Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Liberal — Winnipeg Centre
'Reducing poverty levels is one of the big things I want to see happen in Winnipeg Centre'
Why do you want the job?
I want the job because I really want to make a difference in the lives of people in Winnipeg Centre. I think there are certain things going on in our city, and our country — this great divide I've talked about during the municipal campaign.
The divide continues to affect this city, but it seems there lacks people who are able to bridge that divide in a way that's going to be long-lasting. I would like to have the opportunity to really make the impact not only in the people's physical lives, but in the way people perceive themselves.
There are groups in our society who believe they are not worthy, who believe they are not Canadian citizens, who believe they are not members of our society, that they are not welcome.
I believe profoundly we can change that attitude. We can make it so people see the personal power they have within, in order to affect change within their own lives. Not only will it improve their individual lives, but the lives of their family, and their community, and in overall essence, all of Winnipeg.
What is the biggest issue for the country, and in your riding?
The biggest issue is the level of poverty. We talk a lot about racism, the mayor just had his racism summit, but I think a lot of the underlying issues related to the differences between people are actually the socioeconomic differences.
There are the people who are the have, and the have-nots. We need to find a solution to ensure even the people who are on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder in our society don't have to climb mountains to see more mobility for themselves and their children.
We want to provide them with the tools in order to do so and so reducing poverty levels is one of the big things I want to see happen in Winnipeg Centre — bringing it from one of the poorest ridings in the country, more into the Canadian average, to ensure people can be successful.
Poverty leads to issues with mental health, it leads to issues with education levels, your involvement in the criminal justice system, the ability to advocate on your own behalf within that system, as well as Child and Family Services.
What would you do with the Senate?
The Senate is a tough one. Growing up, my thing was ensuring there was an equal, effective and elected Senate, the Triple-E Senate.
I think there are more creative things we can do with the Senate. I think it does have a role to play in our Constitution, and does have a role to play in a sober second thought. It shouldn't be such a partisan organization.
I think simply just saying we should do away with the Senate would then remove the checks and balances that can occur in our system. The problem with the Senate today is the way we go about appointing people, or the people we appoint to the Senate.
There are still some very good people who are in the Senate. The problem is others have made questionable choices, probably because they don't have the right skill sets, or the right ideas about why they're there and what they're going to be doing. I think this has led to a discrediting of that institution, which really discredits the entire political class.
Winnipeg was described as the most racist city in Canada. What would you do to combat racism?
One of the underlying issues of racism is poverty.
One of the things we've been talking about having is a child benefit, which will actually lift 315,000 kids out of poverty across this country. With Winnipeg Centre being one of the poorest ridings in the country, we're going to see great improvements in the level of poverty and allowing people to have some of the tools people have in better socioeconomic status groups.
We'll see less hospitalization and better health outcomes. We want to see better education levels, and we know this happens because we've already done this in Dauphin. We did this in the 1970s in Dauphin with something called mincome, minimum guaranteed income. But in this case what we're doing is we give it to children.
What role should the federal government play in dealing with climate change?
The Liberal Party has committed to going to the next climate change conference.
We've also committed part of the largest infrastructure spending in Canadian history — $20 billion toward green infrastructure, creating green jobs, and ensuring, for instance, we do have enough charging stations, and we're producing energy in a more environmentally sustainable method.
We're willing to do it — $20 billion over 10 years. No other party is doing that. It's a massive investment in the future of this country, so we ensure we're doing our bit for climate change.
If there was one government policy you think is done better in another country, what is it?
I think I would look to the Germans.
When I look at their economy and the way they've been able to develop it, they've still maintained a huge manufacturing base, which has propelled their economy into the forefront of the industrialized world. It allows them to maintain good-paying jobs.
Here in Canada, the service industry's average wage is about $16 per hour, so that's around $32,000 a year. There are people who make less than that, the minimum wage.
We produce a lot of raw materials, but we don't add a lot of value to it here. We do have some manufacturing, but we've seen that industrial base fall away in the last 10 years. I think it's about 400,000 lost jobs in the manufacturing industry. That's 400,000 people who were making good money, good coin.
Under what circumstances is deficit spending a good choice?
It's not an easy thing. People don't like deficits. Nobody likes to have debt.
But with interest rates being so low, the Canadian government has this opportunity with our current recession to really spend monies that will propel the economy forward.
