The federal election race in the riding of Westmount-Ville Marie has been very colourful.
While former astronaut Marc Garneau, who headed the Canadian Space Agency, is the Liberal incumbent he is facing star candidate Neil Drabkin of the Tories. Drabkin was the chief of staff to Stockwell Day the last five years in the portfolios of public safety, international affairs and president of the Treasury Board. While working in Ottawa for seven years during then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s tour of duty, he served as deputy chief of staff and senior policy advisor to Canada’s Minister of Multiculturalism and Citizenship, Gerry Weiner (with Drabkin below).
A native Montrealer and prominent lawyer, Drabkin completed his law studies at McGill University and Université de Montreal, graduating with degrees in civil and common law. He has an honours degree in political science and was admitted to the Quebec Bar in June of 1989. Prior to accepting his present-day role, Drabkin ran a highly successful immigration practice, and also served as a federal crown prosecutor.
In addition, over a four-year period, Drabkin hosted his own radio talk show on CIQC AM 600. He also hosted several cable television specials and ultimately became a frequent commentator on immigration and citizenship matters in the print media and on television.
“The Prime Minister has asked for the support of the Canadian people to form a majority government on May 2 and I believe the citizens of Westmount—Ville-Marie want to be represented in that government,” says Drabkin. “The Conservative Government’s stellar performance in managing the economy during the international economic crisis and the requirements necessary to maintain effective recovery and create new jobs moving forward are of utmost importance to all Canadians. Now is not the time to impose punishing new taxes on Canadians. In these uncertain times, we need the certain leadership of Stephen Harper more than ever.”
Garneau (below) was born in Quebec City in February of 1949. His education took place in Quebec, Ontario and England. He attended primary and secondary schools in Quebec City and Saint-Jean. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from the Royal Military College of Kingston in 1970, and in 1973 received a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, England. From 1982 to 1983, he attended the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College of Toronto. Garneau began his service to Canada as a Navy combat systems engineer on HMCS Algonquin from1974 to 1976. He was promoted to Commander in 1982 while at Staff College and was transferred to Ottawa in 1983. In January 1986, he was promoted to Naval Captain and retired from the Navy in 1989.
Garneau was one of six Canadian astronauts selected out of over 4,000 candidates in December 1983. He was seconded to the Canadian Astronaut Program from the Department of National Defence in February 1984 to begin astronaut training. Marc made history by becoming the first Canadian Astronaut to fly in space as a payload specialist on Shuttle Mission 41-G, October 5-13, 1984. In 1989 he was named Deputy Director of the Canadian Astronaut Program, providing technical and program support in the preparation of experiments to fly during future Canadian missions. Garneau reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1992. He completed a one-year training program until he became qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist. He initially worked on technical issues for the Astronaut Office Robotics Integration Team, and subsequently served as Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in Mission Control during Shuttle flights. With three space flights (STS-41G in 1984, STS-77 in 1996 and STS-97 in 2000), Marc Garneau has logged over 677 hours in space. In February he was appointed Executive Vice President of the Canadian Space Agency. He was subsequently appointed President of the same Agency on November 22, 2001 and left in 2005 to pursue a career in politics.
Garneau resigned from the Canadian Space Agency to run under the Liberal banner in Vaudreuil–Soulanges in 2006. He was unsuccessful there, but won two years later in Westmount-Ville Marie.
I was asked by the Jewish Tribune Newspaper to talk to the candidates and here is what they had to say on some of the issues.
Question: Vis a vis attacks on Jewish institutions , such as synagogues, community centres, schools and seniors' homes, what, if anything, would you do to push for an increase in government funding to help Jewish institutions stay safe? Would you work to increase sentences for hate-motivated crimes?
Drabkin: There has already been substantial investment in increased security spending around Jewish community institutions funded by the Conservative government over the past three years. What is required is a proactive approach by government that condemns anti-Semitism in the strongest possible terms and makes it clear to Canadians that hate crimes against any individual or community are not tolerated in our society. Canadian families are in favour of our increasing community safety and that is why the Conservative government has introduced substantial anti-crime legislation, notably the Truth in Sentencing Act, broadly supported by the law enforcement community. Stricter sentencing will increase deterrence for hate crimes and other offences directed at religious and cultural communities.
Garneau: The Liberal Party remains extremely concerned about such attacks on Jewish institutions. We are glad that the Conservatives finally made the Security Infrastructure Program permanent, after considerable delays, given how successful the pilot program was. We would maintain that program and look to grow it moving forward based on the needs of communities.
A Liberal government would examine the sentencing provisions sentences for hate-motivated crimes and would consider amendments for when hate-based motivation is an aggravating factor.
Question: Do you support the full implementation of Canada's anti-terror legislation, with equal application to all individuals and organizations deemed to be a terror threat, regardless of whether that might give rise to claims of Islam phobia?
