Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ryan Hastman: The Next Generation of Conservative Leadership

Let it never be said that I do not give the people what they want.

Last week, after my interview with Mark Holland–whom I described as part of the new generation of Liberal leadership–readers sent me several emails and Facebook messages to express their interest in learning about the next generation ofConservative leaders.

So, today, I am here to respond to that request. I have three answers for you.

First, here is one prospect who may soon be the latest star candidate for theConservative Party. If he wins the nomination and then the election, I have no doubt–none at all–that he will be mentioned in the same breath as Bernard Lord, Jim Prenticeand Jean Charest as possible successors to Stephen Harper. Those are big ifs, though. He will have to beat this guy–not an easy feat for anyone.

Second, don’t forget about rising stars in the Conservative caucus, like him, her, him,her or him, among others.

And third, onto the business at hand. Allow me to introduce you to a rising star in his own right, one who hopes to join the Conservative caucus with a victory in the next federal election: Ryan Hastman, today’s guest in our continuing Meet the Players series.

A former special assistant to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and aide to Public SafetyMinister Stockwell Day, Hastman has been well trained in the ways of Ottawa and, if elected, will have little trouble navigating its labyrinthine institutional and political bureaucracies.

Hastman is ready for the election, whenever it is called. He won the nomination to carry the Conservative banner in the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, currently held by NDP MP Linda Duncan and formerly held by Rahim Jaffer. (Yes, the same Rahim Jafferyou have no doubt read about recently.)

As is quite clear from my interview with Hastman, he is substantive, intelligent, witty, serious, plugged into popular culture, and is as comfortable at the Calgary Stampedeas he is using la langue de Molière.

So, with no further ado, and as my gift to readers who asked me to introduce them to the next generation of Conservative leadership, here, for your enjoyment, is Ryan Hastman.

Richard Albert (RA): Your impressive experience in government and in the private sector belie your young age. Still, you are only 30–actually, not until October!–a fact that will perhaps give some people pause. So why you, and why now?

Ryan Hastman (Hastman): Why me? I am running because, first of all, I think that Edmonton-Strathcona deserves stronger representation than its current MP provides. I am from Edmonton and I have a solid business, community and political background. I care passionately about our community, province and country. No one will work harder than I will to listen to every voice and reach out to every corner of the riding. MPs don’t get to choose who they represent. They must represent everybody, not just the narrow interests of a small group of activists. We need an MP who understands what it’s like to run a business, raise a family, and work to make ends meet and get ahead. We need someone who not only understands the core values of the broader community but also has the political skill to effect change. I believe I am the best person to earn the trust of voters in Edmonton-Strathcona, and represent their interests in Ottawa. And perhaps due to my relative youth, I am still idealistic enough to believe that I can make a difference in this world.

Why now? Electing an NDP member was a risky experiment and I think we’ve seen that experiment fail. The NDP doesn’t understand the economy and it cannot deliver results for the residents of Edmonton-Strathcona, to say nothing of the country as a whole. In the current economic circumstance, we cannot afford to be represented by someone who is out of touch with the majority of mainstream Canadians. Edmonton-Strathcona, the city of Edmonton, Alberta and Canada have an amazing potential and I am very excited about the future. I believe that Edmonton-Strathcona should be the home of the very best in all walks of life and I don’t see us getting there with the NDP. We should be leading the charge in terms of research and science. We should be the natural home for Canada’s next group of groundbreaking businesses and employers. Our children should be given every opportunity to excel and lead their generation forward. While the opposition parties are focused on tired old policies that didn’t even work in the 1960s, we want to take Canada forward.

RA: You’re running in a riding that has been a right-of-centre stronghold since1972. However in the 2008 federal elections, a sharp leftward turn propelled NDP candidate Linda Duncan to victory over then-incumbent MP Rahim Jaffer. Is this a temporary shift or is there something more seismic underway in Edmonton-Strathcona?

Hastman: Well, the answer is “both”. In 2008 what you saw was a “perfect storm” for the NDP. The disastrous policies of the Liberal Party’s Stephane Dion gave Linda a boost. Many dissatisfied Liberal voters voted NDP in order to protest their ownleadership. But I will be the first to admit that we Conservatives need to raise our game in Edmonton-Strathcona. We need to work harder and we need to listen more closely. We really believe Edmonton-Strathcona is looking to return to a broad-based, big tent, mainstream party with reasonable, sensible policies for important issues likethe economy. Let other regions protest–Edmonton-Strathcona wants to lead Canada into the future.

But I do want to get back to what you said about a seismic change in Edmonton-Strathcona, because you are onto something there. Edmonton-Strathcona is a fantastic microcosm of Canada as a whole: it is diverse, it is growing, it is represented by many diverse voices, ethic groups and ages. It is vibrant and looking to succeed. I believe that many of Canada’s next leaders will be from Edmonton-Strathcona. There is a real energy here that is contagious.

RA: Have you asked Rahim for advice?

