Hicks on Biz posting
Sunday, June 8, 2014

Eyebrows were raised in a few political circles the other week, when photos of my door-knocking in Inglewood with potential federal Liberal Edmonton-Centre candidate Randy Boissonnault made the Twittersphere rounds.

About the only other federal Liberals I whole-heartedly supported – when I was a full-time Edmonton Sun columnist – were Anne McLellan and David Kilgour, and Kilgour had started at a Conservative.

So why door knock with Boissonnault?

Simple. I have reached the point I’m more interested in individuals than party politics.

I want to help intelligent, thoughtful individuals who actually believe in public service, who, for the right reasons, want to be in the House of Commons to make a difference. I’m tired of career politicians who don’t know how to make a living in the real world, and fed up with over-inflated political egos. I want individuals running for the sake of making Canada better.

At the same time, there’s pragmatism here.

In case Justin Trudeau and Liberals actually form the next Government of Canada, Edmonton and Alberta need somebody at the table to wave our flag.  Alberta’s too important to shut itself out of the national government.

So why would a born ‘n’ bred Albertan – raised in the Franco-Albertan community of Morinville, schooled at the University of Alberta – want to be a federal Liberal in a part of the country that has been proudly Reform/Conservative for eons?

“People forget,” says Randy. “In the 1993 federal election, Edmonton elected four Liberals (Anne McLellan – Northwest, John Loney – North, Judy Bethel – East, David Kilgour – Southeast). We had a presence in Ottawa. Anne McLellan (as a senior minister, then deputy prime minister) did great things for our city.”

Boissonnault had always been political – from being class treasurer in Gr. 5 at George P. Vanier School in Morinville, to student council president two years running at George H. Primeau High School, to president of the University of Alberta Student Union in his fourth year of university.

“My studies, relationships and values all led to Liberalism, and keep me there,” he says. “I’m all for capitalism with a social conscience.  The New Democrats were too socialist. As a gay Franco-Albertan, I found the Conservatives and Reform Party at that time to be too socially conservative.

“I was most comfortable as a (federal finance minister then prime minister) Paul Martin Liberal – fiscally conservative, socially liberal, with a belief that government has a role to play for the good of the country.”

After the University of Alberta, Boissonnault proved his academic mettle by winning a coveted Rhodes scholarship for post-graduate studies at Oxford University – where he fully developed a philosophical framework for a business career informed by public service in both the charity and political spheres.

His first “real” job was in a junior marketing role with Edmonton-based Newport Pacific, which he left in 1999 to form his own Xennex business consulting company.

Two years later, Boissonnault learned through the media that his former Newport Pacific boss Michael Ritter had been charged, and later found convicted, of theft and fraud involving the stealing of $10.5 million from one client and assisting another in a $270 million Ponzi scheme. “Needless to say, I was horrified to learn of those crimes happening at Newport’s highest levels,” he says.

Xennex allowed Boissonnault the freedom to pursue his passions. “Since about 2009, I’ve been able to divide my time between my business of helping build businesses, and public service.”

Most visible has been a charity he co-founded, Literacy Without Borders, that with the assistance of the Edmonton Downtown Rotary Club has played a major role in creating literacy programs in the Latin American country of Belize. “Literacy Without Borders came out of chairing and being a director of the Centre for Family Literacy,” he says. “Unlock literacy, and an individual is on the road to creating and controlling their own future.”

So why the desire, in 2014, to move from a background role in federal Liberal circles in Alberta, to a clearly stated intention to run for the Edmonton-Centre nomination and if successful, to seek to be member of parliament for Edmonton-Centre ... with the help of an extensive network 20 years in the making.

Because the stars are aligned: Boissonnault sees his political role as “bringing more of Edmonton to Canada, and more of Canada to Edmonton.”

He brings a fresh outlook on Alberta issues to the federal Liberal Party.

“Why not break the Northern Gateway pipeline stalemate by using federal government power to insist the Kinder-Morgan pipeline company shares its energy pipeline right-of-way to the west coast with other companies?” he asks.

“Why doesn’t the federal government take its lead from Alberta, and adopt Alberta’s compliance rules – our own variation on a carbon tax? Isn’t it time Canada showed the world that we are on side, doing our part to save the planet? How do we persuade the Americans to allow the Keystone XL pipeline, persuade Europeans to accept our oilsands oil? By showing we do care!

“The national government has to review and rebuild its relationship with Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. It’s time the Indian Act was torn up, that we ask the Aboriginal, Metis and Inuit leaders to come to the table with legislative proposals that make sense to them. And we have to accept that the original treaties just ‘are.’ Every time a treaty issue has gone to the Supreme Court, the court has ruled the treaties must be respected. Let’s accept that fact, and move forward.”

Boissonnault, born and raised and an (occasionally) practicing Catholic, is comfortable with Justin Trudeau’s decree that anybody running for the Liberals must be pro-choice.

“I have no quarrel with his right as party leader to be clear on the matter,” says Boissonnault. “I am pro-choice, I believe in a woman’s right to control her own body, and have clearly indicated so in my nomination package to the party.” 

And if there’s contradiction between church and political party on this issue, Boissonnault’ s views probably mirror those of many politically active but faith-aware Canadians. “Faith is complex. I was raised Catholic and I’m gay,” he points out.

Boissonnault may (if he wins the nomination) benefit from factors beyond his control. Edmonton-Centre’s current and popular MP Laurie Hawn is retiring and will not run again.  The New Democrats had nominated well-known and impressive candidate Lewis Cardinal, only to have Cardinal drop out for personal reasons. The riding could be Boissonnault’s to lose.

I hope Boissonnault, for all the reasons above, wins the nomination and the seat. Just as I’m rootin’ for my former Sun colleague Kerry Diotte as he seeks the Conservative nomination Edmonton-Griesbach, sitting Conservative MP James Rajotte likely seeking nomination in the new riding of Edmonton-Riverbend, and newcomer Garnett Genuis, seeking the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Sherwood Park.

All are proven individuals with public service, not ego or arrogance, driving their political ambitions.