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Jenny: Winning through education, respectful dialogue, and quiet persistence

Being involved in the political process with Racing Future has taught me two of the most invaluable things I have ever learned:

1) While hundreds of teachers and others were outside making noise, trying to be heard, I was inside seeing first-hand that effecting change through the political process is all about education, respectful dialogue, and quiet persistence. Being inside the arena gave me opportunities to educate that those outside did not have: I was talking to anyone who would listen about rural Ontario, our Farmers & Horses, and why Kathleen Wynne was the best candidate to be Premier.

2) There are largely two kinds of people drawn to politics. There are those who genuinely want to serve the public  and help people and there are those who are opportunists and are drawn to obtaining power for its own sake. 

I got involved with the political process at Racing Future because I believed that the sudden cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program was catastrophic for rural Ontario and our Farmers & Horses. As part of my work, I was given the opportunity to attend 4 of the 5 leadership debates, I joined the Liberal Party, and put myself forward as a delegate for Kathleen Wynne. I have never been involved with a political party in this way before and I was unsure of what I could and should do. Racing Future CEO, Dennis Mills, provided the best mentorship I could hope for. His integrity and genuine caring for the people we were trying to help was nothing short of inspirational.

Attending the debates was critical to our cause. At the Rural Roundtable, Racing Future team members were  entrusted with a mission: approach each candidate, ask their opinion on the Slots program, and record their responses on video to be posted to our website. The fact that they were so generous with their time and happy to answer the question both surprised and inspired me. I especially enjoyed interviewing Glen Murray who said, “I don’t like the math” and “We need to press the pause button.” I could’ve hugged him!  I also have a lasting memory of Kathleen Wynne sitting down with a group of people  she appeared not to know and having some lunch with them – she was so human and genuine. Amazing.

At the Local Election Meeting, which is where delegates attempt to get elected on behalf of their candidate, I learned that what I naturally do in my “regular” life is actually very helpful in the political process: I will talk to pretty much anyone. That day, I spent five hours talking to almost every person who walked down the hall at Durham College where the election was taking place. I talked about rural Ontario, our Farmers & Horses, and told more than one person that now was not the time to draw a line in the sand, to be us and them, to be combative. I spoke about what I believed in, that Kathleen Wynne would get us all talking, that open, respectful communication is the first block in building consensus.

Some moments from the convention weekend will stay with me forever:

On Friday, some members of the Racing Future team decided to take a break and went to the Hair of the Dog pub beside Maple Leaf Gardens for a quick bite to eat. Dennis then invited the horse people, who had been outside
rallying for Farmers & Horses, to come in from the cold for a drink. What followed was quite remarkable: we were joined first by Horse Racing Transition Panelist and Kathleen Wynne’s campaign co-chair, John Wilkinson and then by Minister of Agriculture Ted McMeekin. It was quite something to see both men shake hands with the horse people and then sit and chat. As we were all getting ready to leave, Kathleen Wynne dropped by and shook hands with everyone as well. All of this was spontaneous and being there made me feel that we were all part of a truly historic moment.

On Saturday after the second ballot I was asked to take pictures of the horse people who were outside rallying. The sound of 1000s of teachers, 99%ers and others yelling and making noise was almost deafening. But I stepped between the line of Metro police officers, and walked right up to the barricade. I will always remember this moment as, after I had snapped a few photos and then shaken hands with the horse people, I just kept going down the line. I was wearing my Wynne scarf and delegate badge and shook hands with as many as I could. I know that we all need to vent sometimes and this needs to be done loud enough so that we feel we are being heard. But then, at some point, we all need to come back to the table. As I tried to tell one person, we each need to be respectful and take a step towards each other or we will never sort out our differences.

Some of the most educational conversations I had during the weekend took place while I was standing in line to vote. For the 2nd ballot I was standing with a group of Harinder Takhar supporters. We  chatted about all sorts from the scandalous sale of the 407, to where to invest in Ontario to the design of secure virtual private networks for Electronic Medical Records.

While waiting in line for the 3rd ballot, we a spent a great deal of time talking to a Pupatello-supporting farmer from Woodstock. We talked about Kathleen Wynne and how she had committed to be the Minister of Agriculture for at least a year. I described my experience of meeting her, how genuine she was, and how what we needed right now is a conciliatory leader, someone who would get us all talking again. In the end, she removed her Sandra pin and told me we had won her over.

What else will stay with me from this Leadership Convention?

During Kathleen Wynne’s video she talked about how being tough didn’t necessitate being mean.

John Wilkinson, Deb Matthews, and Glenn Murray dancing!

Dr Hoskins’ video . . .the scenes from his work overseas, which clearly demonstrated the depth of his compassion for others.

Sandra Pupatello’s gracious words in defeat. As a woman, I loved how she made note of the historic final ballot for the Premier of Ontario: there were just two names on it and both belonged to women. As she said, she and Kathleen had the boys on the run from the beginning. To be on the inside, supporting a cause, educating and helping while at the same time being in the room and a part of choosing the first woman Premier was incredible.

I know everything we did through Racing Future made an impact and I feel honoured for the opportunity to be a part of that.