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Monday, May 29, 2006

Blogging from the BlackBerry

Just wanted to see if this "blogging by BlackBerry" stuff works... If so, expect this to be an ongoing thing.
John Lennard

Friday, May 26, 2006

A prominent supporter?

Just checked out Bob Rae's leadership website...Listed on his "Supporters" page, along with such prominent Liberals as former Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, former LPC National Director Sheila Gervais, Senator Mobina Jaffer, pianist Oscar Peterson and famed constitutional lawyer Ronald Caza, is none other than yours truly, John Lennard. Check it out for yourself...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bob Rae youth event

Quick post tonight...

I just came back from a Bob Rae youth event. Held at the Bar Italia up on College Street, the meet-and-greet was well attended, with over seventy curious Young Liberals showing up to hear the man speak. No doubt, many of them went in supporting other candidates. Representatives from the Ignatieff and Kennedy camps were present, and I'm pleased to say they were very courteous and respectful. At the end of the day, we're all on the same team. I'm glad everyone seems to recognize that.

Bob showed up at around 6:30. He took a few minutes to mingle with the crowd before delivering a barn-burner of a speech (at least in my slightly biased opinion). Addressing his audience without notes, the former Premier spoke about how young people, in particular, are important in shaping Canada's position both at home and abroad. In addressing numerous issues, from Kelowna to Kyoto, from creating economic prosperity to maintaining peace in the world, Bob clearly demonstrated the depth and breadth of his public policy knowledge. An interesting point: He noted that he would not have supported Harper's motion on the Afghanistan mission. As described by Cherniak here, the motion was nothing more than a meaningless partisan sham whose passage raises a lot of questions, given the lack of details provided and the uncertainty surrounding mission's new meaning. Bob noted that as Liberals, we must be courageous enough to stand up to Harper and call him on these games. If we give in, we lose: it's that simple.

As I said, I may be biased, but I truly think many attendees, including those who are supporting other candidates, were impressed by his answers. I was told by several people that Bob is now their second choice. This, of course, is subjective. Still, it gives me a lot of hope. We are slowly (but surely) making inroads into the Young Liberal crowd. A tough crowd to win over, since many of them are already committed to other contenders. But things are clearly starting to move...

I left the event tonight feeling more comfortable than ever with my choice for Liberal leader. I honestly have no doubt about the man's abilities to get the job done. He can beat Harper. His passion for Canada is so obvious; his vision so convincing. Yes, he has a lot of "baggage." (How could I forget? People keep on reminding me, even tonight!) But to quote my colleague Greg McGillis (who's coordinating Bob's Eastern Ontario campaign), this "baggage" is really "luggage". Like Greg, I like Bob Rae's luggage, because it shows he has experience. It shows he's been somewhere. More importantly, it shows he knows where he is going. After all, isn't that what we're looking for in a leader?

Monday, May 15, 2006

NOW Magazine: Bob Rae is Layton's worst nightmare

An interesting article from NOW Magazine...Pay particular attention to its (very) accurate description of the LPCO weekend activities. =============================================================

Call me Mr. Flexible
Lib Bob Rae's pitch to switch is Jack Layton's worst nightmare

At the first chance for Ontario Liberals to see their federal leadership candidates up close, Bob Rae is a curious presence on the crowded stage at the Sheraton Centre. The silver-haired former preem is as much a conundrum for the party he's joined as for the one he's left behind.

Certainly, he more than holds his own before the 1,000-plus Libs in attendance at last weekend's policy convention, the room absolutely silent as a skeptical but intrigued audience strains to get a sense of the political interloper presumptuously asking to be their leader.

As NDPers know well, Rae is at his best striking a moral pose. That's what he's doing tonight, decrying the Harper government's outrageous cancellation of the Kelowna Accord on native self-government, reached between all 10 provinces and the former federal regime. A "travesty and a disgrace," Rae pronounces, adding that "when the Crown makes a promise, the Crown ought to keep its promise." The crowd offers approval in the form of the evening's loudest applause.

Though these are early days in a campaign that culminates in a December convention in Montreal, there are glimpses this weekend of possible scenarios favourable to Rae.

For example, Gerard Kennedy turns in a surprisingly flat performance. The former Grit minister of education unwisely accentuates his negatives in his speech, referring to his imperfect French and his lack of a university education. It already looks like Kennedy will have difficulty being the vehicle for progressive Liberals he was in the provincial party leadership race a decade ago.

