Tuesday, August 15, 2006

An interview on the issues with Stephane Dion

On Friday I had a phone interview with Stephane Dion and we covered a wide range of topics, from education and party reform to urban poverty, the fishery and sustainable resource development.

Thanks to those who suggested topics for the interview, as you'll see I asked questions on a number of them.
While I tried to approach the interview with my journalistic hat on I am a Dion supporter, just to make my bias clear.

And thanks to Denise for arranging it. Also, check out Blogging Tory Greg Staples' podcast interview with Dion. Cherniak indicates a Blogging Dipper interview is also in the works.


I wanted to start with the issue of post secondary education, as regular readers will know it's one I have a keen interest in.

I first asked if he would support a dedicated, and increased, transfer to the provinces solely for post secondary education. He said the Conservative government seems poised to move on its campaign promise of a dedicated transfer this fall and said he supported that move.

"I would improve the core transfers to provinces but it would not be my priority. My priority would be direct help for students and for research."

He indicated the area he would particularly like to tackle is the issue of the indirect costs of university research. When a university gets a grant for research that only covers core areas, and universities are forced to scramble to cover the indirect costs that come with the grant work, such as computers, travel, and wages for support staff.

Dion said these indirect costs should be paid by the Federal government as much as possible. When he entered polit
ics the Feds covered 0 per cent and, thanks to the hard work of John Manley as Industry Minister, that has now reached 24 per cent and was set to reach 40 per cent under the Innovation Agenda championed by Prime Minister Paul Martin. In the U.S. though, he said the figure is 70 per cent.

"This is the best way we can help graduate students and research in Canada. We cannot be competitive for very long if we don't try to be as close as possible (to that percentage)."

Next I asked about student assistance, and specifically the renewal of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. He said he would look at the role of the foundation, expressing concern about some less than positive reports on the foundation in a report from the auditor general, but he said student assistance must be maintained, and increased.

"I will certainly commit myself to never seeing a drop in the amount of money we give to help students. Do we need to in
crease help to students? Yes. We need to target the people in need especially, and the people that cannot commute from rural and remote areas. I think the federal government must find a way to focus its help for the people that have more need. We want to help everyone, but especially them."

I thought he seemed quite strong and passionate in the area of education for aboriginal Canadians, noting there's a clear federal role to be played there, and committing to ending the waiting list for Aboriginal Canadians to attend university. Dion said he would give them a "passport" so they could study wherever they wanted, right away.

"Now you have a waiting list, and you loose people. A teenager of 18, 19 years old, you ask them to wait six to eight months before they start, how many of them do you lose? This is unacceptable to me."

He also committed to expanding apprenticeship and trades training programs for Aboriginal youth that don't want to attend university.

"We need to help them have a profession much more than we are now. It's important that they are part of the labour force."


Dion said he was very concerned about this issue, and indicated it was the impetus behind one of his major policy planks.

"It's why I've said, under my watch, there will not be an additional GST cut. It would be a $5 billion a year cost to the Government of Canada for you to pay 40 cents less when you're buying a shirt."

Instead, Dion said he would put $4 billion into the Child Tax Benefit to increase the help per child from $3000 to $5000.

"I'm told by the Caldeon Institute with that I will bring 800,000 kids and their families out of poverty."

He said he will also create a $1000 tax credit to help the working poor to jump over the welfare wall but added it's not just money, but services, that are needed.

"(We need) to stop this disgrace of so many kids in poverty in Canada, especially in urban Canada."


I noted that the fishery has long been a contentious issue, particularly in B.C., with sports fisherman, commercial fisherman and Aboriginal fisherman all going after a limited resource, and tensions rising. I also noted the lack of trust in the management acumen of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans by all sides, and mentioned Harper and Jim Prentice's divisive and inaccurate statements about ending so-called "race-based" fisheries policies, and I asked what he would do to build trust in the DFO and to try to bring peace to these competing stakeholders.

Dion began by strongly rejecting Harper's race-based comments.

