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Saturday, September 30, 2017
How Guy Caron Made His Way To 1st Choice On My #NDPldr Ballot
There have been so many opinions and arguments rendered on the subject of the federal NDP leadership race that it truly became a conundrum to figure out what angle to take for this column. There was also the fact that I had decided to do something out of character and openly endorse a particular candidate, which presented its own challenges in terms of how to approach writing this. Finally, I decided to take the slightly unusual path of writing it from a “personal experience” perspective, using the first-person narrative to chronicle how I ultimately now find myself more certain than I have ever been before about the future of the New Democratic Party of Canada. I also decided to answer the one question I get asked most frequently regarding this race, which is: “what made you decide to go for Guy Caron so passionately as your first choice?” So, here goes:
The 2015-2016 political year was an especially tumultuous and depressing time to be a New Democrat across the country. The now-dubbed “Miracle on The Prairies” that saw voters in traditionally super-Tory-blue Alberta elect a provincial NDP majority government during the first half of that year had provided the overall “NDP” brand with an unprecedented face-lift that would finally free the federal party from having to factor in the “de-risking” strategy that it had become so accustomed to having to incorporate into its federal election campaigns to neutralize the (mostly undeserved) perception by voters that “voting NDP is too risky”. The federal campaign, unfortunately, seemingly missed this, and ended up pursuing a de-risking strategy anyway, trying to “fix” a brand that had already been rejuvenated and made better than ever. And, as I wrote in my 2015 post-election analysis (which you can find here: http://bit.ly/2xNJUl4 ), in attempting to ‘fix’ what had already been fixed, we actually ended up re-breaking our brand. As a result, in 2015, we became overly cautious and came off as inauthentic, and basically chose the worst time possible to act as ‘un-NDP’ as possible, just when voters were actually hungry and looking for the NDP’s essence more than ever. This allowed for the narrative that the Liberals had “outflanked us and out-NDP’d the NDP”!
Fast-forward to the NDP convention in Edmonton last year, and once it became evident that the NDP would be looking for a new leader, I made a vow to myself to do everything I can to ensure that this great party of ours follows a path that will never allow for us - from a policy and also a branding perspective - to become so indistinguishable from the Liberals in the eyes of voters that they could not be faulted for the following thought-process: “Mehh.. the Liberals are offering something similar. Or, if they aren’t this time, they have before, or probably will at some point in the future. There is no compelling reason for me to vote NDP, when I’ll just get basically the same thing from the Liberals”. This must never happen again. Ever.
I immediately set out to try to persuade author, journalist and public-speaker (and former NDP candidate in Toronto) Linda McQuaig to run for the party’s leadership. As far as I was concerned, she would have been a candidate who not only had a very thorough understanding of policy and was unquestionably progressive, but she also had the personality to match. She was likeable, quick on her feet and authentic and... the list is very long. To keep this short, however, she had her own reasons for not running, and suffice it to say I was obviously not able to convince her to throw her hat into the ring.
Keeping in mind that this was taking place before all of the current candidates had really fully declared that they were running and what platforms and issues they were running on - after being unable to convince Linda McQuaig to run for the leadership, I momentarily decided that I was ‘totally over’ the NDP leadership race. I couldn’t care less what happened after that. Now, anyone who knows me knows that - as someone who pretty much bleeds orange - this attitude of ‘bah, I don’t care anymore’ would last roughly about... five minutes?
I’d say it lasted maybe 2 minutes.
Enter: Guy Caron. I remember running into him for the first time last year in Edmonton, before this leadership race ever started, back when he was Finance Critic and publishing columns about how Canada needs to aggressively target corporate tax evasion, greed and white-collar crime (like this one http://bit.ly/2ygz7RS ).
It actually took me a few minutes to even realize that not only was this guy an MP, he was Guy Caron! There was something extremely personable about him: he didn’t condescend, he wasn’t patronizing, he spoke with people like an actual ....human being.
It was refreshing to watch this strikingly good-looking politician being personable (which is, sadly, a rarity these days), as it was like suddenly taking in a breath of fresh air when you didn’t even know you were having trouble breathing.
