Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Leadership and paying attention: remembering Jack Layton, five years later

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Thank you, Jack. (photo of Jack Layton

Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of Jack Layton’s death. “Untimely” is a completely inadequate word for his passing. It came too soon in his life and left so little opportunity to savour his historic electoral success. But judging by the outpouring of emotion — yesterday as well as five years ago — Jack’s legacy endures.

I’ll be thinking this week of my friends and colleagues, at NOW and across Canada, who worked closely with Jack over the years. I can’t claim to have really known him, having written speeches for him in one election a dozen years ago. I only ever spent more than a few minutes alone with him once, mid-campaign, on a flight to Whitehorse.

That was enough, though, to leave a powerful impression.

He was briefing me for a speech he’d be giving to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. And while he kept his responsibilities as the leader of a campaigning federal party uppermost, it was clear from the start I was talking to Jack Layton, Municipal Policy Wonk. He cared very deeply about cities and towns as a locus of sustainability and social justice.

Before that, I’d sometimes taken his facility with words to be a matter of skill and polish — and of course Jack was a well-practiced speaker. But in that conversation I realized it was also (and mostly) clarity of thought, combined with passion and conviction. Jack could speak so well because he did something that sounds simple, but that few people in public or private life pull off nearly as well: he fused the heat of his conviction and the depth of his knowledge with intellectual and emotional discipline.

One related thing I remember vividly: how thoroughly he devoted his attention to our conversation. You hear about how some politicians have a gift for making you feel like you’re the only person in the room. With Jack, it wasn’t ingratiation; it felt more like our conversation was the most important thing happening at that moment.

A deep capacity for paying attention: that’s worth looking for in a political leader. But more important, it’s worth nurturing in ourselves.

Thank you for that, Jack.

A safari guide’s guide to communicators

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Joanne's SafariYou freeze and cock your head. What is that? The rustle of a press release? The hum of a radio ad being produced? The ground-vibration rumble of a speech being delivered 5 km away?

You turn ver-r-r-y slowly… and catch a glimpse of one of the amazing denizens of the plains and fever tree forests of the communications world.

What fair creature goes there? Use this handy Who’s Who of Communicators to find your colleague’s style… and learn how to nurture their natural talents. (more…)

Unsolicited free advice for leadership hopefuls and New Democrats

Friday, July 8th, 2016

A photo of a big yellow arrow followed by a team of little white arrows.

For most Canadians, the season that just started is Summer. But for that band of hardy travellers on the parliamentary road to a better tomorrow — that is, us New Democrats — the season is Leadership.

Nationally and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, our party is seeking new leadership. Choosing a new leader is a pretty big deal in politics. We’re trying to find an effective, inspiring champion for our values and policies… who has the wisdom and strategic smarts to guide a party in opposition and, hopefully, a province or a nation in government… and whose background and leadership style sends a powerful message to Canadians about who and what we stand for.

The NOW team has more than a little experience with this. At a quick rough count, we’ve collectively provided strategic guidance to 21 political party leaders including eight provincial premiers. And while we’ve lost count of the precise number, we’ve worked on more than 50 municipal, provincial and federal elections.

So here’s a little unsolicited, free advice (isn’t that the best kind?) from the NOW team to leadership hopefuls — and to the New Democrats who will choose one of them to lead us into the next election and beyond.

  1. We need a leader who talks more about others than her/himself. Telling voters what drives you to serve can be powerful. But a good leader also listens to others, reflects on what they say and weaves others’ stories into their own.
  2. Look for a leader who doesn’t talk about “rebuilding the party.” It isn’t about the party. It’s about the people who are counting on us to get elected so we can change their lives for the better. So let’s not navel-gaze too much in public.
  3. Let’s elect a leader who understands that the legislature isn’t the centre of the universe. The neighbourhood, my home and my family are the centre of my universe. Too often political types get tied up in knots about the process instead of the outcome. What we do in the legislatures of the nation matters only because of the impact on people’s lives. The best leaders are the ones who can make that connection without getting lost in the weeds of Parliamentary procedure and antics.
  4. Leadership is not only an intellectual exercise. Yes, our new leader should be smart and savvy. But it’s even more important to make an emotional connection – to speak from both the head and the heart about the real issues facing Canadians. Show voters that you care about me and my neighbours.
  5. Don’t tell people to vote for “change.” Instead, give voters a reason to want change, and show how that change will be better, not worse. A lot of Canadians (more than 80 per cent) think that no matter who is in government, our lives will continue just the same as they always were. Don’t just tell them they’re wrong; show them there is another way.

A lot of people say they want the party to be bold. They want to be inspired. I confess I don’t really know what that means. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to agree we want “bold” or “inspirational” than to agree on the ideas behind those words. A bold idea could still be a bad idea. And what inspires one, might not inspire another.

For the voters we need to reach, “inspiration” may well be a lot more about a leader who truly connects with them. Who understands that life for Canadians is getting harder and harder. With too few good jobs, too many burdens and not enough support for the average family.

Good leaders understand my story and thousands like it. They talk more about me than about themselves. They can talk to me about why some things are working and others aren’t, and they can offer clear, credible steps to make it better. They are human, emotional and smart, and they want to build a better world for all of us.

