A Look Back At the GTA Liberal Leadership Debate

Rahman Mohamed

On February 16, the Liberal Leadership race came to the GTA at the Toronto International Centre to debate in English and French about the role of the federal government within the federation, the future of the middle class, and income equality, transit and infrastructure, job creation, research development, funding and innovation, immigration, international trade, and reconnecting with Canadian voters.

Before the Debate, campaign teams were seen outside the hall. All candidates were offering free buttons, pins, and brochures. Martin Cauchon was at his table before the 1:00pm debate, shaking hands and giving out socks. Unfortunately for Justin Trudeau, the candidate with the youngest campaign team, his gear had got caught stuck in traffic and not many people were at his table; even after the debate he didn’t have any policy literature.

When the debate started, the audience was filled. But not just with Liberal supporters who had signed up to vote; young liberal members – officially registered, who had paid membership fees, and were involved in provincial and federal Liberal politics. Two of them were young seven year members who both supported Trudeau.

Although many young supporters were seen, they weren’t the majority.

Different from the Winnipeg Debate, the GTA Debate had two formats. Part 1: One candidate challenged another in English or French and s/he responded in either language. Part 2: Three candidates hold the stage and answer questions sent to the party.

The first pair to take the stage was Trudeau and Marc Garneau. Trudeau defended Garneau’s challenge about his ability to relate to the middle class by speaking of his experience as an MP in Papineau, Quebec.

Next up: Martha Hall Findlay vs. Martin Cauchon. Cauchon challenged Findlay about employment. Findlay spoke about Globalization.

After that David Bertschi challenged George Takach on the topic of Canada’s shrinking population and labour force. Saying that his family were immigrants, he said that he’d use the world, adding that immigration would bring families back together because.

After Joyce Murray and Cauchon spoke about the Indian Act, Deborah Coyne and Garneau entered the topic of reconnecting with voters, Coyne beginning her question with her policy, a referendum to Canada. Garneau responded, saying electoral reform is needed (movement from a First-Past-The-Post to a Preferential Ballot system), but not a referendum.

Trudeau took the stage again, speaking with Karen McCrimmon speak about infrastructure and transportation for the first time. McCrimmon said (in French) that transit “is a need for many Canadians” and cooperation is needed at all levels of government.

After some debates about trade (Bertschi-Findlay and Murray-Takach) the topic (Cauchon-Coyne) reverted back to unemployment, Coyne specifically speaking about the youth unemployment rate.

The return of Garneau-McCrimmon saw the first round of Harper bashing. After asking McCrimmon about her view of unity in the Canada and hearing her say a leader needs a vision how she would lead, Garneau said, “Harper doesn’t like to do is sit down with the premiers … right now we have a government that chooses to dominate; we need a government that chooses to cooperate.”

Next up: Murray and Bertschi, talking about Joyce’s NDP merger. Joyce said she didn’t want to merge, just cooperate to help the middle class.

After that Coyne and Trudeau spoke about immigration. Coyne asked Justin about his stance on immigration, saying that the “immigration system is no longer national; potential immigrants face a patchwork of federal and provincial programs.” Justin replied saying that he wants cut immigration but does want to encourage immigration outside of the GTA.

George and Murray changed the focus to youth unemployment, saying that it is a big issue. George spoke about using the economy to reconnect to the youth and give them jobs.

When Cauchon and Garneau took the stage, infrastructure and Harper bashing reappeared. Speaking in French, the two both spoke about infrastructure debt in municipalities and that the Harper government has no long-term vision.

National unity was the focus with Trudeau and Bertschi on the stage. It progressed to post-secondary education, Trudeau speaking about a national post-secondary opportunity grant – not just for university, but for apprenticeship too.

Following McCrimmon and Coyne policy agreement about income inequality after a brief uncomfortable silence – how to reduce it and how it would improve the economy, Findlay and Murray took the stage to talk about immigration; Murray said she wanted to boost immigration, while Findlay said not just anyone, immigrants with skills.

Takach and Cauchon returned to the floor to discuss trade and wrap-up round 1.

Part 2

Round 1: First on stage: Cauchon, Trudeau, and Murray
Question: (from a former MP): “If you were the Prime Minister, which immigration policies introduced by the Harper government would you continue to support and which would you change?”

Cauchon answered by quoting Chretien, saying “immigration make a tremendous contribution to our country” and reuniting families. Trudeau spoke of Harper “commodifying immigrants”. Right after that Murray said “we are all going to be in agreement” about bringing people to Canada to succeed. But she said that she’d change the way they’d come.

