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Monday, July 31, 2006

Liberal BBQ

I went to Nick's Annual Liberal BBQ on Saturday. Even though I've been an active member of the Liberal Party for six or seven years, this was the first time I attended this particular event. I had a good time. The food was great, as was the conversation. They say up to 5000 people showed up, but I'm not so sure the numbers were that high. I figure about 2000 would be a better estimation.

I met Jane Pitfield for the first time. Nice lady. I think if she had some better advice and some smarter people around her, she might have a decent chance at winning. She seemed a bit nervous and tentative the entire time she was there. Maybe she'd prefer spending her time canvassing for John Tory's PCs. Perhaps she's wondering how a crushing mayoral loss will affect her chances at running for the Tories in 2007. Or maybe she just isn't comfortable in a Liberal crowd. Either way, I'm not expecting to see her at many more Liberal events in the future.

Five (yes, only five) leadership candidates stopped by to give speeches. Ken Dryden, Hedy Fry, Martha Hall-Findlay, Bob Rae and Joe Volpe all spoke very well. Of course, my guy did the best (sure, I'm biased). He hammered Stephen Harper on everything from the Middle East to softwood. The buzz about Bob after the speeches was very positive. I genuinely get the feeling that more and more people are starting to warm up to him. Why? Because they're seeing that better than anyone else, Bob Rae appeals to those progressive-minded individuals who think Canada is on the wrong track under Harper. The more Ontario Liberals hear from him, the more the old "I can't support him because he's unelectable in Ontario" line starts to wear thin. My guess is you'll start to see this support manifest itself on the ground. And soon.

Quite a few people at the BBQ complimented me on my blog. I wasn't aware so many people take the time to read this thing. Needless to say, I was (and am) very flattered. I had a thoughtful and stimulating conversation with a regular reader who is supporting another leadership candidate. Even though he and I disagree on a few issues, I still respect his opinions. In any case, he told me about a very interesting conversation he had with a prominent, controversial, blue-as-they-come Tory politician. I won't mention the politician's name, but I will say this: Apparently, David Peterson isn't the only former Ontario Premier who thinks Michael Ignatieff would make the best Liberal leader. For Michael's sake, he'd better hope he doesn't get this particular endorsement...

Finally, as Michelle notes, the Guardian Angels were at the BBQ doing security. They even appeared on stage at one point. In my opinion, their attendance was just bizarre. There were quite a few of them (I counted close to a dozen) which made it even weirder. Honestly, what's the worst that could happen at this BBQ? Someone cutting in line to snatch an extra sausage?

All in all, I had a good time. Hopefully I'll be able to attend next year.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

174 days and counting...

I hope everyone takes note of the "Jack Counter" in my side links. Special thanks goes out to Lobster Thermidor for providing the code.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Women in Politics

I agree with my new best friend Jason Cherniak that the only way to achieve gender parity in Parliament is to create a system where, as he says, "there is no choice but to end up with more women." I like some of Stephane Dion's ideas, but I feel they aren't ambitious enough and most of them make too much of the power of the leader to appoint candidates.

Now here is a real plan to get more women in Parliament. I'll note that it comes from an individual who, as Premier of Ontario, had a Cabinet composed of 42% women. (That, by the way, is the highest ratio of women in Cabinet achieved by any provincial or federal government in Canada. Ever.) Some of the highlights of Bob Rae's 14 point plan:
  • Amend the Canada Elections Act to provide financial incentives to parties not simply to nominate but to elect women candidates. Parties would receive increased rebates (per vote) for every woman elected to the House of Commons until gender parity has been achieved and entrenched.
  • An LPC Gender Advisor/Equity Officer who would work in the Leader’s Office and be responsible for developing programs to aggressively recruit, train and mentor female candidates. This individual would also provide a gender based analysis on policies, proposals and our platform.
  • Develop develop training and mentoring programs for women interested in seeking nominations and for women who have already secured nominations.

