Thanks to Rob (and Denise?) for organizing the blogger-Dion conference/interview.
Mr. Stephane Dion impressed me as a person of integrity, sincerity and hard work. I think he has a clear vision of the Canada he wants to build, and is willing to listen to others and is open to debate, in making Canada work. He is proud of Canada as she is now, is proud of Canada under the previous Liberal governments, but acknowledges many things can be improved. Although I have not heard enough from the other candidates to make an endorsement yet, Mr Dion looks to me to be a capable man. He tried to be diplomatic about the other candidates but stressed that what sets him apart from the other candidates vying to be Canada's most successful party's new leader is experience. Some of his answers were very impressive - and even after a long time in politics he is yet to be touched by a scandal.
"I have 10 years of experience as a minister." He repeatedly stressed. "I would not be ready 10 years ago. I am ready now." He pointed out some of his achievements (Clarity Act being the most important, followed by various treaties and agreements between the federal and provincial governments). In his words, he 'brought the world together in Montreal to save the environment while Mr Harper is breaking the world apart'.
The conference started with him praising the bloggers and many of us thanking him for taking time out to speak to us - average common Joes (albeit with a website). Over the hour, many topics were discussed such as Kyoto, immigration and French Canada. I will recap the two questions that I got to ask him, and summarize the others.
Q:We have so many foreign professional doctors/nurses immigrating to Canada yet we have a doctor/nurse shortage in the rural communities and cities because these doctors are working odd jobs and cannot practice medicine. If elected leader, what will you do to rectify that?
Mr. Dion acknowledged that this is one area Canada should vastly improve its record in. For immigrants to be fully productive and contributing to the economy, he would speed up recognition of their credentials. While many candidates say the same thing, Mr. Dion offered three processes that he wants to implement.
First, he wants to boost the Canadian embassies abroad to process the immigrants faster, recognize their credentials on the spot and lobby for them. In my opinion this approach immediately decentralizes the processing of credentials, making it faster and more efficient, while giving the immigrants a solid idea of where they will start on entering Canada. It's a good idea.
Second, Mr. Dion told me at the moment - Canada has no inventory of shortages of jobs. We do not know where are the jobs that are not being filled, where are immigrants being missed. He said this is something he would work on with the provinces.
Third, he would encourage immigrants (perhaps by providing incentives - Mezba) to move away from the big three (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) where they have helpful communities to smaller cities such as Winnipeg where they are needed and also would face less competition.
Q: There is no help for young people in Canada, as it seems they don't usually vote so politicians don't usually care. We graduate with a huge student debt, earn lower starting salaries, pay higher taxes and get few (if any) deductible benefits. Do you have any plans to help us out?
When I asked this question I also pointed out that Mr. Scott Brison (another candidate) had said he would change personal taxes to eliminate the welfare trap and help young Canadians by making the first $25,000 a year earned during the first twelve years of their working life tax free.
Mr. Dion did not commit to a similar idea, but said he would provide incentives for young couples to buy energy-efficient homes and appliances (green products). However, rather than promise help for young people as a whole, he said he would increase the Child Tax Benefit as much as possible (without going to deficit) to help needy families with kids.
On the topic of environment, Mr. Dion said had Mr. Gore been the next President of the United States, the world would have been in a much better state (environmentally) and we all would have been closer to meeting our Kyoto targets (as Mr. Clinton was a big supporter of the treaty). He said 'it is never too late for the environment'.
On healthcare, Mr. Dion believed it a constitutional right for Canadians to have access to health care. However, with costs going up 5%, he was open to new ideas to innovate the management, as long as your wealth did not affect the health care you are eligible to receive. He also said drug approval in Canada is too slow, and even pointed us that Canada did not have the scientific ability to quickly test new pesticides to inform the cabinet whether the pesticide would be harmful to the environment.
On electoral reform, Mr. Dion preferred the German model (which he tried to explain but I did not get). He recognized the problem with proportional representation as too many parties, unstable minorities and frequent elections. On senate reform, he was not in favour of an elected senate (which would lead to stalemates) but would support term limits (6 years, he said).
On being a team player, Mr. Dion said even while the famous Chretien/Martin fight was going on, he himself faced a nomination challenge as some people wanted him out of his riding. Yet, he said he managed to resolve the issue without bringing it to the front pages, as that would have 'hurt the party'. He said while personal convictions are important, it is equally important to be a team player.
He also stressed that he wanted ordinary Canadians to help him out.
"When you have a vision it doesn't mean you have the answer to everything," he said. "I am open to ideas."
On aboriginal issues he said it was a shame the Kelowna agreement was cancelled. Lawyers were the ones making the most out of land disputes, according to him. On national debt he alerted us that by 2010, we could have a ratio of 2.5 workers supporting 1 retired person if problems are not resolved. On crime, he refused to acknowledge Canada has a serious problem with violent crime, calling it a false propaganda. He said while crime has increased, we still have very safe streets. He criticized Mr. Harper for playing games with a serious issue, calling his recent proposal to criminalize street racing a photo-op, when, as Mr. Dion pointed out, we already have a similar law on the books.
He criticized Mr. Ignatieff for voting to extend the Afghan mission, for reasons I mentioned here and here.
On the whole, I was impressed with what I saw and heard. I did not find his English too hard to follow. He would need to make shorter speeches and provide sound bites for the TVs during an election. I also perceived him to be the 'greenest' candidate so far. I would encourage everyone to examine his record and experience when voting for a candidate. After all, as he said, he did not just 'come out of the academy and try to be a leader'.
Bloggers who participated in the conference:
A Canadian Leaf
A View from the Left
The Steel City Grit
Views from the Left
Tags: Stephane Dion Liberal Party Canada