Leader–Manitoba Liberal Party
My political philosophy was first shaped while growing up in Saskatchewan under an NDP government. From that first political experience, it was clear to me that the Liberal Party offered an approach to public affairs that the NDP did not.
Part of this was the importance Liberals place on wealth creation which has been shown in province after province to be much superior to that offered by the NDP. I am (?) a fervent Canadian nationalist, but to me this means using government to help grow private sector businesses in Canada rather than having governments take over and run those businesses. I place a strong emphasis on developing a culture of individual initiative and entrepreneurship in Manitoba, a culture where individuals are empowered to solve problems, move their communities forward and build our province and our country. Without a vibrant, energetic private sector as the engine of wealth creation, we will all be poor.
A second major advantage that drew me early on to the Liberal Party was the better understanding Liberals have of the Canadian mosaic. The NDP have never had much presence in Quebec for a variety of reasons, and this remains a marker of the large difference in approach between the two parties on the national stage.
Canada is the wonderful country it is largely because we have been able to be tolerant of differences and of diversity. We have had to work constantly to bridge the divides between those living in different parts of our country. In recognizing the richness of having so many French speaking citizens in Canada, we have had to develop a country which is a mosaic rather than a melting pot. Because we have had to recognize the important role of both English and French in the origins and in the future of Canada, we have also developed an approach which is particularly sensitive to cultures around the world, and which builds on the strengths of Canadians of many different backgrounds. I see the nurturing of individual ties and strengths as vital to our success in Canada, in connecting us to the world, and in helping us to play an important role globally.
From early on, I also worked to learn about the role of aboriginal peoples in the history of our country. I have met with many aboriginal people and visited many aboriginal communities in a search for a better understanding of their contributions and their culture. I have also worked with aboriginal people to develop better approaches to the future which build upon past agreements and treaties. I see a richness in aboriginal culture from which we as a broader society can learn. Such richness is part of our past and our future mosaic.
In the years since, as my understanding and involvement in politics has grown, so too has my philosophy as it applies to politics. I trained at the University of Saskatchewan in economics, followed by four years of learning leading to a medical degree at McGill University, and then further training in an internship, a residency and a fellowship in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. From these experiences, I offer the following views as they apply to my philosophy on the delivery of health care.
I have been a consistent supporter of the Canadian medicare system. Interestingly, my father, even though he was a physician in Saskatchewan when medicare was first introduced there, was also a supporter of medicare. My father continued working when almost all the other doctors went on strike. He felt both that the needs of patients came first and that medicare was a good thing. Ever since, I have retained a healthy skepticism about large organizations, whether medical associations or unions, when they put their own vested interests first rather than the public good.
I have also seen first hand the tremendous importance of research, scientific evidence, and innovation in improving health care. In my philosophy of the world, change is a constant. In my philosophy, there is a constant need to question the status quo and to develop new, innovative approaches using research and science to improve the quality and cost of health care. In a public health care system like we have in Canada, innovation, science, and evidence are even more important than in a private sector system. They are tremendously important drivers for change and improvement. In a market system, competition can be the critical driver to change and improve, but in our public health system—which has much fewer elements of competition – research, science, innovation, and evidence are more important because the market drivers for improvement are less present.
This brings me to the third major reason why I have embraced the Liberal philosophy. Innovation, change, and reform have been central to the very being of the Liberal Party. Sir Wilfred Laurier said it well when he commented "I am a Liberal. I am one of these who think that everywhere, in human beings, there are abuses to be reformed, new horizons to be opened up, and new forces to be developed."
In Manitoba, this has been a hallmark of the provincial Liberal Party, and particularly under my leadership. I see the NDP and the Conservatives as tied to the vested interests of their respective supporters: unions in the case of the NDP and business groups in the case of the Conservatives. Neither set of groups has been ready to embrace innovation, research, science and evidence in the way that is needed to move our province forward.
In the provincial Liberal Party, the drive for change and innovation is a constant. We need—and we must—constantly improve what happens in our province. We need to see change and innovation as vital to our future, whether in agriculture, manufacturing, or service industries. We need to develop much better approaches to improving innovation and change in Manitoba if we are to move our province forward.
From an early age, I have had a particular interest in the environment. I see nature as a critical part of our human heritage and of who we are as human beings. In the early and mid-1960s, it was very disturbing to me to see the widespread the effects of chemicals like DDT.
