Q & A

SOCCER FIELD WISDOM

Canada’s most successful NDP politician finds new ways to keep in touch

GARY DOER August 5 2002
Q & A

SOCCER FIELD WISDOM

Canada’s most successful NDP politician finds new ways to keep in touch

GARY DOER August 5 2002

SOCCER FIELD WISDOM

Q & A

GARY DOER

Canada’s most successful NDP politician finds new ways to keep in touch

NEARLY THREE YEARS after being elected, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer’s NDP government continues to ride high in the polls, easily making Doer, 54, Canada’s most successful social democratic politician. In Manitoba, he has shown a knack for negotiating a middle way between the province’s entrenched business and labour interests. On the national scene, he has been increasingly outspoken on issues such as the Kyoto accord and the future of health care, while offering unsolicited advice to his counterparts in the federal NDP, who are now in the process of selecting a new leader. Before heading to Halifax this week for the annual premiers’ conference from July 31 to Aug. 2, Doer talked with Maclean’s Calgary Bureau Chief Brian Bergman about politics and his attempts to balance the demands of political life with that of his young family (Doer and his wife, Ginny Devine, who runs her own polling firm, have two daughters, Emily, 12, and Kate, 7). Excerpts:

You’ve said the NDP can’t really achieve anything unless it’s in government. Do you really foresee an NDP government in Ottawa anytime soon?

Anything is possible. Given the current five-party system in Ottawa, winning the balance of power, or more power through more seats, is a good starting point. I find these statements that we should be a party' of principle as opposed to a party of power to be a bit contradictory. How can you implement your principles if you don’t have power? You can’t raise the minimum wage or reform workplace safety laws or make other changes for working people unless you have power.

Some argue that the party needs to tilt more to the left to be relevant across the country, and not just an echo of the Liberals. Your view?

These old definitions are chattering class

terms that politicians and journalists use, but the public does not. They are meaningless to families going to a soccer game tonight in Calgary, Winnipeg or Toronto. Take, for example, an education and training strategy that makes colleges and universities more affordable and expands courses in the new high-tech areas. That is not a right/left issue. The business community wants that; the public and working families want it too. We should be relevant, but we should not get caught up in some high school debate about what is lefter than left, and purer than pure.

One of the first acts of your government was to ban both unions and corporations from making donations to political parties. Is that another example of an issue that cuts across ideological lines?

Yes. Look at the recent scandals in Ottawa and all the contracts issued to companies that have made major political donations to the government. We brought this bill in as soon as we were elected because I know incumbent governments can raise more money. At the same time, I think the public wants to know that we’re passing workplace safety

and health reforms not because we’re getting a cheque from a union, but because it will prevent deaths at the workplace. I think it’s wide open for the Prime Minister and provincial premiers to pass similar legislation. It’s one way to make the public less cynical.

You’ve come out strongly in favour of ratifying the Kyoto accord [that would require Canada to cut greenhouse emissions by six per cent by 2012]. But isn’t it rather easy as premier of Manitoba, which depends on clean hydroelectricity rather than oil and gas, to take that position? Would you still favour the accord if you were premier of Alberta?

We believe in the economic benefits, as well as the environmental ones, that will come from ratification. We agree with Alberta that no region should be disproportionately affected. We believe that Canadian energy credits for hydroelectricity exports to the United States, which benefit Manitoba, can be used to offset some of the petrochemical challenges faced by Alberta. In other words, we should take a national view rather than looking at the provinces as 10 separate McDonald’s franchises. That’s not my view of Canada.

You’ve been a strong advocate for preserving Canada’s publicly funded medicare system. Is there any role for private, pay-as-you-go health care?

We should evaluate things not on the basis of ideology, but results. We’re not afraid of a debate on cost-effectiveness. All provinces have a portion of their services in the so-called private sector. But when you compare X and Y programs and look at the medical results and the costs, our research shows a public system can perform quite well—so long as it is agile and has some market realities to it. When we came into office, the province was

‘We should be relevant, but we should not get caught up in some high school debate about what is letter than left, and purer than pure’

picking up the deficits whenever a hospital ran one. On the other hand, if hospitals ran a surplus, that would be clawed back. We changed it so they can keep their surpluses, but at the same time they can’t run deficits. So we are not talking about the status quo. We need to constantly innovate and reassess what we are doing.

You have strong opinions about where the country should head and the NDP’s role in getting there. The leadership has opened up at the federal level-why not go for it?

[Laughing] I’ve got a pretty good job right now. Instead of curling from behind the glass, as they say, it allows you to be on the ice. You have the ability to make real changes.

When we spoke three years ago, just after you were elected premier, you said you used to be something of a workaholic, but that in recent years you discovered the need for a balance between work and family life. You were determined, as premier, to maintain that balance for yourself and your fellow cabinet ministers. How’s that going?

Well, the legislature was still sitting in July, so you got me. We do keep reminding ourselves that you are only dealt so many summers in your lifetime and here we are working through another one. So my goal has not yet been achieved. I do find when I go to my daughters’ soccer games or dancing or swimming lessons, it is much better, with respect, than reading editorials. Standing on a soccer field with real people telling me what they really think is better for my job, and my family, than sitting around trying to argue with an editorial writer.

Speaking of the soccer field, here’s the most important question of all, at least for the residents of Winnipeg. Your government committed $900,000 this year to combat the city’s mosquito scourge through a program of spring spraying. But there still seems to be a lot of swatting going on. Are you committed to multi-year funding to eliminate this pest?

Yeah, we want to use science to reduce mosquito populations not just in Winnipeg, but other centres as well. We’re going to stick with it. If we can go to the moon, we can figure out a way to reduce the mosquito population. lifl