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Miss Teen London, Kelsey Johnson, 18, wears a message on her cheek at a pre-election gathering in London, Ontario, Saturday, April 30, 2011. About 1,000 people showed up for a "Vote Mob" to encourage people to exercise their right to vote in the 2011 federal election. (Dave Chidley/ The Canadian Press/Dave Chidley/ The Canadian Press)
Miss Teen London, Kelsey Johnson, 18, wears a message on her cheek at a pre-election gathering in London, Ontario, Saturday, April 30, 2011. About 1,000 people showed up for a "Vote Mob" to encourage people to exercise their right to vote in the 2011 federal election. (Dave Chidley/ The Canadian Press/Dave Chidley/ The Canadian Press)

Building a progressive voice with focus Add to ...

When Jamie Biggar and his colleagues in Canada’s youth climate movement returned from the disastrous Copenhagen conference on global warming in December, 2010, they did so with a deep sense of betrayal and abandonment.

The adults charged with addressing the world’s climate crisis seemed incapable of setting aside personal agendas, domestic political considerations and petty international grievances for the sake of the planet. And it was increasingly apparent that 20-somethings like Mr. Biggar were going to be stuck with the unhappy consequences of their short-sighted inaction.

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It was around this time that Mr. Biggar and his friend, Adam Shedletzky, began talking about starting up a political-action organization in Canada modelled on MoveOn.org in the United States. Since its beginning in 1998, MoveOn had morphed into a powerful, and deep-pocketed non-profit that advocates and campaigns for progressive positions on a range of issues.

And in March of this year, leadnow.ca was born.

With the collapse of the Occupy encampments and the future of the movement in doubt, leadnow could well emerge as an intelligent and more focused alternative to a leaderless association that never had an overarching strategy for success.

In less than a year, leadnow has attracted 60,000 members. The 28-year-old Mr. Biggar says the organization’s goal is to have half a million by the time the next federal election rolls around. While it is youth-led, leadnow strives to be a group that bridges generations.

With his founding partner at law school, Mr. Biggar is the voice and face of what is now essentially a two-person organization. (He and Matt Carroll, leadnow’s campaigns director, share a small salary.) This isn’t so bad. Mr. Biggar, who has his masters in environmental studies, is whip smart and far more eloquent than many political leaders in Canada.

“I think there is a sense, particularly among young people, that a lot of the systems and institutions in our society are really broken,” Mr. Biggar told me. “And there is a deep desire, I think, to work not just on becoming more effective within the system we have today, but also starting to look at how we can make it better, how we can create a more equal society, how we can achieve deep sustainability.”

Mr. Biggar acknowledges that the bleak future for his generation is also a motivator. And yet he is quick to add: “Even though ours is the first generation that expects to live much worse lives than their parents enjoyed, we don’t see this as a generational conflict. We don’t want to get into the blame game with the boomers. That doesn’t feel constructive to us.”

That sound you hear is a political star in the making.

Leadnow first attracted attention during the federal election in the spring when it organized “vote mobs” on Canadian college and university campuses that urged notoriously apathetic students to get out and exercise their democratic right.

Currently, leadnow is involved in a campaign to get the federal government to reconsider its crime bill. This week, organizers dropped in on the constituency offices of 160 MPs to deliver a 30,000-name petition opposing the bill along with the Canadian Bar Association’s 10-point critique of the legislation.

Leadnow’s petitions always have an array of targets.

When Canadian-based Brookfield Asset Management tried to get the Occupy Wall Street protesters evicted from the Manhattan park that it owns, leadnow sprung into action. It quickly got 12,000 names on a petition, which produced 12,000 e-mails that flooded the inboxes of Brookfield executives.

Those who sign a leadnow petition agree to have their names on an e-mail sent to people in a position to change or influence the issue.

Mr. Biggar says leadnow will be involved in two types of campaigns. One will be reacting to what the federal government is doing, holding it accountable on behalf of the 62 per cent of Canadians who voted for change in the last election. The other will be longer-term, more strategic efforts to bring about more fundamental changes. Electoral reform and economic inequality are two of the areas on which the group is focusing.

Leadnow has assembled an impressive list of advisers that includes the likes of Alex Himelfarb, a former Clerk of the Privy Council, and Beth Wilson, a managing partner at KPMG and one of the most powerful female voices in the country.

“We want to talk to people across political parties and try and create a values-based coalition of Canadians to bring about constructive change,” Mr. Biggar says. “We want to be a participatory, member-led democracy that people can trust. That’s what we’re trying to build here.”

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

 
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