He is a punk performer with the band D.O.A. and the president of Vancouver-based Sudden Death Records. Now, Joe Keithley wants to add politician to his résumé, hoping to become the B.C. New Democrat MLA for the riding of Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.
First, the long-time social activist will need to win the NDP nomination in the riding. Then he will have to take on Liberal MLA Douglas Horne, who won by about 3,000 votes over his NDP rival in the 2009 election.
Mr. Keithley says the leap from music to politics isn’t that large. “From my 35, 36 years in the music business, I have learned how to communicate with people and talk to them and listen,” he says.
“The thing is when people actually meet me, they actually realize I am a really reasonable person.”
At 56, he is still very active in music. “Everybody has to work except a privileged few,” he says. He has a new D.O.A album, I Come in Peace, out this fall as he also begins teaching the business side of music at a Vancouver-area music school.
Mr. Keithley knows musical celebrity has its limits. “I am not saying everybody does know me because D.O.A. has been more like a cult band in a sense, more on the underground side than somebody like Bryan Adams, for example.”
He is seeking to follow the examples of Andrew Cash, who transitioned from being a professional musician to being an NDP MP, as well as Midnight Oil rocker Peter Garrett, who became environment minister in Australia.
Mr. Keithley says he has been thinking about a plunge into provincial politics for several years, but there was no eureka moment – just a general realization supported by his wife of 25 years and his three children that he should actually try this.
And the author of the 2004 autobiography I, Shithead: A Life in Punk says it may take a while to overcome his public persona. “But we have from now to May to overcome that. It’s a pretty good time window, assuming I win the nomination, which is going to be a battle too, of course.”
Maybe not. Scott McRitchie, the constituency association president for the NDP in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, says he has received expressions of interest, but does not expect that anyone else will actually run for the nomination, which he expects to be held in late fall or early next year.
Asked if Mr. Keithley would be a good candidate, Mr. McRitchie says he would bring a new perspective to politics with a possible arts focus, and enthusiasm for social activism.
However, he does have one concern: “Not being a resident of the riding doesn’t help,” Mr. McRitchie said.
Mr. Keithley lives in neighbouring Burnaby, where he has long been involved in municipal politics, but notes he has had many connections to Coquitlam because he lived there as a youth and drove a taxi there once. If he wins the seat, he says he would buy a residence there.
While the B.C. Liberals are trailing the NDP in the polls, Mr. Horne says he isn’t giving an inch, but is ready to take on Mr. Keithley in the provincial election next May.
Mr. Horne says he’s taking nothing for granted. “I don’t think you can ever be comfortable in politics.”
Of Mr. Keithley’s celebrity, he notes that, “People have different tastes in music.”
Mr. Keithley joined the NDP when he was 18, inspired by B.C’s first NDP premier, David Barrett. He ran for the Green Party in a Burnaby riding in 1996 and 2001. But he says he left the Greens after “socially conservative” elements joined, and rejoined the NDP two years ago.
He’s running on a basket of issues that include affordable housing, blocking the $6-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project, and protecting seniors. He hopes to garner Green votes, and energize non-voters to support him at the polls.
“The tide is turning,” he says of B.C. politics. “The B.C. Liberals have completely blown whatever credibility they had. It’s time for a change.”
As for Premier Christy Clark, on whose radio talk show Mr. Keithley appeared, he understands she was a D.O.A. fan.
“She’s got good taste in music, but not so great taste in politics,” he says.