Bob ♥s Sault Ste. Marie and Northern OntarioMonday, March 11, 2013 by: Darren Taylor
Federal Liberal leader Bob Rae visited Algoma’s Water Tower Inn Sunday as part of the Grits’ ‘Thanks a Million, Bob’ tour.
The public speaking and meet-and-greet tour for faithful Liberal supporters is aimed at raising at least $1 million for Rae to give to the party’s new leader, to be chosen April 14 in Ottawa, to help rebuild the party and carry on its political fight against the Harper government after its relegation to third party status in the May 2011 federal election.
When asked by SooToday.com what he would advise the new Liberal leader to do in addressing Northern Ontario issues, Rae replied “the first piece of advice I would have for the new leader would be to spend time here.”
In regards to Northern Ontario ridings such as Sault Ste. Marie, which have traditionally sent either Liberal or NDP candidates to Ottawa, Rae said “we have to spend a lot of time talking to people here, and getting to know the challenges that we face in this part of the country.”
“I have the advantage of having a few years on me. I’ve been here (in Northern Ontario) throughout my political career…and there’s no better way to do it than to talk to people.”
Rae stated “we have issues (in Northern Ontario) of resource development, making sure we have some real job opportunities for young people, we’ve got to make sure there’s a better resource sharing across the country, and we’ve go to do whatever we can to move development forward in a constructive way, and that’s what I very much want to recommend to the new leader.”
Referring to his tour, Rae said “it’s important for local people to feel we’re taking seriously what’s going on…we’ve got to make a comeback here in the North.”
“We’ve lost a lot of ground here over the past 15 years, so we’ve got some work to do to make sure we’re coming back.”
Rae told reporters the Liberals are ahead of the federal NDP in opinion polls, but SooToday.com asked for his reaction to the Manning Centre’s 2013 survey, conducted in February, which indicated people surveyed are attracted to the Liberals, but would vote Conservative regardless, in view of the economy’s importance and the Conservative Party’s traditional reputation as solid economic managers.
Rae shrugged that off.
“The Conservatives have driven up our national debt since 2008.”
“I don’t know how that makes them good fiscal managers” Rae said.
“They lived off the inheritance the Liberals gave them in terms of surpluses and they spent the surplus before the recession, and once we hit the recession they obviously faced great difficulty, so I don’t see these guys as great fiscal managers at all.”
“We don’t have a new leader yet,” Rae continued, “but when we do we’ll have a chance to judge that person compared to the Conservatives. I’m optimistic about what the new leader can do.”
Rae, however, stopped short of endorsing any Liberal leadership candidate, stating “a lot of them are progressive.”
Much of Rae’s tour has been targeted on Northern Ontario communities, such as Sault Ste. Marie.
Does that indicate a political and/or personal attachment to the region?
“Yes it does,” Rae replied.
“In my early days in provincial politics, I was educated a lot by my colleagues and by coming to Northern communities…during my time as Premier, we had a lot of issues in the North that we had to deal with, obviously the Algoma Steel situation here in the Sault, and we managed to get some stability back into the system for quite a while, so I was very proud in what we were able to do, and I’m very attached to the people and the area.”
After the Liberal party picks its new leader in April, Rae told reporters he plans to remain in the Liberal caucus as MP for Toronto Centre, though he stated he is interested in becoming a part of negotiations between First Nations communities and the Ontario government over the massive Ring of Fire economic development project.