Meet John K. Bell. He’s the Cambridge businessman who asked Michael Ignatieff a question yesterday that prompted an answer that may or may not be the single most controversial thing any Canadian politician in recorded history has ever said.
John and I chatted this afternoon. Our conversation after the jump.
Bell: Let me just talk you through it, the way I recall this whole thing. He gave a speech which was half tight and good, which I was impressed with, and then half pretty scrappy and very political … But one of the things he said [was] that he was thinking the big picture and the long term. And from that I thought, oh boy, this is good. So mine was a very honest question. I was looking for a strategic vision, because he was talking strategically, big picture. So I framed the question as I’m going to ask this on behalf of my children and… well, there was no vision and there was no answer and certainly he had no strategy or good answer. So I was very disappointed, he was really scrambling for a response, and I think the other people in the room were somewhat disappointed as well. So what started as being impressive was not so when it ended.
Me: So, just to clarify, what exactly was your question?
Bell: My question was, with the massive deficits that are piling up … how do you intend to deal with the debt and is this going to burden future generations, are you going to burden future generations? And the way I said that is that I’m asking that on behalf of my children. And that’s why, further in his response, he said he did not intend to burden our children with that responsibility. But he didn’t say how.
Me: So this was a fairly long answer?
Bell: Yes, it was a long answer. It wasn’t crisp and clear and articulate. He didn’t articulate a strategy or a vision, so it appears that he doesn’t have one, or the Liberal party doesn’t have one. And I was honestly hoping for an answer. I wasn’t there to trick him. Because I’m very worried about this.
Me: So at the end of this he spits out this line about possibly raising taxes?
Bell: Yes. He said, I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.
Me: Was it qualified, as in if X doesn’t work or Y doesn’t work, then we may have to raise taxes?
Bell: No, he was not definitive. At that stage of the response, he was scrambling to say something, so he spit it out, I think a couple of times.
Me: So how do you feel about that?
Bell: I’m disappointed. I’m concerned and I’m disappointed. I’d like our political leaders to have an answer for this big spending that they are currently on. And if he’s a future leader, then I would sure like him to come in with an answer. Obviously I haven’t asked Mr. Harper the same question, haven’t had the opportunity.
Me: If the options are spending cuts or tax increases, do you have an opinion on that?
Bell: I like small government and I think that we do not have to be spending at this rate, and this much, for the infrastructure, just because it’s en vogue. I don’t see any clear plan for the infrastructure spending. And I would like us to know how we’re getting out of this before we get into it.
Me: I must ask, do you have any affiliation with any political party?
Bell: No, not strong. I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve had a degree of success in my life, so I would tend to be leaning to the Tory side.
Me: All right. So you come away not entirely impressed with him?
Bell: No, I was not impressed with him. In fact, I was disappointed, is probably the word.
Me: Just with that answer…
Bell: Well, with that answer, but overall. The first part of his speech, he came on very strong and talking big picture, talking leadership and then he got into scrappy, picayune points, attempting to pull little subjects out of context … trying to get a headline. Gary Goodyear is our member and who’s thought highly of in the community, I think highly of him. And to attempt to pull him down, I didn’t like that.
Me: He made reference to evolution?
Bell: No, he didn’t make reference to the evolution thing. To scientific funding.
(John called back later to note that he’d run for the Ontario Liberals in 1990.)