Thursday, November 10, 2011

Renewal: For Paul Summerville, candidate for National Policy Chair

In connection with the upcoming Liberal Biennial Convention in Ottawa in January, part of the proceedings will involve elections of new party officers to the national executive. Jumping right in here, as today is the day that nominations draw to a close, I'd like to share with Liberals who will be attending as delegates why I've decided to support Paul Summerville for the position of National Policy Chair.

Paul was gracious enough to speak with me last week from Victoria, where he is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria. We had a lengthy - but fun - conversation about his background, why he's running and what his specific plans are. I knew he'd run for the NDP in 2006 and so this was one of my questions, how did this evolution take place that he's now running for a national executive position. A little more on that below.

Beyond that point, I wanted to see if this was someone who might be able to add strategic value to the national executive. Was this someone who could skillfully fill this particular role of Policy Chair but also bring a little something more. A bigger picture perspective on where the party is and what it needs to do, not only in terms of policy, but in terms of getting elected in the future. Did he offer an interesting and impressive background. And would he give a sense that he was committed to it, beyond the typical commitment that individuals often do when running for such posts. Not just the tick the box answers that you come to expect. Sound like a tall order? Well, he passed my multi-part test and our conversation left me with a distinct feeling of optimism.

This post won't speak in great detail about his particular platform and views, but I would refer you to this statement he wrote this week: "Why I'm Running for the National Policy Chair, Liberal Party of Canada" (French version). I think that succinct statement speaks for itself. I like the idea of a conversation with members that is about liberal values out of which, ultimately, world class policies will flow. It suggests that we need to do something a little different now, as Liberals, because of where we are. It suggests that our policy needs to be connected to something deeper, the liberal values we stand for and that Canadians will recognize as distinctly Liberal values. It suggests that we don't just do this as members of the party as a debating exercise. We do it in order to reclaim a clear Liberal voice and to return to a much better place of political viability, a party that Canadians will choose again in the future. Because our values resonate and they like our policies that are rooted in those values.

In other words, we want our policies to win hearts and minds. But going forward, as Liberals, we want to win more of the hearts part of the equation.

I hope I did justice to his thinking. I'm sure he will be speaking much more to his ideas in coming months, including the question of ensuring member policy contributions are reflected in party positions, although I think his commitment to engage with members speaks to that.

In terms of the interesting background he brings, I'd recommend a look at a few things.

First, there are a bunch of videos you can watch, many of them interviews with Steve Paikin on TVO's The Agenda. This one is from May 2011 on the financial crisis and its hangover:

The point is not so much to take away given positions from the video. It's rather to get a sense of personality and what kind of approach he might bring to the Policy Chair role. There's a command of policy and intellectual heft, yes, but there's also a presentation that suggests integrity and a forthrightness in speaking candidly about a state of affairs, here, economic. And there is good humour present too.

Further, and obviously, that video highlights what Summerville's key offering for the policy position is: a command of economic policy that he brings as a result of a Ph.D. in the subject but also years of practical experience as an economist, in Canada, Japan and the U.S, with various investment firms. Economic issues are driving forces in our public policy now and will be for the foreseeable future. Economic policies are consequently going to be crucial for the party going forward. It will be a crucial way for Liberals to distinguish the party from the NDP. It will also be important to distinguish the party from a Conservative party led by a Prime Minister who claims to be a trained economist and plays up the issue as a strength for his party. See Chantal Hebert's timely column of the last day in this regard.

I would also recommend reading a recent speech he gave in Ottawa, entitled, "This Time is Different." You'll read about his views on the financial crisis and those responsible but you'll also get a clear sense of social justice, an international perspective and an emphasis on education that come through.

Another unique credential that Paul would bring to the Policy Chair role would be the on the ground political experience he gained as a candidate in the 2006 federal election. As noted above, he ran for the NDP in St. Paul's against Carolyn Bennett (and Peter Kent). In every election since then, Paul has endorsed Carolyn and needless to say, the NDP alignment did not take. This is a good story that he has since chosen to become an active Liberal and he gained practical political insight from that experience.

Paul Summerville would be a high caliber addition to the party's national executive. He's someone with years of experience in analyzing and engaging in public policy. That background suggests he would be a great fit to lead and work with members on choosing future policy directions. My impression is that he brings a great deal of enthusiasm to the challenge and wants to help rebuild the Liberal party in this policy role in a consequential way. I hope you will give him strong consideration for National Policy Chair.

Update: Contact info! Paul's email should you wish to get involved or contact him.