Don Johnston of Nelson will be the Liberal candidate in the upcoming federal election for the riding of Kootenay-Columbia. The riding will include Nelson this time around, since the riding boundaries were redrawn in 2012.
Johnston’s acclamation by the local Liberal party organization will be finalized in a public nomination meeting on Wednesday.
Johnston grew up in Nelson and is a graduate of L.V. Rogers. He is the former CEO of the Columbia Basin Trust and Canada World Youth. He has 40 years of community development work in Canada and abroad.
Asked why he is running, Johnston said “Because I want my Canada back. My Canada is one that is very different from the one Mr. [Stephen] Harper represents. My Canada is one that cares about the role we play on the international stage, and where we return to using our advantages as a middle power to help convene people to help introduce positive dialogue in difficult international discussions.”
Johnson said other examples of the Canada he wants back include:
• A preference for diplomacy over war. “You can’t get involved in diplomacy when your attitude toward international relations is to create an enemies list and a friends list.”
• An independent Supreme Court. “Canada is a country where we understand that the only thing that separates democracy from countries that move increasingly toward autocratic rule is an independent court, and you treat it with respect.”
• Tougher regulations on environmental protection. “What frightens me is how much they [the Conservatives] are muzzling scientists on research issues we are paying for, and I think that is deplorable.”
• More action on climate change. “They are still hiding their head in the sand on carbon issues.”
• Independence for MPs (except in budget votes or votes on things that are in the party’s platform). “David Wilks represents the Conservative Party in the riding. I would represent the riding in parliament.”
• Respect for parliamentary traditions. “Treat question period with the seriousness it deserves and don’t send clowns out to answer with absurd responses to serious questions that have nothing to do with the subject matter and often turn into rants.”
Splitting the vote?
Asked about the likelihood his candidacy will split the non-Conservative vote in this riding, Johnston said “Let’s not forget that Mr. Wilks had 57 per cent of the popular vote, so we need to make inroads, we need to see that vote collapse in the same way the vote collapsed in Alberta and in the same way things collapsed in favour of Jack Layton in Quebec.
“In our campaign we are going after that vote, and we believe we are better positioned to move that vote than the NDP is. The NDP did a good job in Alberta but every situation is different during this volatile time, when there is so much fluidity in Canadian politics and nobody knows who will win the next election.
“I am presenting myself as a person with the kind of long term experience and the knowledge of the riding from having grown up here, having been the CEO of the Columbia Basin Trust, knowing the riding and the issues, who can bring that strong representation.”
Expertise in community development
Convening people to talk about their similarities and solve problems is part of Johnston’s stock in trade, he says.
“That is what I have done all my life. My career has been in community development and international development, trying to bring people together.”
Johnston said that as an MP he would use those skills to call public meetings around the riding “to discuss what economic diversification possibilities would look like, and I would raise this in Ottawa [by] convening a group of people there, across party affiliation, who have an interest in protecting the quality of life in rural Canada.”
He thinks MPs should use their position to convene more meetings in their ridings to “create conversations across the region. When an MP convenes a meeting in the riding, people are going to come.”
Focus on rural economic development
Johnson said that as Canada urbanizes — 80 per cent of Canada’s population lives in urban environments — rural issues get lost, rural economies need to diversify, and more money needs to be spent in rural infrastructure including a major upgrade of the highway through the Rogers Pass.
His concept of economic diversification would include extractive industries.
“I am a full supporter of the idea that resource extraction properly done is always going to be one of the drivers.”
Happy to be on Trudeau’s team
Johnston says the Liberal party is just beginning to release its election platform, and he is satisfied to align himself with Justin Trudeau.
“If you look at his platform and the leadership style, it is much more inclusive than the present government and it focuses on a team approach to things. Justin Trudeau has been able to bring the party together, and I am quite happy to be part of that common purpose and common vision.”
But he says it is Don Johnston he wants you to vote for.
“I am not trying to get the Liberal Party elected in this riding. I am trying to get me elected, and I am happy to be under the banner of the Liberals.”
Accountability legislation needed
Johnston said a Liberal government would introduce an Accountability Act, which would require MPs to be much more transparent and would make more information available to the public.
He said this would include setting up an all-party committee to look at ways to increase participation and trust in the democratic process in Canada, and could include discussion of proportional representation.
Bill C-51: Liberals are misunderstood
On the recent controversy over national security in Bill C-51, now passed as the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, Johnston says the Liberal Party’s support of it in parliament is misunderstood.
He says the party knew it would pass, and supported it even though it disagreed with some parts of it, and that the party proposed amendments to the bill that would provide independent oversight and “narrow the definitions that that could be used against people protesting against pipelines. Those amendments will be part of our election platform.”