Stephane Dion Speaks – Part 1

I had a chance to sit down with Stephane Dion over the weekend, after the Hays breakfast on Sunday, to talk about his leadership bid. First off, let me offer a big thanks to Stephane’s Alberta team who were really nice and gave me well over an hour with their candidate on what must have been a busy trip for him. It was also entertaining to see Stephane drop the gloves and take a few swipes at the frontrunners – at least more so than anyone else I’ve talked to.

Because of the length of the interview and some technical problems mid-way through it, I’m going to do things differently and post the interview in three parts. Today, I’ll post the first few questions with Stephane’s answers in his own words. Tomorrow, I’ll recap our discussion on federalism. Friday I’ll post quick opinions and quotes from Dion on a wide range of topics (including his opponents in the race).

I’ll be running a “Greatest Prime Minister…We Never Had” poll on my blog this summer and I was wondering if there is anyone in Canadian history who never reached the top office who you think would have made a good Prime Minister?

I’d have to say Roy Romanow – on the condition that he learned French. There might have been someone earlier in our history, but Roy is someone who I worked with a lot during my time as intergovernmental affairs minister and I was always very impressed with him, and his grasp of the federation. If he’d learned French, he could certainly have made a good Prime Minister…but maybe I shouldn’t say that or he’ll jump into the race now.

You’ve made the environment a key part of your platform. But as environment minister you put forward a plan which you yourself admit would not have allowed Canada to reach our Kyoto targets. So what’s the point of staying in Kyoto if we’re not going to reach the targets?

I think the media took my comments there and misinterpreted them. I said that if Stephen Harper was in government for two years and then I took power, that we wouldn’t have a chance to meet our Kyoto targets. However, had our government not been defeated, or even if I got the chance to become Prime Minister in 2007, we could still reach our Kyoto targets. [ed note: I’ll admit I’m not an expert here but I haven’t seen a single report or study which has even raised the possibility of Canada being able to get our emissions levels to 6% bellow 1990 levels by 2012…under any plan. If anyone (in the Dion campaign or otherwise) has one, I’d be very curious to see the numbers used]

The key is the carbon market so that you can trade credits. This provides companies with the possibility to make money by becoming more environmentally competitive. A carbon tax is not the answer since that only punishes industry. You obviously need tax reform to compliment the carbon market since you need to deal with other types of pollution too. But worldwide, emissions trading has worked far better than carbon taxes and this is the route Canada needs to go down.

Since we’re talking about the environment, I’d like to say that I was extremely disappointed in Michael Ignatieff’s article in the National Post.

He’s thrown out some ideas, but he didn’t even include a single word recognizing the work which myself and the Liberal government did on the climate change file or on our 2005 climate change proposal. When I travel to the Bahamas, they recognize the work Canada has done on Climate Change. I think it shows incredible disrespect for a new Liberal MP to come in here and ignore everything we’ve done.

Apart from the snub, what do you think about what Michael actually said in the article?

There are some good ideas in there, but they’re fairly obvious ones. I think Michael needs to learn more about the carbon market system since that’s definitely the approach we need to take.

As a Quebec Cabinet Minister during the late 90s, do you believe that your election as Liberal leader would make it hard for the party to move beyond Adscam and allow Harper to use it as an election issue in the future?

If Harper tries that, I would say that my integrity has never been tarnished at all. The fact is, we have been too kind and we need to say “no more mister nice guy”. The people who were crooks went to jail and will go to jail, but our 75 candidates in Quebec are honest people and we need to aggressively defend their integrity. If Gilles Duceppe brings it up, I would ask him about the Parti Quebecois accepting illegal funds from Group Action. If he calls the Liberal Party crooks, I would sue the Bloc. If Harper brings it up, I would ask him to release the names of the donors to his first leadership campaign in the name of integrity.

And if anyone in the Liberal Party implies that we can’t have a leader because he comes from Quebec, that’s completely unacceptable.

At this point, a group of four cyclists came up to our table and introduced themselves as Liberals and big fans of Stephane’s. Unfortunately for him, they’re not party members, but at least it did show him that there are a few Liberals in Calgary. One of them said that if he becomes Prime Minister, there needs to be tax credits for cycling and good fitness. I’ll give Dion marks for actually telling them that he thought this was a bad approach to take since tax credits don’t benefit the poor who don’t pay taxes. He told them instead that the government needed to build fitness centres and seemed to talk them around to his point of view.

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