The idea though for us is to double the amount of infrastructure spending that's in the current budget. We want to add an additional $60 billion to the current $60 billion, making it $120 billion. We're going to put Canadians back to work.
This in itself is going to be a major investment in our society because we know the economy at some point will continue to grow. We also know what's going to happen is the debt to GDP ratio will actually improve over that time period.
We've made some promises, and we want to keep those promises. It's not about coming into government and saying in eight or nine years we're going to be doing something. It's doing something we said we were going to do today. The action is now.
What do you believe is the single most effective way to fight crime?
I think the best way to fight crime is poverty reduction and rehabilitation.
My brother works for Correctional Service Canada, and he's seen a huge reduction in the amount of programs offered to the inmates. Over that time, he feels it's made the correctional facility less safe.
They've moved away from rehabilitation to more just punishment. What we'd like to see is more long-term planning about what type of education we're going to be offering people who are in prison, and what type of resources we're going to be offering them so when they come out they have choices. Because when you're in poverty, and you don't have choices, that's the issue.
Education offers people choices. If I didn't have my education, I wouldn't be the same individual I am today.
What should be done about homegrown terrorism?
I think a lot of terrorism issues are related to people's connection to society. From what I can tell, and I'm not an expert, a lot of the individuals who do end up doing terrorist acts somehow feel great disconnection to their society and do not feel inspired by it.
A lot of this is due to how we look after each other, and how we celebrate each other. I've said this before, and in our society, we look down on a lot of people.
The doctors and the lawyers, they're great individuals. Then you move down the hierarchy and you get to the guy who is picking up the garbage with Emterra, and then you have people on welfare or disability. We look down on those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
To me, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms speaks to a larger context about the more open and inclusive society.
If there were a gay pride parade in your riding, would you go? Why or why not?
I have already been. I go because I think it's a celebration of who some people are. It's a way of acknowledging there are rights people have fought for, and that every one of us are human beings, and we have a right to be who we are.
Have either you or your family had a frustrating experience with the health-care system, and what would you do to fix the problem?
The answer is difficult. At the federal level, I don't have a direct influence on doing something related to health care.
This isn't my own experience, but moving to a larger thought about the whole health-care system, I would like to ensure newcomers are still able to obtain their qualifications in the health-care field, and they don't get forgotten about.
If you come here and you have certain level of qualifications, and you can't use that qualification, you'll end up doing another job [that] maybe you'll be less productive for, and less useful for our society. We don't want you to waste your potential on doing something you're overqualified for.
I think we should have a process where we can get these individuals into a training program sooner.
What would you do to get more people to vote?
We're going door-to-door. Every time I meet someone, I try to register them. If they haven't registered, we try to verify if they're on the Elections Canada website.
I tell them these children can't vote, but you can vote in their place. If they have children, I tell them this is the difference it's going to make in your life. I ask them what they would do with these resources, these types of tools the government would like to provide you with. What would you do with these tools?
We're not just focusing on identified supporters anymore, the people who are likely to vote for us. We're actually trying to get people who have never voted before and expand the pie. Over time, what's happened in the industrialized world is fewer and fewer people are voting.
If you vote, politicians have to start paying attention to you. They have to start coming out to see what your issues are and what you want them to talk about. If you don't vote, politicians won't pay attention to you.
What's a better use of federal dollars: fixing roads or building rapid transit infrastructure?
I believe the best use of public dollars would be on rapid transit or public transportation. I spoke a lot about rail relocation during the civic election.
Would you support legalizing a small amount of marijuana? Have you ever tried it?
The Liberal Party is in favour of regulation and legalization of marijuana … much like we did in the 1930s when alcohol was banned in a lot of jurisdictions in North America, and then it was slowly brought back.
We would like to regulate this, to tax it, to ensure that it stays out of the hands of young people. We wish to tax marijuana in order to generate revenue for the government so we can support more social programs, and support the infrastructure payments, and all of these things that make government function and work.
I have not tried it. I was in cadets, and I made a vow when I joined the cadets that we would not use drugs. I believe in that vow.
Once I left the sea cadets, I joined the Canadian Armed Forces. In order to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, you cannot use any contraband material or illegal substance.
I'm actually curious, but I'll probably never do it. I've come this far in my life.