Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A conversation with YLC presidential candidate John Lennard

Yesterday I had a conversation with John Lennard about his campaign for the Young Liberals of Canada presidency and to get his thoughts on some of the issues facing both the youth wing and the party as a whole.

I've known John for a few years now, first meeting him on the campaign trail during the last leadership race, when he was supporting Bob Rae and I was supporting a long-shot by the name of Stephane Dion, and I enjoyed his blogging as well. He's a dedicated and passionate young Liberal.

I was typing notes so these won't be exact quotes, but rather a paraphrasing of his comments.

Also, I have reached-out to the campaign of the other YLC presidential candidate, Sam Lavoie, to offer the opportunity for a similar interview if he's interested.

Jeff: I read at Scott Tribe's blog about your decision to support One Member, One Vote (OMOV) and oppose the YLC amendment for a quota for youth, so I don't want to focus on that too much. But what would you say to those that say the youth influence needs to be protected under OMOV?

John: Under the delegate system only two to five per cent of Young Liberals get to become delegates. The beauty of OMOV is every member has their voices head. I think that's important to understand and maintain. The beauty of Liberalism is every single individual gets to have an opinion and a vote. I think that's an important democratic principle to uphold, and that's why I support OMOV. Young or old, black or white, everyone would get to have a vote.

(As for protecting the youth influence) I don't accept the premise of that. We can always make sure we have a strong voice in the party and that starts with recruitment. We should go out and recruit and say this is a party that listens to youth and gives you a voice. That appeals to young people more than anything else. I don't think we should be appealing to youth with a brawn mentality, but rather to their brains, and to what they want to achieve.

Jeff: What do you say to those that worry OMOV with no quota for youth will lead to the same for the policy development process?

John: At this time I'm in favour of continuing with the idea of policy conventions, it makes sense at this time. I haven't seen anything from the party what would change that at this point. We saw something briefly happen with En Famille but I'm not sure it worked that well. A few people seemed to dominate the process, and that's not what we want. It's important to maintain a broad policy process that will lead to a policy convention where people can have their say, and where Young Liberals can maintain the representation at convention we've always had.

We should be looking to engage more people in the policy process. If it means looking at ways to do online voting we need to start looking at that. And we need to engage outside people as well. Trade associations, campus groups. I think Young Liberals can take the lead in something like this, organizing policy conferences with people from broad and diverse backgrounds.

Jeff: The YLC pulls from ages 14-25, but the bulk of the activity seems to be around the college and university demographic. While there's obviously challenges around recruiting in high schools, how can you make the YLC more relevant to that 14-19 group, which is half of your age range? Also, is 25 too old for a cutoff?

John: The YLs represent all members, age 14-25. I see in that very broad groups of young people. High school we need to do better, university and college we do well there but we could do better, we need more active campus clubs across the country. And finally, 22-25, when people start to become young professionals and graduate from college.

High school is a difficult situation. We can't go into a high school like we can a university, there's rules around political discourse and involvement. We've got to respect that, but there's nothing stopping us from touching base with student council presidents and saying we'd like you to get involved, maybe put together a group of area student council members and use them as sounding board for ideas and to get people involved.

It's identifying what's really important to each group of Young Liberals. As a young professional, at this point in my life, it's the opportunity for networking, whether its finding a job or a summer position or meeting people in more professional positions, that would be interesting to me. We've seen movement toward starting a group of young professional Liberals in Ontario, and I think that's an initiative the YLC should be promoting. We need to engage these people as well.

The diversity of the YLC needs to be promoted. We need to make events more inclusive for all ages. Not every event will be appropriate for all, but I do think it's important to maintain that respect for their different issues.

Jeff: We've touched on some youth-specific issues, but the YLC president also sits on the national executive and has a voice and a say on a lot of the renewal decisions facing the LPC. What are your thoughts on some of the wide party reform issues, and particularly the push-pull between the centre and the PTAs?

John: I'd like to see most of the administration tasks centralized in Ottawa. I think that makes sense. We spend $3 million on maintaining PTA offices and most of that is duplication of stuff we could be doing in Ottawa.

But when it comes to outreach and field staff it's essential to have offices in each province and territory across the country, so people have a connection to the party. In Alberta, the party office is the only face of the Liberal Party in the province. We have no MPs, so there's no Liberal MP offices. You need to go to Edmonton. So having that very basic connection to the party in every province makes sense, it's important for the unity of the party.

I mentioned the policy development process and that's very important to me, we need to engage more people.

Fundraising is something we need to start doing more of. I'd like to see an initiative where the Young Liberals take the lead on fundraising, and every dollar a Young Liberal can raise is matched by the party itself so we automatically double our fundraising. It would increase our outreach activities and allow us to bring new people into the party.

I'd like to see more of a focus on accountability within the party in general. I'm concerned when I hear about decisions being made behind closed doors to change things that should be done in public.

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Oxford County Liberals said...

I've said today that I let it be known publicly and privately yesterday afternoon to someone who I believe is supporting Sam who asked me if I'd be doing a Sam Lavoe interview as well, that all Sam or his handlers had to do was contact me, and I'd be more then willing to submit interview questions to him.. Some would be the same as John got, but some would be changed because they were specific questions aimed at John and would not have really fit in asking Sam.

