Politician Profiles

Interview with David Bertschi

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Federal Politics, Interviews, Politician Profiles | 4 Comments

After brunch with David Merner and my trip to the George Takach launch, my tour of lesser known Liberal leadership candidates lands on David Bertschi today.

While not an “official” candidate yet, Bertschi has been campaigning longer than most. He was the first candidate to launch a website, and even released a Hollywood-style trailer in March.

The transcript below highlights the majority of my phone interview with David Bertschi a few weeks ago. A few paragraphs were edited out to keep it a reasonable length, but I’ve included all of his major points.

What’s the 20 or 30 second elevator pitch for why David Bertschi should be Liberal leader and Prime Minister?

Our country and our party is at a crossroads. We need experienced, principled leadership so we can take the fight back to Stephen Harper in 2015 and win back government.

What’s the winning coalition the Liberals need to speak to in order to win back government? Are we going after the west, Quebec, soccer moms, unengaged voters, who is it?

Canadians from all walks of life who are not smitten or in love with the left or right wing ideologues. That could be farmers and fisherman in the east coast, or hard working prairie folk who don’t like a government that spends with reckless abandon, or environmentalists who care about our planet and our country.

At the end of the day our social fabric is being eroded. In my day, it didn’t matter where you came from, you still had good access to health care. You didn’t have to be born in the upper crusts of society to get a good education and not be horribly in debt. You didn’t have to be connected to change the course of government or a political party.

That’s the Canadian advantage.

It didn’t matter where you came from, what language you spoke, what kind of access your folks had. If you worked hard, and kept your nose to the grindstone, you got a good education and got a job in your field. Today it’s bad. I was just out west, and I met tons of people who are overqualified for the job they had.

It seems this government has lost touch with the average family and the challenges they face.

What can the government do to help young people get jobs in their field?

You have to make education far more widespread. You have to create jobs, and you create jobs not only by investing in technology, but by offering incentives for businesses to keep Canadian jobs in Canada.

There are a number of policies we can adopt, but the simplest thing is to keep our taxes at a reasonable level, and when businesses come in you don’t give them significant subsidies and let them walk out with the money.

Similarly, you manufacture and refine in Canada, which is what Peter Lougheed said was the best way to deal with our natural resources. That’s recommended by experts out west, and it’s also what people in the ring of fire in Northern Ontario are looking at.

That Lougheed reference segues nicely to the next question. You mentioned you were going out to Alberta, what do you think the recipe is to make the party relevant in Alberta, or win in Alberta, or whatever the target may be?

The Liberal Party in the past has made a number of mistakes. I’ve said this for the last two, three, four years – we have to admit our mistakes, apologize for them, and move on.

We also need to look at it in a realistic way. Mr. Harper has mastered the top-down dictation of policy. We have to build policy from the ground up and work with the grassroots to understand their problems. So when I’m going out west, I’m looking at how we get people engaged and make them feel the Liberal Party is the right vehicle to help turn the country around.

Mr. Harper took over one of the biggest surpluses in history and before the downturn he had already squandered that surplus. Then when we found ourselves in an economic recession, he said it was a good time to buy stocks. Then he proceeded to spend money with reckless abandon, he grew the federal government by 40%, and now he cuts with reckless abandon.

That’s where I feel Liberals can gain traction. We have to do what’s right. We can’t just look for the quick fix. I was taught as a young person there’s no such thing as a quick fix. We need hard work. We can’t do weather-vane politics looking to catch the public’s fancy on a certain issue and running with it. It’s about what’s right, what makes sense, what the experts say, and how it’s going to impact Canadians on a day-to-day basis. It’s a principled approach, and that’s what we need.

What do you think of the other candidates in the race so far?

Each and every one of us want to have a better Canada and I have a lot of respect for anyone regardless of their affiliation who wants to represent their party or community.

It’s not about David versus Justin, it’s about offering Canadians a real choice. From my perspective, I look at it where we have to engage Canadians and the electorate from the grassroots. We need to provide Canadians with a real alternative and that’s something we haven’t done in the past few years. We need to stand up for what we believe in and counter punch.