Through chance, I ended up being directly involved in looking at the effects of DDT. I had for a number of years helped Dr. Stuart Houston with his banding of hawks, owls, and other birds in Saskatchewan. As we traveled around the province in these banding efforts there was a lot of discussion about DDT and its effects which were having a severe impact on bird populations, notably those of peregrine falcons, bald eagles and osprey. While canoeing with a friend, Doug Whitfield, in northern Saskatchewan we came to realize there were bald eagles breeding there. In 1967, we banded 27 young in 18 eagle nests, and we were off and running on a long run study of bald eagles.
It turned out, in contrast to many other parts of their range, that the eagles of northern Saskatchewan were not being affected in a major way by DDT. But over the years since, my involvement with these field biological efforts has given me a vastly better knowledge and understanding of wildlife, of the boreal forest and of northern lakes.
When I was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1993 and was chosen to serve in the cabinet with a responsibility for Science, Research and Development, I had the opportunity to work closely with John Manley, Minister of Industry, to help develop environmental technology and environmental industries in Canada. It became very clear to me that the answers to many environmental issues were coming from entrepreneurs who were developing new environmental businesses using new technologies which provided superior environmental products and services.
I have come to see the environment and the economy as closely related. Rather than the typical NDP view that businesses and corporations are anathema because of the pollution they cause, or the Conservative view that taking care of the environment must take second place to building the economy, I take a very Liberal view that understanding and dealing well with the environment is a key to economic growth. Assisting entrepreneurs with more environmentally sound products is only part of this. Time after time, inadequate understanding of or consideration for the environment in Manitoba has given us large economic costs. Only when we understand and deal well with environmental aspects will our economy grow to its fullest potential.
The Liberal approach to human rights is the fifth area of my political philosophy that I would like to emphasize. Human rights have always been a strong and consistent part of my own philosophy and the Liberal philosophy. In Manitoba, it was Liberal governments which provided the right to vote for women (1916) and for aboriginal people (1950s). When Israel Asper was provincial Liberal leader, three times he introduced a Bill of Rights and three times it was rejected by the NDP. Eventually, the NDP was forced to bring in a watered down version, but it is unfortunate that the stronger Liberal Bill of Rights was not adopted. Federally, it was of course Pierre Trudeau who led the charge to put the Canadian Bill of Rights in the Canadian constitution.
I continue to work hard to advance human rights alongside a better understanding of the responsibilities we have as citizens. It is important to achieve a greater level of equality and of opportunity among our citizens, and I believe that the province plays a critical role in accomplishing these goals, particularly with fighting poverty and in dealing with education. I see citizens in our province having a right to a high quality education. Here, our challenge is to address the issue of quality as well as the issue of affordability.
Such poverty in Manitoba is unacceptable. Absolutely must, as a matter of human rights and civil decency, create a social environment where there is a right to shelter and security and to freedom from poverty. Delivering on this right is a serious challenge, but we can not let the size of the problem stop our efforts toward this goal. Liberals, after all, are practical visionaries.
I also see prompt and appropriate access to quality health care when it is needed as a right of citizens. Our public medicare system has some way to go to deliver such prompt access, but here again, Liberals believe that it can be done.
Opportunity for citizens is also a right, perhaps the most important. Opportunity in our society and our other basic rights must apply to all, including those with special abilities or with physical or mental disabilities or health concerns. Opportunity for all is perhaps one of the best ways to express the core of what it means for me to be a Liberal.
My approach to government and society also embraces a belief in the vital role that markets and individual enterprise play in organizing and shaping our society. Unlike many Conservatives, though, I also readily recognize that government has a role when the free market fails. I believe in honesty, integrity, openness, and transparency in government, in short—accountability. For example, in recent weeks I have begun a blog as a way of providing a more open and transparent understanding of what I do as an MLA and leader of a provincial political party.
I should add here that with respect to faith I am a Christian and a member of the United Church of Canada. While a large part of my own philosophy has a basis in Christian teaching, as well as Liberal thought, I place an importance on understanding and using good ideas from other religions where they can help us improve our approach in the political arena. Of course, tolerance of other religions and beliefs has long been a cornerstone of the Liberal political tradition. Such tolerance is not always easy when the traditions and beliefs are quite different from one's own, but it is vital that independent actions, thought, and ideas are protected where they do not compromise or infringe upon the actions and choices of other citizens.
When I became a doctor, my motivation was helping others. When I left the active practice of medicine to become a politician, it was to be able to help others in the larger political arena. It became apparent to me critical decisions on the future of health care are more and more being made at the political level, and that if I was going to have an impact, I needed to be there.
Hopefully this article gives some insight into my way of thinking, but I would like to close with one aspect of my political philosophy that has always been important to me. In my view, a philosophy must be expressed in actions not just in words. As the old expression goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As a politician, I try to the very best I can, to act in accordance with my philosophical approach. For, in the final analysis, actions mean more than words.