At one point last Saturday afternoon in the main ballroom of the Delta hotel in downtown Ottawa, epicentre for the Broadbent Institute’s first annual Progress Summit, Alex Himelfarb, a former clerk of the privy council and now co-editor of a book entitled Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word, recalled being at a dinner party and wondering aloud about “how nice” it would be to have universal daycare in this country.
Left and right-wing politicians have traditionally clashed over economic, social and environmental policy.
Now Ed Broadbent is adding democracy to the list of issues that differentiate so-called progressives from conservatives — at least in Canada.
The former NDP leader says the Harper government's proposed overhaul of national election laws has turned what used to be a shared value among all federal parties into another ideological battlefield.
"Whereas 10 years ago progressives had little or no need to defend our basic democratic values and institutions, today it is essential," Broadbent says in a speech prepared for the inaugural summit of the progressive think-tank founded in his name.
"The mis-named Fair Elections Act is nothing more than U.S. Republican-style voter suppression."
The speech is to be delivered Saturday morning to welcome participants at the Broadbent Institute's sold-out "progress summit."
Text of the speech was made available to The Canadian Press on Friday.
During his 24 years in Parliament, Broadbent says no prime minister ever attempted to rig election laws and undermine voter participation in the way he accused the Harper government of currently trying to do.
"Before Stephen Harper, changes in electoral institutions — the rules of the game — were always made on the basis of an all-party consensus ... He has acted unilaterally and undemocratically."
Broadbent, who worked in developing countries around the world as head of a non-partisan democratic and human rights advocacy group created by Parliament in the 1990s, says Canada used to be seen "as a model democracy."
"Now, as the prime minister promotes democracy in Ukraine, we have 19 serious scholars from half a dozen countries publicly denouncing him for repressing democracy at home."
Experts on democracy and elections, both at home and abroad, have been scathing in their criticism of the proposed overhaul of election laws. They fear it will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, muzzle the chief electoral officer and give a big advantage to the political party with the most money and biggest database — which happens to be Harper's Conservative party.
It would boost, both directly and indirectly, the amount of money parties can spend during campaigns. It would end the practice of vouching for voters without adequate identification. And it would forbid the elections watchdog from communicating with the public about anything other than mechanics of how, where and when to vote.
Thus far, the government has been undeterred by any of the criticism.
In addition to their fight to defend and strengthen Elections Canada, Broadbent says progressives are characterized by their belief that "prosperity needs to be broadly shared," that the gap between the very rich and everyone else must be closed.
They are also characterized by their belief that economic growth must go hand in hand with environmental sustainability.
"Progressives, indeed most Canadians, understand that environmental and economic priorities need to be reconciled and made mutually reinforcing," Broadbent says.
"And at some basic level the federal government has rejected this ever since Mr. Harper came to power eight years ago."
The federal government sees the public isn’t interested or engaged in its controversial elections overhaul bill and is using that to “demotivate and demoralize” political opponents, says Jamie Biggar, executive director of Leadnow.
Asked what could be done to mobilize the public against Bill C-23, Mr. Biggar suggested that Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton, Ont.) recently “lied” when he said that only academics and journalists, but not the general public, oppose the legislation.
When the founding leader of the Reform party, Preston Manning, retired from politics to start an Institute bearing his name, folks around him said the Manning Institute would not be a 'think tank' but a 'do tank.'
The Institute that bears the name of one-time NDP leader Ed Broadbent has similar 'do tank' ambitions and they were on display this past weekend.
From Friday to Sunday, the Broadbent Institute held what was, in effect, its inaugural major event, the Progress Summit, in Ottawa.
The Summit brought together Canadian progressives -- or, at least, people the Broadbent organizers consider to be progressive -- with activists and politicians from the United States, Australia, Great Britain and France.
There was significant discussion of policy, including indigenous rights, the green economy, youth employment, income inequality and the future of manufacturing.
But there was also a strong focus on strategy and tactics.
The Broadbent Institute, like its counterpart on the Right, is all about linking theory with practice, ideas with action. And so, there were workshops and panels on everything from Google campaigns to options for a beleaguered labour movement to "lessons from winning progressive campaigns in the U.S. and Canada.”
That last panel paired British Columbia environmental campaigner Tzeporah Berman and one time NDP Quebec organizer Ray Guardia with two Americans: Erik Peterson, of the strategy and training institute named after the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, and Ashley Pinedo, who worked at the grassroots level on the 2012 Obama campaign in the key swing state of Florida (which Obama carried, as he had in 2008).