Rae's first point is obviously his most ambitious and will probably be the most controversial. A direct subsidy to parties for electing more women may not go over well with some people. I like it, though. I repeat: Gender parity will only come about if the system not only permits it, but encourages it and even demands it.

Thank you, Cherniak!

Today is a big day for me. The John Lennard Experience has finally been added to Jason Cherniak's blog roll! People have been congratulating me all day (ok, only one person as of yet, but the day has just begun).

In lieu of flowers or gifts, please consider donating your time and/or money to the John Laforet for City Council Campaign. John is a Young Liberal and a very good friend of mine running in Toronto Ward 43 (Scarborough East) against the incumbent budget chief. It'll be a tough fight, but if anyone can meet the challenge, John can.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A true story (part deux)...

Back at the upscale bar in downtown Toronto, the mood was dour once again. The Two Lawyers were sad. The Next Big Thing had agreed to run in the next election. But one big problem stood in his way: He couldn’t find a seat in which to run.

You see, the Next Big Thing was insisting on running in the City. Unfortunately, all of the safe seats were already held by members of the Team. This dilemma required some creative thinking.

The Two Lawyers discussed the issue at length. The Next Big Thing could run in his home riding, but that would mean challenging Big Guns for the nomination. Considering Big Guns was a powerful incumbent with a lot of goodwill on the Team, such a circumstance was deemed to be…well, indefensible.

So the Two Lawyers looked for a solution in the Eastern Boroughs of the City. The Eastern Boroughs were, from a political standpoint, as red as they come. Their current representatives were all members of the Team, but none was overly prominent. Sadly, most of them were good organizers, which made a nomination challenge ever more difficult. I say “most of them” because, in fact, the incumbent in the central riding of this area was known to be particularly weak. A safe riding, a weak incumbent…A perfect solution! It was settled: the Two Lawyers decided that their guy would run here, in the central riding of the Eastern Boroughs.

Their plan didn’t work. The Two Lawyers had underestimated the loyalty of the constituents, and were unable to rally the organizational support they needed from the local ethnic communities. To these communities, organizing against one of their own would be an inexcusable offence. And so, it was back to the drawing board once again…

This time, they looked west – all the way west, to the shores of the lake – for a solution. This area was decidedly less safe than the Eastern Boroughs, but at least the incumbent here was open to stepping aside. With a bit of coddling, the Two Lawyers were able to get her to do so. She left humbly, with little fuss or fanfare. The Next Big Thing, of course, could never be humble. At last, he had his riding! Now was his time to make his grand entrance.

And a grand entrance it was! Sure, there was some protest by members of the local association, who were less than thrilled with these outsiders taking over. And sure, the general election itself was more difficult than many thought it would be. But the Next Big Thing survived with his reputation intact and his star power untainted.

The Two Lawyers were as giddy as school girls on election night. The results were in, and they had won! Campaign headquarters was abuzz with anticipation as supporters awaited the Next Big Thing’s arrival. When he did arrive, the place erupted in cheers. The Two Lawyers beamed as their guy made his way inside, gently patting the backs of his campaign workers along the way. They almost cried as his slender frame stood proud and tall on the stage, his arms up high in victory. And when he began to speak firmly and didactically (as had become his style), they were enthralled.

One of the Lawyers turned to a campaign volunteer standing nearby and grabbed his shoulders in excitement. “Can you feel it???” he asked the stunned man, his voice trembling with exhilaration. “I can feel it! Our guy has it! He’s got the royal jelly!”

Imagine my surprise...

…as I get message on my BlackBerry yesterday afternoon from a friend of mine: “Tonight. 7:15pm. Cumberland Theatre. Bob wants to take us to a movie.”

By “Bob” she meant, of course, Bob Rae. By “us” she meant the core group of seven or eight summer interns who’ve decided to support him for the federal leadership. By “movie” she meant Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. (I note that last night was Bob’s first night off in four weeks. He chose to spend it with youth volunteers. Talk about character.)

