Tag Archives: liberal party of canada

On Policy Alpha geeks, network thinking and foreign policy

In the past few weeks the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) and the Canadian International Council (CIC) both launched new visions for Canada’s foreign policy. Reading each, I’m struck by how much overlap both documents have with Middle to Model Power, the Canada25 report written 5 years ago by over 500 young Canadians from across the country and around the world.

With Middle to Model Power, a group of young people largely self-organized to lay out a vision and selection of ideas around how Canada could rethink its foreign policy. Take a look at this selection from its executive summary, including an overview and the first recommendation:

We submit that Canada should cease assessing its influence on the basis of its size or position within an obsolete global hierarchy. Instead, Canada25 calls on Canadians to look at the world as a network, where influence is based on the capacity of an individual, company, non-governmental organization (NGO) or country to innovate and collaborate. Building on this perspective, we propose that Canada become a Model Power—a country whose influence is linked to its ability to innovate, experiment, and partner; a country that, by presenting itself as a model, invites the world to assess, challenge, borrow from, and contribute to, its efforts.
In pursuit of our vision of Canada as a Model Power, we outline three priorities for action. These, accompanied by some of our recommendations, include:

MAKE CANADA A NETWORK NODE. Enhance the ability of Canadians to create, nurture, and tap into international networks:
• Issue five-year work visas to foreign graduates of Canadian universities • Reach out to Canada’s expatriate community by creating an international network of
Canadian leaders…

You can download the full report here, but you get the idea. Remember this is a group of 23-35 year-olds writing in 2005.

Now, quickly compare this to the summary’s of both the LPC and CIC’s new reports.

The LPC report, called a Global Networks Strategy opens by stating:

Networks define how the world works today, as hierarchies did in the past. Influence is gained through connectedness, and by being at the centre of networks. That is good news for Canada, because we have a reputation for being able to work with others, we have shaped many multilateral organizations, and our population today reflects the diversity of the world. The Global Networks Strategy is designed to leverage these assets. It sets priority areas in which the federal government must collaborate with the full range of players who contribute vigorously – and most often in networks – to Canada’s presence in the world: other governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, young Canadians, academia, faith- based groups, artists and others.

And in the CIC report, titled Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked World, has as one of its opening paragraphs:

Canada will never be the most powerful nation on Earth. But we live in a digital age, where might is measured in knowledge rather than muscularity. If we keep building on our openness—attracting the best and the brightest citizens, generating and exchanging new ideas and new ways of doing things and welcoming investment in our economy—Canada can position itself at the centre of the networked world that is emerging in the 21st century.

And, unsurprisingly, the deeper details of the reports offer many similar prescriptions.

So how, on a shoestring budget, can a group of young Canadians many of whom were not foreign policy experts, write a report that identifies an organizing principle that 5 years both a major political party and one of the country’s newest and best funded think tanks would put at the hearts of their own reports?

A few ideas come to mind:

1) The Medium is the Message: Middle to Model Power was not written on a wiki (in 2005 none of us knew what a wiki was!) but it was written over email. The authors were scattered across the country and the process of organizing local events was relatively decentralized. People raised whatever topics that mattered to them, and during the drafting phase they simple sent me their ideas and we batted them around. There was structure, but were were a pretty flat organization and… we were very connected. For Canada25 a network wasn’t just an idea that emerged out of the process, it was the process. It should hardly be surprising that the way we saw the world reflected how we organized ourselves. (When I say that Canada’s digital economy strategy will fail unless written on GCPEDIA this is part of what I’m hinting at). The medium is the message. It’s hard (but not impossible) to write about networks deep in hierarchy.

2) Look for Policy Alpha Geeks in resource poor environments: So why did Canada25 think in terms of networks? How was it that before Wikinomics or GPS or pretty much most other things I’ve seen, did Canada25 organize itself this way?  Well, it wasn’t because we were strategic or young. It was because we had very little money. We couldn’t afford to organize any other way. To get 500 Canadians around the world to think about foreign policy we had to let them self-organize – we didn’t have an org structure or facilitators to do it for them. We had to take the cheapest tools (email) and over use them. Don’t get me wrong, Canada25 was not poor. Our members were generally very well educated, we had access to computers and the internet and access to interesting people to interview and draw ideas from. But the raw infrastructure we had at our disposal was not significant and it forced us to adopt what I now see were disruptive technologies and processes. We became Policy Alpha Geeks because we had to innovate not to be relevant, but to ensure the project survived.

