Monday, December 29, 2008

Ignatieff targets Quebec in bid to rebuild Liberal party.

Ignatieff is taking advantage of the obvious mistakes Harper has made on Quebec. Harper managed to very quickly lose all the good will he had built up in Quebec and now Ignatieff is quickly moving into the vacuum to build up the federal Liberal party in Quebec.
Ignatieff has the advantage of speaking excellent French and his academic credentials and experience living in other countries is no disadvantage in most of Quebec. As the article notes if he can establish a physical presence in different areas this will help gain support.

Ignatieff targets Quebec in bid to rebuild party - Canada - Ignatieff targets Quebec in bid to rebuild party

December 29, 2008 Andrew ChungQUEBEC BUREAU CHIEF
MONTREAL–Wearing a long, heavy black coat and his black fedora, sprinkled with snowflakes, Michael Ignatieff set foot in Quebec City on Dec. 17 for the first time officially as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He was greeted by a lone TV crew curious to know his intentions and the agenda for his breakfast that morning with Premier Jean Charest.
"I am going to visit other premiers, but I am starting in Quebec," he said politely, "and that is a sign of the importance I attach to Quebec."
There's nothing new in a politician trying to woo Quebec, or helpful strategists imploring them to back that up with symbolic heft. Prime Minister Stephen Harper began the last election campaign in Quebec, when it was thought he had the province in his back pocket as he walked toward a majority.
But Harper's Quebec support dried up. In the vacuum, the question has become: Is Ignatieff the man who will reawaken Quebecers' moribund interest in his party?
Close associates, analysts and those on the ground say Ignatieff is well-positioned to take advantage of Tory problems in Quebec to reinvigorate the Liberal brand here, not only by virtue of his political calculations, but also good timing.
Since the Liberals are less likely to win over the more conservative West, Quebec becomes vital to their hopes of regaining government. Ignatieff's Quebec assault will begin as early as next month as he starts to visit communities.
The day he was crowned leader, Ignatieff said he recognized the problems the Liberals face in Quebec and that he intends to change things. "We have a lot of work to do," he said. "I have to go to ... all the small communities in the regions of Quebec. ... I have to give speeches in small rooms, big rooms, in churches, everywhere."
"Here in Quebec the human aspect is very important. To see the person, to shake their hand, it counts very much," says Montreal MP Pablo Rodriguez, an Ignatieff organizer who had been planning Ignatieff's Quebec tour before he took the helm.
It's a well-worn path, especially by successful provincial politicians, from René Lévesque to Robert Bourassa to Charest himself. After he lost the 1998 election, Charest embarked on a five-year get-to-know mission all over Quebec. In 2003, he won a majority.
"He was present everywhere, every region," says Liza Frulla, a former federal and provincial Liberal politician who is now a political analyst. "So he sort of built his confidence, but also a rapport between Quebecers and himself. It's a time-tested strategy."
Ignatieff also thinks it's the right time to do it. He says Harper has lost the confidence of Quebecers since he aggressively denounced as a "separatist coalition" the Liberal-NDP alliance that formed with support from the Bloc Québécois in the aftermath of the government's Nov. 27 economic statement.
Christian Bourque, vice-president of the Léger Marketing firm, says Ignatieff could be received well in Quebec for a few reasons.
Quebecers, unlike voters in the West, don't prefer to have their leaders to reflect the "Average Joe," he says. They want someone who is a notch above average. "Style-wise he reminds (Quebecers) a bit of a slightly older (Pierre) Trudeau. There's a bit of an aristocratic air to the guy, which will be fairly popular here in Quebec."
His skill in French is always helpful. And the fact Ignatieff spent the better part of his life outside the country isn't considered a negative, Bourque says. Ignatieff has begun to broadcast his message. He mentions that he and his party are not the great "centralizers" that many Quebecers loathe them for.
While Harper has received most of the credit for recognizing in Parliament the Québécois as a nation, it was Ignatieff who first broached the idea of a Quebec "nation," and he would like to capture some of the momentum himself.
Still, Ignatieff leads a Liberal party that turned off many federalists and soft nationalists in Quebec following the sponsorship scandal.
In the last election, save for the Montreal region and a few other key areas, the Liberals were all but non-existent in Quebec. The party's organization on the ground in the regions is in shambles.
"It's been a tough ride for the party," Rodriguez admits. "The last three to four years have been very difficult."
But the signs are there for a renaissance, he says. For instance, during the short-lived leadership campaign following Stéphane Dion's announcement that he would step down, the Ignatieff team in Chicoutimi and Jonquière received support from former partisans of Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy and other former leadership contenders."There was no real fight here in Quebec. We were getting support here from pretty much everybody."
But it will be a long, hard haul to rebuild the party here.
One person in the Ignatieff entourage says there will have to be more links with Charest's party. But a strategist close to Quebec's Liberal party says close links would not be advised. "The two parties have had a long history of not getting along."

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