The movie was fantastic. For years, I’ve accepted the scientific rationale behind global warming and I understand the need for us to change our collective behaviour to deal with it. However, until I saw this film, I never truly appreciated the severity of the problem.
The evidence Gore presents is compelling. He uses hard scientific data to show that global warming has become substantially worse in the last thirty years and will continue to intensify. His scenarios are even more dramatic. Massive flooding in some areas, severe drought in others and enormous storms everywhere. Humanitarian crises, new diseases, lost species. Cities like New York, San Francisco, Calcutta and Beijing essentially wiped off the map. And all this will happen within our lifetime if we do nothing.

After the movie, we spent a few minutes outside the theatre discussing what we had just seen. Bob reiterated Gore’s point that climate change will be the defining issue of our generation. He said it’s up to young people to demand change now, because we will be the generation having to deal with the disasters in the future.

I agree with Bob Rae. We need to challenge our leaders and politicians on this issue. As a Liberal, I feel obliged to start with my own party and its record, particularly in light of the upcoming leadership race. I'd like to think we have a lot to be proud of (and I'm sure we do), but, as Steel City Grit notes, we've got to stop patting ourselves on the back. Here are some important facts worth mentioning:
  • We promised in our 1993 Red Book to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2005. We failed. By 2005, our emissions levels had increased by that amount.
  • We signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. It took us until 2002 to ratify the treaty. It took us another 2.5 years to come up with a plan for its implementation. That's nearly 8 years to go from start to....well, start. And there's no finish line in sight.
  • While we, as Liberals, have a history of launching ambitious plans on the environment, we just can't seem to follow through. A 2005 statement by Canada's Environment Commissioner claims that the federal government's performance on sustainable development was "uneven" and "unfortunate," and that our Liberal government displayed "a chronic see its initiatives through to completion"
  • In that same statement, the Commissioner noted, with reference to the Liberal government, that "[b]old announcements are made, and then seem to be forgotten as soon as the confetti hits the ground."

Not a pretty picture, indeed. Liberals - particularly the leadership candidates and even more particularly, those who were part of the former government's environmental team - have a lot to answer for.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Summer Fling

Jason Cherniak has an accurate recap of the event. Well, more or less accurate. He forgot to mention the real highlights of Saturday night's activities. I'm speaking, of course, of the "Bob for Apples" game. And my crown tiara (special thanks to Danielle Russell). Both went over very well.

I learned three main lessons from the weekend. One, Young Liberals really, really, REALLY like to party (ummm....On second thought, having been to quite a few of these events before, this is nothing new). Two, Kennedy and Ignatieff have the largest Ontario youth teams, without question. I'd say Kennedy's team is the most enthusiastic and dedicated, but that really is hard to judge.

The third and most important lesson I learned is that most Young Liberals like Bob Rae. There seems to be a lot of deference toward the man. People appreciate his ideas and respect his qualifications. The main issue on people's minds is his electability in Ontario. Personally, I'm not concerned about this issue at all. I've said it before: Conventional wisdom most often proves to be false. I know for a fact that Bob Rae is more popular in this province than people give him credit for. I also know from experience that he has a persuasive personality and should be able to rally the support he needs when the time comes.

I'm convinced Bob Rae has the potential to grow his support, particularly among the youth of the party. Many young people haven't had the chance to meet him yet or hear him give a speech. To that end, I'd invite Young Liberals in the Toronto area to join Bob tonight (Monday) at the Oakham Lounge on the 2nd floor of the Ryerson University Student Campus Centre at 55 Gould St (Church and Gould). This event starts at 5:30 is part of the OYL Speaker Series in which leadership candidates are given the opportunity to address OYLers directly. It should be a good discussion.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Remember the humanitarian crisis

An excellent editorial in today's Toronto Star.

A lot of media attention has been focused on the rush to evacuate Canadian citizens from Lebanon. And rightfully so. But we must not forget about the looming humanitarian crisis that will inevitably result if the most basic needs of the innocent civilians left behind - food, medicine, shelter - are not met.

