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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.

Monday 14 January 2013

The Party That Listens

Now that the delegates have been selected, there is much chatter about how the Ontario Liberal campaign teams will narrow their scope to just those folk with the ability to cast ballots at the Convention.  It's traditional wisdom, this; when winning is the objective, you put your blinders on to shut out everything that doesn't lie on the path to victory.  If some obstacles get swept out of the way in the process, they can be dealt with after the win.  As the platform shrinks, you expect campaign teams to target delegates with an increasingly laser-like focus, tuning out everyone else.  It's in this climate of steadily rising excitement and tension that deals get made and occasionally, sparks fly.

Originally designed to help break political deadlock, the delegated process itself is an exclusionary one.  To be able to participate, Party Members must get their name on the delegate ballot, win support among their Association peers and then afford the price of admission.  Even then, successful delegates face transportation and time-associated cost challenges.  In the days of yore, those privileged few delegates, ex-officios and campaign teams who made it to the Leadership Convention would congregate behind the curtain and privately decide the fate of the Party.  As the process happened out of the spotlight of broader Party scrutiny, it could  well have involved the sort of horse-trading (of potential cabinet positions, for instance) that gives leadership contests a bad name.

The Party itself has changed much since the days of George Brown, just as media has evolved since he founded the Toronto Globe.  Funny enough, those changes have moved in the exact opposite direction of the delegate process, steadily leaning towards increased transparency and broader participation.  With cell-phone cameras and social media, every interaction unfolds in real-time.  The back-rooms have turned into fish bowls. 

Whatever decisions get made or actions get taken over the campaign or on the convention floor, it literally takes seconds for the story, complete with pictures, to go viral - not only to delegates or Party members, but to everyone plugged in to the Internet.  The curtain is rapidly being pulled back on politics-as-usual, forcing the players to dance as if everyone is watching.  
What's even more fascinating - Ontario Liberals want to engage each other in an open way.  Yesterday, Liberals were proudly tweeting photos of their ballots, letting the world know who they were voting for and why.  Instead of one camp hoarding result numbers from another, the quickest place to get updated figures was on Twitter.  Supporters of one candidate were congratulating supporters of another on winning a delegate spot.  A week back when a media outlet tried to generate a story out of "secret meetings" happening between candidates (often in public restaurants), the candidates turned it into a meme and posted pictures of themselves together online. 
From the grassroots up, Liberals are putting themselves out there on social media feeds, on blogs and most importantly in their communities.  This trend towards collaborative transparency doesn't stop with Party members, though - we're connecting with family, friends and complete strangers to let them know why we believe liberal values matter and to share our ideas on how to keep Ontario working. 
Sure, there's a danger in being so open - someone might publicly criticize one of your ideas, or even you for sharing them.  It's an uncomfortable risk, perhaps, but one Liberals are comfortable in taking.  If you want people to trust you with their visions for the future, you have to be willing to share yours with them.  Then, you have to prove your sincerity by straying away from talking points and responding to them as directly as possible, something that's only possible when you give everyone the respect they deserve.
It's a tough challenge, but being a Liberal has never been about taking the easy path.  After all, moving forward together means not leaving anyone behind.
The six leadership candidates recognize that this process isn't about them - it's about us.  All of us.  This is why they will defy political gravity and spend the rest of the campaign connecting with Ontarians from every corner of the province, from all walks of life.   The end goal for each of these candidates and the teams that support them isn't an individual win but rather a strong, sustainable Ontario.  Whoever becomes the next Premier, we will continue to work together, to listen, to build and to have some fun along the journey.
That way, everyone wins.  


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