My heart sank this week when I heard about Zach Paikin. As the Twittersphere chortled at the pugnacious and precocious 22-year-old's very public stand against Justin Trudeau's broken promise regarding nominations, it provoked in me a darker, more personal reflection.
I am not a Liberal upset by the loss of a potentially valuable candidate. It doesn't matter to me who the Liberals run. I am a conservative who also took a principled stand against what I perceived as unfair and unjust actions from my own party -- and paid the price.
It's hard for those who do not belong to a political party to understand how deep the connections to one's party becomes. While many see the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives as vastly different kinds of people, representing different points on an ideological spectrum, the reality is that committed Canadian politicos, "party people," have far more in common with each other than they don't. It takes a certain powerful pull to your team to inspire you to spend your nights and weekends pounding in lawn signs in freezing rain, to faithfully do your part phoning supporters, to reliably show up and puzzle over how to grow your riding association, all without pay.
You really have to love and believe in your party to stoically, and even happily, endure the inevitable abuse you will face when you knock on the door of a non-supporter. If you are an NDP/Liberal/Conservative/Green party person worth your salt, you will do this year after year without complaint, and even feel honoured to be able to do it. You will laugh and cry with your party-mates. You will get to know their quirks, you will be there to help them move furniture or provide a job reference. You become a member of a large family -- you inherit a rich legacy and share in a common vision.
What you will not do is question your party. You will not do this in private. You will not do this in public. You will certainly not announce on The Huffington Post or on Power and Politics with Evan Solomon that you cannot, as a principled person, allow your party to proceed with an injustice without making a conscientious, public objection.
The particular circumstances of my case are different from Paikin's. In my case, I objected to my party mis-representing facts about an independent review of my employer, Patrick Brazeau's, expense claims. My party put out talking points alleging that a respected independent auditor found wrong doing on the part of my employer. Having read that independent review, I knew that assertion to be false. Further, my party steamrolled all over any idea of due process in that situation and put on a spectacular show of ritual sacrifice. They yelled and stammered, thumped on their desks, and boasted that they were "standing up for the tax-payer." All without facts or evidence. Canadians who are interested in the facts and evidence can turn their attention to the courts, who are now in the process of disclosing and examining the actual facts and evidence.
But back to Zach. What do you do when you feel your own beloved party is offside? When he saw what was going on, did he try to intervene -- quietly and respectfully behind the scenes? I did. I tried doggedly -- and ultimately in vain --- to alert the higher-ups that their actions made it appear that they weren't in full possession of the facts. Twitterers have mocked Zach for being too puffed up and full of his own self-importance. Who is he to question the judgement of those at the top? More compassionately, he may be excused due to his youth. He's not the only 22-year-old who thinks they know everything about everything. But at twice his age, what is my excuse?
The costs of speaking up are immediate and enormous. If you are not a "party person," you might not get it. But everyone can understand, in general, how powerful social shunning can be. You are instantly defriended, held in contempt, branded disloyal, and considered stupid, reckless and unpatriotic. You will be the subject of gossip. You will be informed that so and so, who you don't even know, "hates you." The trust that you have built up over years of doing sincere and honest unpaid work for your party -- all gone. Also gone are opportunities to work for your party in any fashion. You are a turn-coat. A traitor. You are dead to your party.
Will Zach Paikin suffer for his principled stand? In the long run probably not. Being very young, very well-connected, and a promising writer, he has the time and smarts to turn this around. He probably wasn't suited to be an MP at this time anyway. I can easily envision a feel-good public reconciliation between Trudeau and Paikin. Being the third party, the Liberals need all the resources they can get. It would be a waste to lose their boy wonder over this.
What kind of people do political parties in Canada really want to attract? Do they want the kind of person who will shrug off lapses of principle in their party and get back to moving boxes here and there, and loading up the truck with lawn signs? Certainly no party can function if their members are running amok giving contrary views on TV or the internet. I get that. Parties need message discipline. But is there no grey area here? Is there no room for party people with an inborn, unstoppable, burning sense of fairness -- a sense of justice so profound that they will risk being cast out of a party they love by speaking out?
Some have criticized Paikin for merely showboating and seeking attention for himself. I don't think that is fair. If his experience has been anything like mine, it has been psychologically and socially very painful. Principles, kept in a shoebox in your closet, are easy to keep. But standing publicly on principle, calling out your own team, is a stand taken at a very high price indeed.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: