Monday, August 26, 2013

INTERVIEW with Chrystia Freeland and why I'm supporting her for the federal Liberal Toronto Centre nomination

There has been a bit of press recently on the local battle for the Toronto Centre federal Liberal nomination to replace Bob Rae, much of it unfairly attacking the candidacy of Chrystia Freeland (pictured), including allegations that Justin Trudeau is stacking the deck in her favour despite his commitment to allow for open nominations.

Had Trudeau appointed Freeland as the candidate, or banned her opponents from taking her on, these critics would have a point. But the fact remains that Chrystia Freeland is currently working the riding big time, calling up local Liberals in person, meeting with dozens more, knocking on doors looking to recruit more Liberals in order to win the nomination. She told me herself last week she doesn't know if she's going to win the nomination (click on the interview link below to hear for yourself). So clearly this has not been handed to her on a silver platter. She quit her job in New York and moved back to Toronto this summer with her family to pursue this career change, signalling an impressive commitment most of us would hesitate to make.

“We certainly haven’t sent out some kind of executive order that thou shalt nominate this person,” said Trudeau adviser Gerard Butts recently in an interview with the National Post. “I know that it’s hard to believe given the past of the federal Liberal party, but we told her when she said she wanted to run, we told her that she would have to win her own nomination. We would introduce her to people, but in the end it was going to be up to her.”

I'm a member of the Toronto Centre federal Liberal association. I am by no means an elite Liberal nor a member of the political establishment in this riding. Todd Ross, an old friend who's also running for the nomination, called me up personally in July to discuss his candidacy. Chrystia Freeland also called me up a couple weeks later and invited me for a coffee. One of Freeland's campaign volunteers (a real person on a phone, not some recording or robo-call) also called me up last week and asked if I would be supporting Freeland. I told her that I would be.

I've received only one robo-call in this race and it was sent on behalf of candidate Diana Burke. After a brief introduction from a male voice, the message continued with Diana Burke introducing herself as the only candidate "who lives in Toronto Centre."

In my mind, Burke's claim to have lived in the riding for 25 years seems somewhat superfluous in a community as transitory and diverse as Toronto Centre. I've lived in and out of the riding since 1996. Currently, I own a condo near Church and Shuter streets, which I bought in 2012. Prior to that, I owned a condo for five years in Davenport riding. Prior to that, I rented for two years in Toronto Centre, and before that, I rented for four years in Trinity-Spadina. This followed stints in Toronto-Danforth and even Willowdale! Such is life in this cosmopolitan and vibrant city. Deep roots in one riding in Toronto are truly rare. Most of us are from somewhere else and have spent little actual time here, yet we still call Toronto our home.

Toronto Centre residents are progressive, diverse, outward-looking people who believe that Toronto and Canada need to be major players in the world, including promoting issues of equality, justice and sustainable economic growth that benefits all. Toronto Centre has homeowners in Rosedale and elsewhere, middle class condo owners all over the riding, plus thousands of renters and sadly many under-housed or homeless individuals. The economic challenges faced by our country hit home big time in this community. Toronto is an expensive place to live. But with stagnating wages and anemic economic growth the last few years, most of us in the middle class are barely keeping afloat, while many others are getting left behind.

Despite this, I feel strongly that the Harper government has largely abandoned the average person like me. Sure they claim to be representing the average Tim Horton's coffee drinking, SUV-driving soccer mom. But Conservative philosophy has always been about reinforcing the power of those who already have a lot of it and don't need the help. Corporate taxes continue to decrease under the Harperites, while payroll taxes continue to go up every year for the rest of us. Our city has huge transportation infrastructure needs, but the Conservatives in Ottawa provide no stable, ongoing funding to support us in this way.

On the other side of the House, we have Tom Mulcair's NDP, whose economic platform so far seems to consist of "making the rich pay" and implementing new types of regulation and control over private industry in order to enforce some kind of environmental "sustainability." Mulcair seems to be saying: "Let's slow down the oil sands and other private industries and all will be well." As we saw even in British Columbia this year, such NDP arguments usually end in political failure and re-elected conservative governments. I have no confidence in Thomas Mulcair and the NDP replacing the Conservatives in Ottawa any time soon.

It's clear now that Justin Trudeau's Liberals are re-emerging as the main challengers to the Conservatives in Ottawa. Based on his performance to date (including his honest admissions to previously smoking marijuana), I have a lot of confidence in Justin Trudeau as he continues to make a largely positive impression on Canadians. His political instincts seem to be very solid. Trudeau is an extremely gifted communicator, connecting with people on emotional levels in ways Stephen Harper or Mulcair could only dream. Much more work needs to be done, but so far his main focus on strengthening the middle class in this era of economic uncertainty and change is a major source of hope.

This brings me back to Toronto Centre and why I'm supporting Chrystia Freeland for the federal Liberal nomination. Like Trudeau, Freeland also shares a passion for helping the middle class to succeed. She's spent her career studying and writing about the major economic changes we have been facing and will continue to face in the years to come.

