One on One with GK - part 1
Martha Hall Findlay
My path crossed with Gerard’s on mid-term election night when he was in Edmonton and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions for a blog interview. I think I ended up doing this at about 2 am his time on a day he was coming off four hours sleep, but he still managed to spit out very coherent and complete answers to my questions. I’ll post the first half of the interview on the Liberal Party in Alberta and Party renewal today and post the second half tomorrow. I’ll let the answers speak for themselves because any other “thoughts” I add are just going to sound like cheerleading.
1. With the Income Trust flip-flop, there’s a lot in the news about politicians breaking their promises. So I’m going to ask you to make a solemn vow to Canadians. Given Bob Rae’s visit to the Rick Mercer report and Scott Brison’s calendar pose, can you promise Canadians that, if elected Liberal Leader, they will not have to see you naked at all?
[laugh] "Iron clad guarantee. I like to be original and whatever you see, it won’t be that."
2. As an Alberta Liberal, I’m curious about your involvement with the party when you were living here. Were you active with the Liberals then?
"I was involved in both the provincial party and the federal party. I got involved around 1979 with the U of A Liberals. I also campaigned in the provincial elections – one year in Edmonton Centre I helped a proff at U of A, Brian McCulture run; we had about three canvassers. My father ran in 1984 and I helped him when he ran in Churchill in northern Manitoba.
I was involved also in the mayoralty campaigns of Lawrence Decore [ed note: who went on to become Alberta Liberal Party Leader]. It was nice to work on his campaigns because we got to win those. In 1986 the Liberals tried to get me to run but I was 26 and I was pretty implicated with the food bank. But I did help out on Bettie Hewes campaign in Edmonton Gold Bar and, without trying to, the food bank became a big political issue. A headline in the Journal one day was that the foodbank use showed that the Getty government was out of touch. Getty lost 16 seats that election and the Liberals only picked up four of them but it was still a breakthrough for the party at that time.
I also attended federal conventions and in 1984 I was a delegate for the leadership convention for Don Johnson. We surprised the Chretien and Turner people by winning the Red Deer provincial youth meeting."
3. On that vein, what do you think the Liberal Party needs to do in order to have a breakthrough in the West and, in particular, in Alberta?
"I think it’s a touchstone for whether we’re serious about success. We have to become a truly national party and that means what we have to do is lift the stigma of being a federal Liberal in Alberta. To do that, we need a federal Liberal Party which is equally imbedded in all regions of the country. And that’s still a bit of a stretch for the party.
It’s going to take a political shift to acknowledge what’s already happened economically. It’s what needs to happen for the functionality of the country. We cannot function when political parties have regional disparities which exacerbate our ability to find consensus and forge a common direction for the country.
Obviously some places like southern Alberta are the acid test for whether we’re really going to make progress. That’s obviously one of the more challenging parts of the country but I do think we can see gains in the short to medium term in Northern Alberta and other parts of the West. How we do that is by becoming a different party. We keep the same values but we work hard to acknowledge that we have to start building a consensus here. That’s why I’m emphasizing policies which resonate well with Alberta; The enterprise Liberalism I’ve been talking about, a results oriented approach to government - I think this is one of the reasons I have support in BC and Alberta.
I’m hoping to make that part of the mandate I get from the party. We need to have Western ideas and policy as a base, not just as an add on. We need to invest some of our political capital here if we’re going to get some return.
We’ve got a chance not just for the so called breakthrough but also for overall acceptance. I’m not looking to just double our seats from the historical one to two. I’m looking for general acceptance from Albertans. And I want to provoke Albertans and ask them why they don’t have any choice – they should have choice. Why aren’t they significant enough like other provinces that have influence in more than one major party. I understand that we have to set the table and we have to show the respect for Albertans that sometimes seems to be lacking. I say that not defensively at all – I don’t believe there’s anything inherently about the Liberal Party that can’t do this but it does require an attitude shift. We then make some concrete actions about how we compose ourselves, where the leader spends his time, what we do in terms of policy and how we spend our time on the ground – I think that’s how we get back. There’s no other way to lift the yolk – it’s like carrying a 180 pound person on your back when you go door to door; It’s been a generation now and it’s time for the country’s sake to have that lifted.
It’s also good for Liberals. We can’t spot the Conservatives 100 seats every time we go into an election. The dynamics of the country have changed and we need to change to."
4. You’ve talked a lot about the need for party renewal. What specifically does party renewal mean to you?
"I think it’s pretty broad based. The party’s doing an initiative that a lot of people like but I’m not sure it’s about renewal. Renewal is about doing structural change to make the party an open party. And that means we have an accountability that starts with the leader. I don’t wish to see a leader with artificial constraints but there needs to be an arrangement which says from time to time the membership and MPs will be able to react, put a veto, have an oversight on what the leader does. I’m going to be putting forward some of those specifics in the next short while.
We have to ask ourselves a question: Are we a club or are we a political organization open to all Canadians? To qualify for the later we simply have to take down some of the old outlook. Some of it is rooted in the fact that it’s too easy for a leader’s office in Ottawa to run all aspects of the party. Even with the best of intentions , they don’t have to go through the consultations and consensus building that’s necessary to engage all regions of the country and a diversity of views. If the leader and the leader’s office don’t make some of those action steps, I can’t see how we’re going to galvanize our own members, never mind the people who we want to see step through the door.
I see the party being a party that uses it’s members all the time, not just for elections. The information technology permits it and the running of government requires it. In government, we need policy and ideas from the grass roots. In opposition, we need to take on the Tories in every riding they have and we need to galvanize the grass roots to do that. If more people feel they’re engaged, they’re more likely to donate the time and money we need to be a credible political force. The fundamental difference is having Liberals who are engaged.
I think we need to take an ethical stand on how things are done in the future. We’re going to need an agreement in the future on how certain things are done. I’m looking forward to the public getting a sense that the Liberal Party is setting the standard for how politics get done. We can’t be a club – we need to be an open process, or people won’t stay in the party. It’s what people expect.
Also, we need to get to the goal of 50% women, I will appoint 50% women to Cabinet within a few elections so I need people to send me a good supply."
As an Aside... Former Ignatieff organizer and Scarborough Guildwood Riding President John Laforet has endorsed Kennedy.