Kudos to the Star for calling on our government to begin developing an aid plan. The time for action is now. We can't wait for the situation to get even more desperate. This would only play into the hands of Hezbollah, who are already offering food and supplies to displaced citizens in hopes of gaining additional support.

Canada has a responsibility not only to be a broker for peace, but to be a provider of help. Innocent citizens caught in the crossfire are depending on us. Let's not let them down.
Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device.

Scott Brison is out of line

I had a lot of respect for Scott Brison. To a certain extent, I still do. He's a good politician with some good ideas. But his comments in this article are just plain wrong. To suggest that Bob Rae's stand on the Middle East conflict is anti-Israel is ludicrous and insulting.

Bob Rae has always supported Israel's right to exist. He believes firmly, as he states in the article, that this recognition is a "fundamental pillar of Canadian foreign policy." In fact, he left the NDP over four years ago because of Svend Robinson's claim that Israel was a terrorist state.

Bob Rae's position on this issue is perfectly reasonable and makes a lot of sense. He takes the stand, as have virtually all Liberal leaders since Pearson, that Canada's role in these situations is to diffuse crises before they escalate beyond control. This view, in essence, reflects nearly 50 years of Liberal foreign policy. Scott Brison apparently disagrees with this traditional Liberal perspective. So do a few Liberal bloggers, who've called Rae's appeals for peace and disengagement "off base" and representing "the wrong side" of the issue. Perhaps Brison et al. are more comfortable with Harper's view of the world. I really don't know.

What I do know is that Scott Brison should be ashamed of himself. He's using cheap one-liners to score quick political points over an issue that is of grave concern to everyone. If he had an ounce of decency, he'd apologize. And soon.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Reckless" Red Tory

So here I am, surfing through the blogosphere on a hot, humid Saturday afternoon (I know I should be at the beach, but I don't do least not in Toronto). It seems the opinions are almost unanimous: Bob Rae is right on target on the softwood lumber issue (a BCer in Toronto has a good analysis here, although I disagree with him on one point. I think the softwood vote should be a matter of confidence.)

I say "almost unanimous," because this guy takes a different view. Diversity of perspective being a highlight of our great party, I'd be hard pressed to criticize him. But his argument is so ridiculous I need to respond.

He starts off by saying the deal is "terrible and it most certainly sets a horrible precedent in terms of free trade and our economic relationship with the U.S." OK, no disagreement there. In fact, based on that statement alone, I'd say the issue is clear: Agreement unacceptable. But Red Tory doesn't think so. He thinks we have to accept the agreement because we're "the party of pragmatism and compromise."

He then argues for an "intelligent discussion" on how NAFTA failed in this case, and suggests that some "toothless, beribboned panel or commission" be established to address the issue. After all, Red Tory feels "completely screwed over and betrayed" by the deal, and wants to put his mind at ease.

Let me get this straight. The agreement is terrible. It sets a horrible precedent. Red Tory feels screwed over and betrayed (as do most Canadians, I would imagine). But we've got to accept being screwed terribly and horribly because we're a pragmatic and compromising party. Fear not, though, because we'll be calling for a toothless panel to discuss the issue. That'll get the job done.

So there you have it. Terrible. Horrible. Screwing over and betraying Canadians. Toothless. That's Red Tory's vision for a pragmatic Liberal Party.

And Bob Rae is reckless for saying no to this vision. Right.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bob Rae is a leader

We need this guy in Ottawa now. He's strong, he's decisive and he's willing to stand up to the Conservatives' bullshit. As I said before, enough with the pussyfooting. Harper's dared us. Let's take him on.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A true story...

A melancholic mood hung in the air as two men sat in an upscale bar in downtown Toronto. The men – both lawyers – had spent the past year planning, organizing and fundraising. The stakes had been high and the prize, irresistible: If successful, their guy would win the top job in the land.

