About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Liberal Roundtable Part II

From left to right: Kathleen Wynne, Carolyn Bennett, Frank Valeriote, Liz Sandals, and Karen Redman.
Photo By Anna Muselius

Here’s part two of my roundtable with Frank Valeriote, Liz Sandals, Karen Redman and Carolyn Bennett. In this half we get into Federal/Provincial relations, problem solving and more on the by-election

Now I turned to Sandals and asked her if the relations between the province and the Feds is really as frosty as it appears. I mention Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s comments about Ontario being the last place anyone would want to invest in.

“What I find is that people really resented that,” Sandals says, adding that Ontario is the economic engine of the country historically, so why would you go out and deliberately attempt to undermine the confidence in the economy of the country’s largest province? “The feedback we’ve gotten at the constituency office has been really quite angry about some of the comments he’s said.”

Sandals also says that her government has spent the last five years cleaning-up from Flaherty’s style as finance minister in Ontario and repairing the structural deficit they inherited. She also said that she fears that something similar will happen to the Federal treasury before Flaherty is done. “There’s a sense that traditionally that Conservative governments are good managers and it’s just not borne out by the evidence, certainly not here in Ontario.”

“I think ideologically they want the cupboard to be bare so that they have to cut programs because they don’t want to support programs,” adds Valeriote who referred to the cut to PromArt, the program that funds Canadian artists to go overseas. The announcement to cease funding PromArt was made that morning.

Sandals believes that the Federal Tories are looking for someone to blame the downturn in the economy on, and in their mind there’s no one better than Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Redman calls it retail politics. She says that the Feds are looking for niches to exploit: artists, women’s groups, activists, and then disenfranchise them. She also accuses the Harper government of employing the politics of personality, the way they’ll use a personal barb at the person that asked a question, rather than answering the question.

“I think that’s one of the reasons that all Canadians look at politicians right now, they listen to Question Period and they’re disheartened,” says Redman. “That’s not what they expect from the seat of democracy. This is very sad time for Canada and this [upcoming general] election will determine what kind of country we’ll be for decades.”

“We all try and figure out what we have to do for our community,” adds Bennett. She says that the solutions to the country’s problems have to be dealt with from the bottom-up, and refers to her collaborative work with her provincial counterpart, Michael Bryant, as an example of working together to get things done.

“I think that the future is going to be citizen-centred federalism,” says Bennett. “The citizen is represented by three or four levels of government, knows that those representatives are going to represent the interests of their families and their communities and do the best they can as opposed to running around and blaming someone else for why it can’t be done.”

“Ultimately what the citizen wants is you to solve problems,” explains Sandals. “With so many of the issues; a piece of the puzzle is municipal, a piece of the puzzle is provincial, and a piece of the puzzle is federal. And if you’re going to solve the problem you need the people in all levels working together.”

Sandals added that she and Valeriote used to co-chair the joint committee of the two school boards in Guelph; Valeriote for the Catholic and Sandals for the public. The Guelph MPP says that she looks forward to rebuilding that partnership should Valeriote win the by-election.

In the meantime, Redman will remain the steward of the Royal City until someone is elected to take her place. I asked her about her role as the substitute MP. “The Guelph office is open for business as usual.” she says.

“Brenda Chamberlain was a great representative of this community since 1993 and she has a great staff there and they’ll continue to serve the constituency of Guelph until September 8th when the people will express their wish as to how we go forward. So the office is open as usual, the staff is there to answer questions concerning any Federal issues, I’m there to sort of oversee it and they shouldn’t see any difference in how they’re serviced in the community.”

I asked Valeriote about what he was looking at heading into the last month of the campaign, and if he’s feeling the grind on the trail, he didn’t show it. “I’ve been doing this for two years and I’m remaining focused on September 8th,” he says enthused. “We’re focusing on getting out, meeting people, discussing the issues and sharing with them what we think the solutions are.

“I’m telling people that I want their ideas,” Valeriote continues. “I had a wonderful conversation yesterday who had some great ideas for improving healthcare. She’s a librarian here at the University and I asked her if I could plagiarize her ideas and she gave me permission. I mean that’s the beauty of running a campaign, it gives the opportunity to coalesce everything you’ve been studying, everything you’ve been working towards, it brings it all together. I’m actually excited about this next month.”

As for the youth delegates at the conference, I asked the panel about what they were hearing as to what the important issues are. Redman says that the Green Shift has been huge with the young people, adding that the environment has historically been a topic that they have cared a great deal about.

“This Green Shift has engaged people as well,” adds Valeriote. “Once people understand it, they appreciate the effect and they embrace the whole idea of the Shift. That’s been my experience at the door.”

Bennett says the she’s appreciated the fact that a discussion of women’s issues happened in a plenary session as opposed to a workshop for a change. “It’s usually the add-on in the room you can’t find,” adds Sandals jokingly.

There’s been a great spirit here, says Bennett, as the 250 some young people are all looking and talking about the future. “We will have to decide between a Dion government that listens and uses all the talents in the caucus and in his cabinet, listening to citizens bottom-up, or whether it’s a Harper administration.”

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