On my travels last weekend, I wound up at an event that was attended by a number of Nova Scotia Liberals, and along the way, had my first encounter with bottom-tier would-be Liberal leadership candidate George Takach (who at last check has not officially declared). Takach, a Toronto-based lawyer who hasn’t run for public office before but has apparently worked on Parliament Hill, was out trying to meet some prospective supporters at the event (as the current rules now allow anyone who totally swears they’re not a member of any other party – really! – to vote for the next Liberal leader). I should note that Takach doesn’t appear to have a website in place for his putative leadership bid either – just a Twitter account and a Facebook page, neither of which actually has a biography. That, I had to find through a Google search and came up with the page from his law firm. So, yeah, points for having a place to drive prospective supporters with a coherent platform or policy ideas in place. Or not.
Just as an observation, let me say that Takach wasn’t exactly working the crowd. Even among a smaller group of fairly prominent local Liberal organisers – you know, the kinds of grassroots organisers who have networks and who can mobilise people to support a leadership campaign – he didn’t pro-actively engage them and waited for people to come to him. And when people asked for his leadership “elevator pitch,” he got bogged down along the way numerous times, not to mention made his foundational platforms – like school meal programmes to help kids get a good start in life – things aren’t actually areas of federal responsibility. Oops.
Oh, but it got better. When I engaged with Takach, it was during a republican diatribe about how we were bowing to a foreign Queen. Um, no. And that was the point at which I stepped in. Apparently Takach doesn’t take much from the Statute of Westminster and the fact that there has been a separate and distinct Canadian monarchy since 1931. Apparently he also negotiates technology deals around the world (his biography does seem to indicate that he’s accomplished in this field), and all of these other countries laugh at Canada because we “haven’t grown up.” Um, okay. So they similarly laugh at Australia and New Zealand too? Just wondering.
Once I pointed out how patently false his characterisation of the monarchy was, he got defensive. First he started with the emotional appeals – which is kind of ironic considering he’s looking to lead the party that is currently branding itself as the party of evidence-based decision-making. “What does it say when we tell a kid that they can grow up to be anything they want, except the head of state?” he asked. “Because head of government isn’t worth anything?” I countered. His arguments tried to return to “but it’s the head of state!” but couldn’t provide me with any particular rationale as to why this was better or more meaningful. Then he tried the dismissive approach. “Do you hate the flag too?” I told him I have no problem with the flag. “How long have you been a monarchist?” he then asked, trying to shut me down. When I told him that my rabid monarchism was a more recent phenomenon, which was a result of learning more about the institution and the way in which it fits into our political structure, he didn’t have any kind of comeback for that. So, nice try.
And then he tried to move onto talking about how he would replace the Queen – but couldn’t provide any actual concrete plans or measures. Nor could he even adequately explain how in our system, it’s the monarch who has the power, but the executive that exercises it, and how any of his vague proposals take that fact into account. “I don’t necessarily want an elected head of state,” he said. “I certainly don’t want an American-style system.” So what, then, was he proposing? “Maybe something like Ireland or Israel,” he mused, but when I countered that those were elected offices, he tried to backpedal. “Maybe get the Prime Minister and a certain number of the premiers to all agree on an eminent person…” So, the constitutional amending formula, basically. Good luck on getting that to work out every few years and find some choice that’s not going to offend Quebec or the West. Oh, and his example of an eminent person is the current Governor General. Why not install him on the Canadian throne? He was apparently unaware of the fact that His Excellency has been known to engage in some level of partisanship, be it from his setting the terms of the Oliphant Inquiry into Brian Mulroney’s activities before he was appointed, or the fact that he’s done some pretty brow-raising high-fiving of Conservative cabinet ministers post-election. But well, when you’re not in Ottawa and you don’t know what actually goes on, it makes it pretty easy to have a pretty rose-coloured view of all of the players on the stage. When I pointed out that it also wouldn’t actually work out in the power relationship if it’s the power of the Crown to make appointments, but you would be then be using that same power to appoint the ersatz monarch, well, he didn’t have any particular answer for that either.
And then we were back to the emotional argument. “Surely in 2012, it’s ridiculous to have a hereditary head of state! I’ve even argued this with the First Nations and hereditary chiefs, and Ovide Mercredi agrees with me!” Good for Ovide Mercredi, who by the way is a New Democrat. When Takach tried to argue about privilege and birthright, I countered with duty and sacrifice – these are people who don’t have lives of their own, who spend their lives in service to the state. Surely that counts for something. “But surely in 2012…” And we were back to that circular logic. And then it was the “As Liberals, we believe in merit, and hard work…”
At which point I was done – partially because I’m not a Liberal (I’m not sure that he got that, since he didn’t even ask who I was the entire time we spoke), but because the rank civic illiteracy that permeated the conversation and every single one of his arguments had reached my limit. Which really is the moral of my tale here – if you’re going to go about with the promise of bringing change and “modernity,” but you can’t understand either the underpinnings of the current institutions, or bring coherent proposals to the table (at one point lamenting that Australia’s referendum on the monarchy failed because of the poor offering they had as a replacement, but failing to offer one of his own other than “surely in 2012…”), then what exactly are you offering?
Good luck to George Takach on his leadership bid. From what I’ve seen, he’s going to need an awful lot of it.
PS – While I didn’t witness this myself, my other friends that he was talking to at said function reported that he also used the term “misunderestimate” with them – thus disqualifying his candidacy in their eyes. For what it’s worth.