Progress Summit 2014: earnest, hopeful and on the offence

Laura Beaulne-Stuebing /

Progressives who gathered in Ottawa this weekend will not hesitate to say they’re on the right side of history on so many things – the environment, labour rights, gender equality. Some may not admit this as easily, but they’re also getting tired of, as they say, just being right all the time. They want to win.

That’s no secret, though — the first annual Progress Summit, put on by the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, was peppered with panel sessions and speeches about leading effective campaigns, with advice for organizers in how to build and improve a movement.

While the summit was open to everyone, and all political stripes were in attendance — Tories, Liberals and Greens included – the obvious subtext was an orange flag-waving one.

Tzeporah Berman, a Broadbent fellow and environmental campaigner, noted in one of the panel sessions Sunday that the left, in all its earnestness, wants to explain things — priorities and policies and ideas — with a lot of intellectual rigor.

But good campaigns have always been about simplifying a message and sticking to it. We have to stop assuming facts will win campaigns, she said.

This was an echo from keynote speaker Julia Gillard’s address the previous evening. The former Australian prime minister told a packed hall that progressives have leaned too long on facts, and expecting that facts are all that they need.

The weekend also featured policy-oriented sessions — opportunities to discuss and reflect on how a (potential future) progressive government would address things like resource development, manufacturing and jobs and the relationship between people and government through the tax system.

Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith, to close the Summit, delivered a campaign-style speech Sunday. He told the group it’s time for the left — the NDP, cough, cough — to go on the offence.

“We are the inheritors of the best country in the world. A country with a proud progressive tradition. But, a country that is moving in the wrong direction,” he said.

“So what are we going to do about that? Well, the best defence is a good offence.”

Citing bill C-23, the much-debated Fair Elections Act, his speech painted a stark picture between the progressive movement and the Conservative government — that the two are in opposition to each other.

So, Smith said, here’s what the Broadbent Institute is going to do, to deal with what almost everyone in the main hall of the Delta Hotel would call the government’s regressive policies: work with a team of Broadbent fellows to streamline a ”practical agenda for change” and train activists to take that agenda to peoples’ doorsteps.

“Continue working with us and with each other on a set of common priorities,” he appealed to the group, “to make our great country even greater.”

Delegates, volunteers and organizers were all-smiles for much of the weekend — interested in the conversations taking place, eager to get to work and hopeful their work will bear some political fruit in the future.

Earnest and hopeful and optimistic, for what will be an uphill battle towards 2015.