Liberal heavyweight offers crowd in Courtenay a clear alternative to Tories

On behalf of local candidate Mike Holland, Liberal MP Bob Rae outlined a clear choice Saturday between their party and the Conservatives.

MIKE HOLLAND (left) and Bob Rae triumphantly end their town hall meeting.

On behalf of local candidate Mike Holland, Liberal MP Bob Rae outlined a clear choice Saturday between their party and the Conservatives.In an often-humourous — yet pointed — campaign speech, the former Ontario NDP premier spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people in the lower hall of the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay.“There’s a difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals,” Rae stated about their approaches to fiscal management. “The Conservatives said to the banks and the oil companies, ‘You guys look like you’re having a pretty tough time. We don’t think you’re keeping enough money … and so we’re going to reduce your tax rate (from 18 per cent to 16 per cent).“We do know it costs money to run the programs we need to run, therefore those who are in a position to pay should be in a position to pay.“So our leader has said we’re going to keep the rate at 18 per cent, which is competitive according to comparisons with all other countries … and we’re going to delay other reductions until the budget is balanced.”Rae took issue with the opinion that there’s no difference between Canada’s political parties.“Sometimes you hear New Democrats talk about the ‘old parties,’ you know, they’re all the same.“Well, this isn’t one of those elections where that line has any credibility at all because … there actually is a choice.“What we are saying is, let’s think of giving a break to families first, and making the banks and oil companies wait their turn,” Rae summarized to loud applause.Rae recalled how the credibility of former federal leader Stéphane Dion was destroyed by his opponents, then cited Conservative attack ads mounted against current Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in the current election campaign.“The same thing’s taking place, the same demonization is taking place. They’re trying to create a sense of fear, a sense of hatred.“Reporters asked me what kind of campaign is it going to be? I said it’s going to be a very tough campaign — they’re going to lie about us and we’re going to tell the truth about them. It’s going to be an unbelievably bitter campaign.”Rae criticized the Tories, and their leader.“Over the last little while, the Canadian public is seeing what we’ve seen in Parliament for all this time. They’re seeing a prime minister who will not answer questions, only now instead of not answering questions from the opposition, he won’t answer questions from the media.”He said the election is about character, the character of the Conservative government.“It’s the most secretive government we’ve ever seen. It’s probably the most authoritarian government we’ve ever seen. We can’t get access to information — everything is a state secret.”Rattling off several examples, Rae said the Conservatives refused to divulge how much revenue it was losing due to corporate income tax cuts, how much jets for the air force will cost and how much new prisons will cost.Rae praised Holland.“Mike represents someone who speaks for the community, who is involved and engaged in the community.”In an interview afterwards, Holland placed himself and the federal Liberals firmly in the middle of the political spectrum.“We’ve had 37 years (in various North Island federal ridings) of going back and forth between the NDP and the Alliance or the Reform or the Conservatives of whatever they call them, back and forth like a ping-pong match.”How does Holland win a seat the Liberals have not held for 37 years?“In my own history, I feel I’ve fought the radical right when they were trying to deprive seniors in B.C. of long-term care beds and I’ve fought the radical left when they were harming charities taking care of seniors.“We have a party that’s big enough to bring in guys like Bob Rae and we have a party that’s big enough to bring in guys like Keith Martin and Scott Bryson, former Conservatives.“I believe a majority of people in Canada and a majority of people in this riding are common-sense, compassionate people. Common-sense, compassionate people should look to the Liberal party.”

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