A Debate by Three Liberal Leadership Candidates
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Oct 2006, p. 36-61
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Kennedy, Gerard; Dion, Stéphane; Rae, Bob, Speaker
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Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
All three speakers were introduced, along with the moderator, Amanda Lang, co-anchor of Report on Business TV's "Squeeze Play" and Director of the Canadian Club of Toronto. Prepared questions were asked and then the floor was opened to the live audience. Each speaker had opening remarks. The prepared questions covered the following topics: whether or not we are doing the right thing in Afghanistan; the economy - specifically, what would each speaker do with a $13 billion surplus if it did not have to go to debt repayment. Questions from the floor: "National unity is threatened by feelings of western alienation, a rise in the separatist sentiment in Quebec and animosity exhibited in the Maritimes. How do you propose to unify our country?"; "we know Prime Minister Harper's position on gay marriage; he intends to open the floor of the House. As prime minister would you allow your party to vote according to their conscience on this issue and others like it?"; "Win or lose will you run in the next election?"; "Your position on helping qualified immigrants meet Canadian standards that allow them to employ the skills they bring with them and not have doctors and engineers drive taxis."; "Why are you the best individual to fight and beat Stephen Harper in the next election?"
Date of Original
10 Oct 2006
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
Gerard Kennedy, Former Ontario Minister of Education and Candidate for Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
Stéphane Dion, MP, St. Laurent-Cartierville and Candidate for Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
Bob Rae, Twenty-First Premier of Ontario and Candidate for Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
A Debate by Three Liberal Leadership Candidates
Chairman: Noella Milne
President, The Canadian Club of Toronto
Head Table Guests

Allan O'Dette, Director, External Relations and Public Affairs, GlaxoSmithKline, and Director, The Canadian Club of Toronto; Lisa Baiton, Vice-President, Government Relations, Environics Communications Inc., and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Renato Di-Senza, Senior Vice-President, Enterprise Sales, Bell Canada; Dr. John Niles, Senior Minister, St. Andrews United Church (Markham), and President, The Empire Club of Canada; and Amanda Lang, Co-Anchor, Squeeze Play, ROBTV, and today's Moderator.

Introduction by Noella Milne

It's a super fall for any political junkies in the crowd and out there in media land. In Ottawa, we've got the same sex marriage issue re-surfacing and we all know that's an issue that's bound to bring back some pretty heated debate. Here in Toronto, we're in the midst of a mayoralty race, sort of.

And across the country we're heading into the home stretch for the race to be the new leader of the federal Liberal Party. And we're very pleased to have three of the four front-runners in that race with us here today.

After the "super-weekend" of delegate voting just over a week ago, Michael Ignatieff emerged as the frontrunner, with several of the pursuing candidates dropping well back as the campaign turns into the stretch.

But, as recent political campaigns the world over have shown us, it ain't over till it's over, so the most interesting part of the race might still be coming. After all, anything can happen in the heat of a convention floor battle; just look back to the 1996 Ontario Liberal leadership contest when a guy named Dalton McGuinty scooted up the middle from seemingly out of nowhere. There's plenty of jockeying to be done between today and the early December finish line.

And with us today are three of those candidates who all still have a legitimate shot at winning. Good news for those of us who like political debate and good news for those of us here in person or watching on television from home.

Now before I introduce them, I would just like to say that this is a departure for both the Canadian Club of Toronto and the Empire Club of Canada from our usual single-speaker luncheon format. But since we're now 110 and 103 years old respectively, we thought it was time to do things a little bit differently once in a while. I'm certainly looking forward to it and I want to thank Mr. Dion, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Rae for being such good sports and allowing us to bring you a live taste of this debate.

And now a few words about our speakers!

Stéphane Dion of course hails from Quebec. The son of an academic, he was a political scientist teaching at the University of Montreal until recruited to run for a federal seat by Prime Minister Chrétien in 1996. A strong federalist, he has represented the Quebec riding of Saint-Laurent-Cartierville since then, was Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs under Jean Chrétien and Environment Minister under Paul Martin.

Hailing from The Pas, Manitoba and the son of a politician, Gerard Kennedy attended Trent University in Peterborough and is well known to Ontarians as Executive Director of Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank from 1986 to 1996. Most recently, until he threw his hat into this particular ring, he was Education Minister in the McGuinty government and held the provincial seat of York South, a riding previously held by our third speaker.