3) It’s not about the youth: People presume that our thinking emerged because we were young. This is not entirely correct. Again, I submit that we got to thinking about networks because we were operating in a resource weak environment and had exposure to new tools (email) and a risk tolerance to try using them in an ambitious way. This isn’t about age, it just happens that generally it is young people who don’t have lots of resources and are willing to experiment with new tools. Older people, who frequently have more senior titles, generally have access to more resources and so can rely on more established, but more resource intensive tools and processes. But again, this is about mindset, not about age. Indeed, it is really about the innovators’ dilemma in policy making. Don’t believe me? Well, as lead author of Middle to Model Power I can tell you that the most influential book on my thinking was Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock which I read in the month preceding the drafting of the report. It was written in 1970 by an author who was, at the time, 42. In sum, young people can be a good guide, but it is environmental factors that you can replicate, not intrinsic qualities of being young, that allow you to innovate.

Both the LPC and the CIC’s documents are good and indeed, more up to date than Middle to Model Power. But in terms of core organizing principles the three documents are similar. So if you are genuinely interested in this take a look at all three documents. I do think they put forward what could become an emerging centrist consensus regarding organizing principles for Canadian foreign policy. Certainly that was the ambition back in 2005.

What the Liberals needed to Learn in Montreal

There’s been a lot of ink shed about the Liberals and Montreal. Some seizes on the corporate tax freeze, others on Robert Fowler’s blistering critique of the party, still others on the age of the participants in the room. My sense is that, in the short term, the issues discussed at Montreal – on the surface – won’t matter. It is the deeper changes, to thinking, to culture and to processes that take time to manifest, that will determine if Montreal was a success.

Are these deeper shifts happening? Hard to say, but here are three lessons the party will need to take away from Montreal if it is to succeed in the long term:

Lighten up. The scariest thing about the images from Montreal is the uniformity. The participants were older. And white. And male. That is a problem easily (and repeatedly) identified. It also needs to be fixed. But there was another interesting challenge – one more subtle and less commented on.

Ignore the uniform demographics and count how many people are in suits. And a tie. On a Saturday.

Most Canadians I know don’t wear suits. Ever. Even when working with in Fortune 500 companies, or at the banks, people look professional, but suits? Increasingly less and less. So does the Liberal Party need a new dress code? No. But it speaks to the culture of the party elite. When people look at a party they want to see themselves – people they trust and believe in. Even if Canada were populated only by white, older men, most people would probably still look at the conference and not see themselves there. Moreover, many would imagine the event as unapproachable, or unwelcoming – teeming with operatives. If the Liberals are going to win again, they’ll need to be approachable, a group many people feel like they can belong to. Keep the suits if you must, but think about the culture.

Learn the right lesson about the internet. Many participants were amazed by how many people were participating and asking questions online through skype or twitter. This belies a lack of understanding of how the internet is reshaping the way people live, work and organize. Over the past few decades, before campaign finance reform, the party had become accustomed to relying on big donations and it so its capacity to reach out to party members diminished. The Reform/Conservatives were the opposite. Early on they were too scary for traditional big companies and cultivated a vast network of small donors. For them, the internet was a blessing – it enhanced their strategy – and campaign finance was a godsend – it meant their strategy was the only effective one. Today, the Conservative donor network keeps them well financed and effective.

The danger from all this is that the Liberals will walk away understanding the power of the network, but believing they can can control it, rather than simply harness it. You can’t. All those people online, they aren’t there to do the bidding of some communications director. They are there to share their story and engage with peers. Working with such a network requires a radically different skill set then dealing with the media or cultivating a big donor. It also means getting comfortable with the fact that you aren’t in control of the message (your just seeding it) or the medium (your just a platform for others to play on). If Montreal did anything it let the younger leaders show the old timers what social networks and a connective network can do. Will be interesting if the right lessons get drawn. But the Party had better figure it out soon – the Conservatives have a serious head start.

