Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure to interview Marlene Jennings, the Liberal caucus observer (and current Deputy House Leader) here at the Tory Convention. She asked me to meet with her in one area of the convention centre, but I had to ask her if we could meet a slightly different location, because I, as “media”, was not going to be able to access that part the hall.
Jennings said that during this visit, she was expecting to watch the real Conservative Party in action – its grassroots membership - and watch the debate and discussion between the delegates and the Members concerning their policy issues and ideas, in the same way that she’s been able watch the said democratic process at Bloc, New Democratic and Liberal conventions. Instead, as an MP and an as observer, Jennings has been unable to do so due to the high security, paranoia barred access.
“The way we can protect our democracy is through openness and transparency, and when the important political debates take place in public. To close access completely to their debates on their policy issues, says that they are not proponents of democracy, and have no interest in being open and transparent, that their concern is controlling the message to the point of stifling democracy, even it is from within their party,” said Jennings.
Jennings went on to note that normally, the grassroots members are the true representation of the party, and that most parties try to reach out to all of their members in multiple ways, and that even includes the media to broadcast to the members at home. “Those that have not been elected as delegates, for whatever reason, even financial, have been able in the past to observe their party’s convention live on the TV or the web, or through accessing the news reports. They learn from these media sources what positions were on the table, the different arguments put forth for each of them, and for this convention, they are unable to do that, so the Conservative party is not reaching out to all of its members and doing so equally.”
As for the session of the House ahead it is no secret that the economy will play out to be a major issue in the House of Commons, and what will be important for Canadians to observe is what the government’s strategy is going to be to deal with the tanking manufacturing sector which has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“Harper has said nothing is wrong with the manufacturing industry and that it doesn’t need assistance. It is actually in real danger of disappearing, along with many direct, and indirect jobs that go along with it. The Harper government must support Canadian workers to ensure social programs remain here and that they consider alternative scenarios.”
Furthermore, in two years time, Jennings believes that the conservatives will be shrivelling up even more when it comes to democracy, because democracy depends on honesty and transparency. The fact that there have been rumblings of disgruntled grass root members who want to see the party moved further right may be testament to that “Harper has a real problem on his hands. In order to achieve a minority government twice in a row, he has had to move the party more to the centre to achieve that. He has a tough balancing act on his hands, and he maintains power tenuously to do that. It’s interesting that while he’s moved his party more to the centre, he hasn’t succeeded to bring his party to a majority government since becoming party leader. The more mainstream the Conservatives become, the more the grassroots Conservatives will want to call that move into question, but they will not question his leadership because there are some deep divisions in the party that some people are afraid to let break through. They’re afraid for a leadership race because their division will break through and become known, the party will be seen for what it really is.” Jennings also added that the achievements that he cited on his Friday speech, such as the first woman MP etc., were all achievements of the previous old red-Tory party, the same party that Harper’s old party rejected for so long and did not see any pride in those accomplishments.
On the issue of leadership, Jennings said that the current Liberal leadership race may distract the media from Harper’s government actions in the House of Commons, but that she’s certain of her party’s ability to do their job effectively. “Today Dion announced his shadow cabinet, and we have an excellent team with strong players, some who are new and dynamic. Our team is effective and we’ll be able to drive the issues and maintain the media’s spotlight on the issues which really are important to Canadians.”
Many controversial resolutions that were on the agenda for the last session of parliament were being put forth at this convention as resolutions to give them new life. Jennings noticed this and said that if the Conservatives try to sneak them back in under the rug while much of the focus is on the turbulent economic situation, that that strategy will not work. “We Liberals are always paying attention, and will drive the media’s spotlight that way, especially when it comes to bills like Kenn Epp’s which found its way back to the floor today.”
Jennings is optimistic that in two years time the Liberals will be well on the road to being reinvigorated, with significant structural changes to its party, improvements to its capacity to fundraise (on that note please join the Victory Fund today!), recruit members and engage Canadians.
I thanked Ms. Jennings for her time, and I had to go outside and walk 2 sides of the block to go back to my area, because I could not walk the 10 metres that separated me from our meeting location to my media holding room.
Now get ready for some excitement as barring at last minute change of heart by the Conservatives starting at 9 AM central time, I’ll be covering the policy debates from the floor as the far right former Alliance wing of the party tries to take their party back! (and by back I mean 30 years!) Will they succeed, will they be trampled? Stay tuned!
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