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Life after (writing about) politics

Mark Lisac doesn't miss writing about Alberta's political scene--that time has passed.

Mark Lisac casts a wary glance at the Alberta political scene as he embraces his literary switch from columns to novels.

The veteran Edmonton journalist, who retired from the pages of Alberta Prime Times after six years in late 2022, says provincial politics have deteriorated since he first penned a column for the Edmonton Journal in 1987.

"The whole environment has become nastier and shallower," said Lisac, adding, "They are focused on playing political games rather doing what is good for people."

And the retired pundit, who turned 75 this past December, lays blame across the political spectrum.

"There's a lot of instant anger and refusal to consider other points of view--tending more toward anger on the right, sanctimony on the left, and ineffectiveness in the middle," he said, adding municipal politicians, "seem generally more rational, more skilled and better focused on what people need rather than on partisan divisions."

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Lisac says he didn't grow up in a political household but everyone in his family always voted.

"I was in high school before I started paying any kind of attention to politics, and then it was through reading the local newspaper and watching television. I found it interesting, but not something to become involved in," he said.

It was while at the University of North Carolina studying for a Master's degree in History that Lisac convinced himself he wasn't ever going to be an academic.

"I had some ability to write and signed up for the journalism course at the University of Western Ontario," he said, adding his westward adventure started with a reporting job at the Regina Leader-Post. Reporting on the Saskatchewan Legislature until 1978, Lisac then joined The Canadian Press in Edmonton and has stayed in Alberta ever since.

"I did a couple of stories on a by-election in 1979, then started to do more reporting on Alberta politics," said Lisac.

In 1987 he made his biggest career move, becoming the political columnist for the Edmonton Journal.

Other reporters occasionally called Lisac “a political junkie", but he says that always made him laugh. "It didn't seem to occur to them I was doing a job."

After 14 years, the veteran columnist bought "Insight into Government,” an independent newsletter on Alberta politics. Serving as its publisher and editor for eight years, Lisac said running his own small business provided a sense of accomplishment and, "It let me get back to more of a straight reporting role rather than writing opinion columns." 

Lisac also found time to write two books, 'The Klein Revolution’ and ‘Alberta Politics Uncovered. The latter won the Writers Guild of Alberta Wilfred Eggleston Award for Nonfiction in 2005.

In the last decade, Lisac has started writing novels, receiving critical acclaim for his first effort--the political thriller 'Where the Bodies Lie’. That book was shortlisted for the 2017 Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel.

He is now working on his fourth work of fiction--a book called Dream Home.

"(It's) about a glib, even brash young woman with a penchant for eccentric ideas. She becomes frustrated with the board of her condominium and runs to become association president," he said, adding, "Whether there's a political twist in the story depends on what the reader thinks.” The book is due out this fall.

Novels or politics--is there a favourite for the prolific writer? Lisac says with novels, there's no fear of getting a fact wrong, but they remain more demanding than penning a newspaper column.

"It takes much more mental energy. After three hours of writing fiction, I can get quite worn out," he said, adding he's found ways to stay energized--long walks and strumming the guitar, for example. 

And with wife Ellen, the retired journalist finds comfort in puttering around his home, too.

"I even like clearing snow. Is that a natural leaning, or a reaction to a career spent at a keyboard?"

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