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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

An Oft-Forgot Rule in Politics

A friend and experienced Liberal operator currently serving as a successful consultant once gave me this piece of advice: "in politics, you have to look out for #1.  Nobody else will and few would think twice about putting a knife in your back."

In a recent campaign, some young candidates went to great lengths to tar-and-feather their opponents, people of their own team, because they were pulling out all the stops to win.  In the end, the result was a much more mixed bag than expected and different teams were forced to merge and find ways to work together.  They're still at it.

Politics, as it generally stands now, is survival-of-the-fittest, which in practice always translates into the one willing to elbow out the competition.  Frequently, aggressiveness is twinned with talent, but that isn't always the case.  When aggressiveness becomes a fallback, there's no question that collaboration and innovation suffers.

I understand this as well as anyone.  Several friends have had their reputations dragged through the mud by their own teams because they stood by their beliefs or had personal challenges that no one was prepared to recognize, while eager political beavers tried to tell them brand should trump belief and personal well-being.  I've watched many a hard-working young be staffer cut loose and be forgotten about after an all-in dedication to the Party they believed in (and that's all Parties).  The wheels of the political bus are stained with the shattered faith of all those staff and politicians who have been thrown under it with nary a shrug from the drivers.  The disillusionment of those left behind stains the windows, obscuring the way forward. 

But it doesn't have to be this way.

I've also seen the best in politics - people who connect with a common vision of what their riding, province or country can look like and work together to achieve it.  Some of the best days of my life were spent working for an MPP, Jim Brownell, who unwaveringly put his constituency and the things he believed in first.  Jim may never have been leader of a Party, but damned if he wasn't one of the best-respected and most-accomplished MPPs at Queen's Park.  Plus, he served as a stone in the soup, bringing together staff and friends, building a family out of a place of work.  It was the Fellowship of the Duke - and it still resonates to this day.

More than once, I've been in the trenches among provincial Liberal staff and run into the Premier, out to meet with his troops.  Across Facebook and Twitter, there are more pictures of him with staff and staff's families than one would expect possible, given how busy he is.  I will never forget the time he took to meet with my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, or how patient he was with an old man's jokes.  McGuinty never forgets that success stems from hard work - done as a team.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to watch Justin Trudeau and Gerrard Kennedy, both visionary thinkers, in action.  Both are smart, both are engaging, but above all both ascribe to a vision of Canada as a country that is more than the sum of its parts, a place that's internationally-recognized greatness is a product of its people.  All three of these leaders - McGuinty, Trudeau and Kennedy understand it isn't about them, it's about us.  The role of leaders is to empower their teams and empower the people to be at their best so we can continue to excel as a nation.

We do this by setting the example, as human beings first, as Canadians second, only lastly as partisans.  We are not in politics to serve ourselves or to gain glory through tribal affiliation - at least, we shouldn't be.  Parties and Parliaments aren't meant to be tribes, but rather forums.  A nation cannot be built around "the last man standing;" that's a race to the bottom.  It's not what we leave behind that should be our focus, but what we find along the way, what we can build together and what we leave behind for future Canadians - not just after four years, but for generations.

Warren Kinsella, through an unnamed Trudeau friend, says it best:

Any attack you make is now carved into Internet stone, and will be brought back to haunt you time and time again.  Conversely, every thing you do that is right will equally be immortalized for posterity.  That's how social media is changing the game.  But as the face of politics changes, there's one truth that does not waver:


If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.

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