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Scott’s Diatribes interviews John Lennard, Young Liberal of Canada Presidential candidate.

The Liberal Convention is going to be starting in a couple of days, and along with the formal nod of Michael Ignatieff as Liberal Party leader, as well as various policy debates, there is also going to be elections for the Young Liberals Of Canada association (or the YLC). Normally, that would probably be an afterthought amongst even Liberal Party members, let alone general political observers, but because of the controversy taking place over the Young Liberals of Canada proposal to sub-amend the One-Member-One-Vote constitutional proposal to include a 25% quota for youth delegates, it is probably garnering a bit more attention, as that issue spills over into the YLC elections.

Today, I had the opportunity to interview John Lennard, who is running for the YLC presidency (who I know from his blogging days, which he will still do on occasion when he isn’t busy. His YLC president campaign page can be found here). While talking to him about his campaign, I took the opportunity to ask him about the OMOV resolution, as well as the YLC proposal, and he has some very interesting things to say – particularly with the YLC amendment. I think if you’re a Young Liberal reading this, you’ll particularly want to read that part of the interview.

Here then, is John’s Q & A session with me, and I thank him for the interview.

Scott: What made you decide to run for the YLC Presidency position?

John: I have been a Young Liberal volunteer for ten years. I have knocked on doors, made phone calls, banged in signs and cheered at rallies. From being a blogger to a campaign manager, I have had a variety of great experiences in this Party, and I am grateful for each and every one of them. One thing that has always remained constant is my belief that the Liberal Party of Canada is this country’s best agent for progressive change; that’s why I joined, that’s why I volunteer, and that’s why I’m still around. But with the seriousness of the challenges we face today as a Party, I have decided that now is the time for me to take the next step and make a difference on a wider scale. I think my time with the Party has given me a thorough perspective on what needs to change, and what positive steps we can take to make change happen. I also think my distance from the YLC — I do not currently sit on the national executive, and never have — allows me to approach the role of YLC President with a fresh perspective and a new energy.

Scott: What do you perceive the culture of the YLC to be like right now? Does it need changing in your opinion, and if it does, what needs changing, and what would you do to change it?

John: The culture of the YLC definitely needs to change. The first thing we need to do, in my opinion, is get rid of the stale notion that we’re somehow “junior” partners in our relationship with the “senior” party. We are not! We are Liberals to the core, and our opinions matter just as much as anyone else. Young Liberals cannot continue to erect barriers between ourselves and the Party; We have to be leaders within the Party!

We also need to become an ambitious organization again. When I joined the Party back before the 2000 federal election, the Young Liberals of Canada had tens of thousands of members. We are now apparently down to under 5,000. We need a renewed and unrelenting focus on rebuilding our organization and growing our Party. My key priority, as YLC President, will be to double our active membership by re-engaging with young Canadians. To do so, we need a revamped policy process that lets more voices in, better and more effective communication with our grassroots members, a respect for diversity throughout our organization, and a strong commitment to accountability. This last point on accountability is very important. Lofty goals are essential, but achieving those goals is even more imperative. That’s why I have proposed developing a strategic plan for the YLC, along with publishing an annual report to chart our results and successes.

Scott: One of your major declarations has been to “Grow The Party, Double Our Membership”. Can you explain in brief what you mean by that, and what actions you will be taking, if elected YLC President, to follow through on that?

John: We can’t rebuild the party unless we grow the party, and growing the party means bringing new people in. Talk about stating the obvious! Beyond increasing our numbers, new people bring fresh ideas, different perspectives, unique experiences and (potentially) a whole lot of cash. You would think, then, that our Party would have a continuous focus on recruitment, always seeking ways to attract, embrace and retain Party members. The fact is, we do not. Outside of leadership contests and nominations races, there seems to be little appetite in the Liberal Party to grow.

We have got to change this attitude. I say we set a clear goal for ourselves to double our membership each year over the next two years. We need to take strong, proactive approaches to growing our organization by reaching out to groups and individuals we rarely speak to. I’d like to see a particular focus on reaching out to high school students, young professionals and young Canadians from rural areas.

I have been bouncing around a couple of ideas on rural outreach for a while now. I particularly like the idea of a “Rural Roadtrip.” My friends in the Alberta Young Liberals came up with it a few years back. Basically, it works like this: Young Liberals from the city hop in a car, a bus or a van and drive out to small towns and rural communities to meet with their peers. Imagine if the Young Liberals of Canada organized a few “Rural Roadtrip” days throughout the country? We could make it a coordinated effort across all provinces and territories, and maybe even garner some media attention.

Scott: Another major declaration of yours has been to endorse the weighted One-Member-One-Vote constitutional proposal for the way Liberal leaders are selected that will be voted on at the Convention. What has made you such an ardent supporter of that measure?

John: Leadership conventions are great spectacles, but they are, above all else, exclusive affairs. Not all party members get to participate. Only members elected as delegates get to have a say – and even then, only delegates who can afford to actually make it out to convention. All told, a small percentage of the membership of our party – 5%, maybe 10% if we are lucky – gets a direct vote on who becomes the next leader. Throughout the course of this campaign, I have met far too many Liberals – and especially Young Liberals – who would love to be a part of the Vancouver convention, but cannot afford the expense. This is an unfortunate fact that needs to change. Money should never, ever be a barrier to participation in the Liberal Party. Full stop.

