‘We can never get electoral reform unless we defeat Stephen Harper’: Joyce Murray

Published in rabble.ca | March 20, 2013 | Circulation: 340,000 unique monthly visitors

Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray. Photo by David P. Ball

Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray. Photo by David P. Ball

In the federal Liberal leadership race, most eyes have so far been on Justin “Heir to Pierre’s Throne” Trudeau to wear the Grits’ crown into the next election.

It’s a crown tarnished from a series of stunning electoral defeats that marked a nadir in the party’s history.

But with Marc “Spaceman” Garneau dropping out of the race last week (backing Justin), Trudeau’s most prominent rival has emerged as Joyce “Tree-planter” Murray — a former B.C. environment minister and reforestation company owner who has garnered support from some surprising corners, including Leadnow.ca and David Suzuki.

But despite tens of thousands signing up under the party’s new “Supporter” class (non-members who support Liberal “principles”), only a fraction of those have actually registered to vote in the leadership race — an embarrassing realization that forced the party to extend its registration deadline until tomorrow (March 21), after pressure from Trudeau‘s campaign (but against the wishes of other candidates, including Murray).

(As an aside, is it just me, or might the party’s ridiculously baffling registration instructions, including a required Gmail account search, just add to the existing confusion amongst supporters?).

The Toronto Star has aptly noted that Murray “pitches left but has played right.”

Can the leadership hopeful overcome the tide of “Trudeaumania 2.0” — and some progressives’ concerns about her BC Liberal years in power — to push her vote-splitting antidote?

The Left Coast Post sat down with Murray, and here’s what she had to say about co-operation, cannabis, climate change — and Campbell’s Cabinet.

DAVID P. BALL: Could you start off by talking about your campaign in general. We’re several debates in now — where do you put yourself on the map?

JOYCE MURRAY: We’ve had four debates, and I think I’m doing very well. I had a big surge of support when people became aware of what I’m talking about, and the fact that I have a vision of a sustainable society and a whole suite of relatively comprehensive policies that I’ve been laying out…

DB: Could you talk about what those are — not the policies, but actually what kind of society would you move towards?

JM: A sustainable society — essentially what it means to me — is that we make decisions today that keep the opportunities open for my kids and their kids to have the same kind of freedoms and opportunities that I’ve had.

That’s the opposite of short-term decision-making for political or economic expediency. A sustainable society has to be, also, the economic opportunities that young people will have. And I don’t think that those are nourished by, really, an old economy — a nineteenth-century economy, if you will. Having a vision of a sustainable society gives a framework for a government’s policies, budget, regulatory changes, laws, and so on — to move things in a direction where young people will have the same opportunities or better than we’ve had.

I think that’s at risk right now, and I think most young people my kids’ age and younger would agree — they’re feeling like they may not have the same kinds of chances. They may not have a pension and health care, they may not have a great career, and they may not have an environment that has been essentially protected from cumulative impacts harming it.

DB: Speaking of jobs and the environment, I was just watching a very charming video on Youtube taking one of your leadership rivals’ comments on tree-planting not being a real job. Someone mashed it up with the National Film Board movie made about your reforestation company — it’s called ‘Do It With Joy,’ and it shows people digging holes in the ground and planting trees. I believe it was in the ’70s? Could you talk about that?

JM: That movie was done in 1976 — it was an hour-long documentary. And then CBC did a half-hour piece on it. So my kids took some clips out of that. I think that one of the candidates expressed the kind of misunderstanding that many people have about tree-planting: thinking it’s not a real job. Well, actually, it is a real job! It repairs and replaces forests that are sustainable. We use them for daily goods; we have to replant them in a way that’s ecologically sound. That’s what tree-planters do. It’s tough work, it’s all seasons, it’s often up steep mountainsides — it’s very difficult work. My kids and their friends who are or have been tree-planters, were taken aback that someone would have that kind of dismissive attitude to that work. So they put this together to show just what hard work it was back in 1976, and essentially is still today…

DB: Your co-operation idea — I’ve noticed it on Facebook taking root among a lot of young people who might not normally gravitate towards the Liberal Party. You have groups like Leadnow.ca, who have been campaigning to get members signed up and push that — [some of them] were also involved in the Nathan Cullen campaign in the NDP leadership race. Is this a sign of a post-partisan generation? What does this say for you about your proposal?

JM: My proposal is definitely bringing new people into our party, as well as bringing back people who had been Liberals and who had become discouraged with our party having lost its way. So what I’m doing is exactly what our party decided was necessary, in that a year ago we changed our constitution so that anyone that’s not a member of another national party could be part of this leadership race.