Be honest and clear. The weekends highlight moments occurred when speakers bluntly and firmly pushed back on basic ideas or assumptions. Janice Stein responding to a questions about women’s issues in Foreign Policy by saying she was much more concerned about the destabilizing effect of large groups of unemployed young men. Roger Martin talking about how Canada’s healthcare system is one of the most expensive and inefficient in the G7. Pierre Fortin (who gave a model speech) spoke bluntly about how little money there will be, for anything. Parties need to give people hope, but they also have to be honest.

Most Canadians still struggle to understand what the Liberal Party stands for.  The public knows what both the NDP stands and Conservatives stand for. Both parties have been happy to eschew certain voters in order to stay focused on what makes them who they are. It is sometimes hard to know who the Liberals will eschew. Injecting a little dose of honesty and clarity a la Janice Stein into the party’s communications might help. Sometimes you have to tell the public that their priority isn’t the number one and that there are bigger fish to fry. It isn’t easy. Especially for politicians. But being honest and clear about where the party stands and where it doesn’t may produce better results than the status quo. The Conservatives may have had a scandal rife year, but they aren’t going anywhere so long as people know who they are and don’t have a clue about their rivals.

Jane Taber noted that at the last “thinkers conference” in Aylmer the Liberal Party shed its protectionist past in favour of globalization. But that took some time to become clear. The impact – if any – of this conference will likewise take a few years to be fully realized. But maybe a similar transition will take place, with the famously centralist party favouring a more networked, open and engaging approach to both the party, and governing. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

Getting Political Parties to think about Open Government/Data

Next week the Liberals will be hosting a “Thinkers Conference” in Montreal. In preparation for the event the party has been hosting articles outlining ideas for Canada’s 150th anniversary. Because of my work around open government and open data they asked if I would pen a piece on the subject for them.

I agreed.

The odds of getting open data increase dramatically if politicians get behind the initiative (it certainly helped a great deal here in Vancouver with both the Mayor and Councilor Reimer being vocal advocates). So, since they asked, I wrote.

You can read the piece here (et, en francais, ici). More importantly, if you have a moment, please consider leaving a comment under the piece. Political parties react to what voters and citizens say matters – so having a number of people react to the piece would send a message that citizens want better, more open government, as well as a strategy for building a 21st century economy.

Also, my piece from yesterday ended up in the Globe in case you missed it.

Facebook Activists: Engaged, Voting and Older

Today I have the following article on the Globe and Mail website. Interestingly, it seems some of the opposition leaders are beginning to take an interest in the Facebook group – Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced yesterday that he will be doing an online townhall on proroguing parliament on his facebook page. Will be interesting to see how this goes and if political parties can get comfortable with a two-way medium where they can’t control the message.

Facebook Activists: Engaged, Voting and Older

Over the last few weeks a number of pundits have been unsure how to react to sudden rise of the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament. Conservative politicians attempted to label the over 200,000-person strong group as part of “the chattering classes” and political pundits have questioned whether online protests even have meaning or weight.

What is more likely is that few politicians or pundits have actually spent time on the Facebook group and fewer still have tried to understand who its members are and what they believe. Recently Pierre Killeen, an Ottawa-based online public engagement strategist, conducted a survey of the group’s membership in partnership with the Rideau Institute.

Over 340 members of the anti-prorogation Facebook group shared their views and while not a scientific survey, it does provide a window into the group’s makeup and the motivations of its members. Some of the results will surprise both pundits and politicians:

Older than exepcted

To begin, contrary to the view that Facebook is entirely youth driven, just under half of those who completed the survey were 45 years of age or older. Thirty-four per cent were aged 31 to 44 and 16 per cent answered that they were aged 18 to 30. Not a single person who opted to take the survey was aged 12 to 18.

They vote

Perhaps the most interesting part of the survey was the fact that 96 per cent of the participants said they voted in the last federal election. Survey recipients frequently overstate their voting history (people wish to sound more responsible than they are) and this result should be regarded with some skepticism. However, it nonetheless suggests group members are more likely to vote than the general population. (Sixty per cent of Canadians voted in the last federal election).

New to, but believers in, online activism

Over half of the members surveyed (55 per cent) said this was the first time they had joined a politically oriented Facebook group. Another 33 per cent indicated they had previously joined only two to four Facebook groups with political themes. Interestingly, 75 per cent of respondents believe the group “will make a difference” while 22 per cent were unsure.

