Bob Rae came to North Vancouver yesterday. Unfortunately I came late and so missed his opening talk. I was there for some of the question period though.
First thing I took note of is just how patient Rae is. Not every question asked of him made sense. Others were not questions at all but short editorials. Finally, most questions were buried in lengthy preambles. Still, Rae was polite to a fault, responded to each in timely manner and at length and he was never short or cutting. In other words, Rae not only has the gift of the gab he also knows how to listen and how to make people feel listened too.
That said, even Rae can not turn lead into gold. When someone asked him just what the Liberal party stood for his response was less than satisfactory. He said that Liberals were committed to enshrining good parliamentary process into law and enacting legislation that would protect institutions such as Stats Canada and elections Canada from an overly aggressive PMO. I could not agree more and think level headed people of all political stripes would feel this same. However, this is a far cry from "just society".
The other pillars mentioned by Rae were sustainability and early childhood education. The problem with the former is that it is so nebulous that it is hard to see why anyone -- even the Conservatives -- could not claim to be committed to sustainability. As for the later, it is politically useless. For the vast majority of Canadians, the Liberal promise to work out a different deal with each province amounts to little more than a vague promise to provide more daycare sometime in the future. Canadians could not figure out what this would mean for their lives in 2006 and not surprisingly they preferred the Conservative baby bonus. Nothing has changed.
In order for the Liberals to capitalize on the issue they need make a clear offer to Canadian voters. They could, for example, offer all day preschool and kindergarten for every kid in Canada. That would garner them votes and provide them with the option of juxtaposing such a policy with the Conservative plan to build more prisons.
Speaking of prisons, someone asked Rae what the Liberals planed to do about the biggest mass murder in the world --- "drugs". As I mentioned before, some questions could have been worded better. Anyway, Rae said that diseases associated with poverty were a bigger killer and then went on to question the wisdom of Harper's war on drugs. He said that addiction is better thought of as a medical issue and not criminal one. This is fine as far as it goes, but other than Insite, he did not mention anything specific and he did not deal with Ignatieff's worries about "marijuana cigarettes" or how Liberals have supported every Conservative crime bill since Ignatieff came on as leader. Later that night, I remembered his hollow answer as I watched a CBC story about California's November referendum on whether to legalize marijuana and read that former Mexican President Vincent Fox said that all drugs should be legalized.