Monday, December 08, 2014

Why I have no time for David Bertschi’s complaints

I’ve tried to hold my tongue through David Bertschi’s dramatic performances through the nomination process, but after his conduct at the Ottawa-Orleans nomination on the weekend, enough is enough.

I’m the first person to be up in arms with regards to nomination shenanigans or interference from the centre. I’m a supporter of open nominations – it was a key part of Deborah Coyne’s democratic reform platform during the leadership campaign, and I was glad to see Justin Trudeau adopt a similar position shortly after we released ours.

I think everyone – if they’re being honest with themselves anyway – knew that there would always be an asterix for open nominations when the pledge was reaffirmed by the leader for this nomination cycle. A certain threshold of rules would need to be met by all candidates seeking a nomination, from a commitment to Liberal values (see supporting the right to choose) to a background check, and so on.

For the former leadership candidates seeking a nomination (including from 2006) there were additional rules. I have some insight into this, as I managed Deborah’s leadership campaign. Those carrying leadership debt were required to submit a debt repayment plan and schedule, and report regularly on their progress to the party. They were informed that their greenlighting was provisional, and could be revoked at any time if they didn’t maintain satisfactory progress.

This applied to all leadership candidates carrying leadership debt from recent campaigns, from Coyne and Bertschi and George Takach, to caucus members like Marc Garneau and Hedy Fry. The rules were clear and known to all.

The rules were also clear during the leadership campaign with regards to the amount of debt campaigns were allowed to carry, both in loans and in accounts payable. A financial filing was due regularly to the party for compliance purposes and, if the levels were violated, a range of sanctions were available, up to and including expulsion from the leadership race. Again, the rules were clear and known to all.

And it appears to me that Mr. Bertschi was unable or unwilling to follow rules, whether during the leadership campaign or during the nomination process.

Bertschi withdrew from the leadership campaign in a flourish, after hemorrhaging staff and volunteers, just before he was facing sanction from the party and possible expulsion from the race for violating those debt limits – post-race filings with Elections Canada confirm his non-compliance. This after making a virtue of having promised a debt-free campaign.

Nevertheless, he was provisionally green-lit by the party to seek the nomination in Ottawa-Orleans. Like every other leadership candidate carrying debt, he had to submit and follow a repayment plan. And once again, he couldn’t follow the rules. And so he faced the consequences.

Now, the current underlying all of this, of course, is the party centre’s favoured candidate for Ottawa-Orleans, Andrew Leslie – the former general was acclaimed this weekend following Bertschi’s expulsion.

Let’s be frank. Did the powers that be want Leslie? Obviously. Were they going to use the levers available to them to help make that happen? Most definitely.

Here’s the thing, though: Bertschi made it easy on them. No shenanigans were necessary. By failing to comply with the clearly stated rules, rules which applied to all (and the others managed to comply with), Bertschi made it easy for the party to remove him from the race completely by the book. No shenanigans were necessary, as Bertschi was the author of his own demise.

I might still be able to muster a measure of sympathy for him – being denied a dream you’ve long worked for is incredibly difficult – were it not for the arrogance with which he has conducted himself through this process. Attacking other Liberals, threatening lawsuits, his supporters disrupting meetings, heckling, disrespecting the Canadian flag. Bertschi isn’t about the Liberal Party; he’s about David Bertschi. And I have no time for people like that.

If Bertschi had followed the rules, he would have challenged Leslie this past weekend, and who knows what would have happened. The party’s pick doesn’t always win – see Don Valley North. Superior organization will take the day. Instead, he was the author of his own demise, and seems determined to light the bridge aflame behind him.

Don’t let the door, etc.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Where does trustee Harout Manougian really stand on Gay Straight Alliances?

Harout Manougian,who is running for re-election as Toronto District School Board trustee in Ward 17 (Don Valley East), is on the record claiming support for Gay Straight Alliances in Toronto schools.

