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By: Bianca Caramento

I entered university as a die-hard New Democrat. Now I’m the president of the McMaster Young Liberals. What the hell happened? My guess: philosophy.

Studying philosophy involves what most people would call “hairsplitting.” Minute details are endlessly debated. Everyday assumptions are constantly challenged. Basic “truths” are subject to intense scrutiny. For instance, philosophers might ask why we believe that what goes up will indeed come down, just because it has every time before. Simply put, nothing is sacred in the field of philosophy because no belief is taken at face value.

So, how does the Liberal Party emulate this modus operandi and why is that a good thing?

Many people give the Liberals flack for not abiding by a particular ideology. In fact, the party is often referred to as “The Big Rent Tent” because its members hold wildly different political views. There remains one constant, however. As a rule, Liberals place debate, critical discussion, and evidence-based decision making before all else.

Much like the study of philosophy, Liberals challenge and debate just about everything. In NDP circles, chances are you won’t hear anyone question the need to regulate capitalism or provide social assistance. They may debate how they ought to, but it is unlikely they will debate if they ought to. Among Liberals, these policies, along with all others, are subject to critical discussion.

In the Liberal Party, a policy’s merit does not stem from its alignment with party values, but from its ability to reflect existing reality and best address the problems at hand. This method of policy making is content-neutral. It may result in a highly left-leaning platform; it may not. What matters is that the resulting policies have withstood rigorous debate.

Political philosopher, John Stuart Mill, provides convincing justification for this form of policy development in his discussion of free speech. Mill argues that without the freedom to debate and challenge existing views, two things happen. First, we end up with blindly accepted truths that we cannot fully understand nor defend. Mill refers to this as “dead dogma.” Secondly, we miss out on the opportunity to adapt, improve and strengthen our beliefs by virtue of having to defend them with others.

This translates rather seamlessly to Liberal policy development. By staying committed to an ongoing discussion of each policy’s merit and efficacy, no matter what it may be, the Liberal Party seeks to implement the best possible solution, instead of the solution that simply fits an ideological framework. The philosophy nerd in me can’t help but appreciate that.

Some people say politics is a tough business, but the truth is, it’s not rocket science.

Federal Liberal leadership hopeful and former astronaut Marc Garneau visited McMaster on Feb. 26 to meet with students.

Garneau became Canada’s first man in space in October 1984 when he worked as a payload specialist on the shuttle Challenger. He entered politics in the mid-2000s and currently serves as MP for the Westmount-Ville Marie riding in Montreal.

Garneau is widely considered to be in second to frontrunner Justin Trudeau in the race for leadership.

The down-to-earth mechanical engineer was greeted by a dozen students in The Phoenix and discussed issues ranging from education to oil sands. While his policies vary from those of his competitors, Garneau’s message was much the same as other candidates.

“As a party we have made some mistakes in the past few years, and we’re rebuilding,” he explained. “We have a huge amount of work to do.”

The Liberal Party has faced a major drop in support over the past decade. The number of seats held by Liberals in the House of Commons has been on the decline since 2000. Of the 308 seats, only 35 are currently held by Liberals.

Garneau is keen to see that change. His platform is based around a focus on the knowledge-based economy, a sector he feels has been neglected.

“My professional life has really been focused on the high tech sector,” he said. “I understand how innovation happens. We have the ingredients in this country – the people with good ideas. But we’re not helping them develop those ideas into commercial successes.”

He went on to say that the traditional Liberal focus has been on natural resources, rather than the knowledge economy. But he doesn’t want to discount the role of the West, in particular the oil sands, in Canada.

“I understand that they have become the economic centre of gravity of this country,” Garneau explained. He underlined the importance of “getting Westerners on board” with the party’s direction in order to be successful, citing his three-year term on the board of an oil company as relevant experience.

His platform has also resonated well with students for its policy on student loans. Garneau has proposed that students be able to defer repayment on the federal portion of their loans until they are employed and earning $40,000 a year.

