Last weekend (February 11th – 13th) I attended the Ontario Young Liberals’ Annual General Meeting in Toronto-Centre. This was my first time doing anything Young-Liberals-related and I had a blast. The OYLAGM had a solid attendance (around 300 young liberals from across Ontario). After an energetic opening ceremony at the Pogue Mahone Pub (located in Trinity-Spadina as folks from that riding were quick to point out) which featured speeches from Bob Rae, Min. Glen Murray, Sophia Aggelonitis, Yasir Naqvi and a surprise visit from Premier McGuinty, we had an extremely productive Saturday. In Bob Rae’s speech he asked us all to take note of what happened that night in Egypt and what was going on in Tahrir Square. As this weekend was a gathering of young people from across the province the theme of global activism, driven up the young/education/energetic generation that I am proud to be a part of, was prominent this weekend. During his speech Michael Ignatieff also touched on the importance of Cairo and how, as Liberals, we must be “fiscally responcible, socially compassionate and internationally minded.” That is a great summary of the Liberal Party of Canada and my OYLAGM weekend.
I took lots of notes so here is a brief summary of each speaker:
Minister John Milloy: Post Secondary Education in Ontario:
The minister really fired up a crowd with a well argued defense and explanation of what the McGuinty government has done (a lot) to improve post-secondary education in Ontario. One poignant fact the minister mentioned was that 82 000 of the Ontarians who lost jobs during the recession had less than a high-school level of education. After the dark days of Mike Harris, with a Liberal government Ontario now has the highest level of post secondary graduates in the OECD (62%.) Under Tim Hudak’s party funding for student aid went down 41% while tuition cost went up 60%. Liberals have doubled student aid, added 60 000 more apprenticeship positions (as education isn’t all about University) and have grown 140 000 new university spots (twice the population of U of T.) Minister Milloy impressed upon us the fact there is still more to be done. “We must make education more accessible and more affordable.” The Ontario Liberal government has improved OSAP, is implementing the New Repayment Assistance Plan and has increased the amount one can work for per week under OSAP from $50 to $103. Now 61 cents of every provincial dollar provided to students is in grants. He argued that the PSE system in Ontario is exactly that a “system.” We don’t need 20 laws schools, teachers colleges, etc. As the son of a teacher the strikes and generally uncertainty in my education is something I remember clearly from my childhood. The McGuinty government has done a great job in educating the job creator and innovators who will keep Ontario strong over the next decades.
Keynote address by Hon. Michael Ignatieff:
I have now lost count of how many times I have seen Mr. Ignatieff speak in person/online. This speech was most excellent, it was the perfect balance between the intellectual and barn-burner style of speeches he has developed over his time as Liberal leader. I jotted down my favourite quotes:
- On Stephen Harper’s home alone ad: “It is a terrible life being PM when you are that far away from the Canadian people.”
- “I was a Ontario Young Liberal!”
- “The young generation that is supposed to be turned off of politics, well not in Tunis, not in Cairo and I hope not in Canada.”
- Only 1 in 5 if your generation voted in 2008. Low student turn out, low engagement, people giving up on the process, this suits Stephen Harper.
- On if he was Prime Minister: “I would listen to Canadians and accept the limits placed on my power by the constitution.”
- “[Access to] information is the lifeblood of democracy.”
- “A citizen of Canada is a citizen of the world.”
- “When you are fighting for the Liberal Party you are now fighting for the integrity of Canada’s democratic system.”
Senator Art Eggleton on Liberal International:
This is an organization that I knew very little about but seems interesting and important. The Liberal Party of Canada is one of the oldest and most successful Liberal parties in the world. Liberal International has been neglected over the past decades It was founded in 1957 and has its headquarters in London (the Oxford Manifesto is the founding document.) Despite what Stephen Harper’s parochial vision for Canada is, we Canada isolate ourselves as Canadians, or Liberals. There is a Liberal Party in Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of the Conga and in many other countries, they come to the LPC to learn how to better build a democratic society. On Hosni Mubarak stepping down, the Senator said “It was a great victory yesterday, but there is lots of work going forward.” There are two parties in Egypt that are affiliated with Lib. Int’l. In the coming weeks CILI.CA will go online, this is a Canadian Liberal International website. I am really looking forward to it.
Rob Oliphant: Federal Caucus Liaison Update:
This was a great speech. Some top quotes:
- “Politics is important, policy is great but people are what the Liberal Party is all about.”
- “When things got tough not once but twice [Harper] prorogued.”
