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4 years ago today Jack Layton came for my first political event as a candidate in Brant. It was a 90 cent dinner (yes you read that right).

Local Liberals had organized a $90 a plate dinner with Justin Trudeau to talk about youth issues at the same exact time and date as my nomination meeting a month before – a good way to grab the front page and guard against a new young NDP candidate.

It didn’t work, we still had over 100 at our nomination meeting and the campaign was underway. Some local youth brought up the fact that many teens and young 20 somethings couldn’t afford a $90 dinner and this gave me an idea for a 90 cent dinner about accessibility.

What about a campaign based on accessibility and community development instead of just fundraising, ad buying, a deluge of expensive and annoying phone polls and the other traditional ways campaigns are done? I pitched it to Jack the next time I saw him and he was all for it.

So we had our 90 cent dinner. Special thanks to Lisa Rose without whom none of this would have happened. She was looking for a way to feed a large number of people around Christmas inexpensively and we partnered. Over 300 people came to this 2 shift dinner in 2009 and – ironically – it became a successful fundraiser too as many people liked the idea and gave more than 90 cents. These donations helped start a campaign of pay-what-you can picnics, free youth leadership conferences, affordable campaign concerts, dodge-ball tournaments for youth in under-serviced areas, coffee houses, volunteer snow shoveling or litter pick up during canvassing, candle light vigils on affordability where we actually gave you stuff etc.

It also helped us achieve our modern local record for volunteer participation, fundraising and vote percentage in Brant for the NDP. People donated because they wanted to – not to spend 5 minutes with an MP at a mixer. They volunteered because they wanted things to be better – not because they have business contacts who pressured them to. And the vote grew. All against the traditional advice that said the only way to make that happen was the traditional way.

That 2009 event changed something inside of me as a politician and committed me to the grassroots, accessible, community development model of campaigning I’ve heard since called the Brant model at NDP HQ. Volunteers having fun, connecting, taking care of others in the community and organizing for change.

Its not perfect, no model is…but it is my favourite and this 90 cent dinner is still by far my favourite event. Thanks to everyone who made it happen and thanks to Jack for believing in this kind of event. Merry Christmas.

Watch the video from the 90 cent dinner by clicking here.