Some of these candidates, let’s be honest, have a lot of backroom support. This race shouldn’t be about who you know, the Liberal elites, or the backrooms, it needs to be about the grassroots. We’ve got a supporter system so any Canadian can go online, sign up, and vote free of charge for the next leader of the Liberal Party. It’s a great democratic approach and I think it’s going to be a real eye opener for a lot of the pundits.

For my last question, you may remember the CBC did a reality show a few years ago where they asked people to name the “Greatest Canadian”, and there was everyone from David Suzuki to Don Cherry on the list. Who would you nominate as the greatest Canadian?

Greatest Canadian? Probably someone like Billy Bishop. Greatest Prime Minister? Probably Lester B. Pearson.

Billy Bishop because I think of our veterans who come home after having fought so valiantly and so hard – they’re true heroes who put their lives on the line, and I have a lot of respect for them and their families.

Pearson parked his ego at the door and brought in some incredibly bright individuals and let them shine. That’s what Parliament should be about.

Thinking About David Bertschi

The Bertschi campaign is a tough one to figure out. If you were “just visiting” Canada and didn’t know a thing about local politics, you might think David Bertschi was the frontrunner. He has the best website of any candidate, he speaks well, and generally has well thought out policy positions. His answers above are very much what you’d expect from a seasoned politician.

But to me, that’s the largest flaw of the Bertschi campaign – he’s running as if he was the frontrunner, when he clearly isn’t. His answers and policy positions are safe, and I still don’t really know what “the story of David Bertschi” is – what it is that sets him apart from the field.

I’m not advocating he propose sending seniors out on ice floats to perish, but he needs something to define himself around so that voters take notice. Deborah Coyne is the policy wonk. Joyce Murray is the co-operation candidate. Even Karen McCrimmon has an interesting backstory, as a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Canadian Forces. But at this point, David Bertschi is really just “that guy with the flashy Youtube video”.

Make no mistake, the potential is there. Bertschi was one of the hardest working candidates in Canada last election, he feels strongly about issues, and he’s an engaging speaker. If he figures out what he wants to make his campaign all about, and he might surprise.

Meet David Merner

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in --- 2013 LPC Leadership Race, Federal Politics, Interviews, Politician Profiles | 12 Comments

David Merner, or as he will soon be known to Canadians watching Liberal leadership debates – “that guy standing next to Justin Trudeau”

On Sunday, long shot Liberal leadership candidate David Merner sat down for brunch with a few Toronto area bloggers, for an informal chat about the future of the Liberal Party. Merner is best known as one of the “unknown” leadership aspirants, so if you’re looking to better know him, I’ve summarized the highlights of our conversation below.

Merner on Mergers

Merner has been labelled as the “merger candidate” by some, but he quickly dismissed that, preferring the term “co-operation candidate”. He readily acknowledges that Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair don’t play well with others, so any co-operation will likely be limited to the Greens at first (unless the Rhinos are looking to play ball). He’s open to the idea of “non-compete” agreements or joint nominations, but only if they’re agreed to by the local ridings.

Personally, I get the argument for these type of deals when the math makes sense, but my worry is we’ll see them primarily cut in unwinable ridings. You’ll never rebuild dormant ridings by giving up on them, and if you don’t give voters the option of voting Liberal, they might not come back when you do run a candidate. It would be akin to a professional sports league shutting down for a season and assuming casual fans won’t move on. And we all know that would never happen.

The Winning Coalition

One question I plan to ask every leadership candidate is how they see the “winning Liberal coalition” forming. Are we going after Ontario, soccer moms, high income Dippers, Cougar Town fans?

Merner sees the greatest opportunity for the party in Quebec. He concedes an Albertan-turned-BCer might not be the intuitive choice to win back La Belle Province, but he gave us his pitch about being able to relate to Quebecers because there are both literal and figurative mountains between BC and Ottawa. More importantly, he gave that pitch in pretty good french.

On the flip side, he also sees Western Canada as an area for growth, and feels having a Western leader would help there. He even mused about running in Edmonton.

