By Stephen Harrison
Jack Layton's letter to Canadians resonated with people across the country. "Love is better than anger," he wrote. "Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." Leadnow.ca believes it can use those inspirational words as a springboard to improve Canadian politics.

You might remember Leadnow as the democratic reform group that organized the "vote mobs" of the last election. Their goal is to work "across generations and party lines" to help people organize for change.

People are concerned about the direction the government is taking, says Jamie Biggar, Executive Director of Leadnow.ca. They want "a more positive and collaborative kind of politics."

While many Canadians are interested in changing the direction of Parliament, it's easy to feel isolated, even after joining an online group like Leadnow.ca. At the beginning of October, Leadnow moved the conversation offline by launching a campaign called Turning Point. Canadians were asked to host events where like-minded individuals could talk about issues such as climate change, social inequality, and electoral reform.

More importantly, participants were encouraged to discuss what steps they could take to achieve their goals, and over 1,300 people signed up to attend these meetings. Nineteen enthusiastic and hopeful individuals of all ages attended one such event at UVic. They had heard about the gathering through friends and email lists, and not everyone had known about Leadnow.ca prior to the event. It's easy to get frustrated, said one participant, if you feel like you're alone in your beliefs. Leadnow has performed a valuable service by letting reform-minded individuals know they're not alone, while also building its own support base for future events.

Leadnow is ostensibly a non-partisan organization, but the participants at the UVic meeting were clearly concerned with the direction of our current Parliament. The problems addressed at the meeting crossed party lines, however. Multiple people expressed their interest in changing our voting system to a form of proportional representation, for instance, because "the electoral system makes true democracy impossible." Leadnow executives note that "a majority of voters cast their ballots for change in the last election," but our voting system unfairly rewards different parties at different times, not just the Conservative Party.

Leadnow.ca's long-term goals are equally non-partisan. One proposed campaign is to convince voters to participate in a "generational deal." The idea is that older Canadians could be encouraged to become vocal advocates against climate change, for example, and younger Canadians could throw their support behind healthcare initiatives and seniors' programs. If these topics become voting issues, parties will take notice.

In the short-term, Leadnow.ca hopes that these groups will form relationships with their local politicians, or partake in letter writing campaigns and neighbourhood canvassing. Building bridges with Conservative MPs was one strategy suggested at the UVic meeting, as was targeting youth and encouraging democratic education in schools. Some individuals were more interested in "getting out in the street" to make themselves heard. It is possible to make a difference, says Leadnow, as parties may reconsider controversial policies if they feel pressured.

The Turning Point meetings ended with the production of posters highlighting the issues raised at these forums. These posters were delivered to local MPs, but it wasn't just federal politics that were debated at these events - there was consensus that provincial and municipal politics also need attention. The issues and strategies discussed at these meetings were forwarded to Leadnow, which will use this material for its future campaigns. Organizing a diverse group of people is a difficult prospect, and Leadnow has the tools in place to make a significant impact. If enough Canadians demand change, change will come.