Round 2: Takach, McCrimmon, and Findlay.
Question: “Do you think that federal funding for things like healthcare, infrastructure, and education should be tied to specific goals that the provinces and territories must achieve?”

Findlay began by saying that Harper has no leadership, “He writes a cheque and says I don’t want to have anything to do with it … In over 6 years he’s met with the premiers once.” Takach responded to the question, saying “I would not let Rob Ford have the keys to the vault,” adding “we absolutely need to make sure that the money is well-spent and that it’s serving the region, but we have to do it in a partnership with the province, with the municipality.” McCrimmon said “First step is to find a common vision. Every single level of government has to acknowledge that it exists to serve the Canadian people.” After that the Harper bashing began again.

This was the last time in the debate the topic of infrastructure appeared. One 46-year-old man from Mississauga said there wasn’t “enough in-depth coverage for infrastructure.”

Bertschi, Coyne, and Garneau, reappeared on stage, and the topic switched to trade.
Question: “What complete steps do you propose to initiate as leader of the party to harness the world’s largest markets like China and India?”

Bertschi spoke about a “Pan-Canadian” approach to invest more in technology and research and catch up to India, China, and the USA, later adding that we have to have “focused trade”. Garneau said we have to “vigorously engage with Asia through the trans-Pacific partnership”. Coyne said “International trade with Asia is essential”

Round 4: On stage: Trudeau, Garneau, Takach
Question: (In French) Unemployment with young people is at an all-time high. If you were to be Prime Minister what would be your job creation strategy with the youth?

After Trudeau spoke about creating opportunities for the youth, Garneau spoke about a revised student loan repayment policy saying Trudeau had “caught on”. Takach spoke about creating the Carbon Tax to get more money and then using it to create new jobs.

Round 5: On stage: Trudeau, McCrimmon, and Bertschi
Question (a Harper bash): “We are alarmed and disgusted by Stephen Harper’s mean-spirited narcissistic politics. We’re sick of it. How or can you bring integrity back to Canadian politics?”

Bertschi was the first to take the floor, saying “We have to have Code of Conduct in Parliament”. Later adding that we can’t wait to till the next election, we have to do it now. Trudeau continued Bertschi’s earlier words, that politicians have to listen to Canadians and that he would be “the first leader of the Liberal party to allow every single riding across to pick their representative of the Liberal Party” and spoke of transparency. After giving the root of the word integrity (comes from the word integral, “meaning whole, meaning align”) McCrimmon said what the Liberal party needs to do; but to do that it needs to “earn people’s trust, saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and doing it.” She also spoke of reaching out to all Canadians.

Round 6: On stage: Findlay, Murray, Garneau
Question: “What is your vision for how the federal government will provide stable, predictable, and long-term funding for municipalities in order to keep Canada competitive in our economy growing”

Findlay spoke about reviewing the entire tax program, at the provincial, federal, and municipal level, and allowing municipalities to tax on growth. Garneau argued that long-term needs to be viewed; it has to be predictable and sustainable. Murray simply spoke about doubling the amount of gas tax that goes to provinces and municipalities.

Round 7: On stage: Bertschi, Findlay, Cauchon
Question (In French): How does income inequality represent a growing problem in Canada?

Bertschi began the round by saying that inequality is growing. Findlay said that inequality is not just in income but in opportunity too, speaking of national daycare and affordable housing. She also said that Canada, her “society is not a class-based society”. Cauchon spoke of wealth distribution – “the rich are getting richer and the middle-class are sliding towards much tougher situations in terms of income.”

Round 8: On stage: Takach, Coyne, Cauchon
Question: “What will the Liberal Party have to offer to my generation in order to capture our interests and garner our support?”

Cauchon took the floor saying the party would reach out through job creation and “providing a standard of living that will be second to none”. Takach continued, saying he was “glad that came in online because as the tech Canada that’s how I feel most comfortable.” He went on to say that “we need real jobs” not just tree planting, got a couple of “boos” from the crowd, but saved himself saying that tree planting is a “great experience” bringing a lot of laughs but continued, saying that “we need to bring that all together into a youth unemployment plan”. Coyne said that “the youth of this generation need to know that we have their back”; they feel as if they’ve been forgotten about and are worried about their future. After Coyne spoke about young people in her campaign volunteering, working for free, Takach spoke about bringing coop to more than just the engineering and the computer sector saying “we have a 26% youth unemployment problem”. Cauchon followed, saying that he agrees with Coyne that youth are in “a circle of part-time work”, that companies need to give new employees full-time employment when they’re hired. Cauchon ended the round saying immigration system is changing “so that it’s harder for young Canadians to get those jobs”.