I consider myself to have a healthy dose of being jaded when it comes to politics and politicians, in general. So, despite this first experience, believe it or not, I actually decided ‘hmmm, come on. A really good-looking politician with a completely disarming smile who makes you like him instantly... yeah, let’s wait and see”.
So, when I later heard Caron announcing that he was running for the NDP leadership, I was immediately intrigued, but cautious. The cynic inside me was thinking that since this would be that same politician I had met and instinctively liked, that he would probably be awful. Doesn’t it always work like that? Plus, since Linda McQuaig had decided not to run, I was pretty sure that I would not be openly supporting anyone, and would instead watch and criticize this race from the sidelines.
That’s when I decided that I was going to put on my Nancy-Drew-detective glasses, and uncover the “Bullshit Factor” in this guy - because there just had to be one.
Then, he uttered the words “Basic Income”. I was, at first, overjoyed, as this is an issue that I have been advocating for for quite some time now to be used as a key tool in ending poverty. However, I also thought that this might be the “catch” that I was looking for. He was probably going to advocate for some awful right-wing version of it that I would not want to support, right?
Well, imagine my utter surprise when he unveiled a Basic Income proposal that would be the largest expansion and bolstering of the welfare state and our social programs in memory: a top-up program that could be implemented as soon as a Caron-led NDP government passes its first budget. A proper left-wing version that cleverly uses existing infrastructures to cement its place in our social safety nets as a force for remedying the specific “dollar-amount” aspect of poverty that causes so much suffering in our society. A Basic Income that is to be implemented in tandem with fighting for everything else that we, on the left, are trying to achieve for those who society is unfortunately leaving behind. It was about time that the left took back this idea and stopped allowing the right-wing to claim it for nefarious purposes.
Leadership race platforms are usually more about putting forth a “vision” of something, with the nitty-gritties either being later hashed out in general election platforms or then further detailed in committees before being implemented. Yet, Guy seemed intent on providing a surprising amount of detail. Everything just seemed to be “straight-up” with this candidate!
Once he came out with his platform on Electoral Reform, describing how the implementation of a mixed-member proportional system would not only be the first act of a Caron government, but would also be part of any arrangement negotiated should the next federal election result in a hung (minority) parliament of any kind... it was at that moment when I realized that I better start paying some real attention to this guy. With Electoral Reform, it always feels like (even within our own party, sadly) the attitude that is taken toward PR is one of ‘well, this is long-time NDP policy anyway. So, all we need to do is pay it some lip-service at some point, and then put it on the back-burner’. This has resulted in missed opportunities in the past, where we could have demanded PR’s implementation when we had the clout and leverage to do so. It is arguably one of the most important issues that faces us today, in politics, as it quite literally decides how and who we elect to government and to power to make decisions on all other issues. Name an issue that you care about: Climate Change? Indigenous Rights? Inequality? Quite literally, every single issue is directly affected by Electoral Reform. Had we been unwavering in our demand for it in the past in situations where we’ve had leverage, there is no telling what kind of governments we might have instead experienced over the past decade.
The fact that Guy seemed to understand that meant that I absolutely had to find out more about him.
This prompted me to attend a Basic Income event in April that Guy was going to be presenting at. I figured that this would be my opportunity to finally get a real sense of what he was all about. If there was a “B.S factor” to him, I would find it.
There was one thing that stood out to me: there was not a single time where Guy would respond to a question with a “talking point”. Not once. Every single question that was asked of him received its own, unique thoughtful answer. He wasn’t afraid to disagree when he genuinely disagreed (instead of pulling the old “talk about something else, quick!” card).
In fact, that very day, I had just asked him a question to which he responded with “hmm...well, actually. I’m not exactly sure. It’s a good point. Let me get back to you on this tomorrow ”.
I instantly thought “aha! Found it! As IF you’re actually going to get back to me, or even remember the question!” I thought I had “uncovered” the “catch” and that I was just so clever .... until the next morning, when he did exactly that. This is a man who is not afraid to have a real discussion, where minds are actually changed. He treats you as an equal. He is a consensus-builder whose style is very collaborative and grassroots-oriented, rather than top-down.