The Issues

Merner is all for pot legalization, favours cutting payroll taxes, and plans to make the environment a central campaign issue. He favours putting a price on carbon but doesn’t like the bureaucracy of cap-and-trade, so…I’m guessing that means a carbon tax, albeit one branded using a slightly less toxic name.

Of course, as we were reminded this week, the Conservatives will call anything a carbon tax, so maybe the best approach is to just be upfront about it. Tell people that you’re taxing polluters and every cent raised will be used to cut payroll taxes – then let the voters decide.

The Northern Gateway?

He plans to run hard against it.

Microtargeting Liberals Who Care About Microtargeting

Despite the aforementioned policy talk, Merner’s key campaign message is that the Liberal Party needs to embrace microtargeting if we ever want to form government.

Agreed. I’m not sure I’d make it the central pillar of my leadership campaign, but we’re in agreement.

My Thoughts

On the whole, I like David Merner a lot. He isn’t delusion and recognizes he’s a “dark horse”. He has a good understanding of politics, speaks frankly, and recognizes the dire situation the Liberal Party finds itself in.

In many respects, he comes across sounding more like a candidate for Chief of Staff to the Leader than a candidate for leader, but it’s not like he’s devoid of substance or vision. He has a good sense of what the party’s core value proposition should be (“Liberté, égalité, fraternité“) and has the makings of a solid platform framework. We’ll have to see how he comes across at rallies, on TV, and in debates, but he spoke with conviction and communicated his message well in our small, informal brunch setting.

No, he won’t win, but Merner is compelling enough that he should have no problem mobilizing many of the same “co-operation” groups who came out for Nathan Cullen during the NDP leadership race. If you’re looking to place a bet on which of the “unknown” candidates will perform best, then Merner is likely the frontrunner at this stage.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: Everyone Take a Step to the Right

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 ALP leadership race, Alberta Politics, Politician Profiles | Leave a comment

The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey.

Today, the final part of a series profiling the candidates. (Previously: Bruce Payne, Raj Sherman, Hugh MacDonald, Laurie Blakeman)


Background: Harvey was a Campaign Coordinator for Laurence Decore’s leadership bid in 1988, and dropped Decore’s name nine times in the open letter declaring his candidacy. So for those of you trying to design an ALP leadership debate drinking game, you’re welcome.

Harvey ran as a Liberal candidate in both the 2004 and 2008 elections, and made history the second time, becoming the first Liberal to be ever endorsed by Craig Chandler’s ultra-conservative PGIB group (for those unfamiliar with Chandler, here’s some delightful background about him).

In the real world, Harvey works in Calgary, in the Financial Services Industry.

Video: Harvey wasn’t a declared candidate at this May’s ALP convention, so I didn’t get a chance to interview him. However, you can view a video of Bill on his website.

Online: Harvey has the basics and a functional website, but has a modest online presence. Follow the links to see his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Can he win? Harvey is the biggest wild card in this contest – and that’s saying a lot about a leadership race that includes Raj Sherman. While Harvey’s PGIB connection may hurt him among some Liberals, it’s impossible to deny Chandler’s organization has the ability to sign up hundreds, if not thousands, of supporters in Calgary if they put their mind to it. I have no way of knowing if they’re heeding Craig’s call to support Harvey – after all, most PGIB members would sooner listen to “Friday” on repeat in the 5th corner of hell before being even remotely associated with the Liberal Party…but it would be presumptuous to rule out Harvey as an also-ran.

My Take: Harvey is the only candidate I haven’t met, so there’s only so much I can say about him. He does, however, appear to be a capable speaker from what I’ve seen online.

As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, Harvey has made no secret about his rightward leanings. Included in his policy platform is “creating a provincial police force, a freeze and review on bureaucracy spending, tossing corporate welfare programs, more charter schools, defending the oil and gas industry, and tough new child pornography laws”. Some of these are certainly valid proposals, but they’re not exactly the kinds of things you’ll hear from Laurie Blakeman’s platform.

