Last updated: January 6, 2013 11:24 pm
Martha Hall Findlay looks to the non-faithful for Liberal leadership
VANCOUVER (CUP) — Some might cast Martha Hall Findlay as a dark horse candidate for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. After all, she's a one-and-a-bit-term former MP who once received just 2.7 per cent of the votes in a leadership race. But she doesn't see it that way.
"Trust me, there are people who aren't necessarily Liberals who are already signing up to support me," she says cannily.
This race to determine the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada won't just be voted on by the party-faithful: non-members, so long as they don't belong to a different federal party already, can cast votes as "supporters." And it's from these outsiders — many of them weary of politics and a good number of them young — that Hall Findlay hopes to draw her base.
"Everyone wants more young people involved in politics, period," she says, in an Canadian University Press. "Young people are not apathetic. Look at how many people get involved in NGOs, they're in environmental groups, they get involved in other humanitatian organizations, all kinds of stuff."
Her campaign has been low on flash and star power, but relentlessly insistent on substance. She's started releasing — and plans to continue with — a torrent of policy papers and op-eds outlining out intricate stances on such topics as disparate as dairy farms and oil pipelines.
The Liberals have been struggling to find their footing for some time, with six leaders in nine years and only 34 seats in the 2011 federal election. With a pro-business bent informed by her years of experience in the private sector, Hall Findlay is staking out turf many say is to the right of the party's usual sweet spot. But she bristles at any attempt to fit her positions in a straightforward left–right pigeonhole.
"What is left, and what is right? We don't live in the 1950s anymore," she says. She admits her outlook is socially progressive, economically less so, but will rebut anyone who tries to split the difference. "I don't think of that as being in some 'mushy middle.' Pick any policy issue — give me 20 policy issues — and I will be pretty clear about where I stand."
She doesn't characterize any particular topics as "youth-vote issues," but argues that students and young people should support her based on issues that matter to Canada as a whole. She wants to push for job growth for recent graduates, in part by making various sectors of the economy more open to international trade.
She sees oil pipelines to B.C.'s coast as a non-negotiable part of the country's economic future. "Canada has a tremendous amount of energy and natural resources that the world wants. We get less — and I say 'we' consciously — all Canadians end up suffering because we get a lower price for our oil with the United States being our only market."
She's also been adamant in her position on a particular niche issue: ending supply management for Canadian dairy farms, which could lower the price of milk and milk products in the country considerably.
On the topic of post-secondary education, she says the current system of loans and grants is "not bad right now," but could use a bit of tweaking. "The sheer [student debt] numbers are high. That's not so much because of the student loan and grant system, as it is the cost of tuition and the cost of living."
She suggests, possibly, a system that might take into account the earning potential of a degree when student loan agencies evaluate how quickly they expect a student's debt to be paid off. "I think it's no surprise that people who graduate from law school, biz school [or] engineering probably have a better chance of earning a significant income than history grads," she says.
As a graduate of Osgoode Hall law school at Toronto's York University, she still feels she has a stake in Canada's legal education system — and the recent Ontario decision to create a spate of unpaid co-op positions for prospective lawyers who don't land articling jobs.
"That's another one I don't have the answer for," she says. "I would say that there are a fair number of people graduating from law school who still, for example, can't function that well in English — or French, depending on where they are. But we're talking Ontario. To me, that's a real problem. So maybe we need to be firmer in our law school acceptance. Maybe we need to be firmer in our requirements before somebody's called to the bar. I don't know."
And as a self-identified feminist, she'll have no truck with the displays of faux-modesty that have become somewhat expected of female politicians lately.
"What is it about us women that we have this, 'Oh, gee, I don't know, I don't know if I'm good enough, I don't know if I'm smart enough, I don't know if I have a thick enough skin?' Apparently the guys don't worry about that. Some of them maybe should, but boy, they don't," she says.
"I'm pretty confident that most people who choose to support me in this leadership will do so because I'm smart. I have some great experience. I'm substantive."