Friday, December 1, 2006

Kennedy Delivers

I watched the leadership speeches on CBC tonight and for my money Kennedy delivered the best speech of the night. He was the only candidate that addressed the issue of renewal, an issue which is important to those of us who are still troubled by the Liberal corruption and sense of entitlement after 13 years in power. You could see the audience reaction to his comments on the need for renewal. Stone cold silence from the back-roomers and lifers. Too bad because for those of us who are looking for a commitment to change and renewal, the last thing we want to see is long time Liberal fat cats licking their lips in anticipating of a big juicy meal at the next election.

His speech was also full of energy and passion. The end of his speech, when he was describing how his experience working at the food bank has motivated his public life was particularly moving. His tone was lower key, less aggressive and he was more relaxed. At that moment I really felt that he was letting you in to get a good look at who he really is. The guy you'd see if he invited you to his house for dinner. I thought it was a very effective way to end his speech and one which certainly cemented my support for him.

I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Kennedy about six weeks ago and we talked for several minutes. I was trying to get a sense for his character and so I asked an obviously provocative question. I asked if what he would do if it was clear he couldn't win. He said he is in this for the long haul. His response was immediate, short and direct. And I could tell that he meant it. I saw more of that tonight. It's the passion and honesty of people like Gerard Kennedy and Robert Kennedy who really make me believe that a commitment to public service is a more than worthy vocation. Something that I haven't felt for many, many years.

Dean or no Dean

I watched Howard Dean's keynote at the Liberal leadership convention last night. It was something of a contentious issue among Liberal's. On the one hand the Liberals are in the midst of "renewing" the party and have been shy about using the "Republican" and "Bush-lite" labels on the Conservatives and his royal Excellency the right honorable Stephen Harper. So you'd think they'd be a little more cautious about bringing in someone who could generate the same sort of criticism. And in the midst of renewal do the Liberal's really need to go south of the border for ideas and inspiration? Can't they find ANYONE who could inspire the troops who was actually Canadian? Are we really that pathetic?

On the other hand, the Democrats, under Dean's guidance, have just defeated the real Evil Empire, so any ideas and inspiration he can give to aid in the defeat of Satan Jr. can't hurt. And really, are we that insecure as a nation that there has to be wailing and gnashing of teeth every time we do this? After all America is not only the most powerful country in the world (England to our Ireland) but one of the oldest and most successful democracies, so why shouldn't we exchange ideas? After all while Dean's invoking Trudeau's "Just Society" was probably more pandering to the audience than sincere, his 50 state strategy and fighting for every vote really resonated with the audience. And from my own experience, campaigning for other candidates, if you listen to people, treat them with respect and respond to their issues in a principled and honest fashion they will respond. So let's just all relax and enjoy.

Unfortunately, for the most part, I found his speech to be pretty pedestrian and even robotic. I mean other than the "our diversity does not divide us, it defines us" and the part about "power does not belong to us, it is loaned to us", it just seemed pretty mechanical -- and dull.

In fact, compared with some of the other leadership candidates he seemed almost amateurish. While I don't support them for leader, both Ignatieff and Rae are far more eloquent and engaging as speakers. And for my money, they offer more substance in their speeches than Dean did last night. And while Gerard Kennedy lacks a bit in delivery (he always looks a bit nervous), he makes up for it with passion and a authenticity.

So why couldn't the Liberal's have it both ways. Bring in Dean to inspire the troops with stories of crushing the enemy and an actual Canadian who could deliver a passionate, inspired speech on what Canada could be. Beats me. They're out there. I've even met some of them.

Recognizing Quebec as a Nation

The debate over whether to recognize Quebec as a nation has taken over the national political agenda over the past week -- largely thanks to Michael Ignatieff and members of the Quebec Liberal caucus and Stephen Harper's seeming pathological need to have any shiny new idea that comes into his head realized.

While I'm split on the issue, it seems to me that it warrants deeper consideration than the cursory debate that was undertaken this past week by all of the leading parties. Given that the definition of a "nation" can include the notion of all, or some of, a common culture, language, history and geography it has the opportunity to be dangerous in the hands of the Bloc and the PQ. The vagueness of the motion and the Bloq's support of the motion only raises concerns. But once again, Mr. Harper's only consideration was the opportunity to realize some political gain in Quebec and so forged ahead all guns blazing.

In light of the almost unanimous vote to pass the motion, it's good to see that at least a few of the Liberal leadership candidates have come out either against it -- or at least voicing some concern. Both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Rae have voiced their concerns and kept the debate open, and Mr. Dryden actually had the courage to vote against it. I hope that at least one of them has the courage to address the issue during their speeches on Friday night.

But it seems to me that the question is the wrong one for our times, and certainly the wrong one for the country. A comment made on Rex Murphy's Cross Country Checkup last night validated what I've been thinking for a while. At one point a Quebecois, who had been raised in a small French community and educated by separatists said that most Quebecois under 40 don't care about the separatist issue. To them it's an issue that the previous generation hasn't been able to let go of and not one that concerns them. He, and most people his age, are concerned with what concerns most of us in the rest of the country in an increasingly competitive, global economy -- our jobs, family, house, happiness.

It's probably telling that Mr. Ignatieff, who has been living in some sort of a time bubble would come back with this issue. What we really should be concerned about -- and what Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Dion and Mr. Rae seem to be more focused on is how we can be competitive in today's global economy.

This is the context, in which we should consider the question of nationalism. Rather than looking back at an issue that was relevant 20 years ago, we should be considering how we can leverage our uniqueness as a nation that comprises different ethnicities, cultures and languages to gain a unique advantage in the global economy? We should be promoting cross-pollination of cultures and languages in our education system and encouraging not just bilingualism but multi-lingualism in both business and political life.

If you go to Europe or Asia, or really anywhere but North America, many people speak two or more languages and are familiar with many different cultures. We should be embracing and expanding multiculturalism and pushing into every corner of the country. And in doing so perhaps we can truly be a model for democracy that the rest of the world will look to and want to emulate.