Liberal leadership hopefuls tackle housing, electoral reform during Vancouver debate
Housing, electoral reform and the Idle No More movement were among the subjects at the centre of a debate in Vancouver today (January 20) between the nine candidates running for the leadership of the federal Liberal party.
The first in a series of debates between the contenders featured little in the way of verbal sparring, as the candidates mainly took jabs at the Conservative government rather than singling out their fellow leadership opponents.
But there was a clear division between Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray and the other candidates on the issue of electoral cooperation. While Murray supports working with the NDP and the Greens in certain ridings to avoid vote splitting in the next election, the other eight leadership hopefuls voiced their opposition to the idea.
“Canada is too important to let Stephen Harper win the election in 2015,” said Murray. “We’ve got to get rid of Stephen Harper, and that’s what my cooperation plan is all about.”
“It’s not enough to just replace Stephen Harper with somebody else,” countered Montreal MP Justin Trudeau. “We have to replace him with a very, very clear vision of where we’re going forward.”
During one of several debate questions focused on aboriginal issues, former MP Martha Hall Findlay and lawyer Deborah Coyne both called for the Indian Act to be repealed.
“Of course we need thoughtful transition,” said Findlay. “But this is a representation of a paternalistic and colonial attitude that has to go.”
Marc Garneau, a Montreal MP and former astronaut, said the Idle No More movement is sending “a very clear message to government”.
“That message is: you’re not listening,” said Garneau. “Whether it’s housing, drinking water, education, women who have disappeared or been murdered, or whether it’s consulting when we in Ottawa write legislation for the people of Canada and do not consult with aboriginal people—we have to begin to listen; we have to have that dialogue.”
Other questions posed by audience members at the event attended by about 900 Liberal supporters centred on topics including the environment, First Nations economic development, Pacific Rim trade, social housing, and reform of the electoral system.
Trudeau outlined his support for a preferential ballot, stating it would "change the tone of politics completely". During a discussion about housing, Murray renewed her call for the legalization of marijuana, suggesting revenues generated from controlling and taxing the substance could help fund a national housing strategy.
In his closing comments, Garneau called the leadership race a "critical time" in the life of the Liberal party.
"The Liberal party needs a strong leader," he said. "Leadership is the product of your life experience—it's what you've done, it's what you accomplish, it's having a proven track record."
Trudeau, meanwhile, positioned the moment as an opportunity to bring forward "a new generation of leadership".
"There’s a palpable sense that politics can be exciting again, and it’s great to be a part of, because this is about not us as Liberals, but us as Canadians," he said.
In addition to Trudeau, Garneau, Murray, Coyne, and Findlay, the other candidates in the Liberal leadership race are former MP Martin Cauchon, lawyers George Takach and David Bertschi, and retired Canadian Forces Lieutenant Colonel Karen McCrimmon.
Debates are also scheduled to take place in Winnipeg, Mississauga, Halifax, and Montreal. The new leader will be selected on April 14 in Ottawa.