Peterson talked about something he called the Wellstone triangle (the grassroots, electoral politics and public policy).
Guardia and Pinedo told generally upbeat stories about the winning campaigns in which they had been involved.
Berman, however, struck a more sombre note. She said pointedly that the Right is beating "us" in the tactics department.
"We have been too focused on the air war, on a core team that sends out messages, and not sufficiently focused on the ground war, working at the people-to-people and community level," she said.
The B.C. environmentalist advocated for smart and data-driven strategy.
"We should stop trying to talk to everyone," she said, and use good data to focus on those groups who can be convinced.
"The Right is good at message control." Berman sighed, "They know how to create an echo-chamber. We progressives are too invested in our own intellect. We become bored too quickly and move on to another topic."
On this point, Berman seemed to be speaking from a wealth of bitter experience.
"Winning campaigns is not a function of policy, it is about motivation," she noted, and then added that progressives are good at critiquing but "suck at proposing alternatives."
On Sunday evening, a half day after the Summit, one of those too-many-to-remember CBC-TV panels, this one call "Three to Watch," had a brief chat that brought Berman's comment to mind.
The three young up-and-comers and CBC Sunday night news host Wendy Mesley were discussing the still fairly feeble public opposition to what the three seemed to agree is frightful legislation -- the Harper government's Fair Elections Act.
One panelist almost echoed Berman's view when he observed that opponents of Fair Elections have not yet crafted effective messages.
They have not yet figured out how to motivate ordinary folks, he said, and that includes folks who might actually consider voting Conservative.
If the opponents of the Fair Elections Act want to have an impact, and maybe force major changes to the bill, they will have to campaign in a smarter and more effective way.
That, at least, is how this panel sees it.
It is also probably pretty close to what Tzeporah Berman would advise.
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.
Governments and economic leaders around the world are increasingly speaking out about the economic impetus to address climate change and the need to shift to green economies, but Canada is dragging its feet and investing money and attention into further developing existing, traditional energy sources, experts said Saturday at a Broadbent Institute summit panel on green economies.
“There are many people who think we can only have a greener economy by having less of the other things, and other people who think we can have more of the innovation and prosperity but only by having a less green economy. I think that’s fundamentally wrong,” said panelist Chris Ragan, associate professor of macroeconomic and economic policy at McGill University in Montreal, adding the two sides need to stop being pitted against each other.
The Broadbent Institute’s first-ever Progress Summit is being held at the Delta hotel in downtown Ottawa from March 28-31. On Saturday, Mr. Ragan, Bruce Lorrie, president of the Ivey Foundation, Tom Rand, Cleantech adviser at the MaRS Institute, and Clare Demerse, a fellow with the Broadbent Institute and director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute, took part in a discussion on “The (good) business of building a green economy.”
Panel moderator Jeremy Runnals, managing editor of Corporate Knights magazine, said it doesn’t take a hard look to see that change is underway globally when it comes to economic policies and the environment. Over the past year-and-a-half, global economic leaders, including International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde, have spoken out about the economic impetus to address climate change, he said.
Globally, a transition to clean energy is already well underway, said Ms. Demerse, with more than $1.5-trillion invested in the global clean energy sector to date. Ms. Demerse said in some international markets, alternative energy technologies like wind and solar are already “cost competitive with the fossil fuel alternative.” With an international shift towards green energy policies and a reduction of carbon emissions, Ms. Demerse said there’s a strong fiscal argument to investing in new energy sources that are environmentally friendly.
“At this point in Canada we’ve got a couple of options. One is we can choose to build that resilient, diversified clean energy economy that can compete successfully in a low-carbon world, or we can run the risk of sinking billions more into infrastructure for oilsands production that the world’s markets ultimately may not want,” said Ms. Demerse.
She said greenhouse gas pollution from the oilsands is at a level that oilsands growth is set to undue other efforts made to reduce carbon emissions over the years. Ms. Demerse said if countries around the world begin taking the environment more seriously, oilsands development will look increasingly “fragile.”
“So making that clean energy transition, I would argue, is a safer economic choice for Canada, even before we look at the risks we would run economically from climate change itself,” she told attendees.
Mr. Ragan, who qualified himself as a macro economist and not an environmental economist, said finding “clever” policies that encourage both innovation and environmental protection would create a better economy overall.
A redesign of our current fiscal structure is a “crucial piece” of the puzzle, he said. Governments need to be prepared to make those kinds of shifts, like imposing new taxes on activities that create pollution, while in turn lowering taxes on personal income to address “both halves of that package.”
