Q & A with Manitoba Liberal leadership candidates

Meet Bob Axworthy, Rana Bokhari, and Dougald Lamont

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The Manitoba Liberal leadership convention will occur on Oct. 26. The Manitoban interviewed the candidates regarding their motivations and political aspirations for our province.

The Manitoban: What motivated you to run for leadership?

Bob Axworthy: I think it really came from in the last eight years, I’ve been working as a volunteer in the core [ . . . ] With the violence and horrible things being done in the core of the city, I couldn’t sit in my community close to the U of M anymore and not do something [ . . . ] This cycle of poverty has to be stopped [ . . . ] if you want to get involved in politics, that’s what you do it for.

Rana Bokhari: When I was in law school I was able to do a lot of fundraisers and organizing for events for causes I believed in, and I felt I was able to get thousands of people passionate about a cause [ . . . ] that public service, I live for it, and to me, this chapter in my life is just an extension of that.

Dougald Lamont: The main reason I’m running is [that] I’m concerned already for my kids [ . . . ] when you look at the economic scene for the average Canadian family over the past 30 years, even though the economy is growing, the average family is $3,000 worse off [ . . . ] [When I was in university] I actually lived with the experience of the government downloading debt onto students. [ . . . ] We’ve been kicking away the ladder for younger generations and we can’t keep doing it.

M: How do you see the Liberal party fitting into the current political landscape, amongst the NDP and Conservative parties? 

BA: I want to put the “liberal” back into the Liberal party. Fitting in is not how I would put it – it’s leading the way [ . . . ] The NDP has lost its way [ . . . ] I think it’s a little tired and needs some refreshing [ . . . ] as for the Conservatives [ . . . ] [they are] appealing to the basic denominator with taxes instead of social issues [and] equal opportunity for students.

RB: With me as leader, I would say we are going back to our true Liberal values: being socially fair and fiscally responsible; we are going to be the centre [ . . . ] We’re the party right now who doesn’t have a voice. [ . . . ] That being said there is an opportunity for someone with the right energy, right leadership qualities, that will stand up for youth. We’ve let other people run our lives for too long and we need to wake up.

DL: The PC, under Brian Pallister, is one of the most right-wing members of the party – economically and socially [ . . . ] As for the NDP, [ . . . ] they have a reputation for being well-intended, but when you actually look at their record—on childcare, poverty, or the environment—they haven’t been progressive at all [ . . . ] The Liberals have been able to strike a balance between economic policy and social justice [ . . . ] the two things that go hand in hand. [ . . . ] [To pay] for social programs and education, you need a strong private sector, but to have a strong private sector you need good education and health care.

M: How do we keep graduates at home in Manitoba and why is this important? 

BA: You [need to] have an economy and job base to keep them here [ . . . ] The government should be working with and making partnerships with entrepreneurial companies, and research facilities [ . . . ] U of M has some incubators but we need more of them [ . . . ] If you want to attract corporations here, you want a skilled workforce to show, “look, we have this bright, young innovative work force.”

RB: When I graduated, so much of my class left for better opportunities. A lot of it was because you can find the same job in Manitoba but go to Vancouver and Toronto and get paid more. What are the incentives to stay here? Are [youths’] opinions being valued? Is their creativity being valued? These are people who are brilliant, cream of the crop students, and in their own unique way bring value to the province. We need to let them thrive, and give them a reason to stay here.

DL: It’s all about opportunity [ . . . ] Sometimes people talk about it as if “oh, our best and brightest are leaving,” but the fact is that there is great work being done here in Manitoba, some that is world-beating work. Part of it is making sure people know about that and also that people are being paid adequately [ . . . ]. If you want to keep people here, we need to put wages up. [ . . . ] It’s not just good for the people doing the work; the best thing for small businesses is a customer with money in their pocket [ . . . ] For me, it’s about making the most of people, instead of making the most off people.

M: In what ways would you address emergency care wait times?

BA: It can’t be just answered in one scope [ . . . ]. I think about 17 per cent of our hospital beds are being taken up by seniors who are waiting to go into nursing homes at $350 a day [ . . . ] We should build new nursing homes, and we should get some money to do it today, because we’re already spending it [ . . . ] freeing up space for people who may be waiting in beds in the emergency [room].

RB: Increasing frontline services and distinguishing between emergency and urgent care [ . . . ]. We need to put something in place where people with urgent care issues have somewhere to go. We need to increase our spots in nursing, make sure our medical students are staying here and giving them reasons to stay.

DL: We need better triage, and [health care] needs to listen. There have been a number of times in the health-care system where there have been crises because people simply were not listening. With Brian Sinclair, there were members of the public approaching nursing stations and the nurses weren’t listening, and there are cases where nurses aren’t listened to. This can be fixed; there are other places that don’t operate in continual crisis.

M: Jon Gerrard released a report calling for a reverse on the current “apprehend first, ask questions later” approach to the child welfare system. What are your thoughts on this?

BA: In some ways, I think CFS [Child and Family Services], in terms of the policies, we should shut the door and throw away the key [ . . . ]. It’s an agency that has lost its way and direction. [ . . . ] We need to stop the apprehensions [ . . . ] let us fix the problems at home, get rid of FAS [fetal alcohol syndrome], work on early education. It’s a system that isn’t working [ . . . ]. It’s creating a whole other generation of kids living in poverty, which creates so many other social conditions.

RB: You know in law—family law, dealing with children—we always look at what is in the best interest of the child, everything that has to do with children. That is the rule [ . . . ] it’s one of those situations where the current government needs to address the issue. If there is anything to say about CFS today, it’s, ‘look at the situation and stop ignoring it.’

DL: I absolutely agree. The fact that we have 10,000 children in care, of which almost 90 per cent are Aboriginal, is a scandal. That number has only gone up under the NDP. Many of them are housed at hotels for over $300 a night, which is more than the housing allowance for a month. [ . . . ] Keeping families together is very important for children, families, and the future of our province.