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Opinion Carolyn Bennett takes your questions on the Liberal leadership race

The Liberal leadership race is approaching a crucial juncture, with the delegates for its Montreal convention being selected across the country over the weekend of Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.

globeandmail.com has invited each of the 10 candidates to come on-line before that delegate-selection process.

We were pleased to have Carolyn Bennett take questions as part of this important series of live on-line discussions.

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Dr. Bennett's discussion follows Scott Brison's, which kicked off the series on Tuesday. Martha Hall Findlay will be hosting her discussion this Thursday and Joe Volpe will be on-line Wednesday, Sept. 20. The other candidates have not yet confirmed the days and times they will be joining us.

Considered the most prominent woman in the race, Dr. Bennett is a Toronto MP and served as public health minister in the Paul Martin government. She is known for policy stands, including advocating for people with disabilities, the environment, women's issues and better public health. The central focus of Dr. Bennett's campaign is a call for reform of the Liberal Party and the political system in general.

Dr. Bennett is a graduate or the University of Toronto's medical school. Her experiences as family physician with her own practice in Toronto led her to a philosophy of putting the patient in the centre of all decisions and working as a partner in her patient's health.

She ran provincially in 1995 but lost in the Mike Harris sweep. In 1997, she ran for and was elected MP in the midtown Toronto riding of St Paul's, where she has lived most of her life. She has been re-elected three times.

Dr. Bennett has served as Chair of Liberal Women's Caucus and Chair of the Subcommittee on Persons with Disabilities. She successfully changed the rules for the Disability Tax Credit and has sat on the health committee, the justice committee and the finance committee. As Minister of State for Public Health she established the Public Health Agency of Canada in less than six months.

In opposition, as social development critic, she was proud to have established the "shadow caucus" that allowed the unheld ridings to have a voice in shaping Liberal policy.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

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Rasha Mourtada, globeandmail.com: Good afternoon, Dr. Bennett, and thank you for taking questions from globeandmail.com readers today. Let's get started. What is the single most-important reason why you should be elected leader of the Liberal party and have a chance to become the Prime Minister of Canada?

Carolyn Bennett: Job number one: The Liberal Party of Canada has to regain the trust of Canadians.

I believe that I am the person who knows what we have to do and how we have to do it in order for the party regain the trust and confidence of its membership and the citizens of Canada.

I believe that my experience as a physician, asking what's wrong, listening and then working together for solutions has translated into the modern way of doing politics.

I believe that in order to confront the cynicism in politics and government, citizens must know that they are being listened to....even between elections. The old top-down style of political leadership no longer has any place in Canadian society (something Stephen Harper's autocratic regime will learn soon enough). There's very little oxygen at the top of a mountain - it's richest at the grassroots.

If our democracy is to thrive, if Canadian citizens are to feel truly engaged in their own government, we must engender a new and shared sense of community.

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In my riding of St. Paul's I've been able to turn around a bellwether riding into a 14,000 vote plurality, we were able to achieve a 75 per cent voter turnout in the youngest riding in the country - the greatest percentage of voters under 35. My MSN chats on Sunday nights have been a centrepiece of the new two-way accountability that defines a 'democracy between elections.'

I believe that I can best transform the Liberal Party of Canada into an organization that is fair, transparent and takes people seriously ... and can win back the respect of Canadians.

My experience in the party, on Parliament and in government has given me a true sense of the country and the changes that need to be made to renew our democratic institutions.

Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, globeandmail.com: Where do you place the 10 candidates right now in terms of being front-runners, middle-of-the-pack or well-behind-the-rest? What's your strategy since it appears no one will win on the first ballot at the convention?

Carolyn Bennett: I think the 'front runner' game is unfortunate. As you have said, it will not be possible to win on the first ballot, and therefore second and later ballot support is the game! Across the country it has been my goal to build relationships with all Liberals, regardless of who they will be supporting on the first ballot.

I am thrilled with the support we have been receiving. Some of those who have indicated that they will run as a delegate for another candidate have indicated that they will support me on the second!

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Dianne Porter, Charlottetown: As a long time Liberal woman, I want to know what you have done for women in the past, and how you intend to get 50% women into the House of Commons?

Carolyn Bennett:Dianne, I believe that without changing our electoral system, it will be very difficult to reach 50 per cent. I am proposing that we must begin the process of electoral reform that would ensure more women in Parliament. The process is described in my response to Anne McLeeland's task force on my site. I also believe that we must make sure that women run in winnable ridings, starting with incumbent riding that have decided not to run again.

Daniel Sturgis, Rabat Morocco: Thank you for fielding questions today, Dr Bennett. My question is, what was your stance as the recent war in Lebanon developed? If elected PM, would you consider sending a contingent of troops there as part of the peace-keeping mission?