Our third speaker of course is Bob Rae, who hardly needs my introduction being Ontario's premier from 1990 to 1995. Many of you may also remember that Mr. Rae was in federal politics before becoming the leader of the provincial NDP Party.

And since leaving provincial politics he has headed the probe into the Air India disaster, authored a report on higher education for the Ontario government and travelled to such places as Iraq as an advisor on democratic institutions.

Keeping everything under control today will be our moderator Amanda Lang, co-anchor of Report on Business TV's "Squeeze Play" and I'm pleased to say, a Director of the Canadian Club of Toronto.

Amanda has prepared some questions for the candidates and she will also open the floor to questions from our live audience. So, if you would like to ask Mr. Rae, Mr. Kennedy or Mr. Dion a question, please write it on one of the cards provided on your table and our volunteers will collect it from you.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for me to turn things over to our very capable moderator. So, as they make their way over to our TV stage and get their clip-on mikes in place, please join me in giving a warm welcome to our candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada--Gerard Kennedy, Stéphane Dion and Bob Rae.

Amanda Lang

I'd like to begin by saying I'm delighted to be here. I'm not one of those journalists who dislikes politicians. In fact it gives us somebody to look down on so why would we? But I do want to say I have great admiration and respect for anybody who puts their name on a ballot. I want to acknowledge all of the leaders in this leadership candidate race. We couldn't accommodate them all. They're here in spirit and Martha Hall Findlay is here in person and we appreciate that.

It's said of becoming a partner in a law firm that it's like winning a pie-eating contest and the prize is more pie. I think that this is sort of similar. The prize is dubious to some of us, but I'm sure well sought after by all of you.

We do of course have time constraints and so we are going to limit your opening remarks to two minutes each and questions, both mine and from the floor, to one minute each. We want to hear from as many of you as possible and your questions. We will get right to it including your opening remarks in no particular order. Simply, from my right over to the left, so I give you the Honourable Bob Rae.

Bob Rae

Thank you very much Amanda and let me start by saying that I believe in politics and I believe in the political process. That might make me somewhat unconventional but I happen to think it's very important. I think what strikes a difference in a democratic society like ours is the fact that people are willing to come forward and believe strongly in a process in which we are engaging the public and engaging ourselves.

For me leadership is really about two or three things coming together. The first one is the ideas that we have, the vision that we share with our fellow Canadians, and for me I've talked throughout this campaign about four critical issues. The first one is the prosperity of the country. The second one is the unity of the country. The third is our ability to share opportunity and the fourth is our sustainability as an economy and our independence as a country in foreign policy. There will be ample opportunity in somewhat more than two minutes I hope to touch on each of these key issues.

We have to invest more in education. We have to make sure that our colleges and universities are accessible to all Canadians.

We pursue unity not by engaging in abstract theoretical discussions but by being intensely practical on how we want to govern our country and how in fact we want to improve it.

We share opportunity because this is what in fact makes us Canadians--our ability to share something throughout the country and to make sure that the good things in life do not belong only to a small group but in fact are widely shared throughout the population. And we have to do it in a way that is sustainable because climate change is real and because these issues are ones that will not go away and they do require action and action has taken too long for governments to actually carry out. I think Canadians are far ahead of their governments when it comes to the question of the environment.

And the independence of Canadian foreign policy is critical because it speaks to whom we are as a people, our ability to find our voice in the world and to have the courage to express it clearly and emphatically as we go forward. There are many issues that require action on behalf of Canadians. We were right not to go into Iraq. We have to seriously look again at where we are in Afghanistan and make sure in fact that Canada is, remains, and always will be a voice for peace.

And finally, just to conclude, I take great pride in my experience and the fact that I was 20 years in elected politics. I have no regrets about that at all. I think it was a profound formative experience in my life and one that I'm very proud to have been able to participate in as well as the 10 years that I've spent engaging in issues of public policy throughout the country in terms of Air India and higher education, the reform of the Red Cross and looking at federalism as a structure throughout the world. I believe that leadership is about vision, it's about ideas and it is about experience. It's about ability to put words into actions. It's about ability to take ideas and actually make them work. I think I have that ability. I don't claim to be perfect. I don't claim to be better than the Almighty, but I wouldn't be here if I didn't claim to be better than the alternatives, although they're very good friends of mine and we may even be closer as time goes on.

But let me conclude by thanking all of you and thanking my colleagues and Martha and saying how much I'm looking forward to answering questions and engaging in this intense discussion. Thank you all very much.

