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Belinda Stronach meets with a supporter at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
Ryan May/the Gauntlet

Meeting Belinda

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Former Chief Executive Officer of Magna International Belinda Stronach spoke at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce event Fri., Jan. 23, addressing a wide range of issues from senate reform to universal health care to post-secondary education.

Stronach, who announced her candidacy in the race to lead the new Conservative Party of Canada, spoke to a crowd of nearly 1,300 supporters, business leaders and curious onlookers. The breakfast event was the largest in the Chamber of Commerce's history, and was also Stronach's largest gathering to date.

Her speech briefly mentioned the importance of post-secondary education in Canada, and potential ways to improve the system.

"We must address the shortage of skilled labour, and teach young people that a career in skilled trades is a valuable and rewarding choice," Stronach said. "We should support higher education by allowing parents and students to deduct post-secondary tuition from their income tax."

While tuition credits are already given for students in post-secondary institutions at both federal and provincial levels (with the majority of those credits transferring to students' parents), Stronach didn't elaborate on what might be different. In a press conference afterward, she somewhat expanded on her vision of post-secondary education.

When asked what more could be done with the Canadian post-secondary system, Stronach repeated her emphasis on trades, while adding the possibility of a national committee to provide direction.

"I think we need to work with our young people," Stronach answered. "Perhaps we should have a national youth advisory committee on this and ask the young people what they feel. There's a worldwide shortage of skilled trades [people], and there's also a shortage of Canadian skilled trades [people]. Only when we focus on education and what we're teaching, can we adopt an agenda of innovation."

When pressed to discuss universities, Stronach referred to an important relationship between universities and business.

"Businesses and universities should also work together to make sure that our managers, future managers and future business leaders are prepared to really compete in this fierce global environment," she answered.

Stronach, criticized for undeveloped policy, expanded on a small selection of issues, evidence she is slowly adding to a vision she hopes will win her the Conservative leadership in March. She used the Calgary event to announce her opinion about senate reform.

"I believe that senators should be elected and not appointed," Stronach said during her speech, adding she would consult provinces before proceeding with any changes. "In the meantime, when a senate vacancy arises, I would give the affected province the right to hold a general election to fill it. As prime minister, I would respect the results of that election."

Stronach also said she would abolish the gun registry, improve troubled relations with the United States, reduce taxes and that she opposes the decriminalization of marijuana.

Following her speech, reporters questioned her lack of political experience and her intentions for running. Stronach has never before held public office, though she didn't think this posed a problem.

"We should allow for many different disciplines to enter the political process, not only many years of political experience," she said. "I think we should allow for regular Canadians to come in with different experiences, including business.

"I feel that my experiences that I've accumulated in my life--I would like to put those to work," she continued. "I would like to focus the agenda on what I think priorities should be, and we can make Canada truly a role model to the world."

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