“None of this ought to be, in a sensible world, a partisan issue,” said Mr. Ragan, who later added that Canada has been “passive-aggressive obstructionists” in the global environmental conversation in the last few years.
In response to Mr. Runnals questioning whether an economic indicator other than GDP should be used to measure economic growth, Mr. Ragan said in terms of calculating national assets, when a tree is cut down to make lumber, we should probably also be accounting for the loss of that tree, an idea that was met with applause from attendees.
Mr. Lorrie said better information and better measurements will help bring about more investment in green technology, and said right now there’s an information-gathering deficit, pointing to the cessation of the long-form census as an example.
Mr. Rand said “energy incumbents” continue to invest in finding more oil and gas reserves which are likely to be limited by environmental regulation as the world works to combat climate change, rather than investing to find new sources of energy. Mr. Rand said he thinks enhanced geothermal energy is the “holy grail” of clean energy. Despite the fact that clean energy investments make economic sense, Mr. Rand said the market isn’t rational, and companies need to be incentivized to invest in clean energy.
Ms. Demerse said Canada needs to take its own approach to improve environmental regulations and shift to a green economy and can’t look to the U.S. as a marker because the circumstances simply aren’t the same as the U.S. does not have an oil sands equivalent.
Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was in Ottawa this weekend for the Broadbent Institute Progress Summit. Speaking to Raylene Lang-Dion from Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada, Gillard gave some advice for women aiming to enter politics:
"You've got to be resilient," she said. "Politics in today's world is somewhere that you're criticized [through] social media, and people will see the most awful things written about them and really stress and worry about that. You've got to find some of the tricks to say, 'I'm going to keep all that at arm's length. 'I can 't let twitter tell me what to think about myself.'"
She said mistakes big and small can happen, but that women in politics need to remember the larger picture.
"Don't worry about the small things, focus on the big things, the big purpose that got you into politics in the first place...Always be clear about your purpose. You won't survive in politics unless you know why you're there…be strong in yourself. Shape your own image of yourself, and don't let others, whether it be pages of the newspapers, or TV cameras or something else, shape your image."
A former top campaign organizer for U.S. President Barack Obama, now working on a political action committee backing Hilary Clinton should she seek the presidency in 2016, gave closed-door briefings and workshops to union organizers, activists and NDP volunteers Thursday as part of a Broadbent Institute “progress summit” for political action.
The workshops and strategy sessions by Mitch Stewart, a series of briefings that also featured members of the institute’s newly appointed field of high-profile “leadership fellows” also involved in the sessions, took place the day before the official start of the summit that headlines former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard as a somewhat controversial keynote speaker.
Elected as Australia’s Labour Party prime minister in 2010, Ms. Gillard included opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage among her main policy positions.
The two-day summit hosted by the Broadbent Institute—a left wing or progressive version of the Calgary-based Manning Centre, a right-wing training ground and networking institute founded by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning—features activists, authors, professors and social democrat politicians with panels and individual presentations covering a range of social and economic themes, including green politics, indigenous peoples’ rights social networking advocacy campaigns and defence of trade union rights.
Some of Parliament Hill’s top journalists, including author Susan Delacourt ofThe Toronto Star, Canadian Press bureau chief Heather Scoffield, and Maclean’s magazine columnist and author Paul Wells, are moderating several of the panels.
Mr. Stewart, founding partner at 270 Strategies, a longtime political activist, and Battleground States director for the Obama campaign in the 2012 presidential general election, was unable to speak in detail about his remarks and presentations behind the closed doors of “summit leadership training,” but explained them in general terms during an interview with The Hill Times.
A recent national Liberal policy convention in Montreal also featured closed-door campaign training sessions for party activists, but a presentation on online campaigning from another former Obama organizer was open to journalists.
“We talked about the lessons that we learned on the Obama campaign of running an effective campaign, running an effective organization, talking about setting goals, what are the strategies that can help you achieve those goals, and then what are the tactics that can help your strategy achieve those goals, giving some real-world examples and then workshopping a little bit with some Canadian specific examples,” Mr. Stewart said, without elaborating on the Canadian content.
“We’ll talk a lot this afternoon about relationship building, telling the story itself, narrative building, we’ll talk a lot about goal setting, and kind of melding the relationship-building aspects of the campaign with the cold, hard data and analytics of a campaign and how you employ the organization to help you achieve goals that the data and analytics inform,” he said.
