I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Crawley about his candidacy for Liberal Party president. I found his candour to be refreshing, his energy somewhat infectious and was pleased to get a real sense of depth behind convenient platitudes. Prior to this interview, I was leaning heavily towards Crawley, this conversation sealed the deal so to speak, "I like Mike" as they say and believe he is the right person, at the right time, to create a winning climate for the Liberals moving forward.
A few months ago, Crawley wrote a provocative column on the state of the Liberal Party, which was sobering, and to my mind completely accurate. I asked Crawley if he had received any "pushback" from his assertions, he said the only real resistance was his rejection of "the party of the center", many Liberals believe this is where we must plant the flag, this is where we belong on the political spectrum. A interesting logic behind Crawley, centrism in Canada is "reactive" in the sense it takes it cues from definitions of left and right provided by other parties. I think this is a spot on characterization, because it speaks to a Liberal propensity for taking positions relative to others, rather than independent and irrespective of spectral consideration.
Beyond this discussion of the political spectrum, Crawley argues that we must be a party of pragmatism, rather than "a party of orthodoxy". Without being shackled by pre-determined postures, a few core set of general principles are free to move the party, which is "liberal" in essence. Crawley also believes that "pragmatism and big ideas aren't mutually exclusive", which speaks to a perceived tension I've heard elsewhere. For Crawley, "big ideas have made Canada what it is, people with vision have always been part of the equation". I have always pushed the idea of the Liberals as the party of pragmatism, that Crawley also doesn't see a sacrifice, but an embrace of the "bold" is refreshing.
We spoke about the vast swaths of Canada that are seemingly out of reach for the Liberal Party of Canada. Within this discussion, Crawley again speaks to bold ideas as a way to get beyond old perceptions, they are a necessity if Liberals are to find new audiences. In blunt terms, Crawley says Liberals "need to shut up about the past, it doesn't matter". Crawley believes people know the "lessons of the past, they can read a history book". In the absence of compelling new ideas that challenge the status quo, many Canadians simply revert to traditional definitions of the Liberal Party and this is part of the problem. As part of this spirit of "innovation" that Crawley pushes, he wants to create an environment within the Liberal Party that seeks out think tanks, organizations, individuals that bring forward thinking vision, and in this way the party pushes ahead as a relevant entity, rather than the traditional arguments.
I think it fair to use the word "revolutionary" to describe the Crawley mindset. Given our current predicament, I believe this strong reform minded agenda should find a receptive audience. We spoke about the looming leadership contest, I asked if the party can forge ahead on policy prior to articulation from leadership hopefuls. Crawley put it in a interesting way- which speaks to a certain egalitarian flavour- leadership hopefuls can "join the ongoing conversation", rather than dictation, part of the healthy debate which is already occurring. As well, ideas, concepts, put forth by the party membership itself can be adopted by leadership, rather than a small room formulating philosophy and then consulting membership.
With regards to this "open primary" concept put forth, Crawley sees value on a riding nomination level(both "members" and "supporters"), but hesitates on the leadership front, believing membership "has to mean something", he wants some commitment from participants. Crawley would make membership free, a easy downloadable form provided, he sees no real barriers that would preclude participation. I differ on this score, but appreciate the perspective, as well as the healthy debate this idea in particular is generating.
In general, Crawley strikes me as someone who views his role as the person who creates the climate within the party for ideas and innovation to flow, a receptive canvas that allows others to imprint. His perspective strikes me as the correct one for these challenging times, his passion is obvious and we need people who aren't afraid to embrace concepts which challenge former definitions.
When the dust settles, Liberals will get behind whomever ultimately wins this race. For my money, we are much better off with a forward thinking agenda that shows no sentimentality towards formerly relevant presentations. These are daunting days for the Liberal Party, we have one chance to get it right, we have one chance to have the courage to reform ourselves in substantive ways that show Canadians a new and compelling face. I respect other choices for this particular race, but I will be supporting Mike Crawley as a delegate and I would recommend others consider his candidacy as well.