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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.

Thursday 24 January 2013

A Gerard Kennedy Story (3)


Political campaigns are full of little stories both positive and negative that never make the news. These random encounters or tactical choices offer windows into the characters of the candidates and their teams. Here's one from Team GK:
So technically not a story about Gerard Kennedy, there's an important connection - you'll have to read all the way through to find out what that is.
The first politician I worked for is one that I actually campaigned against. 
It was 2003; the Liberal MPP for my home riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry (Stormont-Dundas-Charlottenburgh at the time) had retired and the nomination was up for grabs.  My parents were friends with a couple of the candidates; they agreed to help the first one that reached out to them and I offered to help at the nomination.
That candidate was Brian Lynch, a capable man who had served as Mayor of Cornwall in a previous political life.  He wasn't much of a risk-taker and that was reflected in his approach.  Opposing him was a former political staffer, Denis Sabourin and a retired school teacher who'd served in municipal politics in the Counties, Jim Brownell.
The night of the nomination meeting, a small group of protesters gathered outside the Cornwall Civic Complex.  I went out and asked them about their concerns - they were looking for a provincial response to allegations of historical sexual abuse in the community.  They said they weren't trying to cause a fuss, they just wanted to know that those seeking to represent them cared enough to listen.  I respected their effort to be heard and told them I would go ask Brian, which I did.  The answer he gave me, sadly, was one I have heard too often in politics: "there's no votes outside this room, so it's not worth the time."  Lynch lost my support right there.  He would go on to lose the nomination.  His resentment at this loss caused him to leave the Liberal Party and join the NDP, which was telling.
The man who won was the only candidate who took time to listen to those protesters - Jim Brownell.  Jim would go on to win the seat and serve two terms faithfully as MPP for the riding.  Along the way he got those protesters their Inquiry, too.  It was tricky politics, perhaps, but the right thing to do and a necessary healing process for the community.  This is why Jim was so effective as a leader - he never lost sight of his mandate, which was to strengthen his community. 
Years later, he invited me to interview for him.  "I know you supported another candidate," Jim said as we chatted. "That doesn't matter.  You're a person of good character and I respect your contribution.  I'd love to have someone with your dedication on my side."  With that, I became a member of Team Brownell, a team that would reach beyond his paid staff and come to include most of the Liberals at Queen's Park.  Jim didn't buy the respect, admiration and loyalty of all these folks; he earned it simply by being himself.  People were willing to help him then and remain loyal to him now because there is never cause to doubt what he stands for. 
While Jim is supporting Eric Hoskins for leader this weekend, the candidate who I feel resembles him the most is Gerard Kennedy.  Gerard's a guy of unquestionable integrity who has inspired and retains the loyalty of the staff who have worked with him over the years.  He's also someone that has never lost sight of what he believes in, which is challenging and empowering people to reach their full potential.   Gerard doesn't cut corners and therefore never has to worry about the consequences of doing so.  This unwavering commitment makes him fearless, which can be intimidating to those who don't hold to that standard. 
Perhaps most importantly, though, Gerard is a guy who listens.  Gerard will stop and talk to stakeholders in a room, people on the street, even protesters on the line.  He understands that politics isn't about him, or even the Party - it's about us.  All of us.  Gerard gets that the slow erosion of public faith in politics is largely due to the cynical approach taken by many political people, of all partisan stripes, to ignore people they don't feel are useful to them.  As easy as it might be to paint the other - other candidates, Parties or stakeholders with one brush, Gerard knows that's a short-sighted approach.  His end goal isn't to win the Leadership - that's just a step along the journey.  His mission is to nurture a stronger Ontario where everyone has access to the tools they need to succeed.
If you've taken the time to read my post, you know why it is I continue to support leaders like Jim Brownell and Gerard Kennedy.  I have faith in what they can achieve, given the opportunity, just as they believe in what we can accomplish when given the chance.
With that kind of leadership, we can get Ontario working again.
Gerard Kennedy


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