Today, I’m publishing an interview I’ve done with Michael Levitt, who is the LPC candidate for York-Centre. This was the riding held by such Liberal stalwarts as Art Eggleton and Ken Dryden. Mr. Dryden was one of those who got swept away in the Liberal collapse in the 905 region of Ontario back in the ’11 election. It is currently held by Mark Adler for the Conservatives, and Mr. Levitt is going to be trying hard to return it to the LPC. Here are a series of questions I asked Mr. Levitt (who I had the pleasure of meeting in February at the Montreal Convention) and his responses. I thank him for taking the time to do this with me.
1) I’ve seen on your website you’ve been involved in a lot of volunteer causes and campaigns. What made you decide you wanted to run to be the official candidate for the Liberals in your riding of York-Centre?
After watching what has gone on in the riding of York Centre over the last five years and seeing how poorly the constituents have been represented on local issues, I made the decision to put my name forward to fight for the people of York Centre. I have been increasingly troubled with the direction of the Harper Government and its lack of responsiveness to the needs of the local community and especially our local economy. I look at the riding of York Centre and despite all the euphoric Conservative talk on the economy, I see a riding that is being left behind. Local businesses have shut down, seniors cannot afford to retire and young Canadians cannot find jobs. Justin Trudeau’s focus on helping the middle class regain their footing is made-to-measure for York Centre. York Centre is home to so many hard-working people, many immigrants, many seniors and many youth- all of whom are being let down by the Harper Government. A Liberal Government will do better.
2) What do you feel are or have been the Conservatives and the Harper government’s chief weaknesses as they’ve been in government (either recently or overall – something you feel will be a big theme for you to mention in the election campaign)?
I believe that the people’s trust in the Harper Government has diminished greatly over the last five years. Issues like the Mike Duffy Senate scandal and picking fights with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, are all representative of a government that has lost its way. It’s a government that is profoundly out of touch with most Canadians, and especially the residents of York Centre. It’s a government that is fixated on dividing, rather than uniting Canadians. Canadians want change and they want a positive vision for Canada, and that’s what Justin Trudeau and I are putting forward in the next election.
3) If a Justin Trudeau government is elected (regardless of majority or minority), what do you feel would be the key pressing issues a Justin Trudeau government should immediately act on within the first session of Parliament.
I think it is clear that our first priority is going to be focusing on the needs of middle class Canadians. In York Centre this is the group that has been hard hit over the last decade of Conservative government. I hear it at the doors all the time. Our neighbours feel much more vulnerable financially and older Canadians are greatly concerned about whether they can afford to retire. I also have a great interest in the challenges facing our youth, many of whom have to live in their parents’ basements because they are unable to find good paying local jobs. Increasing the numbers of young Canadians with post-secondary education (PSE)- whether at the university, college or apprenticeship level- should be an immediate priority.
4) There is a saying that “all politics is local”. At present, do you feel there are any local issues in York Centre that may come into play during the election campaign, or is it going to be based on national issues only?
I think the next campaign will be defined nationally by the desire of Canadians to see real, meaningful change but of course there are key local issues that will be of great importance. In York Centre the difficulties facing our seniors, new Canadians and youth are priority issues. A major local issue is Downsview Park. The current Conservative Government has totally dropped the ball on this file. The current Conservative MP has been absent in helping the local community- not listening to their needs or working with them to realize the Park’s potential- despite this being Federal lands and a Federal responsibility. Downsview Park could and should be a transformative project, not just for York Centre but for all of Toronto. The frustration of local community members is palpable. As the next MP, I will engage and work with the community and key stakeholders to make sure Downsview Park is a vibrant part of our local economy.
5) There are some who say once an MP is elected, the constituency’s wishes or concerns sometimes get ignored. Is there anything specific you would do to keep in touch with the riding, and related to that, how do you feel you can best represent the riding in Ottawa?
The people of York Centre deserve an MP that is accessible, visible and available. My goal is to be in the riding, available to meet with my constituents regularly, as well as attending local events and meetings. Effective local politics is not defined by how many vacuous mailers you can send in a month, it is about engaging directly with your constituents. I would implement Town Hall meetings on issues of interest to the community. On line chats (something my friend Carolyn Bennett has used to great effect) and other social media initiatives will also help to keep constituents connected with their MP. I would also seek to build bridges with the representatives from other levels of government. Local residents benefit when all levels of government work together, because the issues we face as a community require coordinated action from federal, provincial and municipal governments. That’s how you get things done and I am committed to making sure that York Centre once again will have a strong and effective voice in Ottawa.