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Anita Neville

Steven Fletcher

Pat Martin

Alon Weinberg


by Rhonda Spivak and Zach Fleisher, April 29, 2011

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher , Liberal MP  Anita Neville, NDP MP Pat Martin, and Alon Weinberg, Green party candidate, all gave opening statements, debated and answered questions at a B’nai Brith sponsored pre-election forum moderated by Yude Henteleff.
What follows is a summary of the remarks of the candidates in the order in which they gave their opening addresses. The coverage of the remarks of Steven Fletcher and Anita Neville is written by Rhonda Spivak. Following that, there is an article by Zach Fleisher covering the remarks of Pat Martin and Alon Weinberg.
Fletcher opened his remarks by asking voters whether they wanted a Conservative government “that would stimulate the economy” or “a coalition,” -- a government “with a proven track record during a very difficult economic time” or “ a coalition”, a government of “experience” and “leadership demonstrated time and time again” or a coalition, “ lower taxes under the Conservatives or higher taxes under the coalition, a “tough on crime agenda” under the Conservatives or “soft on crime [agenda] by hug a thug coalition members.” 
Fletcher gave a “concrete example” of providing Canada’s armed forces “with the equipment that they need” or not. He spoke of the need for Canada to purchase 65 new F-35 stealth fighter jets, that he said “would allow Canada to fulfill its international obligations,’’ including to Israel. He said the “opposition coalition’s" proposal to cancel the contract for the purchase of those jets would prevent Canada from “fulfilling its international obligations.” He said that the purchase was strategically advantage economically for Canada, and specifically would benefit Winnipeg and Bristol Aerospace workers.
Fletcher asked how Canada would explain the cancellation of the contract to our allies including Israel, to our soldiers and people locally who “rely on it for their jobs." He referred to cancelling the contract as an ‘irresponsible decision.” He said the choice in this election was “either a Conservative majority” or “an irresponsible coalition.” 
He also noted that “we left the recession stronger than when we entered,” and said “the best thing to help Canada is a strong economy.”
Fletcher noted that the increase in anti-semitic incidents (as reported in the B’nai Brith audits over the last decade) was “disturbing.”  
Regarding support of Israel, ‘the homeland of the Jewish people”, he said “no one had stood up for Israel more than Canada” under the Harper government and that “we stood with Israel and we did not flinch.” He referred to Israel as “our sister democracy” in the Middle East.  He noted that Canada was the first in the world to withdraw from the Durban II conference. He said “ there is no party that has given constant support for  the State of Israel” other than the Harper Conservatives which was demonstrated, for example, “ at the Francophonie’ when Harper stopped an anti- Israel resolution, and during and after the Second Lebanon war in 2006.
Regarding Iran, Fletcher defined Iran as a threat to the security of the world—and asked “he can we defend counties like Israel if we need to” and “how can we meet international obligations” “if the contract to purchase the F35 fighter jets is cancelled. He re-iterated that  the purchase supports “Canada’s ability to defend countries like Israel in a very difficult part of the world.”
In answer to a question from a member of the audience (Paul Myerson) as to what his governments position would be if  the Palestinians  presented a resolution at the U.N. to support a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, Fletcher answered that Canada would not support this.
Audience member Belle Millo asked all candidates, “If your party were elected on May 2- Do you support continued funding to the CMHR and do you support the original vision of the museum - that is a permanent and independent  Holocaust gallery along with 12 other zones including a mass atrocities gallery?
Fletcher did not directly answer the question about the content in the way Millo framed it   After a somewhat rambling response, he said:
 “When it comes to the content of the museum, a lot has changed. It’s now a national museum. When we look at human rights we have to look at what it actually means to have rights and responsibilities as human beings. There are a lot of terrible things that have happened. The Holocaust is a very vivid illustration.”
He then went on to say that there  that there were other terrible events for example in China, and the Ukraine. He suggested that “we need a structure’’ that show “ all ways” human rights are violated.    
Throughpout the event Fletcher repeated the question as how the Liberals and NDP could justify cancelling the contract for F-35 fighter jets. NDP MP Pat Martin gave a number of reasons. He said that they would be the last fighter jets of their kind since countries were moving over to drones with robots rather than actual people in them, and as such the fighter jets were “outdated.”  He said that no Canadian air strip was long enough for them to land in Canada, and that the contract price didn’t include engines. Neville added there was a concern about the planes flying up north in single engines, (no back up) . Martin said “you always get 3 tenders, before you go to build a sundeck” yet for this important contract the Conservative government hadn’t gotten tenders. He added, that Canada couldn’t afford “these expensive toys.”
Anita Neville, incumbent Liberal MP for Winnipeg South referred to this as a “pivotal election” and said one of the issues is “ about how we govern ourselves.” She said that going door to door in her riding “there is a rumble—something happening out there that I’ve never experienced before.” She said she has heard “ much about the negative advertising”, “a profound dislike of personal attack ads” a “manifestation of despair and a level of hopelessness that I’ve not experienced before, ” particularly when it comes to the issue of  affordable “ housing.”
“There’s a real dislike of the fear mongering that we have heard—we have heard some of it here this evening [referring to Fletchers opening remarks]…,” Neville added, saying she was personally disappointed in this.
She said she has heard a lot about “shutting down Parliament”, “about the firing of people who disagree with the government” , about “contempt of Parliament” and about “groups whose funding has been entirely eliminated or cut who are fearful of speaking out.”
She said “politics is about ideas not putting people down”, politics is about “bringing people together” not “dividing them," not “pitting them” against each other.
Neville said that never before “in the history of Canada has a government been found in contempt of Parliament…”
