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Photo: Courtesy of the UONDP.

Conference features talks with politicians, campaign staff

The University of Ottawa’s chapter of the New Democratic Party (UONDP) hosted a conference concerning issues in progressive leadership on Jan. 2.

The event featured panels from politicians at all levels of government on how to organize and mobilize political initiatives. Campaign managers and communications staff were also present to advise students on the practicalities of crafting a political message.

Davis Whittington-Heeney, vice-president social for the UONDP explains, “What’s important is that we got the people who organized these campaigns, who work behind the scenes.”

The conference ran for most of the day in the Faculty of Social Sciences Building at the U of O, before a social mixer at Deacon Brodie’s.

Discussions covered a wide variety of topics currently facing progressive politics, including the fragmentation of progressive groups, proper communication of ideas, and the technicalities of running a campaign office.

Whittington-Heeney continues “The big thing we are trying to do is show to people who are interested in getting into politics—but don’t know how to do it or how to start—how to run successful organizing campaigns.”

Whittington-Heeney explains that students have always been a significant force in politics, and that campus clubs like the UONDP play a part in shaping party policy.

“As young people, we often have the time to get involved politically in ways that we can’t when we are working all the time.”

City Councillors Shawn Menard and Catherine McKenny also spoke at the event. Their panel focused on their history in Ottawa’s municipal sphere, where they have become outspoken affordable housing and transit advocates.

They reminded attendees that progressive politicians at the local level are often up against an entrenched incumbent council. They claim that learning how to manage limited campaign resources while staying on message is essential to winning races against established candidates.

“The thing with the NDP—and I guess the LibDems in the UK as well—is that you have so many great ideas, but you don’t have the resources the right has.” Says Eric Meyers, an attendee at the conference.

The NDP has faced a turbulent year. Their approval ratings have slipped, and their federal headquarters had to be mortgaged to make up a shortfall in funding.

“We can tell ourselves we are on the good side, but the Cons have money and think tanks, and PR firms, and media connections. Determination can only get so you far.” he continues.   

Meyers believes that the training and ideas offered by the conference will be essential for the NDP in the upcoming federal election.

“We’ve seen quite a buildup (in membership). So to be able to actually organize and host conferences like this—That’s a big deal. I think it shows that progressive politics are really gaining.” says Whittington-Heeney.