Democracy and accountability are the key issues

Lastly, when asked why they joined, just over half (53 per cent) of respondents indicated it was because “proroguing parliament is undemocratic” and another 33 per cent said it was because “Parliament needs to investigate the Afghan detainee matter.”

Again, it is worth noting that this survey is not scientific, but is our best window to date into who has joined Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament.

And what should people take away from all this? The Facebook group matters for reasons beyond those I initially outlined for The Globe. The fact that this is the first time a majority of those surveyed have joined a politically oriented online campaign suggests such groups may serve as an on-ramp to greater activism and awareness.

More importantly, however, if the survey results are even remotely representative, then the members of the Facebook group vote. Any time 200,000 citizens say an issue will affect their vote, politicians should not discount them so hastily.

Finally, given that Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has signed up twice the number of Facebook members than all the political leaders combined (Conservatives 29,616; Liberals 28,898; NDP 27,713; Bloc 4,020; for a collective total of 90,247 fans) this is a constituency whose impact may be better monitored in the voting booth than on the street.

David Eaves is a public-policy entrepreneur, open government activist and negotiation expert based in Vancouver

Why Policy Matters in Politics

There are a shocking number of people involved in the political process who firmly believe that policy doesn’t matter. That, at best, it distracts from, and at worst it impedes, successful political campaigns. Obviously, readers of my blog (not to mention those who know me) know that I am a big believer in the power and importance of public policy specifically and ideas in general. So I’ve been feeling nicely bombarded with confirming evidence that substantive policy – as opposed to simply style or spin – really is at the heart of political success.

The first is short and simply: Frank Rich’s excellent, and brutally entitled, column “A President Forgotten but Not Gone” in the Saturday New Times, where he uses Bush as example of the limits both of propaganda, and of power without purpose.

The second is much more in depth. It comes from reading of Tom Kent’s “A Public Purpose.” In it, while talking about the remaking of the Liberal Party after the defeat of the St. Laurent Government in 1957, he notes:

The main lines of policy of the rebuilt Liberal party – conspicuously, the emphasis on employment, medicare, a national pension plan, but many others too – were adopted at the party convention of January 1958, and by as democratic a procedure within the convention as the processes of political parties ever produce…

The policies did not, in other words, originate from the remaking of the party. In essence, they were already written when the organizational rebuilding took place. To a large extent, indeed, the new people who did the organizing came forward because they were coming to a body of ideas, for the better government of Canada, that they felt to be at once progressive and practical.

This is the central fact about the remaking of the Liberal party from 1957-1963. The process was not to regroup, reorganize, and, some time later, determine policies. The main lines of policy came first. They were the presence behind all the detailed work of opposing, reorganizing, finding candidates, building support. all that came second, not first. (Emphasis mine)

Kent’s comments reaffirmed for me three reasons why policy matters in politics:

a) First, while we can debate the degree to which the public reacts to a policy platform, a sound policy platform is an important step to gaining the public confidence. Thus, I can agree with Kinsella that governments are generally turfed out, not elected, while maintaining that an electorates willingness to turn to an alternative is dramatically improved if said alternative has a coherent set of (well thought out) policies.

b) Second, a sound policy platform is necessary to making a party electable because it has always been ideas, not the remote promise of power, that has attracted the new blood and energy to the party. As Kent points out, in 1957 the new policy platform of the Liberal party preceded its reorganizations and rejuvenation because new innovative and progressive policies attracted a new generation of leaders, activists and organizers into the party. Without this new energy a party will wither and die, no matter how inept or incompetent is competitors.

c) Finally, and possibly most importantly, policy is critical to governing successfully. Kissinger, for all his faults, articulated this challenge succinctly:

High office teaches decision making, not substance. It consumes intellectual capital; it does not create it. Most high officials leave office with the perceptions and insights with which they entered; they learn how to make decisions but not what decisions to make.

In short, once elected you are too busy to build your intellectual capital and to formulate a plan. You must have a vision and platform in place beforehand, otherwise you’ll end up looking like Diefenbaker or Martin, operating without an obvious direction or purpose. Policy matters because without it, time in government will be unproductive, painful and short.