Asked if Canadian political parties had reached the same level of sophistication as the Democrats and Republicans, in terms the kind of data-based voter contact campaigns and online networking that first propelled Mr. Obama into the White House and led to his re-election in 2012, Mr. Stewart replied: “I think they are exploring ways of trying to catch up. Your data and privacy acts are different here than they are in the United States. We have access to a lot more information than parties here do, to their voters. Not everything is transferable or replicable.
“In the United States, voter files are basically public information,” Mr. Stewart said. “If you’re a registered voter, everything you put down on your voter registration card, you could have access to, what your address is, anything you put down there,” Mr. Stewart said.
Importantly, electors in most of the states also register as either Democrat or Republican supporters. In Canada, that information can only be obtained through direct voter contact, either by door-to-door canvassing or telephone calling, and usually through election writ periods.
Although the Democratic Party maintains a vast database of state and federal electoral information centrally in Washington, D.C., it is securely guarded from unauthorized access from either inside or outside the party.
“We have a whole staff of people that manage, for sure, and most states have a person too,” Mr. Stewart said.
“The information on there, there is some proprietary information based on door knocks or phone calls, what candidates they support, but there are very tight limitations on what you can use a voter file for and what you can’t,” he said.
In a ruling over court challenges of the outcome in six federal election districts for the 2011 general election in Canada, based on allegations of fraudulent calls to voters who did not support the Conservative party, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley said as part of his judgment that the voters’ home telephone numbers were likely drawn from the Conservative party’s main voter contact and information data base.
However, Judge Mosley ruled there was not enough evidence to rule that misleading calls in any of the six electoral districts affected the outcome of the vote.
A media relations expert providing consulting assistance to the Broadbent Institute, chaired by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, said summit attendees are not exclusively members or supporters of the NDP.
“There’s a wide group of grassroots volunteers, some of whom will likely be volunteering on NDP or for other political parties,” said Caitlin Kealey of MediaStyle.
For years, Ed Broadbent fought his battles on the front lines of Canadian politics as leader of the federal NDP.
These days, he’s taking his fight to a different plain — to the battle of ideas, of influence and of political relevance.
He is chair of a think-tank — the Broadbent Institute — that champions “progressive change,” trains activists and confronts some of the long-term issues political parties ignore.
He’s intent on countering the influence of Canadian think-tanks such as the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, established in 2005 by former Reform leader Preston Manning.
“Mr. Manning, from his point of view and from the conservative point of view, has done very well,” Broadbent said in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen.
“They have had an impact on the public debate. And it’s time we did some catch-up, frankly.
“Mr. Manning’s institute does it on the right and we want to do it on the left in Canada.”
Call it the battle of think-tanks. Left versus right. Broadbent versus Manning. Progressive versus conservative.
The two organizations have now become parallel incubators for ideas in Canadian politics, unrestrained by the formal partisan ties that can stifle debate among true believers within parties. Moreover, unlike most traditional think-tanks, both organizations offer training on how to achieve political change — all the way from community groups or city hall to provincial and federal politics.
This weekend in Ottawa, the Broadbent Institute, founded in 2011, will hold its first annual “progress summit.” About 600 people are expected to attend.
The conference will feature topics such as: income inequality; the federal government’s “attack” on the labour movement; the rights of indigenous peoples on natural resource development; and how businesses can build a “green economy.”
The institute believes in the merits of learning from “progressives” elsewhere in the world. Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard will headline a list of speakers that includes a French politician describing the “rise of the right” in Europe, and a human rights “marketing director” based in Washington, D.C.
There will be a session on how to use Google and social media in campaigns, and on “lessons from winning progressive campaigns in the U.S. and Canada.”
The event is virtually a mirror image — with different policy leanings — of the annual Manning Centre conference, the most recent of which was in Ottawa in early March.
Chuck Strahl, a former Conservative MP who chairs the Manning Centre, said the country is well-served by having parallel think-tanks because political parties are more focused on winning elections.
“The parties themselves are forced, if you will, to focus on what they do best and that leaves it open for other organizations like the Manning Centre and the Broadbent Institute to delve into some of the big issues. We don’t have to get elected to anything.”
Strahl said he welcomes the emergence of the Broadbent Institute.
“It’s not really a competitor; it’s a competitor for ideas. We’re not tilling the same soil here. We’re looking for people on the conservative end of the spectrum, but we both have the same sort of objective: to engage them in civil society.”
Broadbent said his institute faces a big challenge getting its message out because many of the country’s prominent think-tanks, such as the Fraser Institute and the C.D. Howe Institute, are predominantly conservative.
