Long-time NDP strategist and NDP Leadership candidate Brian Topp will be dropping by babble today, February 22, at 11:30am PST/2:30pm EST to answer your questions on his quest for the keys to Stornoway.
Potential interview questions have already been submitted here and here, and a list of those submissions has been assembled by the editorial staff of rabble.ca. Each selected question will be posed by a moderator (i.e. me) and then Brian will offer his response. Once Brian has responded to the initial question, babblers are welcome to offer comments and follow-up questions in this thread; although, Brian may not be able to get to them all.
For an idea of how this session will run, see our previous Q&A with Nathan Cullen.
Unlike other threads on babble, abusive posts will be deleted immediately. In the interest of tidyness and readability, superfluous or digressive posts may be removed as well.
Come back at 11:30 PST/2:30 EST to read what Brian has to say!
Hi everyone! We are very close to starting up our next NDP Leadership Q&A with candidate Brian Topp. Let me be the first to welcome Brian to babble (although as our regulars know, Brian is already quite familiar with our place here).
Hi, Brian, really glad you are here today.
Nice to be here once again.
Welcome Brian! Glad to have you here.
Hi Brian - let's rock 'n' roll! Welcome.
Great to have you, Brian. Our first question from algomafalcon has to do with representation in the House of Commons:
The issue you are raising here is whether or not Quebecers should retain a 25% share of the House of Commons, or should we be strictly “represented by population” (which would take the province to about 23%). The last time I tuned in this discussion, Parliament was discussing a proposal to set the number at about 24% -- what you might call a typically Canadian compromise that all Canadians could perhaps grumpily live with, given we are talking about very small variances in seats.
I think the truly pressing Parliamentary issues lie elsewhere – in the existence of an unelected and unrepresentative but powerful Senate; in the perversities of our electoral system; and in the attack on responsible government we witnessed in 2008.
I support Senate abolition. The conditions for this might be found in a showdown between a new NDP government and the Senate should it try to frustrate the will of the House (those were the conditions that led to the abolition of all of Canada’s unelected second chambers in provincial legislatures long ago).
I favour a mixed proportional house, blending the current House with a tier of MPs elected by proportional representation somewhat on the German model. A clear commitment on this issue – that if an NDP government is elected in 2015, the people of Canada will be voting on a mixed proportional system in 2019 – might be a compelling way to “unite the left” by persuading progressive-minded Greens and Liberals as well as New Democrats to vote NDP next election.
And I favour enacting a Parliament Act in the first sitting of Parliament after we have rid Canada of the Tory government, for the purpose of forbidding a Prime Minister from ever advising the Governor-general to prorogue the house when a confidence vote is before it.
A reminder to everyone to limit your questions to follow-up questions and/or direct responses to Brian's answers. We may have time at the end for other questions and comments.
Mr. Topp? What is your definition of democracy in Canada? Is it concerned with the rights of corporations or the rights of individual persons?
You mean there would be no separate MMP referendum - electing an NDP govt in 2015 would suffice?
Democratic rights are about the rights of citizens -- and citizens are people, not corporations. Mitt Romney's line that "corporations are people too" was one of the more surreal moments of recent American politics.
Given that abolishing the Senate would require re-openning the Constitution, how would you do it without openning a Pandora's Box?
I'm open to debate about a referendum but my preference would be that the election is the referendum.
Thank you Mr. Topp.
Thanks Brian for your detailed response. We have a related follow-up question from babbler Wilf Day:
Merci Brian, je suis d'accord!
And the question was: how will you go about this?
To the left: Sente abolition is a tricky proposition, no doubt about it. A real crisis between the two houses (something similar to the House of Lords crisis in Westminster in 1911) might give us a shot at provincial support without getting us back into a fruitless swamp. No prior agreement -- don't try.
Thanks Brian. I'll continue to our next prepared question, about unions:
If you weren't able to abolish the Senate, would agree to a compromise whereby it becomes an elected body instead?
I am the head of a union, and am running for leader having been endorsed (so far) by the United Steelworkers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) – two of our party’s most committed trade union affiliates. Our party’s partnership with the trade union movement is literally a foundational one – as is true of every other social democratic/democratic socialist party in the world contending seriously for office in the democratic world.