I’ve taken that very seriously, and I’ve been reaching out. And as you said, there’s a number of groups that decided that what I was offering in my campaign is what is important for Canada. It was very helpful when Dr. David Suzuki came out in public and endorsed my platform — something that he rarely does, and I don’t believe he’s done that before, ever, for a federal politician. I was very honoured by that, and it made a lot of people sit up and take notice.

DB: What does the proposal actually look like? What would it mean to cooperate between parties? We’re not talking about a merger here.

JM: I’ll talk about that too, but I want to go back to what it is that people are appreciating about my particular campaign. It’s not just the idea of cooperating rather than dividing the progressive vote — so that Stephen Harper gets in with a minority of support, and then acts somewhat dictatorial with a majority government — because I also have a vision of a sustainable society, with environmental, social, economic and democratic aspects to that as a framework, and then some substantive policies to hang on that.

Dr. Suzuki pointed at not just the price on carbon, but also I launched my campaign with a thoughtful approach around the inclusion and advancement of women in our society. It’s time for that. I said I would be committed to 40 per cent minimum of women … in all appointments the federal government is responsible for, including Cabinet…

What we’re trying to do is have full participation. There’s a series of things I’ve put forward, including the legalization, taxation and control of cannabis, because it’s good public policy, it will reduce the hold that criminals have on that, the profiting they do, and the violence that results in gang wars…

What the cooperation plan is about: I use the analogy of a Canadian Olympic hockey team. The players come from rival teams. They come together for a national project — which is winning the Olympic Gold… And then, when they’ve succeeded with that, they go back and compete again. I’m essentially proposing that, similar to Nathan Cullen with some distinctions in the detail, so we don’t continue to split the vote and hand Stephen Harper a majority government.

I think we can defeat Stephen Harper in 2015 by doing a one-time co-operation — a run-off amongst the nominated candidates of the national progressive, parties: GreensLiberalsand NDPElizabeth May is on board, so my job is to convince Thomas Mulcair and his caucus and members to be part of this as a way to defeat Stephen Harper. After that we can change our electoral system.

DB: So the run-off votes would happen during the nominating phase for each party — in every riding across Canada?

JM: No. It would be after. I’m suggesting that we Liberals would nominate a candidate in every riding, as would the other parties. Liberals would have a chance to campaign and work to get a candidate they think is going to be the strongest possible person to defeat the Conservative candidate. Once the candidates are nominated, then in the ridings where the Conservatives won with only a minority of the vote — currently that’s 57 ridings, for example Calgary Centre where Joan Crockatt won with only 36 per cent of the vote; that means that 64 per cent of people in Calgary Centre wanted to have either an NDP, Green or Liberal Member of Parliament, and they got Joan Crockett.

So in the 57 ridings where that happened, I would encourage the riding associations to work together to do a transparent run-off — a race between the candidates who have been nominated. The one that wins that race is then the only one on the ballot against the Conservative. That way, we’ll take a lot of those seats away from the Conservatives.

My hope is that we would defeat Stephen Harper, and then would proceed during the first term of the progressive government — hopefully a Liberal government, but who knows? That’s down the road — we would take a serious effort to change our electoral system, and put one in place that’s more representative, and less divisive than first-past-the-post.

DB: What, in your view, was the reason for the showing of the Liberals in the last election? A lot of people were quite surprised at how many seats were lost.

JM: The Liberals have unfortunately lost around 30 or 35 seats in each of the last four elections. In the last election, you could argue there were some unique circumstances — with the leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, being sick and having really resonated with Canadians in his courageous struggle against cancer. But the reality is that we had lost 35 seats or so in previous elections as well.

I’ve been saying that we’re a party that was very successful. The principles the Liberal Party stands for have become embedded in the Canadian psyche and in our society, and have become just who we are as Canadians.

People have ceased to think about things like our public health-care system, our pensions, the reduction of seniors’ poverty, a Species at Risk Act, so many of the advancements the Liberals brought forward to create opportunity for everyone, and to protect freedoms and rights; our Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms; balancing our budget in the 1990s when we were headed down the track of Spain. These are all Liberal initiatives that were bold, courageous and sometimes unpopular with some members of the public, but they were needed in the public interest, and we appreciate them now.