Broadbent’s institute is not a registered charity, nor does it plan to become one. It funds its operations through donations — often $5 or $20 from thousands of donors, says executive director Rick Smith — and will have a budget of over $1 million in the next year
There is a strong NDP tinge to the group; some key players have held prominent jobs in the party.
But the institute proclaims it is an “independent” and “non-partisan.” It has the support of Allan Gregg, once the Progressive Conservative party’s chief pollster, and John Laschinger, formerly campaign manager for many federal and provincial Progressive Conservatives.
Indeed, Smith said the institute appeals to a broad range of Canadians.
“On any given day, the vast majority of Canadians are untethered from any particular party affiliation. They’re open to good ideas and they’re looking for a good debate about the issues of the day. That’s is the kind of audience we’re trying to cater to and reach.”
When I first conceived of my year-long project on the working world for the Calgary Herald’s Michelle Lang Fellowship, I have to admit, most of my proposal was based on a hunch. Through straw polls, coffee banter with friends and colleagues, discussions with my own parents and, of course, my own experience in the job market, I was fairly certain I wasn’t the only one gazing at an uncertain economic future with some apprehension.
To back up my pitch, I assembled a smattering of news stories pointing out the dismal projections for younger workers, growing income inequality, boomers delaying retirement and the like.
But when it came to my thesis – namely that the working world is changing and we’re not feeling all that great about it – there was very little evidence out there to prove that I wasn’t just butting up against the walls of my own little bubble.
Turns out the folks at the Broadbent Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank, felt the same. In response to the same dinnertime conversation I was picking up on, they decided to commission a poll to determine just how widespread concern over job prospects and economic futures for younger workers is.
The results, published today, show anxiety over the changing face of work, and all the social challenges it implies, runs deep across the generations.
The poll surveyed 1,064 boomers aged 50-65 and 983 millennials aged 20-30 about their experiences in the work force and sheds some much-needed light on how Canadians are feeling about the economy. The figures were weighted to reflect census data on population age, gender, education and region.
So, what do the numbers say? Many boomers and millennials are anxious about the younger generation’s job prospects, homeownership potential and ability to fund social programs through taxes.
Interestingly, boomer parents seem to be more pessimistic about their children’s future than millennials are about their own prospects. Nearly half of boomers, 49 per cent, feel their kids are facing a poorer future than they had, while 34 per cent of millennials feel they are worse off than their parents.
But at the same time, millennials know they are facing a working life with fewer guarantees. More than half anticipated a career where contract work played a role, compared to 14 per cent of boomers who said they faced the same instability in their own careers. Meanwhile, only a third of millennials were confident they’d own their homes at retirement, compared to more than half of boomers, and one in five millennials say they don’t know anyone with an employer-funded pension.
Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, said he wasn’t surprised to find a high level of angst across age cohorts, but he didn’t anticipate seeing so much agreement between the generations on possible causes of economic instability. A significant majority of both generations expressed a high level of distrust for corporations, he noted, with both blaming irresponsible corporate behaviour for bringing on the 2008 financial crisis.
“Our starting point was very similar to yours: is this our imagination or not?” Smith said in an interview Monday.
“If you were to rank likely topics of dinner-time conversation in Canada these days, youth unemployment is high on that list. These numbers bear out that anecdotal experience.”
Smith said the results of the poll will be used to inform policy recommendations coming out of a summit the institute is holding later this month in Ottawa.
Here are some other highlights from the survey (which you can read here). I’m interested to know if you agree, send me an email or leave a comment below and let me know how you’re feeling about your work prospects.
Just over half, 52 per cent, of millennials expect contract work to make up a significant part of their working lives, either alone or in conjunction with permanent jobs. In contrast, 14 per cent of boomers said their work lives relied on contract work;
39 per cent of millennials anticipate a career comprised of permanent jobs, compared to 66 per cent of boomers who experienced permanent employment;
Millennials with university degrees were more likely to anticipate a career encompassing contract work than those with high school or college education;
70 per cent of millennials and 78 per cent of boomers cite irresponsible business behaviour as the cause of the 2008 recession;
60 per cent of millennials anticipate the gap between rich and poor to grow during their lifetime;
55 per cent of millennials and 59 per cent of boomers say declining enrolment in unions has made good jobs harder to find;
48 per cent of millennials and 60 per cent of boomers say reduced corporate tax rates have not resulted in more investment in creating jobs in Canada.
The poll does not provide a margin of error because it is not a random, probability-based sample.