However, troubling past statements by Manougian would seem to put lie to this claim. Less than 10 years ago, here's what Manougian had to say about same sex marriage in a contribution to the Newspaper of the University of Waterloo Engineering Society:

...homosexuality is a sin and it is wrong. It is written in the Bible, and there just is no questioning that. Seeing as I sin too, I am no better off that someone who practices homosexual actions, the difference between me and a homosexual is that I repent, I turn back to God, and ask him for mercy, while homosexuals praise their sin and are driven to show it off to everyone, pretending it is okay, when in fact it is not. If they sinned quietly in some private room and then repented, in God’s eyes, there would be no difference between us. But, they do not; they have parades and constantly try to pretend that it is not wrong. They dare to say they have a right to a lawful, equal marriage, which is just preposterous..

He then goes to the slippery slope argument:

... if we’re going to completely uproot institutions as old as marriage to be “politically correct”, why would anyone stop at homosexual marriages? Why not polygamous legal marriages? Why not bestiality or incest?

And maybe they'd want to have children!

...if it were legalized, would not same sex couples feel entitled to have children? After all, everybody keeps on telling them they have an equal union. How would they sort that out? Pay surrogate mothers? That brings in another whole new set of legal problems.

Finally, our future school board trustee channels Maude Flanders:

...could somebody please think about the children? I do not care what rhetoric is being thrown around these days; the best environment for a child to be raised in is with a mother and a father. Ask any child from a single parent home if he or she didn’t feel like something was missing.

While I suppose it's possible that Manougian has done a complete 180 in his views on the topic in nine short years, it seems unlikely. As Gay Straight Alliances have been and continue to be an important issue for the TDSB, it is incumbent on Manougian to explain his past views and current position before the Oct. 27th. municipal election.

Which Harout Manougian is the real Harout Manougian, and where does he really stand on same sex rights? Can we really count on Manougian to support and defend Gay Straight Alliances in Toronto schools?

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sun sets on Trudeau's relationship with a certain broadcaster

So, Justin Trudeau isn't talking to Sun Media reporters, or opinionators, or whatever other categories of people they employ, until the organization apologies for a ridiculous Ezra Levant segment I don't care to describe -- suffice it to say it was a highly offensive personal attack not just on him, but his family.

The press gallery, apparently confident that their condemnation of Levant's bloviating is so obvious it need not really be vocalized, instead lept straight to the hustings of journalistic freedom. Much furious tweeting amongst themselves ensued; how dare Trudeau do this, and so on. We've seen the pattern often enough when the Harper Conservatives have curtailed media access -- much tweet and fury, followed by filing straight copy of the government's news of the day.

I have stood with the gallery in the past, although, while I admit there are no easy answers, their acquiescence long ago sent the message to the government, and other parties, that shutting out or limiting the media will not have lasting consequence. It pains me as a democrat, and as a journalist, but it's the sad reality.

While I stand for access, and I'm not sure I'd have taken the step of a blanket ban on talking to Sun Media employees until a resolution on the Ezra complaint, I'd wish some of the journalists on the hustings for press freedom would apply a little of that critical thinking the profession prides itself on, as this isn't a case of a blanket limitation of access to avoid exposure and control the narrative.

Rather, Trudeau's action here raises some questions that we all, media and political operatives, would do well to consider: what is the line between journalist and opinion commentator, and when is enough enough when it comes to a pattern of bias and bile?

There are strong journalists at Sun Media, and many young journalists getting their start. Jobs are tough to find in this industry, and I'm sure many are disgusted by the antics of Ezra et al. They don't have the luxury of quitting on principle, even if they wanted to. Were I them though, I would be angry not at Trudeau, but at my management for perpetuating a culture that makes it harder for me to do the good work I want to do, and be recognized as the professional I strive to be.

For the antics of the opinion whatever side of the house do reflect on the whole organization. There is no Chinese wall. And the argument "that was the opinion side of the company that called your dead father a slut and insulted your mother" just doesn't fly.   Yes, they have the freedom of speech to say whatever offensive thing they want. But politicians also have the freedom to decline to engage with an organization whose management encourages, and profits, from such behaviour.

