The following was originally written for The Other Press, but unfortunately failed the deadline. It has been since edited and posted here for your reading pleasure. Here’s an exception to the rule I mentioned in the previous post.
Let’s start with an anecdote on timing: I intended to buy a general-audience ticket to the federal Liberal leadership debate in the days leading to the event at the Westin Bayshore hotel (which I confused with the one near Canada Place). Unfortunately, all the tickets were sold out, perhaps months before the event, and the only tickets available were the ones for the post-debate reception only. It was thus a fortunate thing that this first in a series of debates between candidates for the leadership of the current third party in the House were broadcast en direct on the major news networks, including the not-much news-oriented CPAC, on which I mostly watched the debate.
Now that we’re done with this attention grabber, the debate can be summarised as mostly located on the centre, with little bulges to the left and right. The nine candidates – four women and five men, five relative knowns and four unknowns – faced the audience and each other on questions around Aboriginal issues, Pacific trade, electoral cooperation, social housing, electoral reform and resource development. For the most part, the candidates’ responses showed the classic centrist commitment to combining ideas from the left and right, though in some cases clear left-right positions showed, more notably perhaps in the case of two women, Joyce Murray and Martha Hall-Findlay.
If there was any stark difference that came up between the candidates, it was on the issue of electoral cooperation with like-minded parties against the Conservatives. Alone amongst the candidates, Murray advocated and prioritised electoral cooperation with the NDP and Greens to defeat Harper in the next election, while the rest insisted on the capacity of the Grits to defeat both the current government and the Official Opposition, whether through its abilities of inclusion and fielding a candidate on every riding. Nearly all of them supported electoral reform, mostly in the form of preferential voting. Concerning Aboriginal affairs, most of them expressed support for the Kelowna Accord, which surprised me. Consultation and partnership with Aboriginal peoples, the need for their economic development and government support for the latter prevailed in the discussion, with Hall-Findlay and Deborah Coyne calling for the abolition of the Indian Act. Some of the candidates cited Idle No More and its positive impact.
The topics of social housing, Pacific trade and resource development dominated the debate and provided for interesting comments. One heart-touching highlight of the event was a woman’s story of how social housing helped her recover in life. The need for a national housing strategy, review of current housing programs and provision of affordable social housing were mentioned, with Justin Trudeau citing economic growth as an important step towards the latter. Support for increased economic ties with the Pacific by some candidates was tempered by others’ expressed desire to protect Canadian sovereignty and interests, most notably by Murray. On resource development, ideas mentioned included disincentives and incentives in favour of sustainable energy, “greening” of oil sands products and domestic oil processing. Some of the candidates, such as “tech” candidate George Takach, supported a carbon tax, with Justin wisely avoiding to call it as such.
As mentioned earlier, Murray and Hall-Findlay represented clear left-right positions during the debate, more so for Murray. If she was alone on support for electoral cooperation and marijuana legalisation, Hall-Findlay was alone on support for a Western pipeline. The two differed also on the issue of open markets vs. sovereignty, not to mention Hall-Findlay’s emphasis on fiscal responsibility. Overall the event was a largely cordial affair, with polite exchange of views and a bout of nice banter between a few guy candidates involving science.
What can be said of all this? Personally, there is no problem with being a centrist, as long as it benefits the Canadian people most. Of the candidates, I liked Coyne and Murray the most due to their nationalist positions. Word of that day: “evidence-based policy.” And did I say Justin sounded a little to his dad’s right?