The world needs more Liberal ideals as it struggles with debt, increasing wealth gaps and other problems, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Wednesday.
Meeting with the party's MPs and senators in Montebello, Que. to set strategy for the coming sitting of Parliament, Rae took on the Conservative government's social policy in areas like drugs, abortion rights and immigration in a fiery speech.
Seven months before the party chooses its next leader, and more than a year after the election that saw it decimated in the House of Commons, Rae was essentially making an argument for the party's existence.
In the speech, which lasted more than 40 minutes, Rae spoke forcefully about the need for centrism and moderation, sticking primarily to Liberal sacred cows like health care, federalism and immigration.
"The other two parties would love you to believe that there really are only two choices between them. But you know, Canadians don't really want to be forced to be making a choice between the Tea Party and the Occupier movement," Rae said.
"We've learned the hard lesson that mindless polarization, that class-war rhetoric and the politics of division are not the best we can do."
Rae affirms support for abortion rights
Rae said Canada has an advantage over the U.S. and Europe, congratulating his party for its contribution to that.
"The advantages have come from avoiding the worst excesses of those kinds of politics," he said.
John F. Kennedy once said a rising tide will lift all boats, meaning that everyone is more prosperous when the economy improves, Rae said.
"But now we're seeing a time in which a rising tide lifts more yachts than boats. And there are people who've fallen behind and there are people who get swamped in the process," he said, arguing government policy is necessary to make sure the gap between rich and poor doesn't get wider.
On social issues, Rae said women's rights shouldn't be subject to a private member's bill in Parliament, a reference to an attempt by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth to open a debate on redefining the Criminal Code definition of when life begins.
"We are clear on this question," he said. "The rights of women to choose, to have control over their own bodies, is not a right which is going to be taken away by the Parliament of Canada, and it is not a right which should be subject to some private member's bill which is going to affect the rights of women to have choice, to have genuine equality and to have full and complete access to the medicare and the health care that they need."
He also touched on the wider health-care system — saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper is ignoring the problems in the system, leaving them up to the provinces and territories to solve — and on aboriginal self-government.
"When the Indian Act was written, aboriginal Canadians didn't have the right to vote," Rae said.
"It's time to put the Indian Act behind us and it's time to replace it with a declaration of genuine self-government and genuine participation and genuine partnership."
On immigration, Rae pointed to an increase in termporary workers in Canada and separate classes of immigrants.
"You don't want to create two, three classes. There is no back of the bus in this country," he said.
Sovereignty not on Canadians' agenda
Rae's speech comes a day after Quebec's Liberal Premier Jean Charest was defeated in a provincial election. With the federal party in third place in the House, Ontario's Liberals reduced to a minority government since that province's election last fall, and Charest about to hand power to a sovereigntist premier, Liberals have been steadily losing ground.
Rae congratulated Charest for his election campaign, particularly his determination to fight for Canada and Quebec, adding that "his understanding that one can fight both for Quebec and Canada in the same sentence, at the same time, in the same way, is a very important message."
Earlier, Rae told reporters that the result of the election shows there's no desire for sovereignty. Voters in the province gave the PQ a minority government with 54 seats in the legislature, with 50 for the Liberals. The popular vote went overwhelmingly to federalist parties, Rae noted, with the Coalition Avenir Quebec getting 19 seats.
The leader of the CAQ, François Legault, has said he would vote no in a referendum over separation, and doesn't support holding a referendum for 10 years.
"Obviously there's no mandate for the separatist agenda in the election result. You could not possibly read that into the result. So it is a reality that everyone will have to recognize," Rae said.
"But we also have to recognize that in her speech last night Mme. Marois made it clear that her objectives had not changed ... I think it's very important for people to realize that this is a political party, a political leader who has a very clear agenda still to break up the country," Rae said.
"That's not the agenda of the rest of Quebec and that's not the agenda of the rest of the country, so we have to continue to deal with that reality."