Meeting the country online

In an online town hall meeting on Feb. 5, Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff and foreign affairs critic in the Liberal’s shadow cabinet Bob Rae spoke to Canadians live across the country, taking questions via the Internet and responding to issues ranging from climate change to foreign aid.

According to Ignatieff, near the end of the forum more than 570 people took part in the virtual town hall meeting, including at least one participant from London, UK.

To comment on remarks made or to ask a question, participants logged into their Facebook accounts and put forth their queries, which were responded to instantly.

Ignatieff and Rae answered 28 questions selected from those submitted by the moderator of the event Leslie Church, director of communications for Ignatieff.

Topics covered in both English and French during what Ignatieff termed the “Bob and Mike Show” were diverse, but focused primarily on Canada’s place in the international community.

In response to questions asked, Rae spoke about looking to the member countries of the European Union for inspiration on environmental issues and of the vital part Canada plays in Africa and other developing nations. “As a non-imperial power, we have an important role to play,” said Rae

Ignatieff also spoke strongly on the topic of foreign aid, admitting that “we can’t do everything” but continued with hopeful words about what Canada may realistically be able to accomplish.

“To govern is to choose and we should focus our international aid … in building up the capacity of local people and local institutions to build their own countries,” said Ignatieff. “That means our commitments have to be disciplined, targeted and should not be open-ended.”

When asked more specifically about the Liberal party’s plans for foreign aid by university student Austin Yan, Ignatieff spoke in glowing terms of the work of Canadian citizens around the world, adding, “We’d also like to encourage Canadian universities to make service overseas a standard part of Canadian undergraduate and college education.”

At the close of the hour-long web discussion session, many participants thanked the two leaders for taking part in the conversation.

The format of discussion between the leaders and the people was enthusiastically applauded by various participants, including Liam Mooney, who said during the online meeting, “I am so glad that our leaders are engaging us in this kind of way … engaging young people and technology.”

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