Getting political

Life has taken some interesting turns for Hon. Jennifer Campeau (BMgt '08), MLA for Saskatoon Fairview, since she obtained a Bachelor of Management in First Nations Governance at the University of Lethbridge in 2008.

She was elected to the Saskatchewan legislature in 2011 and was later appointed Minister of Central Services and Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Transportation Company. In 2013, she was named one of CBC Saskatchewan’s Future 40, a list of under-40 leaders making a difference in the province.

Campeau came back to the U of L in January to share her experiences with students as the first executive in residence through the Scotiabank First Nations, Métis and Inuit Mentorship Program. The program pairs U of L FNMI students from the Faculty of Management with FNMI high school students.

U of L students learned about life as a provincial politician when Hon. Jennifer Campeau (BMgt '08), MLA for Saskatoon Fairview, spent a week on campus as executive in residence.

“If youth see someone who looks like them in a leadership position then it’s easier to see themselves in such positions,” she says, noting that mentors played important roles in her life.

Campeau, originally from the Yellow Quill First Nation east of Saskatoon, was part of the last generation to attend residential school. While her mother was her first mentor, she also recalls a mentor she had at residential school whose favourite saying was ‘Aptitude and attitude determine altitude.’

Those words stuck with her. After a couple of failed attempts at post-secondary education, Campeau was determined to try again. She attended the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies and after two years of study, transferred to the U of L to complete a bachelor’s degree.

“I wanted to bring my daughter, then 12, and my niece, then 10, whom I was raising, to a smaller community where I could have more of a handle on their schedules and mine,” says Campeau. “I’m quite glad my path brought me here. The relationship the U of L has with the indigenous community is quite phenomenal and much indigenous knowledge is incorporated across the fields and departments here at the U of L.”

Envisioning a career working with First Nations communities in business development, Campeau returned to her home province to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan. She had already started work on a doctorate when she decided to enter politics. The wheels had been set in motion earlier when the initiatives she’d been working on, such as bringing Junior Achievement to reserve schools, had caught the eye of a government minister. That began a dialogue and one day the minister suggested she consider entering politics.

“I laughed. I thought it was the funniest thing ever,” she says. “I already had a five-year plan and it wasn’t in my plan to go into politics. I had my eye on the prize in terms of getting my PhD and then working on some initiatives within the community, as well as teaching and research, and one day getting tenure.”

She decided to run as a candidate, figuring the experience of managing a mainstream campaign would help her be a more effective political science teacher in her academic career. After a campaign that involved knocking on doors every evening, voters gave her the mandate on election night. She says her reaction to winning was a mixture of surprise and fear.

“My whole life path changed. After having a specific, concrete, five-year plan in place and wanting to follow it, all of a sudden I was in the role of MLA where I was responsible for being the voice of 14,500 people,” says Campeau.

Last June, Campeau was appointed Minister of Central Services and Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Transportation Company. The posts come with additional responsibilities and a seat at the table for discussions at the senior levels of government.

“It’s a little surreal at times. Sometimes when people say ‘minister’ I start looking around the room for the minister,” she says with a laugh.

During her week on campus, Campeau spoke to students in political science, management and Native American Studies classes. They asked about her everyday work life, the current oil crisis, her experience with media and her life as an MLA and Cabinet Minister.

“It was amazing. I learned as much from the students as they learned from me,” she says. “I hope it gave them a sense of what really happens and what’s going on, as opposed to the theory-based learning in the classroom.”