Barely a boy of seven, Doug Schweitzer saw the stark reality of his family’s financial plight through the din of a flickering fridge light.
“I clearly recall opening the fridge door and seeing only a bottle of ketchup in there,” said Schweitzer. “And I just remember feeling really, really badly for my Mom and Dad.”
While he couldn’t have known it at the time, the dim light he saw that day and the hardships he and his family endured and overcame would eventually guide his life on a path of public service and the decision to seek the United Conservative Party nomination in Calgary Elbow.
“I learned resiliency, how to find a way to get things done by grinding it out. I learned how to overcome failure, to take some risks and to see nothing as insurmountable,” said the 39-year-old corporate restructuring lawyer and third generation Albertan.
“That to me is truly the Alberta spirit and what we’re all going to need a lot more of to overcome the disastrous policy decisions of the NDP that have stifled our competitiveness.”
“I learned resiliency, how to find a way to get things done by grinding it out. I learned how to overcome failure, to take some risks and to see nothing as insurmountable” – Doug Schweitzer
The youngest child of three, Schweitzer at that time had very little recollection of the “good times” when his family’s home building business was doing well.
Born in 1979, Doug was only a toddler when Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program devastated western Canadian economies and ballooning interest rates of more than 20 per cent all but finished off the family homebuilding business. Stuck with unsold homes and lots that led to bankruptcy, the Schweitzer clan relied heavily on community generosity just to put food on the table.
An athlete of all sports, Schweitzer himself took up a paper route that he used to pay for his team registration and equipment – as well as some he pitched in to pay for family groceries.
“You know, I do remember some really tough times, like seeing my father’s reaction when he opened up 10 job rejection letters in a single day,” said Schweitzer, 39, who is seeking the United Conservative Party nomination in Calgary Elbow.
“But what clearly stands out in my mind is the courageous way my parents dealt with adversity, how they continued to put community and family first despite really having nothing and how they continued to demonstrate the importance of hard work to us. Whenever something needed to happen in the community, my parents were the first to put their hands up.”
Doug learned from his parents early on that no matter what your circumstance is, community service is paramount in developing good character.
His mom, Karen, who lost her tenure as a school teacher when she took a leave to help run the family business and raise the kids, took a minimum wage job at the local chocolate shop.
“I got really good at finding the chocolates that were broken and couldn’t be sold,” he said, laughing at his good fortune in ensuring the candies wouldn’t just be thrown out.
He realizes now that the cards he was dealt at a really young age led to a fierce passion to help others overcome adversity, something he has taken with him to his family, community, work and political life.
Early on, however, Schweitzer saw his calling on the baseball diamond, a place his parents spent countless days and hours watching him hone is skills to become an elite all-star pitcher and outfielder for his age group.
After high school, Schweitzer - a good hitting pitcher who could throw the heat - was accepted to play college baseball in California, where he played with and against many players in the Major Leagues.
“I had all the talent in the world to be a professional. I threw hard, I was big enough, I was driven enough, but I suddenly just lost the ability to throw strikes.”
Despite coaches working with him to overcome the psychological condition written about by former Major League baseball pitcher Rick Ankiel in the book The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life,Schweitzer couldn’t get his rhythm back.
He’d have to swing for the fences another way in life.
Doug’s first love was baseball where he played college baseball in the U.S. and with and against many players who went on to play in the Major Leagues.
Coming home, Schweitzer took a job at a local Boys and Girls Club where he worked with homeless and at-risk youth, many of whom had spent their lives to that point living under extreme amounts of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
“Most of these kids had fallen through the cracks of the foster system and their stories were unbelievably painful to listen to, but I truly believe they helped enrich my life.
“I know I learned as much or more from them as they did from me.”
PROFESSIONAL AND FAMILY LIFE
Recognizing the need to further his education, Schweitzer – then 24 – decided to write the LSAT exam.
“Looking back in hindsight, I really didn’t know very much about being a lawyer,” he said, now a partner at Dentons, the largest law firm in the country. “My main focus in my undergrad was baseball.”
Schweitzer was accepted into the University of Manitoba, where he began – not only his schooling, but his involvement in politics. He began to work for local constituency associations and then played a key role in former Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFayden’s successful leadership campaign.
However, his real stroke of fortune occurred when he met his wife Jen – now a Federal prosecutor - who too was also studying law.
“When I met Jen, she was far and away better prepared for law school and interacting with the legal and business community.” A refinement Schweitzer acknowledges he sorely lacked at the time.
“Before I met her I had never owned a suit before,” said Schweitzer. “I was more than just a little rough around the edges. But fortunately, she saw some potential in me and really became not only an amazing partner, but an important advisor and coach for me on the social aspects of law and business that I was then oblivious to.
“I’d never been exposed to the business community or learned the importance of attending social functions and networking – the things you really need to understand and navigate as a lawyer.”
The makeover proved successful as Schweitzer took at job in 2006 in a top Calgary law firm and ironically found himself involved in restructuring law, helping companies - many like his father’s -during the 2008/2009 downturn and continuing that now through Alberta’s latest economic downturn.