She pointed out the inconsistency of sending Canadians to fight for democracy in Afghanistan “while we are eroding the foundations of our Parliamentary democracy at home.”
On the economy, Neville countered Fletcher’s description by saying that under the Harper government “we have a record deficit in the country not all of which was caused by the recession” and  she referred to the Harper government  as being  “the highest spending government”- 9 % in first year and 11 % in second year of their mandate. 
In regard to leadership on the international stage she asked what about Canada’s not getting a seat on the Security Council at the U.N ?”
Regarding security funding for the Jewish community institutions, Neville said she was one of first to raise this issue in Parliament and believes there should be funding for communities at risk that should be permanent, and this should not just be a pilot program.
Neville also noted that she has been concerned with anti-Semitism and sits on the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism in Canada [CPCCA] which will be issuing a report soon. She thinks “ public engagement” on this issue is important.
As to the issue of “Support for At-Risk Seniors”, Neville noted she had spoken to seniors who could not afford to eat more than a meal a day or porridge for dinner and was very concerned about this as well as being concerned about not enough homecare or proper housing. “Sorry, this is not the Canada that I want to see.”
Neville joked that seniors are at risk of many things including “being past their expiry date” (alluding to comments made by MP Shelley Glover about Neville at the outset of the campaign, which drew criticism for being anti-senior).
Neville also raised the issue of Israel Apartheid Week, and said she was pleased with Ignatieff’s clear statement against it.
Regarding  Israel, Neville said that the Liberal’s are committed to Israel’s existence in peace and security and  a  negotiated two state solution which would see Israel as a Jewish democratic state. She said that it was important, as Ignatieff  had said, that “all parties be genuine defenders of Israel. This is not a political football…”
On the issue of Iran, Neville wanted to highlight the efforts of  Irwin Cotler who has demonstrated “outstanding” leadership on issue of Iran, including the notion of bringing Ahmadinejad to trial before an international court for incitement to genocide.
She noted that Cotler and the Liberals have been pressing the Conservatives  to list the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary guard Council] as a terrorist entity in Canada, but the Conservatives have not done this.
She said that instead of isolating Iran as Canada should ,it had actually increased trade attaches between Canada and Iran.  “My understanding is they went from three to four trade  attaches,” she said after the event.
Regarding the issue of supporting a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN Neville said that  the Liberal Party would not support this and was committed to a negotiated solution, not unilateral steps.
Regarding the Canadian Human Rights Museum, Neville said “I support the museum as it is. It was designed with the best advice from experts working across the country.  The universal declaration of human rights is very much a result of the Holocaust. Politicians should not be involved in deciding the composition of the Museum of Human Rights…This is a museum of human rights. It’s not a museum of atrocities.”
By Zach Fleisher, 
            Both MP NDP Pat Martin  and Alon Weinberg made strong opening statements discussing their visions for Canada.
Martin opened with a calm collected vision of a social democratic Canada, where there would be a low level of homelessness, and unlike his own riding (which happens to be the worst in the country in the category at 54%) child poverty would be completely eliminated.
He noted he had been to other countries such as Norway and Sweden where they don’t have this kind poverty , and that Canada under the Harper government had decided that its priorities were elsewhere.
Alon Weinberg echoed similar thoughts and ideas, and throughout the debate mentioned new democratic reforms such as proportional representation, a mixed member proportional system or a preferential ballot system, all of which would change our current first past the post system. Weinberg also mentioned how he thought that our current system was out of date in that it did not allow Members of Parliament to properly connect to their constituents.
As the debate carried on, a common trend emerged as the Conservative representative, Steven Fletcher, continually tried to frame the debate around the issue of the F-35 fighter jet. Pat Martin was able to reframe the issue into an example of perceived Conservative waste. Martin explained that the current F-35 model being purchased was the last of its kind, and that the technology was completely outdated. As well, he quipped that when he renovates his sundeck that he would easily get three estimates for the cost, while the government of Canada only pursued one offer. Martin was also able to explain his platform, instead of consistently knocking the other party’s efforts in the election.

Another question at the debate was the issue of  the health and well being of seniors. While Fletcher was unable to fully create and issue  a response, both Weinberg and Martin pushed their vision for a more “just society” to create a stronger environment and better living conditions for seniors.  As well, all of them pushed for a stronger role against the rising incidents of anti-Semitism. Interestingly, Martin, who comes from the New Democratic Party (a party sometimes labeled as anti-Israel) said he would recommend not supporting a resolution for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.( It was clear he was speaking of his personal view which may well be a different view than those expressed by others of his party.). 

Weinberg continued with his position put forward in previous events and lectures, pushing for continuing dialogue with those involved in the conflict.

Regarding the CMHR, Martin said: “It’s not entirely fair to the people who bought into the early stages if we deviate from the original vision…. We all knew when Izzy Asper had the vision and when other people started buying in that there would be a heavy emphasis on the Holocaust – that it would be featured as one of the most important – perhaps the most important aspect of the museum. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I don’t think it shows any disrespect to the other exhibits. Again, it should be left to the experts.”
In the end, the debate proved to be entertaining and enlightening to those who trekked out to the Berney Theatre. Hopefully this forum will continue in the coming years, as it was an interesting take on the political process.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.