It's unfortunate they're caught in the middle, but blaming the offended politician here seems offbase. This is the direct, and probably not unintended, result of the type of channel and image Sun's ownership and management set out to create.

And lest we forget, this isn't just about Ezra, or about one incident. And while the hard news/straight talk line may be clung to now, it has has often been hard to see in the past.

The point is, they've allowed the lines to blur. It's not fair to their journalists, and you can forgive the rest of us from needing a program to tell the players sometimes. But it's the reality.

So while I'm a bit uncomfortable at the blanket ban, I understand the reasoning, and I don't really see a better way. I would not want to support an organization that attacked my family either. They have freedom of speech, but that doesn't mean I have to listen.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Danielle Takacs is the Liberal candidate for Brantford-Brant

It was great to join over 100 Liberals on Thursday evening as my friend Danielle Takacs was nominated as the Liberal Party of Canada candidate in her hometown of Brantford. There was a palpable energy in the room, and a sense that with hope and hard work anything is possible in 2015.

The number of friends and dignitaries on hand was a testament of the commitment and hard work that Danielle has put in with the Liberal Party and in her community over the years. A number of nominated candidates and nomination contestants were on hand, such as Anne Tennier and George Takach. Provincial minister Ted McMeekin spoke on her behalf, as did Cambridge MPP Kathryn McGarry.

McGarry shared an anecdote that really encapsulates Danielle. They were both at a Liberal convention some years back, and McGarry brought along her 14 year old son, a new Liberal at his first event. He was understandably nervous but Danielle immediately took him under his wing. McGarry didn’t see him again until the end of the weekend, in the cheering section with a rambunctious group of Young Liberals. Danielle had introduced him to everyone and made him feel part of the group, and he ended up making life-long friends.

That’s the kind of person Danielle is. Too often we forget how intimidating this all can be for newcomers; how it can seem daunting to get involved. Danielle makes sure no one is excluded; that everyone is welcome. I think that speaks volumes to the kind of representative Danielle will be – she brings people together.

I’ve known Danielle for years but, as I listened to her speech and read her materials, I realized I had no idea just how much she has accomplished already in her life.

One item that immediately jumped out with me was that she graduated from the Brantford Citizen Police Academy – I always knew though she was not to be messed with.

She’s involved in so many groups in Brantford, from the Downtown Brantford Business Performance Grant Committee and the Board of the Sanderson Centre to the Paris-Brant Kiwanis and other charitable groups. She also volunteered with the Brantford International Villages and Cultural Festival and the Brantford Symphony Orchestra.

She has been a journalist and pundit on television and in print, and worked on Parliament Hill for former local Liberal MP Lloyd St. Amand. She’s been a consultant, and currently helps the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association shape its legislative course.

A Liberal in Brant for 17 years, she’s been a volunteer on countless campaigns, helped establish many Liberal youth and women’s clubs, and is currently vice-president federal for the Ontario Women’s Liberal Commission.

And she’s committed. In the dead of winter, in the blowing snow, she canvassed with Nancy Leblanc in Parkdale-High Park to help her sign up Liberal members. That’s the dedication Danielle has for her friends and the Liberal cause, and that’s the dedication Danielle will bring to serving the people of Brantford-Brant.

It’s a challenging riding for the Liberals, but with hard work, anything is possible. And they’ve definitely got the right candidate in Danielle. Watch this riding closely!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Preparing Liberal activists to communicate to win in 2015

This blog is cross-posted from my LPC(O) vice-president, communications web site. Please visit there to learn more about my campaign.

I first considered seeking the position of vice-president, communications of the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) in February during the national biennial in Montreal. I boarded the train home considering the challenges we face as a party, and by the time we pulled into Scarborough it was clear to me what I wanted to accomplish: give our Liberal members, supporters and volunteers across Ontario the training and resources we need to communicate and win in 2015.