I support working closely with the house of labour (and the rest of our movement) to take the initiative back from the Harper conservatives and to start setting the political agenda in Canada -- on issues like repairing the damage liberals and tories have done to the public finance; climate change; and economic and social equality.
I support working equally closely together on our policy offer as we approach the next election.
And I would like us to develop an outreach program tailored to each labour affiliate with the goal of substantially building party membership, and promoting NDP voting by rank-and-file union members. In the 2000 election we earned about 25% of the vote among union households. In recent elections we have more than doubled that vote – providing us with the margin of victory in many ridings. That’s work we need to continue to pursue diligently.
We have a special obligation to earn the partnership and support of the labour movement in Quebec, now that we are the principal representatives of that province in the House of Commons.
Mr Topp, do you have any thoughts on creating a national energy policy instead of the current one being dictated to us from corporate board rooms in America? A sovereign oil wealth fund?
A reminder to babblers to limit their questions to follow-ups. But Fidel, we'll be addressing that issue a bit later.
Would your government limit no-strike measures to those specified in the Code - i.e., "immediate and serious danger to the health or safety of the public"?
[That's intended as a follow-up, given Harper-Raitt's anti-union crusade.]
With many US and Israeli polititians increasing the rhetoric regarding a mitary strike against Iran and with this becoming an increasingly realistic possibility, what diplomatic steps do you believe Canada should take to try and dissuade such an action from occurring?
If a UN based or Iraq-esque "coalition of the willing" formed regarding military action against Syria, do you believe Canada should be involved in this action if the conditions were sufficient that countries like the UK thought they were justified?
hi Wilf: To how we do this:
Senate abolition requires a constitutional amendment. Perhaps conditions for this will be created by the Senate itself.
Electoral reform: Requires a legislative reform. We can debate whether we'd like to make it a core commitment of our platform we will implement if elected (my preference) or refer to a referendum.
Prorogation: The message I'd like to send could be written into House's standing orders by act of the House alone, but I'd prefer a bill that the Governor-general signs. Just so we all see it very clearly. It would be "advice" to the GG but, one hopes, worthy of being respected.
Thanks Brian. Here's our third question, about environmental policy:
Unionist: Yes. Some lessons learned there.
I am indeed an environmentalist, and I am committed to substantial, meaningful laws and programs to address our global responsibilities to address climate change and many other environmental issues. I spelled out my commitments in this paper (http://www.briantopp.ca/sites/default/files/8-Green%20Canada,%20Prospero...).
I was, incidentally, one of the drafters of our last three federal election platforms. Jack Layton cared passionately about these issues as well, and as I hope you saw in those documents, we put them at the heart of our recent federal campaigns. In my own paper I argue that good environmental policy is the best economic policy. When we look at our results over the past three campaigns, we can also say that good environmental policy is an excellent electoral strategy.
Brian, you missed the question, which is about the next three years: how would you go about "making electoral reform and proportional representation a priority issue within the coming sessions of parliament and in communities across Canada"?
Sorry Wilf -- Like all major issues, this one is going to need to be won in advance of the election. So we need to do our work in and outside of the house on it -- to argue for it, to set out our alternative clearly, and to build a coalition who are with us on it. Much as this kind of reform was achieved in advance of elections and votes in other jurisdictions (like NZ).
Mods will be removing any non-relevant questions to ensure readability. Please limit your questions to follow-ups!
And a follow-up on environmental policy:
In my view all revenues derived from our plan to reduce carbon emissions should remain within the environmental plan. These funds will be needed to do the job we need to do (transitioning to a much lower-carbon, much more-energy efficient and – not incidentally – a much for productive, competitive and prosperous economy). also, keeping them focused there will ensure public support for green measures. And I don’t think we want the government to become a carbon addict – dependent on revenues derived from carbon emissions which we want to radically decrease.
This last point is why I favoured rejecting the Liberal Party’s “carbon shift” plan in 2008. It is also a point of debate between Tom Mulcair and I. Mr. Mulcair said during the Halifax debate and then again in a recent interview with the Toronto Star, as I understood him, that he did favour diverting revenues from our green plan into general government revenues as an alternative to undoing the damage liberals and conservatives have done to public revenues. I asked him about this during the debate in Quebec City and didn’t make much progress in getting him to explain his reasoning – I disagree with his approach.