Amanda Lang

Thank you. Stéphane Dion.

Stéphane Dion

Good afternoon Toronto. You saw me many times. I came here when I was unity minister and we worked together about the unity of our country. I discussed with you the relationship between Queens Park and Ottawa, which has not been always easy, and we worked on that very closely together. As Minister of the Environment, when it was time to address issues like smog and acid rain and the Great Lakes, I came here and we had a very, very good relationship.

I want now to focus on what I can do if I become the leader of our party and prime minister of Canada.

We Liberals are always good when we identify the issue of the century and we focus on it and we deliver. In the 20th century the issue has been for a well-established democracy like Canada to link economic growth and social justice. The Conservatives and the NDP were not able to make this link. We were. It's why I am a Liberal. It's why I am convinced this was the party for Canada. In the 21st century economic vitality and social justice will not be enough. You need to add a third one and it is environmental sustainability. Each day you see that. Today what is in the news in Canada is that you have acid rain more and more. Acid rain in Saskatchewan and in Alberta. We never used to have that in the past. It's coming from the oil sands. So every day we see challenges. We need to focus on them in bringing together economic vitality, environmental sustainability and social justice. To make a virtuous circle between the three, an action plan, all our policies must focus on that.

I don't have time to explain more but let's say what I want to do about the pension plan is to change the regime of the pension plan, to keep people at work if they want to. We have a pension plan today, which is not adjusted for the economy of today. It is adjusted for the economy of yesterday. The economy where there was a big unemployment rate. But now more and more you have a shortage of workers and you need to help people to stay in the work force if they want. This is the way to adjust social justice with economic vitality.

It is the same with the environment. If we are able to have a sound environmental policy, we will decrease the cost of energy. We will become more energy-efficient in Canada. Energy costs are going up and up and up and if we don't have strong energy efficiency in Canada we don't have a strong economy. It's time to stop opposing the environment and the economy and to see that they must go together. As Minister of the Environment I brought the world together at the conference of the United Nations on climate change in Montreal last December. At the next meeting next December it will be the Liberal Party that I want to bring together to make sure that Canada will be on the podium of the newest revolution--the sustainable economy. Thank you.

Amanda Lang

Gerard Kennedy.

Gerard Kennedy

Thanks very much. It is really important that we stop taking Canada for granted. This is not just about my leadership or the other people who are here or Martha's. It is about yours. It's about a country that we have been complacent about. It is about a country where parents and grandparents and generations back made sacrifices. Think of the important things we identify with this country in terms of health care, in terms of the education system, in terms of most of the basis for economic opportunity and most of it came from things that were arranged and sacrificed for and done by generations past.

What about us? What about this generation? What about the next? Can we sit here today and say that our children will have exactly the same opportunity? And we have an aging population. We have a global economy becoming even tighter than it has been in the past. Can we say for certainty? And I say to you, "Why can't we? Why don't we have that ambition? Why don't we put ourselves forward in that way?"

I look at Ottawa and I see Mr. Harper like I saw Mr. Harris in Ontario and the thing that bothers me is not the ideological differences. What I saw was a lazy option. You get some of your money back, you get some of the blame and you don't worry about your neighbours. Nothing worthwhile because it hasn't been built that way.

The last 23 years I've learned to believe in Canadians. Canadians who supported food banks when no one knew that people were going hungry. Teachers and parents who decided to turn around an education system in Ontario when people had basically dismissed it and many people had pulled their kids and gone elsewhere. People who are prepared I think to lead themselves. To lead if a party could open up, if the Liberal Party of Canada can be an open party, not a club. It doesn't belong to me and at the end of this I know this is assured by my colleagues. I don't want to see Kennedy Liberals. I just want to see Liberals. And I want to see Canadians feeling like they can be part of something that matters. A competitive economy based on unlocking the potential that people have. A new Liberal value of enterprise, a bit of innovation and giving people the permission to have that motivation in government, in not-for-profits, and yes in our private sector.

And yes, an independent global voice. A Canada that today would be talking about Afghanistan in fundamentally different terms, that would be saying to NATO, "We must revise that mandate so it aligns to Canadian principles." If young Canadian men and women are going to be at risk it will be for things that we believe in, that we won't hesitate about. And we should be working today to diversify the economy to provide the aid and the other things that don't make military operations the only way of moving forward in Afghanistan. There is a Canada out there to be had. There's hard work that's involved and I hope this leadership takes us a lot of the way there. Thank you very much.

