Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why I’m supporting Braeden Caley and James Morton for Liberal Party executive

I’m not under the impression whom I’m supporting at this weekend’s Liberal convention means anything besides the vote I get to cast as a delegate. After all, I’m just a humble, honorific-lacking blogger. For what it’s worth though, I’ve been taking my personal decisions about whom to support seriously. I believe these executive elections are as important, if not more so, than the constitutional amendments on the table because these people will have so much power to shape the direction we take in this reform process.

I hope every delegate will take the time to review the web sites and materials of all the candidates, listen to their speeches, corner them in their hospitality suites, and ensure they make informed choices when they cast their ballots.

I’ve already spoken about why I’m supporting Mike Crawley for president and Kyle Harrietha for membership secretary (more on Kyle’s very detailed platform later), and today I’d like to talk about two more positions: policy chair and vice-president English.

Policy chair

I’ve long held the feeling that, while policy doesn’t matter in the Liberal Party because the system is seriously broken (the leadership puts whatever they want in the platform and ignore what the members pass), that has to change because policy is the top reason most people join a political party and, if they feel like they can’t make a difference in policy, they’ll leave. (Well, the other reason they join is jobs and contracts, but we're in 3rd place so they've all left already so we'd better get policy right...) With a large field of interesting candidates vying for the policy chair this year, it may be a hopeful signal, along with some of the policy-related reforms, that we’re ready to take policy seriously for a change.

One candidate with a very impressive resume is Paul Summerville. He has researched and written about policy issues in depth brings some interesting background to the position. I had a conversation with him at the Edward Blake Society event in Toronto in November, and he is clearly very passionate about policy development. As a newcomer to the Liberal Party though (recently from the NDP), I’m concerned that he doesn’t have a strong sense of what’s broken about our policy process. He described a process he would like to build that was well thought-out, bringing in subject matter experts from outside the party into the process and creating work groups to develop new policy. Interesting, but as I understood it would be parallel to the existing, flawed policy process we have today. And, at the end of the think-tanking, it would still be up to the leadership/platform committee to accept or reject the policy developed. That’s the major flaw of the current system – adoption into the platform must be mandatory, not optional – and I don’t think having two flawed policy processes is better than one. I’m glad to see that later he came to better see that point, and now supports ending the leader’s veto over policy. He seemed lukewarm in November. That’s an important first step, but we must go further. 

I can’t claim to be familiar with how the policy process has worked at the PTA level in Ontario. I blame that on living in a riding that has one of those closed EDAs we’ve been talking about, and unfortunately being on the outside looking in. But from everyone I’ve spoken to in Ontario, Maryanne Kampouris has done a fantastic job as the LPC(O) policy chair. I voted for her when she ran for national policy chair at the last convention. I believe she’s genuinely committed to grassroots policy engagement.

Zach Pakin has brought a great deal of passion and energy to this race, and he has garnered an impressive list of endorsements from some very impressive individuals, not to mention a good deal of media attention. I was unable, though, to get a sense of the real substantive, specific changes Zach would like to bring to the policy process to make it more relevant and inclusive.

Some of the policy candidates offer experience and some offer youth, but I feel that only Braeden Caley offers a combination of both. I first heard Braeden’s name back in 2006, when because of Young Liberal shenanigans in BC (a phenomenon I was rather familiar with) Braeden’s run for the UBC YL executive was nearly derailed. He would persevere, and I’d later get a chance to work with him during the 2008 election campaign in BC, when he was a youth co-chair and I got to see first-hand his tireless dedication to the Liberal cause. He’s played key roles on riding-level campaigns, on leadership campaigns and on the Young Liberal national executive. Plus as a staffer he got one of my favourite Liberals, Ujjal Dosanjh, onto Twitter.

Even though he’s just 24, Braeden has been involved at every level of the party, and he’s fought for it in the trenches. And speaking with him, he recognizes both the importance of policy development to attracting and retaining members, and the need to fix the current policy process. He recognizes that an online policy sandbox can’t be a replacement for in-person, face-to-face policy workshops. Social media must be harnessed as a supplement, not a replacement. He recognizes the need to create a vibrant, inclusive policy process that leads into the platform we’ll all fight for in the next campaign.

I think we need a youthful perspective on the next board, and Braeden brings that perspective, tempered with the experience of knowing what works, and what doesn’t, on the ground. That’s why he has my support for policy chair.

