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This Magazine Staff

Last week I ran for the NDP nomination in Etobicoke Lakeshore—putting my time and effort where my mouth is, and attempting to jumpstart what should really be one of the most interesting campaigns in the country (E-L is where Michael Ignatieff landed when he dropped from the black helicopter). So, I wrote a speech and brought a friend for moral support.

Being a betting man I didn’t like my odds, which was fine by me. My thinking was like this:

If the party could find no stronger candidate, I would be honoured to serve and take on Michael Ignatieff. If they could find a good candidate, I would make her even better by challenging her to sharpen her game early in a nomination challenge.

My opponents were: Liam McHugh Russell, a 25 year old U of T law student, and Greg Hamara, a longtime party man with great, deep experience in social justice issues. Fine men both. They had both produced colour brochures which were handed out at the door, they had pre-campaigned, and both brought a bunch of voting supporters with them. Greg Hamara was nominated, impressively, by NDP star Ruth Grier. I had no brochure, no campaign, and no voters. I didn’t even qualify to vote myself being so new to the riding.

Despite Grier’s presence in the Hamara camp, there didn’t seem to be a party pick, so the field was open for a fair fight (are you listening Liberals?). We all gave speeches and the first ballot was called. Hamara and McHugh Russell were separated by one vote at the top of the ballot, and I was a relatively close third (why thank you, yes, my speech was pretty good—thanks for asking). I was immediately approached by the McHugh Russell camp to lend my support to Liam. Remember, I could not vote myself. I agreed to wear a Liam button (really just a hello my name is label) and an orange armband. I made no appeal to the undecided voters, and the second ballot proceeded, with Liam winning by about four votes.

Yay, democracy—how exciting!

Today, I received an e-mail (which I will keep anonymous), complaining that I had doomed the NDP’s chances in the election. The writer suggested Greg Hamara was the better candidate because, being Ukrainian, he would raise more money and volunteers from the riding’s strong Eastern European population. Here’s a couple of quotes:

“I don’t believe you actually understand the demographics nor the real-politic of that riding.”

“I think the NDP’s role in that riding[…] is to make sure that Ignatieff is defeated. Defeated before he can assume more power as the leader of the liberals where he would be very dangerous. Can, could, the NDP realistically win the riding? No, but we could have played the spoiler, and allow the less dangerous Conservative defeat Ignatieff and dash his leadership plans.”

“So, your choice last night may, and I stress may, have been the one that crowns the country’s next prime minister: Michael Ignatieff. I think that was something you were trying prevent.”

Ohhhh, my head aches. Is this what Julie meant when she said communications strategy is the just the beginning of the NDP’s problems?

My response to the e-mail after the jump:

My response:

Thank you for making me feel so powerful as to have the deciding choice in who becomes the next Prime Minister and/or dictator of Canada. I understand and respect your analysis of the situation, and as I alluded to in my speech, I can make no claims to first-hand knowledge of the demographics or political history of Etobicoke Lakeshore. There are, however, a number of points on which I think we disagree.

First of all, while I do not like the way Ignatieff was brought into the riding, and I fundamentally disagree with his positions on Iraq and torture, I think there is a huge difference between the musings of an academic, however high profile, and the pragmatic necessity of government decision making. In other words, Ignatieff the professor could easily afford to speculate about Canada supporting the US invasion, but Ignatieff the Prime Minister would have a few other things to think about before making such a decision on behalf of all Canadians. I don’t want Ignatieff to win for many, many reasons, beginning with the fact that the current Liberal government has lost the moral authority to govern Canada and should be removed. That said, should Ignatieff win, and should he become the next leader of the Liberal party (that in itself is a pretty early call, I think), I don’t see him as any more “dangerous” than the current leadership, or certainly any more so than the leadership of the Conservative Party. They are all dangerous in my books.

I disagree with strategic voting on principle, but even if I didn’t you’d have to work a lot harder than you have to convice me any Conservative MP for Lakeshore, and especially Capobianco would be better than Ignatieff. I simply don’t see the logic there, and I find your take on the NDP’s campaign chances sadly defeatist—and that, more than anything, was the attitude I was attempting to counter with my speech at the meeting. I know what the numbers from past elections suggest, but I see no point in entering a campaign intending not to win.

As to the meeting itself, and Greg Hamara’s relative superiority/inferiority when compared to Liam, what can I say? I met both men, I read both bios, I listened to both speeches. Neither speech particularly impressed me, but I found Liam’s overall presence more compelling, his message more positive and his energy level higher.

Hamara himself made your point about his connections to the eastern European community, and frankly I found that to be the weakest section of his speech. There is something fundamentally ugly, in my opinion, about the divisive rhetoric that has sprung up around the Ukrainian community since Ignatieff’s arrival on the scene. I would rather not see the NDP indulge in that rhetoric, and I would have the same criticism for Liam were he to start playing that card. You mention that Hamara would have been able to fundraise effectively in that community and get volunteers for the campaign. I hope he does both even after his defeat at the meeting. I certainly intend to work on Liam’s campaign in whatever capacity I’m offered. To do otherwise… well, please explain to me why anyone interested in an NDP win would do otherwise.

Finally, I’m just not convinced that Hamara could have done what you suggest based only on the fact that he is Ukrainian. My last riding was Davenport, a predominantly Portugese riding, where Rui Pires, a Portugese NDP candidate, ran against Mario Silva, a Portugese Liberal candidate. Neither were the incumbent, though Silva’s machine was better established because he’d served for years as a city councillor. Pires neither won, nor did he split the vote to allow the Conservative to beat Silva. The demographics and real-politic you refer to did not work in Davenport, and I suggest they would not work in EL. I find it baffling that a candidate who would automatically get so much support from the community just because of his ethnic background, and with the express endorsement of NDP star Ruth Grier, could not bring enough eligible voters to the meeting to put him over the top. I walked in there unknown, with no vote-eligible supporters in the room, having not campaigned at all nor produced a bio leaflet, and I managed enough votes to force a second ballot. If Hamara’s support was so strong, I think he should have proven it by winning against a student and an unknown. I have nothing against Greg Hamara, and I thought he would have made a fine candidate, but asked to choose between him and Liam, I choose Liam. So too, apparently, did my stable of undecided voters from the meeting. That means something.

Anyway, this is all fine for post-meeting political gabbing, but the real question is “now that we have a candidate, how do we make him win.”

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