Amanda Lang

Thanks to you all. Now, I am going to ask you to limit your answers to the following questions to one minute. I realize that doesn't do justice to some of the breadth of your understanding of these issues, but it is television and that's how we work. I'm going to start with you Bob and we will work our way over to each of you to answer the question of Afghanistan. Our young are not only at risk. They are dying. While you answer the question whether we are doing the right thing, tell me what you would do differently.

Bob Rae

Well I don't think we are doing the right thing at the moment. I think there has to be a complete revision of the mandate. The fact of the matter is there is not going to be a simple military solution to what's going on in Afghanistan and the idea that Canada would indefinitely be a part of an occupation by foreign forces in Afghanistan is also wrong-headed and is not going to work. So we have to develop a policy that is much more realistic. I think we have to sit down with our NATO partners and that is fundamentally where I disagree with Mr. Layton because I do think we owe that obligation to NATO and to Afghanistan to sit down and work through with them the question of how we can make sure that diplomacy and development assistance are given a much greater priority by our troops. I think we have to look much harder at significantly increasing the development assistance that we provide. I think we should be insisting on sharing the burden with our NATO allies in terms of what is taking place there. I don't think Canada should be bearing as much of a military burden as we have been asked to bear and as we have apparently assumed in terms of combat and I think we just have to be much more realistic. There has to be much less rhetoric about where we are. I think we have to be intensely realistic as a country as to what we can in fact achieve in Afghanistan given the conditions there, given the fact that we are a very different country in a very different place. I'm not an advocate of isolationism. I'm not an advocate of unilateral withdrawals but I am an advocate of a very, very aggressive approach by Canada in terms of redefining the mandate that we now have and getting on with an intense discussion with NATO so that in fact we can deal with the situation as we find it.

Amanda Lang

Thank you. Stéphane.

Stéphane Dion

Exactly what did we learn today? That a NATO general is saying that if nothing is done to rebuild the country in the coming months it foresees that 70 per cent of the people in Afghanistan may support the Taliban. I hope it is not true because we are going nowhere. There is no way that Canada will be an occupying force. I'm supporting the mission because I'm still convinced that most of the people in Afghanistan want our protection. The moment I know that is not the case I will not stay there because we Canadians are not there to occupy another country. But this is the key point to me and for that we need information. We need to know what Pakistan would do at the border and now it is very clear that Pakistan is unable to control this border and it's information that we must take into account when we design the mission. A month ago you may remember Mr. Harper was saying, "We won. We won. We went into the mountains and we killed some people." I hope it was the Taliban and not farmers as being told in some reports and we say we won the war. And we see today that we won nothing because it is not a war against a conventional army that will come with a white flag one day ready to negotiate. It's a war with terrorists. I'm not aware of any strategy that Mr. Harper put on the table about the poppy crop and if you are not able to use the poppy for illicit activity like pharmaceuticals there is no way we may win this war. No way. So yes, we need to revisit the mission. We need to know how we may design it in a way that makes sense and we should never, never have voted for the two years' extension in the blinded way Mr. Harper blackmailed the House a few months ago and it is really sad that some of us voted with him.

Amanda Lang

Thank you. I don't suppose you would have already considered yourself to have spoken on this subject.

Gerard Kennedy

Six weeks ago I called for a change in mandate. There are three interlinked crises that we need to understand. This is our decision. It's Canadian people's. It's not Mr. Harper's. There is an opium crisis that is now 52 per cent of the economy and western nations had pledged for alternative economic development and not delivered. They have one of the lowest rates of aid. About $72 per person of any conflict country. It is going down to $42. We cannot win hearts and minds if we are not filling their stomachs so there is a clear path forward. The Taliban have an ATM from the opium crop to buy weapons to use against our troops. No amount of security alone can stabilize a country until we are in the provinces that are pacified. We are building up economic development and we are providing aid and we need the commitment of the whole international community. If not, we should leave in an orderly fashion after February 2007 with our heads held high as a country that has provided the only other possibility--short-term security need on a par with any other around the world. But there is a long-term rebuilding of a civil society there but only if we take a leadership position and deal with the two other crises so the security crisis doesn't become one that is simply about to take over the entire country.

Amanda Lang

Thank you. I'll ask one more question and then get to some of the very excellent questions from the floor. On the economy. This time I think we will start from the other end. The Harper government just found $13 billion in surplus. Federal law dictates it goes to debt repayment but what would you do with that kind of surplus manoeuvering in your federal budget.