So if you think the ALP needs to take a giant step to the right, Harvey is probably your man. Personally, I think the Alberta Liberals need to break the perception they’re a tax and spend party (when they’re clearly not), but Harvey’s PGIB connection and rhetoric worries me. That’s probably unfair to Bill – after all, he’s been an active supporter of the ALP for over 20 years and has been approved as a candidate by the party establishment twice. And perhaps a rightward shift is the only way the Liberals will ever form government.

But without knowing more about him, he’d most likely rank 5th on my phantom ballot.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: Laurie 4 Leader

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 ALP leadership race, Interviews, Politician Profiles | Leave a comment

The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey.

Today, the fourth part of a series profiling the candidates. (Previously: Bruce Payne, Raj Sherman, Hugh MacDonald)


Background: Like Hugh MacDonald, Blakeman has sat as a Liberal MLA since 1997, holding an impressive collection of portfolios. She has been a strong critic of the Tories, gaining prominence in 2004 when she asked Ralph Klein to provide travel receipts from recent trips and Ralph went off the rails, asking her over a dozen times if she was calling him a liar.

The former actress is still quite involved with arts and culture groups in Edmonton, and is married to city councillor Ben Henderson. She has been a strong proponent of encouraging women to get involved in politics.

Video: Clips from my interview with Laurie in May.

Online: Blakeman has gone as purple as can be on her website, trying to capitalize on Nenshi-mania. Although she only signed up for Twitter at the start of the contest (like most of the candidates), Blakeman has made an effort to engage Albertans online in the past, with a fairly active Facebook account and over 400 videos on her constituency YouTube channel.

Can she win? Blakeman has been around long enough to have a following inside the party, and she has no doubt been able to sign up a large number supporters from left-leaning organizations. However, I get the sense her support is concentrated in downtown Edmonton – the new rules giving ridings a maximum of 500 points in leadership contests will hurt her more than anyone else.

My Take: I do like Laurie – she’s a great MLA, and she fights passionately for issues that myself, and all Liberals, care deeply about. She is experienced, having served as Deputy Leader under both Kevin Taft and David Swann, and is the most polished candidate in this field.

All that said, I probably wouldn’t rank her above 3rd or 4th on my ballot if I were voting. Blakeman is just seen as too left-wing to appeal to voters outside Edmonton and the biggest opportunity for the Liberals right now is on their right, not their left.

For more on Laurie, you can read her answers to CalgaryLiberal’s candidate questionnaire here.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: Hugh Can Do It

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 ALP leadership race, Interviews, Politician Profiles | Leave a comment

The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey.

Today, the third part of a series profiling the candidates. (Previously: Bruce Payne, Raj Sherman)


Background: First elected in 1997, Hugh has been the Alberta Liberal Party’s Ted Kennedy in recent years – unabashedly Liberal and unafraid to speak out. As Hugh’s bio points out, he has a perfect legislature attendance record during this time period, something Jack Layton would no doubt be proud of.

Prior to entering politics, MacDonald worked in the oil and gas industry.

Video: My interview with Hugh from May.

Online: MacDonald’s online presence is relatively modest, with around 140 Twitter followers, 60 Facebook likes (and 580 friends), and a bare bones website.

Can he win? Early on I discounted MacDonald as a 4th or 5th place finisher in this contest, feeling he didn’t have the organization in place to sign up many new members. But people I’ve talked to have been impressed with his campaign, and I’d guess his supporters, the staunchest of Liberals, will be the most likely to vote.

He has establishment support from the likes of Nick Taylor, Ken Nicol, and Debby Carlson, and his fiercely Liberal reputation may appeal to members who are worried about an outsider coming in. I doubt he’ll win, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him as high as second.

My Take: I’ve never really visualized MacDonald as a future ALP leader. I’ve always found him a bit too “scandal-obsessed” and he has a tendency to go off on weird tangents – at May’s leadership forum, he made putting the constituency name on party membership forms his flagship leadership plank. Maybe it’s a good idea, but it’s not exactly “Yes We Can” stuff.

