Rebuilding a federal political party is a coast-to-coast endeavor, and Prince George was drawn in this week.
The Liberal Party of Canada was pounded at the polls in the last federal election, succumbing to the weight of the 1990s scandal over stolen taxpayers' millions, and its aftermath. The money was misappropriated through Liberal insiders' hands during the Quebec sovereignty referendum. The investigations took years to conclude, all the while causing internal party turmoil that led to leadership angst. By 2011, a lot of the party constructs had fallen apart.
But because the party still elected 35 Members of Parliament and maintain 41 seats in the Senate, there is life in the party older than Canada itself. The ripping events of the sponsorship scandal and the leadership rifts has allowed new muscle to grow, said MP John McCallum, who was in Prince George on Wednesday to encourage Liberal Party of Canada support.
Along with him were B.C. party president Brian Rice and previous Cariboo-Prince George candidate Sangeeta Lalli. Their main stop was UNBC.
"We met with students and faculty, and got the sense a lot of people were just kicking the tires, but there was no doubt I was feeling the love for the party," said McCallum, the former senior economist for RBC before turning to politics in 2000. He has served in cabinet for two Prime Ministers.
He gave an emphatic "no" when asked if he will join the upcoming party leadership race. He also withheld comments on any he might favour as leader, saying only that a number of candidates were possible and he was excited to work with any of them, should they enter the contest and win.
Until then, he said, the party had to stick to some generic policies and official House of Commons business. The new leader had to be the main one to lay the planks of any future campaigning.
McCallum said the Liberals, regardless of who is leader, look at all the facts and don't let ideology cloud their judgment, pointing to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal as an example.
"The Conservatives want that pipeline to go through, come hell or high water, regardless of the environmental risks or the wishes of local governments and First Nations. The NDP wants to slow the Alberta oil industry to a halt and want no pipeline no matter what the benefits could be. We are not opposed to industry, we believe the petroleum industry is of great benefit to all of Canada, but there is more than one way to skin a cat so let's study the way pipelines are built, the other ways oil is transported, the way refining happens, and find the best solution. I am not apologizing for wanting to make decisions in the national interest based on evidence and science. That's how industries stay prosperous, and communities stay thriving, because sustainability only comes from thoroughly gathering the facts and sticking to the truth of the matter."
The party's own fortunes lie with youth and those who think young, McCallum said. More than 30 UNBC students had joined the party's campus club and 15 had signed up for "supporter" status, allowing them to vote in April on the next party leader.