Gerard Kennedy

Well $13 billion is a big surplus. It's last year's money. I supported it being used to reduce the debt. We still get only 81 cents in services for every dollar we pay in taxes and so it is important we bring down that debt. And so tax cuts that don't apply in terms of making us more competitive and bringing people into the work force or making us compete better internationally are not ones that we should be providing. I would not do a next GST cut as that would give us more resources to invest where we need to. We have human capital that we have to bring forward. We have an immigration success gap. We have education inequality across this country. We have problems for women who are still making much less than men and there are specific programs, childcare for example, that I would invest in. There is a gap with the provinces. I was a provincial cabinet minister and there is a problem with changes made in the eighties and nineties that need to be rectified in a fair and objective fashion. There are priorities that I think can be applied. The federal government and the provincial governments need to have one plan for this country moving forward and we need to make our financial decisions once that plan comes together.

Amanda Lang

Stéphane.

Stéphane Dion

I just want to celebrate the fact that we have a surplus. An unexpected surplus, bigger than expected. I think in this kind of public finance the surprise is the good one. If you miss your target it must be up not down. Now how to use it? Quite a lot you put that in the debt. The first three billion, which is the margin for security in the debt, and the extra surplus that you may have--a third for the debt, a third for targeted investments, and a third for tax cuts. So the usual Liberal approach, I think it makes sense. But to come back to the GST cut I think it is the old way to do politics. In fact your income tax went up to pay for it. You will pay more taxes not less with Stephen Harper. And what I would do with the tax system myself would be tax cuts but you would have to work a bit for it because I will come with an environmental tax reform and if you want to retrofit your home, if you want to change your furnace or your appliances or your car, I will give you a tax credit for it in order to change this society for good and to have an economy and a society with much less waste.

Bob Rae

First of all the law says it's got to go to debt reduction so it's gone. But the fact is we do have to think on a forward-looking basis on what do we want to do. The first thing is we have developed a strong allergy to deficits and that's a good thing. The second thing we have to do is make sure that we are focusing all the time, focusing our attention on the kinds of tax cuts that are in fact going to increase productivity and are going to improve the overall condition of the economy. The GST tax cut does not do that. And in fact the direction that we know the country is headed in in terms of the need for more green taxes means that there are going to be more taxes on the consumption side in which case we have to reduce income taxes even further and focus our attention on low- and middle-income Canadians to make sure that they are able to offset the impacts of higher energy prices, of higher home fuel costs and all the other things that we know are in the works and in fact have already been here for some time. Then we need to address the challenge of poverty in this country. It has gone on far too long. We have addressed the problem of poverty among seniors to some extent. We have not matched it with respect to ordinary families and with respect to children. The existence of the amount of poverty in this country today in an economy like Canada's is a national disgrace and something that needs to be addressed directly by our governments both federal and provincial.

Amanda Lang

I have a question from the floor. It's to all candidates. I'll begin with you Stéphane Dion. National unity is threatened by feelings of western alienation, a rise in the separatist sentiment in Quebec and animosity exhibited in the Maritimes. How do you propose to unify our country?

Stéphane Dion

I think all this is untrue. We have a strong country and these difficulties between regions are normal. Other countries have these kinds of difficulties. They don't discuss national unity. Most of my friends in the United States or in France are upset with their government. None of them are separatists because of that. So yes, you will always have different views. Mr. Chretien used to say we Canadians have two convictions. The first one is that we have the best country in the world. The second one is that our province doesn't have its fair share. And maybe it will always be like that but it doesn't stop Canada being an incredibly good country and I will say again and again the problem is not Canada. The problem is the separatists' ideology. And we need to review our fellow citizens who think they would be happier if they were not Canadian to explain to them what kind of country they have in their hands and work to improve it. Otherwise we would not be in politics. But to improve a country is not the same as saying if it is not my way then the country must fall apart. So this is my answer. Please start to put Canada on the table each time we have a disagreement.

