Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Coaching Error: GPC Deputy Leader Laraque Stumbles Off The Bench

In hockey, to make the Big Team, you’ve first got to prove yourself at training camp. Usually, you’re not even going to attempt to try out for the Big Team until you’re confident enough that your skill level is close to being at where it needs to be. If you’re coaching the Big Team, clearly you’re going to cut those whose skills don’t quite measure up.

In politics, it’s not the same story at all. Sometimes, players make the Big Team without having much of necessary skills at all. Usually, though, there’s something which is driving the political coach to keep unproven, raw talent on the roster. For example, when Michael Ignatieff was drafted by the Liberals from academic circles, he quickly became an MP, and then almost as quickly made a bid at becoming leader. The Liberal “coaches”, however, kept him on the bench for a little while until he had improved on his skills….no, sorry, that’s not quite what happened. They kept him on the bench until there was no one left to put in the game.

The Green Party, too, has a bit of a history with newcomers entering the political game without having first gone through training camp. Our current Leader, Elizabeth May, was a new party member when she made a successful bid for the leadership in 2006. In her case, the Party handed her the puck and made her Captain based on the perception that she’d be able to carry the team. That she’s done so now for 4 years is testament to the skills May acquired as a lifelong activist with encyclopedic knowledge of the pertinent issues of the day. Say what you want about May: she knows her stuff.

Most often, though, in politics, those who get to play leadership roles on the Big Team have to earn their places. Say what you will about Stephen Harper and Jack Layton, but they worked their butts off to earn the “C” they proudly wear on their shoulders. Ignatieff and May might have earned their “C’s” for other reasons, but they should be no less proud of their accomplishments, given their bench strengths.

Now, the thing about being a Leader in politics, though, is that not only do you have to wear the Captain’s “C”, you’ve also got to be the coach/manager of the team. To be the manager of any team, you’ve clearly got to have an understanding of the game. Often the best Captains run into issues as managers. It’s not easy to keep everyone on the bench happy, after all, especially if you only play your stars.

Which brings us to Georges Laraque, appointed to the position of Deputy Leader of the Green Party this past Saturday. Laraque, now charged with wearing one of our Party’s “A’s” upon his shoulder, is going to be a day-to-day player for the Party. This position of leadership which he’s found himself in, primarily as the result of his national celebrity, means he’s going to have to learn the play the game fast. Clearly, there’s been no training camp for Laraque, and it’s already beginning to show with a few mis-steps. And it’s only Wednesday.

As I blogged about yesterday ("GPC Deputy Leader Georges Laraque: A Tactical Victory; A Strategic Opportunity Lost"), Laraque has already announced to the media that he’s not going to run as a candidate for the Green Party. I suggested in my blog that our Party seems to have missed an opportunity of using the position of Deputy Leader to our advantage. This is a high-profile position within our party; the only higher profile position is that of the Leader. Our Deputy Leaders are often used as stand-ins for the Leader, and have a higher media profile. Given that Laraque already has a profile in the national media, why on earth has he decided that he’s not going to run for our Party in the next election? That’s just a wasted opportunity, and I sincerely hope that Laraque reconsiders.

There have been a couple of other mis-steps as well. Laraque was appointed Deputy Leader on Saturday, July 31st. On Monday, August 2nd, Laraque’s name and quotation appears in a media release, where he identifies himself as the Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada. Unfortunately, this press release has nothing to do with the Green Party of Canada. Instead, it’s been issued by NASDAQ traded Converted Organics, announcing Laraque’s new position as a recruit to TerraSphere Systems LLC (thanks here to Green Party Member Michael Vaillancourt for posting this story to the GPC website, although I've been tipped in my own comment section that this story might have actually been broken by an anonymous poster at Report on Greens).

Here are Laraque’s own words about his new venture with TerraSphere, from the Converted Organics press release:

"I decided to leave the NHL and the world of hockey to join TerraSphere because I want to make a difference in the world, and also be remembered for my contribution off the ice," stated Laraque. "As a new deputy leader for the Green Party, I see TerraSphere as the truest form of self-sustaining economic development. Also, as a spokesperson for PETA and an advocate for the vegan diet, TerraSphere's mission to provide fresh, organic produce to urban and rural communities worldwide is in alignment with my beliefs and values."

Wow. How much is wrong here, just from this single paragraph?