There's also the unexpectedly strong showing by the only Quebec candidate, Stéphane Dion, who plays on his substantive record as the cabinet minister dealing with enviro and constitutional issues. The Chretien loyalist will later this night spend 45 minutes in the Rae hospitality suite, a sign of the rapport between the two and an indication of where Dion could send his delegates if he fails to make it to the final ballot.

But as off-putting as the prospect of a former NDP premier leading their party is for Liberals, for the party of Jack Layton it could be an out-and-out nightmare. If strategic voting was a political millstone in past campaigns for the federal NDP, Rae at the Liberal helm could force social dems to fight for their very existence.

How does a man who broke new ground for the NDP feel about inflicting collateral damage on the party to which he devoted 20 years of his life? That's what I want to find out as I head on Saturday afternoon to a suite on the 34th floor of the hotel.

As we take our seats, Rae's handlers disappear and he helps himself to a pear on the side table. The leadership contender who's going out of his way to strike a casual pose – "Call me Bob,'' his website invites – is a man transformed since the last time I met him on his gloomy campaign bus days before Mike Harris toppled his government. That recollection appears to bring his innate wariness back to the surface. "Do you have an axe to grind?'' he asks.

No, I assure him. I just want to see how this story turns out. So do many of his friends, it seems.

He tells me many NDP acquaintances are keeping an open mind as they await the fate of what he originally thought was a "long-shot" campaign. He calls his quest for the Liberal prize "outside-the-box thinking," and reminds me this isn't the first time he has embarked on such a gambit.

In 1985, when the Ontario Tories came up short in seats, "there was a lot of resistance" in the NDP to the accord with the Liberals that freed Ontario of the Tory yoke it had endured for more than 40 years.

A similar opportunity came up after Harris's first term, he says. He approached fellow NDPers about working out an arrangement with the Liberals, "a loose something in which both parties would obtain their identity" and where the two parties would figure out who had the best chance to defeat the Tory in each riding.

"I would raise this in conversation with people. I found a complete brick wall in the NDP. It was something they were not prepared to contemplate."

In the world according to Rae, we are at another important juncture. Stephen Harper's Tories are posing a threat to the national consensus. But the NDP still sees no difference between the two "mainline" parties, as the father of medicare, Tommy Douglas, called them – a ridiculous assertion, Rae says, that has become part of NDP mythology.

Have his values changed? "I still see myself strongly as a person who believes in the power of the public good, in the pubic interest, in public investment." He wouldn't call himself a social democrat, though. "You don't want adjectives getting in the way of what you're trying to say."

The NDP, he says, "is a very conservative party, and the likelihood of it changing is much less than the likelihood of the Liberals being open to change. The flexibility of the Liberal party, which has long been the subject of jokes, is a real advantage. It's deeply imbued with a sense of pragmatism that allows it to embrace change."

And the NDP does not have a monopoly on union support. A substantial number of unionists – notably teachers and workers in the building trades – are active in the Liberal party, he says.

So would he try to build on that, I ask, by supporting changes in federal labour law to make it easier to organize workers in the new areas of the knowledge economy, whose importance he has talked about so much this weekend?

He shifts in his leather chair. "I'd really like to talk to people about that," he says in a strained tone that suggests otherwise. "I don't have a fixed view. It's a question of looking at what's doable, of how much interest there is."

Perhaps there's a limit to his flexibility in his new political home.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

My journey to Bob Rae

Ok, so I should have made this post earlier this week, as promised. But as you can imagine, my first week in Toronto has been extremely busy. I hope you understand...

Many of my friends have asked me, sometimes incredulously, about my reasons for endorsing Bob Rae for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. I keep on hearing the same arguments: He spent his entire life attacking the Liberal Party. Ontario Liberals have fought against him for years. He was a disaster as Premier. Unelectable in Ontario. Only joined the party a month ago. Not dedicated to our "values". An opportunist. A throwback to the past. An old man, involved in the old fights over the old issues. Baggage, baggage, baggage.

So why Bob Rae? Here's the story.

The first leadership contender to contact me was Scott Brison. He called me on my cell phone back in early March. We spoke for about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes. Our conversation dealt with everything from engaging youth in politics to rural issues, from regional economic development in Northern Ontario to being a gay public figure. I was very impressed with his answers. I also had the chance to ask him a few questions in French. While his French was relatively weak (especially his vocabulary and verb conjugation), I could tell he had improved markedly over what I had seen in the past. Notwithstanding this article, I'm convinced he'll be able to achieve enough proficiency in his second language between now and the next election.

