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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

The Tragedy of Ashley Smith

And repeated, and repeated, in all kinds of contexts to various degrees of severity.  It's cyclical.
Why?  Because we aren't psychologists; we don't understand the behaviour of others any more than we understand the behaviour of ourselves.  If we ever hope to fill in these social fissures, we need to work harder to understand.
No one can force us to do so - we have to want to, for ourselves.  We have to believe understanding matters; we have to have faith that understanding is possible.

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


Tuesday 22 January 2013

A Gerard Kennedy Story (2)

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:

About a year ago, I got an invite from a friend to attend a Gerard Kennedy fundraiser. Normally, those sorts of events are way out of my price range, but this one was different - instead of a ticket price, the money would be raised by selling prints of Gerard's portrait of Lester B. Pearson. There was a recommended ticket price but the attendees were free to donate what they felt appropriate. While my donation was far less than some of the other folk in the room, I appreciated the opportunity to participate.


It wasn't until I got to the event that it became clear how much he had  accomplished. By building an inclusive price-model, Gerard was raising funds (there were big donors in the room) but also creating an opportunity for people like me to get involved.  Using the portrait as an anchor, Gerard had an opportunity to talk about something that mattered to him – the arts and, more broadly, expression. 


The thought that went into maximizing the potential of this event was impressive; planning matters.  What made the night really stand out for me, though, was something else entirely.


Gerard Kennedy is well-liked and well-respected, so there was a good crowd.  Among them was an elderly gentleman; whether it was the crowd or the hour, part way through the evening he became light-headed and started to wobble.  There was a slow ripple of reaction from those near him, but it was the host’s voice that brought everyone to attention.  Before most of us knew anything had happened, Gerard was at the microphone, asking if there was a doctor or anyone with medical experience in the room.


He didn’t stop there.  While the majority of guests stood, uncertain what to do, Gerard did what he does best by jumping in to action and addressing the problem at hand.  With the assistance of a few of his former staff, Gerard got the man, now too feint even to stand, water and some towels to use as a pillow.  At the same time, other former staff of Gerard’s had been tasked to call 911 and canvass the crowd for medical expertise, which was found.  Once they had a chance to assess the man, Gerard asked these doctors if there was anything they didn’t have that would help.  It was a remarkably astute question, one that I would not have thought of asking.  It was one that Gerard’s various life experiences had taught him to ask and that he has consistently applied in his political life – how can I help you find the tools you need to succeed?


Since Gerard acted swiftly and comprehensively, the event was able to continue and the man’s health and privacy were both respected.  It was a remarkably effective bit of leadership.


This story came to mind today while reading an article about another remarkable man who has dedicated his life to helping others – Eric Hoskins.  Both are individuals of integrity who lead by example.


Which is exactly the kind of leader Ontario deserves.

Monday 21 January 2013

A Gerard Kennedy Story (1)

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:

A couple weeks back, Gerard was in the office (to be clear, I work on his team) for a filmed interview with Susanna Kelley of Ontario News Watch. As the interview was wrapping up and the ONW film team was putting away their gear, a delivery of juice and pop arrived at the office.

Chelios, one of the volunteers who has brought a wealth of talent and dedication to Team GK, began moving the cases of drinks to the back of the office and from there, to the basement for storage. It's the kind of proactive guy he is.  Instinctively, Gerard began to do the same. "It's okay, Gerard," said Chelios - "you don't need to worry about this."
Gerard smiled back and replied, "this is what I do. I've got a few minutes - it'll get done quicker this way."

What followed next was pure magic.  Seeing the candidate role up his sleeves, others in the office felt inspired to do the same - even the ONW camera team helped out.  With a suggestion from Gerard, the team split in two, with one half moving the cases to the back and the next bringing them down to the basement.  The move happened quickly, efficiently and we all felt a sense of empowered teamwork when it was done.

It's a little thing, maybe, but to me this tale personifies what GK is about.  Gerard Kennedy leads by example, empowers other to contribute and then looks for ways to make the process more efficient and effective.  Everyone then has more time and greater collaborative potential to dedicate towards adding value.
Best of all? There was a camera team right there.  Gerard could have turned a good deed into a photo op, but I doubt the idea ever occurred to him.  His focus was less on what he could get out of the work at hand than it was on what he (and collaboratively, we) could contribute. 
Ontario deserves a leader who leads by example.  Gerard is that kind of leader.