Vice-president, English

There are three candidates for VP English. I think I’ve received an e-mail from Philip Chisholm, but I know nothing about him beyond his biography. I’ve gotten an e-mail from Chris MacInnes and he actually robo-called me as I wrote this post Tuesday night, and he seems to have agood breadth of experience as well as some East Coast flavor, which is never a bad thing. I don’t know much else about him except that he went to Carleton. But as I did as well, I’m not inclined to hold that against him.

I do know the third candidate, James Morton, rather well, as he’s been a very active Toronto-area Liberal for some years, including as riding president in Thornhill. I know James first as a fellow blogger. His blog. Morton’s Musings, has been active for a number of years now on Liblogs and Progressive Bloggers. It’d be an asset (as recent experience shows) to have someone on the board who understands social media and citizen journalism, and I’m hopeful James would continue to use his blog to facilitate dialogue with both members and voters alike should he be elected.

But he’s not just a fellow lowly blogger. As deputy chair of the council of presidents he worked with Liberal riding presidents across the country That gives him important perspective of the challenges faced by Liberals across Canada, not to mention some ideas on how the council of presidents can be made a more relevant, effective body. He also ran for the Liberals in Oshawa in the last election, working hard to run a strong campaign in a challenging riding and helping the local EDA get back on its feet, planting the seeds for future success. I have a lot of respect for anyone willing to do the hard slogging on the ground in uphill battles.

I disagree with James on some issues. We disagree on the primary model for leadership election, for example. But we agree on many others, such as the importance of predictive voter modeling, and I think his idea for a National Liberal Talent is a great simple idea that’s easy to implement and is very much needed. 

But more important than specific policies, I believe James is a person who is committed to consultation and engagement and recognizes the importance of communicating with members and so I trust, wherever he ends up on an issue, even if we disagree, it will have been a transparent process and he will have arrived there honestly. And that’s all I can really ask for. That’s why I’ll be voting for James as VP English this weekend.

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Nancy Leblanc said...

Hi Jeff,

Just a clarification to offer here on your point that Paul Summerville's working group proposal would be "parallel" to the existing process. Here is Paul's proposal (from which shows that the working groups are intended to improve upon the existing flawed process and enhance it, not work outside the existing process in some kind of parallel system. It is intended to get world class policy by ramping up and supplementing the party's policy capabilities in coming years:

"Establish working groups moderated by policy chairs and populated by members, elected representatives and caucus advocates around each nationally prioritized resolution with a view to honing, advocating and communicating policy directions and positions between elections.

These working groups offer a variety of advantages including:

Providing a vehicle for our constant Canadian conversation
A mechanism to report back to members about the progress of the resolution posted on a regular basis on
Give resource stretched caucus members access to a mini think-tank specific to their file
Give riding associations, commissions, and student clubs a powerful vehicle to connect with their communities leading with our policy priorities
Provide the Party with a tool to reach out to advocacy groups in the same policy area, and
Turn caucus members from gatekeepers into advocates for member driven policy."

As a supporter of Paul, if there's one thing I've seen during this campaign, it is that he is fully aware of how members have been lost in the policy process. He has heard it repeatedly across the country. This is why he has demonstrated leadership during the campaign on behalf of members and has proposed concrete solutions to deal with the problem such as removing the leader's veto over policy.

Paul has been a Liberal since 2006. Longer than me in fact! Just thought I'd point that out given your references to his NDP run. It's a great story for the party and could be a good one coming out of this weekend, if he is fortunate enough to obtain the votes of enough delegates. But let's have a great weekend and fun policy chair race.


Jeff said...

Hi Nancy,

I was just repeating what Paul sketched-out for me in November, but it's possible I misunderstood so I welcome the clarification. So if I understand you correctly, his proposal would he on top of the current process, kicking-in after policy is adopted at biennial?

On the NDP thing, I'm not keen to delve too far down that road. I'll just note the article I linked to in that graph was from last March.

Anyway, looking forward to the weekend!

Nancy Leblanc said...

"...his proposal would he on top of the current process, kicking-in after policy is adopted at biennial?"

You could use "on top of" if you like. I think the better way to look at the groups is as I said, as enhancing the existing process, which most agree needs much work and better resources. I note that Mike Crawley speaks of opening up the process in a similar manner as Paul has, by the way (see his platform, p.8: "put out a loud call to our members, NGO leaders, business executives, entrepreneurs, academics, students, community activists, think tanks and any passionate Canadian to propose their big idea for Canada. We will create forums online and face to face for these ideas to be presented, discussed and improved.").

My point of clarification was to emphasize that Paul in no way intends to dilute the role of members in this process. Which is what your use of the word "parallel" suggested to me. We can surely better resource the policy process without diluting the role of members.

Look forward to seeing you this weekend.