However, I think the Liberals were resting too much on personality, the power structures in central Canada, and the policies of the past that had been great. We forgot about the fact that, for people here-and-now, to them it’s just Canada. It’s not Liberal Canada, it’s just Canada. They’re looking for a party that’s really offering value that they can recognize and appreciate in their lives today, and going forward. The Liberal Party has to re-find those — what it’s going to offer so it is the party that is addressing the public policy challenges of the future.

I think I’ve got some very good qualifications to pull people together, work together with people in the grassroots, but also outside expertise, to be frank. I think we need that in the kind of fundamental re-engineering and revitalization of our party. I’m keen to lead that.

DB: One of the things that makes the Liberals quite unique is that the [B.C.] provincial party is separate … from the federal party. That was initiated in [’87]. Do you find that your experience in the Cabinet for the BC Liberals could be a liability, in terms of the parties being quite different federally and provincially?

JM: No, I don’t think being in Cabinet for four years, and the kind of experience in decision-making and testing that happens, could ever be seen to be a liability. I mean, whatever people may think of the BC Liberal government in the years from 2001 to 2005, when I was a Cabinet minister, I think people do recognize that we won 77 out of 79 seats for a reason. That reason was that B.C. was in economic trouble. The [BC] Liberal Party said we would eliminate the deficits and bring the economy back — that’s what the public of British Columbia wanted. It wasn’t easy to do. It’s easy to say, but it’s really hard to do — but we did that.

Secondly, I went into government with [Premier Gordon] Campbell at the time because I’m committed to good public policy on the environment. He respected that; he made me his environment minister, and I had the opportunity to do quite a few things that I’m very proud of, including helping set a foundation for British Columbia’s approach on climate change, and including being part of a Cabinet committee on Aboriginal relations that helped develop a new relationship with First Nations. I worked to find ways to include First Nations in my portfolio, and empower the communities in my portfolio. There were some very progressive things done during that term, too! At the end of it, the Sierra Club of Canada awarded me an Eco-Olympic medal to respect my work as a Cabinet minister during those difficult four years.

DB: Two Olympics metaphors: very good! So obviously you’re probably not willing to wade into the provincial debate, but one of the things really in the news is the so-called ‘Ethnic-gate.‘ Do you have any thoughts on how this went down, or how that bodes for your ability to rally the country, which is obviously very diverse? A lot of people are very outraged at the use of public funds to woo ethnic communities with apologies.

JM: David, you’re right — I’m not going to wade into provincial politics. Of course, new Canadians are a very important part of British Columbia politics and national politics. Every party is wanting to reach out and make sure that new Canadian communities feel appreciated. It’s how that’s done that matters, and clearly a bad mistake was made in this case, and it was apologized for.

But you know what? A couple of years ago, [Citizenship and Immigration minister] Jason Kenney was actually organizing fundraisers while being the minister responsible for immigration, for multiculturalism, in the middle of making changes that took the decision-making out of impartial civil servants as to who and how many people can come in from which country — he was busy securing that power into his own hands as a politician — and running fundraisers with new Canadians out of his ministry office, on his ministry stationary. That was really beyond the pale — and did they ever apologize? No. They blamed a staff person. Was there ever accountability on that? Not one word of accountability by the Prime Minister or his minister.

DB: Last question: it’s going to be too late for people to join the party and support your campaign, but going on from here, what do you think the campaign’s going to look like in its last few months?

JM: All of the candidates will be reaching out to people who have signed up. A lot of people have signed up to support me, a lot of people signed up to support Justin [Trudeau] clearly, and others are supporting other candidates. We’ll all be communicating with everyone who has the power to vote to make sure that they know what we stand for.

I will, of course, be making a very strong pitch that, if you think it’s important to defeat Stephen Harper in 2015, I’m the only one that has a plan to avoid splitting the vote. Yes, every one of the candidates will pitch that they’re the best potential leaders going forward… but the difference between me and the others is I am the only one that is prepared to work together with progressive parties and avoid splitting the vote so that we can defeat Stephen Harper. I’m hoping that those who have signed up will resonate with that message.

It turns out that two-thirds of Canadians are interested in electoral reform to proportional representation of some kind — I know there’s a number of models — but we can never get to electoral reform unless we defeat Stephen Harper… I will cooperate to get there. Think about what’s happening with the damage being done to democracy — to trust in our public process and our representatives. It’s on a downhill slide, and think about what’s happening to our environmental safety net, and what’s happening to services to some of the most vulnerable in Canada. We need to stop that. We’ve got to defeat Stephen Harper, and I’m the candidate that’s got a way forward on that.

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