Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gerard Kennedy OYL event

Tonight I went to a wonderful OYL event with Gerard Kennedy, who gave a very youth driven talk and Q&A session at Ryerson University. It was a very diverse crowd, with dozens of Young Liberals attending, including several OYL execs who gave a brief Q&A session beforehand about various programs and initiatives. Gerard Kennedy then arrived, and gave a brief speech focusing on his duties as Intergovernmental Affairs critic, and the role of the Green Shift in the campaign plan overall. Kennedy said that an important area of of the Green Shift as it relates to his portfolio is the idea of filling the policy vacuum left by the Conservatives on the environment file, to get the whole country working together for the benefit of the future of the nation, and why myths about the regional divisiveness of the Green Shift need to be put to rest. Kennedy, as someone with roots in the West, talked about the importance of the Western economy, particularly the Oilsands, to the overall economic health of the nation, and that any Western bashing is harmful both for the party, in it's efforts to rebuild as a national entity, and the nation as a whole.
Kennedy, as someone with on the ground experience in fighting poverty, was passionate about the tying in of anti-poverty efforts into the Green Shift, and that Liberals need to do a better job promoting the poverty reduction they made while in office, and be committed to the goals they have set for themselves when they get back into power. Kennedy vigorously promoted a populist strand that politics must be for the people by the people, saying "Policy isn't ideas you send to need to relate to people...don't be elitist, have policy from the bottom up, bring people into the policy making process", and that the Liberals are the best equipped party to listen to people. Kennedy gave the example of the Carbon Challenge that his local campaign is running, which both reaches out actively to people to get them to reduce carbon, and triggers e-mail alerts straight to the PMO, telling them what you are doing, and why he is not doing more. Kennedy tied in this to the Liberal Action project, which is largely based around unheld ridings, which seeks to get Liberal critics in the House listening more to the grassroots, increasing both the overall transparency of the policy process, and creating better policy ideas, and better policy implementation.
The Q&A session started with a question regarding the regional needs of the various parts of the nation (with an emphasis on rural and northern communities), and if various offsets for these areas in the Green Shift would still ensure an environmental benefit. Kennedy answered that regional considerations must be taken into effect, and that the key element of fairness in the Green Shift must not be overlooked. Yes, certain areas and certain people will have a harder or an easier time adjusting to the shift, so the playing field must be levelled in order for real progress to happen, so these communities must be given an "invitation to change" in order to move the policy forward.
Kennedy's next question was about the impact of the Green Shift on businesses, particularly small businesses. Kennedy stressed the tax cut aspects of the Green Shift here, and the importance of helping businesses develop greater innovation for the green economy of the future. Returning to anti-poverty measures, Kennedy implored that the most vulnerable in society must be protected, and that without this protection, the grand shift of national values that the Green Shift brings cannot work. This flowed into a question about Kennedy's local campaign against the NDP, and how the Green Shift could work to take NDP votes. Kennedy rejected calls for advertising strategic voting, to whip up fears of progressive voters about the Tories to rally them to the Liberals, but rather focus on positive contrasts, that while the NDP can yell and scream at the Conservatives all they want, only the Liberals can bring about progressive action and hope.
I myself asked sort of a flip version of the previous question, that while environmental measures and anti-poverty concerns are great, in the swing ridings of the 905, the tax break elements of the Green Shift might be a better angle to sell the shift on, and so would more of a balance be struck in terms of selling the Green Shift both as a progressive environmental measure, and a tax saving device. Kennedy gave me a frank and straight-forward answer, that the Green Shift is an environmental policy first, and while the tax break aspects of the Shift are certainly important, and certainly will be promoted, the Liberals need to and are going to hold their ground on the environmental file, turning into into a leadership issue in a portfolio where the Conservatives have not moved forward on. The Liberals are going beyond the fringe of the Greens, beyond the protests of the NDP, and making environmental issues a mainstream political issue. In response to concern that voters in the suburban, smaller urban, and semi-rural areas are more concerned about the economy than the environment, Kennedy again promoted the idea of tomorrow's green economy, with the Liberals leading the way in its development.
In order for the Green Shift to work, in response to a question about media and message control, the Liberal grassroots, and Liberal activists must believe in the shift. My personal thoughts are that is in an incredibly important aspect of the Green Shift that cannot be overlooked. One of the main reasons the Ontario PC campaign was a disaster is that many PC activists and even candidates themselves (who are generally much further right then John Tory) were clearly uncomfortable selling an overtly centrist document, and defending an issue (faith based funding) that they had serious problems with ourselves. The Green Shift is going to be another example of a self fulling political prophecy: If Liberals stand united for progress, and belief that the Shift will succeed, it will succeed, if we allow petty personal and policy divisions to get between us, and we are selling the Green Shift through clenched teeth, we are looking at more time in opposition. Kennedy himself refereed to his experience selling the Ontario Liberal Party's education plan in the 2003 election to voters who weren't necessarily going to be concerned with educational issues, and that the Green Shift is another example of a truly transformative policy that if implemented, will bring Canada into an innovative future. Kennedy closed his presentation with an inspirational call to Young Liberals, the future of our party, that if we want to be involved in a post-Green Shift era, we must promote the Green Shift as what it truly is, a technology shift, a political shift, and a positive economic shift.

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