There are many responsibilities this role has, and each person that holds the position tends to make it their own. We absolutely need to communicate more intelligently with our members about what the LPC(O) and the party are up to. We need to be more responsive to member queries. We need to coordinate communications across the riding, LPC(O) and LPC levels – there’s only one member/supporter, and we can’t inundate them. And we need to get more tactical about our fundraising asks. I'll have ideas to share around each.

But first and foremost, I want to focus on training and skills enablement. The next election is going to be won on the ground, door by door, conversation by conversation. We need every Liberal ready, willing and able to take our message to voters across the province. We can’t control the air war – Ottawa will design the advertising, and the spokespeople and pundits will take our message to the national media. That’s not what this position is about – the LPC(O) is about the ground game. That’s where I believe we can make a difference.

Particularly in a world where the media market is fragmented, and people are so busy with daily life to pay attention to the national news. It’s harder to get our message out, and Canadians are increasingly distrustful of traditional sources of information anyway. They do, however, trust you, and every Liberal has access to their own very powerful networks. Whether it’s your social network like Facebook or Twitter, or the friends you meet for donuts on weekends or at shinny on Thursday nights.

We need to tap those networks. Not with canned talking points or suggested tweets; they know you better than that. We need to help you craft your own message, about why you’re supporting Justin Trudeau and the Liberal team, about how a Liberal government can make a meaningful difference in their lives. We need to make sure you have a) the policy background and party positions you need on the issues you care about, and b) the training and tools to craft your own message and bring it to your own networks.

How do we get there? I have five points I’d like to start with.

  1. A communications training track at every LPC(O) biennial, executive board and regional day. We Liberals get together a lot, and any time we’re not taking advantage of these opportunities for hands-on training is a missed opportunity. I want to ensure each of these meetings has a communications breakout track. I’ll develop a curriculum with beginner and advanced sessions so attendees can develop their skills, and leverage the great communications talent in our party by bringing in experts to teach them.
  2. Regular training sessions for Liberals via Google Hangouts on key communications issues, from social media tips and digital campaigning to media training and best practices for communicating to members. Attending all those Liberal meetings can be expensive and involve a lot of travel, and that should never be a barrier to participation. I will ensure these communications courses are available online, utilizing technology such as Google Hangouts, and will also bring in regular guest speakers on communications best practices so Liberals across Ontario can participate.
  3. More templates for riding newsletters, press releases and event invites drawing on what other ridings have done successfully. We have so many ridings that are doing so many things right. Some have amazing e-newsletters. Some do a great job with their community papers, or getting people out to events. They’ve honed and perfected their techniques, and discovered what works really well. And others are just getting started, and need some help. We need to share more of that across ridings. I want to create a central repository where we can not only access templates, but ridings can share what has worked for them. Let’s take what works and replicate it across the province.
  4. A communications track in the LPC(O) mentorship program to connect seasoned communications veterans with newcomers taking on the communications role in their communities. There is so much institutional knowledge in this party – we need to leverage it. I want to build on our LPC(O) mentorship program with a communications track. Under Justin Trudeau, so many new members and supporters have come into the party eager to help, and they don’t know where to start. Let’s connect them with mentors and build our communications capacity.
  5. Increase the frequency of the LPC(O) newsletter to monthly, and exploring a redesign of the web site. We need to get better as an organization at communicating with our members. Making the LPC(O) newsletter monthly would be a start, with reports from all our board members on their activities. I’ll look at how we can make our web site more responsive and useful to our membership. And, while some things will always need to be confidential, I will commit to providing as much information as possible on the discussions and activities of the executive board.
I know I’m proposing a busy agenda, but I’ve never been one to collect titles. I want results. We have lots of hope; now is the time for hard work. If we want to see a new government in 2015, one that believes in bringing Canadians together, one that believes government can be a force for good, then we each need to make that goal our personal responsibility.

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