Bob Rae

I agree with Stéphane. I would put it a little bit differently because of my experience as premier. I think the first thing that we have to learn how to do as Canadians is really listen. Almost close your eyes and just listen to what it is you are hearing because behind some of the grievances there is reality and there are legitimate concerns and they have to be addressed. I agree with Stéphane when he says, "Let's not make addressing those concerns always a matter of national unity and always a matter about it's my way or the highway or my way or the breakup." But let's not make the reverse mistake of being seen to simply celebrate whatever is and then be interpreted by others as simply not being sensitive and listening to the concerns that there are. From my experience there are concerns in the provinces about the imbalance between the federal surplus if you like and the challenges that provinces face in dealing with education and health care and infrastructure costs for municipalities. These are real issues. They are not going to go away and they are always going to be there. That is not to say that you are ever going to meet a mayor or a premier who says, "I have enough money." You're not. It's a reality because they're always going to be looking for it. But the key challenge that we face, as I said in my opening remarks, is not to engage in abstract philosophical discussions about the nature of the country or the thought that there is one simple formula that we are going to be able to find that will resolve the constitutional riddle. It is much rather to deal with the practical real problems that we face and to deal with them in a thoughtful, creative, innovative fashion. And that it seems to me how you reduce the amount of misunderstanding and the amount of hard feeling that might exist. I will never promise that I will resolve these great issues in terms of grievances for all time, because no one will but I do think that if we face them practically and in a constructive spirit we can in fact reduce the amount of tension and we can increase the sense that this is a truly wonderful country and a great country to celebrate which is how I think we all feel about Canada.

Gerard Kennedy

I think we have to start with the premise that Canada is more than the sum of its parts. Confederation isn't just about the provinces asking the federal government for things. And if we've not feeling, and divisions can be real, that we are headed some place it is because we may not be. We need to have a unifying theme for this country. We need to see ourselves in my view as the country that will come to terms with globalization and actually influence those terms in favour of working families here in Canada and elsewhere in the world. It's again something we should not take for granted. Sense of purpose is important. I come from Western Canada. I grew up there and the sense that is there is real but it's not against Canada. It's in favour of a bigger Canada. It's in favour of a Canada that says if you grow up in Northern Manitoba or some other place maybe in Alberta you can actually be a part of leading this country. You are not an add-on. You are not the West. It's about fundamental respect. Whether we like it or not, the national energy program and the signing of the Constitution are real grievance points. But what lies beneath that is a sense of people wanting into a Canada that is up to more things. And I think we can be there. I think we should be at the forefront of reforming international institutions like the WTO, the United Nations. There is a peace builders group at the United Nations--the 10 countries most active in security and development--and we are not in the room. We are not doing enough anymore to qualify. We should be in that room and we should see our trade and our relations all linked to the one thing that makes us so impactful and I think Canadians in every province would agree peacekeeping is our reputation. We are the peacekeepers of the world in reputation but we have a heck of a lot more to give if we set that direction and draw all Canadians there. Those tensions will always exist but they will be diminished if we have chosen where we are going.

Amanda Lang

I've got a couple of questions now. I'm going to ask you to be as brief as humanly possible. If you can give a one-word answer give it. This is sort of the speed-dating portion of the event. In as few words as possible to all of you: we know Prime Minister Harper's position on gay marriage; he intends to open the floor of the House. As prime minister would you allow your party to vote according to their conscience on this issue and others like it? Why don't you begin Bob.

Bob Rae

We can never prevent people from voting for their conscience but in my view it is a party vote. It is a matter of human rights and we should be saying as Canadians that equal means equal and that means an equal right to an institution called marriage. That's what the Chief Justice of Ontario has said. That's what has been said by supreme courts across the country and that is what I believe in and I stand by it and I believe in it very, very strongly.

Stéphane Dion

I suspect you will not have a lot of disagreements among the eight candidates on this issue. It is a matter of human rights. It has been decided this way. Mr. Harper is revisiting it not only because of his neo-conservative ideology but because they want to weaken the Charter. You may know that recently they decided that the program that exists to help people to go in court when they are affected by a majority decision has been cut and why do you think they are doing that? I think we have a government that has an agenda. What they are showing to us today is nothing when you compare with what they would do if they were a majority government.

Gerard Kennedy

I agree that it is right and what I am concerned about is that a government would play mischief. This is about mischief. This is not a government with conviction that says it will use the notwithstanding clause. It's just plain mischief with Canadians. It's sowing divisions. There has been a vote. I'm not afraid of people voting their conscience on things they believe in. I don't think we should put that down but I think there has been a vote and Mr. Harper has no intention of changing except by surreptitious means, except by what Stéphane has implied, and I think that that should be resisted. I think that that shouldn't be part of the political vocabulary on its own. And I think Canadians have had a chance. It's been a difficult time in every riding across the country but I think that discussion has been had. The right needs to be upheld and Mr. Harper needs to be called out for what he's doing which is simply trying to play for his electoral advantage.