Hastman: Rahim and I spoke shortly after I won my nomination in June. He is now dealing with some well documented issues is his private life, but in his time as a Member of Parliament, Rahim proved not only to his own ethnic community but to all young people that being young or different isn’t a barrier to making a meaningful contribution to Canada.

RA: Have you spoken to Rahim since his arrest?

Hastman: No.

RA: Ok, getting back to your riding, what are the most pressing needs and priorities for Edmonton-Strathcona?

Hastman: #1 The economy. #2 The economy. #3 The economy. As someone once said, “It’s the economy, stupid!“. Without well-paying, stable jobs, most other things in life become less important. I want Edmonton-Strathcona to break out and reach its full potential, but we must make sure we give as many people as possible the best possible shot to succeed in their own lives. That means better jobs, safer streets, and lower taxes. We need to make some changes to the laws and tax system. We need streets that are safe for our children and seniors to walk alone on. We need to protect our local environment as a legacy for our children. We need to continue to attract the best and brightest from around the country and around the world.

RA: Can you say something nice about your NDP opponent, Linda Duncan?

Hastman: I have lots of nice things to say about Linda. She works hard and fights for what she believes in. She is a voracious environmental advocate. She will do very well in her next career as a post-MP, special interest activist.

RA: If you get elected to Parliament, who is the first person whose counsel you will seek once you land in Ottawa?

Hastman: The PM! No but really, I would probably say Jason Kenney. As a young guy from Alberta, Jason and I have a lot in common and I’ll probably pick his brain about how to set up an effective operation in Ottawa and serve my constituents with excellence. Jason has done a lot of good work in terms of building bridges to new communities.

RA: Apart from working to improve the lives of your constituents in Edmonton-Strathcona, are there any larger or more national legislative projects you would like to explore if you get elected?

Hastman: You’re right: working for the people of Edmonton-Strathcona will be my priority #1 and #1A. In addition to that, there are a couple of areas that I hope to make a contribution toward:

Improving our tax code. We need a simplified and reduced tax system in this country. First of all, our taxes are too high across the board. Second of all, despite the last three years of improvements, there remain many inefficient and/or unfair aspects of the code.

Crime and community safety. Again as with taxes, the Harper government has taken many positive steps, but there is more work to be done. People are sick and tired of common thugs ruling their neighborhoods through fear and intimidation. We need to give youth hope for a better future, to help them stay out of trouble before they are trapped.

National unity is also something that I am concerned about. We need to build the ties that unite our diverse groups. Also, I am a strong supporter of official bilingualism.

I could easily go on; there is no lack of worthy and important work to be done.

RA: Now let’s turn to the larger race outside of Edmonton-Strathcona. Why, in your view, is Stephen Harper a better leader for Canada than Michael Ignatieff?

Hastman: Stephen Harper knows what he believes, and why. He thinks about issues and takes a clear position, regardless of which ways the political winds are blowing. He sought the office of Prime Minister to bring change to Canada, and not simply as an entitled gambit to fill a hole on his resume. He wants to build a diverse, prosperous and secure country for the 21st century. Michael Ignatieff has never found an issue that he doesn’t both agree and disagree with. He dreams of returning our country to the tired old ways of Trudeau. After all, he described himself as a “tax and spend liberal.” We need a new approach to the issues of tomorrow, not an old approach that got us into some of the trouble we have today.

RA: I’d like to talk a bit about you for a moment. What is your biggest personal strength?

Hastman: That’s a tough question! I would say that I love rising to challenges. Call it competitiveness or maybe audaciousness, but I love doing things that “they” say can’t be done.

RA: What is your biggest weakness and how, if at all, have you tried to turn it into one of your strengths?

Hastman: Now this is even tougher. Politicians don’t like answering these types of questions… but I think that the opposite of my best strength is also my biggest weakness: I try to accomplish too much on my own. In business and in life I have found that the best way to succeed is to build a strong team around me and empower people to do their best, even if it’s a bit different from the approach I would take. It’s Maxwell’s 360 Leadership model.

RA: As we transition to a few more fun and lighthearted questions, I have to apologize for not saying this at the outset of our interview. But better late than never: Congratulations on your wedding last fall! Your one year anniversary is coming up. Any ideas yet as to what you’ll buy your wife to mark that special occasion?

Hastman: Well that depends on Michael Ignatieff! If we are in the middle of a campaign, we might skip a door knocking shift and head to Steeps for one of their unique teas. If we aren’t into a campaign then, we hope to get away and make up for the very brief honeymoon we managed a year ago.

RA: You helped found a not-for-profit called Her Dream Next Door, which helps women achieve their personal and professional aspirations. Are you concerned about the relatively low number of women in politics both generally and within theConservative Party specifically?