Tempus fugit...on to our next topic: foreign policy and the Middle East. Specifically, Iran:
and a related question from rabble.ca columnist Murray Dobbin:
I don’t support a military adventure in Iran over this issue. As a middle power that should be dedicated to resolving issues rather than making them worse, we should decline to participate in a new gulf war, and we should call on other parties to do so as well. We should oppose nuclear proliferation in Iran and among all of its neighbours, mindful that Canada is not an imperial power and does not dispatch expeditionary forces to impose our will on those who disagree with us.
A reminder that non-relevant questions are being removed. Please limit your questions to follow-ups and comments related to Brian's responses.
Right on! I totally agree.
On to the next topic, in which rabble.ca insider Murray Dobbin sneaks in another question! This has to do with your colleague Nathan Cullen's co-operation proposal:
I like and respect Nathan Cullen but I don’t agree with his proposal on “cooperation”, for three reasons:
First, I believe New Democrats have the right to vote for a New Democrat.
Second, as a New Democrat who joined our party in Montreal almost 30 years ago, I reject defeatism. I don’t agree that we can’t win, something long and insistently said of our prospects in Quebec, until we spectacularly proved that this was not true. Now the suggestion seems to be we can't win in English Canada... on much less evidence.
Third, I think that those who are eager to embrace a pre-election electoral partnership with the Liberal party would do well to listen to what the proposed partner is saying about this idea. Delegates at the recent Liberal convention gave Dalton McGuinty a lengthy standing ovation when he rejected these ideas. No responsible Liberal leader or officer supports them. And many Liberal strategists spelled out why during a discussion about similar ideas a year and a half ago. They argue that if there is no Liberal candidate, something like 50% of the Liberal vote votes Conservative. So, unless the idea here is for New Democrats to stand down in all cases – a convenient proposal from the Liberals, given our current relative standings -- then this proposal will elect more Conservatives, not fewer of them.
I support repeating our commitment to work with others to get things done in a future minority parliament, either through case-by-case cooperation, a budget accord, a governing accord, or a coalition. And I think we should keep our minds open to good ideas. But this isn’t one of those in my view.
If you oppose a war with Iran, how would you respond to pressures from Canada's allies around the world to calls for military involvement if Iran does acquire a nuclear weapon? Under what circumstances would you agree Canada must fight a war?
better get us the hell out of NATO then...
Thanks for the comments on Iran, although we've moved on to the next subject. We only have an hour with Brian, and there are still more questions to get to.
Our last prepared question comes from Boom Boom, and it's a two-parter:
Bravo and hear hear. I'd like to see this put out immediately as a news flash for all the NDP MPs who voted in support of NATO's Libyan campaign, and to the acting Leader who was so disappointed in Russia and China for not coming in on the Syrian file. Just as soon as you get in? Well, ok then..better late than never.
We have about 10 minutes for follow-up questions ...
What means would you suggest to oppose nuclear proliferation by Iran and its neighbours? Would Israel qualify as one of those neighbours?
Part (1): If you’re talking about name recognition, none of the current candidates are currently known to the people of Canada. I’ve received more media coverage over the past six months than any of my opponents and so may be doing a little better than some. But most voters don’t follow the details of politics on Parliament Hill and most voters therefore aren’t very familiar with any political figures other than the party leaders. Whoever is elected will therefore face the same need to introduce themselves to voters. But the good news is that, up against an incompetent conservative government, it can be done. Witness the current success of BC NDP leader Adrian Dix, who was elected to his position in similar circumstances and is doing very well indeed.
Part (2): I won’t lose. As a piece of historical trivia, the NDP leader who had the most difficulty getting into the House was Tommy Douglas, but the wait was worth it.
I appreciate your confidence that you won't lose the by-election. But, what if you do? What if Stephen Harper waits a year before a by-election vote for the riding of the MP you'll ask to step down? Would you ask Nycole Turmel to stay on as interim leader?