Monday, April 20, 2009

Ignatieff defines policies-and himself.

This is from the Star. This is a very positive article on Ignatieff. Among the policies mentioned I see nothing about the environment. I guess Dion taught the Liberals to be content with criticising the Conservatives. As the article mentions key policy areas are outlined but there is little on detail except that they will retain a popular Conservative taxable benefit for pre-schoolers.



In small gatherings across Ontario, Liberal leader defines policies – and himself
April 18, 2009 Tonda MacCharlesOTTAWA BUREAU
It's 7 a.m. Wednesday and hundreds of cars exit the clogged QEW to head into a chamber of commerce breakfast featuring Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.
More than 750 men and women in business suits have paid up to $35 for buffet bacon and eggs, and to listen to the man Conservatives portray as an elitist academic, out of touch with the country he left for 30 years.
There is a caffeine-fuelled buzz in the air – and there's no election on.
Ignatieff slips into the ballroom, with his wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar. She arrived back in Canada the night before from Hungary. The tour team urged her to join the last day of a four-day swing through southwestern Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe.
Ignatieff is fighting a chest infection, on "heavy-duty antibiotics," and is clearly tired.
But his wife has perked him up. So has the better-than-expected turnout of business leaders from the Oakville-Burlington area. Zsohar whispers in Ignatieff's ear the best line of his speech.
"This is what recovery looks like."
Ignatieff uses it to outline his ideas and his faith in the people in the room to lead the way to economic recovery. They eat it up.
He may as well have been talking about political recovery.
In Oakville, the bursts of applause don't come on the policy lines. Rather, it is Ignatieff's emotional pitch for hope and unity that appears to strike a chord. People seem hungry to hear the words.
"Getting there is going to require unity," says Ignatieff before launching a sharp critique of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, without ever uttering his name. "The prime minister of Canada has only one job, one job, and that is to unite the people of this country. ... This is the core function of a prime minister: to unite and not divide."
They clap, and clap again. Are they all Liberals? Or are they just sick of the current political discourse? Impossible to know.
However, three consecutive national polls show public opinion is warming to the Liberals under Ignatieff, especially in Ontario.
A convention at the end of the month in Vancouver will seal his leadership and some basic platform commitments. This week, Ignatieff signalled some key planks.
He says a Liberal economic renewal strategy would include employment insurance reform; a national early learning and child-care program that would retain the Conservatives' taxable $100-a-month benefit for preschoolers; a national affordable housing strategy; improved access to post-secondary education; more federal money for basic science and research; basic literacy, numeracy and language training; and pension reform.
These ideas are tailored to appeal to what he called "the industrial heartland" of Ontario where traditional manufacturing has been hard hit but where the "knowledge economy" represents hope for the future. They are policies that will be shaped to reach a national audience. But the road to any Liberal return to power lies in regaining seats lost in Ontario, as well as Quebec.
Ignatieff says the party is "urgently" crafting the strategies and estimating costs.
"That sounds a lot like a pre-election speech," Vin Tsui, an Oakville lawyer, says afterward. He doubts there's much appetite for an election but says he was pleasantly surprised Ignatieff appeared to have a plan – albeit one short on details.
"Given where the economy's going now, what he's saying is interesting to us, and sort of gives us hope that there is a solution and some light at the end of the tunnel."
Part of the Liberal leader's tour is to solicit advice. Jeff Kehoe, Ignatieff's Ontario campaign chair who's also in charge of candidate recruitment, is along, busily taking notes and policy suggestions from the private meetings. Part of it is also to work the bugs out.
In Cambridge, Ignatieff blundered into political no-man's-land, answering a hypothetical question from an audience member about how he'd tackle a deficit if all other revenue-raising efforts failed after a recovery took hold. He suggested he wouldn't rule out tax hikes, but only as a last resort.
Still, Ignatieff's Oakville Chamber of Commerce talk, like those he gives to audiences in Hamilton, Chatham, Brantford, Cambridge, Waterloo, London and Niagara Falls, had another goal in mind.
It was to frame, define or "brand" Ignatieff as a passionate Canadian. He remains an unknown to many voters, even though he was the front-runner in the 2006 Liberal leadership race that saw St├ęphane Dion come from behind to win.
Since the winter prorogation and coalition crisis that led to Dion's downfall and Ignatieff's rise, people have begun to pay attention.
So in speeches all week, Ignatieff repeatedly returns to a theme that is central to a book he launches next week as well – one that frames his ancestors as "nation-builders."
It's not just personal family history. It's a rebuttal of Conservative suggestions he's somehow not truly a Canadian because he spent most of his adult life outside Canada.
Ignatieff invokes his maternal great-grandfather, George Monro Grant, who with Sanford Fleming travelled from Halifax to Vancouver in 1872 to survey the transcontinental rail route.
Ignatieff calls for the kind of "grit and determination and unrelenting vision" they had to get through the current economic crisis.
He proclaims his passion for Quebec by invoking his Canadian parents, and his Russian grandparents who "are buried in the soil of Quebec" next to a French-Canadian farmer next to an Irish farmer, and advocates changing the question from "What does Quebec want?" to "What can we do together?"
In London, a university lecture hall is crammed with a few hundred people. About half are students. Final exams are on. The rest are area residents, professionals, seniors. Ignatieff, at home in a classroom, fields questions for an hour. Here, as elsewhere, when he hits the emotional notes, the room goes quiet. People listen intently.
Ignatieff claims he's in no rush for an election, saying he's got to work on the Liberal party's "machinery of battle" – fundraising, and candidate recruitment, while he tries to hold the government to account.
But he makes clear where it's all headed – sooner or later. "I will make Parliament work as long as I can and if we can't make it work, then we have to go back to the people. That's how the system works."

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