That said, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of MacDonald as the leader. He is, hands down, the best speaker in this field, and a bushy haired Maritimer from the oil industry would help break the party’s “university professor” imagine. MacDonald would fire up party loyalists, and his soundbyte attack dog style could help the ALP earn back some of the headlines they’ve lost to the Wildrose.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: The Doctor is in

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 ALP leadership race, Alberta Politics, Politician Profiles | Leave a comment

The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey. To vote, simply register here as an ALP supporter by August 19th.

Today, the second part of a series profiling the candidates (previously – Bruce Payne).


Background: Sherman moved to Canada from India at a young age, and has lived in Edmonton since the 1980s, attending the U of A and then staying to practice as an emergency room doctor. According to his rateMDs reviews, he was a pretty good one (one review states “McDreamy is an understatement“). Sherman took the plunge into elected politics in 2008, riding the Stelmach wave across Edmonton and taking back Edmonton-Meadowlark for the PCs.

So how did the good doctor go from PC backbencher to ALP leadership frontrunner in under a year? Well, it all comes down to his very own Kai Nagata moment last November, when he fired off a late night e-mail to his entire address book slamming the Stelmach government’s Health Care record. Suffice to say, that was it for Raj in the PCs, and his move to the Liberals was a natural fit.

Video: I didn’t have a chance to video interview Raj during May’s ALP convention, but I include a mash-up of Sherman clips from the all-candidates debate conducted that weekend:

Online: Sherman has a fairly standard website, 570 Facebook supporters, and 2000 followers to what is a mostly mundane Twitter feed.

Can he win? I’d peg Raj as the front runner. Despite being a newcomer to the ALP, he has federal Liberal connections and has signed up a slew of new supporters. The big question for Sherman is how successful he’ll be outside of Edmonton and how he’ll place on the preferential ballot – after all, with 5 strong candidates, it’s unlikely this one will be decided on the first ballot.

My Take: I worked with Raj on the Gerard Kennedy campaign in 2006, and he’s certainly a likable chap. However, as his departure from PC caucus and subsequent claims of corruption, bribery, and cover-ups in the Health Care system show, Sherman is a loose cannon, prone to firing off in any direction if he gets worked up about an issue.

That, coupled with his lack of political experience, makes him a huge risk. At the same time, there’s something to do said for the ALP taking a risk and going with the wild card. Sherman would bring a jolt of energy to a moribund party, and has credibility on the province’s number one issue. Although some feel his Health Care focus makes him too one-dimensional, I honestly think Sherman should try to make it a single issue campaign about Health Care if he wins.

The Liberals have been out of power and largely irrelevant for close to a century, so there’s something to be said for taking a chance and going all in on the doctor.

ALP Leadership Candidate Profiles: All Aboard the Payne Train!

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 ALP leadership race, Alberta Politics, Interviews, Politician Profiles | Leave a comment

The Alberta Liberals will be selecting a new leader on September 10th, from among 5 candidates: Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, Raj Sherman, Bruce Payne, and Bill Harvey. To vote, simply register here as an ALP supporter by August 19th.

Today, the first of a five part series profiling the candidates.

I’m not supporting anyone in this race but, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Bruce Payne is advertising on this blog.


Background: Even if you follow Alberta politics, you’ve probably never heard of Bruce Payne. He’s never held elected office, though he is the nominated Liberal candidate in Calgary Varsity, a riding currently held by retiring MLA Harry Chase.

Born in Alberta and a carpenter by trade, Payne has been a labour leader for many years prior to entering politics.


Online: Payne’s website is at 87strong.ca. No, he’s not a Sidney Crosby fan – the “87” in this instance refers to his focus on building 87 strong Liberal riding associations across Alberta.

Putting the focus on an idea rather than the candidate is a risky move in any leadership contest. But I like it as a strategy here. Payne will likely draw most of his support from ridings where the party is weaker, so this gives him an opportunity to use the idea (87 strong ridings) to help define him to ALP members who have never met him.

Can he win? Payne is a complete unknown, but I think he stands as good a chance as any of winning. Payne’s involvement in the labour movement will translate to votes, and unless Bill Harvey mounts a strong campaign, Calgary and rural Alberta is Payne’s for the taking, while the other three candidates fight over a finite number of Edmonton Liberals.

