Queen's University Young Liberals and Stephane Dion pose for a photo at the Liberal Biennial Convention, Ottawa, 2012
Hey there! It’s James Bridges again, and much later than I had hoped/expected. Evidently the rigors of applying for Graduate Studies, apathy toward sitting down to write are not great preconditions for getting any writing done, but I digress…
The past few weeks have been interesting ones, as I have had the opportunity to attend the Liberal Biennial Convention for the first time, and Queen’s Model Parilament for the fourth time, respectively. While my experiences as House Leader of the NDP at QMP 2012 were interesting, I wanted to dedicate some time and thought toward the Liberal Convention that took place from January 13th-15th of this year. If it isn’t already obvious, I am a Liberal Party member, and would consider myself left-of-centre ideologically, although if you want to pidgeon-hole me you could say I’m a social democrat who is a proponent of evidence-based policy.
Attending as a youth delegate, I was entirely unsure of what to expect. I was lucky enough to travel by bus to Ottawa from Queen’s University with new Executive Vice-President of the Young Liberals of Canada/Ontario Young Liberals, Maddie Webb, who successfully campaigned to win that position, and to stay in the Lord Elgin in Downtown Ottawa with a few fellow Queen’s University Liberal Association members.
On the first day, at the youth conference portion of the convention, we were greeted by a keynote speech from outgoing-Liberal President Alfred Apps. He spoke to us about the Party’s history of renewal; how in both 1922 and 1958, the Liberals, seemingly down and out, had been able to renew interest in the party and secure more votes than anyone could have realistically hoped for. While some have viewed Mr. Apps’ Presidency of the Party as tenuous, he is a brilliant mind and will assuredly work with the Liberal Party in some manner for years to come (I think he should try running as an MP once more!).
Senator Mercer followed a presentation on technology/online voting by George Takach, and discussed the role that youth have played in keeping the Liberal Party vibrant–spearheading the pursuit of same-sex marriage legislation, decriminalizing marijuana (more on that) in the Paul Martin years, and the like. Martha Hall Findlay similarly discussed the fact that there has historically been too much discord within the Party, and how to counteract this Liberals must be tough in defining where they stand on issues. She mentioned that if Liberals are simply the party for everyone, we lose the opportunity to define ourselves and instead allow other parties and various interest groups to do that for us, which has led to disastrous results in the past.
Finally, the Right Honourable John Turner chose to speak to us about renewal. To paraphrase him, he told us to “stay loose and relaxed”, to build a movement from the bottom up, and to remember the Magna Carta; or, rather, the notion that Parliament was created to be an open institution, and Young Liberals must lead the drive toward making it an open institution once more.
Many of the articles in the media that I had read leading up to and during the Convention called for the Liberal Party to come up with radical new ideas, or face extinction. I think that voting to allow supporters to determine who our next party leader will be will accomplish exactly that, and I disagree to an extent over the media’s portrayal of the Convention itself. While new ideas were certainly required, this convention was just as much about putting a dagger in the party’s historical infighting and firing up the 3200 delegates to build a grassroots movement over the next four years. Having fared poorly in the past two elections is no effective method of keeping Liberals invigorated for what must now be a permanent campaign, but a Convention of rousing speeches, stimulating conversations, and an opportunity to connect with the “Party Elites” surely will!
I do not wish to make this post an entire essay, so for today I will leave this post with a few closing thoughts, which I hope people will take the time to comment on. Firstly, I was entirely surprised at the amount of people at the Convention who were interested in hearing what Canada’s youth had to say regarding the state of Canadian politics, and of the Liberal Party itself. I was lucky enough to speak to former-MP candidate Joe Cormier from the Nickel Belt riding for nearly an hour, and he gave me all the encouragement I need to continue to take steps to make an impact within the party, and hopefully within the country by extension. If this party can become the party of youthful renewal, and can attract that vote by appealing to the 18-35 age demographic by pursuing the legalization of marijuana, for example, then all the more power to them. I can say that I will be working tirelessly in the next few years to make that the case!
Secondly, and this is not just a suggestion for the Liberal Party alone–but politics is and has traditionally been a realm that people are either uncomfortable getting involved in, or feel as if it is an aspect of daily life that does not affect them directly. While I could go on for pages about why this is not the case, I’ve found that the most effective way to engage people in politics is simple: converse with them about it! This may seem like a fairly self-evident statement, but oftentimes people will be passionate about things that they have no idea are political. For example, with someone planning on or attending a post-secondary educational institute, a common and debilitating issue is that of student debt, coinciding more recently with high youth unemployment. Many people in this situation may not be students or followers of politics, but if they are engaged in a conversation that makes them realize that simply accepting the current Government’s catering to corporate interests over ensuring the long-term success of it’s future leaders is not the only option, they will realize that something that is an every day concern is indeed political. Another example would be discussing Canada’s falling crime rate since 1974 and the fact that the Government is becoming increasingly tougher on crime while building prisons to contain this new generation of benefactors. The cost of the omnibus crime bill (C-10, by the way) that will accomplish this is costed at approximately half a billion dollars this year alone, and has been estimated to cost Ontario alone over a billion dollars within the next few years. This money could be spent better elsewhere, say, in improving education so that people don’t become criminals in the first place. This is where the discussion would transition to “evidence-based policy”, where I think that most people would agree that there are better places to spend this money. The same type of argument can be invoked against the Government’s decision to dismantle the long-form census.
Lastly, in dealing with the Convention, as I’ve said earlier, it was about getting Liberals fired up again, and I hope that anyone who reads this will consider looking at the Liberal Party as an alternative to our current government in the next few years. Oh yeah, and I got the opportunity to speak to my hero in politics, Bob Rae. It took me about three days to work up the courage to do it, but I told him his newest book, “Exporting Democracy” (which I would highly recommend) was a fantastic read. He thanked me, and it was awesome. Yeah….I’m a loser, I know, but what can I say? It was probably less awkward for him than when he and Justin Trudeau came to the Young Liberals party at the Government Conference Centre and were dancing the night away with Young Liberals!
Hopefully somebody reads this and enjoys what little observation I made of the weekend that was. I’ll try to be less partisan with my other random observations going forward, except for this one; GO SENS GO!
As a last little tidbit of Liberal information, here is the link to Bob Rae’s fantastic speech to close the Liberal Biennial Convention. If you keep your eyes open at 14:55, you’ll see me applauding beside Alf Apps, who was undoubtedly too busy with membership renewal requests on his phone to applaud when I was :p
All the best!