ISHMAEL N. DARO
The Liberal foreign affairs critic spent two days in Saskatoon, campaigning with local Liberal candidates and touting the newly released Liberal platform.
On Sunday, Rae spoke about foreign aid funding with representatives of KAIROS, the ecumenical group that lost its federal funding last year in a controversial decision by the Conservative government. The following day, he joined students at Louis’ Pub at the University of Saskatchewan in an event billed as “Beers with Bob” to reach out to young voters and sharpen the contrast between Liberal and Conservative policies.
“You have an open campaign that’s a dialogue with the people of the country about the choices we face as a country, and you have a closed campaign that is essentially about a corporatist agenda that really doesn’t meet the needs of the people,” said Rae.
Keeping on the same theme, he said that while Stephen Harper’s campaign has limited reporters to only five questions per day, “I can assure you there will be no limit to the number of questions you can ask me.”
The hour-long question period touched on a number of issues, including the Liberals’ new “Learning Passport,” a proposal to establish Registered Education Savings Plans for all high school students in the country.
As a country we need to cherish education more than we do.
-Bob Rae, MP Toronto-Centre
The Learning Passport promises $1,000 per year to a maximum of $4,000 for high school students who want to attend post-secondary institutions, and up to $1,500 a year and $6,000 over four years for students from low-income families.
When a student asked Rae if the Learning Passport would reach lower-income families unfamiliar with RESPs, the Toronto MP said the program would hopefully let students know early in high school that university is an option for them regardless of income.
“What we’re trying to do as a federal government is to say to each and every family of a grade 9 kid, ‘Please don’t hold your kid back, please let them think about college and university’ because we’ve somehow got to get the participation rate up.”
Rae added that he was a “believer in experimentation” and that if the Learning Passport doesn’t work, a Liberal government would try something else.
The Liberal Party was first to announce a policy specifically targeting education. Although university students too old to benefit from the Learning Passport may not be swayed by the proposal, it’s clear that student support would help any of Saskatoon’s Liberal candidates for Parliament.
The star candidate for the Liberals appears to be city councillor Darren Hill, who hosted the Q&A with Bob Rae and who faces NDP candidate Denise Kouri and incumbent Conservative MP Brad Trost in a tough battle for Saskatoon-Humboldt, where Trost won the seat with 54 per cent of votes in 2008.
Saskatoon-Humboldt is also the federal riding encompassing the U of S campus.
Even Rae, whose riding is in Toronto, acknowledged the difficult electoral math for left-of-centre parties in Saskatoon, often resulting in strategic voting.
“I’m not going to sit here as a Liberal and encourage you to vote for another party,” said Rae, insisting that closer to the election the Liberal candidates would be more competitive.
Of course, any Liberal wins in Saskatchewan adding to the lone seat held by Wascana MP Ralph Goodale would be good news for the party. Liberals currently hold only eight of 92 Western Canadian seats in Parliament.
In trying to take some of those seats, Bob Rae said his party had to fight the attack ads launched by the Conservatives against Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. Rae and Ignatieff are long-time friends and one-time roommates: they shared an apartment while attending the University of Toronto in the late 1960s.
Rae defended his friend, saying the television ads are “to coin a phrase, bullshit.”
image: Pete Yee/The Sheaf