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April 12, 2013

The leadership of the Liberal Party

The Canadian Charger

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Nine contenders were in the running in the current contest for the leadership of the Liberal Party. The Canadian Charger's Reuel Amdur had the opportunity to speak with three of them, including front-runner Justin Trudeau.

The first one, David Bertschi, I interviewed in his law office when he was running unsuccessfully against the Tory incumbent, Royal Galipeau.  He appeared to be a “liberal” Liberal, having been for a time a prosecutor for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, but his disagreement with Galipeau was largely parochial—what Galipeau did not do for the riding in the way of jobs, projects, and the like.  However, on the big issue, where Michael Ignatieff scuttled the deal with the NDP and the Bloc to sink the Harper government, Bertschi indicated that in such a situation he would do what was best for the country.  The implication is obvious.  Bertschi recently withdrew from the race.

Martha Hall Findlay was attending a conference of the National Council on Arab Canadian Relations when I met her.  The fact that she would attend such a session, where she was not even an invited speaker, already speaks to her openness and daring.  After one of the more militant speeches, she expressed concern, telling me that that is not the kind of talk that will get a hearing at the political level.  I countered that the opposing views, equally if not more forceful, seem to be acceptable.  She reiterated her reaction.  Politics is not a level playing field.  She has her eye on being effective.

Then came Justin Trudeau.  Lily Ryan, editor of the West Quebec Post, sent me to a speech he gave at Wakefield Quebec’s Black Sheep Inn.  “Ask him about health care,” she said.  Eventually, she did not use the piece I sent because she had already run an article about his appearance in nearby Gatineau, but the interview is interesting.

Trudeau was confronted with the problem faced by many in West Quebec who, because of the scarcity of doctors, go across the Ottawa River for medical services in Ontario.  Quebec alone among the provinces does not fully reimburse out-of-province physicians.  It only pays the lower Quebec rate, leaving the patient to pick up the bill for the rest.  He was asked if this practice is a violation of the Canada Health Act.  He admitted that he was not sufficiently informed on the issue to respond.

Next he was asked about what is generally seen as the failure--post-Romanow report—of the federal boost in health care funding to deliver the needed results.  Would he favor attaching strings to federal funds for health care? 

His response?  “We would meet with the provinces.  The provinces do what is best for their citizens.  The federal responsibility is to insure that services are equal across the country.”  This response represents quite simply a failure to understand the issue.

He also spoke of the Harper government’s unwillingness to engage with the provinces.  “Chrétien and Martin held many meetings with the provinces.  Harper does not.”  While Chrétien and Martin met with their provincial counterparts, they unilaterally cut billions from transfer payments, with serious consequences for health care, including driving of many cashiered nurses to jobs in the United States. 

Much of the media commentary has tended to depict Trudeau as an airhead.  Perhaps with reason.

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