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Maharaj Committed to Liberal Accountability

"Political involvement is the price we must all stand prepared to pay if we are to avoid being tyrannised over by fools."


Jason Small
10 May 2003


A man running for the presidency of the federal Liberal party wants to take the party, which some people believe ignores the public, and put it into the hands of average citizens.

"I think the challenge today is to find ways to involve ordinary people in the political process," Akaash Maharaj said yesterday.

Maharaj is in Whitehorse for tomorrow's Liberal leadership debate at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre. The election of party president will take place in November at the same time as the leadership vote.

If he becomes president, the 33-year-old Maharaj wants to put more control of the party and its election campaigns in the hands of the party workers throughout the country. "I would consider my term in office a success if I were able to make a contribution towards creating a party that people wanted to join because they would rightfully believe that by doing so, they would have an opportunity to define the policies and practices of government," he said.

"As president, I'm hoping that I can transform the Liberal party into a more meaningful vehicle for civic engagement in public affairs."

If he became president, Maharaj promises that Liberals "would have a party that would listen to them." To accomplish that, Maharaj admits the relationship between the party and the government will have to change.

He admits that more and more control within the party is being held by fewer and fewer people at the top.

"Within the Liberal party, and I think within most political parties in parliament democracies across the world, there's been a tremendous and unhealthy centralization of power over the past 20 years. I believe we need to reverse that."

Maharaj thinks that trend can be reversed if processes are created to allow people to express their concerns. He also said there is a need for a president to have the courage to stand up and say it is a party of the many not the few.

As well, Maharaj is bothered by how dissension within the party has been dealt with recently, with those opposed to the people in control being bullied. "I grieve for the decline in democracy within not just Canada's civil politics, especially my own party."

Maharaj said the public examples of dissension within the party that have been "poorly-handled" have helped get his message out that there needs to be change within the party. Maharaj said that the recent turbulence within the Liberal party over the leadership race has not been a bad thing but is actually "healthy" for the party.

He's willing, he added, to put in the effort to change the system because he is both a liberal and a Liberal.

"Political involvement is the price we must all stand prepared to pay if we are to avoid being tyrannized over by fools."

Part of the reason he wants to become president is that the position would give him an opportunity to change the culture of the party and make it more open.

Maharaj has already been campaigning for the last year for this position. He has been the party's policy chair for the last five years. These are volunteer jobs. He works as the CEO of a nonprofit organization which works on coming up with ideas for solving international conflicts like those in the Middle East.

The trio of Liberal MPs who are running for the top job, party leader and prime minister, are filtering into Whitehorse today.

Front-runner and former Finance minister Paul Martin arrived this morning. Finance Minister John Manley is expected in today. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps will also be in Whitehorse this weekend for the debate.

The debate will be at 1 p.m. at Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre. Anyone is welcomed to the debate and to submit a question. However, anyone wishing to watch the event in person must arrive before 12:15 and must pay $10, or $20 if they would like to have lunch.

The theme for this debate is sustainable development.

The questions, however, don't have to be on that topic, said Maharaj.

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