Sunday, 22 November 2009

What Janine Krieber can teach the Liberal Party

Janine Krieber, wife of former opposition leader Stephane Dion, gave her Facebook Friends an honest and personal appraisal of her experience in the Liberal Party. Somehow the party hacks got hold of it and made her remove her blog post.(No doubt, some of those who asked her to take the post down wanted to spare her and her husband from harassment by party zealots. But Liberals who think making Krieber take her post down will contribute to rebuilding their party are mistaken.

Most Canadians probably don't agree with her contention that the Lib/NDP/Bloc coalition was the right decision for Canada. But suggesting she should not have written it smacks of the kind of 'thought policing' Conservatives have long accused the Liberal elite of. That suspicion that the Liberal elite was a social engineering machine is also the root of calls to demote or remove Human Rights Commissions and other 'progressive' institutions established by the Liberals.

It may be a shock to Liberals, but many Canadians consider the now defunct Liberal regime as the source of forced unhistorical identity.(I love our flag, but did we have to push it though despite the objections of many Canadians? Did we have to bring the Constitution home without Quebec's approval?) That arrogant re-engineering has made word liberal a profanity in parts of Canada. (To be sure, Conservative accusations that the Liberals curtail free speech are a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, but tackling Tory thought policing would take more than one blog post.)

I confess that I agree with most of Krieber's comments about the way the Liberals treat their own.

I remember the fake smiles and coercive tactics party brass used to elicit silence when I belonged to the Alberta Liberal Party and the Liberal Party of Canada. The well-being of individuals was clearly not as important as the overall goal of winning.

So many memories. So little time to write them down.

Here's one: A young woman broke out in tears after she had been treated callously by other workers in the Calgary McCall campaign office during a by-election. She was a far better worker than they were, but they thought they had better links to the brass.

I also remember calling the police after a zealot phoned my house and told me I had to leave town because I had contested a nomination against his preferred candidate. "You are finished in Lethbridge," he said and went on to assure me that if I didn't leave I would hever find work. The verbal abuse went on for about 15 minutes. (I was dumb in those days, I wouldn't hang up on crank callers.) A police constable payed him a visit I understand. Strangely, for years after that I heard the strangest stories about my personal life from all sorts of people, including the guy that's now my husband.

Oh, and then there was the witty fellow who gave me this sage advice, in front of the boards of Lethbridge West and Lethbridge East: "Jane if you want that nomination, you better get out there and start talking to people and it wouldn't hurt if you started sleeping around." Did the members of this progressive party say anything when these comments were made month after month? No. Some of them looked away. Some of them looked down. But nobody made a move to stop it. (Later I got phone calls from other women who'd been harassed by this individual.)

When I brought the issue to the attention of the party brass, they sent the wolves out (in order to protect their Liberal stronghold in Southern Alberta). I wanted them to create a Code of Ethics which would have ended discrimination at the constituency level. They were terrified I was going to 'go public' and destroy them. As one elected official told me, "This could destroy lives." He was right. It nearly destroyed mine.

About this time I was asked to work with the federal party's women's commission. Another phone call to inform me that was not going to happen. I was told, "There's a lot of concern about you being involved in the Women's Commission." Never heard from them again.

I have long since forgiven everyone involved. I did it because my faith tells me I must. And because it frees me to live in the present. Some people actually merit the forgiveness and are genuinely sorry. A few have learned that character assassination can get out of hand and destroy a person's job prospects, family life and health. As far as I'm concerned those individuals are off the hook. They are in God's hands. I believe, many of them would never react the same way again.

But if the federal and provincial Liberals want to make it up to me, do this: Clean up your act. Stop acting like a cult. Stop acting like the mob. Listen to people when they tell you want you need to hear to fix your own party.

One of the wisest comments I got from a friend during those crazy days after the nomination in Lethbridge East was this: "You didn't win because you didn't get enough votes." Sometimes the truth seems like a simpleton.

Federal and Provincial Liberals: You didn't win the last election because you didn't get enough votes. Canadians don't trust you enough to vote for you. Turning it around has nothing to do with silencing critics. It has everything to do with re-evaluating and re-building something Canadians want to vote for.

Mdme Krieber, please put your post back up. This is a free country.

Just in case the people I've forgiven haven't reformed, I've got correspondence from those days. Don't even start!

1 comment:

Jennifer Pollock said...

Thanks for the blog. I agree with most of Janine's observations too, except the conclusion that the Liberal party is falling apart and won't recover. If she means it is not going back to what it was, I hope she is right. If she means that it will be destroyed like the Progressive Conservative Party, she is wrong.

Politics (partisan and non-partisan both) is filled with people who use intimidation and ugly images and insinuations to try and obtain or defend the power they want or have consolidated. As a person who was elected 3 times to Calgary's Public School Board during very challenging times, I would offer my advice, perspective or philosophy.

Politics is NOT a game for me. It is for many others. Politics is not about consolidating power but about empowering others. The more I have been successful in empowering constituents, employees and fellow politicians, the more electoral success I received. Politics is not about control but about leadership and service. Creating change requires the perspective that I am part of the problem. I need to be accountable and play MY role in generating change. We cannot force change, we must be the change.

I was a PC member prior to May 2005, so my comments are not in support of a party I voted for. Repatriation of the constitution was conducted by premiers and the PM/federal gov't. That was part of the appropriate role for the provincial and federal leaders. As a Quebec premier, acknowledging the British powers and the rule of the Queen were probably an impediment to Levesque's support. Bringing the control for independence into Canadian hands presented a change in thinking and politics that was both an opportunity and a challenge. There are few important decisions that result in real change that everyone can support. IMO repatriation was long overdue in the 1980s. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while still evolving, has empowered individuals and rebalanced the power between an individual, especially a member of a minority, and the government/majorities.

I am old enough to vaguely remember when Canada got a new flag. I loved the union jack, but if ever there was a symbol inappropriate for Quebec, that was it (well the Queen is too, I am willing to keep the Queen but probably the monarchy grows more challenging to defend as time passes). Leadership involves balancing the need for change with the willingness. Leaders should focus on the needs.

Your blog did stimulate my thoughts on Janine's leadership in this circumstance. I believe that she thought the Liberal party needs this conversation more than they want it. She is a leader, and correct in the timing. I don't support er conclusions and possible solutions, but welcome the opportunity to discuss how the Liberal party must change to better serve Canadians needs in the near future.

PS S. Harper has taken very few steps that indicate the type of leadership I support or Canada needs. Of course I will work together with all those that disagree with me since, therein lies my success as well as the country's.