Leaders’ debates—like the one last night—are all about what those asking the questions think is important. And what the leaders themselves are prepared to say about policy in the middle of an election campaign. But there always seems to be something…missing.
I had a dream where I got to ask the questions. By the way, Elizabeth May was up there on the podium as well. It was an inclusive dream; all points of view were permitted.
You know, I can’t remember the answers. But I can remember the questions. They all seemed to deal with working people, who do make up, after all, the majority of Canadians.
Pensions: If you form the next government, what are you prepared to do to lift seniors out of poverty by improving the CPP/QPP? How will you help the two-thirds of Canadian workers who have no workplace pension plans? Will you shelve the notion, once and for all, of so-called “target benefit plans?”
Workplace health and safety: Will you reverse the watering down of health and safety protections in federal sector workplaces? What would you do to strengthen them instead?
Public services: Public services have been cut back to the point that many Canadians (for example, veterans) are no longer receiving what they need, lives have been put in danger, the environment is threatened, and even our food safety is no longer assured. Will you continue this trend, or reverse it? If you agree that quality public services are vital to a healthy society, what measures would you take to rebuild the federal public service?
Labour rights: The government has recently passed two anti-labour Bills. There was C-377, which drowns unions in paperwork, puts them at a disadvantage with employers, and violates the privacy rights of Canadian workers. No other organization in Canada is subject to these massive intrusions by government. And Bill C-525 deliberately makes it more difficult to organize unions in the first place. My question: will you repeal these Bills?
Collective bargaining: In the federal public sector, the government has recently passed legislation that determines the outcome of collective bargaining before it has concluded, with respect to sick leave. Do you agree or disagree with this approach to bargaining?
Information: What measures will you take to ensure that scientists can discuss their findings with the media and with other scientists, so that the public can be better informed? What are you prepared to do to preserve government library holdings and rebuild Library and Archives Canada?
Canadian charities: Canadians are a charitable people, and they have many charities to choose from. Recently, however, progressive charities like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have been audited by the Canada Revenue Agency for allegedly being “too political.” Auditing is a time-consuming and expensive process that could force smaller charities to shut down. Even a birdwatching society was threatened with loss of charitable status. Yet conservative organizations with charitable status, like the Fraser Institute, seem to have escaped this process. What measures are you prepared to take to ensure an even-handed approach by the CRA? What will you do to clarify precisely what is meant by “political activity?”
Proportional representation: The polls are presently showing something like a three way-split in voter preferences. That could mean a majority government could be achieved with as little as 34% of the popular vote. Do you believe that electoral reform is necessary to ensure that our House of Commons adequately reflects the preferences of Canadian voters? If yes, what specific steps would you take to bring that about?
Foreign policy: Working conditions in Third World countries can be dangerous, as we have seen in countries like Bangladesh. Forming unions can be hazardous as well. As Prime Minister, what steps would you take—including economic sanctions—to encourage compliance of these countries with International Labour Organization standards?
That debate just raced along, and the audience reactions were lively, to say the least. I thanked everyone politely—and then I woke up.