Concerns from Beyond the West: The dangers one-member, one-vote

800px-Liberal_Party_of_Canada.svgThere is a panel at the Globe and Mail website on Rebuilding the Liberal Party, with small essays on the subject from Navdeep Bains, Martha Hall Findlay and Bob Rae.

All three mention conducting Leadership races with one-member, one-vote as part of the rebuilding process. Below I’ve republished a cleaned up and slightly fleshed out version of the comment I hurriedly wrote in response. The net net is that while I’m not opposed to reform, a pure one-member, one-vote would be a bad for the party, especially in all the places it needs to grow, namely everywhere outside of Ontario.

One aside – I owe Navdeep an apology. His proposal of one-member, one-vote that “provides equal weight for the ridings” is entirely sensible and I inexcusably lumped him in with those who are proposing a straight up one-member, one-vote system.

One-Member, One Vote?

There is a common thread in Liberal Party members – like the two of the three list above – who call for such a reform to how Liberals elect their leader. Rae, Findlay, (and in other fora, Stronarch) are people whose commitment to public service I deeply respect, but it is worth noting that they all hail from the GTA. One-member one vote, would certainly be a boon for leadership candidates, who like them, are based in the GTA. Indeed, is there a major Liberal from outside of the GTA calling for this reform? I have yet to hear of one.

This debate is precisely what is damaging Liberal prosprects, particularly in the regions. Already restricted to large urban centres – and specifically: Toronto. This proposal would further isolate the party.

The simple fact is any leader and prospective PM needs to enjoy support from across the country and in every riding. A one-member one-vote would create conditions where a single region, or even city, could ultimately decide who leads the party. A prospective candidate could dedicate 80% of their campaign to the GTA and might do quite well – even win. What message would this send to Liberals and Canadians elsewhere?

To win a Canadian election you must win across the country. Our democracy doesn’t function as a one-member, one vote on a national basis, but at the riding level. This was done to ensure that regions and communities would always have a voice at the table. The Liberal leadership process should reflect these values as well.

Should we reform how we select leaders? Absolutely. But one-member one vote is not the only alternative. Preferential voting methods, conducted at the riding level, would be one way to do away with delegates and enable people to vote directly for leaders and yet preserve regional balance and representation.

This is an important discussion – but in the rush to solve one problem it would be a mistake to create a system that would hinder the growth of the party in the very places it is most at risk.

The Coalition that never was

It’s over. Coyne has the best analysis and Simpson is on his game as well. The key fact: everyone overplayed their hand. Badly.

Harper overplayed his hand – that’s what launched this mess.

Then there was an opportunity on the part of the opposition to not be greedy. They could have demand a better stimulus package and Harper’s resignation in exchange for not bringing down the government. I believe it was viable option. But that window is closing fast – if it is still open. Dion was too inept and, once again, proved unable to understand that he was in a position of weakness – he will now likely be remembered not as a tragic, stoic figure and more likely as simply inept and stubborn. It isn’t fair – but it is hard to see him being remembered otherwise.

Layton won’t lose his job – but his party should consider bouncing him. The NDP overplayed its hand in the same manner that Dion did. Layton’s drive for power (and relevancy) meant the NDP didn’t push for splitting Harper from his caucus and trying to just take the leader down. A Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition was always going to be tenuous – the opportunity for any party to defect in order to gain political advantage would have made it highly unstable, and unpopular. Moreover, after Layton brought down the house in 2006 I’m not sure many Liberals see Layton as someone who they can work with – further increasing any coalitions instability.

Indeed, I only thought the opposition announced they were going to bring down the house in order to achieve negotiating leverage to demand Harper’s resignation. Now I don’t know what they were thinking. I suspect that Layton, DIon and Harper could all be gone within 12 months. Each party (except the bloc) is going to need to blame someone for these series of fiascoes – given how centralized decision making has become, it’s hard to believe it won’t be the leaders. That said, I say Harper has the best odds of survival.

Finally, Simpson nails it with the fact that the Bloc are the only clear winners. There job is simple: stay relevant. Doesn’t matter who they are working with or against, as long as they have some excuse to be in Ottawa, they win. It was a big week for them.