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A Diamond in the liberal party

Passion and a lot of time juggling spur young Liberal Party executive
|Written By Vawn Himmelsbach
A Diamond in the liberal party

If you need to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. For the Liberal Party of Canada, Richard Diamond — a second-year law student at the University of Western Ontario — is such a person. Diamond, the former president of the Young Liberals of Canada, is now chairman of the standing committee on communications and publicity for the Liberal Party of Canada, a role he balances with a busy year at school.

Twenty-four hours after the Liberal leadership convention last December, he wrote an exam on commercial law, worth 100 per cent of his final grade, which he admits was pretty scary. But, he says, being a law student is more than just taking classes. “Part of becoming a lawyer is being engaged with the community, whether you’re engaged politically, through a charitable organization or through a cultural organization,” he says.

An added bonus is getting to meet interesting people, both in the legal profession and in the community at large. “On the national executive [of the Young Liberals], there was a huge number of lawyers around the table,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to meet people that usually a 25 year old would not have the opportunity to meet.”

Diamond has been involved with the Liberals for several years, even before he was even old enough to join the party. During the 1993 federal election, he was required to volunteer for a campaign as part of a school project, so he volunteered for his local MP, Rey Pagtakhan. “I’ve always been interested in politics, so after the election I volunteered in his office,” he says. “When I became old enough he gave me a summer job and just really nurtured my political interest.”

Originally from Winnipeg, Diamond did his undergrad in political science at the University of Winnipeg. After being accepted to law school at Western, he deferred for a year to work in government. At that point, Diamond was already involved in the youth wing of the Liberal party, starting in the Manitoba branch and eventually becoming president during his “gap” year.

As president, he helped organize last December’s leadership convention, a year-long process that started after Paul Martin stepped down as leader of the party. “It was crazy, my roommate was commenting that I’m never home, I’m always in Ottawa. So it definitely does take a toll on my attendance record [at school].”

The national executive first had to decide when and where the convention was going to take place, and then the campaigning began. While it was a long, drawn-out process, Diamond says it was an interesting time to be part of the Young Liberals, since youth represent a third of the delegates at the convention — a representation guaranteed by the party’s constitution. “It really forced the leadership candidates to speak about progressive issues that young people care about,” he says, “because this huge voting block at the convention was people under the age of 26.”

His term as president ended in December, at which time he became chairman of the standing committee on communications and publicity. His new position involves looking at different ways to engage Canadian voters and working with party staff to develop a communications and advertising strategy. This role will involve less travel, since most discussions with his provincial counterparts are done by teleconference.

As chairman of the committee, his mandate is to reach out to as many Canadians as possible. “It’s incredibly difficult, and it’s a great challenge,” says Diamond. “You have to realize just how vast the needs of the people are.” He’s particularly interested in reaching out to young voters. “The traditional methods of campaigning, the traditional mediums, are not reaching young people, and that’s part of the reason why so few young voters exercise their right to vote.”

Young people tend to have strong political views, he says, but they’re not politically engaged. And while it’s the job of all political parties to reach out to young people, for far too long the under-30 vote has been largely ignored — because under-30s don’t go out and vote. So politicians stop talking about issues that young people care about. “Senior citizens go out and vote so politicians will talk about pensions, they’ll talk about health care, because that’s a chunk of voters that are pretty reliable.” This has turned into a vicious cycle; one he believes is incumbent on the Liberal party to break.

Stéphane Dion, for example, has put the environment back on the political agenda and that’s an issue that resonates with young people. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is more of a “status quo kind of guy,” says Diamond, while Dion wants to shake things up and push a progressive, innovative green agenda. Diamond hopes this will engage more Canadian youth and encourage them to go out and vote.

Now in his second year of law school, Diamond will be doing his articling interviews in May. But he already has plans for this summer: working at an AIDS orphanage in Kenya, teaching basic English, physical education and AIDS prevention to children whose parents have died of AIDS. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I figure this summer will be the last opportunity. I’ll be working for two months and travelling for a month.”

After graduation, he plans to establish a legal career, and at this point civil litigation seems to be the road he’s heading down. He’s particularly interested in business courses, including one on securities law, during which he spent two weeks at McCarthy Tétrault LLP in Toronto with several different practitioners who shared their legal expertise.

“We’re being exposed to some of the top securities lawyers in Canada,” he says. “It really opens your eyes to just how vast the needs of the public are. I found it very interesting, like how would a party like ours reach out to these people who have a problem with, frankly, both governments?”

Aside from a career in law, he’s also got the political bug. “Eventually I’d consider running, but I’m not sure when exactly,” says Diamond. “That’s definitely a long-term goal.” While he doesn’t have it all figured out, he’s considering a move back to Winnipeg after graduation. Other than the cold weather, he says, it’s a great city and, after all, it’s home.

So how does he fit it all in? If you want to make it work in your schedule, says Diamond, you’ll find a way to make it work. And law students by nature are good at multi-tasking, he adds. With law school, there are times when you’re insanely busy and other times when you have a lot of downtime. “So really take advantage of your downtime, just get involved,” he says. “If you want a really holistic education, pursuing your passion for community involvement is a must — if you have that fire in you, it will be incredible to combine that with your legal studies.”