MONTREAL – Federal Liberals feeling nostalgic for the party’s last stint in power might find a few things to like about Martin Cauchon’s leadership platform.
In launching his campaign Friday to an audience of about 100 people, Cauchon paid tribute to the now-defunct long gun registry and proposed a more active federal role in shaping medicare.
The former Jean Chretien cabinet minister lauded the old government’s record which included rejecting bank mergers and accepting same-sex marriage, the latter being a policy Cauchon personally advanced when he was justice minister.
He spoke of restoring Canada’s peacemaking image abroad and, closer to home, suggested the federal government should be more involved in helping the provinces improve medicare.
“(Health care) is at the heart of Canadians’ preoccupations. However, politicians avoid the issue like the plague,” said the prepared text for Cauchon’s speech, which was to be delivered Friday night in Montreal.
“I believe that the Canadian government must act as a catalyst to spark a discussion aimed at improving and strengthening our public health system.”
Cauchon offered a broader message aimed at all left-leaning voters: in the written version of his speech, he called the Liberal party the “true progressive alternative” to the Harper government.
Some of his chief opponents have been casting themselves as centrist pragmatists.
The 50-year-old lawyer said he expects to win a race that also includes presumed front-runner Justin Trudeau and Montreal MP Marc Garneau.
Cauchon was the final candidate to join the contest, which features a total of nine hopefuls.
He retired from politics in 2004 and lost a 2011 attempt to win back his old Montreal riding from Tom Mulcair, now NDP leader.
Unlike the other candidates, Cauchon has extensive experience in the federal cabinet. He was the activist minister of justice who paved the way for same-sex marriage and who attempted to decriminalize marijuana use.
Cauchon cited that experience as an advantage.
“Some pundits will cast me as the underdog,” he said in his prepared speech.
“But I believe that my experience in government has been invaluable in helping me to make the tough decisions that will be necessary.
“They’ll say I have been out of politics too long, but I believe that my time spent in the private sector has made me more qualified for the job of Liberal leader.”
He said the federal government’s “No. 1 priority” should be raising the living standard of all Canadians, and ensuring the long-term strength and sustainability of social programs.
He also said Canada should develop more foreign markets; restore its international image as a “peace ambassador”; and renew the fight against climate change.
As for medicare, he said his campaign website would invite Canadians to share their ideas for improving the system.
“On this front, the Conservatives of Stephen Harper have completely abdicated their responsibility,” he said.
Cauchon acknowledged, however, that under the Constitution the responsibility for health care ultimately falls to the provinces.
On the gun registry, Cauchon lauded it as a law-enforcement tool. And he criticized the Tories for blocking Quebec’s attempts to save data from that province. But he did not explicitly state what gun control policy he would introduce to replace the now-defunct registry.
In a later exchange with The Canadian Press, Cauchon said he would attempt to revive the registry if he could. Barring that, he would introduce another gun-control measure with a similar purpose.