Trudeau once told journalist Susan Delacourt that he purposely chose Telford as his campaign chair to push back against those who counseled against her appointment.
“She constantly fights against people who don’t take her seriously, who belittle her, who say they can do a better job and not just men, not just older men, but everyone. And it’s been a great reminder to me of the challenges that we’re still facing in changing politics as a culture.”
Katie Telford is 36 years old. In a political culture where it's common for powerful positions to be occupied by 20somethings with more confidence than experience, this hardly makes her a young doe - but she's not a grizzled veteran with decades of political warfare under her belt, either. Add to this her size - Katie hovers somewhere slightly over the five foot mark - and it is not at all difficult to imagine political old boys dismissing her.
That would be their choice to make, but it would be an ill-advised one.
Katie is smart. She's also confident, but leans more towards the smart side over the confident side than the average political player. That means that she's willing to admit when she doesn't understand and likelier to err on the side of evidence over gut, or aggressive selling from a political peer.
She asks smart questions and listens carefully to responses, most often with the intent of understanding what's being revealed instead of preparing herself with a counter-attack. This is incredibly rare in politics, unfortunately, but a trait that puts her in good stead.
Katie's worked in numerous political cultures, both inside government and without. She is respected, even admired by the clients she has worked with from the private and not-for-profit sectors. No doubt her inbox is regularly populated with job offers from major organizations and institutions.
Yet for all her professional success, Katie hasn't fallen into the trap many of her peers have, which is to assume they matter more than the causes they're involved in. You'll never hear Katie say "I only think about things when I'm paid to" or "we are smart, they are dumb." In fact, Katie has acted on her beliefs and passion in countless silent ways that speak to her commitment to the cause.
My favourite example: a political networking night for women, intended to build up a community of peer support. There are a great many women who have suffered the slings and arrows of sexism in politics and not just survived, but excelled (Katie being one of them) - to develop a forum for those best practices to be shared speaks to her character.
Having said that, Katie's not afraid to play the game. She knows how to frame and she's not afraid to bend the rules in favourable ways.
As is the case with all people, Katie does have her flaws. She is more strategic than she is empathic, though she is unquestionably more empathetic than the average political bear. Her focus is perhaps more on political wins than it is on the best possible policy, though she is acutely aware of our democratic deficit and not one to dismiss such concerns out of hand. Numbers matter, but a number every person in Canadian politics should be adding to their consideration is voter turnout.
There's been lots of crowing about the lack of detailed policy from Team Trudeau so far this campaign (when did it start again? feels like it's been always been with us). It's an unfair statement, as there have been pieces of policy, but the truth is - and all political people know it - that a detailed platform doesn't win elections and can often sink a campaign in its complexity (messaging nightmare) or in offering a bigger target for opponents to shoot at.
This can't go on forever, of course, and the Liberals have already made tentative moves in the direction of crowd-sourcing policy. I think this is a smart move, the kind that fits Katie's approach and passions perfectly.
As best explained in the must-read book on facilitation Discuss, Decide, Do, the most appropriate and agile policies are ones the people feel some ownership of. While Team Trudeau has certainly created some appearance of crowd-sourcing policy and open-sourcing the conversation, they are by-and-large still playing the Strong Leader game, positioning their guy as the only one who can lead Canada forward.
It's a mixed message that sends confusing signals; are the Trudeau Liberals open to the hope and hard work of the people, or are the people supposed to invest in Trudeau and nothing more? That's always been Harper's line. It seems to have worked for him, but Trudeau's core brand is that he's not more of the same.
Katie Telford's greatest strength - perhaps her greatest source of strength - is that she's anything but the traditional personification of a political person. She has both the capacity and willingness to peel back the layers of the game and take a look at the people and ideas that are readily dismissed by politics-as-usual. After all, she is still seen as one of them by many.
If Team Trudeau live their core messaging, their goal isn't just to win by any means necessary, but to disrupt and adapt Canada's political culture to meet the needs of Canada's modern reality.
Trudeau empowered Telford because she's smart, competent and tested, but also because she fights against the status quo.
We should all be looking forward to Katie continuing that tradition.
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