I liked Scott then, and I continue to like him today. As I've said in the past, I think he's a passionate, experienced politician with a lot of enthusiasm for the intricacies of public policy. I generally like his economics and support him 100% on social issues. On a personal level, he's infectiously gregarious and takes the time to learn names (a golden quality in politics). His candidacy also inspires an almost crazed devotion, especially among youth. I told Scott I'd be pleased to help him out. I talked up his candidacy to fellow young Liberals across the province, as well as some of the established (read: not-so-young) Liberals in my area.

My enthusiasm for Scott dampened considerably a few days later as the email over the income trust issue became public. The email itself, as he admits, was a clumsy lapse in judgment. It wasn't worthy of the attention it got and definitely was not criminal. My concern was with his handling of the issue. When approached by the media, he chose to be less than forthright. He chose to deny any knowledge of an email even when he knew that it had been subject to investigation.

Do I think Scott can rebound from this mistake? Six months is a long time in politics, and so I'd say yeah, probably. I certainly hope so, because on policies and personality alone, I think he'd make a terrific leader. I do, however, question the political judgment of a person whose first inclination, when confronted about a potential issue, is to be dishonest. I hope Scott has learned from his mistake, and wish him the best of luck. If he wins, I'd support him enthusiastically.

Another candidate who sparked my interest early on was Gerard Kennedy. I was impressed by his resume: Successful Education Minister in Ontario, director of two food banks before his 30th birthday, pan-Canadian roots, youthful, energetic, bilingual, beloved by the teachers, untainted by scandal, virtually no political baggage, yadda yadda yadda. A few personal friends jumped on board early on. Some influential people in my riding association are also supportive, and lobbyied me heavily on his behalf over the past few weeks.

Going into the LPCO AGM last weekend, I was leaning heavily towards supporting Kennedy. To me, he was (and probably still is) the best compromise candidate. That is to say, he's the candidate you can bring yourself to support, because the person you really like (in my case, Brison or Rae) has too much of the ever-feared "baggage". I was offered the chance to help out with his Northern Ontario campaign. I was initially receptive to this idea, subject to a few conditions, one of which was the opportunity to meet the man himself.

I got this opportunity Saturday afternoon at LPCO, during the Volunteer of the Year luncheon. I sat at the same table as Gerard. Generally, I found him to be a very nice person. A little bit shy at first, not terribly engaging (he spent most of the lunch speaking to the one person to his left, rather than working the table) but overall a warm guy. Based on his speech the night before, I had some doubts about the quality of his French. The room was loud, though, so I wasn't sure. Thus, we chatted a few minutes in French, just to see if he's as good as his handlers claim he is. He is not. I had no trouble understanding him, but was somewhat surprised at his hesitancy and limited vocabulary. After lunch, I left feeling grateful for having had the opportunity to meet the man, but thoroughly unfulfilled from a "I want to support this guy" standpoint.

I think Kennedy's biggest problem, both with the French issue and with his entire campaign, is that he's been built up to be so much more than he really is. He really isn't as charismatic as some people claim. In fact, most people felt his announcement speech was underwhelming, as was his address on the Friday night. His French is far weaker than advertised. And despite having roots all over Canada, I have serious doubts about his knowledge and understanding of the complexities of this country.

From a policy perspective, I've increasingly found a certain superficiality about him. He seems to lack depth. "Canada should be the world's first international country." "We need a new Liberal value of enterprise." At first, I thought the latter meant a more business-friendly approach to governance, particularly given his left-wing credentials. I thought he was talking about corporate tax cuts, for example, to spur investment across the country. Now I'm not so sure. I guess his slogans are subject to interpretation, which is not a good thing. So I ask: What does these statements really mean? Does anybody know?

I'm not comfortable with a campaign based more on slogans than real policy. There's just too much ambiguity about Gerard Kennedy, and that's why I couldn't bring myself to support him. I still like Kennedy, and I still think he has time to flesh out his ideas and improve his second-language skills. I expect him to be a formidable candidate with a lot of support leading into the convention. Again, if he wins, I'd support him enthusiastically.

OK, so why Bob Rae? I didn't start out as a Rae supporter. As you can read here, here and here, I admire the man a lot, but was never quite ready to support him outright, until now. The biggest things for me were his announcement speech at the end of April and his address to the LPCO delegates last Friday.