Carolynn Bennett: Daniel, I think that Canada's number one job is promoting the dialogue that is necessary for an enduring peace in the Middle East. I think that the proposal for us using our navy to help stop the arms to Hezbollah is interesting. I had voted against the prolongation of our mission in Afghanistan in order for the government to have more flexibility in emerging issues, such as those in southern Lebanon.

Jack Harrison, Toronto: Hello and thanks for being here. During one meet the leaders episode, I heard numerous candidates wax poetically about Canada being a peacekeeping nation, as if to say that's all Canada should ever be doing. If this sentiment became government policy, how would it affect our status as member of NATO?

Carolyn Bennett: Jack, in the Star three weeks ago I was able to explain my position re peacekeeping, which is really rarely possible now in the context of civil wars and terrorism. I believe Canada's leadership at the UN on 'duty to protect' and 'human security agenda' does require more soldiers in harm's way. Now the issue is whether our NATO mission in Afghanistan is in keeping with Canadians' understanding of our role in 'human security. I would love you to read the article and respond to my website

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Gary Wilson, Calgary: At this point in the race, which Liberal leadership candidate's policy ideas and values do you deem most in line with your own? Which candidate is most different?

Carolyn Bennett: Gary, interesting question. I think that the candidates do bring various perspectives. I spent five to six weeks trying to figure out if supporting another candidate could allow me to be effective in the reform agenda of 'democracy between elections,' health vs health care, and decided it would be better if I ran ... and better if I won!

Sara Landriault, Kemptville: Why is it more important to you to help a low income family use daycare, and not to help a low income family have one parent stay at home? The reason fo using daycare in own words is ''daycare is better able to nutrition at risk children." But would it not be beneficial to help those low income parents help themselves, rather than the government do it for them?

Carolyn Bennett: Sara, I think the issue isn't which is better. Rather, do the families have REAL choices. The single mother who would like to go back to school or enter the work force has no choices if quaility early learning and child care spaces don't exist. This September the child care agreement would have allowed a universal program for four year olds in Saskatoon. That is now cancelled.

James R, Niagara Falls: What would you do to help Canada's poor and underprivileged if you were to gain Liberal leadership and then go on to become Canada's Prime Minister?

Carolyn Bennett: James, I believe that putting in place a Housing Strategy would be a priority for helping the poor in this country. I believe the percentage of Canadians paying more than 50 per cent of their income on rent speaks to the fact that even our poverty numbers don't tell us the whole story. Disposible income is a real issue.

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I also believe that a mental health strategy as the Senate Committee had called for will be hugely important in helping deal properly with homelessness. Early learning and childcare programs will be essential to helping single parents be able to get to school and into the workforce as I said in an earlier question. The National Child Benefit was a great program that should have been increased, instead of the Harper family allowance. We need to get dollars to those who need it most.

Caprice Barbour, Vancouver: Carolyn, as the leader of the Liberal Party, how would you address the issue of integrity and trust with the voters in this post-Gomery era?

Carolyn Bennett: Caprice, great question. I believe that we do have to change the culture of politics. Unfortunately, bad behaviour has been too often rewarded. Rebuilding our party from the bottom up means that we have to build a truly democratic institution that is fair and transparent where people understand how and why decisions were taken and feel part of a real two-way accountability. Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant!

Scott B, Toronto: Hi Carolyn. I recently moved to your riding of St. Paul's and I hope to meet you some time soon. My question has to do with democratic reform. What is your take on democratic reform and do you think that Canada is ready for a proportional representation electoral system and the coalition governments that it would create?

Carolynn Bennett: Scott, welcome to St. Paul's! On the campaign web site is the 'Healthy Democracy' paper that I wrote in the spring. Since then I have responded to Anne McLelland's task force with an outline of the process that I believe we should follow in order to achieve a fairer electoral system. I do believe that we need proportional representation. A blended system with constituency MPs topped up with MPs, maybe past candidates. Now in Alberta, 15.3 per cent of Albertans voted Liberal and there is not one seat. The situation in Quebec with the disproportionate number of BQ seats is also a distortion. We need to take our time and get it right, but it means that Canadians need to first agree that the present system isn't fair! I believe that we would get much better at governing in a minority. As many have said, Lester Pearson's minorities gave us Medicare and CPP!

Rasha Mourtada, globeandmail.com: Thank you, Dr. Bennett, for answering questions from globeandmail.com readers today. Any last thoughts you'd like to leave us with?

Carolyn Bennett: Thanks everyone for the great questions. Please feel free to join the young Canadians that join me every Sunday night at carolynbennettmp@hotmail.com usually at 9 p.m EDT. Last year during Katrina as Minister of State for Public Health I learned so much from the young people, which public radio station to listen to on-line to get details from New Orleans, which website to look at. I would continue this on-line dialogue as leader too! Please stay in touch.

Rasha Mourtada, globeandmail.com: To our readers, we're sorry we couldn't get to all of your questions today. Thanks for your interest and participation. Martha Hall Findlay will be taking your questions tomorrow (Thursday) at 2 p.m. EDT.

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