My Job Now: Kevin Quinlan

Tue, 24 Oct 2017

Welcome to My Job Now, a blog profile series featuring workers from across Canada. Engage with the SFU Public Square community by reading stories of career aspiration, professional development, and bumps along the road. 

Kevin Quinlan is the Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Vancouver. He is interested in housing, transit, social innovation, urban design. 

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I went through a number of different phases. I grew up in Victoria, so it was practically a given that I dreamed of playing in the NBA because I grew up not far from where Steve Nash went to school. But I spent most of my time reading about basketball, watching basketball, and playing video games about basketball, rather than actually practicing, which is likely the reason I have yet to be drafted.

Towards the end of high school I got interested in comedy and wanted to be a writer for Saturday Night Live or the Daily Show. I used to tape record Weekend Update and watch the segments over and over and try and rewrite the jokes myself. I signed up to host basically every high school event so that I could practice emceeing, as if I was hosting the Oscars. Our high school film festival, our grad talent show, our grad fashion show… if it had a microphone I wanted to try out my jokes.

I pursued comedy for a while when I was in university but eventually just hit a wall. I really liked it but I felt like it wasn’t something I wanted to do forever. Plus I wasn’t particularly funny, which was a career limiting factor.

In third year in undergrad I started taking more courses on political science and became more drawn into studying politics, and started reading up more about it. There were a series of elections taking place - the 2004 federal and the 2005 provincial and municipal – that made politics increasingly relevant for me.

How has your career path unfolded so far?

When I graduated university I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had done some event management, putting on concerts and festivals, so I tried applying to a few event management companies in Vancouver, but didn’t get a response.

One day I was just browsing the internet reading up on city politics when I came across some stories about this new civic political party, Vision Vancouver. There was a lot of talk at the time about whether or not it would be the new future of the civic left in Vancouver. Reading about the people who were involved in Vision, and the policies they were championing, I felt like it aligned with where I was at politically. I went to their website and it just so happened they were hiring for a part-time fundraiser. I had done a bit of fundraising in university so decided to apply.

I got the job and spent the summer working at a summer camp for kids during the day and then would work a few evenings during the week phoning supporters and trying to get them to donate to Vision. At the end of the summer, I begged people at the party to keep me on and try and see if there was any way I could keep working full-time.

The party offered me a full-time position in the fall of 2006 and for the next two years I worked on a variety of things, whatever the party needed: writing press releases, organizing events, researching policy, updating the website etc. Taking the job was a turning point because up until then I didn’t have a sense of what I really wanted to do. A lot of my friends at that time from university were all going off to Europe or Australia to go travelling, and I decided to stay in the city in the hopes that I could find a job that I liked and could get my foot in the door. The timing worked out.

In 2007 I started thinking about grad school as a way to expand my career prospects. I applied to the SFU Masters of Urban Studies program, which really appealed to me because I could keep working full time while studying. After two years of working for the party and when I was in the middle of my masters, I got hired into the Mayor’s Office shortly after Mayor Robertson’s election in November 2008. I started as an Executive Assistant responsible for media relations, then became the Director of Policy and Communications, then Deputy Chief of Staff, and most recently Chief of Staff to the Mayor. 

The way we work is constantly changing, from the types of jobs we have, to where we do them. What new opportunities or challenges do you think the future of working might bring?

The obvious opportunity is the ability to be more flexible in where you can work due to technology. If you can work from home as opposed to having to commute somewhere that can potentially open up employment opportunities to a much broader group of people. I think the challenge is that as a society we are often very quick to accept technology as inherently good and don’t always think through the consequences or impacts. We are starting to have that public conversation now around the gig economy, and how the way work is changing is actually in many ways creating more types of precarious work and impacting wages in a negative way.

The systems we have in place to regulate often lag behind the pace of change in technology. Governments can’t be afraid to step in and regulate in the public interest because that’s what they are responsible for – we can’t just assume that every new type of technology is in the public interest. At the same time, we’re not going to be able to solve the types of challenges our society faces by stifling innovation. How to strike that balance is a question that governments around the world are grappling with and there’s no easy answer. 

What challenges have you faced in securing your desired employment situation?

My situation is unique in that is tied specifically to another person, the Mayor. If he is not the Mayor, I’m out of a job.

If you were offered a guaranteed basic income of $1,000/month with no strings attached, how might your life be different?

Ideally I would either save more or give more to charity.

Are there any projects you are working on that you would like to tell our readers about?

I am heavily involved in the City’s efforts to create a new 10-year affordable housing strategy for Vancouver. It’s a really exciting opportunity to shape the future of our city and yet it’s also an immense challenge given the pressures we face in our housing market. Whether it’s through the empty homes tax, modular housing, community land trusts or new types of inclusionary zoning, Vancouver is at the forefront of innovative housing policy and we’ve spent the past year bringing in experts from around the world to draw on lessons about what’s working in other places. City Hall can’t control everything but there’s a lot we can do. When the new 10-year strategy comes to Council for approval later this year I believe it will be a big step towards a more affordable, inclusive and resilient city.