Yahoo! Exclusive: Liberal leadership candidate David Bertschi says he’s no ‘outsider’ in race

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

The common refrain is that Justin Trudeau will be the next leader of the federal Liberals. He's got the looks, the charisma and that whole Trudeau-mania thing going for him.

Just don't tell that to David Bertschi.  Also, don't call him an outsider — I learned that the hard way.

On Wednesday, Bertschi, an Ottawa-based human rights lawyer, announced that he will seek the Liberal leadership alongside Trudeau, Deborah Coyne and Alex Burton.

Like Coyne and Burton, Bertschi, 52, is a political neophyte, having never been elected to public office.

In an interview with Yahoo! Canada News, he said that's not going to hamper his campaign. Bertschi said that the party has tried the "Nirvana" route before and failed and now it's time to for a leader who can build the party from the grassroots.

[ Related: Yahoo! Exclusive: Former BQ leader Gilles Duceppe 'not impressed' with Justin Trudeau ]

Here are some excerpts from the telephone interview:

Y! News: Why are you running for the Liberal leadership?

Bertschi: At the end of the day, our country and the party at are at crossroads. I feel and I believe now more than ever we need experienced, principled leadership at the helm of the party to rebuild the party and frankly so that we can take the fight to Stephen Harper in 2015 and win back government.

Y! News: Some people say that you don't have a chance in this race. They say you're an outsider that doesn't have name recognition across the country.  Are you in this to win?

Bertschi: I'm in the race to win.

We've got volunteers and organizers across the country and the groundswell of support for my candidacy shows people want a new type of leadership one that starts from the grassroots, listens to Canadians, respects their wishes, looks at evidence based policy and has a history of implementing it.

Y! News: You speak of 'experience' and 'history' but you don't have any political experience?

Bertschi: [As a lawyer] I've acted for small/medium business, for families, for veterans, for pensioners.  I have made decisions that affected individuals and assisted people in overcoming incredible hurdles and made a lot of tougher decisions than some of the people who are interested in running for public office.

I've also been working and volunteering and helping former [Liberal] prime ministers. I have been helping the party for many years.

Y! News: The common refrain is that Justin Trudeau has the leadership sewn-up. How do you differentiate yourself from Justin Trudeau?

Bertschi: Let me just say that no one has this sewn-up because last I checked the ballots hadn't printed let alone cast.  But this isn't about David against Justin…this is about offering Canadians a clear choice.

And from my perspective, the choices are, you can build from the grassroots, you can work with people, you can respect their wishes have bold new policies or you can go from the same old same old where a few elites and certain cities decide that this guy is going to bring us to Nirvana — when we all know we tried the Nirvana route before and it hasn't exactly turned out peachy.

Y! News: How would you go about reviving the Liberal brand?

Bertschi: It's about having bold new ideas but at the same time focused ideas.

And [it's about] not allowing others to portray us in an unflattering light. Let's tell people and remind people that we are the party that slayed the deficit and Mr. Harper takes over the largest surplus in Canadian history and within 6 months or so depletes it.

It's counter-punching — its standing up for what we believe in and being effective communicators of Canadian values.

Canada needs a balanced party not a party full of ideology like the far right and far left.

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Y! News: Your campaign's slogan is "Restoring the Canadian advantage."  What does that mean?

Bertschi: I'll give you an example. My mother...was a single mom.  Notwithstanding the social economic class that we were in, I was able to get good health care, I was able to work two to three jobs as a summer student and during university.

I was able to put myself through school. I was able to get a law degree. And I was able to pay off my student loans because I had a job in my field.  And I was also able to buy a house because...they were affordable. That was the Canadian advantage. And people today can't have that.

Y! News: What specific issues will you focus on during this campaign?

Bertschi: We have to look at health care — 45 per cent of our provincial budgets for the most part are being spent on health care. We need innovative approaches to that.

We've got to look at education. Students are burdened with huge debts and can't get a job in their field.

Government has to be there for certain things, not everything.

Stimulate the economy, when there is a problem, make sure Canadians across the country are getting good healthcare, good job opportunities, invest in research, technology, universities, promote companies to create jobs in Canada.

That's where I'm coming from: strong, firm, fair leadership.

I'm outlining over the course of the following weeks — my platform to Canadians. I think it's realistic, I think its bold. It's going to ensure Canada's...competitiveness in the 21st century economy.

I'm going to be discussing a lot of issues throughout the campaign. But it's also about something bigger. It's about what kind of country we are. What kind of country do we want to be for the generations to come.

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