06 November 2006

Gerard Kennedy at Hugh's Room

I attended Gerard's fundraiser at Hugh's Room on Sunday before heading off to my father's 84th birthday party (that's right). Hugh's room is a great little Jazz and Music venue in Gerard's old riding of Parkdale-High Park, and I got to spend the first half hour or so floating from table to table to the sweet sounds of the Jazz trio.

Gerard was introduced by Mary Jo Leddy and June "the conscience of Canada" Callwood. June provided a very powerful introduction, first describing Canada as a country that is too big and too harsh for s to survive without helping each other. She then related a personal story from her childhood in the depression, describing the particular way in which those who have not eaten in some time bolt food down. Her mother had told her not to stare. She thought that she would not see that again, but she sees it now in spite of the fact that we are so wealthy. That led naturally to the Food Bank - a 'monument' to Gerard, which he nonetheless considers a national disgrace because we should not be feeding people from food banks.

When Gerard took the mic, he admitted that he and June did not always see eye-to-eye on food banks: while he agreed that we should not need to feed people that way, the fact remains that there are people in our cities going hungry and something has to be done. That really set the tone for the rest of his comments, and the theme of getting your hands dirty and actually doing something was recurrent. He recalled how food shortage in Nicaragua was attracting a lot of media attention in those days, but that he was "not the kind of person to go there and tell other people how to live. We have lots of work to do right here... We don't have the luxury of just criticizing, something needs to be done." This view was ultimately developed into a sharp attack on the Harper Tories, who run a government that "says you get some money back, and someone to blame, and you don't have to worry about your neighbours." I also found it to be a sharp contrast to the ill-conceived foreign policy direction of Michael Ignatieff, who seems to have his mouth full of feet when it comes to telling other people how they should be living, be they Israeli or Iraqi or Afghani or Lebanese. I think our supposed ability to tell others how to live their lives and run their countries should be approached with a certain humility.

Gerard also spoke of complacency, a subject that must resonate with my generation. We had the keys to a compassionate and just future - things like health care and the Charter - handed to us by our parents, but our children cannot yet say the same about us. He thinks of Canada therefore as being a nation "waiting to be unleashed" - one that can develop its human resources as well as its natural resources and, while recognizing that we are a small player globally, "the PEI of the world," we can punch above our weight in economics and in reputation, a "confident Canada with its own moral voice." As an 'international country', Canada can recognize its role in helping shape how globalization develops. We need to be confident in the fact that we are respected and we are entitled to respect - from our southern neighbour, on issues like the softwood lumber deal, and from NATO with respect to our forces in Afghanistan.

Influencing how globalization develops is also an area where we have work to do right here at home, and not mere criticism of the way other countries view or handle globalization. Gerard spoke of immigrants as representing a $6 billion economic hole in Canada - the loss we suffer from failing to ensure they have the economic opportunities they deserve. He similarly spoke of first nations peoples - and the town where he grew up was close to 50% first nations. We need to be determined that they will have the same economic opportunities as the rest of us.

He also spoke, indirectly, about change within the party. He noted that, while more open than previous leadership races, this race was still not open enough or participative enough. He said that while many candidates are talking about the under-representation of women, what is required is simple determination to ensure that in 2 or 3 elections, the Liberal Party is 50% women. To me, this is one piece of the nation waiting to be unleashed: if we decide to do it, if we pick the directions in which we will exert our efforts, there is no way we cannot succeed. Gerard admitted that he is not the person with all the answers - he is the person that tries to set the questions.

Gerard's speech spanned many topics and issues, too many to repeat here, and was delivered with candour, confidence, and heart-felt sincerity. I believe that a Liberal Party led by Gerard Kennedy will be one that challenges Canadians to take a look at the tough issues facing our society, roll up our sleeves, and make sure we hand our children a worthy legacy, as our parents handed us. I agree with Gerard that we cannot have a government that will only be moved by its own self-interest. We are a nation waiting to be unleashed, and we need a kind of leadership that will demonstrate clearly the kind of people that we can be, remind us that we are capable of becoming that people, and then take off the leash and join us in getting our hands dirty in the becoming.

We need a Gerard Kennedy kind of leadership, and in less than a month we just might get it.


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