Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Liberal Party of Canada presidential candidate interview: Anna Gainey

From February 20-23, federal Liberals will gather in Montreal, and one of their tasks will be to elect a new national executive. Last week, I published interviews with some of the table officer candidates. This week, I finish with the candidates for party president.

Two contested elections will be held for national board positions at the Montreal biennial – national membership secretary, and party president. The two candidates seeking the office of president – Brian Rice from Vancouver and Anna Gainey from Montreal -- both offer impressive ideas and distinct visions of how they see the role, and what they’d like to do in the position.

I recently spoke with Anna Gainey about her campaign, the challenges facing the party and the role she sees the president playing in meeting those challenges. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. My interview with Brian Rice ran yesterday.

How do you define the role of national president?

First and foremost, the role pf the party president is to represent the membership at senior levels of the party. For the next two years we’ll be focused on election readiness going into a campaign, so a lot of the interactions at the senior levels of the party will be with the national election readiness committee and the party to make sure we’re prepared.

Why would you like to be national president?

I’ve been involved with party for a long time. Most recently I was involved with Justin’s (Trudeau) leadership team. When I understood that Mike (Crawley) wasn’t going to be running again it gave me a moment to consider if that would be a good time to expand my commitment and involvement, and after some reflection over the summer I decided it would be. We had a lot of momentum and a great organization built around Justin’s leadership campaign and I had the opportunity to build on that momentum and bring those people into this organization and build towards winning in 2015.

What’s your first priority should you get the job?

My platform has some overarching themes, and four broader categories of where I see our priorities. I put forward some specific ideas under those. But they’re just that – suggestions. It will be up to a broad group to look at that, to do some feasibility studies and decide how we prioritize and move forward as a team. I don’t see the president as someone there to drive personal priorities. I want this to be a collaborative effort. I want to put forward some ideas on what I believe people see, but we will need to come together to see what resources we have. It needs to be a product of collaboration with the team.

How do you propose to put the ridings at more of the centre of the party?

I think one of the biggest challenges I hear from people, and I’ve experienced this myself as a riding president, is we could do a better job communicating and coordinating through all levels of the party. We could improve our cohesiveness. Sometimes there’s just a lack of clarity. When you become a riding president, where do you go to learn what that job means?

We need to clarify the lines of communication to make sure information is available to volunteers, and they know where to get it. If we can be better coordinated and improve our communications, that’s going to help our volunteers do better, and find a niche where they can contribute and get the training and resources to do that role, whether its canvassing of setting up an EDA (electoral district association).

It will be different from riding to riding, depending on the health of the riding, whether it’s urban or suburban. Every riding has its own needs, and it’s up to the party to listen to what those needs are and ensure the people on the ground prepared to do the work have access to the tools they need.

(My blogging colleague Scott Tribe recently wrote about the frequency of party fundraising emails and hadn’t received a reply from the Gainey campaign by his deadline, so I asked the following question.)

How can the party better coordinate fundraising efforts so members and supporters receive less pitch e-mails, and nomination candidates, riding associations and PTAs as well as the national level all have room to raise for their respective needs?

To me it goes back to preparation and election readiness, and the room for improvement communicating through different levels of the party. As a riding president, I’ve had the experience of planning an event only to have it bumped by something at another level of the party. I can also relate to the frustration of repeated asks.

I think there’s technology and analytics we can use so we can be targeted with our asks and be more surgical, and we’re not hitting the same people over and over again with the same message. That’s something we need to improve on.

When it comes to different levels of the party not making it difficult to raise the money needed for the campaign, that’s going to come through awareness of what’s going on on the ground and the national party trying to be sensitive to the efforts of volunteers working to support their local candidates. That’s an area where the national president can be helpful. I intend to be accessible to help through those situations as they arise.

It won’t be perfect all the time, but I think if we have people committed to solving problems through dialogue and communication it will go a long way to smoothing out potential hiccups.

 (Other party office interviews)

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