Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reform Starts Within

One of my biggest complaints with those who demand electoral reform is that so often they do so from outside the systems the comprise our government.

Our current Prime Minister is a classic example of this. He keeps on rattling about various kinds of 'electoral reform', and yet it's quite clear that he runs the Conservative party with an iron fist. The Conservative caucus in Ottawa is not our representatives to Ottawa, but rather, Stephen Harper's representatives to the party faithful. (Arguably, in Calgary at the very least, Conservative MPs are very careful not to be heard at all - I haven't seen anything consequential out of my MP since 2004 ... and Calgary voters still elect these twits)

Ignatieff is showing us what it means to effect change, but starting out with two moves in the last week that are very interesting. First was his approach to the Newfoundland MPs who were upset by the Harper budget. He sat down with them, listened and then created a compromise position that everybody could live with. I don't think you will ever hear something so pragmatic coming out of the Harper PMO - where the pattern has been to expel dissidents.

Then, we have Ignatieff's approach to advice and leadership:

Every morning at 8:30, he meets a proxy group of about 10 Liberal MPs and gets their input and advice. That's in contrast to the way most opposition leaders have operated; usually, it's been just the leader and a tight unelected clique of advisers who held sway.

The kitchen cabinet members, a veteran group to contrast the leader's newness, include Bob Rae, Ralph Goodale, David McGuinty, Ujjal Dosanjh, Marlene Jennings, Denis Coderre, Albina Guarnieri and Roger Cuzner.

Think about this for a moment. Ignatieff has just surrounded himself with a dozen or so MPs who are more experienced than he is, and he meets with them daily. When was the last time we heard of Harper listening to anyone's advice except his own ego?

Ignatieff has the potential to be the person who actually overhauls the Liberal party for the first time in decades - mostly because he's willing to listen to those around him.

"We've been punching well below our intellectual weight," says Mr. Graves. "We have the most educated public we have ever had but, instead of reaching higher to them, our politicians go the other way." They should understand, he says, that "you don't have to be aw-shucks and lowbrow to relate to average people. Average people are smart. Obama's victory showed that. On the Republican side, Sarah Palin was making George Bush look like a Nobel Prize winner."

Which is precisely what I've been saying about our politicians for a long time. Speak intelligently about things and you'll get a lot more traction. I'm glad to see that Ignatieff is willing to listen, and not willing to put his brain on a shelf for the sake of political ideology.

He may not be charismatic, but he's probably one of the brighter lights to appear on our political stage in the decades since Pierre Trudeau stepped down. (Especially in an era where the PM is elected because he successfully assassinated the character of his rivals)

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