Ignatieff’s pitch

by Aaron Wherry

I have a story in this week’s print edition about Michael Ignatieff’s position going into the last two weeks of this campaign and the complicated electoral math with which he is presently faced.

On Monday, somewhere between Yellowknife and Winnipeg, we sat for a chat. Some of what Mr. Ignatieff had to say made it into that story, but for your enlightenment—and as a demonstration of what a few days of travel does to my ability to form coherent questions—here is the transcript.

AW: So let’s go back to Sudbury. Was there any frustration in that? I know maybe it wasn’t necessarily frustration, but it did sound at first like you were kind of trying to understand the fact that people weren’t seeing what you were seeing. You’re a guy who sits across the aisle from Stephen Harper every day and you have this pent up idea of all these things he’s done wrong, but other people that’s not coming across to. Was there frustration there or something else?

MI: I think Aaron we have to tell a story. I don’t think it was frustration, I think it’s just story telling. I think political leaders have to tell stories. And what I was trying to say was not frustration, but take this little story, take this, take this, take this, take this—what’s the pattern in the carpet here. And so rise up was just, I mean that came out of I don’t know where really, to be honest. I mean I do love that album, it’s on my iPod and I’ve listened to it probably more than, you know, it’s a big favourite of mine. It’s that desire I had to just pull some things together because I was thinking of the contrast between the active citizens who are in the room, the people who come to the rallies, but there are a lot of people out there thinking there’s this story and then he did this and then he did that and then he did the next thing and my job is to make them see that there’s a pattern of just abuse of democracy, lack of respect for the people. Really simple stuff, not complicated. And I really do feel personally angry about it. Not at him, but just at what’s happened to the country and I wanted to say that. Make the pattern. Make the pattern. Tell the story. That’s what I was trying to do.

AW: I don’t think your campaign has taken too much criticism. You said last night you were happy with it, you were happy with your team. You described yourself today as serene. But, not to be glib about it or anything, but there’s still that 10 point gap. How do you reconcile your feelings for the campaign with that number?

MI: We have had fun. We’ve done what we wanted to do. By that I mean there are things that I just passionately believe would make this a better country. Like the learning passport, I really, I just think, wow, you ask me why you want to be prime minister, if I had to pick one reason, it would be right there. Because of equality and what it means to us as a country. But to the question: what I feel out there and I felt it very strongly in Victoria last night, and also in Vancouver, but particularly in Victoria, there are a lot of people taking a close look, a lot of progressives, people who are concerned about salmon fishing, about GM foods, about, well you heard the questions. They know, they all know, they’re in the room, they know we get four more years of Stephen Harper, everything they believe in is going to end up being in worse shape. Some of them come wanting to vote Green and they want to vote NDP and they’re looking at the Liberals. They’ve got to make a choice about where does the progressive vote go in the next two weeks. And I really do feel that people are understanding, and it’s not an easy thing to come to, that you’re either going to have a Liberal government on May the 2nd or you’re going to have a Harper government on May the 2nd. And if you look at what you care about: action on the environment, child care, help with education, health care you can count on, the Liberal choice is the  better choice.

But this isn’t easy for people. When Richard Brennan asked me about, you know, well why can’t we get the left all together—because I have too much respect for these traditions to think we’re all just the same thing. ‘The NDP’s just Liberals in a hurry.’ Let’s be honest with each other here, we’ve fought each other for 60 years. I’m saying this out of respect for my opponents. Not in derision. But they really are coming to the crunch here. Jack Layton will not be the prime minister of Canada on the 2nd of May. Elizabeth May will not be the prime minister of Canada on the 2nd of May. Gilles Duceppe will not be the prime minister. It’ll either be me or the other guy. And that’s what, we’re talking Monday night, the election is exactly two weeks from here. This is where progressive Canadians will have to make a decision.

But notice the word progressive here: there are Progressive Conservatives out there. I don’t know what percentage of the Conservative vote that is, but you think about what life looks like if you’re a Progressive Conservative. You’re looking at a government that is wasting money. You’re looking at a government that has given you a huge deficit. You’re looking at a government that is breaking promises that, for a Progressive Conservative, are important, like income trusts. You’re looking at a Progressive Conservative who remembers that Brian Mulroney had a pretty good record on the environment. And you’re thinking, what are these guys up to? So when I say progressive, and I’ve been saying this for a year, you were at the Comber Fair with me, I was talking about the big red tent and I was talking as much to Progressive Conservatives as I was talking to the other side. And I’ve always believed that there are a lot of compassionate Progressive Conservatives who simply do not recognize themselves in the Harper government. And for whom the presence of a Bruce Carson is an affront to everything they believe.

So when I talk about progressive Canadians, this is why, with respect to Richard Brennan, this is not a union of the left, this is a union of progressive Canadians who do not recognize themselves in the values of the Harper government. And they’ve got two weeks to make up their mind.