My Take: Using a sports analogy, choosing between Payne and more established names like Blakeman and MacDonald is akin to choosing between the hot prospect or the more established veterans. Sure, the raw potential is there, but it might take time for him to fully develop, and he could flame out. From what I saw at May’s leadership forum in Calgary, Payne’s still needs to work on his public speaking – both in terms of substance and delivery.

But the potential is certainly there. Payne looks like a leader and has a very welcoming smile and “aww shucks” sort of attitude, that makes him quite likable. If I were casting a Liberal Premier of Alberta in some kind of alternate-reality sci-fi movie, I’d get an actor who looked just like Bruce Payne (James Brolin?).

As a former carpenter and pastor from small-town Alberta, Payne is certainly the best candidate to shatter the party’s “downtown elitist” imagine and expand its base. And hey, given it will take a miracle of biblical proportions to get the Liberals into power, going with a pastor carpenter might not be a bad move.

Better Know a Future NDP MP

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Federal Politics, Politician Profiles, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some people in the comments section think I’ve been “unfair” to the NDP of late. And maybe I have been. After all, if Jack says he can solve Canada’s doctor shortage by paying new doctors $3,472 a head, then who am I to doubt him? The man has a nice smile, so I guess he should be taken at his word.

So in an effort to make amends, I will begin profiling members of his team. Sadly, many of his candidates are unknown to Canadians, by virtue of them not having told anyone they’re running for office. To ensure Jack’s poll numbers translate into seats, it’s important for Canadians to get to know who they will be voting for.

So, let’s begin!

Ruth Ellen Brosseau (Berthier–Maskinongé – Quebec): Ruth is an assistant manager at Oliver’s Pub, and enjoys rehabilitating injured animals. She is currently vacationing in Las Vegas, and who can blame her? She’s already hit the jackpot once, being nominated as an NDP candidate, so why not ride this lucky streak out!

Sadly, Ruth could not cancel her vacation plans, but I’m sure Prime Minister Layton will tackle the unfairness of non-refundable airline tickets once he has solved other pressing issues facing the country, such as high ATM and credit card fees.

Meet a Calgary Grit: Josipa Petrunic

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Federal Politics, Interviews, Politician Profiles, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Last week, I profiled Calgary North Center Liberal candidate Stephen Randall. Today, a look at Josipa Petrunic, who is taking on Deepak Obhrai, the NDP’s Al Brown, and the Green Party’s Scott Milton in Calgary East.

Josipa is up front about the stigma facing the Liberal brand in Alberta – “When you play it as Liberal versus Conservative, Trudeau, the NEP, and the Sponsorship Scandal come up. Few people have a negative opinion of Harper. We can’t win on that.”

So rather than talk about the Conservatives, corruption, or contempt, Josipa is focusing on another “C” – Calgary. She is making her campaign all about local issues.

The Calgary East Liberals certainly aren’t the first underdog campaign to try and shift the focus to local issues, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Calgary campaign embrace the strategy with this much passion. Which is surprising in and of itself because, let’s be honest with ourselves, no Calgary riding is going to elect a Liberal on Michael Ignatieff’s coat tails this election.

Below is a brief summary of the six local issues Petrunic is pushing – she’ll soon be posting full details on her website.

1. Airport Tunnel: This was a big issue in the municipal election, and new mayor and wunder-boy Naheed Nenshi has been pushing hard to make it happen. Yes, it’s not a federal issue per se, but the current MP Deepak Obhrai has, somewhat foolishly, made it an issue by calling the tunnel “foolish”.

2. South East LRT Line: There’s little in the Liberal platform to suggest they’re more likely to cough up the cash than the Conservatives but, once again, the federal Tories have played into the local issues campaign, with Jason Kenney coming out against federal funding in local papers and on Twitter.

3. 17th Avenue Redevelopment: Local business groups are trying to redevelop 17th Avenue east – the former home of XXX stores and pawn shops. Plans are in place for a National Arts Center, but federal funding is still needed for it. Petrunic calls the Conservatives’ refusal to fund this “a slap in the face to the east side of Calgary.”

