Liberal leader Bob Rae stopped in Whitehorse this weekend as part of his cross-country tour to promote the party’s upcoming leadership convention and take some jabs at his political opponents.
“The biggest difference between us and the Conservatives, I think, is they tend to see the North exclusively as a matter of talking about resources and a matter of talking about defence, but for us it’s a matter of talking about people,” he said.
He pointed to the cuts to Parks Canada and environmental research and the recent closure of the local Canada Revenue Agency office in Whitehorse as examples.
“The threat and the risk of this next budget is that it will simply confirm this narrow-minded austerity path that this government has embraced,” said Rae. “They say they have a jobs agenda but there is no jobs agenda if you don’t have the services to match it, if you don’t encourage tourism, if you don’t encourage small businesses in the North.”
Rae focused exclusively on the Harper government. Rae didn’t mention the NDP, which replaced the Liberals as the Official Opposition in the House of Commons during the last election.
Reduced to 34 seats from 77, 2011 was the worst electoral defeat that the Liberals had ever suffered.
The Yukon’s long-serving Liberal MP, Larry Bagnell, lost the election to Conservative Ryan Leef by only 132 votes, something Rae described as “real sadness” for the Liberals and a “real loss for the Yukon.”
“We learned some tough lessons about life as a result of the last election, but I think we’ve shown that we can fight back in Parliament and we’ve shown that we can make a difference when it comes to having an effective role in the House,” said Rae.
But with party membership higher than it’s ever been and the finances in good shape, the rebuilding effort of the last few years is paying off, he said.
“The kind of renewal that we’ve been able to do for the party is the kind of renewal that we’re going to need to do for the country in 2015.”
But first the Liberals have to pick a new leader.
There are seven candidates vying for the top spot, with Justin Trudeau, whose campaign recently signed up more than 150,000 supporters, the odds on favourite to win.
Rae, however, steered clear of predicting the outcome of the April 14 convention, stating only, “It’s an open race.”
After the leader is elected, the party will have a year before the next convention, which will set the direction that the party will take.
“That’s going to give us an opportunity, and give northerners an opportunity, to really participate in the creation of better, stronger, clearer policies, not only for the North but for the whole country,” said Rae.
Despite the party’s poor showing in the last election Rae said he still believes that the Liberals represent a viable alternative to the Conservatives and that there is a fair amount of discontent with the direction they have charted for the country.
“My discussions with territorial and provincial leaders across the country is the sense that they’re not really able to participate that effectively with the federal government,” he said.
The recent rejection of a private members bill to create a national housing strategy was a case in point, said Rae.
“I do think we’re seeing in the Harper government a much greater tendency for the Conservative MPs to simply be the master’s voice wherever they are,” he said. “It’s very hard to have a real conversation with a Conservative because they keep falling over their talking points and as long as that’s their approach you don’t really have a dialogue or a real discussion.”
Contact Josh Kerr at