Thursday, September 15, 2005


So, as CH readers might know, Prestn Manning has created the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a "do tank" that is "committed to achieving a democratic society guided by conservative principles, and will support research, educational, and communications initiatives directed to that end".

All good. In theory.

In an op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday, Preston announced that he and the Centre was be hosting a "Toronto Roundtable" of "100 conservative minded people from across the country" to discuss how to build a conservative instrastructure.

As reported today, that meeting of the minds happened and there was a general committment by attendees to look at such concepts as scholarships for conservative youth to go to journalism school, a "political organizer MBA", training, research, etc.

I have a few thoughts.

I should say from the outset that I applaud Manning for taking this significant initiative. I think its an extremely important one and its something I'm willing to support. That being said, however, I have beef:

Firstly, I saw the list of attendees for the roundtable and I have less to say about who was on the list than I do about who wasn't. I'm an Ontario boy, so I'll discuss what I know.

For a Centre that proports to care so deeply about building a grassroots political infrastructure, there wasn't a true organizer to be had. I come from that background and I know pretty well every good Conservative organizer in Ontario. None were in attendance.

As well, in this key battleground province there were very few representatives from the provincial PC Party. Even the President, Blair McCreadie wasn't invited as far as I know. Big mistake. And it doesn't stop with him. I can think of countless people who were not on the list but definitely should have been. These are people who would be absolutely critical to winning a ground war in Ontario.

So much for getting off on the right foot (pardon the pun).

The second point I'll make is this: you want to create the political generation of the future?

Bring back the youth wing.

My generation seems to be the last one that actually has spawned "political operatives". Since my time in the PC Youth there has been a real effort to eliminate any real "battles" characterized them as "disruptive" or "pointless infighting".

I disagree.

For most youthies, youth politics was a chance to cut your teeth in political campaigns when the stakes were a little lower and everything wasn't dictated by HQ or the Leader's Office. This gave room for creativity, initiative and a real ability to move up the ranks.

Yeah, I've hear the argument about making youth "second class members", which is nonsense. I never felt like that. If fact, most untested youth a) feel intimidated by taking part in senior activities when they have no experience and b) will spend a hell of a lot of time doing joe jobs on campaigns before their really given a chance.

The latter circumstance stems mostly from the Canadian Alliance side, which never had a youth wing. As a result, there are only a handful of youth members who could really step up to the plate and take a leadership role due to their experience.

Youth coventions are heady affairs: races for Presdient, seat rushes, smear campaigns, stacking out delegate meetings, backroom deals, etc. Yes, some might see it as a waste of time or far from the ever-so-important Party policy convention. But that's not what brings youth in and keeps them there.

For me, my time in the youth allowed me to experience the most positive side of politics: loyalty, team building, organization, a real sense of accomplishment, the excitement of being inside a campaign. Those are the things that made me work for months on end to get the job done.

Nothing bonds people like being up all night making signs for a seat rush the next morning.

I loved it all. And I actually learned most of the political skills I have today. Those skills have allowed me to be a campaign manager in the 2003 provincial election and to work as an organizer for PC Party Headquarters after the 1999 election.

But I seem to be the last of a dying breed, unfortunately. Organizing and campaigning seem to be a lost art.

So, if I could give any advice to Manning and his new initiative, it would be this: nothing substitutes for hands-on experience. You don't send a kid into the adult world without them going to school, working with their peers and experiencing life in that context. Why should politics be any different?

Training isn't just for seminars. Sometimes the best soldiers are forged in the heat of battle.

Good luck.

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