As a writer, she published a book in 2012 that grappled with these very issues called, "Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else," which won the 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize for non-fiction reporting on foreign affairs. She previously wrote the 2000 book, "Sale of the Century," about Russia's journey from communism to capitalism. She's worked as a journalist around the world. As well, she was the deputy editor for the Financial Times in London, and later that paper's Moscow bureau chief. Freeland also served as the deputy editor of The Globe and Mail from 1999 to 2001. Most recently, Freeland was the managing director and editor of consumer news at Thomson Reuters and a weekly columnist for the Globe and Mail.

Such a wealth of international experience fits well in a community as outward-looking and progressive as Toronto Centre. Many residents here are immigrants who came from abroad to live here. Many of us who are Canadian-born have also have worked outside the country, or pursued projects that took us abroad. We don't begrudge international experience.

I will admit when I first heard about Freeland's candidacy, I was skeptical about her lack of local community experience. But when she called me up on the phone (it was her calling, not some automated robo-call), we set up a chat and she told me how she hopes to put her considerable international experience to work for this community in Ottawa. She's a writer and a journalist who has decided to put down the pen, so to speak, roll up her sleeves and do something about the issues she cares about. As a former journalist and current writer myself, her decision to run is inspiring. Freeland has her heart in the right place and brings much passion to this fight. For those reasons, I was happy to offer her my support.

In advance of this blog post, I spoke with Freeland again over the phone last week and conducted this interview, in which I asked her the following questions:

1) Why are you running to be the next MP for Toronto Centre?,

2) What roles do you see yourself playing, if you are elected MP, to help promote the middle class agenda in Ottawa over the next two years and beyond?

3) Besides your extensive work in journalism, academia and writing your books, what other types of work including volunteer work and activism have you been involved with?, and...

4) What are your thoughts on the state of LGBT rights or other issues of concern to the queer community in Canada and abroad? How will you forge ties with the local LGBT community as the MP for Toronto Centre?

You can also listen to the interview on here. I apologize for the minor audio feedback in parts of the file. It was my first interview recording on a new app.

I was especially glad to hear Freeland's comments about representing issues of concern to the LGBT community in Toronto Centre. If elected MP, she hopes to use her extensive background and expertise on Russia to represent local concerns about that country's new anti-gay laws in advance of the Sochi Olympics and beyond. Freeland's emphasis on focusing on issues around homelessness and queer youth is also good to hear.

In the interview, Freeland mentioned how proud she is of her mother, Halyna Freeland, whom she described as a pioneering feminist lawyer in Alberta, for winning the first known successful parental custody case for a lesbian mother in Canada. The 1975 case was called 'K v K, [1975] AJ No. 462.' and set a very important precedent that benefited queer parents across the country, says Freeland.

I like Todd Ross immensely as a person. I've known Todd for years from my previous work as a Liberal staffer at Queen's Park. He's an affable and decent guy. He's spent the last few years since leaving George Smitherman's office working in various community organizations. Still, in my opinion, he's nowhere near as good a communicator as Freeland. Todd strikes me as a very good general election candidate, but not a good by-election candidate.

In addition, Diana Burke has some nice qualities and decent work experience at the Royal Bank of Canada. But she too also strikes me as a decent general election candidate, but not a strong by-election candidate. As every political junkie knows, by-elections turn largely on the strength of the local candidates in the race.

I've made up my mind and will be voting for Chrystia Freeland to be the nominated Liberal candidate. I will be working to get her that nomination, and should she win the nomination, I will also volunteer on her election campaign to get her strong voice as an advocate for the middle class to Ottawa as MP. Of course, I'll do the same for either Burke or Ross, should they win the nomination.

In the end, Toronto Centre Liberal members will go to the as-yet-unscheduled nomination meeting and vote for the candidate to represent us in the by-election. No one will be appointed, the winner will have to work hard to earn their victory. And that winner will be a better candidate for it.


Tweeted by David Akin (@davidakin) on Aug 27th at 4 pm or so:

#LPC in Toronto Centre will pick candidate for byelection on Sep 15. Cut-off date for those registered to vote was AUG 20.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird blasts 'hateful' Russian anti-gay law

I'm very glad to see John Baird taking a very strong stand in opposition to Russia's odious, hateful, new anti-gay laws.

"As concerned as we are about the Olympics, that's nothing. That's two, three, four weeks for the athletes and participants and the visitors," Baird said in a telephone interview from Colombia with CBC.

"This mean-spirited and hateful law will affect all Russians 365 days of the year, every year. It is an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence."

Baird did not endorse recent calls for a boycott but said Russia's hosting of the Olympics would draw attention to the issue.

"In the run-up to the Olympics, it provides a spotlight on this mean-spirited and hateful law," Baird said. "Hopefully, we can use that spotlight to bring pressure to bear on the Russian government."

I do support boycotting all Russian products including vodkas to put pressure on that foolish country to reverse these hateful laws. I also think athletes should put aside their massive ambitions and consider for a moment the moral implications of competing in a Games in a country that treats its minorities this way. For me, it's like refusing to stop eating at a 'No Jews Allowed' restaurant just because you can't get enough of the food.

You can read the full CBC story here.