AW: You talking about this being two weeks and May 2. There’s a finish line to this, there’s a finite amount of time. How conscious are you of that and do you think you have enough time left?

MI: I’m conscious of the time and I do believe we have the time. We started out of the gate very fast. I honestly believe we haven’t wasted a second. I can’t think of an event that we’ve done in the last two weeks that wasn’t a good event, that wasn’t to the purpose. This morning I met the key leaders of the Dene peoples of northern Canada. Joe Handley gets the Dene nation to support us, Joe Handley comes… everything is to the purpose. So I feel good about that. Yeah, it’s going to get hectic, but I don’t feel that… We’ve thought long and hard about unfolding a campaign. We spent a year and a half on policy development. I did 50 open mike town halls. I mean, we are in the zone here. So I think there’s time.

But it’s about what progressive Canadians want to do on the 2nd of May. And I have some influence on that, but it’s, you know, I have an enormous sense of liberation as well. We can run the campaign I want, say what I want, say what I really believe and leave it to the people.

AW: There’s always the stories, in the first week when you were out, of ‘Wow this guy’s not a stiff, he can actually address a crowd and speak to people and give a stump speech.’ All these sorts of things. Which is probably unfair to a certain degree, but you do seem to be a) happier out here than you are in Parliament and b) you do seem to be enjoying yourself.

MI: I don’t want to overdo it, Aaron, but you live for this. You saw, we were at the Comber agricultural fair together, you don’t want to be sentimental, but these are great people, simple as that, great people. And continually surprising. One of the moments that I will always remember in the campaign is the man in the stetson hat in the meeting in Sudbury, the truck driver, with that kind of short-and-to-the-point, cut-to-the-bone of what his life was all about. Coming off the road to look after his wife. There it is. That’s why he needs home care. And you had a sense that we were really speaking to something that this man really needed, this mattered to him. And I had a sense that we had not done all that work in vain. That he was listening. That it spoke to him. These are the kinds of things you live for.

AW: Does it go through your head though, even if you’re getting a thousand people a night, it’s a country of whatever it is now, 30 million people, you need some breaks here. You could do town halls for two years…

MI: Well I have.

AW: … Is there some, I don’t want to come back to the frustration question, but… does this come down to faith? You’re in the room, you’re talking, you’re hitting your points, you’re saying what you want to say, and you just have to hope that a) your party and b) the public are going to be there on election day?

MI: Faith’s fine, but hard work can help, right? That would be the first thing. I really don’t feel frustration. I feel that I’m talking to the Canadian people and they are listening. I really do feel that. And I feel that many Canadians are feeling the anger that I feel at what’s happened to our country over the last five years. And they’re coming to these meetings, as I said last night in Victoria, not for me. They’re coming because they’re angry and they’re looking for a solution. And they’re looking for an alternative. And I’ve got two weeks to let them know there is an alternative, someone who did listen to them, who was out there for two and a half years, has put his ear to the rail and heard. And if I can convey that I feel very confident about the result. Serene, you know, sounds a little, kind of, you know, I’m in here fighting. This is a fight. This is the fight of my life. And I’m ready.

AW: And do you think you’re winning?

MI: I think it’s unfolding the way I hoped it would unfold. I really do think that. I think that I have to earn it every single day. What I said last night is true, I don’t have to think about this campaign, thank god. All I’m thinking about is I’ve got to go to the Passover seder in two hours and then tomorrow I’ve got to do a series of events in Toronto. It’s just one foot in front of the other. And every one has to be good. I can’t let anybody down.

Ignatieff’s pitch

  1. The disdain that these two share for all those Canadians who are too stupid to see what they see is palpable…and pathetic.

    • Just because you're stupid, try not to bring "all those Canadians" down with you.

    • Let us know how you feel once you've actually read the article.

  2. Nice interview; nice guy. I don't feel let down by Michael Ignatieff at all.

  3. He has my vote.

  4. He's doing really well on the election trail…!

    Yes, there is a pattern, and I'm glad he sees it.

  5. " Joe Handley gets the Dene nation to support us ". That quote tells you everything you need to know about a tired old Party living in the past.

    No, Michael, the Dene people will decide individually who they will vote for.
    And the community leaders in New Canadian neighbourhoods cannot deliver the votes to their traditional benefactors in the Liberal Party.
    And it has been a long time since the Catholic Church, especially in Quebec, has been able to encourage the congregation to vote Liberal.
    And the days of depending on the financial support of the big corporations are gone.

    Iggy is living in the past—the Party of nostalgia—oh, the good old days.

    • In Québec the Catholic Chirch supported "les Bleus."

      As Premier Daniel Johnson (père) said, "L'enfer est rouge mais le ciel est bleu!"

  6. Ignatieff really seems like a decent, thoughtful guy who is just out of place in politics. He really seems at his best and most comfortable in an academic setting, and it shows…his answer to almost every issue on the election campaign came back to education, education, education. At one point I found myself wondering if he was running for Prime Minister or Headmaster.

