounting Harper’s three election night promises: to clean up Ottawa, work with the provinces and lead with hope instead of fear — Burgener gives the PM a barely passable grade of C- (51). He adds that Harper’s greatest transgression may be his attempts to “scare Canadians away from participating in their own democratic processes.”
“Calgary got behind Harper and waited for him to deliver on his commitments. Well, we’re still waiting and what do we see? Infrastructure for cities denied again and again, and a scandal plagued record. People are simply fed up. I cannot overemphasize that 25 per cent of the electorate in Calgary Heritage falls into the under-35 demographic,” says Burgener. “They alone could steer the fate of this election if they come out, make their voices heard and vote.”
The 42nd Canadian federal election happens Oct. 19.#SendHarperAMessage, AB, Alberta, Brendan Miles, Calgary Heritage, Canadian election 2015, Conservatives, Green Party, Kelly J. Christie, Korry Zepik, Larry Heather, Liberals, Libertarian Party, Matt Masters, Matt Masters Burgener, NDP, Nicolas Duchastel de Montrouge, Stephen Harper, Steven Paolasini