The odds, however, had never been in their favour. A Great Rival stood in their way, and his organization was far more impressive. No wonder: He had spent over a decade building his machine, slowly but surely putting together a huge team. The Great Rival had the support of the young and the old, the rich and the poor, from coast to coast and in communities big and small. And these people were loyal – fiercely loyal. They’d stand by him no matter what. Any sane person could see that the prize was his, but the Two Lawyers could never accept this reality. So they fought on, hoping against hope, praying for a miracle.

But now it was over. Their guy – always a smart and honourable man – could see the writing on the wall. He finally threw in the towel, lest he be embarrassed further. Dejected, the Two Lawyers went for a drink to reflect on their loss. They were incredulous. The Great Rival, they knew, was overrated. He had set such high expectations and would never be able to reach them. His promises were numerous and unattainable. How could everyone – nay, anyone – have fallen for his scheme?

An Old Friend entered the bar. He saw the sorrow on the faces of the Two Lawyers. A wily and weathered veteran of the Game, the Old Friend knew why his associates were so sad. He, too, had been burned by the Great Rival. Like so many others, his considerable experience had been shoved aside in favour of “new blood.” But he was shrewd and patient. He knew things would look up, and soon. The Old Friend walked over to the table and sat down.

“Don’t worry,” he told them, wanting to lift their spirits. “The Great Rival has made many mistakes. He’s spread himself too thin, made too many promises to too many people. He’ll never be able to deliver. This Game is a fickle business, after all. People will get restless, anxious, agitated. Surely, he will fail sometime soon.”

“But whatever shall we do?” asked the Two Lawyers. “How can we stop him?”

The Old Friend laughed. “You can’t stop him,” he said. “But you can start to think about next time. It’ll come sooner than you think.”

The Old Friend stopped. He asked himself, was now the time to make his next move? Yes, he decided. Smiling, he rubbed his pudgy little hands together and proceeded: “In fact, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. A brilliant man, thoughtful and articulate. He’s in Paris at the moment. I’m telling you, he’s my new creation – the Next Big Thing!”

Feeling rejuvenated and excited, the Two Lawyers ran straight to the travel agency to plan their voyage. Within days, they were at the steps of a Paris café, ready to meet the Next Big Thing.

And there he was, sitting at a table in the corner, sifting through his notes. Tall, slender and debonair, the Next Big Thing had a brainy, pretentious look about him. The Two Lawyers were instantly nervous. Nevertheless, they walked over to the table and introduced themselves. They explained that their Old Friend had suggested they meet with him firsthand to discuss their future – and his.

The Next Big Thing looked up slowly from his manuscript. His eyes were cold as he stared at the Two Lawyers for the first time. He said nothing for a few seconds, preferring to let the silence hang in the air. His company stood there, more nervous than ever. Finally, with a hint of a smile and a dose of his trademark arrogance, the Next Big Thing pronounced, simply: “What took you so long?”

A friend of mine told me this story a couple of days ago. He swears by his life that it's true. I decided to post it here to let everyone else decide for themselves. I've taken the liberty to add some dramatic elements, but the crux of the story remains unchanged, including the meetings and the famous last sentence. Care to guess what/who this is about?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mission Impossible?

Margaret Wente has a thought-provoking column in today's Globe and Mail. She points out the "unpleasant surprise" a lot of our troops are finding in Afghanistan. We're there ostensibly on a security and reconstruction mission... The only problem is, according to Wente, there's nothing to reconstruct. No infrastructure to deliver aid. No access to electricity. No sewer systems. And the Afghans are beginning to get restless...

She argues that Western governments (including, I presume, our own) are being "shockingly naïve" about the situation, trying to apply our value systems to a society not nearly ready for them. On top of that, our troops are getting tired and discouraged by the lack of results. A "mission fuzz" is taking over, she says.

Wente concludes by saying the Afghanistan mission is a noble cause, but that it's mission impossible. Now, I'm not a foreign policy expert by any means. I study numbers, debits and credits, marketing, organizations, financial ratios. I work in politics, planning events, doing research, writing memos, making canvass calls. But as someone with a family member in Kandahar, I do have a vested interest in seeing this mission succeed. I want our soldiers to be safe and successful. I want Canada to live up to its international reputation as a country dedicated to human rights everywhere. I'm glad young Afghan girls are going to school for the first time. I want to see more of that. As such, I hope to God Margaret Wente is wrong. But the more I think about it, the more I tend to agree with her. It's time to have a serious discussion about the merits of our current mission. Is this really our fight?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Consistency, consistency...