Hastman: This is something that I feel passionately about. Too many young women today lack strong role models and mentors, keeping them from busting through society’s various glass ceilings. Generally speaking, I am encouraged by the strong women we see in politics today. Our party in particular has a very strong female cohort. And unlike the other parties, female candidates don’t get a special pass for their nominations in the Conservative Party of Canada. Try telling Nina Grewal, Lisa Raitt, Alice Wong, Cheryl Gallant, Rona Ambrose, Kelly Block, Candice Hoeppner, Diane Finley, or Josée Verner (just to name a few examples) that our party doesn’t value their contribution or that they are only plausible as politicians if they are appointed as part of an artificial female slate! Our party’s Vice President, Kara Johnson, is female. Many of our candidates last time who will be elected next time are female. Many of the PM’s key advisors, as well as senior aides to Ministers, are women. Our leader in the Senate, Marjory LeBreton, is female. Canada’s first female PM came from our party, and in 2002 and 2004 our leadership contests featured female candidates. So I would argue that our party is a leader among its peers in terms of female engagement. Of course it would be great if there were even more women involved, and I look forward to working with more and more strong females in caucus.

RA: Now just a couple of more questions before we move to our Lightning Round. Which three living non-Albertans would you most like to host for dinner at Packrat Louie, one of Edmonton’s very best restaurants? Why?

Hastman: If I were to host a dinner at Packrat Louie, my three choices would be:

Bill Gates–not only has he built one of the most successful companies in the world, but he has also transitioned into one of the strongest forces for public health. I would love to talk to him about how the private sector can partner with government and NGOs to solve some of the great issues that humanity will wrestle with this century. I want to hear more from him about how corporations, individuals and governments can partner together effectively.

Cesar Millan (aka ‘The Dog Whisperer’)–I love our puppy but we just can’t seem to reach an understanding on some of his behaviours. I would like to have a hearing with The Dog Whisperer and hope that he can clear up a few issues.

George Straight–My wife Lianne is a huge fan. I think she might wish I was a little bit more like George Straight, so maybe I could ask him for a few tips. I don’t know much about his political views, but I suspect he would take a common sense approach on most things. He definitely wouldn’t vote for the NDP!

RA: Parlez-vous français?

Oui, je parle français. J’ai eu la chance d’assister à l’enseignement par immersion en français ici, à Edmonton. Cela m’aidera à servir notre communauté franco-albertaine dans notre circonscription. Cela me donne aussi une appréciation de la double origine linguistique de notre pays. Je soutiens le bilinguisme officiel, et je pense que parler les deux langues contribuera à donner la prochaine génération un avantage compétitif dans un monde global.

RA: Ok, Ryan. Time for the Lightning Round. Blackberry or I-Phone?

Hastman: Blackberry! I need an actual keyboard.

RA: Facebook or MySpace?

Hastman: Facebook.

RA: Mac or PC?

Hastman: Mac.

RA: Less filling or tastes great?

Hastman: Coke Zero.

RA: Boxers or briefs?

Hastman: I’ll take the moderate position and say boxer-briefs.

RA: Favourite band?

Hastman: U2. I also really like Radiohead and Muse. For Canadian content, I’ll takePaul Brandt and Pilot Speed.

RA: Gretzky or Lemieux?

Hastman: Is that even a fair question? The Great One of course. My father was at the “50 goals in 39 games” game, and I’m fortunate enough to remember most of the 4 Stanley Cups that #99 was here for. The question would have been more tricky had you asked “Gretzky or Messier”, a local Edmonton guy who also went to my high school (St. FX.).

RA: Which was worse for western Canada: The National Energy Program or theBristol-Bombardier scandal?

Hastman: The National Energy Program. People still talk about it at the doors. Good on PM Brian Mulroney for cancelling it.

RA: Who was the better premier: Ralph Klein or Peter Lougheed?

Hastman: This is a tough one. Both of them contributed to the province and made tough decisions that needed to be made. Lougheed established a very sensible savings trust fund to diversify the economy; Klein got public spending under control. I guess it’s a draw.

RA: Greatest Canadian?

Hastman: Stephen J. Harper. His mastery of policy is second only to his incredible judgment of cabinet material. (Can you make sure a copy of this is sent to PMO?).

RA: Greatest prime minister?

Hastman: Didn’t I just answer that?

RA: Greatest politician never (never yet?) to become prime minister?

Hastman: Stockwell Day. Politics is a rough ‘sport’, a contact sport as they say, and his experience with national politics started out pretty roughly. He has shown not only resilience, but grace and forgiveness, which is usually not common to the profession. Watching him in his role as a senior Minister today makes me wonder what his contribution could have been had things worked out differently. I hope to model even a fraction of his resilience through my career. He’s been one of the most steady and consistent Ministers in our government. I’m also a big fan of both public safety and free trade!

RA: Public safety and free trade–those are two priorities that no reasonable person could disagree with. So in light of that common ground you’ve struck with all of our readers–those who wear Conservative blue, Liberal red, NDP orange, Green uh green, or otherwise–it’s a nice way to close our interview. Thank you for sharing your views with us. I think it’s safe to say that Linda Duncan is in for a tough battle when the writ drops. Edmonton-Strathcona will certainly be a riding to watch. Good luck to you.

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