How'd You Get That Job? Samara talks to former Deputy Chief of Staff to Ontario premier

Blog Post

How'd You Get That Job? Wednesday, August 27, 2014 View Count = 2489

How'd You Get That Job? Samara talks to former Deputy Chief of Staff to Ontario premier

 John Brodhead at the Everygreen Brickworks

What made you want to get involved with politics?

I grew up in Ottawa so I had always been very aware of the political world. My parents also worked in the civil service or other jobs linked into the world of government so I was always in touch with it. Then I went to do an undergrad degree in political science and a grad degree in political psychology. I’ve always been fascinated by the political world and its ability to influence the lives of everyone in the country, the provinces, cities, every jurisdiction.

I’ve always thought that politics was a great way to make change, so I was also curious to see if that theory played out in reality.

How did you come to this specific role?

My first political job was in the Federal Government.  I was working as a civil servant but really wanted to get into the political side so I started volunteering on Paul Martin’s leadership campaign in 2002.  I was cold-calling Canadians, selling memberships - doing the gritty volunteer work that every campaign needs. Through my volunteer role I got a job working for the Minster of Defence as a junior staffer, then moved on to working with another Minister. My last job in Ottawa was with John Godfrey, then Minister of Infrastructure.  When the Liberals lost the 2006 Federal election someone mentioned the Premier was looking for an infrastructure person so I jumped at it. I was hired as the Premier’s Senior Policy Advisor for infrastructure, transportation and social policy, and then I worked my way up.

Political work is such a tough life. It’s not great pay and the hours are long and it’s intense, but because there is so much churn it’s really easy to move up quickly. I was the lowliest of low volunteers on the leadership campaign, and within a year I was in a Minister’s office. That happened because I volunteered and proved that I was hardworking and willing to put in the hours to help out.

Can you tell us what exactly a “Deputy Chief of Staff” does?

My formal title was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Cabinet Affairs. In that role I was responsible for overseeing all policy files in the Government for the Premier.  We had a policy team in the Premier’s office of probably ten people – that’s where I started as an advisor. My job was to make sure that the Premier’s priorities were being moved through the system, that he was kept aware of issues, and that we were executing the policies we’d committed to.

What was your favourite moment in your position?

While I had many amazing moments in all my roles in Premier’s Office, one highlight was when I was the lead on the poverty reduction strategy that we released in 2008. It was the first such strategy in Ontario history and it was passed unanimously by the Ontario Legislature. Working so hard for two years to get that through, having the opportunity to work with all the stakeholders and Minister Deb Matthews and to have that land as successfully as it did felt like a huge accomplishment.

Winning the 2007 and 2011 elections was pretty great too. Especially having lost the 2006 Federal election, I savoured those wins.

What skills or experience are required for this job?                         

I think it’s hugely based on people, so emotional intelligence is critical. The ability to work with people and understand various players and how to get things done was vital to my ability to progress through the system. You have to be able to pick up files, even those in which you have no background, and you have to be a strategic enough thinker that you can decipher what’s important very quickly. I was looking at 20-plus issues a day, and for each of those you not only have to decide which issue is important but also what information within the file is important.

For political jobs you don’t need to know every detail on every topic, but you need to wade through a ton of information and identify what details are significant to the Premier or Ministers or Government. Someone once compared it to taking a drink of water from a fire hose. I think that is a pretty good description of what it sometimes feels like when you come into a new file.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a job like yours? What is a good first step for them to take?

What I love about politics is the first step is so easy – go volunteer. Go find your riding association, find a local Member of Provincial Parliament, find someone whose policies you believe in and go help them out. Politics runs on volunteers, it’s the life blood of the system. It’s amazing how many people come through that route. Go knock on doors, do whatever is needed. The fact that I was willing to do whatever work was needed got me noticed.

There is a huge demand for young, smart, motivated, idealistic people to work in politics and the jobs are fantastic, they are likely some of the most interesting work you’ll ever have.

I loved my time in politics and I loved the way I was able to move up quickly and have impact in areas I cared about. I became a senior policy advisor for the Premier at 27. I got to work on 4 campaigns in 8 years, working on a local campaign, in the war room as well as being on the road with the Premier in the 2011 campaign. These are experiences you never forget, and the people you work with that closely will be your friends for life.

People are sometimes afraid of the political system but regardless of what party you’re with it’s a wonderful way to make an impact and it’s actually very accessible because there is such a need for volunteers. Imagine you wanted to work at Google and you could just go volunteer there and let senior people see how good you are. Wouldn’t that be nice? You can do that in politics.

If you work hard your ability to make impact at a young age is, in the political system, I think unparalleled.


John Brodhead is the first Executive Director of CityWorks, a strategic initiative of Evergreen. Prior to joining CityWorks, John was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Cabinet Affairs for Premier Dalton McGuinty and served in other roles in the Office of the Premier, including Executive Director of Communications and Senior Policy Advisor. John was also Vice President for Strategy and Communications for Metrolinx. Prior to joining the provincial government, John served in various capacities in the federal government, including working for the Ministers of Infrastructure and Communities and National Defence.

On the Samara BlBlog logo representing the letter 'o'g

360_square