Doug, a partner in a leading Canadian law firm, gives credit to his wife Jen for teaching him how to interact with the business and legal community. Schweitzer quickly was recognized as a bright young lawyer, a respect he would need to be granted various leaves from his firm to follow his political passions, like he did in 2008 when he was asked to come back to Manitoba to be the CEO of the Progressive Conservative Party.
Later, he balanced his legal career with stints leading numerous successful campaigns at the provincial and federal level. These were all a tune up for Schweitzer’s decision in 2017 to run for the leadership of the United Conservative Party.
UNITED CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADERSHIP CONTESTANT
“Jason (Kenney) is a machine and a compassionate politician and leader,” said Schweitzer, who helped Kenney in his initial successful bid to become the Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leader, prior to last year’s unification.
“But at the time, there was this false impression cast that the Party lacked compassion or heart for social issues. Don’t get me wrong, despite recognizing that I was up against a political powerhouse in Jason, I ran to win. However, with that I did want to also help the Party demonstrate our tent was big and there was lots of room in it for all conservatives with differing views and opinions on issues.”
Called the New Blue, Schweitzer’s campaign blended fiscally conservative principles such as low taxes, accountability and transparency and a slashing of regulatory red tape that is stifling competitiveness, with more moderate views on social policy that would help those at risk or marginalized.
Doug took a run at the United Conservative Party leadership – in part to help the party correct the false impression that party lacked heart and compassion for social issues. He remains solidly behind Leader Jason Kenney.
Finishing third to Kenney and former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, Schweitzer felt that he accomplished a great deal to make room for the new blue conservative, something he said Kenney is also doing a tremendous job with.
Schweitzer’s message penetrated not only young Albertans but many long-time Alberta Conservatives like former Ralph Klein-era Treasurer Jim Dinning.
“He is the New Blue,” said Dinning, recognized as the architect of Alberta’s 1990s debt reduction. “He’s a strong fiscal conservative and moderate on the social issues. That makes Doug and his family a lot like many of the families who live in Calgary-Elbow’s neighbourhoods.”
“Doug is unafraid of hard work and conscientious. He has joined Jason Kenney to build a new conservative party that is principled, ambitious and looking ahead to Alberta’s future.”
Long-time Conservative supporter Brian Felesky asked Schweitzer to run in Calgary-Elbow because it is imperative that Kenney have a first-rate team around the caucus table, something he knows Schweitzer will bring.
“Throughout the UCP leadership campaign and many other volunteer and leadership roles in Conservative trenches, Doug has proven to be smart, dedicated and innovative. As a result he has earned the respect of many Albertans, including a large following of young Conservatives.”
Former Alberta Treasurer Jim Dinning says Doug is conscientious and not afraid of the hard work needed to right the Alberta ship.
Schweitzer said Kenney is demonstrating that that the UCP is building a big-tent, free enterprise coalition that reflects Alberta’s diversity.
“I’m confident that Jason will not only put wind back in the sails of the Alberta economy, but that he will ensure that no Albertan will be marginalized or disrespected based on their views, opinions or the way they live their lives,” said Schweitzer
“I really look forward to helping him get it done.”
RUNNING FOR THE UCP NOMINATION IN CALGARY-ELBOW
Schweitzer lists quick action on flood mitigation as one of the most pressing issues that must move forward – something he and his crew of 100-plus volunteers have been hearing regularly at the doors in the constituency.
“This is obviously very important for the constituency and the people who experienced the last flood and continue to live in fear, quite frankly. But it is also essential to the lifeblood of this entire City. We saw the devastation the 2013 flood had on our downtown and community, but it could have been much, much worse.
“It is unfathomable and unacceptable that it has been five years and this issue has not been resolved. I will be a strong voice on this issue for this constituency and this city. We can’t sit in paralysis on this any longer. We need the political will to get this done now.”
It’s common sense policy, something that Alberta has gotten away from not only under the NDP but, he admits, also with some previous PC governments, something he knows Kenney will change.
Schweitzer often looks at his two daughters Heidi, 7 and Stella, 5 and knows that they will probably never fully understand the hardships that his family went through when he was a child – nor does he ever want them to.
He does want his children to understand that nothing should be taken for granted, that things will not be handed to them without hard work and sacrifice.
Doug and his wife Jen are trying to instill in their daughters not to take anything for granted. Hard work and some sacrifice is needed to be successful.
“I certainly don’t envision a time when either one will need to take on a paper route to pay for groceries,” laughed Schweitzer. “But Jen and I are doing what we can to raise them to be humble, to live simply, to help others, to live their dreams regardless of their circumstances while also being grateful for what they have,” said Schweitzer, noting both his brother, an accountant, and his sister, a PHD and professor at York University, both went on to successful careers.
“I want mostly for my daughters to have the same unrelenting optimism that my parents passed on to me that they can be whatever they want to be.
“And I am completely invested in ensuring that a United Conservative Government will once again help make Alberta the most exciting place for our kids to live, work and grow in Canada.”