Finally! A politician who speaks his mind, stands by his principles and doesn't yield an inch. Sure, he believes that heroin should never have been outlawed, that the gold standard should be reinstated, that Hurricane Katrina victims should be left to starve, that foreign aid is "delusional" and that Abe Lincoln was wrong in his efforts to end slavery...But at least he's consistent! And he knows a good recipe for chicken salad casserole! An unwavering politician (who can cook). We could use more of those. Of the sane variety, that is.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Leading the changes we need

All I have to say is it's about time. I've always been amazed at how large, bureaucratic and thoroughly inefficient the Liberal Party is. A national executive of 60. Provincial management boards of 20+. Different membership rules in each province, and in the case of Ontario, different membership rules in each riding association. A policy process so convoluted that no one understands it, other than to say that it can take up to five years for a policy proposed at the local level to be discussed at the national level (and even if passed nationally, good luck finding "Liberal Party policy" in the "Liberal Party platform"). A system of "commissions" which, while well-intentioned, is in serious need of review (I mean, come on...Do we really need a seniors' commission?).

I'm glad we're beginning to look at revamping our party structure. I like the proposal to cut the national executive in half. I agree we need to nationalize our membership lists. I'd go further and say that the rules for membership need to be nationalized as well. If ten dollars can buy me a Liberal membership in one riding, there's no reason it should cost the guy in a neighbouring riding (or a neighbouring province) any more.

With regards to leadership selection, I'm not yet convinced we should get rid of the delegated conventions. The idea of Liberals from around the country coming together to pick a new leader appeals to me. Why? For one, it promotes the equality of the riding associations, because each association is able to send the same number of delegates to the convention as any other, regardless of membership totals. Let's be honest: Mass membership signups are easier to accomplish in certain ridings (namely, large urban ridings) than in others. Under a pure one-member one-vote system, the leadership camps would understand this fact, and focus far more of their time organizing the cities. Second, from a PR perspective, leadership conventions are exciting. Drama is a big part of politics, after all. But most importantly, conventions keep Liberals from coast to coast in touch with each other's views and concerns. As a party deeply concerned with national understanding and reconciliation, we should not overlook this important factor.

Having said that, I appreciate the enormous cost of holding leadership conventions, both for the party and for the delegates. Without financial support, a four-day leadership convention could easily cost a delegate $1,000, not including registration. And that's if you don't have to travel that far. A one-member one-vote system would surely reduce expenses.

Is a compromise possible? Well, sort of. The Tories use a "point system" by which each riding -- regardless of membership totals -- is allocated 100 points to be divided between the leadership candidates based on their respective vote percentages in the riding. This system preserves the concept of riding equity, but allows each member a direct say on each ballot (our system only allows all members to influence the first ballot. Subsequent ballots are up to the delegates). With no convention, there is significantly less drama and the "coming together" of partisans is virtually non-existant. But it is far less expensive, and for this reason alone, I'd say we should at least consider it.

I'm convinced the structure of the Liberal Party will change after December's leadership convention. While we can't yet predict the specifics of how things will turn out, one thing is for sure: We owe thanks to Mike Eizenga for leading the changes we need to build the party we want. As I said, it's about time. Kudos.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Interesting questions

An interesting column today by Sheila Copps dealing with the tactics some people use to attract new members to our party. As indicated, the Liberal Party makes a particular effort to reach out to women, aboriginals, newcomers to Canada and youth. I wasn't aware that the Liberal Party recognized high school clubs (perhaps Ms. Copps may want to check her info on this one), but other than that, the article seems factually accurate. I don't agree with all of her conclusions, but I would like to hear what people think about what she's said. Thoughts?