Monday, December 19, 2011

What does it take to be president? Alexandra Mendes knows

To me, an important part of the job of President of the Party is to know what the job is and isn't. It's an organizational role, one that requires communications and the ability to build bridges to get the job done. What it is not is a spokesperson position. The President must never become a bigger story than the party and the caucus. Alexandra Mendes understands the role and responsibilities of being LPC President, and brings a proven track record of experience and results. Here's what Alexandra has to say about the job of President:

"The race for president of the Liberal Party is generating a great deal of excitement and as a Liberal I am delighted to see the renewed interest and commitment to this party by its members. However, we must not get forget that when the dust settles on the race and a winner is declared, the real work will start. Debates among candidates will be forgotten and the nitty-gritty of the job will get done in many different places; often not on a stage and often out of the public eye. Simply put, the president is not the leader of the party. The president’s job is to help the members, the Caucus and the leader do their work.

One of the first tasks to be tackled is to sit down with the financial books of the Liberal Party. Managing the finances of our Party will be a crucial job for the president and the National Executive in the months to come.

What am I bringing to this aspect of the position? I became executive director of membership driven organization when it went into receivership and helped bring it to financial stability. From this I learned to balance books and be financially responsible with limited funds. This is often a diplomatic act of ensuring that the necessary funds are available for activities that sustain and grow an organization while cutting down on waste and unnecessary spending. Also, since the future of party financing demands that we finance our party from donations alone, we need to manage the money we now have and to engage Canadians to donate and support our party. This will require that we think outside the box to strengthen our finances. The membership has identified creative ways to increase funds and heighten the Liberal profile and as president I would work hard to facilitate these initiatives.

I believe that under the new financial reality, members must drive the financial bus; without the per-vote subsidies we need to change the way our Party does business. To provide a lasting financially responsible framework, I believe that we must have a mandatory quarterly review that assesses both input and output of funds and mandates that we justify our spending either on the basis of successful member outreach or successful fundraising. If an expenditure item does neither, then it should be eliminated in the interest of frugal fiscal management.

The other fundamental aspect of the job is to meet with Liberals, to hear their concerns and suggestions. For the president of the Liberal Party, these meetings require another set of talents: listening and knowing when and how to act. After my many experiences as a MP, a riding association president and an executive director of an NGO I have learned that there is a fundamental difference between listening to people and simply allowing people to talk. For me, listening is an active, purposeful activity where I try to understand and piece together what people are thinking and feeling; what they are asking for; how they offer to help; and even what they are critiquing us on.

For me, listening must always be followed by any appropriate action. There is no point listening passively and then moving on; it leaves people frustrated and also allows many helpful suggestions and golden opportunities to slip away. For example, a young man representing approached me during the May 2011 campaign. He wanted to know why Liberal MP’s hadn’t signed on the online petition against user-based internet fees. I was surprised that we hadn’t, I made two phone calls to the appropriate critics and in less than 48 hours, Liberal MP’s had become the darlings of The young man who had come to me originally was so impressed at the results that he became a member of the Party, joined my campaign team and became our “go-to” person in all IT related matters.

The president must also be responsive to riding associations. As an active member of the Brossard – La Prairie riding association for over 10 years, as a riding association president that supported the election of the Hon. Jacques Saada twice and as an MP who won in the same riding, I have intimate knowledge of the challenges faced by riding associations. I believe that the president must work with riding associations one by one and with the Council of Presidents in a constructive way. A president’s job is not to dictate what should be done but rather to help associations to do their job because they know their communities best. A “one plan fits all” approach will not succeed; we must take into account the unique nature of each riding.

Again, the act of listening cannot be left to chance. We must do something that is required from every president and if elected I would institute a set of rules governing response times. Any written submission from a riding association must be responded to within 30 days and if the decision is required and still pending at 90 days, then there must be a further communication every 30 days until a decision is made.

Another crucial job for the president is to facilitate Liberal messaging. The president is not the spokesperson for the party; that is clearly and indubitably the leader’s job. The president and the National Executive do have however a crucial role to play as facilitators for messaging. As a MP that got swept up by the Orange Wave, I also know that we need to focus on the air war as well as the ground war. In my riding we set up the winning conditions for the 2011 election as we had numerous times before. However, the combination of the attack war against Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals, and the NDP’s successful messaging campaign in Quebec, all of our diligent work was thoroughly overridden.

If I am elected president, I will commit to helping with the air war. First and foremost, this will require that funding be available to define our leader before our opponents define him/her. Second, we will have to change the way we do the business of messaging. We need to communicate more effectively to reach the hearts as well as the minds of Canadians. We need to communicate effectively and in a timely manner with members about the positions the party has taken on issues.

We need to fundraise by showing why our Party deserves the support of Canadians by earning each dollar. We can do this by having clear, simple, straightforward conversations about what Liberals want to support and why. These messages need to not only go out to members; we need to use our free opportunities in the media to effectively, rationally and emotionally connect with Canadians.

This is my understanding of what it means to be president of the Liberal Party of Canada. How do you see it? I really would love to read your thoughts…"

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