Amanda Lang

Another short one. We will hold you to it. Win or lose will you run in the next election? Gerard why don't you start.

Gerard Kennedy

Yes.

Stéphane Dion

Yes I already have a riding.

Bob Rae

Lucky you. Yes.

Amanda Lang

Three up. Good. This one is on immigration. Your position on helping qualified immigrants meet Canadian standards that allow them to employ the skills they bring with them and not have doctors and engineers drive taxis. Stéphane will you begin.

Stéphane Dion

This is something that we cannot miss because in 2010 100 per cent of the growth of our work force will come from immigration and I think other countries, some other countries, our competitors, are ahead of us about how to make sure that this work force coming from immigration is matching our needs as a country. And we are in a tremendously good position to succeed because we have control of the access to the country. If you are the United States with the border of the southern states you don't control anymore within without. You are in countries where you have millions and millions of human beings that don't have any status regarding the lie of the land. We in Canada have this capacity. It's why I released a platform, a policy paper, on how we may use more capacity in Canada to have an assessment of the jobs that are available in Canada and to help the people who are today in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, coming into these communities to go where the jobs are and to be well received and to have a year of adaptation that they need to feel comfortable. I think Canada must catch up about this issue.

Gerard Kennedy

It needs a stronger response than what Stéphane has outlined. Not very far from here, 2,000 PhDs, almost all of them foreign-trained, this month will turn to a food bank. The flip side of that is $6 billion lost to the economy, underutilization of skills. We need to be in a position to guarantee that we will close the immigrant success gap. We need to make sure credentials and experience are both recognized. We need to make that a national project and we need an officer, an advocate reporting to Parliament, on the progress for this, because it is different. We do need the immigrants to be here but it's also a promise we made to people who are here as new immigrants after 10 years of making less money today than they did in 1980 relative to Canadian-born. This is an important challenge for us as a country to succeed. It's good for us, the rest of the country, but it is also to me essential so that we have multiculturalism not just based on tolerance but based on respect. Giving immigrants a chance is something that the provinces, private sector and the federal government should be able to deliver with a guarantee to the people we invite and the people who are here already.

Bob Rae

I would make three points very, very briefly. The first one is we have to take another hard look at the point system to make sure that we have got the right people coming to fill the right spaces in Canada. I think we have to recognize that there are lots of job shortages at the moment and we don't in fact have the people who are willing and able to do those jobs coming. We have to face up to that as Canadians. The second thing we have to do is dramatically improve the information systems that we provide to immigrants before they come here and we should be working with our colleges and universities to make sure that in fact some training is going on in the countries from which people are coming so that we are not wasting time. People apply. It takes them two, three, four or five years to get permission to come and during that time there's not enough being done to make sure that they are able to make the speedy transition. And the third thing is it is not just a matter for the federal government. It is a matter for the provinces and I want to commend Premier McGuinty and his government for what they're doing with this issue. It is something that needs to be done in every province. We need to be taking a much more aggressive approach across the country on making sure that we break down these barriers. Yes, there is discrimination and yes, some professional organizations are still acting too much like clubs and they're not responding quickly enough to what needs to be an accountable process. The federal government and the provinces have to work with them to make sure that people who are qualified are able to get access quickly to the professional certification that they require and deserve. It is a very, very basic question for the country. If we are going to remain a country that's open to immigration, which I certainly want us to be, we have to make sure that we are a country that's also open to opportunity and to people being able to turn their qualifications into actual work in the fields for which they are trained and qualified.

Amanda Lang

Thank you. We are just about at time. I'm going to ask the candidates to use the next question as their summary statement. About one minute each. And this one is serious. It is from the floor. Why are you the best individual to fight and beat Stephen Harper in the next election? Why don't we begin with you Gerard?

