The Halton Federal Liberal Association held the second of two recent social events last night at the Ivy Arms here in Milton. Party members, supporters, and the merely curious all came by to meet, greet, have a pint and discuss the state of the riding, the party and the country.
I had apparently been appointed as the board's Unofficial Lefty Liaison, which meant that any time someone with NDP tendencies or concerns about the environment revealed themselves, I was gently grasped by the elbow and guided across the room to speak with them. It was kind of fun, actually, and I got to talk with some very interesting people.
Garth was there with his lovely wife, pressing the flesh and giving a little speech telling us all what he's been up to lately. The response was very warm and positive, although one woman interrupted him a few times to question his Liberal bonefides and critique his sometimes confrontational style. There was a bit of squirming - more from the timing of her questions than the subject - but her concerns were addressed and we eventually got into a spirited and productive discussion about a whole range of issues, from fundraising initiatives, to ways to better engage the membership, to the very meaning of Liberalism.
The main thing that struck me about this little get-together was the energy. It seemed less like a political meeting and more like a boisterous family gathering. We debated, we bickered, we laughed, we complained, we told stories of our experiences - and in the end, when someone asked "What does the Liberal Party stand for?", there was surprising consensus and considerable emotion in the answers that came forward.
What came out of it was this: that the Liberal Party stands for taking the best ideas from wherever they come and making them work for the long term. At its best, it's about looking beyond the next budget or the next election to the next generation and the next century. It's about celebrating differences and being strengthened by them instead of trying to squash them. It's not about the 'mushy middle', but the middle as a meeting place and a crucible of ideas, cultures and experiences.
It's a messy place to be, and it gets a little loud sometimes. But families are like that.