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Bob Rae holds town meeting in North Vancouver

Over a hundred persons crowded into a North Vancouver hotel meeting room to hear Liberal MP Bob Rae answer questions for almost two hours on Monday night.

Speaking at the Holiday Inn, Rae was wrapping up a three-day visit to British Columbia. He had spoken earlier in the day in West Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast, but he seemed rested and relaxed.

Before answering questions, Rae spoke briefly on five key issues: democracy, the economy, foreign affairs, sustainability, and social justice. On the issue of democracy, he argued that Parliament decides who's won an election, especially when no party has won a clear majority.

Rae also called for an economy that can compete with rising powers such as India and Brazil, saying that education would be key to such an economy. As foreign-affairs critic he strongly supported Canada's presence in Afghanistan, and returned to the subject in answering several questions.

"We have to recognize the aspirations of other peoples to a democracy like ours," he said. Answering a question about Canadian soldiers returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems, he said a Liberal government would do much more to care for veterans and their families.

One questioner criticized the tendency of politicians to talk about sustainability while making short-term decisions. Rae agreed, but also said that as premier of Ontario he had made unpopular long-term decisions on issues like the Toronto subway, only to see them undone by the succeeding Harris government.

He also agreed that it had been a mistake to reduce the number of students in Canadian medical schools, but pointed out that all Canadian premiers had made the same mistake.

"And since I didn't win re-election," he added, "I didn't have an opportunity to make more mistakes."

On social justice, Rae fielded questions from a Métis on the relations between Métis and First Nations and the larger community. He endorsed the view of Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo that the Indian Act is overdue for change.

Comparing Canada's first prime minister with the present one, Rae observed that "Most of us prefer Sir John A drunk to Stephen Harper sober."

But most of his one-liners were at his own expense: "The Liberal Party welcomes late converts -- like me, for example."

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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