Interview with David Bertschi

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.

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4 responses to “Interview with David Bertschi”

    • I don’t understand how saying that we need strong leadership to defeat Stephen Harper next election is something that would automatically lose your vote (unless you’re a Conservative). Let’s face it, we had less than stellar leadership in the past years and we’ve paid for it. Strong leadership is firmly rooted in consistency and effective communication of principals, something that our last two leaders have struggled with. In my opinion, this is what he seems to be offering.

  1. “Then when we found ourselves in an economic recession, he said it was a good time to buy stocks.”

    I love it when opposition politicians bring this up as if it was a bad comment, since anyone who actually bought stocks at that time would have done quite well – the market is up around 35% since that month.

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