As I said today, I'm still waiting on a reply or a response... if you'd be so kind to let me know if Sam's camp contacts you back, Jeff.. I'd appreciate that.

Mike said...

Scott: If you are interested you could e-mail him as well, but yes Jeff I would also be curious if Sam or his handlers get back to your e-mail.

This is a great interview, props to you Jeff for reaching out to both candidates to get this.

John would clearly make a great YLC President as I've said before. He has some great ideas for moving forward and I'm sure the YLC will in fact double it's membership under his leadership (but as I said that would nowhere near bring them towards 25% of the membership as other groups will increase faster).

Though I would respectfully disagree with him on one point and would like to bring something new to your attention Jeff.

What do you say to those that worry OMOV with no quota for youth will lead to the same for the policy development process?

At this time I'm in favour of continuing with the idea of policy conventions, it makes sense at this time. I haven't seen anything from the party what would change that at this point.Well if John hasn't seen anything from the party to indicate this then he hasn't been looking hard enough.

I've cited some here before:
Joan Bourassa (who seems VERY likely to be re-elected as VP with the support she's amassed so it's not merely a hypothetical) says right on her campaign website that she very much wants to use En Famille for binding votes and would use OMOV passing at convention as a justification for doing that. There's no mention of quotas, let along even the word youth, anywhere on her website. And she is the clear front-runner that can't be denied.

Carolyn Bennett who heads the Change Commission has said EXACTLY the same thing - she wants OMOV for policy, no mention of quotas (I can provide the link to the quote in the Hill Times article if you want). OMOV passing without the YLC amendment will give them the precedent to move forward. OMOV WITH the YLC amendment would ensure the quota remained for policy. It's not difficult logic.

So it's simply being in denial to say "I haven't seen anything that would indicate OMOV for leadership would lead to OMOV for policy"I guess it would be good to hear from John whether if we do move to OMOV for policy whether he would support a youth quota then or not since it's not a hypothetical it's clearly on the table and no doubt the Change Commission will recommend it.

The other thing I'd like to bring to your attention is that a member of the Aboriginal People's Commission has come out against OMOV because he feels it is going to weaken the voices of Aboriginals. This is what I was saying all along.

Saying Aboriginals don't need a "booster seat" simply isn't fair they are FAR more disadvantaged than are youth as a whole and it is MUCH harder to recruit them. I think the argument is actually far stronger for a quota for Aboriginals than for youth (though I would support both, including one for women as I've said before).

So Jeff I have one question for you: If OMOV passes this time at the 2011 convention would you support a quota for Aboriginals (say 5 points out of 100 reserved fro them) if it's on the table? Why or why not? I wouldn't mind hearing from John, Scott Tribe and Jim Curran on that too since it's actually not a hypothetical at all it's an extremely real possibility.

The APC didn't submit a single constitutional proposal for this convention which tells me they didn't have a chance to meet about it. Hopefully that will be different for 2011 and I'm curious to what your view is on this. Part of the reason I actually want the youth amendment to pass is because I believe it would provide good reason to give a quota to Aboriginals as well and 2011 is still be well in advance of the next leadership race.

Note to Scott/Curran: If you are going to reply I'd like to hear your thoughts on the Aboriginal issue, their views I don't think should be dismissed so easily. If Aboriginals vote en masse against OMOV what would be your reaction?

Jeff said...

Well if John hasn't seen anything from the party to indicate this then he hasn't been looking hard enough. This may have been a mistake in my paaphrasing, he may have been saying he's seen no proposals coming he'd support.

I'd add though that any major changes to the policy process would rrequire constitutional change, putting it at least two years away. Particularly if the YLC ammendment on requiring policy workshops at convention passes.

Re: Bourassa, i queried her at En Famille on that comment on her Web site, which I submitted was unconstitutional. She admitted that's correct, it can't be binding, blah blah. The fact is, the constitution doesn't allow it, and there's no motion to ammend that on the table.

Back to John, I may have cut this out but he did indicate that in whatever new policy process may be devised in the future, he will push for the continuance of youth weighting.

As for Carolyn, she can want whatever she wants. She's one voice. The debate hads barely begun, and people won't be lining up on the same sides as they did on the leadership OMOV question because, even if the arguments are the same for you, for others they aren't.

As for the APC, as I've said before were they to put forward a proposal I'd consider it on its merits. Until then, it's a hypothetical. And on the youth one, I'd be more open to considering a quota that is representative of their % of the population. 25% is double that. I don't support massive overweighting for any group under OMOV. But a number representative to population, to ensure the voice is heard, would be a somewhat more reasonable agument to me, and to many.

Oxford County Liberals said...

All I'll add to what Jeff said is that if Sam wants an interview, He knows how to get ahold of me.

He needs to show some interest. I'm not going to go begging to him to have one.

Unknown said...

An excellent handling of the OMOV-Youth Quota question, and John is dead right--we can't undercut our legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the party by demanding special treatment. If the youth want to be heard as equals we must be prepared to act as such. Also, John's plans for recruitment show a clear and direct answer to how we must remedy our dwindling numbers.

Brennan R.