    • It makes me sad that you think there's no room in politics for "decent thoughtful guy(s)." That says a lot about how we see, and what we expect, from today's pols.

      • Well, that's not what I said, meant, or thought. One can be decent and thoughtful and still be a good politician. See Michael Chong, Chuck Strahl, Keith Martin, Glen Pearson, etc. as examples. Would love to see more of those. My point is that decent and thoughtful is not sufficient.

        • My point is that decent and thoughtful is not sufficient.

          I can't see how anyone who is truly being honest with themselves could disagree with this point.

          • They might disagree with the implication.

          • I thoroughly disagree with the implication myself.

    • "Ignatieff really seems like a decent, thoughtful guy … "

      So I guess he has your vote then …?

    • To be honest, however, if there is a silver bullet for the problems that Canada faces, education is it.

      Higher eduation means higher GDP.
      It means lower health care use.
      It means lower social services & unemployment use.
      It means people suffer less stress.
      It means small businesses are more likely to start up and survive.
      It means more employment for more people.
      It means higher government revenues at lower rates of taxation.
      It means less crime.
      It means less poverty.
      It means more tolerance and less violence.

      Really there's very little that higher education does not address.

      • Well you may be overstating things slightly, but I'm not going to debate you on the virtues of education. Perhaps Education Minister in a provincial government might be a better calling for Mr Ignatieff given his obvious passion for the topic.

        • Given that it's a great idea for the country as a whole, what's your objection to a Prime Minister who believes it's a great idea for the country as a whole?

          • Because the premise of your answer started with "if there is a silver bullet". I don't think there is such a thing when it comes to running an entire government. Education is important but it's not a silver bullet.

          • Considering the European countries who are the least in debt are the ones who are the most proactively supporting the education of their citizens, I think there's a strong case to be made for education to be a solution of the 'Coors' Light' kind.

          • Gee.. perhaps that's why I said "if".

            I acknowledge that it's probably not the be-all and end-all solution.

            That said, it's pretty damn close. Certainly much closer than any other single policy point is, and definitely applicable to all the points in which it's mentioned by Mr. Ignatieff.

  7. Boring academic loving his self-defined intellectual superiority. Why oh why do Canadians so enjoy being patronized by semi-celebrities?

    • Because being patronized to by mail-room economists is getting pretty played out.

  8. Are you saying decent, thoughtful guys should not be in politics? Ignatieff is just what we need.

  9. I agree with Ignatieff on at least this one point: The real decision on voting day is whether you want a progressive representative in parliament or a conservative one.

    If you're a supporter of progressive social policy, vote for the candidate most likely to beat out the CPC in your riding.

  10. Something is very odd about the polls. Aside from never getting a call on my landline, so many people have cells! And these panels that Nanos uses, you can "apply" to be on them online – surely that means a certain type of person is attracted by being on a political panel, not exactly a normal thing for most people.

    And I know Facebook is not legit polling, but it has mattered in other elections around the world and what is happening there is completely different from published leadership/party polls. Stephen Harper was the most popular page BEFORE the election. But somewhere after that, Michael Ignatieff pulled into the lead, leaving Jack Layton in third about 13,000 behind Ignatieff. NOW, in just the last week, Stephen Harper's Facebook support has just stagnated. Layton was 7 or 8000 behind him weeks ago; today, he is just 3000 behind Harper and still moving. Harper's numbers on the page just dont' move anymore. As for Ignatieff, he has shot way past Harper, now over 10,000 people more popular than Harper, and 13,000 more than Layton. And both Layton and Ignatieff steadily add fans.

    Ok, I know there is nothing scientific about facebook. But all the margins of errors on Nanos polls and everyone else, particularly regional, can be up to +/- 10% . Especially the daily fluctuations that get the headlines, everyone is vastly within the margin of error from day to day.

    Facebook has to be an indicator of some kind, and its numbers for each leader is COMPLETELY different than anything I've seen reported.

    So does anyone care to comment or provide me with insight into this?

  11. I just watched Ignatieff's facebook town hall from a Montreal cegep. He really is quite good in such a format – he took a ton of questions about a wide-range of subjects and gave fairly decent answers to all of them. He certainly tried to answer their questions earnestly and didn't talk down to them. It was a pretty impressive performance (and made all the moreso because it seemed so normal).

    Somehow I suspect that barring a complete collapse (and loss of seats), that we won't be hearing too many calls for him to resign (sure, there will be some "unnamed Liberals" complaining to Taber, but don't they always? ;)

  12. WT…? Do you even have a plan for what you want to get out of an interview? There was absolutely zero to be learned from this.

  13. .
    "We have had fun."

    That's it right there. This man isn't seriously interested in being PM. He just wanted play at politics, see things from the inside. Maybe the State Department sent him to keep serious opposition out of Canadian policy. Who knows.

    But if he ever did become PM, he'd transfer his fawning admiration of American exceptionalism to Beijing.
    .

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