Drabkin: I had the honour of serving as Stockwell Day’s Chief of Staff for over five years, which included his tenure as Minister of Public Security. Our department originated the strengthening of Canada’s anti-terror legislation and our government has been direct and forthright in identifying organizations supporting terrorist organizations abroad, labelling them as such, and moving to revoke their status in Canada, charitable and otherwise. The Canadian government does not single out Islamic organizations for special scrutiny, but rather applies the law uniformly across all organizations as it reviews their activities within Canada.
Garneau: We gave our support to Bill C-19 in the last Parliament, which has to do with investigative hearings and recognizance, the anti-terror measures that had been previously sunsetted. We supported these measures, and will do so again, because we feel they strike the appropriate balance between collective rights and security concerns. Our position is based on a very in-depth study done by Liberal MPs and Senators.
The Liberal Party also supports Bill S-7 in principle. We stand with the families of victims of terror who have long sought legal remedies for their losses. This legislation responds to numerous calls from victims of terror and their families for a legal mechanism with which to pursue domestic and international terrorists and their sponsors.
We are, however, concerned about the authority granted to Cabinet to list which states will have immunity, and which could be subject to civil actions. This process could become overly politicized. Liberal MP Irwin Cotler introduced a Private Member’s Bill that closely resembles Bill S-7 but does not contain the contentious listing framework that could allow the government to target countries for political reasons.
Question: Some say that the Liberal Party policy on Israel would not continue Harper’s strong pro-Israel stance. How do you respond?
Drabkin: The Liberal party has been peddling the concept of being an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East peace process, which translated into practical terms would be a return to either voting for or abstaining from voting on anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations as they did between 1993 and 2006. If being an honest broker means voting together with Arab states that are undemocratic and stand against Israel with the objective of undermining its continued existence, then as Conservatives we are completely against that approach. Mr. Ignatieff only repealed his 2006 accusation against Israel of war crimes in the Lebanese conflict under extreme duress from his fundraisers – his sincerity deserves to be called into question. The Harper Conservatives have stood steadfastly in support of Israel as the region’s only true democracy since 2006, and Prime Minister Harper was prepared to lose a seat on the UN Security Council in order to remain true to his values. We will let Canadian voters decide if an Ignatieff government would have been as principled, but we think not.
Garneau: Under the Liberal Party, Canada always has and always will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel. Liberals believe in the two-state solution and that true stability in the region can only happen when a safe, secure and democratic Israel exists in peace beside a viable, secure and democratic Palestinian state.
Canada’s ultimate objective must be peace in the region. In the short term, we should aim for a reduction in hostilities, economic growth for the most vulnerable, and a de-escalation of inflammatory rhetoric. But let us also be very clear – a democratic state like Canada cannot be neutral as between a democratic state and terrorist organizations.
Here in Canada, the challenges demand that our policy be based on the substance of the issues at play, rather than the exploitation of politics at home. Stephen Harper has polarized debate in Canada for partisan reasons, using this issue to divide Canadians. You won't see Michael Ignatieff or the Liberal Party attacking the positions of the other parties on Israel. That is because we believe the issues are too important to politicize. We don’t want our party to be alone in the defence of Israel – we want all parties to be genuine defenders of Israel, not seeking to divide our unity and our communities for partisan gain.
Question: B’nai Brith Canada has an extensive program of Affordable Housing directed at the senior members of our community. It is presently constructing an Alzheimer Residence to care for those afflicted with dignity. How do we best care for the vulnerable in our Society especially seniors.
Drabkin: Affordable housing is made possible, in part, by contributions from a variety of federal funding initiatives either through direct spending or in cooperation with provincial and municipal organizations. The $50 billion, 2-year stimulus package included funding for local infrastructure to improve the conditions of Canada’s senior population, which is growing as the boomer generation ages. The key to helping seniors is the make sure that they stay in good health – and that is why the Conservatives have pledged to add billions of new dollars in federal health care spending when the federal-provincial health accords are renegotiated in 2014.
Garneau: The Liberal platform calls for numerous initiatives to help the most vulnerable members of our society. Of particular interest :
Our Family Care Plan will invest $1 billion annually to reduce the economic pressure on hundreds of thousands of struggling Canadian families. This will be done through (1) A new six-month Family Care Employment Insurance Benefit so that more Canadians can take time off work to care for gravely ill family members at home without having to quit their jobs; (2) A new Family Care Tax Benefit, modeled on the Child Tax Benefit, to help low- and middle-income family caregivers who provide essential care to a family member at home. We will boost the GIS benefit for low-income seniors by $700 million per year. A Liberal government will put in place a Canadian Brain Health Strategy in its first year in office. Its main objective will be helping Canadian families cope and it will encompass such diseases as Alzheimer’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.
A Liberal government will work with provincial, territorial and municipal partners to put in place a renewed Affordable Housing Framework (AHF). The main objectives of the new Framework will be to: (1) Reduce homelessness; (2) Maintain and renew existing affordable housing stock; and (3) Stimulate new construction of affordable housing.