Students were urged to participate in the political process when Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, visited the University of Calgary last Thursday, as a part of his tour of 11 campuses across Canada.
About 300 people attended the official opposition leader's speech in the MacEwan Students' Centre Ballroom, where 15 attendees were able to address Ignatieff with questions.
"Of course I want you to get out and vote Liberal, but I know in this room there are people that support other political parties and I welcome you here today," said Ignatieff. "What I care about is that you get involved. What I care about is that you vote."
Ignatieff said that key elements must be taken into account as Canada approaches its 150th anniversary.
"Carbon will have a price. We can't keep using the atmosphere like a garbage dump," he explained. "We won't have an economy unless we go green. We've got to innovate, innovate and innovate in energy use and consumption right now."
He also noted that for 40 years the Canadian economy has been based on a 60-cent dollar. As the Canadian currency becomes more valuable, the economy will have to adjust and become more knowledge and innovation based.
Ignatieff said the global markets of the future lie within China, India, Brazil and Africa. Canada's economy has always been heavily based on the United States economy, but stressed that needs to change soon.
"We've got an aging population," Ignatieff continued. "Your generation goes out in the world at 18 per cent youth unemployment . . . with the prospect that very soon there are going to be huge and surging health care [and retirement] costs . . . and that's coming squarely onto your shoulders."
"I haven't got all the answers, but I've got a few ideas about what we absolutely must do," he admitted.
Ignatieff further explained that the future economy will not be based on natural resources, but intellectual property. Post-secondary education will be essential and we must compete with other countries to become the best educated society in the world.
Though he is criticized for spending 27 years living outside of Canada, Ignatieff said it helped him gain a new perspective on and appreciation for his home country.
"Believe me, I'm not visiting. I'm home," he said.
Ignatieff asked for students' ideas to form acceptable copyright legislation that would enable free access to information, but also protect the creators. Ignatieff said it is especially important to him because he lived off his copyrights for 18 years as a writer.
Prime Minister Harper's prorogation of parliament has given Ignatieff a new platform. He said that prorogation is a legitimate power of the prime minister, but must never be used to evade the investigation of the government by parliament.
"My instinct here is that a lot of the conventions here that keep us free are not constitutional," he continued. "They are not legal. They are understandings in the public and political class that there are certain things you do not do -- even though you can do them -- and this is one of them."
A student inquiry about UN Security Council decisions prompted Ignatieff to address his past views on the Iraq war. He originally supported the war, but admitted that he was wrong at the time and believes it was a mistake.
He did, however, support the war in Afghanistan because the Canadian military is there with the approval of the Afghan government and the UN Security Council.
One student asked if the Canadian government should have a higher priority for defending imprisoned and tortured Chinese intellectuals in China over the captured members of the Taliban.
"Taliban detainees have human rights too," Ignatieff replied. "The proposition that you shouldn't care about those detainees because they're Taliban misunderstands what those human rights are."
"Canada must be consistent to oppose human rights violations no matter where they happen," he continued. "Just because China is big and powerful doesn't mean that Canada should back down on this issue."