As you flip through the catalogue of potential leadership hopefuls, or if you’re preparing a campaign of your own, keep that emotional connection in mind.

And remember why we want to win. It’s not about victory itself, or grabbing the brass ring. It’s about winning so that we have the power to make life better for the people we want to represent. And the better a leader does at conveying that convincingly, the better our party’s chances for success where it really counts.

We’re here in Ottawa for the Broadbent Institute Progress Summit!

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

2016 Progress Summit
Progressive organizers, activists and communicators from across Canada are gathered in Ottawa for the third annual Broadbent Institute Progress Summit. Some of Canada’s most experienced hands at organizing and communicating for political change have come, loaded with plenty of innovative ideas to share.

The Summit comes at a pivotal time for Canadians who support values like strong public services, environmental responsibility, equality and social justice. Big recent wins and promising opportunities go hand in hand with challenges and some worrying trends. (more…)

As memories of Harper slowly fade, Heather Fraser tells us what’s next

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Illustration of Harper fading to Trudeau

Our latest NOW Strategy piece comes from the latest member of our team, Heather Fraser. Our newly-minted Director of Research Partnerships and National Projects warns progressive Canadians not to let their warm fuzzies over Justin Trudeau keep them from holding the Liberals’ feet to the fire:

Just “not being Harper” and showing a little human decency is too low a bar. It’s time to set out higher expectations for our federal government. That means we need to be more active than ever and run smart campaigns to pressure the Trudeau Liberals to implement the change they have promised.

And to turn hope into progress, we need to do more than just hold the Liberals to their promises. The Liberal platform was vague, missing important planks and in some places just plain heading in the wrong direction. We need to advance our own agenda.

Read more here!

Say it with pride: “This is a communications office.”

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

One of our greatest privileges over the years has been the people we get to work with — from talented volunteers to veteran staffers, from cramped campaign offices to national union headquarters to government departments and ministries—and of course our NOW colleagues.

All of us have one thing in common: a sense of higher purpose beyond just churning out product.

Among the people we work with, you won’t find the media stereotype of the mercenary who’s only in it to make a buck, or out of some win-at-all-costs, truth-be-damned neurosis. Instead, you’ll find committed people determined to make a difference. We’re in this to make the world a better place.

That deserves some respect. Maybe even some celebration. (more…)

How did Alberta happen? And what does it mean for better politics?

Monday, June 1st, 2015

#abdebrief: Learning from the historic Alberta election

When the votes were tallied on election night in Alberta last month, the shock waves reverberated well beyond the province’s borders. For anyone working for a fairer Canada, Rachel Notley’s astonishing victory has been galvanizing. (We posted Marie’s take a few weeks ago.)

Earlier today, four panelists – including two New Democrats who were close to the action – gathered at the invitation of the Broadbent Institute and Simon Fraser University to see what lessons they could draw from the NDP’s historic victory. (more…)

What progressive communicators everywhere can learn from Rachel Notley’s victory

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Rachel Notley at a campaign rally

When the dust settled on Tuesday night, Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP had won a stunning victory—and electrified activists from coast to coast to coast. Alberta is a progressive communicator’s “New York, New York”: if we can make it there, we’ll make it anywhere.

So how did the woman who is now premier-designate of Alberta create the magic that propelled the NDP to victory? Because while she didn’t cause the scandals and cynical manipulation that derailed the PCs or the chaos that plagued the Liberals, Rachel and her party were well-prepared to make the most of the opening when it came.

I’ve just posted an article in our NOW Strategy section suggesting six ways Rachel Notley laid the groundwork for the Alberta NDP’s victory. For instance:

Get ready: Yes, Alberta was clearly ready for Rachel…but Rachel was also ready for Alberta. She worked hard on her message and her connection with voters, and that work began long before she was elected leader. It paid off throughout the campaign, and nowhere was that more evident than in the TV debate. In the face of a relentless attack, she kept her cool, stayed on message and even maintained a sense of humour.

Be real: Rachel’s quick wit and highly-tuned bullshit detector are matched by her genuine caring for people, her sense of community and her passionate belief in what the NDP stands for. She had the confidence to let that all shine through authentically; none of it felt forced or insincere. And voters — and the media — clearly recognized it.

Check out the full article here… and let’s talk about what lessons (and inspiration!) you drew from Rachel’s victory. What do you think communicators can learn from Tuesday night’s results?

Photo from Rachel Notley’s Facebook Page.

Your newest must-read website: Civicist

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Civicist front page

The high-speed tango that is the dance between technology and politics can be hard to follow. It moves quickly; people seem to be constantly trying new steps; and the folks who fall flat on their faces can take your attention away from the very real successes. (more…)

Speaking out against media violence against women with #NOTokay / #PAScorrect

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

When I see something that's not okay, I will say it's #NOTokay.

When you want to start a conversation about something hard, it helps to know you aren’t alone. And the YWCA is taking that lesson to heart with a new campaign called #NOTokay / #PAScorrect.

The campaign urges all of us to highlight and challenge the violence women face and how it is depicted—both in a personal sense and by asking people to speak out when they see the inappropriate use, depiction or media coverage of violence.

And we’re heartened to see how many Canadian unions and labour activists are standing with them, spreading the word and joining the campaign, posting with the hashtags #NOTokay and #PAScorrect.

(more…)