“I think the best indicator [of this policy’s popularity] – and I’m not being facetious here – is that three days later, Justin [Trudeau] adopted the same policy,” he said with a laugh. “I think it’s a smart thing to do … it’s a good investment.”

Canadian media have been keen to hail Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as the new hope for the Liberal Party.

But in the midst of Trudeau’s rise to stardom, Garneau claims to be more grounded. He has publicly accused Trudeau of being focused too much on vision and not enough on specific policies or strategies to accomplish his goals.

“The leadership of the Liberal Party is too important a position to be handed to an untested candidate who is hiding behind a carefully crafted public relations campaign,” he said at a Feb. 25 press conference. He challenged the Papineau MP to a one-on-one debate, which Trudeau declined.

The two candidates will join their six competitors, including former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay and Vancouver MP Joyce Murray, in Halifax on March 3 for a debate. The convention to choose the leader will take place on April 14.

Kathleen Wynne, a Toronto MPP who recently entered the Ontario Liberal leadership bid, met with members of the McMaster Young Liberals at My Dog Joe in Westdale on Nov. 20.

At the small gathering, Wynne addressed topics including affordable housing, healthcare, economic growth, and a struggling post-secondary sector.

Wynne said she would keep Premier McGuinty’s 30 per cent off tuition grant in place and work toward increased access to Ontario’s post-secondary education.

In response to a Ministry discussion paper on education reform in September, Wynne expressed support for online learning as a tool, but said it should not replace traditional modes of learning.

“In some parts of the province we need more online courses. I don’t think we necessarily need a new online institution,” she said. Wynne also said she does not think three-year degrees are the way to go.

Wynne identified economic growth as a priority, and said she would work to balance the budget and ensure the Province stays on target fiscally for 2017-2018.

“We need to develop new, innovative industries, but we also have resources and a mining boom in the North,” said Wynne. “We need to find our place in the supply chain.”

Wynne, former education minister and minister of transportation, recently garnered the support of Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.

Since Dalton McGuinty’s announcement in October that he would step down as Premier and prorogue Parliament, six Liberal MPPs have entered the leadership race. The other candidates are Gerard Kennedy (Toronto), Glen Murray (Toronto), Sandra Pupatello (Windsor) and Charles Sousa (Mississauga).


The cheering tittered through the crowd, cutting off the introductory speaker, and throngs of people pushed to the aisle to just to get a glance at the man entering the room. He’s the other famous Canadian Justin.  And he’s the newest candidate running for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Justin Trudeau’s visit to Hamilton on Oct. 10 was one in a series of meet and greets the leadership candidate has been doing since he officially announced his candidacy on Oct. 2.

Approximately 600 people came out for the event. It was held at the Sheraton Hotel and was organized my recent McMaster graduate Elyse Banham, a former member of the McMaster Young Liberal Association.

The meet and greet appeared to be comprised mainly of baby boomers, and the majority of the youth in attendance appeared to be affiliated with the Young Liberal Association.  Well known Hamilton Liberal MPs, Beth Phinney and Judy Marsales, also attended.

The event was intended to be a rally for current Liberal party supporters, but also aimed to familiarize Hamiltonians with Trudeau’s campaign platforms.

Trudeau was introduced by former Liberal MPP Marie Bountrogianni (Hamilton Mountain). Bountrogianni described Trudeau as “a breath of fresh air to the political scene in Canada.”

She also commented on how his youth and experience better readied him to understand the crisis in youth “mal-employment,” given that one out of five 25-29-year-olds make less than half the median income in Canada.

Although youthful energy and passion have been championed as core values of the Trudeau campaign from the beginning, his speech, while charismatically delivered, fell short of addressing youth concerns.

Instead, it focused on the general agenda Trudeau has been presenting so far during his Canadian city tour. He discussed the implications of partisanship, criticizing both the Conservative party and the NDP for polarizing regions against each other, and for promoting ideologies which “micro-categorize” electoral issues.

