Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Meeting the LPC presidential candidates, and why I like Mike

The Edward Blake Society, a group of Toronto-area no longer young except at heart Liberal professionals, hosted four of the five candidates for the Liberal Party of Canada presidency on Monday in Toronto (Charles Ward couldn’t make it) and around 100 Liberals packed the Pauper’s Pub to hear what they had to say.

I didn’t take any notes so I’m going on recollection; blogging compadre BigCityLib also shared his thoughts yesterday. I thought it was a great event, and it helped me make my decision on whom I’ll be supporting in this race, which I believe is an important part (although just one part) of our rebuilding process.

I liked some of the things that each candidate had to say, and disagreed with some things as well. For reference, earlier I wrote on what I’m looking to see in our party’s next president.

Ron Hartling

As a big believer in making riding associations the key focus and vehicle for re-building the party and reconnecting with the community, I like the example of what Ron helped to do in Kingston and his plans for helping riding associations across Canada replicate that process.

Ron wasn’t the most polished speaker on offer but I’m fine with that; it’s not what I’m looking for from a party president and it’s not their job. But as much as I like his plans for riding associations, I didn’t sense he has as strong a grasp on how to manage/what needs to change at the central party level. We need a little more balance.

Sheila Copps

I liked what she had to say about multiculturalism, how the Liberal Party has taken ethnic communities for granted and how that needs to change. That definitely needs to be a priority for the party, although I think that’s something that would be led more out of the leader’s office. And that encapsulates my biggest concern with Sheila: I’m not sure she’s clear on which job she’s running for. I think she sees herself being a very high-profile spokesperson for the Liberal cause and for policy issues. That’s more the job of leader and caucus. The party presidency is an organizational role, behind the scenes working with members to reform and restructure the party and ensure it’s ready organizationally to fight and win an election.

I think we have different ideas of what the job is meant to be. I also think she’s too polarizing a figure, unfair as that may be, for a party moving forward. In her speech, her references to leadership coronations and unfair nominations couldn’t help but bring to mind her own biography. I also find her apparent stumping for a non-existent Bob Rae leadership campaign frustrating and unhelpful.

Alexandra Mendes

Alexandra spoke well and she provided the ying to Ron’s yang when she noted planning at the riding level isn’t everything; as a former MP in Quebec her own seat was wiped-out this spring in the NDP’s unplanned orange wave. She wants to make attracting more female candidates to the party a priority and I agree with that; I think the massive number of unheld seats presents a massive opportunity new candidates of all sorts.

In addition to her experience not just as an MP but also as a former riding association executive, I like her private sector experience in the non-profit sector and what she had to say about team-work really struck home with me. As much as I want to know about the candidates' ideas, much more important for me is what kind of manager and team-builder they’ll be. The next president is going to have a lot of cats to herd, and change management skills will be key. As important as the end result is, how we get there is as important if we want to stay united and grow as a party. I sense Alexandra recognizes this, which is critical.

Mike Crawley

In my “what I’m looking for” post I mentioned the need for enough insider knowledge to know what works and what doesn’t without being captured by the system; it’s a fine line but I think Mike’s experience with the federal party’s Ontario wing may offer that balance.

I liked what he had to say about embracing big ideas. I debated this with BigCityLib, and I don’t think big ideas and pragmatism are mutually exclusive. When I say big ideas, I’m not saying latch onto politically-popular gimmicks. Just the opposite. I’m saying stop playing it safe. Take the bold position and defend it; take the position that’s right, even if it may be unpopular or difficult. Say what needs to be said. I don’t know what all these ideas will be, and that’s fine. They should percolate up organically from discussion in the party and in the community. But let’s keep our infamous pragmatism while taking advantage of this third-place status to become the risk-takers that do what needs to be done, popular or not. Let’s become the party of ideas again. I’ve digressed, but point I agree with Mike on embracing big ideas.

I also liked what Mike had to say about getting more people involved in the party and opening up riding associations. If we have one area of disagreement, it’s that I sense he isn’t open to re-considering the need for commissions and PTAs as part of our structure going forward. He didn’t say this in as many words, mind you, but certainly his background as a PTA president informs his views there. I’m not saying we should shed PTAs and commissions, mind you, but I think everything should be on the table as we consider what is the best way to deliver value with the resources we have.

I did, however, like some of his thoughts on making commissions more effective. He spoke about tasking the womens’ commission with recruiting more female candidates, looking into why more women don’t seek nominations, and fundraising not just to support nomination female candidates, but female candidates seeking nominations as well. I think that’s a key part of the puzzle to seeing more strong, quality female candidates elected in winnable ridings.

My pick for party president

I went into the evening trying to decide between Alexandra and Mike, and while I like Alexandra and think she would make an excellent president, in the end I’ve decided to support Mike. I think he knows what the job is and what needs to be done, and I think he has the experience and the background to make it happen. I’ll be voting for him at the convention in January, and if you’ll be a delegate I encourage you to do the same.

I’ll end though by saying that the success or the failure of the party and the rebuilding process doesn’t rest with the party president or even the leader. It rests with each of us; it rests with every member. Too often in our party we look for messiahs; we idolize them when they succeed and crucify them when they fail. That needs to change. We must each take personal responsibility for both success and failure. It’s the only way.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers

No comments: