One on One with Maurizio Bevilacqua
This was the first time I’d actually heard Bevilacqua speak for any lengthy sort of time in public and I must say I was really impressed. Maurizio has a very down to earth speaking style – he’s not trying to sell you a used car and he’s not lecturing a grad class on political theory. He also got quite a few funny one liners off and responded to a question on his French with “je parle un français impeccable avec un accent parisien”.
Maurizio talked a lot about rebuilding the party from the grass roots, and provided several specifics for how to do it. He focused on communication with the grass roots, something the Tories do a lot better than the Liberals and something Maurizio has been doing for a long time (with his “how I wiped out the debt” updates). He also put forward the idea of “Renaissance Weekends” where Liberals across the country could propose and debate policy. Needless to say, I loved it.
Also of interest were the darts directed towards Michael Ignatieff by Bevilacqua. He said that to lead Canada you need to have lived through the referendum, the constitutional battles, and the fight against the deficit – you need to have lived in this country to lead it. He also talked about the need for a leader with experience, with roots in the Liberal Party, and someone who is in it for the long run, win or lose. I think it’s a safe bet where Maurizio won’t be going on the final ballot should be fail to make it that far.
You’re a career politician who was first elected as an MP at a very young age. Did you have a political role model, or someone who you tried to model yourself after as an MP?
My inspiration is drawn from ordinary people who do extraordinary things for the country. So many Canadians get up in the morning, put in an honest day’s work, raise their family, and try to live the best they can. These people are the people in hockey arenas and soccer pitches, you find them all over.
Political life is a vocation for me, not a job or a career, so I’m drawn to individual Canadians who give themselves and achieve special things for their communities. If you pause for a second and think of what Canada would be like without these individuals, you come to the realization that it would be a lesser country.
Many of the candidates in this race have limited political experience and limited time in the Liberal Party. But can you really say that your experience as a Liberal MP would make you a better leader or Prime Minister?
First of all, we’re electing a leader of the Liberal Party and I’m a product of the Liberal Party. I started out as the kid stuffing envelopes, putting up signs, (ed note: donating 5,400$ to my local candidate), then eventually managing campaigns, and then ran myself and served 18 years in Parliament and in Cabinet. These are valuable skills which are useful to have for an individual who hopes to lead a party, particularly in a phase where you’re rebuilding the party.
Above and beyond that, there’s expertise I’ve developed in social policy and economic policy during my years as Chair of the Finance committee where Paul Martin accepted the vast majority of my recommendations for his budget. This gives you a sense of the breath of experience an individual brings to the job.
Being leader of a party, you have to understand the party. You have to appreciate what people at the grass roots of the party are doing. You have to appreciate what’s required to rebuild the party. The more of those aspects of the party the leader has experience with, in my case, as an opposition member and a government member, the better the party will be in the long run.
All the candidates have talked about coming together after the leadership race as a unified party. But you yourself have been front and centre in the Chretien-Martin feuds so is it possible for the party to truly rally behind you?
I think people will rally behind a person who has made party unity a hallmark of his career. I’ve always fought for party unity. As a matter of fact, during the Chretien-Martin years, I tried to do that exactly and build bridges between what had developed.
This should illustrate to Liberals that even at a personal cost, I’ve always put the party ahead.
Obviously it’s more fun to run a leadership race in government than in opposition. What do you think the Liberal Party could have done differently over the past few years to have prevented the January 23rd loss?
There’s no question that the lack of vision in the party was the major reason for our defeat. And, having said that, we still got over 100 seats.
I plan to bring this party from opposition to competition with Stephen Harper very quickly. I’m not prepared to fall into his traps. For example, the vote on Afghanistan was a trap that Stephen Harper made out for us. Experience I had in opposition and government made me take the decision I did.
Do you think it would have been better for the Liberal Party as whole to oppose the motion or was a free vote the proper course of action?.
In retrospect, the only thing I know for sure is that Stephen Harper tried to divide our party.
As an immigrant to Canada yourself, what changes would you propose to Canada’s immigration system?
First of all, I don’t need to read a book on the immigrant experience, I’ve lived it. I grew up in the basement of a home and went through the struggles most immigrants go through. One of the concerns I have is that it’s taking immigrants much longer to achieve the same standard of living as other Canadians than it did in the past. That’s of concern to me. It shows that the integration of immigrants into Canadian society needs the attention of our leaders. The fact that I am an immigrant puts me in a better position to understand that reality.
There always needs to be a balance between the humanitarian side, family reunification and recruiting skilled labour from other countries. I would facilitate the retention of individuals who come to this country. For example, students who come to Canada and study here shouldn’t need to wait for landed immigrant status. Otherwise, you’re losing trained and educated individuals; in a country like ours that’s aging, it’s very wise to facilitate the transition from student to citizen.
According to your wikipedia bio, you have the record for largest margin of victory ever for an MP in Canada. How does being the underdog in this leadership race compare to the easy victories you’ve had in your home riding in the past?
I’m thoroughly enjoying the leadership campaign. I’ve traveled the country extensively throughout my political career so it gives me a chance to meet up with people I’ve kept in contact with over the years.
My riding is a microcosm of the country. You have to use the same strategy to win delegates that you try to use to win elections; it’s just that the apparatus is a lot more elaborate.
I’m going into this campaign with a great deal of confidence. Confidence that Canadians are looking for generational change, looking for a person with experience, and looking for a person with unquestionable loyalty to the Liberal Party of Canada. And when you look at those three things, you can put a check mark beside each one. I’ve also got a track record as an individual who has worked for the party, has stood for party unity, and has produced good work for the Liberal Party. I think what Liberals will find very attractive about me is that nothing was ever given to me, I’ve needed to earn every thing throughout my life.
I haven’t had a chance to watch the debate from yesterday yet, but what are your initial thoughts on the format and how you performed?
When you’re dealing with 11 candidates, it’s not the easiest…it’s a real challenge (laughs). I think people got a sense of everyone’s speaking styles, their ideas, and how quick they are on their feet. I was very happy with my performance.
I hear from some people that you go into a heated exchange with Joe Volpe and Gerard Kennedy.
That was an interesting exchange. I think that the one-on-ones weren’t as good as with three people. You get a lot more multi-layered and people from different perspectives with three people.
OK. Finally, I’ll ask you for a few of your favourites. What’s your favourite movie?
There are many. When you think about movies that have an impact on you in different ways. Remember that movie Erin Brokovich? That was good movie. Pay it forward was a very good movie.
Of course, my favourite one when I was a young kid was Rocky. At the end of the day, there are different movies that deal with different aspects of your being. Roberto Benini in Life is Beautiful speaks to certain values.
There again, there are different ones that speak to you in different ways. For obvious reasons, I tend to read books which speak to the issues and policy – right now, I’m reading a book called “The Mystery of Capital” by Hernando De Soto. I read a lot of Italian literature as well.
Soccer. I played in the National Soccer League. So soccer is definitely a sport I’ve enjoyed since I was a child. Cycling is also one I enjoyed. For my 15th anniversary as an MP we did a cycling race in my riding and raise $100,000 dollars for local Charity. Some friends of mine wanted to do a dinner. I said “you know, everyone does a dinner, let’s do something different.” So I trained and we did 113 kilometers. We did it with Steve Bauer, who was the Canadian who held the yellow jersey in the Tour de France and Lisa Bentley, who is a world triathlete champion, and Rick Vaive who was the former captain of the Toronto Maple Leads.
We gave the proceeds to hospitals and women’s shelters and I thought that was a better way to do a 15th anniversary. It speaks to community; people like the fact that I didn’t do a dinner where people just get up and say “oh, he’s so great”, and there’s no sacrifice.
I invite everyone to check out TDH Strategies for his interview with Bevilacqua as well. Maurizio’s a great guy with a lot of the qualities I think this party could use at a time when we need to rebuild. I’d certainly rank him in my top 3 or 4 on the preferential ballot at this point.