Michael Ignatieff's political summer school - The Globe and Mail
Michael Ignatieff's political summer school
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, arrive at Baddeck, N.S., on Aug. 30 for the party's caucus retreat. Mike Dembeck/The Canadian Press
After six weeks connecting with Canadians, the Liberal Leader displays a new confidence. But he’s still not talking about an election.
Baddeck, N.S. — From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Aug. 30, 2010 8:33PM EDT Last updated on Monday, Aug. 30, 2010 8:51PM EDT
Michael Ignatieff says an old man told him the secret of long life this summer – “sex and booze.” The Liberal Leader mocked Stephen Harper for his arrogance and Bush-style ideology; he took on Jack Layton for not showing leadership on the long-gun registry, and he talked about the importance of democracy – but not once did he mention an election.
Addressing a big, enthusiastic crowd of Liberals in a campaign-style speech in this Cape Breton town to kick off the caucus summer retreat Monday night, the Liberal Leader didn’t seem at all interested in going to the polls any time soon.
This, as everything else screamed election – from his arrival in his so-called Liberal Express bus to his long walk through the crowd, shaking hands as lively fiddle music played and he made his way to the stage.
Liberals even released new red and white campaign-style buttons Monday night – “Welcome to the big red tent” – which was a line Mr. Ignatieff repeated often in his speech.
What a difference a year makes.
Last year in Sudbury, dressed in a suit, his hands gripping a lectern, the rookie leader read from a script and famously told Mr. Harper that his time “was up.” At the first opportunity, Mr. Ignatieff warned, the Liberals would try to take down the government and force an election.
The strategy failed miserably. It cost him in national opinion polls and it cost him some support in his caucus.
Mr. Ignatieff has spent a year trying to undo that misstep and he may just be succeeding.
“Michael Ignatieff got his mojo back this summer,” said Scott Brison, a Nova Scotia Liberal MP and former Paul Martin cabinet minister.
Having logged nearly 40,000 kilometres and attended 142 events during his six-week odyssey across Canada, Mr. Ignatieff could speak with confidence Monday night about what Canadians are feeling and what they told him.
He spoke off-the-cuff for about 20 minutes. He held a microphone and wandered along the stage – no lectern, no script, no Teleprompter.
Wearing jeans and a rumpled striped shirt and with his wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, dressed in pink sneakers and black pants, the couple looked like they did just get off a bus.
Last year, Mr. Brison says, the Liberal Leader was “over-managed.” This year, he said, “He’s being himself.”
Said another veteran Liberal: “He’s busted his *** this summer,” proving to Liberals that he wants the job and has the stamina to do it.
He told his supporters what he learned from Canadians and what took him by surprise.
“So the issue, and I’ll be frank with you, that wasn’t at the front of my mind at the beginning of this summer, surely was at that front of the minds of Canadians as we went coast to coast,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “And do you know what that issue is? It’s democracy. Democracy.”
He criticized Mr. Harper and his Conservatives for framing policies based on ideology, giving examples such as building more prisons while the incidence of crime is lessening, scrapping the long-gun registry and killing the mandatory long-form census.
“This country is too big, too rich, too diverse, too complicated to be governed by blind ideology that is imported from the United States,” Mr. Ignatieff said.
Although he gave nothing away as to strategy for the fall sitting of Parliament, Mr. Ignatieff did remind supporters that the Liberals are the party of the centre.
“I have always thought of the Liberal Party of Canada as a big red tent, a big red tent in the centre, in the centre of Canadian political life. We are not the party of the left, we are not the party of the right. We are a party of the centre …”
And about that secret to long life? Mr. Ignatieff recounted how he met a 96-year-old gentleman during his travels this summer. He asked him the secret to his longevity.
“And he looked at me and said, ‘Son, sex and booze.’ ”