Trudeau emphasized his determination to not engage in regionalism, pitting one region’s interest above others. This issue proved to be a lynch pin for Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, who has often been accused of polarizing Alberta and the West from the rest of Canada.

The content of the speech appeared to mimic the previous speeches delivered in early stops in Burlington and Mississauga. Despite the similarity of the speech to the many others Trudeau has delivered in the past few weeks, the trademark Trudeau charisma shone through, as evidenced by the shouts, cheers and applause which erupted and overpowered his speech at times.

Trudeau took time to personally appeal to Hamiltonians and addressed issues unique to Hamilton.

“Hamilton is a city with a tremendous heart. It’s been through some tough times and some great times. It’s transformed itself from a manufacturing hub to being a research and knowledge economy hub.”

Matthew Ing, a fifth-year Arts and Science student and member of the McMaster Young Liberals volunteered at the event. He explained that meet and greet was purposely not a fundraiser.

“A fundraiser brings certain groups of people...those who can afford to attend. To have as many people there and overcome regional divides, [the campaign] aimed to reach out to all Hamiltonians and make it an accessible event.”

In addition to being the MP for the Papineau riding in Montreal, Trudeau is the Liberal party’s critic for youth, post-secondary education, and amateur sport. Ing explained that Trudeau has actively sought out youth input and consultation in his campaign.

“The current government has no policy for tackling the [high] youth unemployment rate...you can rest assured that youth will be at the forefront of any issue Justin addresses.”

Trudeau concluded his speech by lamenting the recent decline of the Liberal party, which won only 35 seats in the last federal election and lost its title of Official Opposition Party.

The campaign has focused on branding Trudeau as the product of a new post-partisan generation of politicians. He has strongly distanced himself from the superior and entitled attitudes that he implied have been historically present in the Liberal party.

Instead, he advocated for a new party, which viewed Canadian interests as a whole, and aimed to speak for and listen to all Canadians.

“Hard work and heart, of the type that has always characterized Hamilton, for example, is the only thing that is going to get the Liberal Party to move forward once again, it’s the only thing that is going to get Canada to move forward once again.”

Brian Decker

Executive Editor


Ontarians may be headed back to the polls this spring.

The Liberal provincial minority government tabled its proposed budget Tuesday, but Opposition and Progressive Conservative party Leader Tim Hudak says his party will not support the budget, putting Andrea Horwath’s New Democratic Party in a position to decide whether the budget is voted down.

The budget aims to slash the province’s $15.3 billion deficit by freezing wages at hospitals, universities, colleges and on other public sector employees. If it is defeated, an election could be called as early as May.

“We are making the right choices to ensure that Ontario families are receiving the best possible services and the best value for tax dollars,” said Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan. “All of us have a role to play in balancing the budget.”

The budget aims to save $17.7 billion over the next three years while increasing revenues by $4.4 billion without tax increases. But opponents of the legislation say it’s leaving too many groups out of the equation.

“With students having huge debt and not a lot of job prospects coming out of school, it’s concerning that there’s nothing in this budget for job creation,” said Hamilton Mountain MPP Monique Taylor.

“The budget’s falling short on job creation and health care. There’s nothing in to help everyday families and make life easier for them,” said Taylor. “That’s a serious problem.”
Horwath said that her party’s MPPs will be meeting with constituents and having a “serious talk” this week over whether to support the budget.

“We’re not ready to make that decision yet,” said Taylor. “We won’t know that until after our next caucus meeting.”

Some of the features of the budget include austerity toward pensions for current public sector employees, including greater required contributions and a reduction in future benefits, as well as a freeze on scheduled drops in corporate income taxes and the Business Education tax.

The budget comes on the heels of February’s Drummond Report, which called for numerous measures to take place in order to quickly tackle the deficit.

However, the Liberals left a number of the report’s recommendations out of the budget, including a plan to cancel the recent 30 per cent tuition grant for university students.