"It's based on historic differences between Canadians, and it's wrong to say (it's race based). He starts with that, but it's where he wants to go, and we need to say 'No' right away. (Could there be) accommodations found on the ground between different types of fisherman? Yes. But not to challenge the rights of Aboriginal Canadians to have recognized their constitutional rights."

From a management perspective he said we need to put the resource first, otherwise there's nothing for anyone to fish, indicating the need for more science and more monitoring, which he said would be his first priority on the file.

"For me, it would be oceans and fisheries much more than fisheries and oceans. We need to first have healthy oceans to help the fisherman before it's too late. It's a world catastrophe now for the fisheries. Ninety-per cent of the big fish have disappeared around the world. The sustainability of the fishery will be at the core of my fishery strategy."

He also indicated he would "be very open" to the idea of moving many of the Fisheries department scientists and staff out of Ottawa and to the coasts, to be much closer to the on the ground situation.


I asked about government support for the creation of value-added industries around our resource sectors. The shipping of raw logs out of Canada for secondary processing is a good example, by creating more secondary industries in Canada (i.e. Making those raw logs into furniture) we would create more jobs here in Canada and get more value from our limited natural resources.

"I'm a strong supporter of the regions of Canada. In my vision for the country the territory is very important. We can't all be packed in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, we will suffocate. For that you need sustainable industries and technological capacity, and it's why I'll work very closely with the resource regions of Canada."


Lastly, I asked about party reform, and specifically if he would support the adoption of some form of a one member, one vote system for future leadership conventions.

"We may come one day to want one member, one vote but I would say at least, as long as we're so weak in rural Canada, it would be a mistake for now. It's very important for a candidate like me to have an incentive to campaign everywhere, rather than just try to have many votes in Montreal. (There needs to be) an obligation to convince people in Lac St. Jean or Northern Ontario or Northern Alberta, even though we may only have 75 members there. Otherwise, our capacity to win the next election will not be the same. It's important for all the candidates to understand all the regions of the country."

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Mike said...

Nice shot of the Arts Tower (oh now I've dated myself!) or the Dunton Tower or whatever the name for it is at Carleton now....

Good post Jeff.

Steve V said...

Good job Jeff. Quite alot of substance.

burlivespipe said...

A lot of good questions. No doubt Dion is one of the better versed when it comes to policy ideas and where the gov't falls short now.
Wondering if you were going to post on Bevilacqua's move yesterday -- I know you prefer to downplay Rae as a candidate but don't you think he received a boost yesterday -- maybe not in members but at least in credibility and legitimacy among Ontarians and centre-rightists? Certainly if Bevilacqua (or anyone else) had jumped to Dion we would have read your opinion here -- and calls that Dion had 'bought' their support (as some people have theorized)!

A BCer in Toronto said...

Thanks all. I think it's still Dunton Tower, but it's been a few years for me too.

Burl it seemed every blogger and their mother had a post on Maurizio yesterday, I didn't feel any need to jump on the pile with a post of my own, particularly since I don't have anything new to add.

In short, though, it's a good pr hit for Rae, and nice symbolism, but in the long run won't mean much. On the surface they seem like an odd fit, but I buy Chernaik's theory re: Sobra and the Chretien links to both Bob and Maurizio are obvious.

The real question, though, is can Maurizio convince whatever supporters he as to follow him to Bob, and that Bob shares his seemingly contradictory views on economic policy. I'd love to hear his pitch there, but I don't think it will work.

It will still be Iggy and Dion with Kennedy nipping on his heals imo.

Anonymous said...

Off the topic, I know, but the photo of Dion is really very nice. It should be used for his campaign.

Zac said...

Great interview Jeff. Thanks for asking my urban poverty question. Its an important issue for me being in Hamilton and all.

I liked Dion's comments. He is certainly my second choice and I would be very pleased if he won.

Lolly said...

LOL I'm a mother and blogger but I am not a blogger's mother. I did not post on the resignation or the endorsement because it isn't that important in the long run.

I find the issues that bind are Education ( Post secondary) poverty and sustainability all so intricately twined like a spider web, the big complication is implementing solutions that are effective and having the political will to make them happen. Not necessarily in the order I have them.

What I would like to see is more action less pontificating.