Smart Biz

Philosopher-turned-electrician has sights on another career change

By Jared Story

How many philosophers does it take to change a light bulb?
If the philosopher in question is Daniel Blaikie, the answer is one. Blaikie – the son of former Elmwood-Transcona MP Bill Blaikie – works as an electrician with McCaine Electric Ltd., but also holds a master’s degree in philosophy from Concordia University in Montreal.
Blaikie is a recent graduate of Red River College’s Pre-Employment Electrical program and is currently working toward completing the Electrical Apprenticeship program. The 30-year-old, who lives in Transcona with his wife Janelle and his 18-month-old son Robert, said the decision to move from philosophy to electricity was made in order to stay in Winnipeg. “My wife and I decided we wanted to stay in Winnipeg and raise a family, so I needed to figure out something else, and I had actually started out in the Carpentry program (at RRC),” says Blaikie, who’d attended carpentry classes in 2006 and 2007.
“I wasn’t able to do the second half of that program, but it whet my appetite for the trades and I realized I like working with my hands, so when I was contemplating what else to do when we moved back to Winnipeg, the trades were high on the list. One of the great things about the trades right now is you can get paid to learn, and you’re learning something that other people value and are willing to pay for.”
Blaikie said the work he does with McCaine, which includes pulling wire, running conduit and building cable trays, is satisfying because of the cut-and-dried nature of the job. “With philosophy, jobs are always not finished. There’s always more you could have read, some other lead you could have chased down, and at a certain point, you just have to report on where your research is at: ‘This is where I got with the time allowed,’” says Blaikie, who taught an introductory philosophy course at the University of Winnipeg. “Whereas with a trades project, there’s a clear beginning and a clear end and the standard of assessment is pretty clear. Does the house stand? Do the lights go on? Does the toilet flush? There’s something really satisfying about doing a project that has a determinate beginning and a definite end, and you know right away whether you did a good job or not. And if you didn’t, you know how to fix it.”
But Blaikie might soon be putting his electrical career on pause for a much less-decided occupation. In June, he defeated Elmwood MLA Jim Maloway to represent the NDP in Elmwood-Transcona in the next federal election. “I grew up in a house that was really dedicated to the fight for social, economic and environmental justice, and was brought up to see the role and to believe in the role that government plays in setting all that up,” Blaikie says. “It’s something you see on the job site too, whether you’re talking about Workplace Safety and Health or negotiating wages. When you see that stuff and you’re represented by a Conservative MP, it’s very difficult having the background that I have and believing in that role for government to just stand on the sidelines.”
Blaikie, whose sister Rebecca is the NDP’s president, has past political experience, having worked as a constituency assistant for Andrew Swan (MLA for Minto), as well as Theresa Oswald (MLA for Seine River) when she was Minister of Health.
Blaikie says his current career is also his preparing him for politics. “I’d say my experience on job sites across Winnipeg has been a really good experience and one that I would take with me to Ottawa – and one I think more people who are representing ordinary Canadians should have. You learn a lot about what the day-to-day concerns of people actually are,” he says.
In the meantime, Blaikie says he’s more than happy working for McCaine. “I’m a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW 2085). There are a lot of good contractors under that umbrella. For the moment, I’m quite satisfied.”
Visit rrc.mb.ca to find out more about the college’s Pre-Employment and Apprenticeship Electrical programs.