Reading the various blog posts and op-eds about this weekend's 'Canada at 150' think-fest in Montreal, one might be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing is just some expensive, elitist wank designed to give the appearance of policy input without actually listening to anyone.
Of course, none of the nay-sayers and poo-pooers have bothered to mention the other Canada 150 events going on this weekend: the local 'satellite' conferences.
When the Montreal Conference was first announced, it was indeed planned as an exclusive event - just like Kingston, Aylmer and all the others were. Which is exactly why several grassroots members pressured the party to broaden the scope by setting up local events across the country, like the one I'm helping to organize in Halton.
The idea was to decentralize the whole process by linking these smaller events into Montreal via the internet. We would watch the webcast of the proceedings in Montreal, discuss the issues with our own group of thinkers and activists, then feed our ideas and conclusions back to Montreal.
That's the ideal. In practice... well, we'll see. Some ridings are just hosting watching parties for the webcast, which is rather sad. Others aren't doing anything at all.
To them, all I can say is you can't complain that no one is listening if you don't speak up.
Our event in Halton is going to be a real local version of what's happening in Montreal. We have over a dozen panelists including local municipal councillors, representatives from environmental and multicultural organizations, community activists for accessibility and social housing, local media - all sorts of people, hardly any of whom are partisan Liberals.
We'll be monitoring the Montreal webcast and will put it up on the screen if their discussions look particularly interesting, but mostly it will be a discussion between our panelists and the 30-60 guests we're expecting. Then a summary and any conclusions we draw will all get fed back to Montreal.
Whether the party chooses to do anything with our input will remain to be seen. I'm not holding my breath, frankly. But even if we end up binned, I will still consider this a useful exercise. For one thing, organizing all this with only five people in the space of a month and a half has proven my theory that the fewer organizers you have, the more you get done. Having no budget helps too.
For another thing, we have made some great new connections with local leaders and community organizations that will last long after this conference is over.
Lastly, even if our party leadership doesn't listen, our local candidate will be there soaking it all in. And when she is elected as our MP, she will be taking all our input and all these ideas to caucus with her.
Seriously - come to Halton on Saturday. Sheridan College, Oakville, Room G404. We're there all day, and it won't cost you six hundred dollars. Although if you want to throw us a couple of bucks to cover sandwiches and photocopying, we'd really appreciate it.