Here’s our newly appointed Deputy Leader, who’s going to help build our brand in Quebec, announcing that he’s joining TerraSphere to help promote fresh organic produce. Announced by a company which provides organic fertilizers, and is in the process of buying TerraSphere Systems. Uhm…I guess his new role with the Green Party isn’t going to keep him all that busy after all. I mean, don’t misunderstand me, it’s a good thing to have our party members involved in initiatives which are near and dear to their hearts, and kudos to Georges for all of the great work he’s done. But, again, the position of Deputy Leader is a leadership position in this Party. I’m not sure how a part-time deputy is going to work for us in the long run. Again, I’m worried that we’re setting Laraque up for failure here.

Next: why is Laraque using his position as Deputy Leader of the GPC in a press release from a publicly-traded company to promote another company which they are purchasing and which has nothing to do with the Green Party? Is Laraque receiving some sort of compensation from TerraSphere for his newly announced venture with that company, or is he doing his work gratis (seriously, if someone knows, let me know). Whether this is a paid position or not, I’m not at all sure that Laraque should be using his position in the Green Party to further benefit his new bosses at TerraSphere. Through Laraque now, by implication, there is a link between the Green Party and TerraSphere/Converted Organics.

Now, I understand that Laraque is fresh off of the bench, but these are the sorts of rookie mistakes which get players demoted to the minors, often quickly and permanently. Someone needs to tell Georges to leave his other jobs at home when he’s speaking as “Deputy Leader of the Green Party”. What also surprises me here is the speed at which our new Deputy Leader has really stepped into this mess; after all, it was only three days.

And I’m not even going to discuss Laraque’s role with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) here.

Anyway, speaking of three days, Laraque was interviewed by the National Post’s Mary Vallis, and the interview (“From hockey heavyweight to Green Party draft pick”) ran in yesterday’s paper. Vallis didn’t pull any punches here, and the results are, well, embarrassing for our Party, and made me feel sad and concerned for my hockey hero, Laraque. Vallis asks Laraque about whether he’s bothered to be “used” by the Party for his celebrity. While Laraque answers that question with dignity, the fact that it’s being asked at all really says something about his appointment by our Party Leader.

Later in the interview, after Laraque mentions that he can’t drop his TerraSphere project as part of his commitment to the Party, Vallis embarrasses Laraque by asking him what his 3 favorite Green Party policies are. Our new Deputy Leader, admittedly with poise, has to answer the question in a frank way. What’s clear, though, is that he doesn’t appear to know any of the Party’s policies, being at a loss to name even one as a favorite. Given the plethora of policies our Party has adopted (and not rescinded) in our 25 year existence, it’s difficult to imagine that he wouldn’t be able to find at least one to brag to the press about.

In hockey, when a player goes on the ice and is made to look foolish by the other team because the player is clearly lacking in skills, while the fans might get upset with the player, smart fans will begin to wonder just what the Coach is doing putting that player into the game in the first place.

So, here is our new Deputy Leader, telling the press that he’s already made up his mind about not running for his Party in the next federal election. He’s caught announcing his new role in an unrelated business venture just three days after his appointment as Deputy. And he’s made to look foolish in the national media when he can’t name any policies of the Party.

It's a good thing that Vallis didn't ask him how he felt about strategic voting.

Look, I’m not pointing fingers here at Georges Laraque in his first 4 days on the job. Laraque can always learn to play the game. Instead, I think whose wisdom needs to be questioned is that of the team manager and her staff, who have thrown Laraque into the big game without any training, and without having really considered his role on the team.

In the National Post interview, Laraque indicates that he was recruited by the Party earlier this year, and specifically by former Deputy Leader Jacques Rivard. He goes on to indicate that when Rivard left the Party, he was contacted directly by Party Leader Elizabeth May and offered the position of Deputy Leader. He further indicates that he’s only just been handed a "big book" of policies to go through, and that he'll be sitting down with Elizabeth May in the near future.

Ok, look, here's the thing: Laraque was appointed to this leadership position by May, and rolled out at a press conference on the long weekend, apparently without any coaching at all. He was thrown to the media wolves to fend for himself, and given the resources which he apparently had to work with (in this case, limited to his own wits), he does a decent job, but raises a bunch of questions regarding just what he's going to be doing for the Party, how he came to be in this position, and what his level of commitment to the Party is really going to be.

Why on earth didn't someone sit down with Laraque BEFORE announcing him as Deputy Leader and exposing him to the national media and at least flip through some of the Party's policies which pertain to those issues close to his heart? If Laraque had at least gone through Vision Green 2010 before his interview with the National Post, I'm confident that Laraque would have had the opposite problem: limiting his enthusiasm to only 3 party policies. Instead, here he is out there, looking out of his depth.

