There have been many wonderful things said about Brad in the days since his tragic death. From my limited perspective, all are understated, even in their deepest praise. I wouldn’t have presumed to add anything. But at the Ignatieff group drinks after his funeral yesterday, so many of the feelings that I have had about Brad’s illness and death came rushing back. In part, because it was a reunion of many of the people that Brad brought together over the past couple of years. This aspect of what he was to a number of us, a hub of a network, someone who literally created a group of friends and colleagues, has perhaps not been fully emphasized.
This is partly because it is not widely known. In fact, while senior people in the Ignatieff campaign probably knew in theory what Brad was up to, I am not sure even they know the depths of the relationships and networks that Brad established in his effort to build a policy platform.
As Michael so powerfully said yesterday, when a friend dies, one has to grasp on to memories of reality. For me, I got to know Brad though the Ignatieff campaign. I went to a pre-leadership announcement meet and greet in Vancouver, spoke to a staffer, said I was interested in getting involved, and a week or so later, got an email from Brad. From then on, I was lucky enough to witness the policy machine that Brad established. I soon learned that I was one of dozens of young people, scattered around the world, most of which had never before been involved in politics, which Brad had brought together in an attempt to change the way policy was developed and in many ways, the way politics more generally was done.
Instead of relying on the old-guard of the Liberal party, or the ideas well versed in Laurier club circles, Brad broke ranks, and put together working groups of experts, or aspiring experts as the case may be, on a wide range of policy areas. The goal was solely to come up with the best possible policy positions. Brad had become the hub of an international policy network of people who wanted to be engaged in what was so clearly a new way of doing politics.
Many in these groups had never met him in person, but all became familiar with his daily policy requests. “What should our policy be on Afghanistan”, Brad would ask, in an email received at 2am. “We need a full brief in two weeks, consult the best people, here are some contacts from Michael’s network.” For a foreign policy student, who has long idealized Ignatieff, it doesn’t get any better than this.
After six months of this sort of communication, and getting to know dozens of people, mostly not particularly partisan, all young, all wanting to see Michael as leader, primarily in order to change the nature of political debate in our country, we started to all meet in person in the lead-up to the convention. Here policy debates morphed into political rapid response teams, and finally, for the mad week of the convention, under the guidance of Brad, we had an emotional, intense, and moving experience, fighting together for something everyone really believed in. A rare thing, that bonded the policy network into a network of friends.
We now work together on a wide range of projects, some more political than others. We all have Brad to thank. He was the one who saw that there was a desire out there for people to get involved, and he tapped into it. In so doing, he created a network of people who are all now engaged in Canada in a way they didn’t know they would. Many of us have moved, or plan to move home. We all now see that there is a way of engaging in the often distasteful world of politics. This is because of Brad.
Small and insignificant in the big picture, I just wanted to add this particular aspect of Brad’s recent life that I intimately experienced. I haven’t known Brad for long, and the vast majority of our interaction has been over policy and politics, but I am enormously thankful for what he has done for me, and grateful for what I think he has done for the country.