In Support of Gerard Kennedy
Gerard Kennedy caught my eye early on in this race. What can I say – it was love at first wikipedia search. But looking good on paper is one thing – a leader needs to have the presence, confidence, experience, and ideas necessary to lead. After meeting Gerard a few times, I was convinced he possessed these qualities and I outlined some of my reasons for supporting him back in April. But April seems like a long time ago and I’d like to re-emphasize why I’ll be proudly voting for Gerard Kennedy this weekend.
For me, it comes down to what's required for the Liberal Party right now, in 2006. And this party needs three things (four if you count a new logo). Firstly, this party needs to come together and rebuild itself. Anyone who tells you that things are all hunky dory in Liberal land is seriously disconnected from reality (and not just because they’re saying things like “hunky dory”). Secondly, the party needs a clear purpose and vision. When asked “what does the Liberal Party stand for?” members need to be able to say something other than “to win elections”. Thirdly, we need to win elections. All three of these ideas are tied together and it’s going to take some effort from all Liberals to get there. The leader can only do so much but the leader is still the vehicle which will be used to reach this destination and this party needs a leader who can deliver on all three counts.
The Chretien/Martin wars tore this party apart and a house divided on itself cannot stand. In less poetic terms: GET OVER IT! Seriously. The last thing this party needs is Eddie Goldenberg opening up old wounds. Luckily, there aren’t any Capulets or Montagues running in this race. Candidates like Allan Rock did the right thing by declining to run and the Board did the right thing by staying on the sidelines. Liberals desire a fresh start and Kennedy would be a new face at the helm who represents a new beginning for the party. Gerard has run a positive campaign and would be an easy leader for all Liberals to rally around, should he come out on top. I’ve heard a lot of Liberals say “I can’t stand X”, “I won’t support Y”, “I won’t vote Liberal if Z wins”, but I haven’t heard anyone say that about Kennedy (to my face at least…).
As for the actual renewal of the Liberal Party, no one has talked about it more and no one is better suited to bring it into being. Kennedy is committed to engaging the grass roots and of curbing the powers of the PMO (or…I guess for the time being, the OLO). This party will not fix itself overnight and the job of party leader is a decade long commitment. Gerard Kennedy is a lifelong Liberal who understands this party and he will give the next decade of his life to the Liberal Party, win or lose.
Part of the renewal of the party is about finding out what Liberals believe in. We need a leader who believes in more than winning elections and who presents a vision Liberals can be proud of. On Afghanistan, Gerard has spoken out about a practical and principled solution to a complex problem. He’s put forward a critically acclaimed immigration platform. He’s the only candidate talking about education – probably the best investment any government can make. He’s laid out firm numbers, pledging to spend 0.7% of our GDP on early learning and child development. Rather than pledging tokenism, he’s suggested ways to improve the economic situation of women in this country. And, yes, like every single candidate in this race, Gerard has made it clear he likes the environment. While he hasn’t gotten as much media attention as others, Kennedy has been quietly running an ideas based campaign. He’s put forward the framework of a platform with substance which all Liberals can rally behind.
Obviously, having a strong Liberal Party with a clear vision will help us win elections. But the sad reality of politics is that ideas alone will never rule the day. Especially when you’re opposing a calculating and competent government. This party needs a leader who can win elections. Kennedy comes free of baggage. He’s not at all connected to Adscam and it’s very hard to run attack adds against “the food bank guy” ("Food...for the poor...in our cities...in Canada...We're not making this up"). If I were a Tory strategist, I could think of great lines of attack to use against most of the candidates in this field but I’d have a hard time finding something to stick on Gerard (and, in fairness, going after Dryden or Findlay would be just as difficult). Some will say that not having scars means you haven’t fought the battles but even if he’s a rookie on the federal scene, he’s far from an amateur. This is a political veteran with over a decade of experience in elected politics. He’s performed well as education minister and has enjoyed fantastic electoral success in a riding which isn’t traditionally a Liberal stronghold. Whether politics is a vocation or a skill, it’s hard to deny that experience matters. Kennedy chooses his words well, communicates effectively, and knows how to handle the pressure of an election campaign.
Finally, as a Western Liberal, I must add that Kennedy's deep roots in the West appeal strongly to me. The Liberal Party has never had a Western born leader and it's been a long time since the party made a serious effort to reach out to the West. Say what you will about winning back Quebec, but there are a lot more seats to be won out West than in La Belle Province where the Liberals have average a mere 20 seats over the last 7 elections and 20 years. With a united right, it is impossible for this party to win a majority government without a Western breakthrough. Having lived over half his life in Western Canada, Gerard understands this and his opposition to a carbon tax and support of the enterprise principle shows he's commited to making a Western breakthrough a top priority.
Gerard Kennedy is man who has helped those less fortunate his entire life. He’s in politics for the right reasons and, just as I knew it in April, I know today that he’s the right man to lead this party at this crucial time in its history.