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(Posted 12:30 p.m., March 16)
Former Liberal candidate explores possible run for party leadership

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The 2011 federal Liberal candidate for Ottawa-Orléans has emerged as a possible early contender for the party’s leadership, assembling a team of organizers and plotting a bus tour.

David Bertschi, an Ottawa-based lawyer, stops short of saying he’s going for the top job. Right now, it’s just something he’s exploring at the urging of Liberals who have approached him from the west to the east.

“I do think that that’s what renewal is all about — it’s new ideas, new people, strong new leadership,” said Bertschi. “But I have not made a decision to run. I live in the real-world. I’m not a career politician. I’m just not satisfied with the level of discourse and political debate.”

Although Bertschi plays down his intentions, he’s building a very real political machine. He has assembled 28 key organizers from B.C. to Price Edward Island. He has begun to raise money, too — more than $50,000 so far. There have already been townhalls on Liberal renewal, and another one is planned for April on the economy. There is even talk of a bus tour to engage more Canadians.

“Everyone has a viewpoint,” he said. “There’s no monopoly on good ideas in Canadian politics.”

Despite the party’s recent electoral misfortunes and accusations that its glory days are over, Bertschi isn’t alone in eyeing the top job. With the leadership election now about a year away, more candidates are expected to start coming out of the woodwork. The names being touted include Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall-Findlay, and Marc Garneau. Bob Rae has not ruled out a run either.

Bertschi is a Quebec native, and has been a party member for more than 25 years, working behind the scenes for then-leadership candidates John Turner and Jean Chrétien.

He is married with six children, and chose not to run himself until the 2011 election for two reasons: he wanted to wait until the kids were older, and he wanted to establish his private sector experience. He is a founding partner at Bertschi Orth Smith LLP in Orléans.

“If you’re going to contribute to the fibre of our politics you have to understand the real world.”

Bertschi lost Ottawa-Orléans to incumbent Conservative Royal Galipeau by about 4,000 votes, but he still calls it the best experience of his life. During the campaign he engaged the public on the relevant policy issues, and maintain a high standard of political discourse, without making false promises.

“I felt we had to raise the bar — and by raising the bar, that means speaking respectfully, but convincingly to people, about a position. Not getting down into the gutter and doing things that are unethical or illegal. It’s about respecting your constituency with honour," said Bertschi.

The riding was one of a few dozen across the country targeted by robocalls during the last campaign. It was in mid-April that voters began contacting Bertschi’s office, complaining about harassing calls they had received from people who identified themselves as Liberals. There were also complaints of bogus calls from Elections Canada re-directing voters to incorrect polling stations. In all, Bertschi heard 35 complaints, and went to Elections Canada.

“We registered a complaint, we followed up with a complaint. We haven’t heard back from Elections Canada, but as you can appreciate, Elections Canada is quite busy with I guess over 31,000 complaints to date.”

The emerging picture of widespread wrongdoing troubles him.

“If you take away one vote from one Canadian, you’re really stealing from everyone, and it’s effecting the fibre of our democracy. And it’s really important that people be held to account for that type of behaviour.”

Bertschi said his goal in politics is to be someone who looks to the future. The issues that are important to him include ministerial responsibility, respect for democracy, and finding new and innovative ways to deliver health care. He describes himself as “a capitalist with a heart.”

“It seems that the current breed of politician on Parliament Hill, and specifically in the government, is more concerned about the next election than what’s right for the next generation,” he said. “It’s not about the next election. We have to solve some problems for the next generation.”

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

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