I am in favour of a One Member, One Vote (OMOV) system of selecting our Leader because I want to stand up for the 95% of Young Liberals who won’t have a say at convention. Their voices deserve to be heard, too.

Scott: One of the controversies that has developed over the past little while is that the Young Liberals of Canada – the very organization that you’re running for to be president of – has proposed that they wish to maintain a 25% quota for youth delegates in any OMOV setup. What are your thoughts on that? Are you for it or against it? Will you vote for the weighted OMOV proposal regardless if that measure has passed or not?

John: I am opposed to the YLC amendment. It is, at its very root, divisive, pessimistic and defensive. It puts us at the kid’s table, on our own separate island, in our own little sandbox, as though we are too afraid to stand up and play in the big leagues. And at a time when Liberals demand unity of purpose, I do not think it is healthy for our Party or our commission for Young Liberals to deliberately create a gulf between ourselves and everyone else.

Young Liberals do not need a booster seat! We need strong leadership with an unrelenting focus on rebuilding our Party and reconnecting with Canadians. Young Liberals need to double our membership and bring new young people into the Party. We need to make sure our voices are heard, not just when leadership races come around, but all the time and throughout the Party. Then, and only then can we make the Liberal Party more relevant to youth, the YLC more relevant to the Party, and Young Liberals even more influential throughout. Having said that, I will repeat again what I have stated on more than one occasion: I will vote in favour of OMOV no matter what happens with the YLC “booster seat” amendment. I think the principle of giving every single Liberal a direct say on leadership selection is too important to pass up.

Scott: To follow up on that question, I’ve noted some YLC members have been accusing some folks who oppose their quota sub-amendment measure as being “anti-youth” or not standing up for the young Liberals – including yourself. What do you say to some of the YLC folks who level such charges?

John: Standing up for Young Liberals means making sure that every single Young Liberal has a direct say, a direct voice and a direct vote on leadership selection. Right now, this is not the case. Only about 2-5% of Young Liberals are able to make it to convention as delegates. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound too representative to me!

Some Young Liberals, including many members of the current YLC executive, have promised to vote against OMOV if the YLC amendment fails. I strongly disagree with this approach. “I’m gonna take my marbles and go home” is not the attitude for a mature organization such as ours. Young Liberals must never stand in the way of progressive change in this Party, and giving every single member a direct vote in the next leadership race IS progressive change!

Let me be crystal clear: Come convention, I will proudly stand up for the 95-98% of Young Liberals whose voices are not being heard. And I will do so regardless of whether the YLC “booster seat” amendment passes.

Scott: Finally, you must know that your opponent, Sam Lavoie, has a lot of endorsements from what I will call the “establishment youth” (those youth in prominent positions of the organization), including, if I’m not mistaken, the entire executive of the current YLC. If you do win the YLC presidency, how are you going to reconcile those folks with what you wish to do in the organization, when they endorsed your opponent?

John: I have been challenging conventional wisdom throughout this campaign. It comes as no surprise to me that I am not the candidate of the status quo. But the beauty of democracy is that decisions aren’t just made by the elites, the big names or the power brokers. They’re made by voters. And over the past few months, I have literally made hundreds of phone calls to Young Liberals from across the country, asking them for their support and their advice. I am humbled by the response I have received, and proud to have put together a strong, national campaign team. I am particularly proud of the number of first-time delegates who will be supporting me at convention. These new Liberals understand the importance of changing our commission and our Party. They are ready to work hard to get the job done, and so am I.

In terms of working with others when this is all over, I think our new executive will be mature enough to work with whomever is elected YLC President. A respect for the democratic process is a key feature our philosophy as Liberals. And with the scope of the challenges facing our Party moving forward, we have no time to let hard feelings bog us down. Let us always remember that Michael Ignatieff needs to become the next Prime Minister of Canada! And Young Liberals must be united to make it happen!

11 comments to Scott’s Diatribes interviews John Lennard, Young Liberal of Canada Presidential candidate.

  • Brennan Richardson

    Also, sign me up for a roadtrip!We certainly need the recruiting out here in the West, and to show the Liberal Party’s commitment to the West to a new generation in those places where votes are sorely lacking.

  • Brennan Richardson

    An excellent handling of the OMOV-Youth Quota question, and John is dead right–we can’t undercut our legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the party by demanding special treatment. If the youth want to be heard as equals we must be prepared to act as such.

  • Partisan non-partisan

    I can’t say enough nice things about John Lennard. A real leader and credit to the Liberal Party. Young Liberals would be foolish not to elect him.

  • Justin T

    Are you also going to interview Sam Lavoie? It would be interesting to hear his response to some of the same questions.

    • @Justin T – If Sam wants to do some Q & A, all he or his handlers have to do is let me know.. and I’d submit him some as well. Some would be the same questions, but a couple would be different.

  • croghan27

    Maybe some day he will grow up to support the Conservatives like Dion/Iggy did/do so well.

  • Anonapotamus

    Lennard will make a great YLC president. I can’t wait until the youth usher in a new era along with the LPC. Harper lookout!!!!!

  • Carol

    John has solid support here in my part of Ontario. I look forward to him being the new president of the YLC.

  • Nik

    These are great comments. I think that John Lennard is just the person the YLC needs.

  • Big Winnie

    Great interview. John’s comments were well thought out and I think he’d make a great YLC President.

  • Tim

    This guy’s awesome. What a class act, smart, innovative. Exactly the type of person we need leading the charge against the Tories.

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