- “Out of the Montreal Conference, Mr. Ignatieff said we will not support further corporate tax cuts. This is not a new policy.”
- “The Charter [of rights and freedoms[ is a hurdle for the Conservative party, it is a problem for them.”
- On losing the U.N. Security Council election: “Under Harper, Canada has lost its right to exercise world leadership. The Environment, the poor in Afghanistan, Maternal heath and now in Egypt Harper is ten days late.”
- “We need to be tough on issues, not tough on people.”
- “I’m not against punishing the bad guys, but I’m more in favour of making them into good guys.”
- “Ignatieff has visited Alberta more than any Liberal leader.”
- “The Party is a laboratory for the country, the youth wing is a lab for the party.
- “The upcoming budget will be a test for the Liberal Party and a test for the country.”
The most poignant part of Mr. Oliphant’s speech, for me was when he told us all to “dig in.” Young Liberals need to pick a riding and stay in it for the long haul. Get to know a candidate from the beginning, before the writ is dropped. Don’t float around the province, you help the party more by digging in. The Don Valley West MP told a great story about how he is still friends with folks he met in the Ontario Young Liberals. He closed by stressing the importance of engaged youth and the fact that the Liberal Party will need new campaign managers, candidates and policy and that every generation needs to fight to have a place at the table.
Grassroots organizing: David Meslin:
There were two breakout sessions, this one and one on “Women in Politics” with Amy Kishek and Courtney Bragg of Equal voice. I would have gladly gone to both. However, I am a big fan of David Meslin and I bought/read his new book “Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto” in anticipation of this AGM. I feverishly took notes so I’ll do another set of quotes:
- “Most people don’t vote and aren’t engaged. We need to get into a frame of mind where we believe that the world is malleable, that our efforts can change the world.”
- “We don’t want to end an election with division (like Toronto.)”
- “Don’t become so committed to your party that it prevents you from working with other people in other parties.”
- The premise he starts from in community organizing: “People are smart. The average person cares. Something is preventing people from joining the process.”
- We need “digestible” policy.
- Political stories in the news rarely end with “and here is where the next meeting is.”
- “You can be in a party and be an activist.”
- “Design and marketing is important for engaging busy people.”
- Engagement builds on engagement. Activism is addictive.
- Humour can be crucial in effecting and changing a narrative.
- Collecting e-mail addresses and making sure you follow-up is important to growing a movement.
- You can’t be 100% policy or 100% social, both isolate people.
- We need to encourage people to run for office and make the process for doing so easier.
- Burn as few bridges as possible but sometimes you need to burn some bridges to actually achieve something. Being ostracized in one community creates spaces that didn’t exist before for you to work.
- Targeting votes may be counter intuitive. Bringing new people into the process (canvassing in low voter turn out areas) can be more effective, you just need to find what issue drives these people.
- “Confidence: build a brand big enough and you can do almost anything.”
- On social media: If you aren’t interacting in real life, it isn’t worth it. Some media can disengage people, we need to get people off their asses.
One thing I took from this presentation, and the book, is that successful activists may have to say “it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” to be effective. When I asked Mr. Meslin about this, he said that activists walk a fine line and there are many cases (like guerilla gardening, and making your own bike lanes) where the bureaucracy puts more energy into saying “no” than to fixing what you have done.
- I had two really great conversations on faith and politics during the in-between time of this AGM. I am a practicing Catholic and a lot of my political beliefs are informed by my faith. What I don’t understand is a how Catholics are drifting over to the Conservative Party when they have a leader who is pro-death penalty and shows no commitment to the social safety net, international peace or the environment (all topic of recent Papal encyclicals, and pillars of the Christian faith.) It was nice to find other Liberals who were strong in their faith and who also believed the party should be doing more to reach out to religious groups.
- It was AMAZING to meet so many people who I knew from the twitter but hadn’t had a chance to meet in the world of reality yet. I recently created an Ontario Young Liberals list which you can follow here: http://twitter.com/Uranowski/ontario-young-liberals
- I had a number of conversations on high-speed rail. This is an issue that I believe could motivate young Canadians to come out and vote Liberal (it creates jobs, is great for the environment, makes Canada more interconnected and has a romantic sensibility.)
I would like to give the OYL executive a huge “You go girl!” for a fantastic retreat. The whole weekend was a massive success and as a first-timer I felt welcomed into the OYL. The Liberal Party is strong and election ready and our future leaders are bright, enthusiastic and hard-working.
Whitby-Oshawa doesn’t have a Young Liberals club, I am going to work to rectify that.