Elizabeth May, who I've also long been a personal fan of, has been making some incredibly poor decisions as of late. Her fans have started to turn on her, and some of those on her team has begun questioning her decisions, including me. This latest decision to appoint a poorly prepared, part-time Georges Laraque without any coaching regarding our policies, or how to handle himself with regards to the Party and his other ventures, was a very bad one. Clearly, it was done in haste, to turn the channel on a number of other poor decisions she's made recently, including using Party resources to urge our Membership to vote down several motions being proposed at the BGM and misrepresenting those motions in the process. Those on her coaching staff have also made some bad moves, in their attempts to disguise the arguments for augmenting May's appointed leadership term through an attempt to amend the Party's by-laws. Rather than be upfront with the Membership about the fact that we need May at our helm right now if we're at all going to be taken seriously in the next election, they've twisted and contorted themselves in all sorts of pretzel directions with bogus arguments about Elections Canada rules and concerns about going into an election without any Leader at all.

I'm sure that Georges Laraque will begin to learn how to play the game of politics; he's a very intelligent guy and he's not afraid to mix it up. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and I admire him for that, even though that's not really identified as an asset in the game of politics. What both saddens and outrages me is that he has been allowed to make himself, and by extension, his Party, look foolish. This wasn't his fault; he's an unskilled player after all. No, this was a clear Coaching error, and it should not have happened.

May wanted to have a good news story going into this month's convention in Toronto. For Greens not paying close attention, Laraque's appointment as Deputy Leader will clearly be a good news item. However, most Greens heading to Toronto later this month are paying attention, and I'm certain that many are going to be scratching their heads over Laraque's part-time commitment to the team, his ventures with TerraSphere Systems (and PETA!), and his general lack of political bench strength. Those Greens won't be pointing their fingers at Laraque: it will be May who the wagging fingers will be pointing at.

May will have an opportunity at the upcoming BGM to apologize to the Membership for misleading information she provided related to the motions recently voted on through an online process. Some Party Members are already questioning the very validity of that process, given May's biased and misrepresentative email, and the "Party Opinion/Consideration" comments prefacing each motion being voted on. May will also have an opportunity to call on the rest of our Federal Council to investigate why these biased opinions were allowed to remain on the Party's website throughout the online voting period. She needs to demand an investigation into who authorized these misleading, and in some cases, insulting comments. May will have the opportunity to take these actions later this month, to show an increasingly disgruntled membership that she is taking these issues seriously. Let's see if she does.

May should learn a lesson from the world of hockey: when you're team is mired in last place and isn't performing, and when the players begin to rebel against your coaching style, and when the press begins to make you look like you're losing control, the Team Ownership will often make a move, the only move they can make, given that they can't fire the whole team and start over.

Better to start listening to your team and taking their issues seriously before it gets to that point.


hsfreethinkers said...

Thanks Steve, but credit should go to the author of this anonymous post at Report on Greens.

Sudbury Steve said...

You know, I saw that post, but I wasn't sure whether it was posted before or after Michael Vaillancourt's. If you tell me it was before, I'll believe you, and give credit where it's due. Just wish people weren't posting this stuff anonymously, but that's the way it goes. Anyway, thanks for the heads-up; I'll amend my post accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Many Greens want to speak out but are afraid of the ramifications of doing so. Bloggers like me, Matt Day, John Ogilvie, Greg Morrow and other are no longer concerned about "the costs" so we gladly attach our names to our comments. Sure, I'm disliked by many within the inner circles of the Green Party (some call me a shit disturber, others call me a sexist) but I really don't care... I wouldn't have a beer with them anyway regardless of what they call me.

The security of anonymous comments allows them to express themselves without facing the wrath of the inner circle. That's why you see so few Greens commenting on the GPC site.

JimBobby said...

Like you, Steve, my first impression of Laraque's appointment was relatively positive. That is changing in a hurry, though. As you say, these stumbles need to be nipped in the bud. The coaching errors, as you call them, have been piling up.

I can only speak for myself but I must admit that the bloom has come off the rose as far as our leader is concerned. The choice to run in SGI was about the last straw for me. Compared to Guelph, it seems like political suicide. In Guelph, like in the London by-election, the pool of foot soldiers able and willing to travel a short distance and knock on doors would have been many times greater than the volunteer force available in SGI. The 2008 GPC results in Guelph were terrific. SGI? Not so much, to say the least.

BTW, re anonymity, I blog on the GPC site under my real name and I did comment a couple of times on Michael's members' zone post. Out in the boogeysphere, I have cultivated a persona that I keep semi-private. I don't want any tobacka farmers shootin' out my windows.

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