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The RNC Needs a Diversity Makeover

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The Republican convention's most telling moments happened every time the camera scanned the delegates in Tampa, Florida. Yes, it was a 2012 political convention but it still looked predominantly white from my vantage point.

Sure their leader Mitt Romney is good looking, has a full head of hair, perfect teeth and is fit, but at 65, he still represents the typical Republican image.

No doubt the plan was to convince swing voters that Republicans really aren't all angry old white men.

But even most Republicans would admit their convention wasn't quite the coming-out party they had hoped for.

God love 'em for trying!

Republicans could take a paint-by-number lesson from our own play book. Let me explain.

Fifteen years ago, Reform Party of Canada leader Preston Manning attempted to change his image. He even had laser eye surgery so he could ditch his owlish glasses. Maybe he took my advice.

The previous fall, my acting agent called and asked me to send my head shot to a production company. They were looking for different "looks" for a print shoot for the cover of their Reform Party brochure. As an in-joke (I know -- I'm bad), I also sent a photo of myself with my then-partner, an African-Canadian. Since political affiliation wasn't a determining factor, I figured sexual orientation wouldn't be either.

Guess what? We were both chosen for the shoot! So there we were among 21 other people from all walks of life. I couldn't help but chuckle at the irony of it all. We were a paint-by-number group picked to cover the spectrum of colours representing John Q. Public. There was even a guy in a wheelchair who stood up for the final shot!

To top it off, I was one of six "lucky" enough to get picked for a Reform party commercial shoot in Toronto the next day. I would get to meet Manning up close and personal, owlish glasses and all! The shot I was in involved Manning campaigning on the street. We were to ask him questions about the Reform party. My fellow actors asked legitimate, albeit predictable questions. I just couldn't take it seriously. So I asked, "Why don't you wear contacts, Mr. Manning?" Everyone including Manning cracked up. Then take two -- yet again, I couldn't help myself: "Do you think beige is really your colour?"

As we left the camera setup, I thought, "I can't just be an interviewee on the street. How can I make this once-in-a-lifetime experience worthwhile?"

I didn't plan it. I had no idea I would, but instinct moved me. We were walking to the next location shot and I was alone with Manning for mere seconds when I piped up: "As a gay male not tied to any political party, my introduction to the Reform Party was when one of your MPs stated that a store manager should have the option of placing gays at the back of the store." That was Reform M.P. and party Whip, Bob Ringma

Manning laughed warmly (we were off camera after all): "That MP was like a 69-year-old dinosaur who's set in his ways and nothing would change his mind. That viewpoint is not the opinion of the Reform party or myself." He went on to thank me for not letting it stop me from doing the commercial.

The reality was the Reform Party strongly opposed extending rights to LGBT. Many Reformers saw homosexuality as morally wrong. Manning himself once publicly stated that, "homosexuality is destructive to the individual, and in the long run, society." (David Morton Rayside, On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics, Cornell University Press)

Later I found out I was the only one of the six actors not called back to shoot "extra scenes" the following day.

But lo and behold, when the Reform party brochure came out weeks later, there I was on the cover. My partner was there too. All the paint-by-number peeps hired were included -- even the actor and his prop, the wheelchair.

Yet, when the commercial aired, I was the only one of the six cut out. Coincidence? Maybe.

I was paid in full and for what? Well, Manning did take my advice. Soon after, he ditched his glasses. Gone too were the beige suits. And I did make a statement while outing myself to the leader of a Canadian political party. All in a day's work, I'd say.

But in the bigger picture maybe Manning shouldn't have taken my advice.

With Reform's emergence, Manning fragmented the conservative vote into two parts -- Reform and a weakened PC Party. He soon turned his attention to reuniting the two conservative parties under his leadership, launching the United Alternative movement. Most of the Tories refused to cooperate, and critics claimed the new party was little more than an image makeover for the Reform Party. And in the personal makeover department? By 2000 Manning competed for party leadership with the younger and flamboyant Stockwell Day and lost.

Nothwithstanding both makeovers, he retired from politics in 2002.

What's the moral of the story? Personal makeovers can never really change the man or his party.