The tele-townhall last night with Winnipeg-North Liberal candidate Kevin Lamoureux and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was for the residents of Winnipeg-North, but I got a chance to listen-in on the questions and answers. And as I’ve said before, it’s always informative to see the questions regular Canadians ask when they have the opportunity to question politicians without the media filter.
And this tele-townhall format is pretty cool. It’s been all the rage lately. They were a big part of the successful Rob Ford mayoral campaign in Toronto, and other municipal campaigns used them too. The Liberal candidate for Vaughan, Tony Genco, had one recently with over 8700 participants. How it works is an automated call goes to residents in the geographic area, and they’re invited to participate. If they accept, they’re put into the live townhall, and get the opportunity to ask a question and listen to the questions and answers of others.
Lamoureux’s tele-townhall Wednesday with Ignatieff for Winnipeg-North residents was a definite success, with many diverse questions during the one-hour session and more people waiting on the line that there wasn’t time to get to. Over 2100 people listened-in on the townhall, and I counted at least 16 questions asked and answered.
The topics were diverse. Crime was probably the top issue, but there were also a couple of questions on education, the economy and deficit reduction. Some questions were pointed and some of the answers weren’t always what the questioners wanted to hear, but it was a very civil and social exchange. This kind of tool is going to be big in the next election.
Questioners wanted to know about specific measures to combat crime.
Lamoureux said crime is definitely the number one issue at the door. People have the right to feel safe in their homes but sadly we have too much crime and measure must be taken. He noted he was the only local politician who petitioned against the closure of the local community police office when it was closed, and he said we need to get more people and police involved at the community level. He was disappointed Stephen Harper’s promise to put more police officers on the street doesn’t seem to have included Winnipeg, and said we can’t just talk tough on crime, we need to get tough on the causes of crime.
Another questioner asked about tougher punishment for crime.
Ignatieff said we need to be tough on crime, and he has never hesitated to support tougher sentencing, recognizing the terrible shootings and other incidents Winnipeg-North has had to go through. We need to be tough on gun crime, but also tough on defending the gun registry which the Conservatives want to gut but the police say is needed to fight crime. We also need to make sure youth feel safe, finish school, and get more training and education after high school and stay on the right path so we don’t lose our youth to gangs and drugs. We need more police resources, the gun registry and tough sentances, but we also need to commit as a community to keeping those kids on track and if we can do that, we can crack this crime problem.
A questioner was very much opposed to the gun registry and the money spent on it, feeling it should be scrapped and the money utilized elsewhere.
Ignatieff agreed the registry cost too much to set up and money was wasted, but added now it is very inexpensive to maintain and every police chief he has talked to across the country says they need it to keep communities safe. He’s with the cops on this one, not the Conservatives. He agrees on the point about consequences and sentencing, but said we also need to build a community where we stand up for and help each other.
Lamoureux added the registry’s implementation was a disaster and a case study in what not to do, but what he is telling people at the door is that police forces across the country, including Winnipeg’s, are accessing it thousands of times daily, it’s inexpensive to maintain, and police say it’s an important tool they want to keep.
A questioner asked about working with church groups in fighting crime.
Lamoureux said he’s been a part of the kids club at his local church for many years, and it’s a wonderful way to get young people doing positive things. He encourages faith-based and other groups to get involved, because the more groups we can get involved taking responsibility for our communities, the better off we’ll be.
On another question about crime coming in from other neighbourhoods, Lamoureux said he’s a big advocate of community policing. We need to identify where the high-risk offenders, particularly youth, are and build a relationship between them and the police. It’s a small percentage of people committing a large percentage of the crimes, and we need to get targeted. He also mentioned championing ankle bracelets as an MLA.
The first question of the evening was actually on making post-secondary education more affordable.
Ignatieff added the next Liberal platform will have a specific, costed commitment to enhanced assistance for post secondary. You get the grades, you get to go. We need to take any barriers off the table, particularly for aboriginal Canadians. The platform proposal won’t get all the way, but it will be a “heckuva big jolt” to make it more affordable.
The economy was the topic of several questions. On reducing the deficit while revitalizing Winnipeg, Ignatieff said the Liberals set a target to reduce the deficit in the 1990s and achieved it, and it will do it again. He’ll start by cancelling the corporate tax giveaway to large businesses because we’re not talking small businesses we’re talking about big businesses that don’t need another tax cut. He also wants to revisit the $16 billion untendered stealth fighter purchase, saying by putting it to competitive tender we can get a better deal and save money. What we don’t want to do, he said, is cut spending that benefits Winnipeg North residents. He want to safeguard education and community services and work with the provinces to protect public health care. He’s worried the Conservatives will reduce the deficit on the backs of the average people of Winnipeg, and said the Liberals have a better plan.
Asked what a Liberal government would do differently to stimulate the economy, Ignatieff said the government’s focus on physical infrastructure was good but it politicized the program by diverting funding to Conservative ridings, which was wrong. He came back to education again, calling it a key way of stimulating the economy both short and long term. He doesn’t have 27 priorities, just a couple, and one of them is education. We can’t create the jobs of tomorrow unless we ensure Aboriginal Canadians get more education, that new Canadians get language training, and that we train people for the jobs of tomorrow. We also need tax incentives so companies can invest in new plant and manchinery to become more productive, and to get the economy more green we need a green retrofit tax credit for families.
A student of social work asked about helping the poor. Lamoureux said this is a very real issue and there’s no single way to tackle it. One is making access to food a basic right. Also crucial is affordable housing. There’s a huge demand for affordable housing and we need to be more creative coming up with ideas that will work and enable people to participating in housing projects. He mentioned he used to see a lot more co-op activity, something that could be revisited.
A questioner asked why the Liberals aren’t supporting the F-35 purchase. Ignatieff said his problem is there was no competitive bid, and no national discussion on what we need to replace the CF-18. We need to replace them to protect our sovereignty, and we also need to make sure we guarantee jobs for our aerospace industry. The way to do that is have a competitive tender, which will get better value for money, and allow us to demand a better deal for our aerospace industry. With the Conservative mishandling of the F-35 we’re missing out on the opportunity to get value for money and protect jobs.
Lamoueux added the aerospace industry is an important industry in Winnipeg, and we need to make sure it’s protected for the long-term. The way to do that is a competitive bid.
Seniors and pensions
A questioner asked about improving retirement security for pensioners. Ignatieff noted a Liberal government oversaw the re-financing of the CPP in the 1990s, but 75 per cent of Canadians in the private sector have nothing but the CPP, and it won’t provide them with the income security they need. The Liberals want to set up a supplementary CPP that someone in the private sector could put money into. It would be managed by the CPP, who have a solid track record and low management costs. If we don’t encourage people to save more, he said we’ll have a real problem. The Conservatives have done absolutely nothing about improving retirement security for Canadians.
Lamoureux added seniors have a right to enjoy their retirement yeas. Too often he talks to seniors who can’t afford a meal out once a month with their grandchildren. We need to get more money into senior’s pockets, because they deserve better.