Michelle Mungall first officially threw her hat into the political ring when she wasn’t yet finished her university degree.
Running for office as a candidate for the NDP in her hometown of St. Albert was “a serious long shot” in the staunchly conservative province of Alberta, but it didn’t deter her from the challenge.
“Being very passionate about the democratic process, I thought it would be a wonderful experience just to participate,’” she says.
It was 2001 and Mungall was wrapping up her studies at the University of Alberta where she focused on political science — always an interest. From social movements and the democratic process, how they intertwine to international relations to how political parties interact internally and externally, the politician was hooked before she knew the theory.
“All of that, I absolutely love it,” she says. “As early as I can remember, I was always interested… When I was nine-years-old, I ran for students union at my elementary school. I jumped right in… I’ve always gravitated naturally to being involved in the whole democratic process.”
Shortly after graduating from university with honours, Mungall discovered Nelson and made it her home.
“I was here five minutes and realized I was a Kootenay girl my whole life, it just took some time to get here,” she says.
Quickly engaged with her new community, Mungall ran for city council in the November 2002 election. Again a long shot, Mungall forged ahead and won becoming the youngest councillor in Nelson’s history and the youngest female municipal council member in Canada at that time.
“It was hard work. I wanted to win. I had been here a year. I was unknown among 19 candidates that were very well known in the community,” she says. “Nothing beats shoe leather. I hit the doors of every single house in Nelson.”
Engaging young people and getting them to the polls was part of Mungall’s success and empowering that demographic remains important to the youthful politician today.
Opting not to run for re-election, 27-year-old Mungall moved to Victoria in part to attend Royal Roads University’s Home Security and Peace building program. But the draw to the coast wasn’t only professional — her now-husband Zak Matieschyn lived there.
“I felt like I needed something else other than just politics. I had other goals in my life as most young people do. Travelling was one of them and furthering my education was another, but really, the real reason I didn’t run again is that I met a man who lived in Victoria,” she says. “It was a good call because I got married to him in 2011. I found the love of my life and over the years we have supported each other in our various careers and personal goals as well.”
Mungall combined her desires to see more of the world with her passion for community service when she travelled to Zambia as an intern with the World Young Women’s Christian Association. Her experiences in the impoverished country grappling with an AIDS epidemic were impactful.
She worked in a safe house for little girls targeted for the Virgin Cure and taught women about their rights. She also witnessed the generosity of women walking kilometres to get water for her as their guest, as was customary.
“I was humbled,” she says. “It’s just so contrary to what we experience here… It was very profound. Every lesson I learned there wills tick with me for the rest of my life.”
In 2007, she returned to Nelson, missing the Kootenay community that had captured her heart. While working in the community she completed her Master’s thesis on homelessness in British Columbia and was awarded her degree by Royal Roads in the spring of 2009.
Around this time, Mungall ran for election again. This time, for MLA in Nelson-Creston, and as an NDP candidate took her seat with 54 per cent of the vote while her party lost provincially to the BC Liberals.
As part of the official opposition, Mungall has been outspoken about cuts to student aid programs as advanced education critic. On local issues, Mungall has worked toward improvements at Kootenay Lake Hospital; food security issues and is particularly proud of work done to stop the Glacier-Howser hydroelectric project.
“The fact that Glacier-Howser creeks run free is because I was there working with the EcoSociety… over the years fighting it over and over and over again until now, it’s just not a possibility. That’s a huge success for our environment and a public statement on how we want our energy generation to take place,” she says.
Mungall says following her heart has led her to politics at a young age. This job takes her away from home, has her sitting in the legislature for long days and travelling a huge riding to meet with constituents when home in the Kootenays. But serving the public “fuels” her, she says.
“For me politics is just a natural extension of what I’ve been drawn to do, serve the community,” she says.