4. CPRail Yard in Ingelwood: The “deafening noise of screeching metal” has been driving local citizens up the wall for years. Petrunic recognizes it isn’t the federal government’s job to regulate noise complaints but feels “as an MP, you have an obligation to serve as a lobbyist on behalf of your constituents.”

5. Mainland Heights School Closure: Petrunic says this has been “the single biggest issue at the door”. Once again, she feels the riding’s MP could play an advocacy role on this issue, even if there’s nothing concrete they can do.

6. Ring Road: Here, Josipa wants to help organize discussions and debate around the issue, helping citizens voice their opinions.

It’s clear the federal government can’t, and shouldn’t, tackle all these issues. But there’s something to be said for an MP promising to advocate on behalf of local constituents, so long as it’s clear to them that’s all these promises are – advocacy pledges.

Regardless, it’s a smart political play for a Liberal candidate in Calgary and I’ll be curious to see if it pays off on election day.

Meet A Calgary Grit: Stephen Randall

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Federal Politics, Interviews, Politician Profiles | Leave a comment

When Stephen Randall was nominated as the Liberal candidate in Calgary Centre-North in January, the assumption was he’d be fighting a by election this spring. Now, he’s going head to head with Tory Michelle Rempel, the NDP’s Paul Vargis, and the Green Party’s Heather MacIntosh.

I had a chance to interview Randall a few weeks ago. Here’s a recap of our chat:

1. You’ve chosen to enter politics at a later stage in life than a lot of candidates. Has this been a long time ambition, or did something happen recently to push you in this direction?

Randall says running is something he’s thought about before, but his career took him in other directions. However, his dissatisfaction with the current government pushed him to take the plunge.

He sees his late entry to the political arena as an asset rather than a liability: “I’ll be blunt – I don’t like career politicians. I think it’s important for candidates to bring their national and international experience to the table. I bring something to the table that someone like our Prime Minister who has never had a job outside of politics doesn’t.”

2. What’s your 15 second pitch to voters? What’s this election about?

“It’s about sustainable employment – striking the right balance between the environment and growth. Calgarian families are thinking about their children and the future – the future of health care, pensions, and employment opportunities.”

3. The Liberals haven’t won a seat in Calgary since 1968. Why do you think that is, and how do you overcome it?

Randall recognizes there’s “lingering hostility” between Calgary and the federal Liberals that goes back to the NEP, and was re-ignited with the Sponsorship Scandal – “There are people who think the Liberals are crooks, including my immediate neighbour” says Randall. However, he doesn’t feel these historical issues are as top of mind on the doorsteps now as they were in 2006 or 2008.

Despite the challenge, Randall is optimistic: “We have two very good provincial Liberal MLAs who overlap my riding, David Swann and Harry Chase. There’s therefore a solid Liberal base in the riding to build off. In the past, there hasn’t always been cross-over or co-operation between the parties, but this time both MLAs are supporting me. David Swann has been a friend of mine for 10 years and was at my launch last week.”

Many constituents and Conservative Party members are dissatisfied with the Conservative candidate. They feel there was no competition for the nomination, and prominent Conservatives are supporting my campaign.”

4. You mentioned your international experience earlier. What’s the most memorable experience from your work overseas – what really impacted you?

I was in Cambodia in 1993 under the UN authority, to help run their election. It was the first time Cambodia had a democratic election. It left a huge emotional impact on me, seeing a people hungry for change. I saw elderly men and women walk 10 or 20 kilometers to polling stations to vote for the first time. It honestly brought a tear to my eye.”

5. A few years ago, the CBC ran a contest asking Canadians to vote for The Greatest Canadian. Everyone from John A. MacDonald to David Suzuki to Don Cherry got votes. Who would you vote for?

My answer might change if I had more time to think about it, but I’d have to put Lester Pearson high on the list. Just from the combination of the work he did on the Suez Crisis, and the vision and passion he brought to small-l liberalism in the 20th Century.”

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