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Candidates sing the same tunes

Liberal leadership debate a softball affair

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What was supposed to be a tightly scripted debate about who should be the next leader of the federal Liberals went sideways Saturday when two Idle No More protesters disrupted the chit-chat style proceedings.

The loud banging of a drum and shouts of "When are we going to be first on the agenda?" filled the Metropolitan Theatre in downtown Winnipeg as leadership hopeful Karen McCrimmon and moderator Harvey Locke tried to have a conversation on policy issues ranging from pipelines to crime prevention.

The two protesters were allowed to say their piece and then gently escorted from the building.

First Nations issues were not on the agenda, but each of the nine candidates in succession quickly seized on it when their turn to sit in the armchair opposite Locke came up.

"Every time you look to First Nations as a partner it's a huge success," candidate and former justice minister Martin Cauchon said.

Although billed as a debate, the second as the battered party prepares to pick its sixth leader in six years, it was organized more as a softball affair in which each of the nine got about 10 minutes to talk with Locke, a former Liberal candidate who ran and lost in a Calgary byelection last November. It was billed as a sellout audience but there were plenty of empty seats.

Locke asked each of the nine their thoughts on crime, transportation, foreign ownership, farming and rural issues and the export of natural resources.

The answers were fairly predictable as was the candidates' condemnation of the Harper government.

Slightly different responses came from Vancouver-Quadra MP Joyce Murray and Toronto tech lawyer George Takach -- both said they support the legalization of marijuana, a position mostly confined to young people in the Liberal party.

"When you have a black market it creates a wonderful haven for criminals we need to stop," Takach said.

Both said they believe consenting adults should be allowed to smoke marijuana and that Ottawa should tax it.

Takach said the proceeds should be used to enhance drug-prevention and anti-addiction programs for youth across Canada.

Other than that, the candidates generally sang from the same songbook. Where they offered members and supporters of the Liberal party some insight into themselves was when they told Locke a bit of what makes them tick: Justin Trudeau misses his young children terribly when on the road, Marc Garneau likes to vacuum, Martha Hall Findlay doesn't. The other candidates are David Bertschi and Deborah Coyne.

The next debate is in Toronto on Feb. 16. A new leader will be picked April 14 in Ottawa.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2013 A3

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