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December 2, 2010

Ignatieff's Liberals

Scott Stockdale

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After being introduced as the next Prime Minister of Canada, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff took the stage, during a standing ovation, at The Annual Peel Red Leaf Dinner - a fundraising event held in Mississauga recently.

He began by telling the adoring crowd of 800 that Ignat Kaneff – the man who introduced him – came to Canada as a poor immigrant with nothing in his pocket – like Mr. Ignatieff's father – and made it big in real estate and development; and there was a lesson in this anecdote for all.

“Strike the steel; strike the steel; never give up. It's a pretty good lesson for the Liberal Party.  Fight hard! Fight often! Win for Canada!”

After reminding the audience that many groups of people have suffered discrimination and persecution and have recently seen other members of their groups suffer such hardships, in other parts of the world, he pointed out that Muslims, Christians and Jews were among the people present in the room together – something he said is possible in only a few countries in the world.

Noting that Canada is a country where people can enjoy freedom, equality and dignity, he asked the audience: “Do you know who made that possible?” and then he answered: “Pierre Elliot Trudeau, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

He added that everyone in the room is equal to everyone else (in the room) and “Equality for everyone in this room, that's what I'm in politics to fight for.”

One can only hope that this was a slip of the tongue and what Mr. Ignatieff really meant was that he was in politics to fight for equality for all Canadians, whether they were Liberal supporters or not, and whether or not they could afford a $100 a plate fundraising dinner.

After this above-mentioned rallying cry, Mr. Ignatieff criticized the Harper government for running up a $56 billion deficit and spending $1 billion, in 72 hours, at the G20 – money he feels could have been put to better use.

“I would like to have spent that money on helping families look after ageing and sick relatives.”

He criticized the Harper government for losing the air base in the United Arab Emirates - which he described as a $300 million dollar mistake - which is adversely affecting our brave men and women fighting in Afghanistan; and then he went back to championing past Liberal government accomplishments.

“Mulroney left us with a 42 million dollar deficit and the Liberals got us out of it. The Liberals did it once and the Liberals will do it again.”

After Mr. Ignatieff's speech, I was introduced to John Delacourt, manager of Multicultural Outreach, in Mr. Ignatieff's office. Mr. Delacourt said he was acting as the press secretary for the evening.

I asked him why Mr. Ignatieff abstained from voting on Bill C300 recently – a bill to enforce corporate responsibility on Canadian mining companies operating overseas - and he said he didn't know; but I  could email him and he would get back to me. 

Not knowing the protocol for a fundraising dinner, I asked Mr. Delacourt if I could ask Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla a question, and he replied: “By all means; she's right over there.”

After approaching Ms. Dhalla and waiting my turn, I introduced myself, said I worked for the Charger and shook hands with her. She greeted me cordially, but her demeanor changed when I asked her why she was absent for the vote on Bill C300. She told me to email her office and they would reply to my question.

While she was speaking the words of CAF vice-president Ali Mallah rang in my ears: “The days of principled politicians are gone. They're all opportunistic now.”

Meanwhile, before I had an opportunity to ask any follow up questions, Ms. Dhalla's Community Outreach and Liaison worker intervened in defence of his boss, and told me that I could email my question to him and he would reply.

He explained to me that this was a fundraising event and answering a question from a reporter wasn't the sort of thing Liberal MP's do at such events. I'm very curious what Ms. Dhalla's answer will be - if I'm fortunate enough to get one.

Meanwhile, it strikes me as a rather odd response from an elected representative in a liberal democracy like Canada's is supposed to be.  What is she hiding? Could it be the truth?

Moreover, Mr. Ignatieff actually provided an answer when I asked him why he abstained from voting on Bill C300.

“I don't vote on private members' bills,” he said. “It goes back to my predecessors in the party. I voted on the gun control bill, but that was brought forth by another party. John McKay did a good job putting it (Bill C300) forward, although it was flawed.  We intend to make corporate responsibility a priority when we form the government. We've been very clear on that.”

I remember thinking that I couldn't imagine Trudeau giving such an answer and then I recalled the words of Conrad Black when he wrote, in the National Post, that the days of the Liberal Party of Mackenzie King, Pearson and Trudeau are gone; and they won't be returning in the foreseeable future – if at all.

As of 2008, 75 per cent of the world's exploration and mining companies had their headquarters in Canada – and for “good” reason: Canada is one of the few, if not the only, developed country in the world that doesn't have legislation in place to hold corporations responsible for their actions in foreign countries – even the United States has the Alien Torts Act to enforce corporate responsibility in foreign countries.

Meanwhile, around the world, these Canadian incorporated companies are being accused of abuse ranging from health hazards to local populations, to sexual assaults, and to assassinations of protesters.

For example, the Norwegian government pulled its investment out of Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation when it was revealed that mercury build-up at a mine in Papaua New Guinea was threatening with the health of local populations.

Meanwhile, Mr. McKay noted that the Conservative government mounted a fierce last-minute campaign against Bill C300. That along with about a dozen Liberal and several NDP and Bloc Quebecois members being absent, allowed opponents to defeat the bill by a vote of 140-134.

However, notwithstanding the defeat of Bill C300, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt acknowledged in Parliament that the bill has merit.

“It's laudable. We all support corporate responsibility,” she said, although she voted against the bill. “Every Canadian wants to see our companies follow the highest standards when it comes to the environment and human rights, especially if the company is representing Canada.”

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