Gerard Kennedy

Well listen, I happily take that on. I'm not even saying I'm better than the other people who are here. I'm just saying that I am the right person for these times. This is the time for our country to become energized. It is a time for our country to look at itself and see the positives but also not try to gloss over that we have people that have been left behind. That there is a need for average Canadians to really feel a part of their government. This is a trend we have been on for some time. I'm not saying that I myself can do something about that but I see myself as a different kind of leader. As a catalyst that can get people's confidence. I'm not delivering to those low expectations, the way that Mr. Harper is. I'm not trying to squeeze out everything in terms of making it all clinical and surface a few decisions that make it look like I'm decisive. I instead would try hard to engage Canadians in what we need--a real dialogue about this country, a real sense of where we can go. There are several specific things that we need to do. We cannot do everything but we can do them better if the country believes, if the country agrees, if we had had those hard discussions and we forged a consensus. This is not about government. It is not about leading the people in Ottawa. This is about leading the country and I have had that experience to engage Canadians. I have faith in them and they have rewarded that faith in whatever I've done and I think it's time for us, for Liberals in this crowd, for other people, leaders in business and other walks of life to have that faith too and let's bring this country forward. And on that basis I'm applying for this job and asking for your support.

Stéphane Dion

So we backed Stephen Harper but also because he has a vision and when it will become a majority government it won't be important if it happens we'll see this vision. For now he's hiding it, just sending to us some messages of what he would do. And I know that the vision that I have will be embraced by the Canadian people at the next election. This vision is the most generous, the most ambitious one you may have for your country which is to be sure that Canada will be part of the solution and not only part of the problem. For the issue of the century which is no less than to reconcile the people and the planet, Canada must be there. If a country like Canada does not do its share, does not give its share, who will do it? I know that Stephen Harper will not and Stéphane Dion will and I know that I will be able to build a great theme that will grow a party because I know this party. I have been there the last 10 years. I have been able to work with Mr. Chretien, Mr. Martin, with everyone. I have no enemy, only friends. I know that I'm ready, I'm ready to bring this party and this country together to be sure that Canada will do its share for ourselves, our children, the next generations and Canada's role in the world.

Bob Rae

Well in 1979 I moved the motion that defeated the Clark government and Mr. Trudeau was elected. And in 1985 I moved the motion that defeated the Miller government, the Conservative government, and Mr. Peterson was elected. So a hat trick is a great Canadian tradition. And I really believe that we now have in place a Republican conservative party that attempts to divide Canada every step of the way. It is not simply a government that appeals to the lowest common denominator. It is a government that appeals only to its own supporters. It is the most intensely ideological government we have ever had in our history and it is now blessedly only a minority government. I hate to imagine what it would be like as a majority government. So then the question becomes for the Liberal Party, "How do we defeat Stephen Harper?" Well, we defeat him by having a stronger vision ourselves, by putting the disputes of the past behind us, and by saying there's no room for arguments about personalities in the past. All we can have is unity. The second thing we have to do is recognize that unity has to extend beyond our own borders. We are not, as Gerard has said, a club; we are not a small group; we are a generous progressive thoughtful political party that believes intensely in appealing to yes, people who voted for the New Democrats in the past election. Yes, people who voted for the Green Party in the last election and yes, people who were Progressive Conservatives for a generation and two and three generations and feel they have no home left in Canada. It is up to the Liberal Party to provide that home and to provide that clear alternative to Mr. Harper. The next election is not going to be about protest. The next election is not going to be about punishment. The next election is going to be the clearest evidence we have ever seen on the difference between a progressive party and a party that is truly reactionary in its thinking and in the way it acts. Merci beaucoup. Thank you very much.

Amanda Lang

Our thanks to you all. It was a great pleasure and I don't see why we can't get question period down to an hour a day.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Dr. John Niles, Senior Minister, St. Andrews United Church (Markham), and President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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A Debate by Three Liberal Leadership Candidates


All three speakers were introduced, along with the moderator, Amanda Lang, co-anchor of Report on Business TV's "Squeeze Play" and Director of the Canadian Club of Toronto. Prepared questions were asked and then the floor was opened to the live audience. Each speaker had opening remarks. The prepared questions covered the following topics: whether or not we are doing the right thing in Afghanistan; the economy - specifically, what would each speaker do with a $13 billion surplus if it did not have to go to debt repayment. Questions from the floor: "National unity is threatened by feelings of western alienation, a rise in the separatist sentiment in Quebec and animosity exhibited in the Maritimes. How do you propose to unify our country?"; "we know Prime Minister Harper's position on gay marriage; he intends to open the floor of the House. As prime minister would you allow your party to vote according to their conscience on this issue and others like it?"; "Win or lose will you run in the next election?"; "Your position on helping qualified immigrants meet Canadian standards that allow them to employ the skills they bring with them and not have doctors and engineers drive taxis."; "Why are you the best individual to fight and beat Stephen Harper in the next election?"