In this the second of three parts, we ask about the unification of the left, the legacy of Pierre Trudeau, and the recent loss of Canadian lives in Lebanon.
Part 2 of 3.
NF. So did you struggle with the idea of the move (to the Liberal Party) since 2000?
BR. Well I think it is clear to anyone who has read my books that I was not happy with where I thought the NDP was, where I thought it was going, and so I have no hesitation at all to say that throughout my time in politics that I have conducted myself in a way that is quite compatible with a great many things that the Liberal party stands for.
So I did not go though an instant conversion in 2006 if that is what you mean, it is pretty clear…that I have been talking about a necessary change in Canadian politics.
Most of the Social Democratic parties around the world had made the big transition in accepting the realities of the marketplace and the NDP had not made them…so no, I was not struck by lighting on the road to Damascus.
NF. Does the Left need to unite in a similar fashion to the right?
BR. I think I don’t want to get caught up in a long and tortured discussion about coalitions. I think the fact of the matter is that if the Liberal party is successful in renewing itself and if it is able to come up with a coherent approach to public policy, I think the Liberal party will become a home of a great many people who - in the past and recently - may have voted for the NDP or voted Greeen. It is a simple fact of life that unless we can attract those people and attract them in sufficient numbers to be the clear alternative, then we will not be able to defeat Mr. Harper. If we can attract sufficient numbers and if we can unite people under the Liberal banner then we can succeed.
I think we have to focus in that way and … that is the way for us to proceed.
NF. We take a great deal of delight in speculating over future coalitions and what could happen in (the weeks leading up to ) this convention. Given the endorsement you received from Mr. Bevilacqua and given Mr. Brison’s comments yesterday, could you suggest or would you agree that the “anyone but” campaign has already begun?
BR. No I don’t think so I think it is still early to conclude that one way or another. I certainly feel very strongly tha this is an open process and that everyone will be assessed and that the delegates are not going to be delivered on a plate by anybody. Many of them need to make up their (own) minds on who their second and third choices are when their first choices don’t make it to the finish line. It is arithmetic. It is (about) choices. Certain people will vote on the first ballot, and then people will have to decide on subsequent ballots on where they are going to go.
I think if you look at the history, for example, of the Ontario Convention, you can have candidates going over to one person or another but not necessarily bringing all of their people over. That is the reality of our time. We live in a non-deferential world. So perhaps with all due respect to my friends in the "blogosphere" it is not that easy to predict exactly how this thing is going to work out because it really depends on the chemistry of the moment and how people are going to feel about the choices available to them, recognizing that not everyone is going to be able to vote for their first choice.
NF. In our case you might want to hope that our blogging was correct because way back (in May of this year) we predicted that Bevilacqua was going to become the Kingmaker in this thing once he aligns himself with a candidate, and no one was more surprised than me when he aligned himself with you. As he was one of the more right leaning candidates (in a race) where almost all declared that they were leaning left and we thought that whoever he aligned himself with might be able to deliver the ‘right’ vote…and if we are correct, you may be the one who (is crowned)…as it were…
BR. Well I think what is interesting here is that a lot of the chemistry is built based on personal respect and perspective among the candidates and the same thing is true of delegates. They will be going where there heart is or where their head is as time goes on. I think a lot of this right left stuff is not very persuasive. I mean Maurizio and I – if you look back again – after I wrote the book, The Three Questions, he was one of the first people who picked up the phone to call me about the Three Questions and he thought a lot of the perspective in there was quite fascinating and very important, so I don’t think a lot of this “right left” stuff really helps, I think we need to go beyond that to look at the underlying issues.
NF. Scott Brison described Michael Igantieff as “…Gaffe prone…” the other day. Do you care to comment on that?
NF. Okay. Ah…(Laughs)
NF. As leader of the Liberal party, how will you deal with the legacy of Pierre Trudeau, who for many seems to shadow everything the party does.
BR. Well as you know I have written about this, in the book one of the chapters, “Trudeau’s Shadow". I suppose of the candidates running I was the only one to serve in the House of Commons with Mr. Trudeau. I was on the other side but we were together on the question of the Constitution and I am actually the only (candidate) running who voted for the Charter. I go back to the convention of 1968 with Mr. Trudeau and I don’t think there is any question that he has had a profound impact on the country and on our sense of values and perspective. I disagreed with him on some questions. We had some very vigorous debates and arguments (but) I have always had a great deal of respect for him and I don’t think there is any question that he is a great man and that he has had an enormous impact on the country on its sense of itself and on its identity and I am very proud to have know him.
NF. If this convention was held in August, some would say that foreign policy may have dictated who won this thing. How would your position on the loss of Canadian lives in Lebanon been different than Mr. Harper’s if you where running the country at this stage?
BR. Well I think the first thing is that you come at this from a perspective of saying things very clear. The first point is that terrorism is unacceptable. There is no other position that one needs to take with respect to terrorism except that it needs to be resisted. The second thing is that the Middle East - and Canada’s position in it – come from a long history of understanding that Canada has voted in favour of resolutions at the UN which have recognized Israel’s right to exist with its secure borders and boundaries, that we think Israel should be able to thrive as a country in the Middle East; that we also recognize that Lebanon is entitled to its sovereignty and the Palestinian people are entitled to a country and Canada’s position has been very clear. I don’t see a contradiction in those things. I think that we have to be able to say complete sentences about what is going on and I think that from the beginning the Prime Minister of Canada should be doing everything he can to avoid a humanitarian crises and doing everything he can to avoid loss of life. That is not being weak willed, it is a matter of being intensely realistic about the risks of escalation and the need for us to be concerned about the consequences of actions just as we are concerned about the justification. To be specific, Israel has the right to defend itself, no one in public office in Canada should deny that for one second.
The question then becomes what is the best way for that to happen? I think that what we are getting to now is that the conclusion is that Lebanon needs the assistance of the world in order to deal effectively with the growth of a private army within its midst. That is to the benefit of Israel, it is to the benefit of Lebanon and I think that is the kind of position we should be taking in this country and I think the Prime Minister of Canada should always be somebody who is talking thoughtfully and compassionately about the human impact that this has on all the countries involved.
Part three features what we think is one of the best questions ever asked of a Liberal leadership candidate. Stay tuned.