Round 9: On stage: Bertschi, Takach, Murray
Question: “Do you have any plans to help small businesses with the cost and process of hiring their first employee?”

Bertschi took the lead, speaking about not just changing the tax plan but providing incentives to hire youth. Tackach kept up his technology campaign, saying 40% of Canadian businesses don’t have a website and helping grow websites would help youth unemployment and underemployment too.

Before answering a question she was “happy” to hear Murray “invited” George “up North to plant some trees”. She said that Canada is made of small and medium-sized business, business that Harper has failed. After Bertschi said that the youth of today were worried about jobs because they weren’t available because “the government of today is not looking at the jobs of the future,” Murray spoke about increasing money in research, saying that it “goes on in all companies … (including in tree planting)”.

One 21-year-old from the University of Guelph said that “It’s good that they’re talking about youth issues,” but a 25-year-old from U of T said “Everyone said something about youth employment but nobody said anything specific.”

Round 10 brought a return to the tax system

On stage: Findlay, Trudeau, Coyne
Question: “Do you think our tax system is adequate to meet the global and economic challenges we face. If no, how would you change it?”

From the start Findlay wanted to talk about the middle-class so she said “so we’ll turn it around on to how that affects the middle-class”. But after that she spoke about making Canada a competitive place to invest. Trudeau spoke about changing the corporate tax system back to the Chretien-Martin era, one that is attractive to corporations and does not carry “boutique” taxes for corporations. Coyne agreed with both, saying the “tax system needs to be cleaned out” because it is tied to the economy.

It was after this that the highlight of the debate appeared. As Findlay took the floor again she said to Trudeau, “You keep referring to the middle-class. You yourself have admitted that you actually don’t belong to the middle-class. I find it a little challenging to understand how you would understand the challenges facing other Canadians.” Before she could even begin asking “When did Canada become a society of class?” she was faced with the greatest number and loudest “boos” of the day. But after she said that, “We need to talk about equality of opportunity. Every Canadian wants a job. Every Canadian wants a future for their youth, for their children. Every Canadian wants to make sure that we have an equality of opportunity”, she was met by some scattered applause.
Trudeau defended himself using his early experience and nomination as an MP in Papineau, Quebec, saying that he told them that he wants to put everything he’s received “in the service of my community”, a statement met by thunderous applause.
When given an extra 10 seconds Coyne said “I’m not going to contribute to that exchange; I think we have to move on; we’re talking about the economy; we’re talking about opportunities; and we’re talking about Liberals getting back into the game and back into leading this country.” Applause from the audience was received.

Round 11: On stage: Garneau, Cauchon, McCrimmon
Question: “Should Canada’s top immigration priority be driven by what works best for Canadian business and the economy including short-term or long-term or temporary immigration of skilled workers or by encouraging those seeking a better life to immigrate, seek citizenship, reunite families, and contribute to the national fabric of Canada.”

Cauchon began, saying “we need to have a balanced approach”; letting people immigrate for human rights and having skilled trade workers, adding that the Harper government “is closing the door”

Before beginning his argument, Garneau said “Let’s not be petty Canada. Anybody in this country who wants to run for the leadership of this country should not be looked down upon in way whatsoever regardless of their financial income,” – a statement greeted by an applause from the entire crowd. The only thing he was able to say was that the Harper government is “an angrier government, a meaner government”, that it’s not the one for immigration; he began speaking about reuniting families but his mike went dead, and he was greeted by applause.

McCrimmon’s turn, saying “They’re both right; we need a balanced approach and comes down to people.” Immigration is about connecting with people and the government today doesn’t connect with Canadians and people. Temporary foreign workers might be needed at some times but today we need new citizens. At each pause McCrimmon was greeted by applause.

Garneau did get another chance, saying that right now “there are over 4 people working for every retired person. 20 years from now, with our current fertility rates, unless we increase our immigration it’s going to be less than 3 people working for every retired person. We need immigrants in this country. We need to increase the number. We need to welcome them to Canada. That is what we have done in the past and that is what we should continue to do.”

Before leaving the stage, McCrimmon ended her day and the GTA debate by saying that right now Canada has “the politics of division; that’s not what Canadians deserve; we deserve the unity of leadership and that’s what the Liberal party has been able to give this country in the past, the unity of leadership, and so that’s why today we need to be able to pick a leader of leaders and all of us in the Liberal party need to become those leaders.”

By: Rahman Mohamed ©

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