George Takach, a Toronto technology lawyer and self-professed computer geek, is joining the federal Liberal leadership race, determined to drag the party — and eventually the country — into the 21st century.
The 55-year-old joins a long list of long-shot contenders who have little chance of overtaking presumed front-runner Justin Trudeau.
But Takach brings something unique to the contest: a heavy emphasis on technology as the key to economic growth.
And he's putting his years of experience in the tech field to use with some innovative platform proposals and campaign techniques.
"We're going to break the mould in a number of different ways," he said in an interview shortly before today's official campaign launch.
For starters, he's launching a "Geeks for George" campaign, in an attempt to politically engage the 1.5 million computer gamers in Canada. The campaign includes a proposal for faster Internet speeds across the country and a "crowd-sourcing" initiative aimed at mobilizing gamers to participate online in drafting a digital bill of rights.
"These are people that aren't political ... They're part of that 50-60 per cent that don't vote and we're going to bring them into the Liberal party, I think a couple hundred thousand of them," he said.
"It's really harnessing the power of the Internet to bring collective thought to fruition ... It's going to be very, very cool."
Moreover, it's a collaborative approach Takach thinks could be used to help the Liberal party engage its grassroots members and supporters in the development of policy and, eventually, to engage Canadians in drafting government legislation.
"Imagine if, on every bill, you had a meaningful, Wikipedia kind of discussion going on, it links to all the resources, people could go on, discuss, talk and talk to one another across all sorts of (socio-demographic) lines," he enthused.
As far as Takach is concerned, an emphasis on technology is key to making the Liberal party relevant again and keeping the country competitive.
"Canada is a little bit like a Ferrari stuck in first gear," he said.
"We've got an abundance of natural resources and that's done us very well, absolutely, and I don't want to downplay the importance of natural resources going forward. But if we can layer on a high tech manufacturing capability and a knowledge-based economy and double down on those, then we can get the Ferrari up into to second, third and maybe even fourth gear."
To that end, Takach believes the federal government should reinstate full R and D tax credits, promote and fund higher education and act almost like a venture capitalist, providing the seed money to get innovations off the ground. He is scathing in his assessment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, which he maintains is "taking us back to the 1950s."
"I think it's absolutely shameful that this federal government has gone AWOL, except for defence and prisons."
Takach positions himself firmly in the centre of the political spectrum, fiscally conservative but socially progressive, supporting legalization of marijuana, among other things.
He's never been elected to political office but Takach maintains that's not a drawback, that he's gained leadership experience through his legal career and his work drafting innovation strategies for the public and private sector. In any event, he doesn't think the party should limit its choice to only sitting MPs.
"We've got a caucus of 35 great Canadians but should we limit ourselves to 35 Canadians when we could actually tap a talent pool of 33 million Canadians?"
Three MPs — Trudeau, Marc Garneau and Joyce Murray — have taken the plunge into the leadership race, which culminates on April 14. Former MP Martha Hall Findlay, Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne, Vancouver prosecutor Alex Burton, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, retired Canadian Forces Lt.-Col. Karen McCrimmon and David Merner, former president of the Liberal party's British Columbia wing, have also joined the fray.
Ontario government economist Jonathan Mousley has pledged to run if he can raise the stiff $75,000 entry fee.
So far, only Trudeau and Coyne have been officially registered as candidates, having filed the required nomination papers and plunked down the first $25,000 instalment of the fee.
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