Joyce Murray savours late momentum in Liberal race

Joyce Murray resembles a former Liberal leadership aspirant in her environmental policy focus and her willingness to form an alliance with the Green Party. And, like Stephane Dion in 2006, few would have predicted her late strength in the current Liberal race.

Leadership hopeful's electoral cooperation plan picks up steam

Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray is running on a platform of electoral cooperation for the 2015 election. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

In many ways, Joyce Murray resembles a former Liberal leadership aspirant, Stéphane Dion, with her sustainable society policy reminiscent of Dion's "green shift," her French as shaky as his English and her willingness to form an alliance of some kind with the Green Party. 

Few predicted ahead of time that Dion would come out of the 2006 Liberal leadership convention the winner. As for Murray, she was asked by a reporter after the first leadership debate why she didn’t just quit then and there.

It wasn’t intuitive to foresee Murray, a B.C. MP who has had minor critics roles in the party, as someone who could be gaining ground against the presumed frontrunner, Justin Trudeau.

Murray says she holds out a "triple offering," (not unlike Dion's "three pillars"): her track record in leadership, her vision bolstered by substantive policies and her pathway to success in 2015 using electoral cooperation.

Federal Liberal leadership

This is the seventh in a series of profiles of the candidates for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

The remaining candidates will be showcased at an event in Toronto April 6, commencing a week of voting by party members and supporters. The winner will be announced April 14 in Ottawa.

Murray arrived in Canada with her immigrant parents from South Africa at age seven with a sharp accent, still faintly discernible today, which made her self-conscious in school. She went as far as pre-med in college, and then married Dirk Brinkman. Together they started what became a highly successful tree-planting business, making her, possibly, the wealthiest candidate in the race.

When her three children were still small, Murray went back to school for an MBA and was eventually recruited by Gordon Campbell's right-of-centre B.C. Liberal Party. She became environment minister when Campbell won government, but lost her seat to the NDP in 2005. She then ran federally, losing in 2006, but winning the affluent Vancouver Quadra riding in 2008.

Like almost all the other candidates, Murray favours legalization of marijuana, a policy she says she espoused first in the Liberal race and one she's been championing for a couple of years.

She would insist on a quota of 40 per cent women in cabinet and in federally appointed boards and commissions. She wouldn't mandate quotas for Liberal nominations, but,"I do think we need to reach out to more women candidates to bring more women in." 

Plan for electoral reform not just a vague nod

But the policy that has likely spun her from an obscure candidacy to a name to be reckoned with is her deep commitment to electoral reform. This is not a vague nod, but a careful plan to be implemented just once, in the 2015 election.

First, she says, local riding associations would opt in or out of the plan and then each non-Conservative party — actually, just the Liberals and the Greens since NDP LeaderThomas Mulcair has said he won't co-operate — would nominate their own candidates.

Next, "There would be a run-off, like a primary between the nominated candidates of the participating parties... The [party] members would vote for the candidate they would support who could do the best job of defeating the Conservative."

Asked if this plan would mean the Greens would have to drop out of almost every riding race outside of their leader MP Elizabeth May, given that in only one instance a Green came second to a Conservative last election, Murray said the outcome could be positive for the Greens.

That's because, after the election, she would put together a "substantial and robust process" to develop an alternative to current the first-past-the post electoral system.

"I think it's a win-win all round," she said, "And I think Elizabeth [May] sees it that way as well. For her, it's not necessarily about winning more seats in 2015, although she may well."

Endorsed by David Suzuki

Murray's policy of environmental sustainability has also drawn support, most notably the endorsement of environmentalist David Suzuki.

She is adamant that carbon must be priced. "If a factory is sending sulphur dioxide or nitrous oxide up a smokestack in B.C. they're charged a fee per unit of compound going into the atmosphere. The atmosphere cannot be a dumping ground."

Murray points to the Japanese, who are charging a carbon tax on Canadian coal imports to their country. "Four hundred million dollars a year are going into the Japanese treasury because we don't have a price on carbon and they do."

She's against the Northern Gateway pipeline because she says it is opposed by the majority of citizens along the pipeline route and "overwhelmingly" by First Nations. Asked if that policy might be a hard sell in Alberta, she said, "Albertans are pragmatists. They may recognize that there are five to seven times as many jobs per barrel of oil when it's refined and upgraded in Canada than when it's shipped off as raw bitumen."

Pragmatism is a characteristic she clearly values. She gives Mulcair, for instance, her highest accolade. "I think that he's a pragmatist, and he would not want to be the one person standing in the way of what millions of Canadians want," referring to her proposal for electoral co-operation.

And often, she says of herself, "It's a practical pragmatic approach I'm taking."