As I watched him interact with the other people that were there at that event and read what people were saying about him on social media after encountering him, it was quickly becoming clear to me that I wasn’t the only one who was feeling like I had stumbled upon a hidden gem in our ranks. It continued to become clearer and clearer that what I was dealing with here was an “asset candidate”: a candidate whom you may not know much about, or whom you may not have thought you would necessarily even like...yet, the more you hear from him, the more you see of him, and the more you are exposed to him, the more you realize that he is exactly what you have been looking for in politics, and you end up supporting and campaigning for him passionately.
Considering that he started off as a virtual unknown (definitely the least well-known out of all the candidates), I believe that should Guy Caron become the leader of the NDP, this role would give Guy the one thing that he needs more than anything: more exposure. The automatic and immediate publicity that the leadership would shine on him would suddenly expose all of Canada to who Guy is: the embodiment of authenticity that is organic, genuine, legitimate and not manufactured or pre-packaged. I genuinely believe that Canada would fall in love with him, and thus with the NDP all over again. I believe the Liberals and Tories would not know quite how to deal with him, and he would really throw them for quite the loop.
He has demonstrated that he truly understands the character and nature of Quebec, and truly wants to lead by building bridges to finally fill in those gaps that exist between the rest of Canada and La belle province. He fearlessly tackled issues that others thought were a landmine, like secularism and respecting the legislative authority of Quebec in the spirit of a Nation-to-Nation approach while holding steadfast to the principle of protecting civil-liberties and freedoms. He set the tone for the entire field of candidates, who then followed his lead and calibrated their stances and approaches to fit.
He has accomplished the feat of patiently and successfully explaining and conveying very complex and nuanced positions in often nuance-unfriendly forums and media.
Every time I thought he was finished putting out policy, he came out with something even more jaw-dropping. From his “Workers First: 21st Century Jobs & Growth” plan to “Climate Justice” to “Making Taxes Work For Canadians” (you can find these here: http://bit.ly/2hsdua6) ... he has put forth a coherent vision that would clearly distinguish us from the other parties in the most meaningful way possible: it isn’t just an attempt to be different “for the sake of being/looking different”. It is a vision that is different because society would function fundamentally differently under his vision. A Caron-led NDP would finally give voters an affirmative answer to the question of “would I be losing out if I didn’t vote for the NDP [as led by Guy Caron]?”
Guy emanates a genuine, warm, smiling, authentic and endearing essence that used to always be associated with the NDP. He may be a policy-wonk, but if I put policy aside for just a second, my journey through this leadership race has led me to uncover a true leader in this man. As far as I am concerned, it is a bit like discovering the heart of Jack Layton, the boldness of Tommy Douglas and the realness of Linda McQuaig all in one candidate and the charisma of...well, Guy himself.
However, that isn’t just it. I believe the soul of the New Democratic Party manifests itself in this man. It makes me smile. It reignites my confidence in the NDP. Combine that with the wealth of knowledge, policy and credibility he brings to the table, along with a campaign that really seemed to come out of nowhere and surprised everybody with a fearlessness and boldness in proposing radical and "unapologetically left" solutions to the problems facing society today... and we have ourselves a Guy Caron.
All of the candidates currently running have great qualities to offer. This is why my decision to go with Guy isn’t a rejection of any of them as much as it is an embrace of Guy’s candidacy.
Guy Caron is the vehicle through which a united NDP will get to government in 2019 without compromising our values, and with our principles fully intact.
Voting for him marked one of those times when you actually aren’t “holding your nose and voting”, but rather voting with all your heart.
Ammario Reza is the co-founder of NDP Grassroots-Ralliement populaire NPD, with a background in Political Science. He is a writer, commentator and activist primarily based in Ottawa. He works varying contract positions for various NDP and other progressive campaigns, in addition to being a liaison for author Linda McQuaig's speaking engagements.
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