“The government’s commitment to continue funding enrolment growth and the tuition grant are critical to creating a more accessible and affordable post-secondary education system,” said Sean Madden, President of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), a provincial student lobbying group.

Madden said, however, that postsecondary education still needs to be a bigger priority for the McGuinty Liberals.

“With this Budget, our universities will continue to operate with the least per-student funding and highest tuition fees of any province, while teaching quality and student success remain pressing issues,” he said.

The demand for marijuana legalization is strong enough that the Liberal Party should give it serious consideration.

Ryan Mallough

Silhouette Staff


Bob Rae characterized the Liberal Party as “knocked down,” a term ripe with the political optimism demanded by the leader of a party humbled in an historical fashion.  The fact is the Liberals where much more than knocked down in the last election. Relegated to third party status for the first time in history, the Liberals were the electoral equivalent of curb-stomped and left for dead in the gutter. The people had spoken.  The Liberal Party was on notice and changes needed to be made if the “natural governing party” wanted to survive beyond another election. It started with the naming of Toronto-Centre MP Bob Rae as interim leader to steady the ship, but the real rebuilding did not begin until the party’s biennial convention.

There was an air of optimism amongst delegates going in, and several surprises coming out of the biennial Liberal Party policy convention, held in Ottawa from Jan. 12-15; not the least of which was the election of Mike Crawley as Party President in a narrow defeat of favoured former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps. The party delegates, anchored by a strong youth representation, also voted to keep the Queen and to open up membership for free to all Canadians not already members of a political party, while rejecting the idea of holding American style primaries in leadership races.

However, the most surprising, and if handled correctly the most potentially renewing, resolution to pass – with resounding support – was Resolution 117: support for the legalization and regulation of marijuana.

Proposed by the Young Liberals of British Columbia, Resolution 117 proposes a federally regulated system of MJ growth, distribution and taxation of marijuana. While the plan does not get into the specifics, one imagines a distribution system similar to that of liquor wherein a Crown corporation (similar to the LCBO), likely be administered by a special branch of Health Canada, or perhaps even through the creation of a Ministry of Marijuana (after all, who wouldn’t want the distinction of being Canada’s top dealer?).

Regardless of how it comes into effect, the resolution creates a unique opportunity for the Liberals to shape their platform. One of the more common criticisms of Canadian politics, and particularly of the federal Liberal and New Democrat Parties, is the lack of significant difference between parties.  Passing Resolution 117 changes that.

It is not to say that the Liberals should become the marijuana party, but that support for legalization will allow them to create present unique platform points that will gain public and media attention, as well as help to throw their stances in sharp contrast to those of the Conservatives and New Democrats.

Economically the party is proposing an entirely unique revenue stream for the federal government. The Dutch government collects around $600 million per year from its marijuana industry which is regulated to the city of Amsterdam.  Canada receives approximately 35 million tourists every year (almost quadruple what the Netherlands receives) and could potentially see revenue in the multi-billions from domestic a tourist based consumption.

It also allows for a distinct opposition to the Conservative Crime agenda by legalizing many farmers, dealers and traffickers who currently make up, as of 2009, five per cent of the prison population – a number which will increase when the new Crime Bill comes into effect – and eliminating other competition. The resolution also proposed providing amnesty to those previously convicted of minor possession charges, and will free up police and corrections resources for more serious crimes as well as support for a strong health and drug information and awareness campaign which is a distinct education and prevention based alternative to the Conservative crime and punishment based approach.

Despite these benefits, the Liberals will also have to come armed with data and prepared for the potential onslaught of attacks.  One can already imagine the 30 second spot listing Liberal policies and asking if the party leader is high and the pun-lined debate responses quipped to undermine the issue.

However difficult it may be, the Liberals should not back down. Public support for legalization is strong. A recent poll shows that nearly two thirds of Canadians support legalization, and the benefits largely outweigh the risks. After all, we already condone the far more damaging consumption of alcohol and cigarettes while promoting a sport that all but glorifies brain damage, so why not?

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