Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s “listening tour” made a stop in Toronto on Friday so Ignatieff could, er, stop listening and spend a minute (or 30) getting a few things off his chest. Ignatieff’s speech—burdened as it was with the title of “Moving Forward from Hardship to Hope”—contained few clues as to the Liberals’ intentions with regard to Tuesday’s budget. And the hints it did contain had been dropped many, many times before: “we accept the temporary necessity of deficits”; “I will ask some tough questions”; “if the government fails, I am ready to lead”; “broad-based tax cuts [will] dig us deeper into deficit.” But what it lacked in evidence of a clear alternative to the Conservatives’ budget, it more than made up for in attacks against the Harper government.
Speaking at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, Ignatieff repeatedly characterized the Harper government’s handling of the economic crisis as petty politicking. The intentional leaking of budget details, another of which occured while Ignatieff was speaking, was “irresponsible and costly to the economy,” he said. And the tax cuts the budget is widely expected to include are little more than “gimmicks.” In all, Ignatieff used the word “games” four times to describe Harper’s governing style. “I’m in politics to stop that kind of politics.”
Of course, swearing off “games” when you’re in politics is like swearing off alcohol when you’re a bartender. It’s entirely possible—perhaps even laudable—but it requires a level of discipline few Liberal politicians have shown so far. To be successful, Ignatieff will have to convince Canadians the blame for Parliament’s dysfunctional turn lies squarely on Harper and the Conservatives while at the same time ensuring the Liberals elevate their own discourse. Polls show the first task might be underway; according to a recent Nanos survey, 30 per cent of Canadians could not name a single attribute they like about Harper. The second task, however, will undoubtedly require more work, no matter how low he insists the bar has been set.