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Liberal Convention a Wake Up Call for Party

James Di Fiore Jan. 21, 2012, 8:43 a.m.

As the co-founder of The Red Dot Project, I was hesitant to launch our media center during the Liberal Convention in Ottawa. Canada is currently dominated by partisan politics, and our last federal election solidified the idea that we are becoming a polarized state, trapped inside a Left vs Right hubris most Canadians see as damaging to our country.

But there is something very real about covering a convention by a federal political party. The Liberals were destroyed in the last election, decimated worse than at any other time in their history and left to recalculate their image, policies and leadership possibilities. As a brand new organization we wanted to both play nice and ask uncomfortable questions. You can decide how well we did with that mandate.

Personally, it was my first appearance at a political convention of any kind. A couple of the Red Dot team members had attended other conventions for a few of the parties, but I was a newbie. My predisposition led me to believe the worst – that these conventions are comprised of blind partisans who act as cheerleaders without the ability to substantially debate the issues with folks who subscribe to the same ideas. On the other hand, I was faced with the notion that partisanship might be productive if it means Canada will be less polarized and ideological. After all, we have 4 parties represented in parliament, a testament to an eclectic system not reliant on black and white legislation and debates. Or, depending where your views are, the system is fragmented into far too many groups who each rely on partisanship and ideology to get their points across.

So our main goal was to allow these Liberal Party members to explain themselves. We knew the big issues going in as far as young voters were concerned: the legalization of marijuana, post-secondary education and apathy among young people in politics. Those three issues seem to be the backbone of issues important to young Canadians, so we did everything we could to allow elder statesmen and regular delegates alike to speak their mind and give viewers an idea of what the party is doing to convince Canadians of their relevancy. It wasn't easy, but we did get to ask the questions no other network was paying attention to, and with the marijuana issue we were ahead of most of the mainstream media who did not print anything about marijuana until after the resolution was passed handily.

Surprisingly, the one politician who seemed the least comfortable taking a pro-marijuana stance was Justin Trudeau, the easiest-to-imagine-smoking-a-joint-on-weekends politician and the man who clearly has the most pull among young Liberals. 

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin, on the other hand, seemed genuinely uncomfortable being asked questions about weed, deflecting and then walking away just seconds before his speech in Canada Hall.

The question of youth apathy may have been answered in the convention demographics where it was reported that 30% of the delegates were under the age of 30, a statistic which surprised most of the attendees. On a side note, Ray Heard, a reporter who once covered the White House in the 60s and is now relegated to random appearances on the Sun News Network, said through Facebook that newly elected LPC President Mike Crawley had bought the votes of the youth delegates, a startling conspiracy theory which not only tries to paint Crawley as corrupt but also implies that young people can be bought for a couple beers and a subsidized train ticket. This assertion is false as the decision to subsidize young delegates was made 8 months ago, agreed upon by almost every member of the party's executive. Thankfully, Heard is retired and rants mostly to himself on his Facebook profile.

What could reasonably pass for a conspiracy theory is Bob Rae's apparent about-face regarding his leadership ambitions, and judging by his closing speech he is positioning himself as the voice of the party for the indefinite future.

The mood of the convention was actually quite positive as delegates debated issues ranging from the environment to the monarchy, marijuana to foreign policy. And in what could be the most interesting caveat to center-left politicos, NDP MP Olivia Chow made an appearance. You can see her interview with the Red Dot Project here

Conventions serve several purposes. First and foremost they rally the troops around the party, something the Liberals desperately needed. Second, they forge a path they hope will galvanize Canadians and win votes. And finally, if all goes well, conventions can show political parties as being one of two things: pep rallies or think tanks. The Red Dot Project was fortunate to launch during this convention and will let our audience decide what category the Liberal Convention falls under.

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