His announcement speech showed his detailed understanding of Canada and Canadians. He is easily the most experienced candidate, having governed a province and dealt with some of the constitutional issues over language, fiscal federalism and jurisdiction that plague us still. He's done extensive international work since his retirement from politics in the mid-1990s, and is widely regarded and respected as a Canadian statesman. Furthermore, we (or at least I, as you can tell) come to expect our Liberal leaders to be bilingual. He is, without a doubt, the most bilingual candidate in the race, with an effortless fluency in French. I think this fact, along with his past support for the Meech Lake and Charlottetown deals, will go a long way to bridging our gaps in Quebec.

The biggest knock against Bob Rae is his perceived unelectability in Ontario. Setting aside the fact that I've seen a poll which shows 50% of Ontarians view Bob positively or very positively, I think another important measure of his potential support would be the reaction of the LPCO delegates. When it was his turn to speak on Friday night, he received friendly, but not enthusiastic, applause. In fact, I'd say roughly 20% of the convention showed some sort of negative reaction (booing, etc.). By the time his three minutes were up, he had the crowd cheering in what was easily the most positive reaction of the night. People particularly loved his talk on the Kelowna Accord. He really is a charismatic man, a great orator who is eloquent to the point of (almost) being Clintonesque. He knows how to balance humility with strength. He often tells jokes about his troubled term as Premier before insisting, without hesitation, that he accomplished some good things in his five years in power. He is strong, he is unrelenting, he is passionate, but he is also deferential and humble when need be. After his speech, I turned to a friend of mine and said: "Could you imagine six months ago, sitting at a Liberal convention with Bob Rae as a speaker, and hearing this kind of positive reaction?" "No," she said as she applauded profusely, "but I can now."

I heard a lot of people at the AGM with similar comments. Liberals who would never have considered Bob Rae are now looking at him very positively. These are people who fought tough campaigns against him throughout the 80s and 90s. People who were crushed by his win in the 1990 election, and devastated that they were not able to replace him in 1995. There was, and still is, a lot of animosity towards Bob Rae in the Liberal Party. The reasons for this are complex and have a lot to do with pride, history and ego. But if Bob Rae can convince die-hard Liberals to support him, I'm sure he can do the same for Ontarians and Canadians.

My journey to Bob Rae wasn't easy. I'm going to get a lot of heat for my choice, particularly back home in Sudbury, where the old Liberal/NDP battles left quite a few wounds. But I'm convinced I've made the right choice. I'm convinced Bob Rae is the best person to lead the Liberal Party of Canada and the country as a whole. He is progressive, he is pragmatic, he is experienced. He shares my liberal values (and Liberal values, too). He knows what mistakes look like because he's made them. He understands Canada and its diversity more than any other candidate. And quite frankly, he's the only contender I can see as Prime Minister, not two or four or six or eight years from now, but tomorrow. He has a vision for a united and proud Canada, with strong national institutions and an active federal government. He's prepared to contrast this vision with the Conservative dream of a disjointed, weakened federation with no sense of national purpose. Bob Rae is ready for this fight, and so am I. Let's get on with it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Summer internship, leadership endorsement, etc.

Sorry for the long delay...Moving is quite the experience, let me tell you. I've finally settled into my new digs in Toronto (Ryerson University at Jarvis and Gerrard, for those who are interested). As you may remember from a previous post, I was recently accepted into the Queen's Park Summer Internship Program.

Orientation was yesterday. I showed up at Vic College a bit early (about 8:15am...Things started at 9 or so). I took this opportunity to explore the campus a bit and take in the scenery. Once things started, I got to meet my fellow interns, some of whom I've known for a while. Most of them were new faces, at least to me. I look forward to getting to know them better over the next few months.

Later on, we listened to a speech by our special guest speaker, former MPP and Education Minister Sean Conway. His address on the meaning of being Liberal was very insightful. We then went through the HR session where the presenters described conflict of interest, privacy, confidentiality and ethics rules. Needless to say, I won't be meeting with lobbyists over lunch any time soon!

After orientation, I headed over to my new office. My boss is terrific. Sooooo gregarious and big-hearted. His staff is just as great. They really are a friendly and helpful bunch. They're also the people with whom I'll be working closest over the summer. Already, I feel part of the team and I'm glad to be on it.

Speaking of teams, tonight I joined another one. I guess I should just come out and say it: I've decided to endorse Bob Rae for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. You may have gathered from my previous statements that I have the highest esteem for the man. However, before this weekend, I had convinced myself to go with someone younger for leadership (read: Kennedy or Brison). The LPC(O) AGM changed my mind. In any case, I'll have more to say about this tomorrow. Stay tuned!