Local political buzz in Cornwall is whether all things are well in the Provincial Liberal riding association camp after none of the local Grit VIP’s were in attendance for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s visits to the River City including last candidate Mark A MacDonald or former MPP Jim Brownell.
The devil is in the details - which, of course, gotcha headlines don't have time for. Of course, people apparently don't have time for substance either, which is why gotcha headlines are needed to sell news (or something approximating it).
I don't know the details about what happened here, but here's what I do know:
Kathleen Wynne is the real deal. I first met her back in 2002, when she was just a candidate. She was sincere, authentic and she listened. I didn't see her again until long after I'd returned to Queen's Park in 2005. She was the same person then as she was in 2001. In fact, in all the interactions I've had with her over the years, she has never changed as a person; whatever duties she accumulated, however "powerful" she became, she has remained the same person all the way through.
I have two favourite memories of now-Premier Wynne:
One - a meeting with her and representatives of VOICE for Deaf Children, an organization that supports kids who are deaf/hard-of-hearing and their families. It was a packed room, but Wynne made a point of engaging every single person in the room - she created an environment that was conducive to contribution, which wasn't easy. The then-Minister of Education took notes herself. Later, Wynne was pivotal in VOICE's push to have the province cover bilateral cochlear implants for deaf kids in Ontario.
Two - a random run-in on Front street, not long before former Premier McGuinty stepped down and she threw her at in the ring. Wynne and her partner Jane were on their way to a show; I was on my way from some event or other to Union station. In passing, Wynne recognized me, addressed me by name (how she remembered, I have no idea) and stopped for a quick chat about life.
She has, as a person, always embodied the traits a leaders should. That's still the case today.
Nobody knows SDSG like Jim Brownell. I clearly have a soft spot for Jim, but it's well-earned. Jim remains, for me, the best example of what a politician should be. Working for him remains the highlight of my career.
Jim was more than just a gentleman and a great boss, though - he was a man of and for his community who found, impossibly as it might seem these days, the perfect balance between empowering his riding, building his brand and supporting his Party.
This was largely due to his approach - Jim had enormous pride in the people and history of his riding and a great deal of hope for what it's future could entail. Jim could (and often did) tell you the history of every square inch of the three counties. He loved and was loved by his community, which is why he ran for provincial office in the first place.
I firmly believe that, if Jim were to run again, he would win easily - because people know he has a record of getting things done. That personal brand, that knowledge of the riding and that political savvy would, I think, be invaluable to a Party looking to win the riding back.
James Borer defines leadership. I got to know James through Jim and because of VOICE. Today, I'm proud to call him one of my best friends. James is a rural Ontarian from an old Ontario family (Borer Falls is named after his kin). He's a hobby farmer with a beautiful family, including two kids who are deaf (but thanks to cochlear implants, can hear and function like any kid). He understands the value of hard work and knows clearly what that work is for - to support his family and make a better world for them and all other families in the province.
James is also a highly-trained and soldier with, shall we say, a rather unique skill set. He has served overseas and carries a great many combat scars to tell the tales, though you'll never hear them - he does what he does not for glory, but out of a sense of duty.
It would be an error to mistake his causal way of speaking for simplicity. I have watched him casually deconstruct and tie verbal opponents into knots, helping them back themselves into corners they can't see until it's too late. James has a highly disciplined, strategic mind; he's good at assessing variables, planning contingencies and achieving victory. I've seen him do it again and again - leadership just comes naturally to him.
More than anything, though, James is a man of honour who puts the mission first. He is a Liberal because of what he believes, not because of anything he thinks the Party can do for him. The best example of this is the Rural Roundtable he organized during the OLP leadership race - it was an event that helped the candidates connect with his community and vice-versa. It was also an innovative format that focused on solutions, not gripes, that was widely praised by all who participated.
Like Jim, James is an invaluable resource in Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry.
I like Bernadette Clement. She's got a good soul, a friendly demeanour and a positive outlook. In an ideal world, there'd be more people like her in politics. However, ours is not an ideal world and politics is not focused on vision - it's focused on tearing opponents to shreds. During her federal bid, Bernadette kept to the high road, worked tirelessly, but was faced with a machine that put the win before anything else.
Bernadette is a natural communicator and facilitator, which was clearly evident during her role as Leadership Campaign Co-Chair. She shined in that role - it gave me great pride to see her up there, representing my home town and embodying everything Liberals are supposed to stand for. From speaking with her personally and interviews she's given in the past, I think it's that kind of role that suits her best and that she enjoys the most.
Political Staff do the best they can with what they have. This goes for all Parties. Unless you've spent time inside the political machine, it's hard to fathom just how frenetic the pace can be - everything is a crisis, tens thousands of stakeholders are making different and often competing demands daily, every minute is a draught from a firehose. You simply don't get the time to wade into details on anything, nor have the time to carefully record institutional memory for whoever succeeds you. This is one of the key reasons all Parties go through boom-and-bust cycles; what worked before gets lost in the churn, meaning it simply isn't there for future staff to draw on.
I have been (and continue to be) a big advocate for comprehensive political staff training and a conscious effort to develop and maintain institutional memory - I think it'd be better for the people involved and better for politics as a whole. A key part of this process is two-way communication with those that came before and those on the front lines. This was a key part of what Jim Brownell worked hard to accomplish, building bridges between Queen's Park and his stakeholders on the ground in SDSG and across Eastern Ontario.
Without the right training, the right support and the right connections, duplication, gaps and overlaps develop. Questions that should be asked, aren't; resources that should be tapped get ignored. Systematic inefficiency and failure can result.
To me, what matters most is for the amazing people of Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry to have the tools and support they need to reach their full potential. The Hudak Tories seem to be about throwing people into the deep end; I fully believe their stated approach of cutting supports, reducing communication and coordination would be deeply harmful to Eastern Ontario. The NDP has yet to put forward any kind of sustainable plan that would benefit SDSG.
That leaves the Liberals, who have had many successes over the years. The Liberal Party has stuck by the mantra of "move forward together" - an implication that success means leaving nobody behind. That means engaging with all your partners, empowering them to support the process.
There's no way to know what happened and didn't happen with the planning of this event - I can think of countless variables. What came before, though, matters only in how it informs what comes next.
I still believe that open communication, proactive collaboration and respect are the right way forward - the only way forward. Hopefully, that's what we'll continue to see.
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