Terry Beech

The Canadian election came to a close in October, but that is just the beginning for the newly formed Liberal government. With Parliament coming back into session on January 26 of this month, Canadians will finally get to see the Liberal government settle into the new position that they will hold for the next four years. However, it is a very different political landscape this time around, with many newcomers to the federal political table. One such newcomer is Terry Beech, who is the Liberal MP for Burnaby North-Seymour, the riding in which SFU resides. 

Terry was the youngest elected official in Canada when he was elected as a councillor in the city of Nanaimo at the age of 18. He is the founder of a number of tech businesses and non-profit organizations. He also got his start at SFU, graduating with a business and economics degree in 2005. The newly elected MP recently sat down with Her Campus SFU to talk about his new political position, and the journey that has led him to it. 

What’s been the most enjoyable aspect of your new job thus far?
“I would say meeting with and trying to provide value for the members of this community. A lot of people read the newspapers and watch the news, and there is a lot of negativity about things that are happening out in the world. Because of that, it is easy to lose sight of the positivity that exists. I have met with so many people who are doing so many amazing things within the community. It is mind-blowing what people are doing to step up and contribute. As much as my job is helping people with their complaints, another part of it is to help empower people who are doing really great things, and find little ways that I can help them in. 

For example, at my last meeting, we met with three Iraqi Canadians who very much understand the position that these Syrian refugees are in. They are starting an organization here in Burnaby called Integrate Society, and this organization wants to provide long-term relationships for refugees to help them build a sense of community in their new hometown. Three people came to the meeting, an entrepreneur and two architects, and they came to me with a brochure they had created and their meeting time and place, and asked what we can do to help them. I told them that we can promote it, and that we can ask about questions of privacy and how they can get in contact with the refugees. That was a twenty-minute meeting, but those people left feeling so validated and empowered to continue doing great work in their community. 

There are two ways that this kind of job can go. You can focus on the negativity and get into this really downward spiral or focus on the bad in the world and just do the best you can to manage it. Or, you can look at it as a great opportunity. Yes, there are problems.  But in general, society and people are good, and we should see what we can do to help people. When you go into it with that positive attitude, and want to provide value for every single person in front of you, you find yourself being attached to all these seeds of positivity within the community, and that is amazing to be a part of. I have had a wonderful career so far, but my most fulfilling job was working as a city councillor because there is more change that you can effect in a few meetings than in an entire year running a business. Being back in this world is exciting, as this is where is it my job to serve the community. That is my job description, and how I go about doing that is up to interpretation. It is the coolest and most exciting thing ever. So the long answer to your short question is being someone who helps to empower this community. It is a huge privilege and huge honour and I am so excited to be taking this on.”  

What is a challenge that you have faced so far?
“I think the core challenge is going to be making sure there is some sort of normality for my family. I decided to run two years ago, and it was a joint decision between my wife and I. Almost the entirety of that conversation was about the 75-80% divorce rate among members of parliament.  What I have told people was that Ravi [his wife] is number one and Canada is number two, which really means that Canada is number one, as I am a better person with my wife. We have sought a lot of advice from those who have gone through this process and stayed together, and those who have not while serving, and there are very good examples of those who have stayed together in what can be a very difficult process with the long distance between Vancouver and Ottawa. Our plan to make this successful is to get a house in Ottawa. My wife has a reason to be in Ontario with her business, and we are going to try and coordinate our schedules to be together as often as possible.  It is very easy to triple and quadruple book yourself to death, and your family keeps taking a back seat, and I have heard from many people that that is a very easy mistake to make, so I am going to do my best to avoid that. That wasn’t a challenge I was unaware of, but some of the day to day challenges have been unexpected. I have had to tell my wife, ‘No, I am not going to be home for dinner for the third time this week and I promise to try and be better about it.’ That is a real conversation that has already happened, and this is only the beginning; there are another four years to go. We just have to find a balance.” 

What are some of the other jobs or positions you have held over the years?
“Well, my twin brother and I started to work at the age of eight, and we had three paper routes. We always provided for ourselves from a very young age. My father was a janitor and my mother was a stay-at-home mum, so there wasn’t a lot of money to go around. The reason we got our first job was because we wanted to buy a Nintendo. We asked for one and were told ‘No, there is no money for a Nintendo,’ and our response was ‘What is this money thing and how can we get it?’ In high school, I was involved in debate and that got me interested in politics, which led me to run for city council. Once I finished my term there, I moved to SFU to get my business and economics degree. I joined a start up immediately after graduating, and shortly after I met Francesco Aquilini, the owner of the Vancouver Canucks. I was hired by his company and worked directly for him on a variety of different real estate and business projects. Then I got into my MBA program and moved to England for a year. Once I came back, I started Hire The World—which is a graphic design company that is now operating worldwide—with my two partners who were in Burnaby. We opened our first office on the hill at SFU, raised some money, and worked on growing that. In 2012, it became profitable and we were able to focus on other ventures. It was around 2009 that I agreed to take on a visiting lecturer position at SFU in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation concentration, specifically to redesign their Foundations of Entrepreneurship course.” 

Why did you choose to help redesign the course?
“I had actually expressed frustration that a lot of the things that I considered high value and things that were truly useful to me in the private sector were not taught to me in my four-year business degree. That was really frustrating to me. How do I spend four years being told that I am an expert in business and then I don’t know some really fundamental things once I leave? So, once I was finished my Masters degree, I was accepted as a professor and took on that job. Once I started, I redesigned that class and taught it, and it expanded and became very popular. Then about 5 years ago, we were thinking that if we wanted Entrepreneurship and Innovation to be a real thing, things needed to change, so that SFU could be a real leader in that field. So, we started redesigning the whole concentration. It became obvious very quickly that only allowing third- and fourth-year business students into the Entrepreneurship program wasn’t ambitious enough. These skills are now almost a requirement in the workforce and the global economy we live in, and we needed to allow more students to gain experience and that kind of skill set. So, we set out to redesign the concentration, and also to make it so that other non-business students could join the program. That took five years. Last year, in September 2014, sixty percent of Innovation Entrepreneurship courses were set aside for non-business students. Engineers, scientists, designers—all different disciplines can now take those programs.” 

What advice would you give to young people who want get involved in politics?
“The thing is that you should remember that there is a huge opportunity for everyone to be involved. I ran for city council at the age of seventeen. I had my birthday and then got elected, and I was the youngest person elected in Canada. Afterwards, I went out and talked to high school students, and there was this mentality that you are just a high school student and can only do what high school students do. The same goes for university students, and it just keeps going on and on for your whole life. I am just a 'this' or a 'that,' therefore, I am not able to make a difference. Everyone always tries to categorize you. So, I think that if you want to get involved, just take the plunge. Think about what you are interested in. If you want to be involved, myself, your local MLA, your local city council, would love to hear from you. There are community boards you can sit on, something like a parks and recreation commission for your local community. If you want a more political role, there is the electoral district association, which is the functioning board of an individual party’s representation in a riding. If you want to get involved in some sort of volunteer capacity, we are building an extensive internship program, and I would encourage people to contact our office as we are always looking for good people to get involved.” 

If you are interested in learning more about Terry Beech, you can check out his website.